Transcript of Radio 4's PM interview with Shena Deuchars and Tony Mooney
EDDIE MAIR: Parents who teach their own children at home are often very passionate about what they do and some of them aren’t taking too kindly to a government review of home education in England. The intention is not to change parents’ rights to educate at home, but to:
FEMALE ANNOUNCER: “Ensure that everything possible is being done to guarantee all children their right to a balanced education in a safe, healthy environment.”
EDDIE MAIR: The NSPCC have agreed, saying that existing guidance is out of date, and that parents’ rights need to be balanced with Local Authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. What do they think is going on behind closed doors? I’m joined live by Tony Mooney, who inspects home schooling for one Local Authority and by Shena Deuchars, who schools both her children at home: seventeen year old Catherine and fourteen year old James have never been to conventional schooling. Tony Mooney first of all, what are your rights at the moment as an inspector when it comes to home schooling?
TONY MOONEY: Well we’ve got no automatic access to the house. We’ve got no automatic access to the child. We can only make informal requests for information about what the education involves for the child. As the law stands, all the parent needs to do is write a synopsis of what’s been covered and provide examples of work. And have the educational provision endorsed by a recognised third party. Or endorsed by a recognised third party.
EDDIE MAIR: Now you may not have the rights you would like but in practice, don’t parents respond to your requests for information? Do you need to know – do you find out everything you want to know?
TONY MOONEY: The great majority of parents invite me into the home and I see what they’re doing, as an ex-teacher I can give them advice, and they really appreciate it. But there are one or two who just don’t want to know. They will not let me go into the house, they won’t let me look at the work their children have done, and it becomes very difficult.
EDDIE MAIR: And what about this hint that children might somehow be coming to harm? The government talking about a safe environment and the NSPCC talking about the safeguarding and protection of children?
TONY MOONEY: That may be the case. I’ve never seen, in ten years, children coming to harm, um, but it may be the case, but I don’t have a remit to report on that. Although I have to say, if I did see any kind of abuse I would feel morally obliged to report on it.
EDDIE MAIR: Are you trained to spot abuse?
TONY MOONEY: Well as a teacher, I’d try to find if children were being abused when I suspected it. No, I’m not trained to spot abuse, but as a parent.. um.. I think I feel obliged to look and report if need be.
EDDIE MAIR: Shena Deuchars, let me bring you in at this stage, and I’ll let you talk and respond to some of that in a moment if I may, but just let me ask you why you’re schooling your children yourself.
SHENA DEUCHARS: It was something that I decided to do about ten years before my older child was born. I found out that home education in this country was legal at that point as I left secondary education myself, and decided that it sounded like a very good idea.
EDDIE MAIR: And what do you think of what the government in England is thinking of doing? It’s having a review and may want the right to come in and have a look at what you’re doing.
SHENA DEUCHARS: Well, one of the reasons why home educating parents are so angry about it is the conflation in the media particularly, but also in the terms of reference for the report, of education concerns with welfare concerns. And because Baroness Morgan has been quoted as saying that some home educating parents may be using it as a cover for child abuse. That’s why we’re so angry about it.
EDDIE MAIR: Well let’s look at those.. let’s split them up and let’s look at education concerns. Do you have any problem with someone like Tony Mooney coming in and having a look at how the schooling’s going?
SHENA DEUCHARS: Well yes, because in fact what we tend to find is that most Local Authority personnel actually have no experience of home education and mostly they only have experience of a school model of education. So, for example, I know of many home educated young people who leave school at perhaps ten or eleven: they’re withdrawn by their parents, unable to read or write, being predicted to get no GCSEs, and quite often what happens is that, left to their own devices and without being left behind by the rest of the class, they then learn to read and they go on to get GCSEs, do further education or higher education and hold down jobs where essentially the school system had written them off.
EDDIE MAIR: Tony Mooney on that point?
TONY MOONEY: A lot of my children, who are mainly on council estates, don’t actually sit any GCSEs or any examinations of any kind when they’ve been home educated and they just go out into the world of work and fend for themselves. I think it’s an indictment of the education they get at home. Um, you see often we get newspaper articles showing affluent, middle-class families educating their children. That’s not what I see most of the time. I do see some very good teaching, by people who know what they’re doing, but the great majority of my children don’t get GCSEs when they’ve finished and go out into.. onto the workforce, just trying to fend for themselves.
EDDIE MAIR: And, Shena Deuchars, I do want to talk about the second strand that you mentioned which is causing so much anger, you say, among home educators. Of course, most home educators – perhaps none of them – are involved in abusing their children, but should there be a system whereby at least someone like Tony Mooney can go in and check that everything’s OK?
SHENA DEUCHARS: Actually, could I come back on what Tony Mooney said about GCSEs? I think it would be very interesting to look at the reasons why young home educated people don’t get GCSEs and the answer to that is basically if their parents - if they’re not in school - their parents have to pay for it and it can cost £150 per GCSE.
EDDIE MAIR: All right, but just on the other point, because we only have a moment left and I’d like you to respond?
SHENA DEUCHARS: OK, well, the thing is that Baroness Morgan, again in today’s Independent, was quoted as saying: “If there are problems, we have to look at the evidence.” This review looks more as if they’re looking for evidence, because to date there have been no problems. There are no cases of children who have been abused who also were being home educated who weren’t already known to the authorities. Victoria Climbié is a red herring: she wasn’t being home educated at all, and the Spry children were removed from school once Eunice Spry had been abusing them already for a number of years and had been checked over by Gloucestershire Social Services.
EDDIE MAIR: All right, listen, thank you both for taking the time to talk about this. We’ve tried to give it as much time as we can, but it may well be that you have a view on this and probably some experience too. If you’d like to share your experience, please just go to the PM blog, where you’ll find more information and a space where you can comment. Just put ‘PM blog’ into any search engine.
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