Sunday, March 22, 2009

Autodidacts, Tasmanian devils and many-headed hydra. The whole menagerie.

Thanks for your comments on Al's piece yesterday. It's the first time he's let me link to any of his work: I think he's inherited his mother's disease of writing something then thinking it's dreadful and waiting for the 'inevitable' scathing criticism, only to be amazed when it doesn't appear. It's strange that he's got it too, because I thought not going to school would cure it, or not having my hyper-critical parents would. But he went to school for a few years, and they were his grandparents, even though they've mostly grown mild with age. Or perhaps it really is genetic.

In this case though he felt so strongly about NotSchool - he's been incredulous since I first mentioned it to him and went straight off to do his own research - that it must have been worth the risk, I guess. It's a bit close to home for Ali: in other circumstances (being born ten years later, to a different kind of parent) he might have ended up caught in the NotSchool net, because as he says in the piece, he rejected the externally structured learning environment of school. But he needed the complete freedom of autodidacticism (I see he calls it autodidactism and I'm not sure which one of us is right!) to maintain his engagement with the learning process. This is the boy (man, now) who is teaching himself the mouth organ - in Russian. He has his [Linux-based] operating system set to Russian and his internet browser, to make himself learn and use the language. When he's happy with his ability, he'll start on another language. He's already done Japanese.

I'm not telling you this just to express pride in my son (though he does amaze me a lot!) but to try to convey the power of natural learning to anyone reading who might not be familiar with it. I see that Carlotta has written more about it here, and also linked to this brilliant chart by Kathleen McCurdy, which she is thinking of sending to the review team.

Lucy made a brilliant point in the comments of yesterday's post. If the review was about child welfare, then why does it now seem to be all about education? Of course, ECM conflates the two issues, and the one about finances, so I suppose it's to be expected that officials will switch seamlessly from one to the other according to whatever suits their agenda now that they have statutory licence to do so. For us on the receiving end, it only serves to further the general impression that we're under attack.

I was thinking about what I'd like to write on a single A4 page to Mr Badman as I was digging yesterday (amongst other things!) and it's taking shape now. I might be ready to blog it tomorrow. I want to convey something to him about time. The free time necessary to allow a child like Ali (and the rest!) to learn in the only way he can: without interference. The valuable time it would take out of my day to keep records, write reports and conduct meetings such as to convince a third party that sufficient learning was taking place. It would rob us of so much that's essential to us, and for what? As various people have said on the lists, there no good reason to change things. I fail to see why "maintaining the status quo is out of the question". An adequate case for that position has not been made.

And finally, EO is to have a secret meeting with Mr Badman, the details of which can't be reported to the rest of us?

Come on. I've avoided blogging about EO for a long time, ever since I was sternly rebuked for it by those who are now queuing up on the other side of the fence to sling more mud at the org than anyone else. Apparently it's ok for them to criticise, but not for me. So be it.

But my opinion hasn't changed: there is no place for a subscription-based single political body within the UK home education arena, primarily because such a body would be vulnerable to co-option by government in the same way as so many have in the past (NSPCC and Shelter to name just two.) If Mr Badman is envisaging a Tasmanian-like 'solution' to this non-problem, he's going to need, as Vijay Patel of the NSPCC said: "An independent third party" to play the part of the Tasmanian devils, as it were.

I don't think for one minute, judging by their track record, that the current group of EO reps would agree to take on that rĂ´le, but I don't like having to take that on trust. The organisation should be disbanded, in my opinion, or should restrict itself to only running the helpline, which it does very well. Then the government would be left with no option but to deal with the many-headed hydra that would be left in its place. And HEAS. But again, I don't think Jane Lowe would sell us down the river: I don't really think any UK home educator would, to be honest. Mr Badman is on a hiding to nothing if he even tries that approach.


Blogger Elaine said...

First I am going to pop this here do excuse me but when a mum receives this....
The Letter says I understand that you have taken responsibility for ****

education. As it is a requirement on the part of the LEA to ensure that

the National Curriculum is being taught. I should like to visit your home

together with **** Education Welfare Officer... etc


after deregistering her child from school due to lack of care.
You have to wonder how Mr Badman can possibly justify himself morally for putting his name to this review and let's throw every other member of the panel into the pot with him.

9:47 am, March 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh dear. You're kidding? Well, last time I looked, the most recent Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities still applied, so perhaps someone there just needs re-educating and made to justify their salary. Sheesh!

9:56 am, March 22, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

Hi Gill sorry for detracting with my previous post but I am incensed that we suffer defamatory media headlines from the PTB whilst members of our community suffer abuse on this scale.
I also applaud you for raising the subject of EO's morals we hear of them, we see them quoted in the press 'defending ' home ed regularly, surely with a public profile like theirs they should be highlighting these abuse cases and NOT spending their time in meetings with Badman that they are not allowed to report back to their community (if that is truly the case) and why the hell are they also meeting the NSPCC?? now that question is really bugging me.
And anybody who feels Gill should not openly have stated her views should think, isn't it absolutely fantastic that we are able as a community to self regulate? isn't it great that such a diverse mixture of souls should be able to freely debate any subject that is causing a problem? because it is by openly discussing this that we will reach a solution .
The instigators of this review should follow our example , they should have entered into debate with us , many local authorities used this simple method to build systems wherby they and the local home ed community could rub along amicably. Lets remember there were only 48 responses to the LA questionaire meaning fewer than 48 LA's felt there was enough of a problem to bother with the review.

10:04 am, March 22, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

Sorry about this folk but I also meant to raise this point.
Many home educators are making freedom of information requests to LA's to obtain copies of their response to the review.
Many are starting to get responses saying that they were not invited to take part in the review .
I think a circular has gone out instructing them to say this to avoid the embarrassment of us using the low response rate to raise the issue of whether this review was justified.
The LA questionnaire was for every interested party dcsf and badman pushed it extensively in in house publications and the national press there were no restrictions on who could respond it was simply a case that most didn't feel a need.

10:12 am, March 22, 2009  
Blogger Ruth said...

But my opinion hasn't changed: there is no place for a subscription-based single political body within the UK home education arena, primarily because such a body would be vulnerable to co-option by government in the same way as so many have in the past (NSPCC and Shelter to name just two.)

Lets hope they haven't been co-opted already. These behind closed doors meetings seem to me that that has already happen:(

4:45 pm, March 22, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

Having read the latest post about the Tasmanian model

I have to say it sounds like the worst of Easter Europe under the communists. People afraid of speaking out against the regime, afraid of more restrictions being imposed. So much for the fluffy bunny image we were hearing at first. If anything it's worse than what the worst LAs are doing now.

9:32 pm, March 22, 2009  
Anonymous Jax said...

have been away from internet or at least available wifi points for 36 hours or so, when did this behind closed doors EO meeting crop up?

I feel the need for a not in my name T shirt, I am deeply disconcerted that any organisation purporting to represent home educators could meet on the terms that they not report back - I am understanding this correctly am I not?

9:34 pm, March 22, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

Lost an 'n' there, Eastern. The siren call of chocolate eggs must be working on my subconscious ;-)

9:35 pm, March 22, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

Seems to be the case Jax. People on multiple lists have asked that EO refuse to meet with Badman on such terms but so far there seems to have been no reply, either to concede the point or offer any sort of justification.

The longer there is no reply the longer we have to wonder what they plan on taking about that we are not allowed to hear about.

If you look at the Tasmanian model you'll see that the government is going to need someone to contract approval and monitoring duties to.

9:43 pm, March 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they were serious about finding out prevalence of abuse thy would not have been asking it in a review where LAs can choose whether or not to respond. They would have done FOI requests for all LAs.
Not that that would have been the full picture but it would be more sensible.
It surely has been a peg to hang the review on.

10:13 pm, March 22, 2009  
Anonymous no_shoes said...

I'm sticking my head above the wall here.
I was at the first meeting with EO and Badman.
I will be at the second one on Friday.
EO really did say we had to have a record of what was said at the meeting. Badman really did resist this. He didn't wanted to be quoted at all. Eventually he agreed to the meeting being recorded and minutes being agreed. This had not happened and so EO issued a report of what we had said at the meeting.
TBH I would have been peeved is he had published what I had said without me agreeing to the content of what I had said first-I learnt the hard way with LAS and other bodies. *shrugs* I think minuets should have been released by now though-and will take that up tomorrow, I promise.

Then there has been two meetings with local groups. Notes on those meetings have been published by my self and Ann Newstead-and we were both at that first meeting- plus the notes of others.
I don't think there was any substantial difference between what he was asking at the meeting with EO or at the Worcs meeting, that I have reported more fully on. Except at Worcs he commented about the Staus Quo not remaining and he also talked on the Tasmanian Model.
He also talked to me of some of the very structured home educating families he has met. Now each to their own, but I am very glad we managed to get a lot of truly autonomous families in front of him.........

I am not an EO trustee-and have no intention of becoming one. I am on their disability group and do meet with LAs in the Midlands.

You have my word I haven't been co opted onto anything.

Over my dead body.

11:07 pm, March 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Elaine, there are lots of questions about EO's discussions with the review team, with DCSF and - what, the NSPCC? I don't know why they'd want to meet with them either, and I would like to know, because personally I wouldn't justify the NSPCC's wholly unwelcome involvement in this with any communication whatsoever.

I'm very grateful for the reports we've had, but also concerned that questions on lists on a long-term basis go unanswered by EO people who are, essentially, negotiating on our behalf and without a mandate from us to do so. This is why I would like the support orgs to stay out of HE politics: an individual can't possibly claim to be speaking for anyone else or representing anyone other than himself, so there would have to be public meetings instead of cosy closeted little chats. It would change the whole dynamic and throw the usual tired and well-worn government tactic of negotiation and gradual co-option into chaos. We play into their hands by subscribing to orgs like EO, because we present government with an impersonal negotiating body: something solid from which it has to potential to extract agreements.

What really annoys me is that most of the 4-5 thousand people subbed to EO do so to get the contact list, or because they think its 'respectability' will help their individual family weather the LA interference, or because they think they're somehow obliged to join when they start home educating. I seem to remember I joined (20 years ago when I was HEing my stepson and again 10 years ago when I deregistered my oldest three bio children) for the free books they were giving out with the welcome packs at the time. Then as a result of all that, you get three, four or five people going to government and saying: "We represent those 5000 and are speaking for them." What goes unsaid is that govt then behaves as if they also represent the 30-50 thousand HEing non-members. We're lucky at the moment to have - so it seems - the right three, four or five people, but it is purely a matter of luck as far as the rest of us are concerned because really, it could be anyone. We have no power, no input and no control over who gets to be in that position and what they do or say once they're there. And that is very worrying.

Once in that position and "working flat out to save home education" (as I've had it described to me,) people must wonder why they get so much seemingly undeserved flak from the rest of us, and I think the above - and the below - might go some way towards explaining it.

Ruth, personally I don't think it has or will but am still concerned because of what I've just said above.

Jax, I think Julie's response below will answer your question.

Jo, that's a very good point.

Julie, thanks for coming and saying this and for your reports of meetings to date. I am glad you're involved with the process and I don't personally have any concerns about anyone else who's involved ('Secret 3' bitchy groups and 'talk-to-the-hand' policies notwithstanding. Actually, that is worrying, but we're sort of putting it down to human nature, I suppose, and still going with the trust thing because we've got no choice in the matter.) - in fact I wish you were all campaigning and attending meetings from *outside* the org, then we'd really be a force to be reckoned with!

Anyway, it's reassuring to have this extra clarity from you about the 'secret' element of the meetings, and we'll look forward to reading those minutes then. I take it you would tell us if he did propose anything very controversial, even if he'd asked you not to? I agree, it's very good that he's been introduced to autonomously home educating families.

The key point about co-option is that even though the present group of EO reps may be co-opt proof (and I believe they are,) the next group might not be, or the one after that, etc. It's probably cloud cuckoo land on my part, but I'd like to see the org's political wing disbanded just for that reason. Not that we could ensure that another wouldn't come to take its place. I don't quite know what the solution to that would be. There probably isn't one, but I wish there was.

Carlotta, thanks very much! It hadn't occurred to us to send it to Mr B, mainly because the reason for Stephen Heppell's position on the panel has not yet been clarified, and so we're forced to only assume that the Notschool model is under consideration for us, although I believe he himself has said somewhere that it isn't...?

Perhaps this is something that can be clarified by Julie at her next meeting with Mr Badman (or you Carlotta if you're seeing him again..? Or anyone!) We'd gladly send it if it's thought there might be good reason to.

I wish Stephen Heppell would answer my question: "What is your professional interest in our children?" It's been asked of him at least four times now and he's ignored it every time, which in itself is ominous I think and can only imply, in the absence of any other given reason, a predatory interest.

And they wonder why we react defensively.

7:50 am, March 23, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah yes Elaine EWOs and the NC thing. I'm in the middle of blogging about that.
The other thing I wonder is where are the rest of the review panel? The only ones I am aware of who have at least contacted Home Edders are Badman and to a much lesser extent Heppell; so where is everyone else?
The Tasmanian model looks pretty awful.

9:18 am, March 23, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

I second your call for an explanation of the NSPCC meet

9:44 am, March 23, 2009  
Blogger Allie said...

It is truly infuriating that LAs generally do as they please and assume they will be answerable to no-one. In our area they've recently shared a draft new policy with us (which looked pretty good) and then we hear of someone doorstepped and then ridiculously referred to social services. This sort of thing happens all the time, I suspect, and wastes masses of publicy money.

I'd like Badman to understand that the LAs generally have themselves to blame if they don't understand their role or use the powers they do have when they deem it necessary.

As far as Badman's demand for privacy in his dealings with EO... Well, I think EO should be very clear that secrecy, or perceived secrecy, is not an option and demand minutes published within days of any meetings. If they don't get that then they should withdraw. If he can't agree to such a reasonable demand then he has no respect for the organisation and they have nothing to lose in withdrawing from meetings with him.

11:50 am, March 23, 2009  
Blogger lotusbirther said...

I agree: Secrecy is not an option. Secrets in matters such this lead to abuses of power.

On the issue of invited las: All las were invited to respond according to Jim Knight on behalf of DCSF.

I have linked to the excellent NotSchool appraisal on my blog.

2:24 pm, March 23, 2009  
Anonymous no_shoes said...

I cannot repay what the home ed community gave to me.
'You'/It caught my family when we were failing. This may sound corny but I mean every word.I do not say any of this lightly.

'I take it you would tell us if he did propose anything very controversial, even if he'd asked you not to?'


6:35 pm, March 23, 2009  
Blogger Jemmo said...

Gill said: "we're forced to only assume that the Notschool model is under consideration for us, although I believe he himself has said somewhere that it isn't...? "

Um, Gill, he said so on your blog! :)

Stephen Heppell said:
"Notschool is a home based community for children excluded from school by circumstances or behaviour. The key word here is excluded. It is certainly not "being presented as an official, viable alternative to home education" by the charity. It is hugely successful - with re-engagement rates in the 90%s and a completely bespoke, personalised curriculum for each young person. Even your perverse and wilful misreading of my website must have helped you to understand that it is NOT school. We don't return the children to schools, but they do go on to FE, employment and HE. The charity is responsible some 1,000+ young people being educated at home each year without any special or additional funding."

4:16 pm, March 24, 2009  
Blogger Jemmo said...

I'll just add that he reiterated in conversation with me that NotSchool is "not being suggested as any kind of substitute for EHE."

The website also refers to it as a project of the last resort.

I think NotSchool per se is a red herring. I do think though, given Stephen Heppell's involvement and Graham Badman's interests in ICT, that it is not unreasonable to assume some predisposition to offering EHE families some sort of LT solution. The applicability of LT is definitely being considered and it is up to us now to submit arguments against this - certainly against such systems being compulsory in any way at all. Which is obviously difficult as they only thing we know for sure is that it won't be NotSchool! Again, Ali's piece re-jigged to apply to LT programmes in general rather than NotSchool would be a good start.

4:26 pm, March 24, 2009  
Blogger Jemmo said...

Sorry - just one more thing!

The use of Learning Technology would also fit in with many other areas of the government's education strategy.

I'm not anti-ICT in education. In fact I'll declare an interest (I think I have already on FaceBook) that I support and teach ICT education at the Institute of Education - things like animation, video and podcasting, blogging, electronic publishing, etc, etc, etc.

I also do one-to-one tuition in critical and evaluative research using electronic sources.

I think ICT has huge amounts to offer, and we're only scratching the surface of the possibilities. However, I also think that public bodies should have a policy of using open source software as much as possible so that they are not sponsoring particular companies which could then have undue effect on them. LAs should run Linux and Open Office at the very least, instead of throwing millions of pounds of our money at Micro$oft every year. Micro$oft is desperate to get as many copies of Windows into schools as possible for the obvious reasons of commercial indoctrination.

I'll stop being geeky now. Sorry for any inconvenience, etc etc 8-)

4:39 pm, March 24, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Mum6kids, that's a good question. Stephen Heppell perhaps raises the most rancour because his business potentially poses a threat to us, so his presence on the panel is deeply unsettling IMO. But yes, I've yet to hear a good argument for any of the others being there either.

Elaine, we can call, but we won't be answered ;-)

Allie, it will also happen in many instances that we don't hear about I suspect. Our LA has always behaved quite well with families who they know to be in touch with the rest of us, but then every now and again I hear about someone who was more isolated and not treated so well. I agree with your EO-based comments.

Thanks for that LB :-)

And doubly thanks for that Julie :-)

LOL Jem, I thought that sounded familiar!! Though he doesn't actually preclude the idea of it being under consideration for us there, does he? And I take exception to his accusation that I wilfully misread his site, unless he's also claiming to be a mind-reader. (And even if he was, he'd still be wrong about that.)

I'm glad he was clearer in conversation with you, but if NotSchool is a red herring, what's he doing on the panel?? And why do we need a LT solution to what was supposedly a welfare-based problem?! Don't you think the logic of this review process is falling apart somewhat, Jem? Assuming it was ever sound in the first place?

I agree with you about ICT, but I would also contend that a student can and will learn a LOT more autodidactically than they will if you teach them. I'm a qualified teacher and have tried it both ways, so I'm satisfied that it's true.

6:17 am, March 25, 2009  
Blogger Jemmo said...

Gill said: "Don't you think the logic of this review process is falling apart somewhat, Jem? Assuming it was ever sound in the first place? "

I think you are right with your second thought. I have never thought this Review was logical (or at least that their justifications were logical). I think they are being bullied by LAs (who are in turn being bullied by government) and that this fits in nicely with the government's own agenda for children.

Gill also said: "I agree with you about ICT, but I would also contend that a student can and will learn a LOT more autodidactically than they will if you teach them."

I'm not qualified to go into autodidactic vs. taught pedagogy! I'm training teachers here, not children, and they are taking the techniques away to use in class. I agree though that taught ICT is far less productive than "mucking about to see what happens" (as we technologists call it ;). However, within the context of what I do, and with whom, 'taught' is the only possible way.

4:33 pm, March 25, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Jem, this has been on my mind since you said it:

"However, within the context of what I do, and with whom, 'taught' is the only possible way."

Can I just ask you why?

9:03 am, March 27, 2009  

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