Twelve good men and true?
Based on my last 11 posts, here is a summary of the panel members:
1. Professor Ted Melhuish, a Principal Investigator on the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education, is on the panel because of his expertise in 'early years, home learning environment and child development'. I found that he understands the importance of 'sustained shared thinking' and that "the quality of the home learning environment is more important for intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income." I think this is good news for us, because 'sustained shared thinking' is at the heart of most autonomous home education provision. However, he was also Executive Director of the National Evaluation of Sure Start, which, along with his other work on early years child care makes me wonder whether he is, in fact, a fan of institutional care for children as opposed to parental care. If this was the case, then of course it would bode ill for us.
2. Mick Waters is Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. He apparently believes that educational curriculum should be "shaped to fit with children's lives" - which is exactly what we do. On the other hand, he seems to have ideas about "the learning they should meet", which suggests that he would not be in favour of autonomous learning unless he understood that the method actually does teach children exactly what they need to know, without needing to set this all out beforehand. Mr Waters is well versed in the ECM framework [opens pdf], so will understand how it needs to be changed ['pupil' instead of 'child' throughout will suffice] to iron out the anomalous position of elective home education within it and the difficulties this might present to Local Authorities.
3. Delroy Pommel is a member of the London Safeguarding Children Board, which has conspired to cause us many problems resulting from spurious allegations. Mr Pommel is also UK director of education at Barnardos, which provides alternative education for some children. In common with every panel member other than Professor Conroy, Mr Pommel appears to have no experience or special knowledge of elective home education.
4. Steve Hart is supposed to represent 'safeguarding' on the panel. He has led the Secure Care Inspection Service and was CSCI's national lead for child protection until its merger with Ofsted. He is an HMI for Ofsted, which - as far as I can work out - means he is an inspector of schools. He is currently part of the Joint Chief Inspectors review of safeguarding arrangements. I could find no other relevant information about Mr Hart - certainly nothing to indicate that he has any special knowledge of elective home education.
5. Jean Humphrys is Ofsted's deputy director for children. "When New Ofsted was created she helped to bring together inspectors of early years, Cafcass and social care for children. Jean is continuing to oversee aspects of policy in the early years and has maintained her strong interest in the inspection and regulation of social care provision. Prior to taking up her post as an HMI, Jean was a local authority adviser. She has extensive teaching experience and was headteacher of two schools. Jean has always been interested in finding ways to help children to succeed in life, particularly those who are disadvantaged and did extensive research into parental involvement in children's education." Obviously, elective home education that is free from state interference is the ultimate "parental involvement in children's education", so I imagine that Mrs Humphrys will be delighted to be given the opportunity to support it.
6. Paul Ennals is the chief executive of the National Children's Bureau. Like Mr Pommel, he is there to represent the interests of the 3rd sector, although quite what they might have to do with elective home education has not yet been made clear. Mr Ennals is an avowed fan of the ECM framework [opens pdf], so he will perhaps be able to work with Mr Waters to iron out the anomalous position of home education which is worrying some Local Authorities, most simply by changing 'child' to 'pupil' throughout. This is because electively home educated children are fully cared for by their parents and therefore do not need the involvement of the state.
7. Professor Stephen Heppell runs Notschool - an organisation which supplies alternative educational provision to non-electively home educated pupils. Professor Heppell is the only panel member to have actively engaged with electively home educating parents by making conversation with us in comments on our blogs. He has said that he thought the fear of home education being used as a 'cover for child abuse' was a red herring, but also said "Tick box monitoring has no hope of solving any of this," whilst not making the nature of the actual problem apparent. In addition, he has said that he wants "A dialogue between school and home education," although it was not clear what the latter might need to gain from this, if anything. Professor Heppell is on the panel to represent the interests of ICT and "future technologies", although the explicit need for this in a review about elective home education is, again, unclear. Professor Heppell is reported to be a personal friend of Graham Badman.
8. Sue Berelowitz is the chief executive of 11 Million and the deputy children's commissioner for England. She is the third ardent proponent of the ECM agenda in the panel. She is in favour of the idea of removing children who are potentially at risk of child abuse, away from the family home and into the care system sooner than the current practice allows for. Her organisation is evidently all about "mak[ing] sure that adults in charge, including the Government, listen to the views of children and young people," and she is there to represent Children's Rights, but Ms Berelowitz's position on the panel is a relatively unknown quantity, as far as I can tell.
9. Professor June Statham, from the Institute of Education, is on the panel to represent safeguarding. She coordinates programmes of fast-response research for the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families and has experience of research into early childhood services and support for vulnerable children and their families, including children in need in the community and children who are cared for away from home. She appears to have extensive knowledge, sympathy and understanding of SEN issues, but to be in favour of integration for such children in mainstream educational and childcare settings, with which the practice of elective home education obviously disagrees. It seems that much of Professor Statham's work has been about finding a wide and immensely detailed range of solutions for children outside of the family home, being cared for/ educated etc. by people other than their parents - again, a policy which would not be compatible with that of elective home educators.
10. Professor James Conroy is the only panel member whom we believe to have actual experience - as well as detailed professional knowledge - of elective home education. Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Glasgow, he seems to be a man of integrity and profound intelligence, who understands the theory of autonomous learning and the precious - and fragile - nature of its existence. Professor Conroy appears to be alone on the panel in his awareness of exactly what is at stake in the review process. He has commented on the review: “The danger of undermining parents through a culture of suspicion is politically and socially injurious. It’s bizarre to pathologise others purely because they are other.”
11. Beth Reid is from the National Autistic Society, and is on the panel for her knowledge of Special Educational Needs. She seems to be knowledgeable about and sympathetic towards children with such needs, but there is nothing to suggest that she has ever thought that parents could provide for those needs: her work seems to be mostly concerned with their experiences in school and with service provision for them. Ms Reid has said: "The obsession the government has created around testing has impeded the drive towards inclusion," which indicates that she might have some understanding of one of the reasons why many of us choose to electively home educate, although if she too is in favour of the policy of inclusion of everyone into the mainstream, she may not have much sympathy with our cause. Ms Reid co-wrote a report called 'Make school make sense for me' [opens pdf], which failed to explain the option and process of deregistration, despite stating that school bullying made some children feel suicidal, and which also described alternative Local Authority-provided education as 'home education'.
12. Graham Badman will be the 12th person in attendance at the review panel meetings. Mr Badman "has more than 40 years of experience in education, including being a teacher, Headteacher, inspector and chief education officer," but he does not seem to have had much experience or understanding of elective home education - specifically the autonomous variety, because when one of our number explained that: "Autonomous learning is like Schrödinger's Cat: the act of observing it changes its status," he replied: "I don't agree." Mr Badman is on the board of directors at Becta, which is "the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning." The organisation's strategic objectives can be seen here and many of these are in direct conflict with some electively home educating families' educational philosophies.
- Only one member of the panel seems to have experience and a proper understanding of elective home education. At least one panel member - and the leader of the review himself - has demonstrated an extremely worrying lack of understanding about this. However, one other member is aware of the importance of 'sustained shared thinking', and one further member has conducted extensive research into parental involvement in children's education.
- Three members of the panel are there to represent the issue of safeguarding, even though the need for this has been described as a 'red herring' by one panel member who happens to be a personal friend of the man leading the review.
- Two members of the panel are said to be there to represent the interests of the 3rd Sector, although neither the need for this, nor the 3rd Sector's interest in elective home education, have ever been made clear.
- The Becta/Heppell stated ICT agenda is obviously a factor in the review, although how this specifically pertains to elective home education has not been made clear either.
- At least three members of the panel are expert proponents of ECM [opens pdf], so should have a good understanding of the anomalous position of elective home education within it, and be well able to work out how it needs to be revised to resolve this situation.
- Both of the stated SEN representatives appear to be in favour of the policy of inclusion of children with such needs into the mainstream of service provision. This directly conflicts with the philosophy of elective home education.
- Some of the panel members might be seen as having potentially something to gain from certain outcomes. If this is the case, it gives rise to a conflict of interests (which "occurs when an individual or organization has an interest that might compromise their reliability. A conflict of interest exists even if no improper act results from it, and can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the conflicted individual or organization.") For example, two of the panel members are employed by charities which provide alternative educational provision, and the leader of the review is employed by Becta.