Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 5
Its first paragraph:
5.1 As outlined in the previous section, local authorities were much criticised by home educators in their responses to this review, for their perceived lack of understanding of the various methodologies and approaches within home education and their manner of engagement with the parent and/or child. On the other hand, local authorities often expressed considerable anxiety for the wellbeing and progress of some children and the failure of some parents to respond to what they regarded were quite legitimate requests for information about the suitability of education. They have expressed in response to questionnaire and in interview their dissatisfaction with the current legislative position and guidance, which many find unworkable. In particular, the absence of a more precise definition of what constitutes a “suitable” and “efficient” education militates against benchmarked attainment and being denied access to the place of education, and the opportunity to speak with the child, prevents them from fulfilling their current statutory duties referred to previously.
contains 158 words, 45 of which relate to responses from home educators, on whom the review is supposed to be based, and the remaining 113 words are devoted to the sentiments and concerns of local authorities. This is a ratio of 2½ to 1, which I think just about sums up the balance of the report as a whole. Extremely biased against us - almost laughably so.
He goes on unsurprisingly in point 5.2:
I have been greatly impressed in my visits and conversations with local authorities..
and sets out some instances of what he calls good practice - including Stafford, of all boroughs!
Point 5.4, containing recommendation 7 is one that causes home educators and their children the most consternation:
Indeed, there are so many problems with it that it's quite a task to think about listing them all. But list them we must:
- Why should 'designated officers have the right of access to our homes', when we have committed no crime? Why should our private, personal, intimate retreats (and, more crucially, those of our children) be subjected to arbitrary invasion by strangers under threat of (we hear) forced removal of said children to full-time school attendance at best, or into the 'care' system at worst? What has this country come to?
- The family home should be - always was - sacrosanct. For children, it has to feel like a safe place, but its routine inspection by local authority officials will feel like violation, not safeguarding. Yes, some children do live in fundamentally unsafe environments in which case families might benefit from help and support, but traditionally this business was firmly within the realm of social workers, who are trained and experienced in the delicate management of such issues.
- Elective home education is not, on its own, sufficient reason to suspect child abuse or an unsafe home environment and it's a blatant lie to suggest it is.
- To allow 'designated officers' the right of access to people's homes without good reason is to set a dangerous precedent, with implications for all families, home educating or not.
- Allowing 'designated officers' the right to speak with each home educated child alone is another high risk manoeuvre, from the point of view of home educators. What if the 'designated officer' in question has secret motives, other than the ones stated? What if he upsets, or frightens the child, asks leading questions or misinterprets the child's answers? There are no guarantees that this will never happen, and for the government to allow such a right is a clearer statement than ever before that it has more trust in local authority officers - essentially strangers to a child - than it does in children's own parents.
- "In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well." Actually, not. They'll be able to satisfy themselves that on that occasion the child appears to be safe and well. Again, there are no guarantees that any children will be safe and well all the time, whoever is taking care of them. I think most of us would therefore contend that these proposals aren't really about the safety and wellbeing of children, but about the blatant invasion of government into private family life.
- "That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration," is such an obscurely-phrased suggestion that it certainly warrants closer inspection. My first thought on reading it was "Allow the child? Why would I ever prevent her from doing something she wanted to do?" Then on the second reading, I was struck by the incongruity of the words required to allow. Because surely, to allow something is to have the power to deny it - otherwise the whole concept of allowing is a nonsense. And then of course, the outrage. Our children are not performing monkeys. This proposal is for nothing less than testing to take place, the avoidance of such stress for our children being a key reason for many of us to elect to home educate!
- Again, the word 'allow' signifies some sort of choice in the matter for the child, otherwise a different word would have been used, like 'compel'. So, if the child has the option to refuse, what would be the consequences of such refusal? This is something the child would need to know before he could make an informed choice and of course, if the alternative to agreeing to perform such a demonstration was a school or care order, then it wasn't really a choice at all and would therefore be a fundamentally dishonest procedure.
After all of that, this is a joke, surely..?
Such new powers will still depend upon, and be more effective, where there are good relationships and mutual trust, respect and open communication between the home educating family and the local authority.
.. when the relationship is to be made akin to that between the East Germans and their Stasi? The degree of Doublespeak is astounding.
And then of course, in point 5.8 and recommendation 12, we have the oft-predicted ICT/Becta factor:
So in due course, one can't help wondering, are we all going to be made to run only Becta-approved software in our homes, on Becta-approved machines? You might think this an unduly paranoid or cynical fear, but seen in the context of the rest of the document, I don't think it is.