Monday, June 22, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 6

I've just read the latest post on Renegade Parent, in which Lisa highlights a long but crucial comment by Colleen on one of her previous posts, which I'd missed. I think many of us have heard, or read, or know of similar accounts and situations of social workers coming to assess a situation and taking over, assuming the parent to be weak and unprotected/unconnected. In most - if not all - of the cases of which I'm personally aware, there was absolutely no real cause for concern and the initial referral was usually made by either vindictive or well meaning but paranoid relatives or neighbours. People who think it's wrong that a child's preference to not have her hair/teeth brushed three times a day should be taken seriously. People who think all children should be in school between 9am and 3pm, in the bath by 6pm and in bed by eight. People who think children should never fall, never accidentally tear their clothes while playing and never shout or cry. People who think that if a child can't read, write and manipulate numbers in the conventional sense by the age of six, her education is being neglected. People who think that children (and their parents, if needs be) must be made to conform with society's norms and expectations. People who don't value happiness or freedom and who probably don't know the meanings of those words and if they did, would treat them with suspicion and resentment.

These people do exist in their millions but so do the other kind, thankfully: the ones who would see a child running for a hug or being carried home in the evening by a loving parent, and just know everything was ok. Most of us, I think, instinctively know when a child is ok and when it really intrinsically isn't. Of all the thousands of children I've come across throughout my life, though some undoubtedly had problems at some time or other - who doesn't? - I never met one who I thought should be forcibly removed from his parents. Perhaps I've been lucky in the people I've known, but I think that kind of extreme abuse/neglect is extremely rare.

But I'm not supposed to be writing about that or, as I'd like to go on, in awe of Colleen and the incredible strength and wisdom she found to deal with that which confronted her. I'm supposed, though I'm growing very weary of it now, to be working through the Badman report [opens pdf]. So here we are, at part 6:

Part 6

The end of point 6.3 contains yet another of Mr Badman's now famous convoluted sentences, including one of his 16(?) uses of the term "I believe":

But because of the importance to local authorities of knowing the number of children and young people within the elective home education cohort, to assist in their commissioning of school places and to their understanding of why children were withdrawn from school, I believe it is important to report such information to the Children’s Trust, together with data concerning their use of current statutory orders, whether to supervise education or direct attendance at school.

So we're to be registered in order to help local authorities commission school places and to help them to understand why we don't want to use the schools? For real? As reasons for unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion into our lives, they don't stack up to much, do they? In my day when a school had too many children it hired an extra teacher and craned another prefabricated classroom into the playground. Too few and it laid a teacher off and maybe left a classroom empty or used it for something else, the spare space always being appreciated. It did not start interrogating innocent members of the local community.

And why does anyone need to know why we don't want to use the schools? We just prefer not to delegate our parenting and our children prefer not to attend, end of story. It's not complicated or difficult to work out or understand. It doesn't require an army of academics to write treatises on the subject, or for headteachers and officials to wring their hands in anguish. Some families like to use the schools and some don't. Knowing all about who we are and where we are and exactly what we're doing every minute of the day won't change that. They should take, as my teenagers would doubtless advise, a chill pill.

Point 6.4 betrays more of the same kind of anxiety:

6.4 While home education may sometimes be considered to be a better option for some children than mainstream education, parents should never be placed under pressure by schools to remove their children from school under threat of permanent exclusion or prosecution. I have heard evidence to this effect. The first priority of schools should always be to discuss with parents what support can be provided to keep their child in school and to ensure they behave well and attend regularly.

I have heard evidence to that effect too: in fact, it kind of happened in my family when the local school ran out of tactics to enforce my younger son's [Yes, it's his birthday again. 19 today!] compliance with its regime and turned to me in desperation, asking why I didn't home educate him also, since his brother was already at home? The answer was because he wanted to stay and try to win the power struggle, that he hates giving up or giving in and that he was inclined to view the idea of deregistration as a kind of defeat, even at the age of nine. I had some sympathy, in fact, for the school in that situation because its options for creativity and flexibility were so limited by government edicts. Anyway, the threat was implicit in their question: if we didn't deregister Ali would have to be suspended or expelled. We deregistered, and lived happily ever after.

Deregistration, for whatever reason, is often the saving of a child and her family. The pressure is off. There is time to work out what's really going on, and what the child really needs. Mr Badman unconsciously says it all in his: "ensure they behave well and attend regularly." Finding ways of enforcing compliance with the system should never be the main priority in times of such difficulties, otherwise all the talk of children's rights and children's needs is exposed as being nothing but lies. Mr Badman puts the needs of the system above the needs of the child here - indeed, to the expense of them. In so doing he gives away his real motive.


Blogger Mieke said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:43 pm, June 22, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

(Try again, my fingers are not communicating with my brain today..)

Spot on, Gill. By merely using the phrase 'children's rights' he doesn't support them. The report would be a lot more truthful if he'd replaced 'children's rights' with 'children's duties to comply with what we want them to do' throughout. I honestly don't believe Mr Badman has ever thought of a child as an individual human being, let alone an autonomous human being. I wonder what kind of childhood he's had...

2:47 pm, June 22, 2009  
Anonymous Renegade Parent said...

Thanks for your comments, Gill. I'll link back to make sure Colleen gets them (I am sure she will anyway).

I agree with Mieke - it's such an easy tactic (referring to children's rights). He is guaranteed to get whole swathes of uncritical people agreeing with him, and a significant proportion (I would have thought) who are too scared to voice their concerns in case they are labelled "uncaring", "pro-abuse", "NIMBY" (as Stephen Heppell labelled us) etc.

It's a logical fallacy that I think we need to carry on challenging in every possible way. Lots of people are doing an excellent job of that - I don't think I have ever seen such a diverse collection of writing, comments, and other resources that show so much passion for respecting children and protecting them appropriately.

Diversity that GB sees as a bad thing, no wonder...

11:44 pm, June 22, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Can't have been a good one Mieke! (Though I bet he'd say it was.)

Lisa, yes that was the problem with this review from the start, wasn't it? The first thing my son Ali said when he saw the press release back in January was: "Oh we've got no chance now they've used that trump card. Nobody will dare to argue with it."

Perhaps the next job is to take a closer look at the children's rights industry? Actually I shouldn't have put a question mark in there - it's definitely on my list.

7:34 am, June 23, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

well you know my views on the children's rights agenda!

10:38 am, June 23, 2009  
Blogger Gina xx said...

"So we're to be registered in order to help local authorities commission school places and to help them to understand why we don't want to use the schools?"

So will parents who send their children to private schools have to register then so the ptb can find out why they do not send their children to the state school?

7:56 pm, June 23, 2009  
Blogger Carlotta said...

I suspect that children's rights are exactly what we should be arguing. My informed guess is that there are plenty of HE children out there who would be prepared to take the LAs to court to show that the LA had infringed the child's rights in numerous ways, and also that the LAs had not promoted the their welfare.

Now that I would enjoy!

6:55 am, June 24, 2009  
Blogger Allie said...

A few years ago I was talking with someone who worked at a local creche. It's a very unusual creche, used by adults who are in the same building getting welfare rights advice, doing a course or whatever. It's part of an organisation that is genuinely grass-roots - not part of any govt initiative - and has existed for decades. She was saying that it was the *only* childcare place she'd worked where a child turning up in their pjs (for example) wouldn't immediately trigger all kinds of welfare panics. People working there were mainly parents and volunteers. They understood the reality of life with little children. So that place is a little haven in a world increasingly governed by tick-boxes. And there are more tick-boxes around children's lives than ever before.

This story is a convoluted route to something that's been buzzing in my head and that you've brought out with these posts, Gill. There is a vast gulf between real life and the kind of rigidity you get in the rules of most large systems or organisations. We all know it. If people try to impose the rules of a vast, rigid system in their own (or worse still) other people's lives, then damage is done. People find themselves caught up - struggling, bending rules and hoping not get caught, or enforcing them and watching the ensuing suffering. I suspect that our freedom from these rules and structures just irks people like GB - more than they can bear. Why should we be free of that struggle when he has to live with it? If everyone else has to venerate the system then how can we be allowed not to?

Sorry for blogging in your comments box.

11:31 am, June 24, 2009  

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