Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (5) - SEN, AWPU, govt co-option of charities and the concept of 'support'

Hmm. I really want to be blogging about a transcript from yesterday's round table meeting with 20 home educators and the Select Committee, but as we don't have one of those (and aren't ever likely to get one, sob! [UPDATE: I've just found a write-up of the meeting here. Thanks so much, Imran]) I'll get back to last Monday's far more boring one instead. But first, about yesterday's consultation. Over 5000 responses in the end! That's fantastic. We pulled all the stops out for the last one and only managed about 2000, if I remember correctly. Mr Badman is certainly good at winding people up, as Carlotta says most eloquently.

OK. More from [uncorrected] transcript of last Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf], then. (Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

Annette Brooke went on to say:

One of the difficulties in making sweeping statements is that the generic term of "elective home education" covers such a wide range. As you mentioned, I am sure that there are so many cases that we should celebrate, and I would quite like to have seen some case studies of good practice, which I think would have balanced your report out a little, Graham. I take it for granted that there is all that out there.

I have certainly met a number of parents who have removed their children from school, possibly because their child is on the autism spectrum-probably a very frequent reason-and the school is not providing, or is not able to provide either protection in terms of anti-bullying or a suitable education. I think those parents must feel very threatened that they are now effectively going to be inspected on what they are doing, which may be working on confidence and self-esteem, against some unknown criteria of what a good education is. Can you comment on that particular portion of home educators?

This is an excellent question and one I've got some experience of, having deregistered Tom aged 9 and with severe dyslexia and his confidence in his own abilities on the floor. Then having a 'compulsory' home visit from the LA, after 6 months' worth of hard work trying to reinstall his faith in himself, in which the officer in question demanded he read out loud and have a sample of his writing checked and harshly criticised! Needless to say, he hadn't even opened our file before visiting and had no idea what had happened in school.

Badman replied:

Let me pick up on autism first of all. My words were sincere when I described the emotion with which some people tell me their stories, so I accept that for many young people, home education was the last resort. If these recommendations go through, the money, in terms of the age-weighted pupil units, then flows to the local authority, either because that child has been in receipt of School Action Plus, because they are in receipt of significant services, or because they are statemented. The opportunity will now exist for the local authority to commission other services to support those families.

- an opportunity that's always been there, surely?

As I make very clear in my report, within special educational needs-I have cited at length the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice's evidence, which I think is strongly supportively of home educators' views-when it comes to commissioning support for autism, it may not be the local authority that does so. I am persuaded that some in the voluntary sector, such as Autism In Mind, may offer better support and help than local authorities. Under my proposals, they would be able to do that, and could be commissioned to provide those services, with money now going for the first time to local authorities to provide the services.

What's this third sector providers nonsense all about? As I understand it, AIM is a hard-working collection of volunteer parents who do a brilliant job at supporting one another - because they want to - but would have neither the time nor the inclination to turn themselves into a professional organisation. Nice idea, on the part of government, to try co-opt the charities/support groups with the use of some well-placed complements and hinted offers of bribes, but I can't see any of them (with the possible exception of EO) going for it. Personally I wouldn't touch that kind of a 'partnership' with a barge pole. Oh look, but here's someone who will. Kerching!

To repeat a word that I have used, I think it is perverse that for many young people, for whom there are quite legitimate concerns related to welfare and education, as soon as they opt out of school, they are cut off from what they would have had in terms of value.

No, what's perverse is that you will all run around the houses trying to think up ways of avoiding just paying the AWPU straight to the parents, where it can actually be spent on the child's education - strange thought though that would be.

To go back to your first comment, Chairman, about the positive sides of this, there are recommendations in the report about access to examinations-if people have not previously had it-to flexible schooling and to better vacation provision, all of which, I think, from what I have seen of the Government's response, have been accepted. Chairman, I think you are right: there is an awful lot that has been said about safeguarding. Most of this report is about ensuring that the rights of children are met within the context of home education-not outside of it-by the better provision of services and the better engagement of home educators in the training of local authority officers and in determining what the services are.

Or you could just leave us alone, where most of us where doing perfectly fine thank you. Or even offer some services to people who want them, on a voluntary basis, if you must be seen to be doing something.

Q27 Chairman: I speak as Chairman of this Committee. Recently we have been inquiring into looked-after children and the training of social workers. The fact of the matter is that in this country, for some reason, anyone engaged, as a family, with social services seems to have a stigma about it-they feel it is a negative thing. Are we not taking the same approach here? What we need to get from the Government and from anyone involved with a local authority is a positive relationship that supports home education, if that is what a parent chooses-a positive framework. There should not be a feeling that there is inspection, and that people will come to see if you are going to do something naughty, but a feeling that if you are trying to do something good, they should help you to do it. Is that not the frame that we want?

That would indeed be a better outcome than the one suggested by Badman. But to bring it about we'd have to forget about home visits, except by invitation from the family only and compulsory registration. Local authorities instead could advertise their services through recognised groups and known home educators, who could then pass the information on to everyone else. It would make sense for such services to be advertised on local authorities' websites, for families to avail themselves thereof as they wish, with no strings attached. What's wrong with this idea? Seems perfect to me.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (DCSF Minister for schools): That is certainly the view that the Government have taken on this. It is about creating a much more positive relationship between home educators and local authority officers. You will see examples in the report of good practice, which is already happening, but of course not across the whole of England; we need to spread it.

Oh good. Hmm. Why am I not convinced..?

Q28 Annette Brooke: I welcome the recommendations of support, but I am still concerned that a parent who really understands their particular child's needs and has an alternative approach that will ultimately build up confidence and communication will never fit into the round hole of what formal schooling would advocate. I am concerned - perhaps you can reassure me - that there is not enough flexibility to allow for that approach.

Another very good question.

Graham Badman: There is certainly nothing in this report to suggest that there should not be that flexibility...

Oh, but there is! Where shall we start? With the redefining of 'suitable' and 'efficient'? With the compulsory home visits from LA officers who, no matter what they've had in terms of training, will still be human, have prejudices, come from schooly backgrounds, have their own agenda (whatever that may be) and generally still mess up? With the recommendation to refuse us registration if our annual plans aren't up to scratch, or if we're found to have not fulfilled the previous year's plan? The concept of 'flexibility' has packed its bags and left the building thanks to you, Mr Badman.

We have had a quite deliberate distinction between the way that youngsters with special educational needs and others who are electively home educated are treated.

We have? Where?

I take the view that some people have absolutely prospered through being home educated.

This isn't his view to take: it's a plain fact, though it would be even truer if the word 'most' was substituted.

Sometimes they are not home educated for the entirety of a normal school career; sometimes they do so to recoup, if you wish, and then they re-enter school, perhaps on a part-time basis. I do not think there is any suggestion that the rights of parents who are dealing with young children, sometimes with quite specific needs, will in any way be negated.

Yes they will, because where we currently have the right to be immediately responsive to our children's educational needs, this will no longer be the case under the Badman recommendations. We'll have to stick to a plan instead, whether it turns out to be right for the child or not. We will have to impose the element of compulsion on our children.

On the contrary, what we are trying to say is that it is important that the state knows what is happening to them.

The state might want to know, for its own purposes, but this should not take priority over each individual child's needs and its parent's duty to respond to those needs.

Equally, the state has responsibilities to ensure that support is given to them.

Only if such support is wanted or asked for! The take-up of support has to be a voluntary affair, otherwise it can't correctly be called support at all and must be called coercion.

I'll leave this there for today and get on with attending to my children etc.


Anonymous Anonymous - would love to put my name but would probably receive a writ... said...

Support, advice, help etc I've experienced it all.

I had one civil servant conduct a home visit back in September 2005. Fast forward to Jan-May 2006 and things came to a head when the civil servant's word contradicted my version of what was said.

Thankfully, I recorded the whole home visit, which proved beyond any doubt that the civil servant had at best, lied by omission. It also proved that she had been dishonest on more than one occasion.

Her manager's reaction? They tried to threaten me with court action, saying that my recordings were a breach of her human rights and a breach of the Data Protection Act! Nevermind that the recordings proved my version of events (and what was said) to be correct!

It came to nothing but it does go to show how corrupt and deceitful some civil servants are. As you point out, "hoping" that these LA officers will use their powers "wisely" is wishful thinking, in my experience anyway.

Worst still, they don't have much of a memory, because they tried again between January - May 2008. Did they think I had thrown away or deleted the recordings?

I have not had any problems since (touch wood) but like many people I have lost all trust and faith in civil servants when it comes to conducting home visits.

If - as it has happened on one occasion with my child - they ask to speak to them 'in private', I would have no qualms in setting up recording equipment in the room to ensure that any questioning is reasonable and correct.

If it is insisted that a child is brought into the LA offices, I personally believe that all interviews should be recorded - electronically/digitally that is or, even better by video but certainly not handwritten on some notepad, which predictedly goes missing.

Isn't it strange that if the police wants to interview a child, the whole interview must be recorded and the child must have a responsible adult (like a lawyer or solicitor) present?

Yet, this consultation is proposing that interviews are conducted alone and without witnesses. What happens if the child then makes an allegation against the interviewing LA officer? Would the child be automatically disbelieved? Would it be up to the child to prove any misconduct?

What about "Safeguarding Children?"

Even with recordings that proves a civil servant's misconduct, it can be difficult to persuade managers to discipline any misconduct. So what hope if the family have no evidence? Or any record of what was said?

10:14 am, October 25, 2009  

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