Notes on the transcripts (9) - Funding, outcomes, sides of A4 again and yet more 'hope'.
Again today I'm continuing with my notes on the [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]. (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.)
My previous post ended with Lynda Waltho's question number 35:
Going on from that, I am somewhat calmed by your response, but you're talking a lot about training and its being the last resort. It seems to me that there's going to need to be a lot of resources diverted to training or provided for training. Is that not going to stymie your overall objectives? It could end up basically being a bottomless pit, because if we're going to train them so well that it is a last resort and everything's going to be-I just wonder where it's all coming from. Sorry, is that another question you didn't want?
Here's the reply from Penny Jones, Independent Schools and School Organisation, DCSF:
We have talked to local authorities, and we've made an estimate of the amount of time. When we looked at the cost of implementing these recommendations, we did explicitly consider the length of time it would take to train officials, how much it was going to cost to develop training packages and the cost of backfilling when people were off going training. We put a cost in, and that's part of the cost we've given in our full response, so it's in there. We think it's fully costed, and we have consulted, so hopefully the resources will be there. They've been earmarked.
There's that 'hope' thing again - like Graham Badman's 'hope' that all the local authority officers will act sensibly and treat us decently. They're planning to change the law and expose us all to a lot more risk than they're claiming to be trying to protect us from - on the single basis of hope. It's not enough.
A short debate about exams and 'outcomes' data then ensued:
Q36 Mr. Chaytor (Lab, Bury North): Minister, if the statistics on numbers of children are so difficult to collate, presumably there are no statistics on learning outcomes. Do we assume we have no information at all on any learning outcomes of the 20,000 to 40,000 children we're talking about?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I think they would be incomplete, wouldn't they? Because we don't know how many children we're talking about, finding the outcomes for those children, the data we've got is incomplete. You could look at GCSE results, but obviously, that may not encompass all children who are home-educated.
Q37 Mr. Chaytor: Do GCSE stats or Key Stage 2 standard assessment tests indicate whether the child has been home-educated or not?
Penny Jones: I think the difficulty is that we don't have systematic data for the outcomes of these children. There have been a number of academic studies, both here and quite a lot in America as well, showing that generally, home-educated children attain well, but there is always a question as to how representative the sample is. Unless and until we can get a cross-section of the whole population of home-educated children, we actually can't answer the question "How do the outcomes compare with the population as a whole?" The difficulty we've got with GCSEs and the key stage examinations is that yes, the young people may take these tests, but then when we look at our statistics, those individuals aren't recognised as being home-educated, so we can't just lift up the data and look at it. I don't know if Graham wants to add anything.
Graham Badman: One positive thing. Extending examination centres in the way in which I think the report recommends was always at the top when I asked home educators to give me their shopping list. "What do you want from it?" They wanted the access. That will give us better data in terms of entry to examinations and performance, but I think the needs data is stark and needs further examination. I suspect that there's an untapped mine of information in Jobcentre Plus that also could be sought.
If I can turn the question round, if you're asking me "Do we know enough about the outcomes of a substantial number of young people?", I think quite clearly and unequivocally no. That is not to say they don't have any; we just don't know. To go back to anecdote and case study, I have met some extraordinarily accomplished young people who've done very well and sailed through university and so forth, sometimes developing very late, and others for whom the attainments are absolutely minimal. We don't know enough about that and therefore local authorities did not know when to intervene to provide something additional that could have improved their attainments.
But local authorities could have made an offer, on their website pages about home education. Each and every one of them could, within existing funding and rules, have offered home educators free access to a public exam centre. Why wasn't the fact that they chose not to examined by the review or the Select Committee?
My oldest son has 'minimal attainments' in terms of exam results, but he runs a profitable business now and has never had cause to visit a Job Centre. Nor will he either, unless he's ever struggling to hire staff in the normal way. This perfectly legitimate, successful, likely and probable outcome for elective and autonomous home education has been completely overlooked by both the review and the Select Committee. I wonder why.
Q38 Mr. Chaytor: Could you tell us a little about the proposal for a statement of intended learning? How detailed is that going to be and who is going to draw it up?
Ms Diana R. Johnson: I've asked about that and I was told - obviously, this is all very provisional at the moment-that people would be required to produce no more than two sides of A4.
You asked? Who did you ask? Who exactly is making these seemingly arbitrary decisions about us, if not the government minister responsible? Hmm.. reference to sides of A4 sounds very familiar though. I wonder to what extent these have featured as expressions of Graham Badman's dealings with people throughout the course of his career. Is it all measured in sides of A4?
There are certain issues with autonomous learning that need to be addressed.
You're not kidding!
That's why one of the recommendations is looking at putting some further research into autonomous learning and how that could be fitted into providing a statement on a yearly basis.
And is the cart going to be put before the horse, or is this going to happen before any changes are imposed? What kind of 'further research' will it be? We must hope that this is to be of a significantly higher calibre than that produced by the review. There's that hope thing again: a vain hope. A fool's hope, but the only kind we've got.
So there is work to do, including looking at the issue of what is suitable and efficient education. Some further work needs to be addressed to look at that and to flesh it out, but in terms of the statement, my view certainly is it would not be more than a few pages.
Two? A few? It's grown already over the course of the minister's reply! And what about the "opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised" mentioned in recommendation 1 of the report? [opens pdf] We all know that in some local authorities, an 'opportunity' will soon become a requirement and that 'two' or 'a few' sides could easily become a full-blown dissertation, to every word of which we are held during the following year's inspection process. Anyone with the vaguest understanding of the term 'autonomous learning' must realise it's not going to be at all compatible with this - or any other - plan.
Graham Badman spoke about this next. I think I'll save that for my next post.