The voice of the child was heard by DCSF - for 45 minutes precisely. (But the child was not allowed to publish its film of the incident.)
I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this transcript of the Home Educated Youth Council's August meeting with Penny Jones at the DCSF.
Some of my favourite highlights:
PENNY JONES: So at the moment, anything we do on home education depends on the responses to the consultation, so I can’t sit here to you today and say “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.” But it’s really really important to include this as part of the consultation.
CHLOE WATSON: Quite a few kids have found that they’ve been dismissed because they’re close to their parents, it’s been implied that they are only speaking for what their parents want them to say. So we’re speaking independently (I want that noted).
JASPER GOLD: There are quite a few clauses and recommendations in the Report which seem… almost naïve of the methods that home educators use. And I was wondering, will there be anyone, when the recommendations are actually being chosen and put into final… into law, who has hands-on experience with home education?
PENNY JONES: Shall I explain to you how… sort of… things, if you like, get into law?
(I think that was a 'no', don't you? )
JASPER GOLD: Yes, I know, maybe before then… but it just seems that many of the–it may ch–it will be chosen in the end by Members of Parliament who won’t have had that experience, but it seems that they are very naïve of the methods used in home education.
CHLOE WATSON: There’s a distinct, chronic misunderstanding of how home education works, all the way through the report.
PENNY JONES: Yes… are you kind of thinking about the sorts of areas that you’re concerned about, are you worried about registration, are you worried about the monitoring, or are you worried about other things…
"I said come back tomorrow! And pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" [opens YouTube - well worth reminding yourself, if you haven't seen it for a while.]
GARETT ROSS: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says: “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family home, correspondence, etc.”
JONATHAN PRIOR: So how do you think it can be justified that, um, automatic access–automatic right of access to the home is not in any way a intrusion into personal family life?
PENNY JONES: If we look at human rights, the… legal basis for the way the government operates human rights is through the Human Rights Act, here, and the European Convention of Human Rights. And we’ve looked at this issue quite carefully because we think that the balance between the rights of the child and the rights of the parent is a very very very difficult one.
JONATHAN PRIOR: So why do you think it’s unbalanced?
PENNY JONES: Because–I don’t–we’re not saying that it’s unbalanced, we’re just saying that in any decision that’s made, different things have got to be weighed up. Now when we had a quick look at the ECHR, the key thing in there is the right to education. Every child has a right to education. Now, what we had to consider there was… it doesn’t have to be education in any particular form, it doesn’t have to be in private schools, it doesn’t have to be in maintained school, it doesn’t have to be at home, somehow the child has to be educated. And onto that is grafted, if you like, as a secondary thing, to the extent that it’s possible a child’s to be educated in accordance with the religious and philosophical preferences of their parents. So, the question for us there is quite a difficult one, and… go on Chloe.
CHLOE WATSON: I wanted to say that parents don’t just have a right to educate, they have a duty to educate, and those things are not in conflict. Parents have a duty to educate their children as they see fit according to their age, aptitude and ability…
PENNY JONES: Indeed.
CHLOE WATSON: …and that obviously only the parent can be the judge of that, no-one else can, because the parents know their children best. Therefore, it’s not about between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child, since the rights of the parent are only a byproduct of that responsibility. So they are not in conflict and they don’t really need ‘balancing’, because they weren’t in any way unbalanced, they follow on from one another, and it’s a non-sequitur to suggest that they are opposed, or in any way not concurrent.
PENNY JONES: Sorry, can I just carry on a bit and then… (continuing) That, sadly there are cases where things go wrong, and these things unfortunately get into the newspapers and it’s always a very very difficult judgement for the state to make, as to where is the threshold met, when the state has to intervene for the well-being of the children.
- but if they didn't get into the newspapers, they wouldn't be a problem, right? Sheesh.
Now I know the vast majority of home educated children like you, are out there, communicating, you go to clubs, you have friends. But that’s not the same–that’s not necessarily the case for every home educated child.
JONATHAN PRIOR: So why are you using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?
JASPER GOLD: This report is meant to benefit home educators, I hope, and I have not met a single home educator who has been in favour of the report, and I have met well upward of a thousand who have been strongly opposed to this report. And I just don’t see that you can put forward a report in the name of “helping home education”, where there are practically no home educators that support it.
- Brilliant. No answer forthcoming, of course.
PENNY JONES: But–I mean…It seems to me that there’s very much a role for the home educated community and [inaudible] about home educated community having a role in commissioning this service, so that the right sort of people are going out [inaudible] local authority. [pause as people arrive] [inaudible] community might be able to [inaudible] ex teachers, why could they not be suitable?
GARETT ROSS: Ah. because they don’t know a thing about it, ’cause they come from a school background.
- I just love it. I bet Penny feels like she drew the short straw when they were handing out jobs at the DCSF.
PENNY JONES: Yes, but you see you need to put forward your views, about the sort of training and background that is appropriate for these people, because, you know, Graham is very clear about the Children’s Trust commissioning these services, but, you know, it does, rely here on the commu–education community coming forward and making their contribution, and that’s why he’s suggesting to that at a local level they’re involved in the commissioning.
Take note. Their plans rely on our cooperation, admitted here by DCSF.
PENNY JONES: Yeah–I mean, that–that’s something we’re doing at the next stage, ’cause what we’re doing at the moment is just consulting on those, few specific bits. Once we’ve got the legislation, once we’ve dealt with the legislation there will be plenty of guidance, and that’s the point at which we’ll need input, from people such as you.
Her choice of words here it quite telling, I think. "Once we’ve got the legislation," - then she corrects herself. "Once we’ve dealt with the legislation,". Why did she need to correct herself? Because she gave the game away.. Transcripts are excellent for bringing out the detail of these things and the hidden clues.
PENNY JONES: I think–I think…I think we need to look at the wording of that, I think…what we’re looking at there, is that there are a number of, um [pause] children educated otherwise, who are not actually educated in the home, by and large. They might be educated in, sort of, you know, small tutorial groups, or alternative arrangements which don’t hit the threshold for registration as a school. And now this would be, you know, a question for local authorities about the best way to approach that sort of arrangement.
JONATHAN PRIOR: It’s not so much about that–
CHLOE WATSON: Why, why should it be that you need to know that, as local authorities? Why would that be necessary – if a child isn’t being educated by the state, then it is no longer the state’s responsibility, since it’s the parent’s duty to ensure their child recieves a proper education. If that fails, then the child can sue that parent; if the state intervenes, then the state has to take some of that liability.
PENNY JONES: Chloe, the concern of the state, is that, because we’ve got ECHR, the state does have a responsibility to make sure that the child–every child receives a suitable education, that’s inescapeable. And, in theory, it would be possible for a home educated child, at some point in the future, to turn round to the state and say ‘look you didn’t secure my interests, I was getting a terrible education, you were aware I was getting a terrible education, why didn’t you do something about it?’ so it’s rather a different situation than you envisage.
CHLOE WATSON: Can I argue with that point, because so many children are failed by the school system, that if they knew they could do that, and if that had happened, the state would go bust, to be frank.
- As with Penny's comment about newspapers, if they're not at risk of being sued, it's not a problem. I'm all for pragmatism, but this is heartless.
JASPER GOLD: All these things that you could never teach–
PENNY JONES: No, I mean, I’m with you, I don’t think there’s anything between us
CHLOE WATSON: No, I don’t think we’re arguing at this point, I think we’re explaining, because there is a lot of…weakness, in the system’s knowledge of these things.
GARETT ROSS: Speaking of that, can we object to the ‘Every Child Matters’ outcomes, please?
JONATHAN PRIOR: I’m not sure how they, in any way fit in with, um, not only human rights, but the suitability of education full stop.
PENNY JONES: [pause] Sorry, what, the every child matters outcomes?
JONATHAN PRIOR: Yeah, they’re mentioned in this report, they’re actually of pretty major significance in this report [crosstalk]
GARETT ROSS: Under ‘Enjoy and Achieve’, it’s all, all except for one, related to school. There’s five, under ‘enjoy and achieve’, “ready for school, attend and enjoy school, achieve stretching national educational standards at primary, achieve personal and social development and enjoy recreation, achieve stretching national educational standards at secondary.”
JONATHAN PRIOR: [crosstalk] well as you hear, it’s defining a… an age, almost, if you like, uh, where certain things should be achieved, and this is wrong, it’s wrong because–
CHLOE WATSON: Yeah, we [crosstalk] fundamentally oppose benchmarked attainment, ’cause there’s a–I can’t remember exactly what page it’s on, but it says “the individuality of home educators militates against benchmarked attainment”. And, actually we… over all, I think, disagree with the whole idea of benchmarked attainment, because people are not fitted into boxes, we are far too diverse and individual for that, and we’re not made to fit government statistics, no offence, we’re made to be ourselves, and I think that’s one of the things ‘every child matters’ doesn’t take into account.
A child should be happy, and be themselves, and be free from judgement no matter what they aspire to do, and those things aren’t mentioned. I think they are far more important than ‘enjoy and achieve’, because that doesn’t really say anything.
PENNY JONES: [pause] Can–can you just explain how that sort of, impinges on our consultation and what we’re doing, ’cause I [crosstalk]
CHLOE WATSON: ECM is a framework which is not entirely relevant [crosstalk]
PENNY JONES: [crosstalk] I mean, it doesn’t directly take account of home education, because a very small proportion of children [crosstalk]
JONATHAN PRIOR: I want to read you a section of annex C: “The review will look in particular at if and how far home educated children have access to the five Every Child Matters outcomes.”
PENNY JONES: Ahh, I see, okay.
GARETT ROSS: I don’t want them.
PENNY JONES: Well, want or not, I am a government official, and these five outcomes are government policy. [loud crosstalk from all sides]
And that says everything we need to hear. Consultation? Forget it. The voice of the child clearly said "I don’t want [the five Every Child Matters outcomes]," and the government said: "I don't care what you want. This is how it is, because I said so. Now sit down and shut up."
GARETT ROSS: Yes, and they can’t be applied to families, they aren’t for families to pay attention to, they’re for government organisations like the LAs, and the–
PENNY JONES: Exactly, because the tactic, if you think about it, all taxpayers, I’m a taxpayer (come back to you in a moment [to a raised hand]) [inaudible] we have a system which, an education system which most children attend, most taxpayers are contributing to, and [inaudible] and I think the vast majority of people in this country think you do need some kind of benchmarks as to whether your education system is performing adequately, you need some sort of targets.
There she goes again, giving the game away. "..the tactic.."
JONATHAN PRIOR: The problem is, is that we’re not an education system.
PENNY JONES: [What I was trying to say was] home education… it clearly has to relate in a different way to the Every Child Matters outcomes…
JONATHAN PRIOR: Should it?
PENNY JONES: …because it’s no good talking about ‘Enjoy and Achieve’ in terms of school if a child’s home educated.
JASPER GOLD: Which is exactly why we’re against the report…
GARETT ROSS: This report implies forcing those on us.
PENNY JONES: I don’t–I don’t think they are things that can be forced upon anyone, they are at a fairly high level of generallity.
A high level of generality?! What on earth is that supposed to mean??
JONATHAN PRIOR: Let me read you a section from the terms of reference…
PENNY JONES: Chloe, Chloe, I meant to say that there are people coming into this room at twelve o’clock, so we really need to cut it short…
Translation: "Oh no, don't start nailing me down to the terms of reference! Is it lunch time yet?"
CHLOE WATSON: I’m sure they’ll be happy to wait a minute [not seeing anybody waiting to use the room]
PENNY JONES: Well, not terribly long, because they’ll be arriving in a bit with stacks of paper…
"Where have the props people gone? That was their cue!"
PENNY JONES: Yes, I mean, the-the Every Child Matters… [pause] um, the Every Child Matters outcomes, are not sort of specific in terms of, you know, we… we want to make children [inaudible] the children, [inaudible] and da da da da da–that’s not in legislation, we feel that has to be another stage, so I think I–[pause]–I think there’s a sense in which the every child matters outcomes can be directly applied in that clause of the bill to home education. It’s more at the policy level, in terms of how we approach home education, the place home education has within the broader policy framework.
JONATHAN PRIOR: Unfortunately, this doesn’t really apply to us in any real way, shape or form…
CHLOE WATSON: And it’s really just bureaucratic nonsense.
*Round of applause from the Kilner household*
PENNY JONES: Well, you have your opinion there…
..."And I couldn't care less what it is.."
CHLOE WATSON: And there have definitely been cases where children are pressured into saying things, like in the Orkney Islands scandal.
JONATHAN PRIOR: Or just plain put in care.
PENNY JONES: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a, there’s a really–there’s a really really good point here, which keeps cropping up again and again, I mean [inaudible] you’re going to be very powerful in [inaudible] when you look at any form of guidance, whether it’s on monitoring or education statements, or whatever it is, you’ve got to make sure that there’s a–a really big emphasis placed on the child’s voice, particularly the older children of secondary school age, to make sure that their… that their feelings and wishes are taken into account.
But the feelings of younger children will continue to be ignored.
JONATHAN PRIOR: The problem is that, um, it’s not so much–it’s not really a balance between the rights of the child and the parent, it’s between the rights of the parent and the state, and the child and the state.
PENNY JONES: Yes.
*More applause.* How delicious, to read her admitting this. I wish we could see the film.
ERIC BRUYLANT: Many children I know, if–if they were forced to go to school, if they were told by the state, that they have to go; they would flatly refuse.
CHLOE WATSON: Certainly I think everyone in this room.
ERIC BRUYLANT: All those children, if you put the blame on the parents, even if the parent is neutral, and would be okay with the child going to school, you can’t get too harsh with the parent, for something which is the child’s choice.
PENNY JONES: Yeah, I mean, that’s–that’s a whole different topic, because that’s about school attendance orders, and, you know, that’s a whole area of, you know, slightly–very large, opinionated teenagers, where, you know, the balance between the parents and the child is somewhat different, and [inaudible] well it isn’t for today, because it’s a bigger topic than home education.
CHLOE WATSON: I have one last thing: can we arrange another meeting, because I feel these topics are too extensive, and we haven’t covered everything. There’s quite a lot that we all have to say.
GARETT ROSS: We’ll have a three hour one. [laughter]
PENNY JONES: I’ll have to go, but we’ll e-mail, we’ll have to e-mail about it. [crosstalk]
Thank you for coming, we’ll have to work out how to…
[crosstalk and 'thanks/you're welcome' from around the room]
[crosstalk as room is vacated]
"We'll email! Mwah mwah," is what people say when they have no intention of getting in touch again. I wonder if she did.
Gotta love the voice of the child.