Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blindsided? 21st Century Schools: A World-Class Education for Every Child / A School Report Card: consultation document

Some home educators went to a Capita conference yesterday about Children Missing Education, which sounds like it turned into a bit of a Nuremberg Rally against Elective Home Education. I am grateful that we have people who are willing to attend these things, or we'd never know.

Delegates were urged to respond to a consultation called 21st Century Schools: A World-Class Education for Every Child / A School Report Card: consultation document which seemed to be "something about schools having a responsibility to provide for all children in their areas."

I've come across a similar statement recently. Will have to run a search on my own blog to find it though. Yes, it was in this post, when I was exploring the Statutory guidance on inter-agency cooperation to improve well-being of children, young people and their families:

Statutory Guidance: Children's Trusts

The school also shares a commitment with others to promote the well-being (including educational achievement) of all children and young people in the area, not only its own pupils.

And I said: "Where did that come from?? Complete broadside. More investigation required."

Looks like that time is now.

So I'm now reading the consultation document: 21st Century Schools: A World-Class Education for Every Child [opens Word.doc] and I'm highlighting any statements that particularly jar:

· ensuring greater collective accountability for outcomes for children and young people in the local area.

This sounds like schools might be blamed for 'failing' EHE children like my sons, who have no GCSEs but are already running their own business. Yes, warning bells are sounding already.

Both the National Challenge and our coasting schools strategy are part of this.

I know what 'coasting schools' are - ones that stay the same regarding performance and don't keep improving. But I don't know what the National Challenge is and have made a note to find out.

1.14 We need to ensure that the resources in the system are deployed to the best effect to improve outcomes for children and young people. Our ongoing review of the Dedicated Schools Grant will ensure the funding system acts to promote the delivery of the vision of the 21st century school.

So, what, they're going to bribe those schools who go along with this by giving them extra cash? Sounds about right.

1.15 Our intention is to publish, in spring 2009, a White Paper on 21st century schools, which will cover the key actions we intend to take; and the ways we will need to work in partnership with others to realise our vision. The responses to this consultation will help shape the White Paper and we will work with a wide range of stakeholders to develop the proposals.

This will be legislation then.

enables schools to identify and help to address additional needs

Gathering information on individual pupils for the ECM stuff, one assumes.

There follows a lot of points about schools, and a lot of 'all children' rhetoric.

I'm scanning through to find something that might relate to us, and I come across:

engages with parents to create a supportive home learning environment;

- which made me smile, but is about school pupils I think.

· providing a range of activities and opportunities to enrich the lives of children, young people, families and the wider community, offering opportunities to take part in a range of sporting, cultural, learning, play and recreational activities, designed in consultation with them; working with a range of partners to provide access to the core offer of extended services (including where appropriate through co-location); and contributing to wider local community objectives, raising the aspirations and prosperity of communities and promoting cohesive and sustainable communities.

I wonder if they are planning to merge the schools, children's centres, sports centres and libraries etc., after all?

This looks like it might try to sweep us in:

. In this system, schools will work with colleges, universities, employers, local authorities and the full range of children’s services to offer, between them, a comprehensive, highly responsive and personalised service which focuses on what every child and young person needs in order to succeed and makes sure it is put in place.


2.9 This 21st century school system, which is beginning to develop, will look and feel very different to the one we have been used to. It will be one in which, to achieve their core mission of excellent teaching and learning, schools look beyond traditional boundaries, are much more outward-facing, working in closer partnership with children, young people and parents; other schools, colleges, learning providers and universities; other children’s services; the third sector, the private sector and employers; and the local authority and its Children’s Trust partners. It will be much more common for governance, leadership and services to work across more than one school; and we will set out in the Children’s Plan One Year On document how we will further incentivise co-location of wider children’s services on school sites. Better use of the opportunities provided by modern technology will enhance all of the dimensions of a world-class education system.

This is still the main bit that worries me though, having come across it again in point 2.10:

· ensuring greater collective accountability for outcomes for children and young people in the local area.

My answers: 1. No, and 2. Yes, the freedom of EHE: i.e. the parent's duty to ensure educational provision, as per Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act.

Here's another hint at the source of potential trouble for us:

Schools will: ...
· take responsibility for improving outcomes for children and young people in the wider community as well as those on their own roll. This could mean, for example, schools which have had more success in improving children’s outcomes working with others in the local area to help raise standards across the community.

They are still on about personalised learning. (Someone said they weren't.)

3.4 Personalised teaching and learning..

It features quite heavily throughout the document, with talk of individual and personal tutors, 'tailored input', etc.

My answer: Leave them alone to make their own choices, then it might feel to them like a real and fair partnership.

This bit, surely, is not about us:

3.13 Schools also play a key role in spotting vulnerable children and children who might be at risk, including those who are persistently absent from school. Co-ordinated support and services across different agencies, focused on the needs of the child, are vital to safeguarding children effectively by ensuring that problems are identified and addressed at an early stage and prompt action taken to protect vulnerable children where needed.

3.15 As Children’s Trusts develop, many areas are developing models for early intervention, with schools supported by locally-based multi-agency teams, using approaches such as the Common Assessment Framework and assigning Lead Professionals where a child needs support from a range of different services.

- It wasn't difficult to see this coming.

We believe that, if schools can be put in a position to identify and tackle problems in children and young people’s lives, then these problems can be tackled more quickly and more effectively.

I'd like to see an exact definition of 'a position to identify and tackle problems in children and young people’s lives'.

Paragraph 3.17 is this bit:

3.17 An effective system for early intervention depends on:
· every child or young person having someone within the school who knows them well;
· school staff (not just teachers) being trained to identify additional needs accurately;
· schools offering the right teaching, pastoral and family support approaches to meet emergent needs themselves, with good support and advice readily available from wider services as needed; and
· schools being able to access support from multi-agency teams – teams who will support more complex cases as appropriate, co-ordinated by a Lead Professional.

And my answer would be that I don't have a problem with that - for school pupils.

Warning bells again:

As schools are based at the centre of local communities, they are ideally placed to help local people make the most of opportunities to take part in activities for fun, learning and development. By doing this, schools can contribute to improvements in the whole community, not just for the pupils on their roll and their families.

3.20 Schools are a vital resource for the whole community in a local area and have a key role in shaping the society we want to build for the future

Ahem! The society who wants to build for the future?

3.21 The core offer for extended services includes providing access to a varied range of activities outside of school hours; childcare from 8am-6pm, 48 weeks a year for primary schools; parenting support, including family learning and community access to facilities including adult learning, ICT, play, recreation and sports facilities. Over two-thirds of schools are already working in this way.

So it's a done deal anyway. This is just dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

My answer: they need to be supported in their understanding that it's the parents duty (not the school's or the Local Authority's) to ensure educational provision, as per Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act. Free time spent with the family at home is immensely valuable to a child. Official intervention is often very damaging to children and families.

3.25 Partnership with parents to support their child’s development is a key element of personalised learning. Parents’ engagement in their child’s learning is the most important influence on their child’s achievement.

What about parents who don't need or want such partnerships? Are they free to choose?

In the future, schools will instinctively seek to work in partnership with each other and with other providers and services, in order to offer a greater range of provision, to learn from each other and to take collective responsibility for improving outcomes for children, young people and families in their local area.

- Will the exact meaning of this ever become clear?!

Here we go. This probably is about us:

3.30 Stronger partnership working will support improvements in outcomes through:
· ensuring greater collective accountability for outcomes for children and young people in the local area, including those children in alternative provision, and as children move between the different phases of education.

My answers:

a) I don't care, as long as you don't try to impose anything compulsory on elective home educating families.
b) Ditto.
c) Ditto.

There are few incentives for schools to take in their full share of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds or take wider responsibility for improving outcomes for children in the local area who are not on their roll

Translation: They are going to bribe them to interfere with us.

My answer:

An arrangement to check that children's, young people's and parents' autonomy is not being compromised by these new rules and regulations.

My answers:

Understanding the limits of their remit and respecting people's liberty and human rights.

Same answer to a) and b).

Wow, one light in the darkness:

· whether it will be necessary, in the White Paper, to make proposals for clarifying the rules around the use of the DSG, for instance in relation to the purposes of the school and to funding services that support children at other schools;

Yes please, confine your plans to children attending this or that school!

My answers:

9) No, you've already published enough guidance to wallpaper the moon with, should anyone ever want to.

10 a) No, I think a 21st century school could just be a school in the 21st century, couldn't it? It doesn't have to get all totalitarian and big for its boots. Or you could be really radical and completely remove the whole concept of compulsion in education. Then people of all ages might really want to learn things.

10 b) Human rights, civil liberties, and Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act.

11) Well, if you want a nation of sheeple, carry on. But if you - mad idea, I know - actually wanted young people to develop integrity and real, independent, critical thinking, you would stop trying to pull them all into the same dull, bland, excruciatingly, mind-numbingly boring system of qualifications, accountability and your own, very skewed ideas about what constitutes success.

That's the end of that document [opens Word.doc]. But there's more:

A School Report Card: consultation document [opens Word.doc].

For schools, the new School Report Card will: ..
§ recognise the value of schools’ work for all children and across all outcomes (but only hold schools to account for those outcomes they can influence);

- Not us then.

10. The new School Report Card will use existing data and will see no increase in burdens on schools.

- Definitely not us then.

And that's reiterated here:

26. By working closely with other schools and other services, and being active partners within their local Children’s Trusts, schools both take greater responsibility for all children and young people within their areas, and make a more active and effective contribution to improving the full range of outcomes for them. Although it is not reasonable to hold schools to account for outcomes over which they can have only limited influence, they should be accountable for their impact on the partnerships in which they engage.

Here's a question though:

19. Do you agree that the School Report Card should: · cover all maintained schools, including special schools, pupil referral units and alternative provision, in due course?

- which needs a big, fat NO.

That's that. There's nothing else relevant to us, as far as I can tell. I don't even know if this consult is open to parents, but might stick in a response along the above lines anyway. The closing date is Tuesday March 3rd - three days from now.

AHEd press release: NSPCC should withdraw from government review into home education.


Home education action group, AHEd [1] has written to the NSPCC Chief Executive decrying libellous public comments made by their Child Protection Policy Advisor, Mr. Vijay Patel, smearing home educators as child abusers.

Mr. Patel recently admitted publicly that he has no evidence of a link between child abuse and home education, yet in outrageous comments reported in the Independent [2] he linked home education with the death of Victoria Climbie [3] despite the fact that the enquiry found the NSPCC partly responsible for her death. The NSPCC then apologised for their part in failing to keep Victoria alive because they were planning a party [4].

The Victoria Climbie Foundation yesterday said [5] that they are "...genuinely concerned about the link being made between Victoria Climbié and home education, and Victoria as a hidden child. Victoria was neither home-educated nor hidden.

“The reality is that there is no such thing as a 'hidden' child, only children who are allowed to fall through the gaps. The key issue here is how statutory services interact with children that are known within the child protection system."

In a speech to the National Social Services Conference 2003 Lord Laming also commented that Victoria was “known to no fewer than four Social Services Departments, three Housing Departments and two specialist Police Child Protection Teams. Furthermore she was admitted to two different hospitals because of suspicions she was being deliberately harmed and she was referred to a specialist Child and Family Centre managed by the NSPCC.”

AHEd has called for a public apology to the HE community from the NSPCC and for them to distance themselves from Mr. Patel's comments or withdraw from the current Review of Home Education.

Contact: (Chair, AHEd) email: tel:






Friday, February 27, 2009

A very long post in which I try to find out whether ECM is a monster or not. It is.

I am very tempted to devote this entire blog post to discussing the viral attack on the NSPCC's Facebook page, which is amazing to behold (I've never seen one in action before) following our old protagonist Mr Vijay Patel's comments in the Independent yesterday about Victoria Climbié. Or to wondering, as Ali Preuss brilliantly did here about whether it took them so long to respond because they were "busy investigating the teacher bloke on the radio earlier who was claiming all the home ed 'council estate kids' as his own." !!

But sadly, I can't. Instead, I've set myself the odious task of trawling through ECM PSAs to find out which ones are statutory. By the end of this post, I want to be able to say roughly (or even exactly) what percentage of ECM is legal requirement and what percentage is still only rhetoric. I don't know quite why I feel the need to work it out this way, but I do.

I found a list of the relevant PSAs when I was last exploring them. I wonder if I can find it again now.

OK, this page links to them all, but I'm looking for a shortcut - a list or page that might tell me which ones are statutory. More Googling.

Here is a list of Statutory Instruments of the United Kingdom, 2007. Hmm. This is not going to be easy, and it's not even up to date. I'm just wondering whether I may as well check every one of the PSAs listed in the ECM framework [opens pdf] to see which are Statutory. And I don't even know if it says on them whether they are or not, although I assume it probably does. Or should.

(I was chatting to a friend at our home ed meeting on Wednesday, who was actually attending a course next door and had popped in to say hello. The course title wasn't particularly ECM-related, but she said the content was peppered with references to the framework. It seems to be insidiously weaving its way through swathes of public service, taking hold in every quarter as planned, no doubt.)

Here are the PSAs listed in the framework [These all open pdfs.]:

Be Healthy:

Stay Safe:

Enjoy and Achieve:

Make a Positive Contribution and Achieve Economic Wellbeing:

And no - a further quick random check through several of these documents tells me that their legal status is not as simple as the inclusion of a statement along the lines of: "This is a statutory requirement" or not. But I think a search for the word 'statutory' in each document is likely give an indication of the legal status, as it currently stands. I think this route to my answer will be more direct than starting to plough through outdated lists of Statutory Instruments in the hope of somehow being able to tell which ones pertained to ECM.

The DCSF's Departmental Strategic Objective numbers 1-6 also feature in the ECM framework [opens pdf], but I can't find those. The nearest I seem to be able to get to them is this 2008 Departmental Report [opens pdf], which may or may not be useful. If I don't find what I need to know from the PSAs, I will check there. In fact, I'll probably do both to be on the safe side.

So. Seventeen PSA documents. I'm just going to plough through each one, searching for the word 'statutory' and noting what I find. I may also search for words like 'act' and 'requirement':

PSA 12: Improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people [opens pdf]:

Later in 2008, DCSF will publish revised guidance on promoting the health of looked after children, which will be statutory for both local authorities and health bodies.

3.15 Moving to greater co-location of primary health care, children’s centres and other early years settings should give young children a healthy start in life and offer support and advice to mothers and fathers. This means: ...
• when providing childcare and early education, meeting the standards of the Early Years Foundation Stage (statutory from September 2007), helping babies and young children with development and mothers’ and fathers’ understanding of physical activity, play and healthy food;

• promoting healthy eating, including new statutory requirements on
nutritional standards for school food;

3.21 To provide additional focus on looked after children the PSA indicators on CAMHS and services for disabled children (indicators 4 and 5) will be complemented by a indicator on the mental, behavioural and emotional wellbeing of looked after children in the Local Government National Indicator Set. In 2008, the Government will publish statutory guidance for health bodies and local authorities on improving the health of looked after children and young people, including guidance on the provision of dedicated CAMHS. The Government will also support their wider health needs through improved access to positive activities.

3.28 At local level, primary care trusts and local authorities will work together through Children’s Trust arrangements to understand the full spectrum of health needs of local children and agree how they can be met. This involves:
• identifying local priorities through:
• joint strategic needs assessments to be made statutory from April

• set out expectations of what support should be provided to support the emotional and mental health of looked after children, including the provision of dedicated or targeted CAMHS, in revised statutory guidance;

3.60 At local level, the landscape for joint working between local authorities and PCTs has changed radically over the past 4 years. The Children Act 2004 set out to local authorities, PCTs and other partners a duty to co-operate to improve children’s wellbeing as defined by the 5 ECM outcomes, including being healthy. More recently, the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act (2007) includes provisions for:
• a duty on local authorities and PCTs to undertake a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) of the health and wellbeing needs of the local community;
• a duty on the local authority and named statutory partners (including PCTs, NHS Trusts and NHS Foundation Trusts) to co-operate with each other in determining LAA targets, of which up to 35 will be national priority targets agreed with central government;
• a duty on those partners to have regard to those targets they have agreed; and
• the establishment of the new Local Involvement Networks (LINks) which will help ensure local communities have a stronger voice in the process of commissioning health and social care. LINks will also be a key mechanism for PCTs to discharge their duty to involve and consult.

3.8 Mothers and fathers need timely and meaningful information about their child’s development to help them to flourish. DCSF and DH are exploring the development of personal parent-held records that will run from birth to age 11, and potentially beyond. Additional support is also crucial for looked after children. Later in 2008, DCSF will publish revised guidance on promoting the health of looked after children, which will be statutory for both local authorities and health bodies.

Here's a useful thing to understand:

So it seems that ECM is sort of horisontally chopped into tiers, and that the Tier 1 stuff is statutory, whereas Tiers 2 and 3 are not, but that's probably too simplistic an explanation and anyway, I can't find anything that sets the three tiers apart across the whole ECM framework [opens pdf].

But there must be an easier way than this. I wonder how Local Authority managers work out which are their statutory requirements in this tangled web? I think I'll try some more Googling, to see if I can find any cover-all guidance for them on the subject.

Ah, I think I've just found it. It was as easy as typing 'statutory guidance' into the search box here. I can't believe it took me so long to work that out! If you've been wading through everything I've written up until now, I do apologise. Right. Here goes:

Oh no. There are fifty-six of these!

OK, they all open pdfs...

Statutory guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving education (I wonder how this differs to the Children Missing Education one? Surely it must..?)

Children’s Trusts: Statutory guidance on inter-agency cooperation to improve well-being of children, young people and their families

Securing Sufficient Childcare: Guidance for local authorities childcare act

Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage May 2008

Wait, I've refined my search now and put "statutory guidance" in quote marks. There are now only sixteen results. Phew! The monster isn't quite as gigantic as I first feared!

OK, the sixteen pieces of Statutory Guidance are as follows:

Statutory guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving education

Children's Trusts: Statutory guidance on inter-agency cooperation to improve well-being of children, young people and their families

Code of Practice on the provision of free nursery places for three and four year olds, 2004-2005

Every Child Matters: Change for Children - An Overview of Cross Government Guidance (This looks like it might be the document I've been looking for actually.)

Exemplars of LSCB effective local practice (This can't be statutory guidance, can it?

Statutory guidance on inter-agency co-operation to improve the wellbeing of children: children’s trusts

Every Child Matters: Change for Children - Statutory guidance on the role and responsibilities of the Director of Children’s Services and the Lead Member for Children’s Services

I'm missing one out here that's non-statutory also.

Securing Sufficient Childcare: Guidance for local authorities childcare act 2006

And I'm leaving out another three non-statutory items here.

Statutory guidance on making arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under section 11 of the Children Act 2004

The last two in the list are not statutory either, though the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage May 2008 obviously is.

On the basis of that, it looks to me like the whole ECM framework [opens pdf] is underpinned, so far, by only eight items of statutory guidance so far, plus Acts of Parliament including the Children Act 2004 and the Childcare Act 2006.

I've just been visited by a friend who works in Local Government, though not in a department that's connected to ECM, but he explained that all Codes of Practice and Statutory Instruments are disseminated to LA Officers on a series of day courses, during which the three or four [invariable] tiers of action are explained to them. The tiers were labelled in one of his coursework folders as 'MUST; SHALL/SHOULD; and MAY'. Failure to act on the first tier ('MUST') is a disciplinary and possibly a criminal offence; failure to act on the second tier ('SHALL/SHOULD') could be actionable if there wasn't a very good reason, and failure to act on the third tier ('MAY') is probably OK, as long as the officer can show that he has borne in mind the statutory and advisory elements of the Code.

But how to tell what proportion of ECM is not mandatory? I'm going to go back to Every Child Matters: Change for Children - An Overview of Cross Government Guidance to see if I can find out.

Every Child Matters: Change for Children is the programme of local and national action through which the whole system transformation of children’s services described in Every Child Matters is being implemented. A range of guidance documents has been produced to assist local partners in delivering this programme, including statutory guidance under the Children Act 2004.

Hmm.. no mention of the Childcare Act there..

Colleagues in the school workforce will also wish to be aware of guidance on extended schools available on

I think this is also something to try and keep our eye on.

Wow, look at this:

Wellbeing has a legal definition based on the five Every Child Matters outcomes; the achievement of these outcomes is, in part, dependent upon the effective work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

So when they visit our houses asking to check on our children's wellbeing, they really do mean all of this legal stuff - not how well our children happen to be!

And all of this is overseen, of course, by Ofsted.

Every Child Matters: The Framework for the Inspection of Children’s Services sets out the principles to be applied by an inspectorate or commission assessing any children’s service, and defines the key judgements which, where appropriate and practical, inspections will seek to make. The framework ensures that all assessments consider the extent to which the service contributes to improving the wellbeing of children and young people.

I'm looking at The Children’s Plan One Year On: a progress report now. It's a big one: no wonder it jammed up my PCU.

Parents want the best for their children. They want them to be safe, happy, healthy, doing well in a good school with high standards, and able to get good
qualifications and eventually a good job.

There they go again, telling us what we want. My sons did not want to do qualifications: they wanted to go straight into self-employment and that's what they're doing. I suppose, to take the above quote absolutely literally, they were quite able to get qualifications: they just didn't want to.

Parents tell us that juggling work and family life can be hard.

Relax your planning laws then, so that the price of land drops and ordinary people can build houses on it, with wind turbines and solar power at affordable prices, then both parents won't have to go out to work, as is their actual preference. Oh dear, we seem to have reached rant mode again. I was doing so well, too.

Over recent years, since the publication of the Every Child Matters framework, a quiet revolution in children’s services has been unfolding in local communities around the country – with schools, health and social services, police and other services working together and with families and children to put children at the heart of local services.

You're not kidding.

We will only achieve this by working together – through close partnership between schools, children’s services, the voluntary sector and government, and the strengthening leadership role played by local authorities and their partners

But not families.

  • parents bring up children, not government – but families need help and support to do their job;

- whether they want it or not.

  • all children have the potential to succeed and should go as far as their talents can take them;

- whether they want to or not, and only in the direction they are told.

  • it is always better to prevent failure than tackle a crisis later.

- whether people want to do it that way or not.

Here we go:

Oh wait, there's more. That was just for 'Happy and healthy'.

Under 'Safe and sound' there's:

'Excellence and equity' [Like a virus itself, ECM is morphing to counter resistance. This bit used to be called 'Enjoy and Achieve', remember?] has:

Leadership and collaboration ['Make a positive contribution' if you're still using last week's terminology] has:

And finally 'Staying on' has:

Ohh wait, there's more:

On the right track:

Making it happen:

This thing goes on forever - I'll have to come back to it tomorrow. Two hundred and thirty-four pages of ECM plans for 2009. Layer upon layer upon layer, or tier, or whatever you want to call them. Forget what I said about it not being a monster after all: it quite definitely is one and I don't know what it would take to keep it at bay. When we complained to BRE last year about the welfare reforms on the grounds that the scope of the public consultation had been too narrow, the reply from them contained the following:

The crux of the matter however is that the Better Regulation Executive in BERR does not have the power to stop policy development in its tracks.

But what does? Whatever it is, we've got to find it.

Letter from AHEd to NSPCC Chief Executive

Dear Sir,

AHEd [1] has received a number of member complaints concerning the outrageous comments of Mr. Vijay Patel reported in the Independent newspaper today [2] which we believe abuse the memory of a murdered child for political ends to falsely conflate her death with a minority group and to express a causal link between home educators and child abuse.

Mr Patel is quoted: "Some people use home education to hide. Look at the Victoria Climbié case.”

We object in the strongest terms possible to these comments. It is our view that the comments demonstrate a clear prejudice against home educators and a deliberate attempt to implicate home education with false evidence and scandal in order to prejudice the outcome of the government Review into Home Education.

Mr Patel has already admitted publicly [3] that there is no link between home education and child abuse. Now, however, he is deliberately implying that Victoria Climbie was home educated, hidden from the authorities, abused and murdered without their knowledge by home educators!

This is shocking considering that both Mr Patel and the NSPCC must know that this little girl, who was not a home educated child, but was known to a number of authorities and to the local education authority was not murdered in secret hidden from their view whilst being home educated, as confirmed by the Laming enquiry; and in view of the fact that the NSPCC was forced to apologise for its part in the failure of those responsible to help Victoria over an extended period prior to her death [4] In fact, Victoria is one of the many cases now in the public domain in which it has been demonstrated that those charged with helping children in need failed in their duties towards a child, resulting in further suffering and death. [5]

We note that the Victoria Climbie Foundation are also very worried about this misrepresentation from an official of the NSPCC [6]

We are appalled that Mr. Patel, the NSPCC Child Protection Policy Advisor, is propagating libelous attacks against a conscientious and law abiding minority and wonder if it is NSPCC policy that home education is linked to child abuse? We call for a full and prominent public apology and retraction of the comments by Mr. Patel in the Independent today, and a withdrawal of the NSPCC from the review.

Yours, etc.





[5] Excerpt from Lord Laming's Speech at the National Social Services Conference 2003: “I remind you that in the ten months Victoria was alive in this country she was known to no fewer than four Social Services Departments, three Housing Departments and two specialist Police Child Protection Teams. Furthermore she was admitted to two different hospitals because of suspicions she was being deliberately harmed and she was referred to a specialist Child and Family Centre managed by the NSPCC.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Transcript of Radio 4's PM interview with Shena Deuchars and Tony Mooney

:: Transcript begins 0:46:44/ 1:00:00 ::

EDDIE MAIR: Parents who teach their own children at home are often very passionate about what they do and some of them aren’t taking too kindly to a government review of home education in England. The intention is not to change parents’ rights to educate at home, but to:

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: “Ensure that everything possible is being done to guarantee all children their right to a balanced education in a safe, healthy environment.”

EDDIE MAIR: The NSPCC have agreed, saying that existing guidance is out of date, and that parents’ rights need to be balanced with Local Authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. What do they think is going on behind closed doors? I’m joined live by Tony Mooney, who inspects home schooling for one Local Authority and by Shena Deuchars, who schools both her children at home: seventeen year old Catherine and fourteen year old James have never been to conventional schooling. Tony Mooney first of all, what are your rights at the moment as an inspector when it comes to home schooling?

TONY MOONEY: Well we’ve got no automatic access to the house. We’ve got no automatic access to the child. We can only make informal requests for information about what the education involves for the child. As the law stands, all the parent needs to do is write a synopsis of what’s been covered and provide examples of work. And have the educational provision endorsed by a recognised third party. Or endorsed by a recognised third party.

EDDIE MAIR: Now you may not have the rights you would like but in practice, don’t parents respond to your requests for information? Do you need to know – do you find out everything you want to know?

TONY MOONEY: The great majority of parents invite me into the home and I see what they’re doing, as an ex-teacher I can give them advice, and they really appreciate it. But there are one or two who just don’t want to know. They will not let me go into the house, they won’t let me look at the work their children have done, and it becomes very difficult.

EDDIE MAIR: And what about this hint that children might somehow be coming to harm? The government talking about a safe environment and the NSPCC talking about the safeguarding and protection of children?

TONY MOONEY: That may be the case. I’ve never seen, in ten years, children coming to harm, um, but it may be the case, but I don’t have a remit to report on that. Although I have to say, if I did see any kind of abuse I would feel morally obliged to report on it.

EDDIE MAIR: Are you trained to spot abuse?

TONY MOONEY: Well as a teacher, I’d try to find if children were being abused when I suspected it. No, I’m not trained to spot abuse, but as a parent.. um.. I think I feel obliged to look and report if need be.

EDDIE MAIR: Shena Deuchars, let me bring you in at this stage, and I’ll let you talk and respond to some of that in a moment if I may, but just let me ask you why you’re schooling your children yourself.

SHENA DEUCHARS: It was something that I decided to do about ten years before my older child was born. I found out that home education in this country was legal at that point as I left secondary education myself, and decided that it sounded like a very good idea.

EDDIE MAIR: And what do you think of what the government in England is thinking of doing? It’s having a review and may want the right to come in and have a look at what you’re doing.

SHENA DEUCHARS: Well, one of the reasons why home educating parents are so angry about it is the conflation in the media particularly, but also in the terms of reference for the report, of education concerns with welfare concerns. And because Baroness Morgan has been quoted as saying that some home educating parents may be using it as a cover for child abuse. That’s why we’re so angry about it.

EDDIE MAIR: Well let’s look at those.. let’s split them up and let’s look at education concerns. Do you have any problem with someone like Tony Mooney coming in and having a look at how the schooling’s going?

SHENA DEUCHARS: Well yes, because in fact what we tend to find is that most Local Authority personnel actually have no experience of home education and mostly they only have experience of a school model of education. So, for example, I know of many home educated young people who leave school at perhaps ten or eleven: they’re withdrawn by their parents, unable to read or write, being predicted to get no GCSEs, and quite often what happens is that, left to their own devices and without being left behind by the rest of the class, they then learn to read and they go on to get GCSEs, do further education or higher education and hold down jobs where essentially the school system had written them off.

EDDIE MAIR: Tony Mooney on that point?

TONY MOONEY: A lot of my children, who are mainly on council estates, don’t actually sit any GCSEs or any examinations of any kind when they’ve been home educated and they just go out into the world of work and fend for themselves. I think it’s an indictment of the education they get at home. Um, you see often we get newspaper articles showing affluent, middle-class families educating their children. That’s not what I see most of the time. I do see some very good teaching, by people who know what they’re doing, but the great majority of my children don’t get GCSEs when they’ve finished and go out into.. onto the workforce, just trying to fend for themselves.

EDDIE MAIR: And, Shena Deuchars, I do want to talk about the second strand that you mentioned which is causing so much anger, you say, among home educators. Of course, most home educators – perhaps none of them – are involved in abusing their children, but should there be a system whereby at least someone like Tony Mooney can go in and check that everything’s OK?

SHENA DEUCHARS: Actually, could I come back on what Tony Mooney said about GCSEs? I think it would be very interesting to look at the reasons why young home educated people don’t get GCSEs and the answer to that is basically if their parents - if they’re not in school - their parents have to pay for it and it can cost £150 per GCSE.

EDDIE MAIR: All right, but just on the other point, because we only have a moment left and I’d like you to respond?

SHENA DEUCHARS: OK, well, the thing is that Baroness Morgan, again in today’s Independent, was quoted as saying: “If there are problems, we have to look at the evidence.” This review looks more as if they’re looking for evidence, because to date there have been no problems. There are no cases of children who have been abused who also were being home educated who weren’t already known to the authorities. Victoria Climbié is a red herring: she wasn’t being home educated at all, and the Spry children were removed from school once Eunice Spry had been abusing them already for a number of years and had been checked over by Gloucestershire Social Services.

EDDIE MAIR: All right, listen, thank you both for taking the time to talk about this. We’ve tried to give it as much time as we can, but it may well be that you have a view on this and probably some experience too. If you’d like to share your experience, please just go to the PM blog, where you’ll find more information and a space where you can comment. Just put ‘PM blog’ into any search engine.

:: Transcript ends 0:54:01/ 1:00:00 ::

Hey, Vijay

Boy, you're in trouble!

I haven't got time to write much, and Panopticon said it all very well anyway, but just to quote you from today's piece in the Indie:

Vijay Patel, policy adviser for the NSPCC children's charity, also sees the need for a review. "Some people use home education to hide. Look at the Victoria Climbié case. No one asked where she was at school. We have no view about home education, but we do know that to find out about abuse someone has to know about the child."

How low can you go? We've already got your public admittance that "We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no." and now you want to talk about Victoria Climbié in relation to us?

Just.. don't.

NSPCC 'delayed action' over Climbie

She wasn't home educated. Every agency failed her, including - perhaps especially - your own. She was a real live person who needs to rest in peace now, not be exhumed everytime one of you wants to dangerously extend your power base.

There are calls for your resignation from various quarters. At the very least, we need a public apology. Can't you just behave yourself?

The real team around the child

Now, bear in mind I'm no artist and I do not have DCSF's budget at my fingertips with which to employ one. I just have me, my old computer, and my pathetic little copy of MS Paint. But in answer to the old 'Get out your magnifying glasses to spot where the parents are' ECM 'Team Around the Child' diagram:

I wanted to make one of my own. Here it is:

You can enlarge these images and thus read the text by clicking on them. Mine has the beloved child in the centre (only there by implication in theirs) followed by people in concentric protective rings as follows:

  • Parents and siblings
  • Other relatives
  • Close friends
  • Neighbours
  • Other acquaintances
  • Professionals with whom we *choose* to consult, and
  • Passing strangers

In its Staying Safe: Action Plan [opens pdf], the government does include parents in a small section way over to the right of its picture, and I have extended the same courtesy in my own picture: there is the government, in a little grey power pyramid over to the right of our protective circles around the child and yes, that's the Eye of Sauron on the top.

Here are some more pics of my children with their 'teams':

Lucky? No. It takes effort and self-reliance over time to build teams like that. We can't rely on the government to do it for us, or we get relegated to the little strip on the right, from where have to stand on our tiptoes or beg to even catch sight of our own children. And it's us that they need, not a bunch of teachers and social workers whose faces change every year.

Tomorrow I'm planning to start trying to work out which bits of ECM are statutory and which aren't. Today, we're apparently playing Spore (if it wasn't for this review business, I'd be writing about the educational value in that game) and meeting with friends at a playgym. The boys are at their club; the business is starting to take off. Busy busy! But still too cold for gardening.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Team Around the Child

My post on Sunday, called ECM: Brave New World, began with this diagram:

Stay safe

and went on to list all of the entities surrounding the child there, which included - closest of all - something called 'TAC', or the 'Team Around the Child'. Today I want to take a closer look at this ECM 'Team Around the Child' thing and perhaps compare it with the team around my own, real children.

The definition in the ECM glossary doesn't sound too bad:

Team Around the Child is a model of service provision in which a range of different practitioners come together to help and support an individual child.

The model does not imply a multi-disciplinary team that is located together or who work together all the time; rather, it suggests a group of professionals working together only when needed to help one particular child. In this sense, the team can be described as a 'virtual' team; in practice, practitioners will find themselves working with a range of different colleagues at different times to support different children.

The model is based on the ethos that such flexibility is essential if children's services are to be able to meet the diverse needs of each and every child. Team Around the Child places the emphasis firmly on the needs of the child, rather than on organisations or service providers.

- but I want to look a bit more closely at the term. Oh blimey - there's a whole book about it!

Team Around the Child

I'm not sure I want to look that closely. Though actually, I would quite like to read that.. but £17.99 is way out of my price bracket for a book, with my children's Ecomonic Wellbeing to think about. Maybe I'll order it from the library.

Let's have a look at the Amazon product description to get an idea of the contents:

The most important changes to children's services in the last 20 years are set to improve the outcomes of all children from their early years on. The overall aims are to tackle child poverty, improve child protection and the education and childcare for young children, to raise standards, and to provide greater support for parents in bringing up their children. Multiagency approaches will be developed to serve the needs of local children and families. This massive programme of change to children's services follows the Government's publication of the "Children Bill and Every Child Matters: Next Steps". It presents immense challenges and these rest with local government. Key to achieving the declared goals will be the 3500 Children's Centres set up across the country that will integrate provision of education, care, family support, child protection and health services. With its multi-agency focus and underpinning theoretical perspectives, this book will be of special interest to everyone involved in Children's Centres and to the increasing numbers of early years staff involved in multi-agency working and strategies: social workers, child care staff, teachers, health managers, policy makers and advisers, and the people working directly with children and their families. It will be a useful resource for academics and students in higher education. The contributors are all committed to working within a multi-agency framework to secure the well-being of young children and their families.

There you are Dani (and anyone else who thought my post on Sunday was a bit OTT): "Key to achieving the declared goals will be the 3500 Children's Centres set up across the country that will integrate provision of education, care, family support, child protection and health services." I've been reading a lot of sentences like that in the past few weeks.

The people it lists as forming part of a 'Team Around the Child' are:

  • social workers,
  • child care staff,
  • teachers,
  • health managers,
  • policy makers and advisers,
  • and the people working directly with children and their families.

[As I write this, I'm repeatedly being hassled on screen by this Zone Alarm firewall that Tom has put on my system. It keeps telling me things like: "Prevalence Reporter is trying to access the trusted zone," and giving me the option to 'allow', or 'deny'. The most annoying thing it keeps hassling me about is AVG the virus protector because I turn that off when I'm working, but it still keeps trying to access the Internet and 'trusted zone' regardless, to send information about my system. I take great pleasure in hitting 'deny' on that one, and thinking how nice it would be to have a real life ECM firewall. Perhaps we can build one?]

Anyway, I've been a parent for 20 years now and I've never needed any of the above listed people, though undeniably many people now think that they do. When I was first a parent in my twenties, the Team Around my Children, besides myself, was mainly my neighbours - a crowd of about twelve other sets of parents who all lived in the same row of houses and had similar-aged children. We were each other's mutual support system and were often in and out of one another's houses, the children like pseudo-siblings. We were lucky, I suppose, to be so placed but it wasn't something that just happened: we had to work at building friendships with each other. Breaking the ice and organising events isn't always easy, but we did it because it was good for us.

One family in the street wasn't so lucky or so involved, though. Their little girl was a little older than my eldest: about three, when we first knew her, and she would wander the back street without a parent in tow, displaying all of the 'inappropriate clothing' sort of 'When to suspect child maltreatment' signs on the NICE draft guidelines. I'm going to call her Bella in this post, though that wasn't her real name of course.

Bella's family was a bit troubled. Her dad got angry (we could all hear, just by walking past their house) and her mum was very withdrawn and seemed to pass her share of the anger onto little Bella, who was also emotionally and physically rejected every day onto the street. The family didn't mix with the rest of us, though we tried to involve them. They made it clear that our efforts were not wanted.

Nowadays, living near a situation like that, I think most people would phone Social Services who would then invade Bella's family's privacy whether they liked it or not, and try to enforce some kind of 'improvement' for her, as per the ECM framework [opens pdf]. An official 'Team Around the Child' would be created, but in those days there was no such thing and as intelligent parents we knew the potential further damage that Social Services could wreak on a family, so nobody called them about Bella.

Instead, we became the team around Bella. All of our back doors were open to her: she was welcome in every house. We fed her nutritious meals, provided her with suitable clothing, cleaned her, comforted her and included her in our children's games and other activities. Most of us even kept a spare bed for Bella, one of which she made use of when her own door was locked to her at night. Bella was more loved and cared for than a whole team of 'social workers, child care staff, teachers, health managers, policy makers and advisers, and the people working directly with children and their families' could possibly have arranged for and she was still able to stay with her parents whom she did love, she told us.

I suppose you could say that Bella was an unlucky child who happened to hit lucky with her informal 'Team Around the Child' and that most such children wouldn't be likely to find themselves in a similar position and I would agree with you, nowadays. The chances of anyone finding a whole neighbourhood full of caring, intelligent young mothers all choosing to forego paid employment so that they could look after their own children, plus anyone else's that needed it, are slim now. It's not really culturally acceptable even less so financially. A modern day Bella would be parked in the Children's Centre with all the other children, to have her 'signs of child maltreatment' duly logged in her record and officially acted upon. If she was found to be wandering the street, she would be taken into state 'care', one assumes, with few questions asked. But twenty years ago and more, what we did for Bella was not unusual or exceptional. We were just following our healthy, innate maternal and tribal instincts in a way that Bella's mother couldn't, at the time, for whatever reason. The same thing would have been happening to many other Bellas in many other communities. To this day, I still don't know a mother who could bear to leave such a child unattended, were she in a position to do otherwise.

But did this [what can only be called a] breakdown in society just happen, of its own accord, to bring us to the situation where we have need of Children's Centres and the ECM framework [opens pdf]? I don't think so. The rise in house prices which forced many mothers out to work didn't happen of its own accord, did it? It came about, as we now know, through a complicated artificial bubble of lending that the government completely failed to regulate. The more money people could access, the more vendors could ask for, and get, for their houses and the Planning Laws limited the number of new houses that could be built - and to some extent, along with the Health and Safety industry etc, set the cost of building new ones quite high. With most mothers of the house-buying classes in almost continuous full-time employment, what's left is the 'underclass' of mostly benefits-recipients in social housing who can safely be denigrated and targeted with ECM-type policy manoeuvres.

This did not happen by accident: the 'Social Exclusion' rhetoric has been gearing up to it for years, and it featured in many of the ten year-old EU documents I was reading last week. I think it's a long term plan - now almost complete - to deliberately break down the organic structures of society and replace them with artificial mechanisms of state control. The 'social research' backed it all up, saying openly that the state would have to break the natural 'bonds' of cooperation in order to impose its own artificial 'bridges'.

I was going to tell you about the current teams around my own children, but that will have to wait until tomorrow now, because we've got to leave for our home ed meeting, which actually forms part of them.

But I will just quickly tell you how Bella's story ended: happily, thank goodness. Her mum sorted herself out, split up from the angry dad - who turned out to be a stepdad - and they moved away. I saw Bella a few years ago and she's fine. Just a perfectly normal, happy person with no apparent problems. Of course, we'll never know how differently things would have turned out for her under the new regime. But they turned out just fine under the old one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Freedom keeps us busy

- which is not really surprising, if its price is constant vigilance.

Anyway, I'm pleased to see that we made it onto Liberal Conspiracy after all, without any effort from me. (Someone suggested I send something a few weeks ago, but I never got around to it.) Well done, Elizabeth! Though some of the comments and spin-off articles amused me greatly. "Those who provide education in schools are in a position to examine the education provided by home educators." *Splutter* - why? Where's the liberty in that?! We don't come examining your provision, do we? So stay away from ours! Anyway, the inimitable Bishop Hill sorted him out with aplomb, so I won't waste my typing fingers doing the same. His is well worth the read, unless you're particularly sensitive to certain choice expletives.

Other encouraging news: Mr Badman is planning to meet with some home educating families and will be (or has been) invited to attend some informal EHE meetings and gatherings. Jolly good. Perhaps when he's spent a bit of time chatting with our children and seen them freely engaging in a healthy, face-to-face, real life environment, he won't be able to help making comparisons with their less fortunate cousins and realising that the same 'solution' cannot be applied to both. Indeed, EHE needs no solution, because the only problem is of the government's invention.

I am psyching myself up this week to go back to the ECM programme, to try to work out which elements are now legal requirements (Statutory Instruments) and which are still only rhetoric, to try to ascertain how far along the track the giant steamroller has progressed. But we've got our own home education meeting tomorrow, I'm needing to spend some time on our much-neglected off-grid project, and Tom, now 20 (Twenty! My oldest child is in his twenties! It's still a shock..) has just set up his own business, for which I'm doing the driving at the moment, so I'm feeling a bit thinly spread just now. Perhaps I'll manage to dive into the murky, shark-infested ECM waters again on Thursday or Friday if there's time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two more questions. Where did *they* come from?

The review closed to home educators on 20th February, yet we found out yesterday that Mr Badman apparently has two further questions to work out the answers to that somehow didn't make it into the list! Strange, isn't it? Perhaps we can blame the same pesky cloud of confusion that prevented him from putting any actual experts in elective home education onto his panel of, um.. 'experts' in elective home education.

Here are the other two questions anyway, which apparently came to light during an EO meeting at the weekend. (But don't ask me why, or how.. the politics of all this escape me.)

What is a suitable education for the 21st century?


How can EHEers show that their children are receiving such an education?

It's a pity he didn't get around to adding them to our list, because I don't think any of us would have struggled with the answers.

Firstly, a suitable education for the 21st century is one that is:

efficient and full-time education according —

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have

- as per Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act and section 436A of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

And secondly, we show that our children are receiving such an education by providing information when asked, as set out in the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities:

The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under section 437(1), and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so.

Just to clarify: it says nowhere in law that a suitable education has anything to do with Professor Heppell's, or with Becta, by whom I understand Mr Badman is also employed, or with any of its sponsors.

And to further clarify:


At any price.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


For immediate release, 22 February 2009


Outraged families and support organisations flood the DCFS with 2000+ consultation responses to the elective home education review

The government's review of elective home education (1), which was announced in January in a blaze of scurrilous spin stating that home education could be used by parents as a cover for abuse and forced marriage, has provoked an unparalleled reaction from home educating families and support organisations, including home education action group AHEd (2) and the home educators' network Home Education Forums. (3) Both AHEd and Home Education Forums have strongly rebutted the government's allegations as "vile and unsubstantiated" in their respective robust responses to the DCSF consultation. (4) and (5)

By the close of the unusually short online consultation last Friday, over 2000 individual and organisational responses had been sent in by 'stakeholders' who have in recent weeks demonstrated their collective outrage at the "irresponsible scaremongering" perpetrated by government minister Delyth Morgan and Vijay Patel of the NSPCC, who was forced to admit on national radio (6) that no evidence exists to support the suggestion that home educated children may be more likely than schooled children to suffer abuse or be coerced into marriage or domestic servitude.

AHEd supporter Clare Murton commented: "Apart from the clear incitement to hatred of home educators that Delyth Morgan's announcement provoked, this review by Graham Badman must represent the straw that breaks the camel's back. Home educators are trying to get on with the important work of bringing up their children, but over the past few years have been repeatedly distracted from that task by unwarranted and vicious attempts to usurp their parental rights.

"Multiple government consultations have concluded that home education is safe, efficient and in no need of tighter legal control and that local authorities need legal guidance. It is astounding, therefore, that they now give credence to slander such as Morgan's. This luckily has not defeated home educators and there will be no 'death by consultation' in our neck of the woods. Instead it has determined the home education community to put a stop to this unprecedented witch hunt.

"No other section of UK community has ever been so impassioned in its response to a DCSF consultation and I am proud to be part of a network of people who really do think that every single child matters."

While there is absolutely no evidence of any link between home education and child abuse, domestic servitude or forced marriage, there is plenty of evidence of the offence caused and anger unleashed within the home education community itself and among non home educating families who perceive the threat to home education as the "thin end of the wedge".

A Downing Street petition submitted by Roxane Featherstone on behalf of AHEd (7) has attracted more than 2000 signatures in a fortnight, while the Stop the Government Stigmatising Home Educators group (8) on the social networking site Facebook has more than 1500 members whose comments demonstrate a deep sense of collective outrage. Home education blogs, including the popular Sometimes It's Peaceful (9), have highlighted what appears to be a state sponsored campaign to persecute a minority group exercising a lawful choice and have strongly criticised some members of the team led by Graham Badman (10) who are to participate in the inquiry as "partial" and "lacking in knowledge or experience of elective home education".

Alison Preuss, spokesperson for Home Education Forums, said: "I have only once witnessed such a mass reaction by the home education community and that was when the former Scottish Executive mounted a similar attack on home educating families north of the border. Overnight, they alienated every home educator across the land - and lost! This latest assault on educational freedom by people for whom child abuse represents a 'nice little earner' has provoked nothing short of fury among law abiding citizens who have in many cases had to remove their children from an unsafe and abusive school environment.

"While the economy tanks, our elderly folk are having to choose between eating and heating and vulnerable children are being left unprotected due to lack of competence in social services, as demonstrated in the case of Victoria Climbie and the children abused by Eunice Spry (who was a Gloucestershire Council approved foster carer), we have to wonder why public funds are being diverted from frontline services into an unnecessary analysis by bureaucrats of 2000+ consultation responses and an equally unnecessary investigation of a non existent issue. In our view, this whole exercise represents an abuse of public funds."


For more information contact AHEd or Home Education Forums

(1) Elective home education review
(2) Action for Home Education
(3) Home Education Forums
(4) AHEd reponse
(5) Home Education Forums response
(6) Vijay Patel on BBC Radio
(7) Downing Street petition
(8) Stop the Government Stigmatising Home Educators
(9) Sometimes It's Peaceful blog
(10)Graham Badman

ECM: Brave New World

In the brave new world of ECM [opens pdf], parents are almost superfluous and completely interchangeable. They do feature on the pictoral explanation of a child's life:

Stay safe

- but they appear to have equal status to the 'third sector' and are placed further away from the child than:

  • Maternity and Primary Health;
  • Children's Centres;
  • Extended Schools;
  • Integrated Youth Services;
  • Lead Professionals;
  • Specialist Services;
  • Multi-agency Locality Teams;
  • The Team Around the Child;
  • The Common Assessment Framework [opens pdf]; and
  • ContactPoint.

When ECM is in place and working properly, every two year old will attend a Children's Centre while both her parents are in full-time employment. There, she will be trained to comply with institutional order: eating, playing, learning and communication according to the programme.

She will be monitored for signs of oppositional behaviour and this will be dealt with accordingly. Her family history and circumstances will be on file and referenced when appropriate. She will not be the treasured, special baby of her biological group: she will be one of a class of many other same-aged children. Her health will be screened and she will be medicated and vaccinated at the Centre also.

The Centre will not be such a strange place to her, because she will have been regularly visiting it since her birth with her parent or other carer. She will know it as the place where she is weighed, checked and measured, where she has to queue and wait and do what the staff members tell her to do. She will see her parent or other carer do what the staff members tell them to do and so learn that this is the way to behave.

In due course, she will know this as the place where she is left by her parent or other carer: at first for short periods and then for longer ones. She may even have been left there every day since she was a tiny baby.

She will try to form emotional attachments with the adults at the centre, but this will be difficult because she is only one of a group and the staff members will not be kin to her and anyway they will disappear forever, periodically, and be replaced by other ones. If she is lonely, sad, sick or frightened they will not be allowed to cuddle her: only to try to distract her when she cries. She will soon learn to swallow her bad feelings and not to cry.

Her behaviour will be monitored according to a strict template: if she hits out too often, she will be referred for behavioural modification. If she clings to her parent or other carer too resolutely when they're leaving in the mornings, the whole family may be referred and her home, parent or other carer be replaced for different ones. This will teach her not to cling, cry or form too close attachments. It will teach her that nobody is there for her permanently, all the time. Only the System.

Her learning will be monitored and she will be given age-appropriate toys, books and activities, regardless of what she might feel like doing. Stories will be read to the whole group, not just her. There will be no beloved, familiar giant knee to clamber onto: no control over when to turn the page or how to say the words. No finger stabbing at favourite pictures. She must be passive, quiet, obedient.

It's likely that she will take all of her meals at the Children's Centre, unless she is lucky enough to live close-by, with her parent or other carer working close by as well. It might be seven in the evening before she gets home. Just time for a bath, teeth cleaned, and bed. First thing the next morning she'll be woken, dressed and taken to the Centre again. She will hardly ever be at home in her waking hours.

Adaptable as she is, she will learn to accept all of this. She will not know personal power, spontaneity or maternal attachment and so will never be all she can be, but she won't know this either - she will only know the routine, conformity and the numb, not-feeling. So school, when the time comes, won't be a shock to her: it will just be more of the same. By this time, she will sit quietly and carry out tasks when told to do so. She will not dare to deviate: she will see what happens to those who do. They disappear and might or might not return later, somehow subdued. Strange, glassy-eyed and unresponsive, their old, spirited selves never to return.

Again, she will take all of her meals there and attend from 8am until 6pm. When she gets slightly older, there will be evening activities at the Centre or Extended School (which might well be the same place) so that she continues to spend the vast majority of her waking hours there but the only absolutely definite thing to have stayed with her throughout the whole process as staff members came and went and teachers were changed, will be her file. This she will never see, but she will have a growing awareness of its existence because it will be referred to from time to time and she will see it being consulted and notes made upon it.

The file will be used to help map her career and decide her life choices. Because when the time comes, she will not know what she wants to do with her life - but then, she never did. She was never asked. The concept of wanting to do something is by now completely alien to her: she has no connection to the part of her brain that might still be able to think along those lines and can't remember ever having one. So it's good that the file is there to help to choose a subject for her to study at college. At twenty-two with a degree, she will be ready to slot into a useful role in the System. This will probably be in a new town and connected to a new Centre, but it will feel like home because they will all look the same anyway.


But this will not happen to every child. Some brave parents will find ways to resist the process: a growing number, as it happens. They will refuse to give their children up to the System.

What will happen to them?

I don't know.