Sunday, May 24, 2009

EO's bombshell: questions and answers

An attempt to justify EO's bombshell has been made here [opens pdf].

A reply has been posted here, with which I'm inclined to agree.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Becta.. Capita... other things ending in 'a'.. (and 'o', and 'net' etc.) - Part 2

Well, we started plodding up this mountain the other day, if you remember, and then I had to take a break - partly because all three of my older children wanted driving lessons (last night was fun) and there are no roads on Ben Nevis. Not that I could find, anyway.

My attention was also drawn to a few other compelling and very useful blog posts: this at Renegade Parent, some of whose clarity - let alone sweet charity - I could do with right now, this absolute blinder from Devil's Kitchen, which has been flagged up on one of the home ed lists. Another Devil's Kitchen post was mentioned by Lisa in hers, and by Danae yesterday in her Power to the oppressed, in which she points out the blatant contradiction in the government's response to our e.petition (also expertly dissected by Carlotta here, Lisa here, Firebird here and by the Facebook group here): The review of home education does not threaten a parent’s right to educate their child at home, but the removal of Income Support to lone parents certainly does, creating a two-tier system of those who can and those who can't afford to keep their children at home.

Danae based her post on a book by Paulo Freire, called Pedagogy of the Oppressed and included the following invaluable quote:

Any situation in which 'A' objectively exploits 'B' or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual's ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.

Definitely words worth pondering.

Back to the subject in hand, though: climbing this mountain called finding out more about these groups of people who would, it seems by the definition above, seek to oppress us.

After my post on Sunday, Tracey kindly supplied a link to Becta's REPORT AND FINANCIAL STATEMENTS for the year ended 31 March 2008 [opens pdf], through which I've been ploughing, on and off, ever since. The section on page 5 about risks to the organisation, for example, is very interesting:

Key risks for 2007-8 included:

• Becta could fail to convince Ofsted and other inspection bodies to change criteria to take sufficient note of technology.
• National attitudes to technology in education are damaged by a serious incident relating to the safety and protection of children, arising from misuse of the Internet within the education system.
• Becta’s pension’s deficit continues to affect Becta’s financial position. However, any future liability will be covered through future Grant-in-Aid payments to Becta which under normal conventions applying to parliamentary control over expenditure cannot be made in advance of need.
• Risk that Becta’s campaign fails to convince wider community (e.g. parents, employers) and users of the system (e.g. learners, front-line staff) sufficiently to drive demand for better ICT from the supply side.
• Risk that local and regional bodies do not have the capacity and capability to support the changes needed for Becta’s strategic objectives

Seriously, their pension deficit is number three concern. Says it all, really, doesn't it? Second in the list is Internet safety, which many of us suspect is government speak for a prelude to legal restrictions in that area, of the frog-boiling variety.

Parents and children are down there at number four, in case we can't be convinced by the increasingly prolific advertising campaigns, which I find suspicious in themselves. Since when did most of us need to be persuaded to use ICT, and why do we have to be now? Very strange.

The fifth risk refers to Becta's 'strategic objective' which seems to refer to the contents of this letter [opens pdf] from the secretary of state for education, to the Becta chairman, which in turn makes reference to the government's e-Strategy [opens pdf], which makes me feel like dying of boredom. No, come on, we can make it up this mountain - eventually.

We aim to put learners, young people – and their parents – in the driving seat, shaping the opportunities open to all learners to fit around their particular needs and preferences.

Why not just let them stay at home with a computer, then? Seriously, it's the main thing I've done for my three older children, and they've achieved amazing things with the opportunity.

We want to extend the variety of places where people can learn.

The Internet isn't enough?

I am particularly excited by the idea of giving every student and learner a personal online learning space where they can store their own course materials and assignments in digital form, and record their achievements.

Wow. Like.. a hard drive?? Or even, if you wanted to keep in online.. a blog? (Actually I hear there are courses now offering to teach people how to set up blogs. 'Cos it's so complicated.. )

Borrowing ideas from the world of interactive games,we can motivate even reluctant learners to practice complex skills and achieve much more than they would through traditional means.

You could just let them play games - or do whatever else they are motivated to do.

It is our goal to work towards ICT as a universal utility, creating more flexible learning opportunities for everyone.

Hey, I can show you some flexible learning opportunities!

These four objectives make things a little clearer I think:

A strategic approach to ICT

That is why we need a more strategic approach to the future development of ICT in education, skills and children’s services. By doing so,we believe we can:

  • Transform teaching, learning and help to improve outcomes for children and young people, through shared ideas, more exciting lessons and online help for professionals
  • Engage ‘hard to reach’ learners, with special needs support, more motivating ways of learning, and more choice about how and where to learn
  • Build an open accessible system, with more information and services online for parents and carers, children, young people, adult learners and employers; and more cross-organisation collaboration to improve personalised support and choice
  • Achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness, with online research, access to shared ideas and lessons plans, improved systems and processes in children’s services, shared procurement and easier administration.

OK, I kind of get why the government wants to do this. It was being left behind in the ICT revolution and was losing control and credibility in the field of education. It urgently needs to catch up, to retain its position as the main education provider and to regain some control. This strategic approach seems to me to be as much about setting boundaries and claiming virtual space as it is about helping and empowering people. If not more.

But actually, as Lisa says,

Fruitful, long-term online engagement [with ICT] is utterly reliant on those very human values of curiosity, authenticity, collaboration, generosity, community - all necessarily underpinned by individual freedom and choice.

This is evidenced by my six year-old, who has just come to give me a hug as I asked her what she'd been up to in the past hour since I last saw her. "Oh, just watching Barbie again" was her casual response. "In Hungarian, this time."

Back to Harnessing Technology, page five lists 6 priorities:

we have identified six priorities, to provide:
  • An integrated online information service for all citizens
  • Integrated online personal support for children and learners
  • A collaborative approach to personalised learning activities
  • A good quality ICT training and support package for practitioners
  • A leadership and development package for organisational capability in ICT
  • A common digital infrastructure to support transformation and reform.

All so prioritised, all so apparently necessary. So why, then, does it fill me with a deep sense of both tedium and unease?

And back to the ministerial letter. Sorry, I'm skipping between them to try and stay awake.

Becta should develop a powerful voice in policy development and I want you to ensure that all policy-makers are aware of the opportunities and risks that technology brings. Working with all areas of my Department, Becta must ensure that technology is woven appropriately into education policy development , advising, challenging and supporting policy makers with secure and timely evidence, at the early stages, on policy thinking and development. In this work, it is vital that you present the authentic voice of the learner, practitioner, and supplier.

I suppose the question is: can Graham Badman successfully wear two very different hats, or is his remit at Becta going to impinge on his review recommendations? Is it supposed to impinge on them?

But I think this paragraph from Harnessing Technology partly sums up what it is that I find so deeply unsettling about this whole agenda:

9.The technology offers more than access to information. Because it can store personal data securely, it enables public services to offer more integrated support to children and learners. With children’s services becoming more focussed on outcomes, ICT can assist them in meeting the needs of the children, families, young people, and adults with whom they work. The effectiveness of those working in children’s centres, schools, social care, health, youth services or other front line services can be improved by integrated administrative processes, as well as better information and training.

Except that it can't store personal data securely, can it?

That's all for now, though I do still intend to look into the origins of the National Council for Educational Technology, and we still haven't even started on Capita yet.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Becta.. Capita... other things ending in 'a'.. (and 'o', and 'net' etc.) - Part 1

Some people have been asking me by email for a long time to write about the above, which is a bit like asking me to climb Ben Nevis. (That's not a complaint, by the way. Please keep the requests coming!) I probably can do it, but it takes some planning and quite a bit of time. And a warm coat [cardigan] and lots of cups of tea. And a map. Where's the map?? Um.. we'll just keep plodding uphill and hope for the best, then.

One of the first things I want to know is: what does Becta - assuming it's an acronym - stand for? Then: where did the idea come from? But first things first. Surely it's got a Wikipedia page... Yes! That makes things easier. OK, it's the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency.

It was established in 1998 through the reconstitution of the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET). Becta is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. It is based on Millburn Hill Road in Canley, Coventry in the grounds of the University of Warwick Science Park. In its capacity it oversees the procurement of all ICT equipment and e-learning strategy for schools. It is a member of European schoolnet.

How does a government agency get to be a company limited by guarantee, with charitable status? It's like the best of all worlds, isn't it? Independence, profits, tax breaks and protection in insolvency.

Obviously, we need to find out more about European schoolnet. That has a Wikipedia page too, I see.

European Schoolnet or EUN is a network of 31 Ministries of Education in Europe and beyond. EUN was created more than 10 years ago with the aim to bring about innovation in teaching and learning to its key stakeholders: Ministries of Education, schools, teachers and researchers.

- not children, or even parents, then. Of course, the children are what's at stake, aren't they? So they can't be the stakeholders as well.

stake² n. 2 (often foll. by in) an interest or concern, esp. financial.

So, what does European Schoolnet do?

Through various research projects and networks of pilot schools and local coordinators across Europe, European Schoolnet carries out studies on topics such as the use of games in schools, internet safety, use of learning objects and many other topics.

Wait, there's more:

European Schoolnet works as a European platform for schools to achieve effective use of technologies in teaching and learning, promote the European dimension in education, develop new pedagogical approaches and equip teachers and learners with new skills and raise interest in subjects such as maths, science and technology.

Did you spot that? Promote the European dimension in education. That's indoctrination, to you and me.

Here is something called Xplora which is

the European gateway to science education. It is aimed at teachers, pupils, scientists, science communicators and science educators.

It has a page about an educational organisation called SEED:

A volunteer-based, non-profit education program focused on underserved communities where Schlumberger people live and work.

Schlumberger people? Here they are:

Schlumberger Limited is the world's largest oilfield services corporation operating in approximately 80 countries, with about 82,000 people of 140 nationalities. Operating revenue in 2008 was US $27.16 billion with a market capitalization as of May 5, 2009, of US $63.77 billion.

Some of the SEED stuff is very interesting to read about, especially a project they're promoting called Smartwired, which turns out to be the brainchild of Dawna Markova, who first conceived it when she:

..was a young, energetic teacher, eager to help her students succeed and feel the joy of learning. Some of her students had been labeled as slow, lazy, or troublemakers, but she intuitively knew that every child was smart in his or her own way and believed that all of them had the capability to learn and succeed. She decided to create what she thought of as an “operating manual” for her students--a way to keep track of their individual skills, talents, interests, and strengths.

On a whim she covered a classroom wall with sheets of newsprint, one for each child, and invited parents to write something positive about how their child learned. She also invited other adults in each child's world--their music teacher, gym coach, big brother, after-school babysitter, grandmother, etc. to provide their input as well.

On that newsprint, a picture began to emerge for each child: a pattern of successes, a list of interests, a description of talents, and more. If she needed ideas for motivating a child, Dr. Markova would go to the child's picture and easily generate new ideas on how to reach him or her. Other teachers soon began visiting her classroom to get resources and ideas from the wall and a new "permanent record" of success was created that followed those children to the next grade, and the next, and the next. Using current technology, SmartWired has transformed that "permanent record" and replaces the newsprint on the wall by providing every child with his or her own unique transportable archive of learning strengths.

This sounds like a great system if a child needs to be provided with external motivation to learn something. Personally, I'd be questioning why that was the case if I was struggling to work in such a situation - hence the unlikelihood of me doing so! Elective home education allows for a child to be only internally motivated, which cuts out the need for all of that 'how to motivate the child' palaver.

So anyway, Becta is actually a relatively small part of a wider European network of similar national organisations, which turns out itself to be part of a global Unesco initiative called SchoolNet.

So, who's behind that? I obviously need to read more about Unesco.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established on 16 November 1945. Its stated purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter.

What, it just swang into being, conveniently, right at the end of WWII? Ah, apparently not:

It is the heir of the League of Nations' International Commission on Intellectual Cooperation.

..And the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation:

was an advisory organization for the League of Nations which aimed to promote international cultural/intellectual exchange between scientists, researchers, teachers, artists and other intellectuals. It was established in 1922, and counted such distinguished members as Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Béla Bartók, Thomas Mann, Salvador de Madariaga, and Paul Valéry.

While the League of Nations itself:

was an inter-governmental organization founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919–1920. At its greatest extent from 28 September 1934 to 23 February 1935, it had 58 members. The League's goals included upholding the new found Rights of Man, disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy and improving global quality of life.

As for its origins:

The concept of a peaceful community of nations had been outlined as far back as 1795, when Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch outlined the idea of a league of nations that would control conflict and promote peace between states.

Well, this takes us a long way from Becta, doesn't it? I just wanted to try to think about where it fitted into the bigger picture. Next, I'm looking back in an attempt to work out the origins of Becta, by reading whatever I can find about its forerunner: the National Council for Educational Technology. I also want to look at some of the more recent things Becta has been involved with.

As for Capita.. we'll get onto that eventually.

And why am I writing a series of blog posts looking at Becta, Capita, other things ending in 'a' (and 'o', and 'net' etc.)? Not only because I was asked - I do want to find out more about them, because before the review I didn't give any of them too much thought. Like everyone else, I was just peacefully getting on with being a good parent. And now here is the chairman of Becta being asked by the government to review us, to ascertain whether we're all potentially child abusers and if a change in the law is required, or feasible. Suddenly it seems very important to try to work out where they're coming from.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A valiant hero

Matt Hupfield, home ed warrior, has been doing battle with Staffordshire County Council to see their response to the review here, on 'What do they know?'. He first asked for the information on the 23rd February and finally, after much determined perseverance, he was successful this Tuesday 12th May.

So, here is their response [opens Word.doc].

In its response to question 7, the authority admits:

We probably do not know about a fair number of home educated children in the area

but its response to the follow-up question 8: "Do you think that you will be better able to track children in your area in the near future? E.g. planned changes to your own systems, ContactPoint, other system improvements?" is puzzling:

Why do you think that?
There will be a number of families who would be willing to engage with the local authority……but… (see below)

One wonders why they think a number of families will be suddenly willing to engage when they weren't before. The 'but' part is here:

Why do you think that?
BUT….A number of families will not want to work with the local authority and will invoke "shielding" for their children and also want to hide behind the nonstatutory guidance ie not enable the LA to discuss arrangements with child/young person. It will therefore be impossible to ensure that CYP is achieving the ECM outcomes. Safeguarding a major issue!!!!!!!!

An eight-exclamation mark major issue! (!!!...) Blimey, it must be bad. And am I alone in cringing at our dear children being constantly referred to as CYP? How on earth Staffs council thinks that it can ensure that home educated children are achieving the ECM outcomes, when many of the aims attached to those outcomes are impossible for home educated children to achieve and most are unnecessary and not even compulsory (yet..) on the basis of the one annual home visit it later says it prefers to conduct in most cases, beats me. I'm reduced to wondering whether this response's author (Peter Traves, it says at the end) has even read the aims attached to the outcomes and therefore knows what he's talking about.

Accessing the authority's website page about home education (linked from the response) I see that the information there is reasonably accurate and within the law and current guidance. I wonder, then, how their utterly bizarre response to question 16 ("How is the ‘suitability’ of the education provided to the child assessed?") came about:

Parents are able to provide documentary evidence which demonstrated that their CYP is engaged in a range of activities - the evidence can be written verbal electronic or graphic. The CYP ought to be acquiring new and varied opportunities to further develop their personal learning, knowledge and thinking skills and understanding.

Particular emphasis should be upon reading, writing, mathematics, ICT, creative and problem solving / project work. An opportunity for the CYP to discuss their achievments [sic] and match with parents [sic] aspirations. The EHE provision should be well resources [sic]. Staffordshire County Council feels that on its own no EHE philosophy is enough, and that further evidence of an endorsement is required.

I mean, what?? (Yes, that was a two question mark 'what', but it could easily have been an eight.) I'm getting the horrible feeling that the person who wrote this abomination is actually the one who conducts the visits to the poor, beleaguered registered home educating families of Staffordshire, though I do hope I'm wrong.

Ignoring the first, inappropriate and ultra vires part: "An opportunity for the CYP to discuss their achievments [sic] and match with parents [sic] aspirations." .. What? Why..? Discuss their achievements and match with parents' aspirations..? The more I say it (even spelled correctly) the less sense it makes! What does he mean? Is it like one of those computer matchmaking services that put people together whose details sort of fit? What if the "CYP"'s achievements don't match with parents' aspirations? Back to school with him then? Or with them? The mind boggles. It's certainly got nothing to do with the legal position, or the theory, or practice of elective home education. Does Mr Traves receive public money for the issuance of this tripe?

The rest of that quote is, of course, incorrect. Parents are under no legal obligation to demonstrate anything of the sort, and nor should they be. School education has to be broad and balanced (new and varied, whatever..) to try to suit the majority of the high numbers processed through that system, but the home education of each individual child can be as focused and precise as necessary. If the child doesn't want to "be acquiring new and varied opportunities" all the time, she doesn't have to. Not all children do and nor is it always necessary for optimum learning (to which we are free - indeed legally obliged according to Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act - to fit with the child's aptitude as well as age and ability) to be constantly doing something new. Natural learning tends to be quite obsessive and seems to work best when the student is allowed to focus exclusively on the subject in hand for as many days, weeks, or months as they seem to need. This is how my oldest son developed the skills by which he now, as an adult, earns his living. If I'd kept making him stop doing that and dragging him off to "acquire new and varied opportunities", he'd be struggling to do that now and would probably be drawing from the public purse instead of contributing to it.

The person who wrote: "The CYP ought to be acquiring new and varied opportunities to further develop their personal learning, knowledge and thinking skills and understanding," hasn't lived with a child and really - I mean really thought about how they learn. He has this strange idea that education is something that's done to a person, regardless of their opinion, interest or aptitude. That educating a child is like training a dog, only slightly more complicated. But it's not, if you want to do it properly. Whoever wrote Section 7 of the Education Act knew what they were talking about though, because aptitude is crucial.

Particular emphasis should be upon reading, writing, mathematics, ICT, creative and problem solving / project work.

Er.. no. Particular emphasis should be upon whatever the child needs it to be upon. This is not school education. We are not working in order to provide evidence of work. This is individually tailored, student-centred, uniquely adapted, M&S home education. It does not have to place particular emphasis upon reading, writing, mathematics, ICT, creative and problem solving / project work or anything else, unless it wants to and then for only as long as it wants to. It usually does involve a combination of most of those things, but it doesn't have to. It entirely depends on the child.

Staffordshire County Council feels that on its own no EHE philosophy is enough, and that further evidence of an endorsement is required.

Well then, Staffordshire County Council holds its residents in deep mistrust. And anyway, what exactly is "further evidence of an endorsement"? First, by using the word 'further', it admits that the ed phil does count as evidence (Not that the law requires us to provide evidence: it only advises us to provide information about the educational provision when asked.] and second, my dictionary defines 'endorsement' thus:

endorsement n. 1 the act or instance of endorsing. 2 something with which a document etc, is endorsed, esp. a signature

- and 'endorse':

endorse 1 a confirm (a statement or opinion). b declare one's approval of. [med.L indorsare (as IN-, L dorsum back)]

So basically, Staffordshire is saying that it must approve the provision. Not true, and not necessary. The law as it presently stands is perfectly adequate. If the LA thinks the provision is not suitable, it must issue an SAO which the parents can then opt to defend themselves in court. If the court decides the provision is suitable, the SAO is revoked. I know which one I'd rather take my chances with if I lived in Staffordshire, judging by this response.

At least, in its response to question 17, the authority admits that it is not clear about what the definition of a ‘suitable education’ is, because:

There are no national set standards.

- except that a 'suitable education' is nothing to do with national set standards and is clearly defined in the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities [opens pdf] as follows:

A “suitable” education is one that “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so”.

Question 21:

Does the local authority face any challenges in assessing whether home educated children receive a suitable education?

is answered:

Yes. Avoidance tactics by some parents which mean that the LA cannot see the child or the learning environment. It should be a requirement that parents must register and agree to undertake a review of their provision by a LA EHE officer where the child is also presnet [sic] and can desribe [sic] their achievements. A Statutory code of practice ought to support the rights of the child and the responsibilities of parents and Local authorities.

But how does 'seeing the child and the learning environment' prove anything, when both could be staged to suit the apparent requirements of the LA? A conversation with a child once a year would not be enough to prove the education was suitable. The LA would have to monitor 24/7 to do this properly and even then, only when the child, grown up, was successful in surviving "within the community of which he is a member" or in "some other form of life if he wishes" could the provision be definitively endorsed. In other words, it's a non-starter. If there is no appearance of failure to provide a suitable education, such as would stand up in court, the family should be left in peace.

Question 23 is about safeguarding..

Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate?

and the answer:

A child may never been seen; the Education Act does not require this!

(Only one exclamation mark?!) Sigh. Eunice Spry's foster children were seen both before and after their deregistration from school, by supposed experts in child abuse - much good it did them. Why do officials think that sight of an apparently healthy child is evidence of lack of abuse? It isn't. You can't prove a negative. I know people who were abused throughout their childhood, attended school every day and were quizzed by other adults on the issue, but whose abuse still went undetected. The solution to the problem of abuse (if indeed there is a solution) goes much deeper than mere sight of a child. It needs to consider the reasons for the abuse, and to protect against those, in my opinion, but that's for another blog post.

I wonder how Mr Traves imagines that home educated children might feel, being paraded before him on an annual basis, so that he can use his amazing bionic eyes to check for signs of abuse from their parents? Is that not in itself abusive? Must we all be subjected to ritual public abuse and humiliation in order to carry out this seriously flawed process of trying to detect some deeper, more secret abuse? How disturbing, and how bizarre.

Oh, next he admits:

Where the local authority may have undertaken regular reviews there are no guarantees that once these have taken place that the CYP would be safe until the next review!

Blimey. What does he suggest, then? Constant, total surveillance? What if the surveillors are closet paedophiles? There are no guarantees about anything.

Question 26 asks:

Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families and ensuring that home educated children are able to achieve the five outcomes?

and now he really lets rip:

All CYP are registered and monitored - parents have a duty to demonstrate how there child is recvieving [sic] a suitable and efficient education to cover the key areas of:

A All ages (5-16)

• Understanding English, communication and languages
• Mathematical understanding
• Scientific and technological understanding
• Human, social and environmental understanding
• Understanding physical health and well-being
• Understanding the arts and design.

B Personal Learning and Thinking Skills - to be considered during Key Stage 3 & 4

Independent enquirer - process and evaluate information in their investigations, planning what to do and how to go about it; take informed and well-reasoned decisions, recognising that others have different beliefs and attitudes.

Reflective learners -evaluate their strengths and limitations, setting themselves realistic goals with criteria for success; monitor their own performance and progress, inviting feedback from others and making changes to further their learning.

Self manager - organise themselves, showing personal responsibility, initiative, creativity and enterprise with a commitment to learning and selfimprovement [sic];
actively embrace change, responding positively to new priorities, coping with challenges and looking for opportunities.

Team worker - work confidently with others, adapting to different contexts and taking responsibility for their own part; listen to and take account of different views; form collaborative relationships, resolving issues to reach agreed outcomes.

Creative thinker - think creatively by generating and exploring ideas, making original connections; try different ways to tackle a problem, working with others to find imaginative solutions and outcomes that are of value.

Effective participator - actively engage with issues that affect them and those around them; play a full part in the life of their home, college, workplace or wider community by taking responsible action to bring improvements for others as well as themselves.

Parents should give some thought of how they can best present evidence of learning of A , and B, so that the local authority can be satisfied that the child is receiving a suitable education. For instance this could be as

• drafted/redrafted written work;
• graphic / annotated drawings;
• photographic portfolio/record;
• video;
• Practical demonstration / presentation or demonstrate any flair / expertise / strength.
• Third party testimonials
• Reading log
• Project(s)

Where has he copy/pasted that lot from? What does it mean? Are all of our children supposed to be all of those things, all at once? Because it's not specified.

He doesn't want much, does he? Nice of him to give us a choice of how to demonstrate it all, though. Very kind.

In a nutshell, he seems to think our children should all be in school, or that we should all be school teachers. God help us if this nightmare vision ever comes to pass. It makes EO's plans look almost reasonable.

OK no, it doesn't do that, but it's laughably bad though, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

EO's bombshell again

I should probably be blogging about this letter from Ed Balls [opens pdf], assiduously uncovered by a certain brilliant someone on the lists, which contains the phrase:

We will state explicitly that local authorities' and Children's Trusts' ECM responsibilities extend to all children receiving services in their area, irrespective of the type of education their parents have chosen and the area in which whey are usually resident.

- thereby setting out the next, inevitable stage of the ECM exercise in frog-boiling.

I feel very strongly (Oh! It looks like I am blogging about it..) that we should be pushing for ECM to be changed to accommodate us, rather than the other way around. After all, we came first and there's no good reason for our rights and our children's rights to be eroded. Much of ECM isn't statutory - yet - but I think it all soon will be and we don't fit into it, which will bring big trouble for us.

However, I'm pleased that there are enough ECM experts on the review panel to hopefully sort that problem out for us.

But back to the thing by which we could have really done without being distracted: EO's bombshell. The trustees have issued the following statement:

Re: EO Prospectus
by EO Trustees on 09 May 2009 17:03

Statement made by Trustees concerning the Education Otherwise Prospectus for Improving Support to Home Educating Families

The document addresses issues raised in the day to day work of the organisation. Home education has never been subjected to an independent review before. There is no set framework for such a review and the timescale is short.

It is impossible to be "representative" when views and experiences are so diverse and at times contradictory. Mr Badman is aware of the diversity of the community.

The Trustees

"Home education has never been subjected to an independent review before. There is no set framework for such a review and the timescale is short," so we'll just.. make policy on the hoof between about three of us, then, and put it straight into a prospectus implying it has the backing of 4000 members.

It does not.

I've been reading quite a lot about the reaction to this prospectus, further to my previous post about that and I'd like to take this opportunity to paraphrase some of the main points that keep coming up:

  • I'm a member of EO and I don't support this
  • Most other EO members I know didn't even know about it
  • Did all of the trustees see it before publication?
  • It's so frustrating: an absolute gift to the government
  • A complete stitch-up
  • Rent-seekers
  • Arrogance beyond belief
  • Predicated on the false assumption that government is basically benign
  • Best thing for EO? A winding-up order
  • At least one person named as one of the authors of the report did not know what was in it
  • A sell-out
  • Makes me feel sick to the stomach
  • I don't want home education to be defined by the state
  • An abuse of position
  • It could have been discussed and consulted on with more home educators in many different ways. Why wasn't it?
  • It leaves too many questions unanswered, like how would the committee be formed? And who would decide who should be on it?
  • There was no reason for us to come up with a 'solution' for the review
  • Was the 'need' for a document like this discussed behind closed doors with the review team?
  • To whom would the committee be accountable?
  • Ill-thought through
  • Why didn't they utilise the expertise available?

.. And so on. A very small number of the above defied paraphrasing: if you recognise any of your own exact words and would like me to remove them, please let me know, either in the comments here or by email. If you think I've missed any vital points, please also let me know.

It's fair to say that one or two people did seem to be in favour of the document and had some sympathy with the authors' lack of time in which to consult about it, but these were drops in the ocean compared to the negative reaction. It's to be hoped that Mr Badman is aware of the diversity of the community.

Finally, I'd like to direct your attention to this portentous tale about another organisation called Education Compromise. Be afraid! Be. very. afraid. (Or.. just wryly amused, if you'd rather.)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

It's a bit like asking a fox to review the chickens, isn't it? "Yum."

Our government-commissioned reviewer-in-chief, Graham Badman, has just been made chair of Becta, on whose board he has been sitting for quite some time now.

It would be funny if it wasn't tragic, but as someone on the lists pointed out, the following quote appears in a prominent position on the Becta site:

Becta quote

'The System' takes my breath away with its blatant audacity sometimes: removing our children into full-time daycare at an ever earlier age, smearing elective home educators as potential child abusers just because we resist that process, ever-lengthening the school day and the number of years pupils must spend there - then campaigning for parental involvement in education! It's a joke, isn't it?

So, what's Becta up to exactly? It describes itself as the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning, and my experience as a home educator is that the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning is a helpful (though not essential) thing, but I can't help being suspicious about the government's obvious determination to press this agenda. Because surely, schools and parents aren't currently prevented from using technology to help with learning. Those who see its benefits are free to make use of it - so why does it need to be pushed so hard? What's the - to use parliamentary parlance - direction of travel, here?

In Bedford there is a Local Authority-funded and managed "home education programme", to which home educators can sign up to receive free access to organised activities in exchange for (we hear) logging onto the programme at home every day, sort of like Notschool, which is run by Graham Badman's 'good friend' Stephen Heppell, who also happens to be on the elective home education review's panel of 'experts'. Quite a few Bedford home educators have yielded to the temptation, which actually involves registering the children as pupils at one of the local schools, I gather. The worry is that the families who choose not to opt in to The Programme will soon be seen as depriving their children of their rightful benefits, or something. It could potentially be quite a powerful assimilation tool: about which I don't think we're all that concerned at the moment, but definitely one to watch from a frog-boiling point of view.

And now the new chairman of Becta is in charge of reviewing elective home education on a national basis. I wonder if - and how - he'll manage to justify the inclusion of some kind of an ICT-based 'solution' in his recommendations. It won't be easy, because there are some highly conscientious and efficient home educators in the UK who hold absolutely determined philosophical objections to the use of ICT and I don't see how such people can be forced into using computers as part of their provision.

Anyway... Nineteen Eighty-Four, anyone? They're just running about quarter of a century behind schedule.

Firebird has also blogged about this. I like her succinct version: "Do they even care how this looks?" though I think the answer is obviously "No."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Parents' declaration

The new Parents' Declaration can now be seen on the public wiki here. Please feel free to create an account and sign the page on the wiki if you agree with it, whether you home educate or not.

The Declaration reads as follows:


WE DECLARE our independent status and affirm our responsibility for the upbringing and education of our children in accordance with our lawful rights and natural justice.

WE ASSERT our right to choose the place, form and content of the educational provision for our children in accordance with the following:

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise

(Section 7 of theEducation Act 1996)

In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

(Protocol 2 Article 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights)

WE WILL protect the rights of our children to own their own lives, to privacy and freedom from undue official interference in accordance with the following rights:

The right to respect for a private and family life, home and correspondence

(Human Rights Act 1998)

the right to be free from “arbitrary or unlawful interference with [their] privacy, family, home or correspondence” and from “unlawful attacks on [their] honour and reputation”

(Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child)

WE DEMAND that state officials remain within the bounds of the powers already conferred upon them under current law in their dealings with us, the people.

WE WILL UPHOLD AND DEFEND the above principles without fear or favour where the state forgets its legitimate function, oversteps its bounds or seeks to exert undue influence or power over our lives and those of our children against our traditional freedoms and natural justice.

May 1st 2009

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

EO's bombshell: the document

Carlotta has already fisked the document [opens pdf] and I agree with everything she says in her post so I hardly need to go through the process myself, but probably will anyway. Lisa has also blogged her thoughts, as eloquently as ever, as has Jax, whose post I meant to include in yesterday's list.

Onto the document then [opens pdf].

Firstly, although it's now being said to be "not an EO publication in the usual sense: just the personal views of these six people," or some such, I notice that it's called the "EDUCATION OTHERWISE PROSPECTUS FOR IMPROVING SUPPORT TO HOME EDUCATING FAMILIES," it contains EO's address, logo and registered charity number and the first page is all about EO, casually mentioning its 32 year history and its 4000 members. So, if this is "not an EO publication in the usual sense: just the personal views of these six people," then those six people have - knowingly or not - abused their position within EO, by allowing that to be cited to try to give them more clout.

Pages three and four look ok, although again we have:

"Education Otherwise has over thirty years experience in this field and is pleased to offer its expertise to the investigation."

Education Otherwise might have 'over thirty years experience in this field' but the named authors certainly do not.

And there are hints of the bombshell to come:

How will the Government address the lack of a framework for meaningful communication with our community at local, regional and national levels?

Back to whether it's "not an EO publication in the usual sense: just the personal views of these six people,":

Education Otherwise believes that home educators and local and national government need to find out more about each other's point of view and there needs to be a recognised framework for continued dialogue.

And a summary of the proposals:

Our proposals for this include an annual Home Education Conference, a national Home Education Committee, regional home education workshops, more drop-in centres for home educating families and more listening to what home educators say they want.

I suspect the vast majority of us has neither the money nor the time to attend an annual Home Education Conference, so will be excluded from decision-making on that basis and the committee will not be sanctioned or supported by the wider home educating community, so it's a non-starter.

We believe that the Government and local authorities can only start to discover the complex reasons behind non-engagement if they try to understand the perspective of the family and are able to listen in a nonjudgemental way and to take time to reflect on what they might learn from these conversations.

Are we working towards 'engagement', then? If so, why? When a parent deregisters her child from the school system, she reclaims her full responsibility for his education, does she not? And she already had full responsibility for his welfare. We need to be united in drawing the line in the sand at that point, not kicking over its traces as if it was never there in our rush to join in the beachball party. Government is the parent of last resort and needs to stay that way.

Yes, and it's the 4th recommendation here:

4. Recommendation: that the DCSF Elective Home Education Team should work with home education support organisations to set up a national Committee for Home Education, remit to include contributing to Government policy initiatives related to home education, contributing to Impact Assessments and making recommendations related to Home Education policy.

that we've got so many problems with - and all associated recommendations (which seems to be most of the rest of them). Home education support organisations represent a small fraction of HErs, and the ones that exist can't get along with each other well enough together to form a committee. AHEd wouldn't work with EO (It has just written to Mr Badman including a statement of disassociation from the EO proposals) and I have serious doubts as to whether HEAS would either. So it would be the DCSF Elective Home Education Team working with EO's Government Policy Group - in effect, Fiona, Ann and Annette - to set up a national Committee for Home Education which would exclude all of the other home education activists. Neat. This is why we're calling it a stitch-up.

Recommendation 7, as has been said on the e.lists, is totally vague:

7. Recommendation: that the Home Education Committee undertakes to review all such initiatives in the light of Every Child Matters including home educated children.

What on earth does 'all such initiatives' mean?


I now find that I'm faced with a decision as to whether to continue working through the document, finding some things that I like and most things (related to the committee and the conference) that I don't, or whether to stop there and keep the focus on those because anything else I write might detract from the full extent of the destructive and disastrous bombshells that they are.

I think I'll leave it there.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

EO's bombshell: the reaction

Debs says she feels:

sick, depressed, angry, and, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, betrayed. Education Otherwise: Don't dare to attempt to speak for me or on my behalf. All I require from the LA, the Government, and now sadly the biggest home education organisation in the UK is to be LEFT ALONE.

Alison at Home Education Forums speaks of 'The final betrayal':

Key proposals contained within the document, regardless of who wrote it, have already caused major ripples throughout the home education community as incredulity has given way to anger. Riddled with typographical and grammatical errors, it makes recommendations which have been described as everything from "naive" and "dubious" by some through to "stitch up" and "sell out" by most. It has nevertheless been sent to Graham Badman, who is conducting the home education review, in the name of Education Otherwise when it apparently represents the personal opinions of no more than a handful of self appointed individuals who decide EO policy on the hoof without any formal accountability. Misleading, or what?

And I have Mike Fortune-Wood's permission to quote the following e-list post of his:

This prospectus is so very bad, its implications are so very awful and the outcome that the authors have destined for us is so completely at odds with peoples aspirations that there is no going back from here.

EO have sold out the home education community so completely that its continued existence must now be in question.

People here will not forgive this, it's the ultimate sin of betrayal.

This prospectus accepts as valid the ECM agenda. By doing so it invites or accepts the authorities as parenting partners rather than parents of last resort, the one thing we have been fighting to avoid for perhaps the last 10 years or more, possibly the chief underlying reason why most of us home educate in the first place and by doing so it incorporates us into the government system.

Our wildness is tamed.

There is nothing EO can do to repair the damage on this, it's a terms of surrender and is completely disgraceful.

The trustees should all resign in disgrace. EO truly has no way forward from this other than to wind up.

I simply cannot express how I feel about this whole mess.

My own detailed reaction will come after I've fisked the 'Prospectus' [opens pdf], starting tomorrow.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

EO's bombshell

EO's Government Policy Group has produced this [opens pdf]. As far as we can work out, it was written by one person, with possible input by about five others, and nobody else knew about or saw it before it was published. There's much angry discussion about it in the various email groups and on the Facebook discussion board. (For the record, I agree with much of what Raquel says there.)

I am planning to fisk the whole document - no doubt other bloggers will be doing the same - but am taking some time off during the next few days to focus on other things, including a 'proper job' deadline. Sometime during the week then, perhaps.

Suffice to say, for those who didn't know, EO has about 4000 members, most of whom are not involved in its political discussions. (It seems that even some of the trustees are not involved in these.) The vast majority of home educators are not EO members, and the vast majority of opinions I've read about this document are outraged.