Friday, June 26, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 8

Part 8 of the Badman report [opens pdf] is about safeguarding, according to its title. I will reserve my judgment as to whether that is really what it's about.

I've just read the whole section through again and my overall feeling, as a conscientious and (if Tom's business is anything to go by) successful home educator, is that I am under attack. I'll take it point by point, but there is throughout absolutely no sign of any intrinsic trust in parents' abilities to know or do or decide anything regarding their children. Everything must be checked and tested and measured. Nothing must be taken at face value. Everyone must be assumed to be a liar until what they say can be proved true beyond reasonable doubt. Parental judgment is ignored, or automatically treated as suspect.

The result of all of this lack of trust will be to undermine every parent's confidence in themselves and their relationships with their children. Of course children will subconsciously detect this lack of confidence and reflect it back to their parents. The damage to normal, previously healthy and contented family life will be immense. This unavoidable outcome is so blindingly obvious that we have to assume it's deliberate. It is a huge attack by the government on the family. If you want some ideas as to why it might be in our government's interest to do this, you need to look no further than this essay from Harding University, Arkansas: Strong Family,Weak Economy? Family Loyalty as an Impediment to Economic Development [opens pdf], which in its conclusion quotes in turn from Francis Fukuyama's Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (added to my reading list today!):

. . . the impact of family values on economic life poses a complex and contradictory picture: it is possible for families in some societies to be too strong to permit the formation of modern economic organizations, while on others they can be too weak to perform their basic task of socialization.

The trouble is that our present government shamelessly indulges its fear of strong families, to the extent that they are quite definitely rendered 'too weak to perform their basic task of socialization' and continues to do so, despite mounting evidence of dangerous counter indications against which it insulates itself and decrees that the rest of us must bear 'for the greater good'. (I also wrote about 'State vs Family' in this post back in 2007.)

So. To the report [opens pdf].

8.1 Of all the matters considered during the course of this inquiry the question of safeguarding electively home educated children has prompted the most vociferous response. Many parents have expressed anger and outrage that it was suggested that elective home education could be used as a cover for abuse. They have not been slow to point out that the most dangerous and damaging abuse of children is often before statutory school age or where children have been withdrawn from school or are already known to children’s social care.

Quite. And yet these points are not further addressed in the report. Instead, they're completely ignored.

Point 8.2

More, in my opinion, could and should have been said in the report about the first two sentences there. The 'two fundamental questions' posed would go nowhere near addressing the issues raised therein even if they were answered satisfactorily, which they are not.

Point 8.3:

8.3 It would be wrong to assume that home educators do not take the question of child safety, their own and others, very seriously. Some home educators who contributed to this review argued for periodic spot checks by authorities. The view was also expressed that attendance at school was no guarantee of a child’s safety, as other tragic cases have indicated.

gives rise to point 8.4:

8.4 I understand the argument but do not accept it in its entirety in that attendance at school brings other eyes to bear, and does provide opportunity for the child to disclose to a trusted adult. Furthermore the 2004 Children Act, with its emphasis upon five outcomes for children including their safety not just their achievement, places new responsibilities upon schools to work with other agencies in a preventative way.

- and there we have it:

"..attendance at school brings other eyes to bear, and does provide opportunity for the child to disclose to a trusted adult," - implying, of course, that home education does neither of those things. Parents, other relatives, neighbours, people who the children does not see in a professional context, are not 'trusted adults'. Home education does not 'bring other eyes to bear'. But this implication is a blatant lie because most children do trust their parents, having no reason not to. And most home education brings many other 'eyes to bear'. The policy that determines how we are dealt with by the state is to be changed, then, on the basis of completely false assumptions.

And the 2004 Children Act may well 'with its emphasis upon five outcomes for children including their safety not just their achievement, [place] new responsibilities upon schools to work with other agencies in a preventative way,' but this should have nothing to do with people who decline the option of school.

The next point is breathtakingly arrogant and stupendously illogical:

8.5 Some home educators have access to support and guidance from their organisations on recognising and dealing with child protection and many in conversation stressed to me the importance of their informal networks and knowledge of their own community. I am not persuaded that, although laudable, this is sufficient. Apart from which, on the basis of local authority responses to my questionnaire, there are many children likely to be unknown to the authorities or engaged in such networks. The process of registration recommended earlier should address this issue.

"I am not persuaded that, although laudable, this is sufficient," is the kind of phrase that brings out the John Cleese in me. Not sufficient?? To what lengths, then, are we supposed to go to demonstrate that we're not abusing our children? A daily parade before the Local Safeguarding Children Board? Come on, children, have you finished your breakfast? Hurry up, we're 56th in line for today's parade. Stand by your beds! Shine your shoes! Quick... march!

It's ridiculous. Surely, the reasonable measure of any blanket safeguarding procedure should be: to what extent does it impact on normal family life? - which should then be balanced against the statistical basis of abuse - which, as the NSPCC itself admitted, does not exist.

And yet here they are again, the NSPCC, in the very next point (8.6):

..there is nothing in the current guidance or framework that would prevent children from being abused by people who may claim to be home educators.

Well, duh. There is nothing in any future guidance or framework, no matter how draconian, that would prevent children from being abused by people who may claim to be home educators, short of banning home education. But for that to work, you'd have to ban schooling too. And parenting. And children, which would put the NSPCC out of business once and for all, at least.

And I just want to highlight, from point 8.8 that NASWE says:

EHE is not in itself a safeguarding issue.. ()

If it's not (and they're right, it's not) then any changes to government policy can't be made on the assumption that it is!

And why, in 8.9, was it necessary to use the words:

irrespective of the number of cases [?]

Answer: because there are hardly any cases!

From the same point, in the words of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector:

In a small number of cases, our evaluation of serious case reviews has identified that a lack of oversight of children receiving home education contributed to a serious incident or the death of a child.

How many cases? Two? Three? And how exactly did the "lack of oversight" contribute to the incidents? And is it fair that because of them our children, our homes, our whole lives are to come under regular official inspection? I don't think so. I think the safeguarding issue is an excuse to clamp down on us and force us to comply with their agenda [opens ECM pdf].

She goes further:

Schools have an important responsibility to monitor children’s safety and welfare but this safety net is missing for children educated at home. In addition, children who are educated at home may have less access to trusted adults who they can turn to if they are concerned about their home circumstances.

But... parents have an important responsibility to monitor children’s safety and welfare, so this safety net is not missing for children educated at home, is it? I can't understand why the responsibility of parents is ignored in favour of that of schools. It makes no sense.

Point 8.10 reports Ofsted as saying:

Some authorities expressed the view that securing adequate safeguarding would be easier if they had a clear right of access to family homes in the course of monitoring the suitability of home education.

Yes, and no doubt it would be even easier to 'secure adequate safeguarding' (whatever that really means) if we all lived under 24hr CCTV surveillance in our homes, but would that be reasonable? There's no attempt to balance the supposed need for home inspections and 1:1 interviews with children with the effect these will have on the children themselves, their education, their wellbeing, their feeling of safety and on their family life.

Here's another nonsensical sentence from Ofsted:

Children who are educated at home but are not known to the local authority may be more likely to be at risk.

At risk of what, and why? There's no justification given and no further explanation.

Next, those two questions are finally revisited:

8.12 To return to the two questions posed earlier. First, on the basis of local authority evidence and case studies presented, even acknowledging the variation between authorities, the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population. Secondly, despite the small number of serious case reviews where home education was a feature, the consideration of these reviews and the data outlined above, suggests that those engaged in the support and monitoring of home education should be alert to the potential additional risk to children. So saying is not to suggest that there is a causal or determining relationship, but simply an indication of the need for appropriately trained and knowledgeable personnel.

"..the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population." [My emphasis, this time.] So what about the other local authorities? Is it disproportionately low in those? And if so, wouldn't the two cancel one another out, statistically? And there's another explanation for this which isn't mentioned in the report: some local authorities refer all home educating children known to them to children’s social care as a matter of course, or even just the ones whose parents utilise their right to decline the 'offer' of a home visit. There doesn't necessarily have to be a child protection issue for a child to be known to a children’s social care department.

This is likely to be very problematic to us:

Recommendation 23

- particularly the part that says:

anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education.

Because if it's not clearly defined then it really could be anything, subject to the opinion of the official in question, however prejudiced he or she may be. Here's a list of possibilities, by no means exhaustive:

  • Single parent family
  • Special Educational Needs
  • No working wage coming into house
  • One or both parents working, therefore not sufficiently available to home educate
  • Something deemed inappropriate about the house
  • Use of alternative medicine
  • Lack of vaccinations
  • A disagreement about educational philosophy between the LA and the parent
... and so on.

The next one hammers the nail in:

Recommendation 24

- And have you seen the NICE draft guidance for 'When to suspect child maltreatment'? "Inappropriate, or too small clothing." "Parents or carers fail to administer essential prescribed medication for their child." "Excessive clinginess." "Child fails to seek or accept appropriate comfort or affection from an appropriate person when significantly distressed." "Anger or frustration expressed as, for example, temper tantrum in a school-aged child or frequently flying into a rage at the least provocation." "Inconsolable crying." "Child adopting a care-taking role for parents or siblings." "A very young child showing excessive comforting behaviours when witnessing parental distress." "Extreme passivity, resistance or refusal." And so on.

What this will mean in practice is that if an official feels like revoking registration and thereby ordering a child into school for whatever reason, he can. The home education community will be decimated, arbitrarily.

Yes, it's an attack. So how can we defend ourselves against it?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 7

Part 7 of the Badman report [opens pdf] is about Special Educational Needs and, although my older son Tom was diagnosed, aged about 9, with severe dyslexia, he's managed to overcome his problems since being deregistered from school soon afterwards so successfully that I've never really thought of myself as being the parent of any children with SEN. If they'd been in school, I'd probably have been seeking diagnoses of dyslexia and Asperger's for two of my other children respectively, but their issues are so relatively mild, and home education so easily adaptable, that I find there's no need for official diagnoses now.

So I've never been on the home education special needs list, or - beyond reading some excellent posts in more general groups and on blogs - had any specific knowledge about how families who deal with more problematic cases fare, though that's not actually 100% true: I've helped to support some local home educating families with serious SEN over the years, and noticed that they do tend to be unfairly treated by local authorities, compared to other home educators.

This is my position on starting to look at section 7 of the report.

7.1 .. Many parents whose children have needs as diverse as dyslexia and autism, withdrew their child often in despair that their needs were not being adequately met in school. In such instances, it is often a case of ‘home education by default’ rather than ‘elective home education’

This describes our situation back in 1998 quite well although it turned out to be such a good - albeit forced - decision, that we're definitely elective home educators now. I suspect this is quite a common process: once the shackles of school are shaken off for whatever reason, families find they could never contemplate a return and subsequent children are then electively home educated throughout.

7.2 ... Many point to the need for greater sensitivity in intervention, indeed some are fearful that the act of monitoring would in itself be damaging to the child.

I sympathise with this position, and think it probably also holds true for many children without SEN. I'd like to see some research on the issue, and would have thought that any serious educationalist would have given it more consideration in such a crucial report.

Recommendations 17 and 18, arising from points 7.4 and 7.5:

Recommendations 17 and 18, arising from points 7.4 and 7.5

therefore give rise to particular concern.

Actually, they're quite shocking aren't they? He goes straight from paying lip service to the idea that monitoring might be damaging to SEN children, to therefore recommending a whole lot more of it, without even bothering to include any linking attempts at justification in between! Badman the sadist, or just carelessness? Either one is pretty, well.. bad, isn't it?

Recommendation 19:

That the statutory review of statements of SEN in accord with Recommendation 18 above be considered as fulfilling the function of mandatory annual review of elective home education recommended previously.

really ought to go without saying and the fact that he feels the need to spell it out like that tells us that he really does know how pedantic and unforgiving some local authority officers can be. And yet he's still keen to hand them so much power over our children's lives.

The 20th:

When a child or young person without a statement of special educational needs has been in receipt of School Action Plus support, local authorities and other agencies should give due consideration to whether that support should continue once the child is educated at home – irrespective of whether or not such consideration requires a new commissioning of service.

- might be welcome to some parents of children with SEN, I don't know.

Section 7.6 is prompting me to read the Lamb Inquiry Review of SEN and Disability Information [opens pdf], which straight away sums up the position I felt to be in 12 years ago with Tom's school when it says:

As the system stands it often creates ‘warrior parents’ at odds with the school and feeling they have to fight for what should be their children’s by right; conflict in place of trust.

They really don't need us to tell them why we don't want to use their schools, do they?

In the same inquiry, comments made regarding better and more communication with parents could equally well be applied to the expectation parents should have of local authorities when they elect to home educate,

- says Mr Badman in his point 7.6, though the idea of parents having any expectations of local authorities when they elect to home educate is a strange one to me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 6

I've just read the latest post on Renegade Parent, in which Lisa highlights a long but crucial comment by Colleen on one of her previous posts, which I'd missed. I think many of us have heard, or read, or know of similar accounts and situations of social workers coming to assess a situation and taking over, assuming the parent to be weak and unprotected/unconnected. In most - if not all - of the cases of which I'm personally aware, there was absolutely no real cause for concern and the initial referral was usually made by either vindictive or well meaning but paranoid relatives or neighbours. People who think it's wrong that a child's preference to not have her hair/teeth brushed three times a day should be taken seriously. People who think all children should be in school between 9am and 3pm, in the bath by 6pm and in bed by eight. People who think children should never fall, never accidentally tear their clothes while playing and never shout or cry. People who think that if a child can't read, write and manipulate numbers in the conventional sense by the age of six, her education is being neglected. People who think that children (and their parents, if needs be) must be made to conform with society's norms and expectations. People who don't value happiness or freedom and who probably don't know the meanings of those words and if they did, would treat them with suspicion and resentment.

These people do exist in their millions but so do the other kind, thankfully: the ones who would see a child running for a hug or being carried home in the evening by a loving parent, and just know everything was ok. Most of us, I think, instinctively know when a child is ok and when it really intrinsically isn't. Of all the thousands of children I've come across throughout my life, though some undoubtedly had problems at some time or other - who doesn't? - I never met one who I thought should be forcibly removed from his parents. Perhaps I've been lucky in the people I've known, but I think that kind of extreme abuse/neglect is extremely rare.

But I'm not supposed to be writing about that or, as I'd like to go on, in awe of Colleen and the incredible strength and wisdom she found to deal with that which confronted her. I'm supposed, though I'm growing very weary of it now, to be working through the Badman report [opens pdf]. So here we are, at part 6:

Part 6

The end of point 6.3 contains yet another of Mr Badman's now famous convoluted sentences, including one of his 16(?) uses of the term "I believe":

But because of the importance to local authorities of knowing the number of children and young people within the elective home education cohort, to assist in their commissioning of school places and to their understanding of why children were withdrawn from school, I believe it is important to report such information to the Children’s Trust, together with data concerning their use of current statutory orders, whether to supervise education or direct attendance at school.

So we're to be registered in order to help local authorities commission school places and to help them to understand why we don't want to use the schools? For real? As reasons for unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion into our lives, they don't stack up to much, do they? In my day when a school had too many children it hired an extra teacher and craned another prefabricated classroom into the playground. Too few and it laid a teacher off and maybe left a classroom empty or used it for something else, the spare space always being appreciated. It did not start interrogating innocent members of the local community.

And why does anyone need to know why we don't want to use the schools? We just prefer not to delegate our parenting and our children prefer not to attend, end of story. It's not complicated or difficult to work out or understand. It doesn't require an army of academics to write treatises on the subject, or for headteachers and officials to wring their hands in anguish. Some families like to use the schools and some don't. Knowing all about who we are and where we are and exactly what we're doing every minute of the day won't change that. They should take, as my teenagers would doubtless advise, a chill pill.

Point 6.4 betrays more of the same kind of anxiety:

6.4 While home education may sometimes be considered to be a better option for some children than mainstream education, parents should never be placed under pressure by schools to remove their children from school under threat of permanent exclusion or prosecution. I have heard evidence to this effect. The first priority of schools should always be to discuss with parents what support can be provided to keep their child in school and to ensure they behave well and attend regularly.

I have heard evidence to that effect too: in fact, it kind of happened in my family when the local school ran out of tactics to enforce my younger son's [Yes, it's his birthday again. 19 today!] compliance with its regime and turned to me in desperation, asking why I didn't home educate him also, since his brother was already at home? The answer was because he wanted to stay and try to win the power struggle, that he hates giving up or giving in and that he was inclined to view the idea of deregistration as a kind of defeat, even at the age of nine. I had some sympathy, in fact, for the school in that situation because its options for creativity and flexibility were so limited by government edicts. Anyway, the threat was implicit in their question: if we didn't deregister Ali would have to be suspended or expelled. We deregistered, and lived happily ever after.

Deregistration, for whatever reason, is often the saving of a child and her family. The pressure is off. There is time to work out what's really going on, and what the child really needs. Mr Badman unconsciously says it all in his: "ensure they behave well and attend regularly." Finding ways of enforcing compliance with the system should never be the main priority in times of such difficulties, otherwise all the talk of children's rights and children's needs is exposed as being nothing but lies. Mr Badman puts the needs of the system above the needs of the child here - indeed, to the expense of them. In so doing he gives away his real motive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 5

Part 5 of the Badman report [opens pdf] is about

The Current and Future Role of Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts

Its first paragraph:

5.1 As outlined in the previous section, local authorities were much criticised by home educators in their responses to this review, for their perceived lack of understanding of the various methodologies and approaches within home education and their manner of engagement with the parent and/or child. On the other hand, local authorities often expressed considerable anxiety for the wellbeing and progress of some children and the failure of some parents to respond to what they regarded were quite legitimate requests for information about the suitability of education. They have expressed in response to questionnaire and in interview their dissatisfaction with the current legislative position and guidance, which many find unworkable. In particular, the absence of a more precise definition of what constitutes a “suitable” and “efficient” education militates against benchmarked attainment and being denied access to the place of education, and the opportunity to speak with the child, prevents them from fulfilling their current statutory duties referred to previously.

contains 158 words, 45 of which relate to responses from home educators, on whom the review is supposed to be based, and the remaining 113 words are devoted to the sentiments and concerns of local authorities. This is a ratio of 2½ to 1, which I think just about sums up the balance of the report as a whole. Extremely biased against us - almost laughably so.

He goes on unsurprisingly in point 5.2:

I have been greatly impressed in my visits and conversations with local authorities..

and sets out some instances of what he calls good practice - including Stafford, of all boroughs!

Point 5.4, containing recommendation 7 is one that causes home educators and their children the most consternation:

Point 5.4, containing recommendation 7

Indeed, there are so many problems with it that it's quite a task to think about listing them all. But list them we must:

  1. Why should 'designated officers have the right of access to our homes', when we have committed no crime? Why should our private, personal, intimate retreats (and, more crucially, those of our children) be subjected to arbitrary invasion by strangers under threat of (we hear) forced removal of said children to full-time school attendance at best, or into the 'care' system at worst? What has this country come to?
  2. The family home should be - always was - sacrosanct. For children, it has to feel like a safe place, but its routine inspection by local authority officials will feel like violation, not safeguarding. Yes, some children do live in fundamentally unsafe environments in which case families might benefit from help and support, but traditionally this business was firmly within the realm of social workers, who are trained and experienced in the delicate management of such issues.
  3. Elective home education is not, on its own, sufficient reason to suspect child abuse or an unsafe home environment and it's a blatant lie to suggest it is.
  4. To allow 'designated officers' the right of access to people's homes without good reason is to set a dangerous precedent, with implications for all families, home educating or not.
  5. Allowing 'designated officers' the right to speak with each home educated child alone is another high risk manoeuvre, from the point of view of home educators. What if the 'designated officer' in question has secret motives, other than the ones stated? What if he upsets, or frightens the child, asks leading questions or misinterprets the child's answers? There are no guarantees that this will never happen, and for the government to allow such a right is a clearer statement than ever before that it has more trust in local authority officers - essentially strangers to a child - than it does in children's own parents.
  6. "In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well." Actually, not. They'll be able to satisfy themselves that on that occasion the child appears to be safe and well. Again, there are no guarantees that any children will be safe and well all the time, whoever is taking care of them. I think most of us would therefore contend that these proposals aren't really about the safety and wellbeing of children, but about the blatant invasion of government into private family life.
  7. "That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration," is such an obscurely-phrased suggestion that it certainly warrants closer inspection. My first thought on reading it was "Allow the child? Why would I ever prevent her from doing something she wanted to do?" Then on the second reading, I was struck by the incongruity of the words required to allow. Because surely, to allow something is to have the power to deny it - otherwise the whole concept of allowing is a nonsense. And then of course, the outrage. Our children are not performing monkeys. This proposal is for nothing less than testing to take place, the avoidance of such stress for our children being a key reason for many of us to elect to home educate!
  8. Again, the word 'allow' signifies some sort of choice in the matter for the child, otherwise a different word would have been used, like 'compel'. So, if the child has the option to refuse, what would be the consequences of such refusal? This is something the child would need to know before he could make an informed choice and of course, if the alternative to agreeing to perform such a demonstration was a school or care order, then it wasn't really a choice at all and would therefore be a fundamentally dishonest procedure.

After all of that, this is a joke, surely..?

Such new powers will still depend upon, and be more effective, where there are good relationships and mutual trust, respect and open communication between the home educating family and the local authority.

.. when the relationship is to be made akin to that between the East Germans and their Stasi? The degree of Doublespeak is astounding.

And then of course, in point 5.8 and recommendation 12, we have the oft-predicted ICT/Becta factor:

point 5.8 and recommendation 12

So in due course, one can't help wondering, are we all going to be made to run only Becta-approved software in our homes, on Becta-approved machines? You might think this an unduly paranoid or cynical fear, but seen in the context of the rest of the document, I don't think it is.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 4

This series is turning out to be longer than I realised. The more I look, the more weak points I see in this report [opens pdf]. I think I'll rename the posts when I've finished for referencing purposes, so that each one shows which part it's about.

Continuing from yesterday then:

Well, for a report that

believe[s] it is important to try to capture the views of the many home educators who contributed to this review

- according to section 4.1, it spectacularly fails in that respect, doesn't it?

4.2 is vague beyond belief, saying nothing about number, detail or proportion:

4.2 In the main, home educators in their responses through questionnaire, email, letter and interview were fiercely defensive of their rights and actions. There were some who welcomed the visits of local authority officers and the support offered through drop-in centres, resources and materials and some argued for more regularised monitoring and intervention. However, there were those who wanted nothing from the local authority nor any contact with it.

And in 4.3, he deliberately chooses one quote from a response that seems designed to set public opinion even further against us.

Badman report: 4.3

And section 4.4 talks patronisingly about:

a heady mixture of pent up rage, frustration, resentment and a rejection of third party judgement.

Badman the psychoanalyst, hey? Still, it figures...

The point goes on to muse:

In seeking to understand such responses it is important to examine the reasons why elective home education was chosen by parents in the first place.

- and quotes from 'a study commissioned by the then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in 2007' which basically says reasons vary, but which Mr Badman interprets as placing..

further emphasis on parents disillusionment with schools and their inability to meet their child’s needs as they saw them.

In section 4.5, he adds the finishing flourishes to his picture of us as being a bunch of manically egotistical oddballs:

4.5 My own conversations with individuals and groups of home educating parents would confirm the above with the addition of a significant number who chose this route for ideological and philosophical reasons or simply because they believe they “can do it better”.

Failing to mention the vast majority of us who actually just want to - I don't know - parent our children (strange as that may seem) instead of delegating this to a school to do every day.

4.6 Whatever the reasons, I believe it is important for local authorities both to analyse and consider why an increasing number of parents are choosing elective home education both for the betterment of children services as a whole and the monitoring and support of electively home educated children.

This makes me think that it's the increasing numbers of elective home educators that are worrying to the powers-that-be. In fact, I believe someone's MP has said as much in an email response. We are starting to be seen as a threat to the system: an escape route that must be stopped. I think that's what this is about, and really nothing to do with concerns about children's safety or quality of education.

Points 4.7 and 4.8 go on to give a disproportionate amount of space to the submissions of various associations and bodies including one from the Church of England, about which Mieke has expertly blogged here. She highlights it as yet another example of selective quoting from the report, because actually the full Church of England submission later states that it is:

not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education.

A crucial and highly suspect omission, I think.

But it's a most curious thing that, having dismissed out of hand the detail of what most of us have said in response to his review-based questions, Mr Badman then, in point 4.9, attaches 'significance' to our collective complaints about EO's bombshell:

’Education Otherwise’, a home education group, in a detailed set of proposals, listed recommendations they would wish to see as a consequence of the review. However, this evidence apart, what I believe to be of significance was that the immediate response of many other home educators was to disown any such series of proposals and distance themselves from the arguments put forward.

So our many emails etc. did have some effect and were being read - they were just largely ignored when they didn't fit with the recommendations he wanted to make in this report.

I can't see the point of the 'representative body' he recommends after point 4.10, if his key recommendations about conditional temporary registration are enacted. Local authorities will have all the power and any pretence of sharing this with home educators will be just that: pretence.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 3

Point 3.11 of the report [opens pdf] is perhaps one of the most crucial, in my opinion. It begins:

3.11 This review does not argue against the rights of parents as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 outlined above, nor their deeply held convictions about education. I believe it would be wrong to seek to legislate in pursuit of an all embracing definition of “suitable”. However, such is the demand and complexity of 21st Century society and employment that further thought should be given to what constitutes an appropriate curriculum within the context of elective home education. Such a curriculum must be sufficiently broad and balanced and relevant to enable young people to make suitable choices about their life and likely future employment.

First, Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act sets out duties, not rights. This is a fundamental - and, we have to believe, deliberate error running through this report. Elective home education: the deliverance (in elective home education) or delegation (to schools) by parents of any and all compulsory educational provision is a legal duty, not a legal right. It is our legal duty to ensure our children's education is suitable and efficient. The education acts confer this duty on parents, because parents know their children best and are therefore in a position to ensure the provision is suitable for them. Mr Badman seems not to have grasped this. His conflation of duties with rights is bizarre and goes some way towards explaining the damaging and vindictive tone of the whole report.

Also, if the parents hold deeply held convictions that curriculum should be child-led, then of course the review - indeed this very point - goes against them by recommending that "further thought should be given to what constitutes an appropriate curriculum within the context of elective home education". These are our beloved children. Does he not assume we think about such things all of the time? An enforced 'broad and balanced' curriculum does not 'enable young people to make suitable choices about their life and likely future employment'. My older son is already employed on a full-time basis in his own business purely because he did not have to follow a broad and balanced curriculum, but could devote his time instead to refining what he was good at. My younger son and older daughter look set to go the same way. If Mr Badman has his way, my younger daughters (aged 2 and 6) will not enjoy the same privilege. Instead, their lives will be more like mine was a quarter of a century ago: wasting their adolescence on subjects in which they had little interest with even less idea of how to live the rest of their lives. This is degenerative, not progressive.

He goes on to quote Article 29 of the UNCRC:

States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

- adding the bizarrely unsubstantiated rider:

It could be argued that adherence to Article 29 would demand further definition of the term “efficient”.

How could this be argued? In my experience, autonomous home education complies perfectly and naturally with every aspect of UNCRC article 29.

Moving on from this extremely shaky position, Mr Badman's point 3.12 states:

3.12 As stated previously, the term “efficient” has been described in case law as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”. On this basis there surely can be no argument against those who choose to educate their children at home being required to articulate their educational approach or ‘philosophy’, intentions and practice and with their child demonstrate its effectiveness. Indeed many do so already. This is not an argument for prescription; on the contrary it is simply an argument [sic] that the rights of parents are equally matched by the rights of the child and a recognition of the moral imperative of securing education for all children commensurate with their age, aptitude, ability and any special needs.

Again, repetition of the meaningless rhetoric about parents' rights, instead of duties. There has to be a reason for it. It's a spot we must pick.

"..there surely can be no argument against those who choose to educate their children at home being required to articulate their educational approach or ‘philosophy’, intentions and practice.."

I think most of us could and would do this, even though we would prefer to spend all of our time focusing on our children instead of wasting segments of it pandering to such requirements for no good reason other than that we are not trusted to properly carry out our natural, inherent and legal duties. But this is the part at which we we baulk:

..and with their child demonstrate its effectiveness.

Because it's bad enough that as parents we may have to jump through hoops to pander to the government's mistrust, but unthinkable that our children should also be made to do the same. This, as Diane reminded me by email, is about checking - if such checks are necessary, with which we still disagree - the parent's provision of the child's education. Not the child's uptake of such provision, about which she still has a choice (unless the government is planning to legislate for that too?)

The potential damage caused to children by having to undergo such a process is immense. The stress and pressure of the implicit threat: If you fail to satisfy the officials of the effectiveness of your education, you will have to go to school will be extreme. Children will suffer weeks if not months of sleepless nights because of this. It will probably adversely affect their health, their wellbeing and of course their education, because how can a person focus on their studies if they're in a state of extreme anxiety? And all because the government does not trust parents to carry out their natural, inherent and legal parental duties.

Guilty until proven innocent, and punished as such: children and parents alike.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 2

3.4 Furthermore Article 28 of the UNCRC recognises the right of the child to an education. Education is compulsory in England and it can be provided at school “or otherwise”. The responsibility for the provision of a child’s education rests with their parents who also have a duty to ensure that any education provided is “efficient”, “full time” and ”suitable”.

Someone has just emailed to remind me that, while educational provision is compulsory, its uptake by the child is not. I seem to remember this being part of Summerhill's defence when threatened with closure by the government about ten years ago, though I'd need to do some research to find the details about that and they might no longer apply anyway.

Point 3.6 makes inappropriate use of the term 'required to intervene', which doesn't even fit grammatically with the ensuing quote:

3.6 This poses a further problem for local authorities charged with a statutory duty under section 437 (1) Education Act 1996 in that they are required to intervene:

“If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education”. [citing Mr Justice Woolf in the case of R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (12 April 1985)]

But this is not wholly incompatible with Donaldson's informal inquiries and does not signify the 'requirement to intervene' in cases where there is no appearance of lack of suitable provision. It seems to me that by use of the term 'required to intervene', Mr Badman is attempting to attribute a different meaning to Woolf's words to the one that was originally intended.

He goes on, in point 3.6, to say:

Additionally local authorities have a duty which requires them to:

….. make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but—
(a) are not registered pupils at a school, and
(b) are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school. [citing Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 inserted by section 4(1) Education and Inspections Act 2006]

'So far as it is possible to do so' being, I think, the key phrase, (ignored by Mr Badman).

As a result of this confusion, in point 3.7 he raises the strange and convoluted question:

How can local authorities know what they don’t know with no means of determining the number of children who are being electively home educated in their area, or the quality of what is provided, without rights of access to the child?

- which raises more issues - mostly unnecessary - than any reasonable question should:

  1. How can local authorities know what they don’t know? - They can't, and section 436A of the Education Act doesn't require them to. (Remember: 'So far as it is possible to do so')
  2. They have means of determining the number of children - wasn't that what Contactpoint was supposed to be all about?
  3. Local authorities are still, to date, not expected to assess the quality of provision, only to take action if it appears to be unsuitable or inefficient, and
  4. Accessing the child is no gauge of quality of the provision. It doesn't tell them anything, except that there is a child and that he is or is not willing to speak and/or demonstrate some small part of his learning on that occasion. Insistence on 'access to the child' (by which we must assume is meant some form of questioning or testing of the child) to verify educational provision can only be based on an intrinsic failure to trust parents to supply accurate information when asked. In other words: parents are assumed to be automatically guilty of lying unless and until they can be 'proved' innocent.


I'll continue this series with my next post.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stress testing the Badman report: looking for weak points: Part 1

Because I've spotted a few, in passing, during my various readings of it:

1.3 The degree of individualism exhibited may well be a strength but it militates against securing representative opinion and has led to factions within the elective home education community that actually distort the strength of philosophical commitment, achievement and need. I shall make recommendation in this regard.

Yes, it's a strength. Yes, to some extent it could be said to militate against securing representative opinion. Yes, to some extent it has led to factions. But do these factions actually distort the strength of philosophical commitment, achievement and need? If so, how? I don't think they do, and will be coming back to his later justification of that.

1.4 I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility without power. I agree with this view and will recommend accordingly.

But he neglects to say that he didn't take into account the views of those local authorities who were not strongly of that opinion. Those local authorities do exist. We know about them. We should insist that their views are taken into account also.

Again, from 1.4:

Good relationships and mutual respect are at the heart of the engagement of local authorities with home educating parents

And yet shifting the balance of power away from parents and into the hands of local authorities, as these recommendations do, risks damaging any relationships that could previously be defined as 'good'.

And from point 1.5:

However, there has to be a balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child. I believe that balance is not achieved through current legislation or guidance, and the imbalance must be addressed. Not to do so could result in the concerns for a minority being applied to the vast majority of caring, motivated home educating parents.

"There has to be a balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child."... What 'rights of the parents'? He appears, here and later on the same issue, to be referring to Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act which confers a duty and not a right. This is a fundamental error which needs to be resolved.

3.2 The question is simply a matter of balance and securing the right regulatory regime within a framework of legislation that protects the rights of all children, even if in transaction such regulation is only necessary to protect a minority.

Noticeable by its absence is the crucial factor of the potential harm to children caused by such a regulatory regime. This is not touched on in the report at all, but does need to be taken into account and properly balanced with all of the other factors.

From point 3.3:

Article 12 makes clear the responsibility of signatories to give children a voice:

“Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

Yet under the current legislation and guidance, local authorities have no right of access to the child to determine or ascertain such views.

Because until now, parents have been trusted to represent the views of their children except in specific cases where there might have been good reason to doubt the basis for that trust.


I plan to continue this series tomorrow.

Monday, June 15, 2009

He must have despised us from the start

I read something on one of the lists that suggested Graham Badman was very much against home education even during his time at Oxford in the late 90s. Unsubstantiated rumour perhaps (unless anyone would care to substantiate it..?) but I'm intrigued that he managed to read so much information from and spend so much time with home educators, and yet still come out with such a deliberately, calculatingly hard-hitting report. It's as if he didn't take on board one word of anything anyone said to him, but came to the review with his own preconceived prejudices, probably coupled with an unwritten extra remit from Ed Balls and I wouldn't be surprised if the result even exceeded government expectations in the end for its sheer unforgiving hostility. Did he have to go so far to earn his ermine or was there, I wonder, a malicious sense of vindictiveness in his motivation?

My guess is that we never stood a chance of getting any other result out of him, an establishment man through and through, of the generation that largely believes children must be whipped into learning, teachers must be whipped into teaching them and parents into facilitating that. We were never, in the six short months we had, going to entice him into a different mindset or anything remotely approaching one. Home education is an affront to someone like that; autonomous learning even more so. He was always going to turn on us, no matter how politely and attentively he feigned to listen. Agreeing with the premise of our lives would have been to disagree with his own, and he's far too old to contemplate - or even be capable of - that.

I said something along these lines back in January, though it gives me no pleasure to be so vindicated.

Forgive the repetition, but I'm going to indulge again in picking over some of his words about autonomous learning:

Or, does it present a more serious concern for a quality of education that lacks pace, rigour and direction[?]

Some of our ageing relatives still think this, even after witnessing many years of the absolute opposite in the children. They even think it while their computers are being expertly repaired by my older son and they're eagerly regaling their friends with talk of his business success, or his brother's skill with languages. They never join the dots between the two, because to do so would be too much of a mental upheaval for them.

The truth is, far from needing a 'broad and balanced' education, my older children needed - still do need - unlimited time to focus exclusively on whatever they were passionate about learning. Somehow, in and amongst all of that, they also picked up an amazing depth and range of understanding of history, geography, politics, science as well as more than adequate abilities in numeracy and literacy. And no, they haven't opted to do qualifications so far because they prefer to be free to follow their interests, and they're not worried about jobs because they want to work for themselves, or already are.

Living this way makes them happy, healthy and high-functioning - but it seems to me that the Badman report is the start of a process that's designed to prohibit those kinds of choices and to ensure that from now on, every child will grow up a prisoner of that system that Diana Johnson erroneously claimed home education was already a part of.

Well it's not good for everyone. It might not even be very good for anyone, but the system doesn't care about that: it only cares about itself.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"For example by the age of eight, I think they should be autonomous learners, able to read."

- is something Graham Badman is reported as saying in this article.

Here's how that word looks in my dictionary:

autonomous adj. 1 Having self-government. 2 Acting independently or having the freedom to do so. [Gk autonomania f. autos self + nomos law]

But in his report, Mr Badman seems unsure as to what autonomous learning actually is, and whether he is in favour of it:

What constitutes ‘autonomous’ learning[?] Could it be, as many home educating parents have argued, it defies definition but provides the ultimate opportunity for children to develop at their own rate and expands their talents and aptitudes thought the pursuit of personal interest[?] Or, does it present a more serious concern for a quality of education that lacks pace, rigour and direction[?]

At least he admits that he doesn't actually know, which is further proven by his statement about reading, above. Yes, the ability to read gives a child more independence in learning and is a great thing. But coercing someone to master a skill when they might not be ready for it or might have other preferences would be to breach their autonomy.

Some children are naturally early readers, others are not. To set an arbitrary age by which all chldren should be reading is damagingly and unnecessarily prescriptive. My older son, diagnosed severely dyslexic aged 9, could barely read at 8 despite having been at school for four years - something that he soon fixed of his own volition with the freedom of home education.

This report seems to be trying to set up a state of opposition and coercion between home educating parents and children, as illustrated in my previous post. It puts us on the same footing as parents whose children attend school against their wishes: "Do this, or else.." which isn't a stance I could ever take with my children, with whom I have an excellent relationship. Even if the recommendations are enacted I won't fall out with them over it: I will help them to explore the options, the various alternatives and the risks of their choices as I always have done. In my house, the structure of power will not be state + local authority + parent against child. Instead, in common with every other home educating parent in the country, I'll have to use everything available to me to protect and defend my child's best interest against that which would threaten it.

I suspect that many Local Authority employees whose jobs would be affected by the enaction of these recommendations, won't like them either. Only the sadistic, the rabidly ideological and the hard of heart would actually want to force their way into a child's home to question and test them. The rest - the majority - will be acting under sufferance because their jobs depend on it, as with so many other issues now. The recommendations go far too far in their intrusiveness into family life, and this is causing concern to people who don't home educate, but who can see the direction of travel of such policies.

So, let's see...

Many local authority employees won't like these recommendations. Many non-home educating parents won't like them and every home educating parent deplores them. That's potentially a lot of opposition, isn't it? I wonder how it could be successfully organised.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

To lie to one's child, or tell the truth? Home education post-Badman

So, having [hypothetically] had 'my' home education plan approved by the Local Authority for the ensuing twelve months, I know I must devote some part of that time preparing my child to..

..through exhibition or other means .. demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration

Otherwise we're not likely to be allowed to register in the following year and she must attend school full-time, or I will face charges under the Truancy Act, punishable by imprisonment.

In realistic terms, if the Badman recommendations are enacted, this will mean some schooling, to which she may be resistant. I would go so far as to say that she is likely to be resistant, as she'll naturally pick up on my resentment of the whole process no matter how hard I try to suppress it. This (as I found in the early days of home educating the older three, when school was the only kind of education I knew about) will present us with a serious problem, because I will have to somehow coerce or persuade her to undertake the work.

When she asks me why she has to comply, will I lie to her and say: "You must do it, because I think [for example] that it's vital that you be taught the knowledge, skills and understanding through the study of the locality of a local school and a locality either in the United Kingdom or overseas that has physical and/or human features that contrast with those in the locality of a local school"? [Source: National Curriculum Key Stage 1: Geography]

Or will I tell the truth, and say: "Well, it's just something we have to do in order to be able to stay at home. If you refuse to do it, you could be ordered into school and if you refuse to attend school after that, I can be imprisoned." I've discussed it with the teenagers and some other family members and so far everyone thinks it's best to be honest with her, but I think she'll very quickly grow to hate the compulsory element of her learning, to the extent that the optional element shrinks into non-existance. It's what happened with the older three before deschooling, and was definitely their problem at school.

It reminds me very much of the imposition of the National Curriculum in schools, which happened after the Education Reform Act of 1988, just as my stepson was beginning his school life. I think we had one or two years without it and then it came in, and the teachers were hugely demoralised by the restrictions it placed on their creativity and ability to do their job well.

Then came the enforced Literacy and Numeracy Hours in 1998, which finished off my younger son's faith in his teachers and interest in his school education. "Why must I do this boring work?" he asked them. "Because the government says so," was his teachers' reply. He opted out at that point and set off for home in the middle of the day, aged 9, which is why he ended up being home educated and having free choice about his learning for the ensuing decade to date.

The naturally evolving curriculum he chose was far from being broad and balanced. A natural linguist, he first mastered Japanese, then a range of Internet coding languages and is now intensively learning Russian, as well as building his own house on our land. As I type this he's attending a Russian Club in Leeds, a weekly arrangement he made via some friends. Who knows where it will lead? I don't, and I don't care as long as he's happy and as safe and fulfilled as possible. I know that he has no resentment towards either me or society, because he lives life on his own terms.

This kind of a happy outcome is looking increasingly unlikely for my younger two children, aged six and two, as the options available become closed to us and we're 'brought into line' like so many toy soldiers. Personally I despair of finding a good solution for them now, but I am a little bit heartened by the news that, in a friend's office of half a dozen or so very conventional people who usually think I'm somewhat weird for home educating, there was nevertheless universal shock and outrage on Thursday at the Badman recommendations.

So, maybe this is - finally - what it will take to wake people up en masse to the progressive loss of their civil liberties.

Too late?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Autonomous learning can't be planned

That's the whole essence of the method! It is child-led, not parent-led learning, which is what enables it to so uniquely and precisely address the child's aptitude, as well as his age and ability as required of us in Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act.

In the introduction to his report [opens pdf] Mr Badman says:

Parental attitude, support and expectation are the key determinants of educational success. Indeed, as the national Children’s Plan makes clear it is “Parents not Government that bring up children” and there is nothing in this report which sets out to contradict or modify this contention.

And, while it may not set out to contradict or modify the contention, I'm afraid the effect will be to step too far across that crucial line.

In point 3.11, he says:

This review does not argue against the rights of parents as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 outlined above, nor their deeply held convictions about education.

And yet Section 7 confers a duty, not a right. The conflation of these terms undermines the whole logic of the Badman review, in my opinion.

Section 3.12 of the report reads:

As stated previously, the term “efficient” has been described in case law as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”. On this basis there surely can be no argument against those who choose to educate their children at home being required to articulate their educational approach or ‘philosophy’, intentions and practice and with their child demonstrate its effectiveness. Indeed many do so already. This is not an argument for prescription; on the contrary it is simply an argument that the rights of parents are equally matched by the rights
of the child and a recognition of the moral imperative of securing education for all children commensurate with their age, aptitude, ability and any special needs. [My emphasis]

But articulating a philosophy is quite a different thing to setting out a detailed annual plan twelve months in advance and the child subsequently being required to demonstrate to officials all of the 'progress and attainments' (about which, more later) set out therein, at risk of being ordered into school if she fails to do so. This is quite Draconian and is absolutely not compatible with the method of autonomous learning or unschooling as we know it.

It seems, from this item in the first recommendation, that registration is even to be conditional on approval of the plan:

Guidance for plans

So if my plan says something like: "I plan to continue to facilitate the autonomous education of my daughter, undertaking to enable her self-directed learning and to respond and reply appropriately to her curiosity and preferences throughout," this is likely to be rejected and I will be forced, if I wish to remain registered as a home educator, to submit something more along the lines of: "This year, my daughter will learn to understand multiplication as repeated addition; understand that halving is the inverse of doubling and find one half and one quarter of shapes and small numbers of objects; begin to understand division as grouping (repeated subtraction); use vocabulary associated with multiplication and division" etc. (from National Curriculum Mathematics Key Stage 1) which seems to be the only language some educationalists understand.

We will then have to spend the ensuing year making sure that all of the aspects of our plan are fulfilled, regardless of my daughter's natural aptitude or inclination to do so. This will bear no relation to autonomous learning in any way whatsoever, and while as her parent I might still be bringing up my child, I will be doing so at the government's behest and under its specific instruction, regardless of my day-to-day interpretation of her needs, much of which I will be forced to ignore.

The final element of recommendation 7:

Allow the child to demonstrate

fails to make clear the consequences if the child declines the opportunity.

Other consequences, however, have been made clear - albeit through back channels. Failure to compel one's child to attend school full-time or to be registered as a home educator with the Local Authority will be prosecuted under the Truancy Act with the threatened penalty of imprisonment, which we know will be imposed by the courts without hesitation, just as it has been to date.

So we either home educate according to the government's idea of what an appropriate plan should constitute, or our children attend school full time, or we go to prison. These are the choices laid out for us by the Badman Review.

Recommendation 9:

Local Authority training

therefore looks pointless, as there will in the end be very little difference, variation and diversity in home education practice of which to gain an understanding.

It will, as a comment to my previous post asserts, therefore be impossible for Mr Badman's request in point 10.1 for further research into the efficacy of autonomous learning to be fulfilled.

If you read this post of Jax's to the end, you'll get a further poignant indication of how this will adversely affect our children's education and the day-to-day lives of our families.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The review report

Links to download pdfs of Graham Badman's review report and a letter from Ed Balls to Graham Badman setting out the government's intentions regarding his recommendations can be found on this dcsf page.

It seems that we are to be registered annually, and that this registration will be conditional on our plans being accepted and on our children being able to demonstrate that they've made sufficient 'progress and attainment' in accordance with the approved plan:

Recommendation 7

That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.

Mr Badman has this to say about autonomous learning, on page 36:

10.1 Inevitably during the course of an inquiry, matters arise that require answers, yet either no answer is easily forthcoming, or in searching for it, one becomes aware that the evidence does not exist. In particular I am concerned by two issues. First, what constitutes ‘autonomous’ learning. Could it be, as many home educating parents have argued, it defies definition but provides the ultimate opportunity for children to develop at their own rate and expands their talents and aptitudes thought the pursuit of personal interest. Or, does it present a more serious concern for a quality of education that lacks pace, rigour and direction. I come to no conclusion but believe further research into the efficacy of autonomous learning is essential.

Well, as autonomous learning (although it taught my older children something about the appropriate use of question marks in punctuation) usually defies the kind of planning that will be essential if we are to comply with the other recommendations, further research into its efficacy will not be necessary, because it will be rendered almost impossible for us to deliver.

But no doubt we will persevere.

Compulsory registration *and* home visits?

That's what's in store for us according to this BBC news story.

What a conclusion to what has amounted to six of the most stressful months many of us have had. Lisa sums it all up with a masterful collection of quotes and comments here and Carlotta tells us that the dreaded Tony Mooney is about to be on BBC Breakfast.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yesterday in parliament, tomorrow in the news

I gather the findings of the home education review are to be published tomorrow. Many home educators will be anxiously waiting to find out which, if any, of our freedoms might be curtailed. But I think perhaps, to soothe our impatience and give us some idea of what might be in store, we could have a close look at the government's response to the excellent points made by Mark Field MP and others in the House of Commons yesterday. I see that Carlotta has already given her view, but I'm writing this before reading hers in detail.

Diana Johnson (Assistant Whip (funded by HM Treasury)

The Government are committed to building a world-class education system for our children. That system must be built on the highest standards of teaching, real choice for parents and pupils, and rigorous accountability. Home education is a vital part of that system.

Home education is part of a system being built by the government? I think not.

This debate draws out two important themes, which must be held in balance. One is the right of parents to decide what is best for their children in their education and development. The other is the right of every child to receive a high standard of education in a safe, secure environment.

At present, in England, we have a system that takes great account of the rights of parents to choose an education for their child that

"is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions".

However, every child has the fundamental right to receive an education, and we need to ensure that that important human right is delivered for every child in the land, even in those rare cases where their parents' convictions conflict with their right to be educated.

Mark Field (Cities of London & Westminster, Conservative)

What convictions would conflict with the right to education? Would it be any convictions, or do the Government see specific convictions as problematic?

Diana Johnson (Assistant Whip (funded by HM Treasury); Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

It would be rather extreme convictions. It would be a very small number of parents who did not want their children to be educated. It would be a very extreme belief or philosophy that made them follow that path, and the state would, rightly, have to take a view.

This seems to me to be an indication that Arthur Ivatt's report of August 2006 is to be, as we once feared, wheeled out to provide the excuse for changes to be made.

We must also ensure that children have the opportunity freely to express their views about the education that they receive, in line with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

Others will be saying the same thing, but who asks the school children whether they want to attend? Put a bunch of home educators in there to ask them, and all the schools would have to close due to lack of interest.

That is a difficult balancing act, and Graham Badman's review is considering it carefully. There can be no question but that we need to ensure that every child receives a good and safe education,

Efficient, full time and suitable for their age, aptitude, ability and any special educational needs they may have, according to Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act.

and the hon. Gentleman highlighted that in much of his speech.

Let me turn now to the benefits of home education. Home education is a well-established part of our education system.

Er, no. Not your education system. It is well-established, though.

Where it works, and where it is the best option for a child, there are great benefits. It is the ultimate form of personalised learning, with provision tailored to a child's specific needs and with a real opportunity for the child's views and voice to be heard.

Yes it is.

It also demonstrates real engagement by parents in their child's learning, which is something that we are trying to encourage more consistently across the national picture, whatever educational setting children are in.

Yes it does. It's good to see official recognition of this.

Furthermore, the sense of community that the hon. Gentleman describes between home educators in his constituency is something that we want to see in other educational provision, with partnerships between providers, the sharing of resources in communities and the maximising of the opportunities available to young people.

Indeed. Is the government envious of this? If it wishes to replicate what we've got, it will find the introduction of genuine freedom in education to be an excellent starting point.

The vast majority of home educators do an excellent job,

Ah, the old refrain. "We're sure you're home educating perfectly well. We're just worried about those other people over there."

and the examples that the hon. Gentleman and Anne Main cite from their constituencies are clearly testament to that. Let me be clear from the outset that the Government recognise the valuable contribution made by home education,

It's not a contribution to you though. We do it for our children.

and we certainly do not seek to abolish it.


The duty to identify children who are missing education, which was introduced by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, was not a duty to identify home educators. Its purpose was far broader: to identify children who are receiving no education at all. Children who are home educated will inevitably be identified where they are not known to local authorities, but provided that they receive a suitable education, there is no reason why the new duty should have any impact on them or their parents.

- except that suddenly they'll all be required to demonstrate the suitability of their provision on a regular basis. This post explains what impact that has on us and on our educational provision.

I think that the hon. Gentleman accepts that we need to do everything we can to ensure that children do not go missing from the education system. I hope that he will support our efforts to ensure that all children attend school regularly or receive a good-quality home education.

Efficient and suitable, according to the education act. Not good-quality. Most school education is not good-quality. Are we to have quality assurance checks foisted on us now?

Graham Badman's review of home education was set up for a number of reasons. It is looking at the barriers to local authorities and other public agencies safeguarding home-educated children, as well as at ensuring that their safety, well-being and broader development are nurtured along with their academic achievement.

How is the academic achievement to be measured? Hopefully not by qualifications, which were still optional the last time I checked.

It is also looking at the extent to which home education might be being used as a cover for child abuse,

Is there going to be a review into the extent to which school education and other state provision might be used as a cover for child abuse?

at whether local authorities are providing the right support to home-educating families

I think we said we didn't want any, thanks.

and at whether any changes are needed to the processes for monitoring the standard of home education.

In November 2007, we issued guidance on home education to local authorities, but clarity about roles and responsibilities has still not been achieved. The responses from home educators and local authorities to the consultation on the guidance only underlined the polarised views on this matter. It is clear that further clarity is needed.

If 'further clarity' of the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities [opens pdf] is all we're due to receive tomorrow, then we have no worries. However, I suspect there will be a little more to it than that.

The underpinning principles behind the criteria for the review are therefore not sinister. They are sensible and simple. They are intended to ensure that everybody involved in home education — local government, central Government and parents — is clear about their responsibilities and that there are clear lines of accountability.

Good, no worries about that then given that the present procedure allows for full accountability, but seems to be difficult for some Local Authorities to accept.

They are also intended to achieve greater national consistency in providing suitable full-time education for all children and to ensure that, where there are problems, safeguards are in place to detect them and to allow us to intervene quickly.

Some kind of a monitoring system then, by the sound of this.

Graham Badman wanted to ensure that he took account of all the evidence that could be gathered, and that is why he made a public call for evidence. Reference was made to the 12-week consultation period being shortened to four weeks, but we are talking about a review, not a formal Government consultation. That is why there is a little uncertainty about the 12-week period. Home education is a vital part of the education system.

- at which point, one assumes, the tape would have gone back to the beginning and started again if the available time for the debate hadn't run out.

So, my predictions for tomorrow's recommendations, based on the above, one or two other remarks that have been made since all of this began back in January, and a hefty chunk of guesswork:

  • That home educators should be required to register as such with their local authority, and that information should be provided to the LA by the parents, on at least an annual basis, about the educational provision.
  • I suspect the review will go further and request certain 'minimum requirements', samples of work, and children to be interviewed about their preferences without their parents being present.
  • I don't think it will call for mandatory home visits, but for access to be made available to LA premises in which such meetings can take place. I think this might well be dressed up as some kind of a 'learning resource centre', which might also provide some sort of a centre for pupils to take GCSEs etc and perhaps include access to some learning resources, as a sop to try to mitigate our protests.
  • Due to the Becta/Heppell factor, I expect the provision of ICT to play some part in the recommendations. I will be surprised if that isn't there.
  • The above will be justified by Arthur Ivatts' report [opens pdf], the ECM framework [opens pdf] and perhaps even Section 10 of the Children Act.

I do hope I'm wrong.

Monday, June 08, 2009

"We need to embed a children's rights agenda instead of a parents' rights agenda."

So said Jacqui Newvell, a principal officer of the children's charity the National Children's Bureau, in this article.

But I've always defined my parental rights as being necessary to facilitate my parental responsibility to protect my children's rights, if that doesn't sound too convoluted. It does though, which is why we use the shorthand: parents' rights. As a Law Commission quote in this book makes clear though (and thanks to L for that link):

To talk of parental 'rights' is not only inaccurate as a matter of juristic analysis but also a misleading use of ordinary language. The House of Lords in Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority has held that the power which parents have to control or make decisions for their children are simply the necessary concomitant of their parental duties. To refer to the concept of 'right' in the relationship between parent and child is therefore likely to produce confusion, as that case itself demonstrated. As against third parties, parents clearly have a prior claim to look after or have contact with their child but that claim will always be displaced if the interests of the child indicates to the contrary. The parental claim can be recognised in the rules governing the allocation of parental responsibilities, but the content of their status wold be more accurately reflected if a new concept of 'parental responsibility' we to displace the ambiguous and confusing terms used at present. Such a change would make little difference in substance but it would reflect the everyday reality of being a parent and emphasise the responsibilities of all who are in that position.

The danger is that, as with Ms Newvell above, some people think of parents' rights in terms of power over children for their own nefarious ends - i.e., to profit or gain from them in some way. So when she says, "We need to embed a children's rights agenda instead of a parents' rights agenda," she's really implying that parents' rights and children's rights are (at least sometimes) incompatible.

In most families, of course, this isn't true at all and the parents utilise their right (responsibility) in order to further and protect the children's rights. Why? because they love them. Because anything that's of benefit to the children is of benefit to the whole family. Because it's in the instinct of parents to ensure, as far as possible, the health and happiness of their children. Who but a parent would make the necessary sacrifices to ensure this? Who but a parent experiences that feeling of sheer joy and contentment that comes from spending time with their happy child? Who but a parent feels a gnawing, unbearable anxiety when that child is not happy, or its needs are not met? This natural function can't be replicated by the state, the local authority or a children's charity, much though it may be in the interests of any of the above parties to pretend that it can.

So fine, embed a children's rights agenda. All of the home educating parents I know have never lived by any other, as far as I know. But we will assert that as parents with residence, we are the best people to protect those rights - simply because we are. And yes, poor little Khyra Ishaq died seemingly because of the sick and twisted ideas and practices of her mother and stepfather and the fact that, despite the evidence, nobody stepped in to prevent it. And yes, she had been deregistered from school. But look at this, from the AHEd anomaly campaign:

More than 360,000 children injured in schools each year
450,000 children bullied in school last year
At least 16 children commit suicide each year as a result of school bullying

So it's not just some isolated parents who cause the suffering and death of children, shocking and horrible though every single instance of it is when it happens, and yet nobody talks about mitigating the responsibility of the state or the local authority when such dreadful things happen on their watch.

The power and involvement of disinterested officials is necessary in cases like Khyra's, as is the responsible action of neighbours and the local community. It's no good saying afterwards, "We knew there was something wrong." If you know there's something wrong with a family, do something about it. If people didn't rely on the daily attendance of children at school (or otherwise it being somebody else's problem) to sort such things out, they might happen even less frequently than they already do. After all, there are such things as long summer holidays from school, which in themselves - without even thinking of the AHEd statistics above - are enough to demonstrate that school is not necessarily, as Andy Winton, the chair of the National Association of Social Workers in Education, said in the same article, "a good safety net to protect children".

It's public policy now to constantly move 'human resources' around the country, the EU - the world, even, in pursuit of jobs and for every adult to be in full-time employment and to officially promote the idea that "the best place to educate a child is actually in school," but the result of all this daily disassociation between people who live in the same neighbourhood is that people will 'keep out of it' and 'let the authorities sort it out' when something is obviously wrong, as seems to have been the case for Khyra Ishaq's family.

I don't think it's a fact that children are statistically safer in school than at home with their parents, is it? If it was, there would be moves to remove every child at birth into the care of the state, to be kept in vast institutions and looked after by strangers.

But, as Ms Newvell's words demonstrate, there is definitely an agenda afoot.