Sunday, September 16, 2012

So what *do* we want?

Part five in my series about last week's oral evidence hearing for the Commons Education Committee's inquiry into home education support.

This was, as others have said, the perfect opportunity to ask the House of Commons Select Committee on Education for whatever we'd like by way of support. As Graham Stuart said (in another glorious shot of the top of his head!) ...

 [Clip = 19 seconds]
 
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["We on this committee, I think, admire independence of spirit and it's our job to question government, so it's a pleasure to have you with us. You heard the last session. Any immediate reflections on that? Bearing in mind what we do, which is make recommendations to government?"]  

And what came from that repeatedly from both expert panels was one single undeniable request from home educators to government and local authorities:

 [Clip = 88 seconds]

 
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["It's been 24 years that I've been seeing the same problems happening over and over again in local authorities. And I'm convinced that a lot of it is because of the involvement of.. Behaviour and Attendance, Education Welfare.. whatever you choose to call it. That department. Attendance Improvements, it is in some places. And I cannot see why it is a routine procedure that (let's call them Education Welfare Officers because I think we all understand that term). Why should an EWO be the first person to contact a family who decides that they're going to withdraw a child from school? Immediately, it puts it in the problem category and to my mind, if there were somebody located in the library service, say, who was the person to whom the local authority gave the notification that a child had been withdrawn from school it would locate it in information rather than problems. I'm convinced that's where a lot of this trouble comes from, because EWOs are working all their working lives with people who have difficulties, in one way or another, with the school system. So it's going to be their mindset. So if that is something that could be considered as a policy.."]

Yes. Why does it always have to be that department? Good question.

 [Clip = 13 seconds]
 
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["But what does cause the problems is who's going in first and this idea that you've got Education Welfare Officers as opposed to somebody neutral - that's the problem."]

That is the problem. After all...
  
 [Clip = 19 seconds]

 
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["If there's a known problem with a child who is being withdrawn from school, you've already got agencies involved. So where is the need to assume that every home educator, every parent who withdraws a child from school, is potentially a risk to their child?"]  

It's endemic. (The assumption, not the risk.) And very damaging to normal, healthy family life.

   [Clip = 24 seconds]
 
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["A lot more people would be far more inclined to engage with it, whereas.. how are we ever going to break down this culture, which has been touched upon by a couple of members of the committee, where... People shouldn't have to feel that they're automatically under suspicion of doing something dreadful to their children! So if it were neutral, people would engage with it."]

 This is the exact point. It's tantamount to a compulsory register for home cooking, just in case children somewhere, anywhere, aren't being fed properly. Because...   

[Clip = 25 seconds]
 
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["We live in a country where the basic principle is that you're assumed innocent until you're proven guilty. And the fact that local authorities go in, sometimes, with 'You've got to prove to us that you're not breaking the law,' is entirely the wrong approach."]  

Yes, it is entirely the wrong approach. (It's the approach currently being proposed on a major scale by central government in Wales, which - if enacted - will be a disaster for education there.)

 If local authorities must do something, connected to home education, in exchange for that part of our Council Taxes  - which most of us have no choice about paying, incidentally - then let them provide us with information only, of good quality, as Shena suggests: 

  [Clip = 28 seconds]
 
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["Well I would suggest that if the local authority has appropriate, legally accurate guidelines on their website and the members of staff, with whom the parents may or may not come into contact, are also prepared to give accurate guidance then I would tend to agree with Jane. The actual reason for deciding to home educate... because another way of looking at it is to say that the primary duty of education is that of the parent."]

That. Not this...  

[Clip = 31 seconds]
 
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["... and the whole question of their policy came up. We discovered that they'd based their policy on a document which was a very early first draft, which came up at the top of the list. If you Google 'home education guidelines', this comes up. And it never saw the light of day. It's got no resemblance to the document that actually we have today. So there is a basic problem with access to information."]

Correct information. Nothing else. It shouldn't be difficult: they do know the law (although it often doesn't seem like it) :

  [Clip = 31 seconds]

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["I would like to say I find it very disingenuous that local authorities who deal with education don't know the law regarding education. I'm the lay person and we all know the law regarding home education. And I think - I don't know why local authority personnel can't educate themselves properly on the law. I would expect that from any service provider, that they understand thoroughly - they should know in more detail than we do. We have to know it because we have to protect ourselves from them."]

 They do know the law.  
 [Clip =5 seconds]
 
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["I think they know the law as well as we do."]

It seems to me like home educators only want to be treated decently, fairly and legally correctly by their local authorities, when and if they have to deal with them. 

That's all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

But surely we can trust them?

This is my fourth post in a series about last week's oral evidence hearing for the Commons Education Committee's inquiry into home education support.

[Clip = 7 seconds long]
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["So the unit of funding following somebody getting involved with the local authority, yay or nay?"]

He's talking about roughly £500 per year I think (possibly a lot less: I've tried to work it out, but it's complicated!) - 10% of the normal state funding per pupil, although I've no idea where the 10% figure came from, or why it suddenly seems to be being offered to us. As Julie Barker explains:

[Clip = 29 seconds long]
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 ["10% of a school budget isn't very much. The funding of college places and exams that had been done through the APG or whatever we call it, is a much bigger pot because, you know, college funding isn't going to be paid for.. I mean, some of the colleges, for their 14-16 are charging sort of £4,000 and that's not going to come out of 10% budget."]

But more to the point, can we trust an open offer of government money with no strings attached? Zena Hodgson:

[Clip = 42 seconds long]
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["Just as long as it's voluntary? I mean, I know there's mistrust, but.." "It's how you can ensure that, and does it start down the road where a few months later, it's not voluntary? You know, a choice of some sort of voucher scheme, yes in principle I quite like that idea, but there can be an element of 'Well, you know, you've not chosen to take this up. We've got vouchers for swimming and music.. but you've not taken it up. So is your education up to what it should be?' These are the concerns. I think in principle, if you could really remove those concerns, I quite like the idea. But it would really have to be set in stone that there is a non-judgmental element."]

Set in stone. And can we trust government promises on home education, even ones that seem to be set in stone? Here's Jane Lowe, talking about what happened several years ago when the Children Missing Education statutory guidance was being developed, and home educators were worried it would affect their position:

[Clip = 66 seconds long]
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["The two sets of guidance were originally conceived to do two different things. I was involved with discussions when the first draft of that was made, of the Children Missing Education guidance, and the civil servants who we were dealing with assured us that this was not something which was being designed to entrap home educators. They assured us that the whole point of that exercise - giving the statutory guidance on section 436A - was to find children who had completely slipped through the net who were not receiving any education at all. It was not designed to target home educators in any way. And the first version of it actually said explicitly that this guidance does not apply to children who are educated at home."]


 I don't need to remind any home educating readers what happened to that reassurance in subsequent versions of the CME guidance, and how this has indeed adversely affected our position. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"The ten most dangerous words in the English language...

...are 'Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'"


- said Ronald Reagan, in his remarks to Future Farmers of America on the 28th July, 1988. And he would know.

Why are those ten words more dangerous than any other? Because it's not a matter of choice: the huge machinery of state relies for its very existence on the general public accepting its help. And - one way or another - agreeing to pay for it.

In other words, when the government asks how it can help you...


[Clip = only 8 seconds long!.................]

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["So how are they going to be signposted in appropriate ways to get the right kind of support that they think is necessary?"]

...you should probably be afraid.


[Clip = only 22 seconds long!...............]

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["I sense a frustration at the lack of a supportive environment for those who exercise their right to home educate, but there is also a safeguarding issue, potentially, in that situation, and is it not a case of both of those needing to be provided in a home education situation?" ]

Very afraid.

[Clip = only 23 seconds long!............]

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["Is there a genuine concern that - and we've mentioned support in terms of exams, transition to FE and so on - a concern that increased support would require a trade-off, with increased scrutiny, monitoring by local authorities?"]

Again, Jane Lowe and Graham Stuart have the answers: 

[Clip = only 10 seconds long!............]

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["Mine went right through the system, both graduates, both in work, no local authority has ever been involved with them and I never had any support, never wanted any. "]


Me neither. Mine have gone right through the system. Not graduates. All [now] in work. Never had any support, never wanted any. (Here's why.)

 [Clip = only 26 seconds long!............]

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["If being a good local authority and engaging with people in a way that builds trust and actually costs them more and brings no more money in, you are....... for those who are not like that, you know, straight forwardly when a whole lot of pressure's on them, go 'why don't you get involved in this? Then you get a whole load more people demanding services from you, for which you will get no more money'. Just looking at it crudely I can see why they wouldn't put it on the top of the list..."] 

Yes please. Keep it at the bottom of the list. And make it a very very long list. 

And finally, Jane again. With clear, calm, perfectly sound common sense:  


  [Clip = only 16 seconds long!............]
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 ["If it were totally open, where families could approach the local authority for funding if they wanted to, although in my mind that would suggest to me that  they would no longer be home educators."]
 
In my mind, it would suggest the same.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Prejudice and accountability

On another subject (school readiness) a member of the Education Select Committee said:


[38:40] Ian Mearns - "...We've talked earlier on about youngsters not being school ready - three and a half, four year olds coming into nursery you know, not toilet trained, can't sit down and eat a meal at a table, can't dress themselves, can't functionally communicate! And yet those parents could have had access to a Surestart Children's Centre but haven't accessed it. And the barriers that we've talked about you know, drug and alcohol abuse, and some things are just bone idleness on behalf of parents. All of those things. How are we going to get these young children and save them from their parents inability to engage with the services which are available?"

I just wanted to explore a bit of non-home education context to this series of posts about the session, because the world is changing.

In the one about home education support, the prejudices were left to a different member (as Grit's already mentioned) :

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They want to avoid school. Imagine! (Who did he think he was talking to?!)

This was balanced by Graham Stuart's reassuring assertion that we are not a high risk group (sadly an assertion that only needs making since the Badman Review.:

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Pat Glass was concerned about elderly abuse. Not abuse of the elderly, but potential abuse [of resources] by them!

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And, perhaps more sensibly (and interestingly, straight after Charlotte Leslie's questions about us all speaking with one voice, rejected by the panel and whether a specific change in the law was required, ditto) accountability:


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I really like Jayne Richardson's reply to that:

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Absolutely, we take on full responsibility. Asking for government funding - as Pat Glass said - puts us firmly in the 'accountability' bracket, and I don't want to be accountable to Government for my children's education, so I don't ask for funding.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

*Tense*, nervous, headache?

Now I've had chance to study last Wednesday's oral evidence to the Select Committee, I'm struck by certain themes that kept cropping up in the questions - for example, in the repeated use of the word 'tension':

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Don't take Anadin, or any other nasty drug, for your tension! Instead, take the eminently calm and measured Jane Lowe:

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There's so much more to see in that fascinating two hour debate - this won't be my only post on it. I'm also thinking about my previous post in respect of the consultation in Wales. People have been sending me some potentially helpful links and documents and I am slowly working through them and developing ideas.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The observer effect

From Wikipedia:

In physics, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner.

I think this also applies to education, and I'd love to see some research to support it if anyone knows of any. Anecdotally, I can confirm it in my adult offspring, who were all curious and intrinsically motivated learners as autonomously home educated children, only to completely switch off as soon as the local authority home ed adviser was due to monitor their education, and to stay switched off for about a month afterwards. (I agreed to three annual visits to help my case in ongoing court hearings with my ex-husband, as a result of which the children only wanted to learn for ten months of the year. This was remedied when the visits and the court hearings ceased.)

It wasn't to do with the way I presented the visits to them - I was always positive and upbeat about them. It wasn't anything particular in the attitude of the adviser - she was reasonably non-judgmental and very happy with what we were doing. It was purely and simply the act of being monitored. Judged. Observed. And I know some more sceptical readers might sneer and think: "Poor little flowers! They couldn't stand to be observed? How on earth would they have coped in school?!" Well, they would have coped, I know that. But I don't think they would have wanted to learn very much. (And I think learning and performing are two very different things, like education and training.)

I think I might sort of understand why some local authority officers and governments want to force an annual monitoring scheme on home educators. They mistakenly believe they have, or even want to assume responsibility for the education of all children. Most children's education is delegated to them by parents on a full-time basis, so they think all children's should be. They don't know about the observer effect. They have nothing to measure it against, which is surely the essence of the problem.

Feb 2009: Local Authority monitoring and why we hate it