"The Government wants to change the law so that all children have to go to school" - Consult deadline today!
It's not as dramatic as it seems, from the quote in the title. At least I hope not. The excerpt is from the children's version of a consultation about changing the Education Act in a part that relates to school attendance for travelling families (Section 444(6)) with a view to repealing it.
Nothing to do with Elective Home Education you might say, but the terminology and spirit of the documents is absolutely anti-home learning and pro-school. As any parent knows, children learn all the time, in all situations and often the most natural situation for a child's education is the most effective for that child. Education is not all paperwork, it's also computer work, craft work, industry, satisfying curiosity, finding questions and answers in a multitude of places.
We are all unique in our interests and learning styles, BUT we live under a government which has an economy to drive, and the education industry is very much a part of that. My fear, borne out by documents like this, is that the economy's needs risk over-riding whatever might be best for people including their freedom to decide what might be best for themselves.
My adult children have no qualifications and yet all do earn as much money as they want and need to earn. Instead of restricting their academic studies to those set out by someone else on a curriculum or syllabus, they have used their time instead to keep following their interests freely and hone their potentially commercial skills, which has enabled them to enter the workplace free of debt and contract, so they could partake on their own terms. I imagine this outcome is just as easily available to traveller families, if not moreso, and it is a option to be valued, not dismissed because it doesn't fit with wider international social and economic plans for us.
444 Offence: failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.
(6) If it is proved that the child has no fixed abode, subsection (4) shall not apply, but the parent shall be acquitted if he proves— (a) that he is engaged in a trade or business of such a nature as to require him to travel from place to place, (b) that the child has attended at a school as a registered pupil as regularly as the nature of that trade or business permits, and (c) if the child has attained the age of six, that he has made at least 200 attendances during the period of 12 months ending with the date on which the proceedings were instituted.
Some home educators I know are in touch with travelling families and have asked for their views on this. Their response has included concerns about the break up of families when men are travelling for work and children have to attend the same school consistently, and also about the lack of legitimate places for travellers to stay without being moved on for long enough to ensure the required school attendance.
In 2001 a Gypsy took the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights for preventing her from stationing caravans on her land, a breach of her right to private life. The judgement included the following legal requirement:
..the vulnerable position of Gypsies as a minority means that some special consideration should be given to their needs and their different lifestyle.
- and the proposal to enforce full school attendance would breach this special consideration legal requirement.
I have also read the adults' version of the consultation and the wording is nearly as bad as the children's one:
Evidence tells us that regular, consistent attendance at school is associated with good achievement. To ensure that each child has the opportunity to achieve their best the Government is determined to improve school attendance for all children. We know that significant absence from school reduces the opportunity for children to fulfil their potential.
- and I want to challenge this notion that achieving one's best and fulfilling one's potential always necessitates qualifications, compliance and even excessive affluence. In whose interests is it all, really? High attendance might produce better qualifications, but might its dogged pursuance be at the expense of an entrepreneurial, innovative - but essential - element of society?
Other home educators speak of traveller friends being effectively prevented from home educating by prejudiced official interventions in their family lives (however well-meaning these might be) and feeling forced to register their children at school purely to relieve some of this pressure, even when their preference is to home educate and they are perfectly well able to do so.
Is this consultation evidence of a further move to phase out Nomadic living in England as it has been in the Nordic countries and elsewhere? Are settled, housed communities really so threatened by the mere existence of travelling people? I am currently reading a book about, amongst other things, the early coexistence of both nomadic and early farming communities and the problems and benefits both might have experienced as a result - are we still grappling with the same kind of dynamics as our forebears from 3,000 years ago and more?
If we are not careful, we risk Elective Home Education becoming a preserve of the elite, of which only "green light families" can avail themselves. This would be a wrong turn, in my view. Instead, we should embrace freedom and differences, and continue to let Traveller families dip in and out of schools at will, trusting them as much as any other parent to cause [their children] to receive efficient full-time education suitable — (a) to their age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs they may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.