Wednesday, October 04, 2017

BBC biased journalism shocker. Six pro-regulation people interviewed for show; only one anti.

BBC Radio 4's Winifred Robinson has been successfully lobbied into making a programme designed to promote Lord Soley's bill in the House of Lords. Here are my thoughts as I listened today.

The programme opened with some quiet, Islamic music. A very tribal, ethnic minority setting in Bradford was clearly identified and the first man being interviewed is outraged that his cousin's partner took her children out of school, to take up an apparent job offer in Dubai. They then went onto Syria, which is - the programme heavily implied - the fault of elective home education. "The parents had exercised their legal right to opt for home education at any point, just by notifying the headteaching in writing!" said Winifred in incredulous tones. Imagine, parents having a legal right to emigrate with their own children!

It's ok for adults to make such a decision for themselves, said the man being first interviewed. But for children, it shouldn't be allowed - thereby implying that the State should decide which country children should live in, as well as whether they attend school or not. But there are historic reasons why parents should keep deciding these things instead of the state in most cases. "For them to be able to move their children away from school - so easily - is unbelievable. Unbelievable."

But why should this be unbelievable? If you go into a shop to buy something, you don't have to ask for permission to leave. If you book into a hotel, you can just leave any time you like. You can discharge yourself or your child from hospital, neither you nor your child are prisoners there. You're not obliged to stay at the hairdresser's or the dentist's for a set period of time. Why do some people expect us to apply a different set of ethics for schools?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, a long time opponent of home education freedoms, made an appearance next. He was billed as the Chief Inspector of Schools, but according to Wikipedia he retired from this post on the 30th December 2016. Equally confusingly, he was decrying "home education law weaknesses" as being responsible for the rise in illegal schools last year. This year it's our fault when parents take their children to Syria - or when (as the show covered next) schools are 'off-rolling' difficult pupils. It seems like whatever bad things happen to children anywhere, home education freedoms can be held to blame.

Has any child ever been taken to Syria or off-rolled from a school Mr Wilshaw had inspected? If so, perhaps we need to tighten up our national Wilshaw regulations as, by his own logic, whatever happens to the children there must be due to these being too lax.

Simon Cooke, a Bradford councillor, then explained something about the report his council had published as a result of pressure from Mr Wilshaw last year. He told Ms Robinson that there was not a disproportionate amount of Muslims home educating according to data held by the local authority. He then started to explore people's reasons for home educating, which is a particular bugbear for home educators. The law doesn't differentiate between us according to our reasons for home educating, so why should anybody else? A family deregistering because they can't find the right school place for their child or because their child was being bullied in school is just as likely to home educate well as a family whose child never goes to school because the parents are hippies or hot-housers or whatever. And yet the former group faces discrimination from local authorities around the country because their reasons for home educating are unofficially deemed to be less valid than the latter. "You can't necessarily compare those different groups," bemoans Simon, though I fail to see why he wants to.

Winifred reminds us for a second (or third?) time that the local authorities' registers are voluntary, so this limits the amount of information about us that is available to be processed and discussed. Frustrating for a journalist perhaps, and for the kind of people who like to test and check and measure everything people might want to do, but for home educators this is a vital freedom we are determined to uphold. And anyway, the register isn't really voluntary: anyone deregistering a child from school - which is the target group for the manufactured moral panic this time around - is automatically added to it and cannot remove themselves from it unless they reregister their child at school.

"Parents who are home educating have no legal duty to sign," she says bizarrely, when signing doesn't have anything to do with this particular register to which children's names are added by officials without recourse to parents at all.

"Some of the things around registration, we're not able to do because the law doesn't allow us to," says Mr Cooke. Interpreter please! This makes no sense to me. What things "around registration" does he want to do, exactly? And Mr Cooke is a Conservative, who ought to understand civil liberties: back to school with him on both counts. He admits that it's not a straightforward, easy issue but that it should be debated in Parliament "about whether or not we should do that". Do what? We have to guess.

His next point of concern is that so many of us ("..especially the ideological ones...") are reluctant to engage with the council. Here are the reasons why I think we are so reluctant to do so, apart from which there is better support to be had from the home education community via Facebook groups and actual meet-ups than there is from local authority officers on the whole. But "Almost to the point - and this is over stressing it a bit - of saying 'They'll come and take our kids away, so therefore I'm not going to talk to them,' " is how Mr Cooke presents the possible reasons. But local authorities do have the power to remove children from the care of their parents, so this actually is a risk, however small. And it isn't always done for the right reasons. Mr Cooke should be asking himself why parents don't trust his officers, and perhaps taking a closer look at the way they conduct themselves in their contact with parents if he really wants to find solutions for this.

"Parents in the UK don't have to request permission to home educate," Winifred tells us yet again. "There's no legal framework for inspections." No, because the law makes parents responsible for the education of their children, not local authorities. Schools are inspected *on behalf of parents* because this duty is being delegated to them by the parents. It must stick in the craw of some councillors and officials that they themselves are not the sole arbiters of our children's education, that parents are instead and that they are supposed to be working for us and not the other way around.

Winifred then introduces another Bradford family who explain how they home educate. When the mum has given a confident, detailed explanation of her arrangements she is asked pointedly what her qualifications are for home educating. She correctly points out that she doesn't need any, but it shows a remarkable lack of research on behalf of the programme-makers that she is even asked this question. The father of the family then talks in worrying terms about the practice of off-rolling. He is asked about whether anyone checks on "the ability of those parents to become teachers", yet for home education to work well the parent doesn't have to be a teacher, or even be able to be one. Ironically, the BBC website itself on an informative page about home education explains that "you don't need to be a qualified teacher" to home educate your child but Penelope Trunk explains really well in this article on her blog why home education requires different skills and methods to the crowd control kind of teaching school teachers are forced to utilise. Skills and methods that are more akin to good parenting than to the teaching profession.

"Schools work like a business nowadays," explains the father. "It's like, if that child is not going to get us what we need to get, then we don't really want that child in the school." This is true, and goes unchallenged by the programme presenter. But she doesn't appear to make the link between schools using our children as commodities, and parents wanting to withdraw their children from such an inhumane system and from anyone attached to it.

Next, Mohammed, who is 14 and has been out of mainstream education for ten months. Mohammed's story sounds very sad to me. He was removed from school after his behaviour was so disruptive that it was looking as though he would be made to attend a Pupil Referral Unit instead, but his father tells him he's blown his chances of a good education and will never amount to anything because he won't get any GCSEs due to spending his days playing computer games. Well, my two now adult sons spent much of their time playing computer games aged 14 as well, and opted to avoid taking GCSEs. After home education they went straight into self-employment using the skills they had learned in those halcyon days of unschooling and have been earning a living ever since. "You won't amount to anything without qualficiations" is a myth that poor Mohammed and his family seem to have fallen for, along with many other families in the country. I can see why teachers and education officials want to promulgate the idea that people can't survive without them, but it clearly is not true.

In any case, the local authority obviously knows about Mohammed so can take steps to help him secure the school place he says he wants. Local authorities know about all the children who, like Mohammed, have been off-rolled by a school because their names and addresses are automatically added to the local authority's register of home educators. If this situation is being mismanaged by schools and local authorities this does not provide sufficient justification for officials to invade the homes of all home educating families and start trying to set the standards we much reach. We do not work for them; they work for us.

The Local Government Association is wheeled out next, asking "at the very least", for the compulsory registration of home educators. Despite us being told by Winifred so many many times that not enough is known about home education and so nobody can work out what we're up to, the LGA's Richard Watts confidently asserts that "The vast majority of parents who home educate their kid do a really good job," but then redeems himself somewhat by adding that "The state shouldn't necessarily be meddling in all of that," but without stopping to draw breath or even leave a finger space between the words, there is of course a "However...." and we're back to the "wrong reasons" for home educating, and "loopholes". "Regulations should be strengthened with a view to making sure that children are safe and well-educated." But people in glass houses should not throw stones, Mr Watts. First make sure that ALL of the children in schools are safe and well-educated. This may take some time.

"Calls for a compulsory register of all home-schooled children have featured in an inquiry into cases of serious neglect," Winifred informs us, referring to this pile of nonsense from the NSPCC, I assume, now withdrawn due to inaccuracies. In fact, home education was NOT the problem in any of the cases listed in the NSPCC report. But who bothers checking such inconvenient details when they're conducting a witch hunt? The specific case was raised of Dylan Seabridge, a boy who died when, despite concerns being raised amongst officials about his safety more than a year before his death, no safeguarding action was taken. Local authorities do have the duty to take safeguarding action in such situations but failed to do so in this case, leading to the child's death. I never fail to be amazed that the fault of this is left at the door of home education and it is used to call for more restrictions of our freedoms to educate our children as we see fit. Are we going to have to start thinking in terms of class actions to prevent this kind of inaccurate slander? We would certainly have the funds for it, collectively. At the very least, it highlights the desperation of this group of people to regulate us all all costs, for any cobbled together, annually changing, invented or inflated alleged reason.

Lord Soley is interviewed next and begins with the hysterical and statistically inaccurate slur that we might be removing our children from school to be abused by us. He talks about a visit to the child in the home "Once a year, twice a year, whatever.." and yet the case of Eunice Spry ably and tragically demonstrates that this would not protect children from abuse. Eunice and her foster children were well known to authorities, receiving the "Once a year, twice a year, whatever.." visits for several years and the children's abuse went undetected by officials.

This biased and unbalanced show interviews *six* people who are calling for tighter regulation for home education, and only *one* person to counter that call, London home educator Vicky Price. The interview with this lady is used by the programme to subtly pour scorn on the concept of unschooling, although she managed to make the excellent point that if home educated children are to be officially asked whether or not they want to attend school, then so should school children. The question was edited out of the programme but the answer was still powerful.

4 Comments:

Blogger Squiggle said...

Some LAs are creating a 'register' that is more than a simple record of education status and contact details, where parents are considered to have registered for a service. Our LA considers that we've all registered to HE, which is not lawful, and then makes lateral checks with other agencies and treats children as if they are all in need of help and support. I'd rather word it as a record than as a register.

2:16 pm, October 05, 2017  
Blogger Gill said...

Wow yes, so would I when that's happening.

5:58 pm, October 05, 2017  
Anonymous Chloe said...

The question is, how do we get arguments like this out into the mainstream? I think most people would find them convincing, but unfortunately no BBC presenters are asking Gill to make her case to the public.

10:18 am, October 08, 2017  
Blogger Gill said...

A very good question. Unfortunately we don't have a Home Educators Broadcasting Corporation! I do think there's scope for us to be very proactive in that area though - with caution, because certain editors, presenters and producers are obviously not to be trusted.

1:11 pm, October 08, 2017  

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