Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why so serious?

Here are my instinctive thoughts on the rest of the draft Revised Statutory Guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education - amongst other things! This is not my consultation response, or even a draft of it, which I haven't begun to formulate yet. If you want to read a draft response you can find Dani's here and Carlotta's here.

6.11. Notifications could be about children who are actually receiving an education, which is being delivered by a route not known to the local authority at that time: e.g. independent schools, home education, or alternative provision. When the route of education has been determined it should be logged on the local authority database for future reference.

would surely be improved by including direct reference to the 2007 Home Education Guidelines to Local Authorities. If these people are expected to operate purely by following pre-set flow charts, then the 2007 guidance can be incorporated into this one.

6.15. The first step is to identify all likely routes of information, for example:
· school secretaries/administrators/Designated Senior Persons;
· Pupil Referral Units and alternative education providers;
· housing departments;
· homeless hostels;
· Missing People Helpline;
· Accident and Emergency;
· NHS Walk-in services;
· GPs;
· Children’s Social Care;
· Police;
· Youth Offending Teams;
· Fire and Rescue Services;
· Other agencies involved in Crime and Disorder Reduction partnerships;
· Health Visitors;
· UK Border Agency;
· Education Welfare Officers (Education Social Workers);
· SEN caseworkers;
· Connexions;
· General Public;
· Voluntary and community organisations.

Can the authors of such systems and ideas not see what must be glaringly obvious to the rest of us? That lists like this - and the officious tale-telling chain they set up - can only serve to persuade innocent families to live like recluses? Many people I know would now be genuinely worried about the consequences to their subsequent freedom to go about their lives without impediment if their child needed emergency medical services, or even a visit to a GP. Most home educators I know will have nothing to do with Connexions or Health Visitors because of the blatant and careless information-sharing that now goes on. As many of us responded in the 2007 consultation, contact with Local Authorities often negatively and markedly affects our children's interest in learning.

I'm glad they've made this point:

6.17. When raising awareness with partner agencies it is useful to remind them that parents may lawfully educate their children at home. Where a local authority is satisfied that a parent is providing their child with a suitable full time education, the child is not the target of this duty. However, the local authority does have the power to issue a school attendance order if it appears that the parent is not providing a suitable education. Education of children at home by their parents is not in itself a cause for concern about the child’s welfare.

but the mention of SAOs is unnecessarily heavy-handed. Why not simply refer to the 2007 guidance, which at least now sets out the correct procedure?

6.35. In order to discharge their duties in relation to children not receiving an education, local authorities should make inquiries with parents about whether their home educated children are receiving a suitable education. The Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities make clear that parents who home educate may take a number of equally valid approaches to educational provision for their children.

Should this not still be "may make inquiries"? Or does the Education and Inspections Act 2006 change that? I've just read section 436A again and it doesn't seem to.

And I wish

6.37. Local authorities can insist on seeing a home educated child if there is cause for concern about the child’s safety and welfare (section 47 of the Children Act 1989). Where there are concerns about the child’s safety and welfare, Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures must be followed.

specified the 'causes for concern', because judging by the tone of the rest of the document, moving house or visiting a GP could be seen as such. But show me a family who has never done those things? I suppose I should be personally grateful that single parenthood, home birthing and use of alternative medicines aren't on the lists.

The databases, the information-sharing and the terrifyingly intrusive and invasive Common Assessment Framework are not 'tools' I can ever condone. IMO, they should not be necessary or used in a society that claims to be free and democratic, but I don't know whether to include this view in my response. It might be better to stick to specific concerns about the treatment of home educators.

Section 5 in Appendix 1 does away with the potential for many home educating families to remain unknown to the Local Authorities, doesn't it? This will usually be to the detriment of their educational provision, if my experience is anything to go by. It seems that my younger children will remain 'unknown' now only if we manage, by extraordinary luck, to avoid visits to the GP or hospital and the rest of the long list of information-sharing agencies. This is a great shame, in my opinion. I had hoped to protect them from Local Authority involvement for the duration of their period of home education. Zara was explaining yesterday how it felt to be 'inspected' by the LA - as if she was guilty of the 'crime' of not attending school and had to somehow try to prove her innocence. But she said this 'guilty until proven innocent' ethos is now accepted as being the norm for people her age, with the state-sanctioned Mosquito system being a case in point.

But these are battles now lost, a situation which can only be remedied by some extreme event like a complete political revolution - which even then, might go further in the wrong direction. I take some hope from the imminent collapse of the economy, which will render most of these checking, tracking and monitoring systems unaffordable, but I suspect they'd be reinstated as priorities by any new regime which would naturally seek to resurrect the economy by means of increased public spending. But hopefully I'm being unduly pessimistic.

It's interesting that even now, with this scaffolding of 'protective' legislation, my children still appear to be free from official intervention to enjoy their provision of natural learning. Because they have no registered Special Needs, we are not immigrants, have no medical issues and have not moved house, we haven't really always been conscious of this particular public building programme and it's quite a shock to read a document like this and to see just how deep and intricate its progress has been. It seems that our days of freedom from Local Authority involvement are numbered, which isn't as much of a concern to me as it would be if I was slightly less literate, articulate and eloquent. This is not a good thing: I have home educating friends who, whilst their educational provision is more than adequate, might struggle for whatever reason to convince the Local Authority of such and their being forced to do so would cause unnecessary stress to the whole family. I even know people who have put their children in school, just to be able to avoid the process of dealing with their Local Authority in regard to their - perfectly satisfactory - home education provision.

This can't be right. But what can we do?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My guidance trumps your guidance

I blogged a few weeks ago about a consultation on the DFES's Revised Statutory Guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education. What I didn't realise then, and would like to thank a certain very perceptive lady in Wales for pointing out now, is that this new guidance, being statutory, will supercede the much more legally accurate and hard-won non-statutory guidance [opens pdf] about which I blogged last November.

1.2.1 This document is issued under the section 436A (inserted before section 437 in Chapter 2, Part 6 of the Education Act 1996 (school attendance) by the Education and Inspections Act 2006), which provides that local authorities must have regard to statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State. This document provides that statutory guidance and applies to England only. Local authorities in England must take this guidance into account and, if they decide to depart from it, have clear reasons for doing so.

So if the new guidance goes through unchanged, it seems the previous November's

  • "Parents are not required to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home";

  • "Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis";

would be effectively rendered null and void. Suddenly, this new Statutory (compulsory) guidance would put local authorities very much in the position of assessing what is and what isn't deemed 'suitable' home education provision.

1.2.7 Local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to enable them to establish whether a child who is being educated at home (under section 7 of the Education Act 1997) is not receiving suitable education.

Do they mean the Education Act, 1996?

1.3.1 Local authorities are responsible for meeting the requirements under section 436A.

Do they mean section 437(1):

School attendance orders

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.

Or has this act been rewritten, rescheduled and redated when I wasn't looking? Always possible, I suppose. I have been a bit busy recently.

Oh wait - they're talking about section 436A of the 2006 Education Act. (Confused? You will be..)

Duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving education

A local education authority must 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.
In exercising their functions under this section a local education authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.
In this Chapter, “suitable education”, in relation to a child, means efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have.”
[My emphasis]

So that's where the word 'suitable' came from.

I have ploughed through said draft guidance [opens Word doc.] more than once now and it doesn't get any easier for repeated readings.

For a start, the list of "relevant partner agencies" in section 1.3.3 doesn't even include parents, unless we come under "voluntary and community organisations" tagged on at the end. Do you have to be in an organisation now, then, for your views to matter?

2.1. The purpose of the duty is to make sure that children not receiving, or at risk of not receiving, a suitable education are identified quickly, and effective tracking systems and support arrangements are put in place. This will enable the Children’s Trust to ensure that action is taken to provide any child identified with a suitable education, and will also trigger activity between partner agencies that puts in place measures to ensure the safety and well-being of the child.

I mean... tracking systems? I've just read this out loud in our dining room and Tom said: "Why don't they just tag us all and have done with it?" "Don't give them ideas.." was my answer. And: trigger activity? Oh, very 'Blade Runner'. In fact, I've just finished reading Brave New World, and we're 80% there, surely. Inching closer by the day.

Effective Pupil Tracking Systems
Does the local authority have systems to prevent children from not receiving a suitable education?

LOL! Does this include school pupils? I don't think so..

"Does the local authority follow up children at regular intervals until they are registered with a new provider?"

This kind of question will actively encourage many LAs to pursue the kind of routine regular monitoring of home educators which directly contravenes the

"Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis"

in the 2007 Home Education Guidelines to Local Authorities.

I'm really struggling to work through this. It's abhorrent, isn't it? Exhausting. (Other, probably far more reader-friendly draft responses and advice about this can be found here, here, and here, amongst other places, no doubt.)

Basically, none of section 2.3:

2.3. In order to implement these changes, local authorities should select, according to local circumstances, from the practical model of process steps given in from paragraph 6.1 onwards below. These process steps reflect practice that local authorities have already demonstrated as being effective. The key processes are:
· receive information about a child;
· check if place of education already known;
· log details on database;
· locate and contact family;
· determine child’s needs;
· identify and access available provision and places;
· monitor attendance for all provision; and
· track and reconcile movements.

should refer to children receiving Elective Home Education - except, maybe, "check place of education" and log it, if they must. Parents who do not choose to delegate their Section 7 responsibility to a school or other education provider are surely not in need of these extreme enforcing measures? Or is the concept of parental responsibility now completely dead in the water? Brave New World indeed..

I'm going to come back and say a bit more about this in future posts, I think. This one is already in danger of being unreadably long and I'm only about 10% through the document. I don't know if I've got the time or the stomach to do much more, but I suppose we need to remain eternally, exhausingly vigilant to pay the price of freedom. Right now, I've got to go and buy some food. Oh - and home educate my children.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A natural hierarchy?

I used to think hierarchies were all manmade phenomena - with the emphasis on the man - that they were artificial devices built for the express convenience of those at the top of the pile, as a way of keeping the lower orders in line. But it can no longer escape my notice that something strange is happening around here that might be proving me wrong.

It seems that my younger son will take direction from his older brother, but not from me. This is fine by me: I don't like giving direction anyway. But if he wants to know how to do something, or what's happening next, or where to work next, he doesn't talk to me about it, he goes to his brother. Tom will then answer the query if possible, in consultation with Al. Only if they're both stuck for an answer will they involve me in the discussion.

I can discuss concepts and ideas (mainly about our off-grid plan, but on other things too) with the younger children, but they don't really engage with the conversation as much as does their older brother. You might put that down (as I did) to their younger age, but then I noticed that they will each engage with the next sibling up in discussions about ideas and concepts.

And when it comes to getting anything done, each one responds to directions from the next sibling up (in the form of: "It's time to do this - come on!") more than from me. It's like a cascade effect. I'm learning that I have to pass the word down the chain if I want to achieve maximum effect with minimum effort.

A system was once used in schools with huge (more than 100 : 1) class sizes, which sought to capitalise on this seemingly natural hierarchical function. The adult teacher would teach the lesson to a few of the brightest children, who would then each take a group of other children and pass it on. This was common practice in schools in the 1800s, but even in the 1990s, in the village school my older children attended as youngsters, cleverer and/or older children were often asked to help others with their learning on an informal basis.

If teaching is necessary to consolidate our learning, this system makes good sense. Anyway, it's just what my children do so for them, it must be right.

When it comes to motivating each other to do things, a word from the next sibling up definitely seems to be the required element and, I'm learning, I bypass that natural order at my peril. I can ask and ask to the person directly for a thing to be done, but unless I'm asking the oldest child, the chances are it won't happen. He will then ask his brother, who tells his sister, and the message passes down and is appropriately enforced with great effect.

So much for my hippy dippy ideas about freedom and individual expression! This new realisation kind of blows all of that out of the water. But, ever a child of the 60s, I will go with the flow and change my behaviour accordingly instead of continuing to try swimming upstream.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Best credit crunch news so far:

"Darling will have to take urgent, painful action to reverse the splurge of recent expenditure — welcomed by financially ignorant Labour MPs — on public services, in particular health and education." [My emphasis.]

- Peter Oborne

Because, in my opinion, the best kind of education is free.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Everything's a learning opportunity" ....

... as they say. ("Who's they?" "Um... autonomous educators? Or should that be: educators of autonomous learners? Unschoolers, y'know.. those kinds of people.")

Anyway, here's some of the learning that's been going on here in the past day or two:

Watching the path that water takes - always the one of least resistance.

"The water isn't strong enough to move the cup - it can't go down the plughole."

First bank statement: what do all the columns and numbers mean? Remembering that she did draw £20 out last week, as it says there.

Feeling ill, so can't go and play at friends' house. Got to lay on the sofa instead, wondering what's happening inside, and why.

"Why doesn't our kitchen clock have proper numbers on it? What do you mean, 'Roman numerals?' "

"OK, yes I get that now. But what do you mean by 'Roman'? Who were they, and why are their numbers on our clock?"

All this took place spontaneously, in and amongst lots of other things happening. I love the fact that she asks so many questions. The older ones stopped doing that after a few months of school.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

More more *more* things they say

Lyddie: [yesterday, having just got dressed to go out] "There. Do I look fashionable?"

Me: "Ooh yes. Not that I know much about fashion, being an old mother.."

Her: "You're not an old mother! I've only had you for..." *counts on fingers* ".. six years, so you're not old at all!"

And the baby, this morning, running outside onto cold tarmac in bare feet...

Me: "Wait a minute! Shoes?"

Her: "No - FEET!"

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Benignly playing schools

We've been doing some very schooly home ed 'work' here, this past week. It all started with the back-to-school stuff in the shops and Lyddie asking about it and coveting some of the colourful folders and pens. (Even if we manage to escape the system, it seems we can't escape its influence.) I answered her questions. ("You can go too, if you like," I said. "Nooooo thank you," she replied very quickly. "I'd rather stay at home. But I'd like some of those folders and pens, please." So we bought some.)

Next thing: to work out what to do with them. She asked and I explained that people usually use them to divide up the different subjects they're studying. She asked what subjects were, so I told her a few, but said they could be anything she liked, really. She decided on the following, and wrote labels for them all:

That's (from top left): discovery; number; poem; form; fairies; history; story; circle stories; and adventure. Just in case you can't read them - I had to go some distance away to fit them all in ;-)

Writing all the labels took some time and was done very carefully.

Then she had to decide on content. "Let's write a story," she's said every morning this week, at around 8am. These have mostly consisted of her dictating and me writing. (We started with her dictating, me writing and her copying, but she eventually got tired of doing that.) And pictures - they're all illustrated.

I love her stories. She's given me permission to blog a few of them, so here they are, all her own words, with absolutely no prompting, questioning or correcting from me:

The dog and the cat: they don't like each other.

Once upon a time, there was a dog and he was walking in the park with his owner. And a cat, who was walking in the park with her owner. And they met with each other, and had a fight.
And when they had finished the fight, they went home and had a bath.
Of course, they lived in the same house as each other and the cat was called Sarah. The dog was called Erin.
And their owners weren't very happy that they had a fight, but the dog was only a puppy and the cat was only a kitten, so their owners just had to care for them.
And their owners gave them some food and they just got along with each other.
And that's the end.

The three fairies.

Once upon a time, there were three fairies and their pet was only a rabbit. Their rabbit was bigger than a mouse, although the fairies did not know that they had a curse on them, by the evil fairy Sarah.
She had black clothes and she had hair dye, but she'd already used it. And now her hair was as red as anything.
The fairies had six blond rabbits, which fought, and Sarah had six black rabbits. The fairies were called Nightgirl, Lucy Light and Rain Rain Sky.
Sarah had done a plan on the curse and the curse was that the fairies would be under her power for a long long time before their friends could come, because they were the most powerful of all.
The fairies had more magic than Sarah and their magic was:
"Night sky, please help us".
- which causes lightning, and they lived in a castle made of diamonds.
Their other spell was:
"Light, Light, help us! Make the grass grow longer to help us!"
BUT their other power was the most powerfulest power of all, because it came from the fairies' own hands and not from the sky. Nettles come out of the fairies' hands when they are fighting and the fairies rescued the others and Sarah's plan was ruined and they all lived happily ever after and that's the end.

The muffin and the baker.

Once upon a time there was a baker and he baked the most yummiest muffin in the world. But he didn't know that his muffin had a life and it ran out of his bakery shop.
A cow was walking by. The muffin told it about what the baker was doing, running after him. And then the cow chased after him! The poor old muffin.
A crocodile was living by the river. He gave the muffin a ride across the river and he lived happily ever after. The end.

There are half a dozen others where those came from. Lyddie has certainly got the creative writing bug! And a poem:


Life full
Life full
Get an eyeful
Of my trifle.

You like? ;-) I do!

In the 'form' folder (the only one that was my idea) we practice the mechanics of writing. I make a note of the letters and numbers she's struggling with as she writes, and later we work on improving those.

I'm amazed that she actually wants to work on improving her handwriting skill. This wasn't something the older children ever wanted to do, but I think they'd been put off by the formulaic methods employed in school. Lyddie didn't need to write 20 a's to 'get it'. I did the first one there and she did the other five, and that was it. Time to move on. She's very happy to work as long as it's on her terms and we don't labour anything unnecessarily - which, of course, is the main advantage of home education.

The progress we make in one hour-long session is phenomenal. I'd say it equates to about a week in school terms, having been an NTA in the older children's school many years ago and seen through adult eyes how things have to happen in those environments. This was of doing it is so much more refreshing and enjoyable - it's just.. bang bang, get it done. Move onto the next thing.

Home educating a child who has never been to school is a completely different experience. The older ones were so reluctant to sit down and apply themselves to anything involving paper, or even learning, that we had to give up and completely deschool - a process that never quite ends. (Though the condition does improve over time.) In Lyddie's case, blissfully, there's no need to deschool, because she's never been schooled. So she's very happy to be neatly and profoundly creative with a few colourful folders and pens.

I've learned a lot from experience and observation though, over the years. When the child says start, you start. When the child says: let's do it this way, you do it this way. And when the child says stop, you jolly well stop! Hopefully if we continue on that basis, she'll never need to deschool.