Saturday, October 25, 2008

Finding Scotland, and other learning

Lyddie has become quite obsessed with all things Scotland. Yesterday, she wanted to find it on the map (which rather surprised me as I thought she knew where it was!) and for us to list all the characters, people, places and food that we knew to be Scottish. I mentioned that Scotland and England were not always friends and we got to talking about Hadrian's Wall and looking at pictures. I think an impromtu road trip might be in order at some point, when I've got the car working properly. (We got a new alternator but it's still a bit ropey.)

She's also been dictating more stories for me to write in the story folder and playing computer games that require text input, so strengthening the need to spell words properly and find letters on the keyboard reasonably quickly.

I think there is some learning going on about which I'm probably not aware too. And it does seem strange to be only writing about one of my five children's learning. I wonder if this is because she's the only one currently at the dreaded compulsory school age. If so, I'm ashamed of myself.

But I think it might be more to do with the fact that the older ones are on self-directed learning paths which often aren't shared with me (though I did see some pretty amazing graphics the other day) and the little one is learning how to talk, and run, and jump and climb and play. I could tell you about that I suppose, but it would only take three words: It's all good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Your response identifier is 876 (deadline: Friday 24th October, noon)

My response to the consultation on the Revised Statutory Guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education is as follows:

1 Based on your experience of local authorities implementing this duty since it was introduced in 2007, does the guidance make clear the actions which local authorities are expected to take to help them comply with the duty?


Comments: The guidance, if indeed it is needed, should only refer local authorities to the elective home education guidance for local authorities, as published by yourselves last November, in the case of electively home educated children. This extra guidance is likely to conflate officers’ understanding of the original document, especially in regard to the process for ascertaining the suitability or otherwise of elective home education.

As many home educators said in their responses to the 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities consultation, the seeking out and vetting of our home education provision by local authorities is often intrusive to family life as well as being damaging to the children’s uptake of that provision. By this I mean that the experience of being ‘inspected’ by the local authority effectively turned off my children’s natural motivation to learn for a period of some weeks, if not months.

My experience of my local authority (Calderdale) is that home visits are pre-booked by the contracted-out liaison person and families are informed by letter that the home visit will take place on xxx date at xxx time and that the liaison person ‘would like to see samples of previous work and to discuss your future plans’. The letters do not allow for any choice in the matter, even though they are ultra vires and not in accordance with the 2007 guidance. Most families would probably feel that they had no choice but to accept the visits.

My own family was visited on this basis on several occasions over the years, and the visits were extremely disruptive to both family life and the children’s education. With hindsight, I wish I had supplied information of my provision by post or email from the start, but this option was not made available to me and I felt obliged to agree to the visits instead. I was pleased to see the 2007 guidance to local authorities seemed to strengthen the position of home educating families in this respect but am now dismayed to see that this draft guidance appears to undo that good work.

My 19 year-old son says: “The home visits put me off learning because I found I was concentrating on trying to convince the officer about my education instead of just getting on with learning. Also, from a child’s perspective the concept of having your knowledge and progress audited in that way is stressful.”

For this reason I think it’s vital that local authorities’ first port of call in dealing with electively home educating families should be the 2007 guidance. I now have two younger children educating at home, whose educational status is currently not known to the local authority and I have found that having the freedom to home educate without official inspection enables me to offer them educational provision that is significantly superior in quality. My provision for the older children was certainly ‘suitable’, but my provision for the younger two, because of the absence of local authority involvement is exemplary. I am concerned that this guidance will directly and negatively affect this situation because my local authority may now feel obliged to seek us out and ascertain the suitability or otherwise of our provision, thereby damaging it.

2 Does the guidance make clear the role that implementation of this duty has in the wider programme of work led by local authorities to improve outcomes for children and young people, including promoting their safety and well-being?


Comments: The guidance in its present form will lead to a severe lack of parity between school children and electively home educated ones, because the education and home environments of some school children can obviously be quite unsuitable for their abilities, aptitudes, ages and any special educational needs they may have, but by virtue of them attending a school for a few hours per day, they are exempt from the processes recommended here. School attendance alone does not guarantee a suitable educational provision, yet this guidance assumes that it does.

3 Does the guidance accurately describe the range of circumstances that put children's safety at risk and puts them at risk of not receiving a suitable education?


Comments: No, because it doesn’t include school attendance. Electively home educated children are surely not more at risk of not receiving a suitable education because they spend their time with loving parents, who understand their educational needs better than anyone else.

Research by Paula Rothermel (Durham, 2002) proves in fact that home educated children are less at risk of not receiving suitable education than their school educated peers: “The results show that 64% of the home-educated Reception aged children scored over 75% on their PIPS Baseline Assessments as opposed to 5.1% of children nationally. The National Literacy Project (Years 1,3,5) assessment results reveal that 80.4% of the home-educated children scored within the top 16% band (of a normal distribution bell curve), whilst 77.4% of the PIPS Year 2 home-educated cohort scored similarly. Results from the psychosocial instruments confirm the home-educated children were socially adept and without behavioural problems. Overall, the home-educated children demonstrated high levels of attainment and good social skills.”

The inclusion of electively home educated children in your list of ‘at risk’ groups is a grave error, in urgent need of rectification.

4 Does the guidance show effectively what steps local authorities should take when children are living in difficult circumstances that put them at more risk of not receiving a suitable education?

Comments: No, in cases of elective home education, this guidance should simply refer local authorities back to your November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities. Anything else may cause confusion and have the unfortunate effect of encouraging over-zealous officials to justify ultra vires harassment of elective home educators.

5 What are the key challenges local authorities could face to implementing these guidelines effectively?


i Confusion, because the guidelines do not simply refer officers back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities.

ii The destruction of previously good relationships with the electively home educating community, because ultra vires requests for visits and ‘suitability’ checks will risk damaging our children’s educational provision.

6 Does the guidance make clear the duties and powers that local authorities have in relation to home educated children when parents are not providing them with a suitable education?


Comments: No, they should simply refer them back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities, which outlined a procedure which allays local authorities concerns, whilst preserving the freedom of elective home educators to offer their children the best provision for their education. Use of terms such as: “track and reconcile movements” makes it sound like we’re living in a police state. Surely a better way can be found of balancing the need to ensure children’s safety with their parents’ freedom to provide them with the optimal educational provision.

7 Does the guidance contain all the 'signposts' to other relevant guidance; sources of support and advice for local authorities that will enable them to implement this duty effectively?


Comments: It should simply refer them back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities, in the case of electively home educated children. Your appendix 4 is a joke, isn’t it?

8 Beyond the publication of the guidance, what would be the most effective means of communicating the importance of implementing the new duty, and the processes that will help its implementation, to professionals working with children?

Comments: That the implementation of the new duty must be carefully balanced with the position set out in your November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities, in the case of electively home educated children.

9 Have you any details of good practice that would be useful to include in the final version of the 'guidance'?


Comments: Yes. An education officer in a different borough heard from a member of a housing co-operative about another family who was electively home educating, but there were no concerns about the family whatsoever, so the officer made the decision to leave the family alone for the time being, until and unless she heard that there might be reasons for concern that their provision might be unsuitable or the children might be unsafe. This enabled the family in question to continue providing their children with an optimum educational provision without the unnecessary and unhelpful stress of needing to justify this to the local authority.

10 Did you find the draft guidance clear, unambiguous and easy to follow?


Comments: Absolutely not. It seemed to me to be thoroughly ambiguous and confusing, when all it needed to say about the procedure for elective home educators was to refer them back to the November 2007 elective home education guidance for local authorities.

11 a) We have developed standard data definitions at Appendix 1 of the guidance. These were developed in consultation with several local authorities. Do you agree with these definitions?


Comments: I disagree with your definition of children who are not receiving a suitable education: “A compulsory school-age child who is not on the roll of a school, not placed in alternative provision by a local authority, and who is not receiving a suitable education at home,” because the assumption that school education is always suitable is plainly wrong.

11 b) If not, what amendments would you suggest and why?

Comments: I would suggest that the definition of children who are not receiving a suitable education should be: “A compulsory school-age child who is not on the roll of a school, not placed in alternative provision by a local authority, and who is not receiving a suitable education at home, at school, or elsewhere.”

Thank you for taking the time to let us have your views.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Unconscious teaching

It was a long exchange of emails with my dear friend Lou that started me thinking about unconscious teaching. She has a theory that some parents teach their children all the time, without realising it. I denied this at the time. Surely, as the mother of five determinedly autonomous learners, I only facilitate? Never teach. Teaching would imply manipulation of their fragile impetus to learn, their delicate budding curiosity about the world, which must be protected at all costs.

But she got me thinking, and watching myself. Recently I caught myself at it.

It was with the baby - I suddenly noticed that whenever I supplied any of her needs, I gave a little audible sigh of satisfaction. As soon as I caught myself doing this I started wondering why, and today I finally realised that it's because I am actually teaching her.

What am I teaching? It can only be one of the most important lessons of my own life that my innate mothering spirit is determined to pass on: be happy to have simple needs met. Appreciate what you've got, and so on. I am, there's no doubt, saturating her little mind with these repeated audio signals to reinforce the message.

I'm just starting to read Charlotte Iserbyte's The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America [opens pdf] which apparently spells out the mind-bending repertoire of subtle tricks employed by the world's governments to manipulate populations. You can watch her discussing it on You Tube. I did, and was simultaneously intrigued and disgusted.

Needless to say, it completely goes against my ethics to consciously try to externally form or sculpt a child's thinking. So I suppose, now that I know I'm doing it, I shall have to stop.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Mummy, have you seen a black cape...

"... that I was wearing last night? Just after I was Cat Girl?"

"Um, yes, it's here.."

"Oh good, thanks. I need to wrap this doll in it. Mum?"


"What does the 'mory' part of Balamory mean?"

"Er... it'll be Scottish for 'town' or something. I'm not sure. Shall we try to find out?"

"No, it's ok. But you know Warcraft?"


"What does 'war' and 'craft' mean?"

"Well, war is when a lot of people fight against each other, and craft is - hang on. Let's look it up. Right. It's 'a skill or dexterity; a skilled trade; occupation'. So Warcraft is the skill of fighting, I think."

"Ok. Why are the dwarves in Lord of the Rings and Warcraft all Scottish?"

"Errrr! I don't know! Wait a minute... WoW is pretty much based on Tolkien's books I think, so it will be him who decided dwarves should be Scottish and he based most of his work on real, ancient mythologies, so I wonder if the Scottishness of dwarves is based on some ancient myth or something.. let's check online.."

"Ok. What does this say? Where can my character find gold dust?"

"Wait - down there, I think."

Meanwhile, the teenagers are loudly debating the meaning of 'work', and whether everything should be automated. So far I've pointed them at Aldous Huxley, Bob Black and EM Forster's The Machine Stops.

And I did the washing up, and sorted the recycling out, and read 30 emails and read 5 books to the baby and sang about 20 songs with her, including actions.

My head is spinning. I'm sure I was supposed to do something important - oh yes, the shopping order. And it's raining. We're all very happy though.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"Christmas is not enough,"

said Lyddie a few days ago. I quite agree - I've been thinking it for years. We're not religious people here, but we miss the feast days. The question is, if we want them back, which ones do we choose? None of the major religions' feast days really speaks to me, and the children say they feel the same way.

What we want, basically, is a way to mark the seasons.

"Set the calendar in order and make the seasons clear." - I Ching, #49: Revolution.

So we plunged into Wikipedia, and text books and - well, the calendar, and started doing just that.

What we've ended up with - not that it's anywhere near finished yet - is something roughly similar to the Pagan calendar, in that there are eight dates which fit around the equinoxes and solstices in the same way. OK yes, it's very similar to the Pagan one, actually. We've just tried to English-ify it a bit, wherever possible. But then we Chinese-ified it a bit too, by appropriating one of the eight trigrams to each one. (Marrying the ancient East with West has always been a bit of a thing of mine - surely they were all talking about the same thing at one time?)

The Pagan calender makes sense to me because it's the old agrarian one, isn't it? People would have feast days to get together and do the necessary communal work, wouldn't they? Then make merry in the evening when that was finished. That's similar to what we've got in mind: when I think back over the years, the parties people have enjoyed the most have been the ones involving tasks, like pumpkin-carving, costume-making, or even just pizza-topping - no matter what the age of the participants. It's as if we enjoy a good nosh-up better for feeling like we've earned it or contributed towards it in some way.

And the more this project takes off, the more we'll need to get certain things done at certain times of the years to come - the same things people have always done, at the same times of year. We'll invite people we know, but not need them to come - there are enough of us here to do what we need to do. But I think we might operate on a 'more the merrier' basis, and see how it goes.

I think it might take a few years to establish these things properly and work out what we're going to do, but ideas so far involve decorating the house, dressing up ourselves, doing appropriate and specific seasonal jobs and bonfires and maybe even singing. Well, I like singing, if nobody else does! It's probably going to take a good few weeks to even start to work it all out. But Lyddie's happy that we managed to find a few more "Christmases" anyway.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"So, Mum.. who's actually in charge of the country, then? The Queen, or the Prime Minister?"

Hmmm... how do you answer that in a way that a six-year old can understand, when you suspect you might only have a 95% understanding of the situation yourself? And all first thing in the morning?

We talked about revolutions, and the civil war. King Charles getting his head cut off. The French, cutting nearly everyone's heads off. The Russians, just shooting theirs.

The Battle of Hastings. Oliver Cromwell and the interregnum. Charles II and the Restoration. Republics and monarchies. Constitutional monarchies.

We went through a rough history of suffrage, and when she asked again: "But which one is really in charge?" I explained about Royal assent, Reserve power and we discussed the relative merits of balancing power in this way. I was amazed that I knew so much, and that she responded so well. (Maybe she was amazed that I responded so well too.)

She got very interested in the practical reality of war, both civil and otherwise. Was I alive in the French Revolution? The Russian one? The First World War? The Second? (Stop sniggering at the back there!) She wanted to know what it was like to have your country invaded, and what did people do about aeroplane bombers, and how did anti-aircraft guns work (I don't know! "Um.. they're big, and they point at the sky..? We'll look at some books about it later." :-) )

And what was it like to live in the blackout? I could tell her about this - my dad was about the age she is now when the blackout here ended and can remember very well the lights coming back on. They lived in the valley below our house, and his dad brought him up our hill to see the illumination. There were a tenth as many lights as there are down there now, and they were a tenth as bright, but he still remembers it 65 years later, so incredible an experience it was.

So, that's history [check] and politics [check] and wow, she asks such brilliant questions and I love love love engaging with her in the answers [check] and it's ok that I don't know all the answers [check] and yes, home education ROCKS. [check]

Anyway, we got out of bed then, and made breakfast.