Monday, March 30, 2009

"One side of A4, on my desk, first thing Monday morning." "Please Sir, sorry Sir, the dog ate it.."

I've spent some of the weekend nursing [yet more] sick children [Where are they all coming from?! I have become Florence Nightingale! Thank goodness for no contracted paid work today, or school, or nursery etc. What do people in those situations do when their children are ill? I've forgotten. Panic, probably.] Some of it feeding and entertaining visitors, a frustratingly small amount of it gardening and some of it reading and replying to emails, mostly blog-related ones.

Lots of people email me about my blogs - mostly about this one - in response to the 'email me' plea that's dotted around my various blogs in various places. At the moment I'm managing to study and answer most of them, though it sometimes takes me a week or three to put the spare time aside. And when I do, as on Saturday, I feel incredibly grateful, informed and inspired. I've now got a long list of material and ideas for new posts.

But first, our homework: the invitation for us all individually to submit the electronic equivalent of one side of A4 to the review team, all of which Mr Badman has promised he'll read, though I think my son Ali should be writing our submission. I want to try to convey to him the difference between on- and off-syllabus learning (as if he doesn't already know) to explain the damage that will be done to our children's education if electronic or any other kind of monitoring/registration systems are implemented. Not that I think he probably cares about this, but according to his position and his CV, he's supposed to care, so I'll work on the unlikely assumption that he does.

Ah I've asked the older children now and Zara volunteered, so my 'side of A4' will include a quote from her instead of Ali, as well as those blue skies ideas. Didn't Newton say something about equal and opposite forces..? Here's a draft version, anyway. All comments, as usual, gratefully received:


Dear Mr Badman,

Re: Home education Review

Please consider the following points in making your recommendations to DCSF about elective home education:

1. Too many children are stuck in a school system that doesn't suit them. They might be being bullied, not learning and/or deeply unhappy. This could be fixed if Local Authorities complied with their legal duty to inform parents about the option to home educate.
2. Many Local Authorities make it difficult for some families to home educate without official interference. If the current Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities were made statutory, this might remedy the situation.
3. The government is phasing out Income Support, which means that some families will be financially excluded from the option to home educate. This will create a biased situation, which could be remedied by the provision of a realistic rate of Child Benefit payments for all families. This would enable those parents who choose to devote their time to their children to reduce their working hours accordingly.
4. The ECM framework is problematic for home educators and needs to be changed as per my ‘Précis on our specific problems with the five outcomes’
5. The forced implementation of electronic or any other kind of monitoring/registration systems will render the autonomous learning method, as practiced by many home educating families in the UK, impossible. We have found that our children learn best when they are completely in control of their own education, and that even pre-negotiated learning contracts are detrimental. As explained by my sixteen year-old daughter:

A programme of constant external evaluation of my education would have been a disincentive for me to learn, because it would have killed my intrinsic motivation. When I want to learn something I have to completely own the process, or I'm not interested. Being coerced into studying something against their will just makes young people angry, as I can easily verify by talking to my schooled friends on a regular basis.

So I think it would definitely not be in the interests of home educating families if such a system were to be recommended.

Yours sincerely,

Gill Kilner
(A home educating parent from 1992-95, again from 1999 until the present day and hopefully for a further sixteen years hence, until my youngest child reaches maturity.)


It wasn't until I typed those words under my signature there that I realised I'll have been home educating for a total period of nearly 30 years by the time I've finished!

Friday, March 27, 2009

I just went for a blog walk and ended up at Becta

Oh dear, was it really Tuesday when I last blogged here? Things have been busier than usual I suppose, what with one thing and another. Even now I'm typing in the dining room and I can see through the corner of my eye one son pacing the kitchen floor possibly needing some attention. Blogging feels like having an extra child, sometimes, doesn't it? One that waits its turn perhaps a little more quietly.

I've been looking around at some other blogs today though and I see that this one could very easily make mine redundant anyway, if I wanted to retire. It's so good, we'll even give it a picture link:

Lisa has posted a 'myths' series there this week, including:

Myth 1 (Monday): Children today require greater protection
Myth 2 (Tuesday): Education and welfare are inextricably linked
Myth 3 (Wednesday): Home education is school at home
Myth 4 (Thursday): State schooling is fit for the 21st century
Myth 5 (Friday): The state knows better than parents

And, even better..

The plan is to summarise this and send it to Graham Badman as requested in the hope that he will actually read everything.

This is brilliant. I still haven't formulated my 'single side of A4' for him, but am thinking it through in the background while life goes on. I'm glad someone else is getting theirs sorted in a more organised way!

Elsewhere, I got quite a strange feeling to glance at Carlotta's blog this morning and see that she's posted my LA's response to the review! Reading that, I think more meetings with them are definitely in order. We went to meet with them a few years ago, but life took over and we didn't follow up very well. It seems like the time to remedy that is well overdue.

Mamacrow posted Logical Song in response to the lyrics that Sheila posted here. It's a good anthem for us, as is the one they were talking about on AHEd last month.

I also want to mention this post by Lanna at *headdesk*:


I really love her use of the term: resource manager! And this:

It’s counter-intuitive to take children away from their most nurturing relationships to be managed by institutions that may be well-intentioned, but ultimately are not invested in children individually or for the long-term. Conversely, it seems intuitive to me as a mother that childhood should be family-centric, with the release of children to other people who can inspire them orchestrated at a pace that will benefit them the most.

Lanna's post was inspired by this news story - about a survey conducted by Becta! Is it just me, or is all this going around in circles? No wait, let's look at the agenda..

Becta calls for uptake of simple technologies to aid three-way dialogue between school, parents and children.

You could just have a dialogue between parents and children and cut out the middle man? Which is the essence of Lanna's post, I think.

If you've emailed me in the past couple of weeks, you're probably still waiting for the reply. I've got lots of replying to do and not all that much spare time these days in which to do it, so please bear with me and accept my apologies. I'll get there eventually.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Maintaining the status quo is out of the question." Time for some blue skies thinking.

Well, it's that kind of a day:

Mr Badman also said to Julie last Thursday something like: "In the light of the current climate of concerns over child safety, things will not remain as they have been up till now."

So I'm looking at these blue skies and I'm thinking...

He's right.

In the current climate, a lot of children aren't safe and they aren't happy. And nothing stays the same: everything in the universe is always in flux.

Looking at the figures on AHEd's anomaly campaign:

More than 360,000 children injured in schools each year
450,000 children bullied in school last year
At least 16 children commit suicide each year
as a result of school bullying
An estimated 1 million children truant every year
Treasury statistics show more than 1 in 6 children leave school each year
unable to read, write or add up

Terrifying figures proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that children are not safe in school, and yet many of those will not officially count as 'child abuse'. That ground is shifting too. If you want to take a peek at what will be officially classed as 'child abuse' in the near future, you need to look no further than this NICE draft guidance, about which I blogged in January.

So you can be a child who is deeply unhappy, suicidal, being bullied at school etc., but as long as you look clean and presentable, wear 'appropriate' clothing and do not cling unduly to your parents, your state of wellbeing will not officially worry anybody. On the other hand, you can be happy, contented and thriving in home education, being free to wear what you like regardless of convention - but woe betide you if you're especially fond of a piece of clothing of which you have now outgrown, for this will officially be a sign of child maltreatment. And if your beloved parent becomes distressed during the ensuing questioning and you move to comfort her - slam. That's another one. (I wonder if they'll operate on a 'three strikes and you're out' basis? It seems only sporting to give us some sort of a fighting chance.)

So. Blue skies.

Sun is shinin' in the sky
There ain't a cloud in sight
It's stopped rainin' everybody's in a play
And don't you know
It's a beautiful new day hey,hey

First: what's wrong with the status quo?

Where do we start..?

  1. Too many children are stuck in a school system that doesn't suit them. They might be being bullied, they might not be learning. They might be deeply unhappy. This could be fixed, if Local Authorities complied with their legal duty to inform parents about the option to home educate.
  2. Many Local Authorities make it difficult for some families to home educate without official interference. If the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities [opens pdf] were, I don't know, made statutory? That might remedy the situation.
  3. The government is phasing out Income Support, which means that some families will be financially excluded from the option to home educate. This will create a biased situation, which could be remedied by the provision of a realistic rate of Child Benefit payments for all families. This would enable those parents who choose to devote their time to their children to reduce their working hours accordingly.
  4. The ECM framework [opens pdf] is problematic for home educators and needs to be changed.

Runnin' down the avenue
See how the sun shines brightly in the city
On the streets where once was pity
Mister blue sky is living here today hey, hey

And then there are still going to be those problematic families who struggle to look after their children properly, exception to the rule though they are. Their children don't necessarily thrive any better in school than they would at home, but they need help all the same.

Whether or not they're being home educated, we already have effective systems to deal with such situations.

The problem is not that home educators could hide abused children. It's that Local Authority officials are either reluctant to use their current powers, or - amazingly - are totally unaware that such powers exist. There is also a lack of research to demonstrate the negative effects of monitoring on a child's education and wellbeing. We need a new, balanced system that takes all of this into account, but that doesn't try to fix anything which ain't broke.

Mister blue sky please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long
Where did we go wrong?

We don't have to go along with the rhetoric. Yes, there needs to be change, but it should be the kind of change that actually makes things easier for us to enable our children's lives to be as good as they are, if not better.

Hey you with the pretty face
Welcome to the human race
A celebration, mister blue sky's up there waitin'
And today is the day we've waited for

It's just an idea, but we still have so many opportunities to interact with the review. Not just the scheduled meetings still to take place, but also the invitation for us all individually to submit the electronic equivalent of one side of A4 to the review team, all of which Mr Badman has promised he'll read. We could be looking at what we think is wrong with the status quo, and suggesting solutions for the review to fix these things. After all, it has to justify its existence somehow.

Hey there mister blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you

I think I'm going to do just that with my side of A4, personally.

Mister blue, you did it right
But soon comes mister night creepin' over
Now his hand is on your shoulder
Never mind. I'll remember you this
I'll remember you this way

And I think we should collect all of our submissions into one huge document with a summary of them contained in a press release for immediate circulation on the same day that the recommendations of the review are published - just to show what we perceived the problems were, and how we asked for them to be fixed.

Hey there mister blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you

And now I think we're going outside to play in the sunshine and to plant some more seeds.

This blog was brought to you by the legendary Electric Light Orchestra [opens flv].

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Autodidacts, Tasmanian devils and many-headed hydra. The whole menagerie.

Thanks for your comments on Al's piece yesterday. It's the first time he's let me link to any of his work: I think he's inherited his mother's disease of writing something then thinking it's dreadful and waiting for the 'inevitable' scathing criticism, only to be amazed when it doesn't appear. It's strange that he's got it too, because I thought not going to school would cure it, or not having my hyper-critical parents would. But he went to school for a few years, and they were his grandparents, even though they've mostly grown mild with age. Or perhaps it really is genetic.

In this case though he felt so strongly about NotSchool - he's been incredulous since I first mentioned it to him and went straight off to do his own research - that it must have been worth the risk, I guess. It's a bit close to home for Ali: in other circumstances (being born ten years later, to a different kind of parent) he might have ended up caught in the NotSchool net, because as he says in the piece, he rejected the externally structured learning environment of school. But he needed the complete freedom of autodidacticism (I see he calls it autodidactism and I'm not sure which one of us is right!) to maintain his engagement with the learning process. This is the boy (man, now) who is teaching himself the mouth organ - in Russian. He has his [Linux-based] operating system set to Russian and his internet browser, to make himself learn and use the language. When he's happy with his ability, he'll start on another language. He's already done Japanese.

I'm not telling you this just to express pride in my son (though he does amaze me a lot!) but to try to convey the power of natural learning to anyone reading who might not be familiar with it. I see that Carlotta has written more about it here, and also linked to this brilliant chart by Kathleen McCurdy, which she is thinking of sending to the review team.

Lucy made a brilliant point in the comments of yesterday's post. If the review was about child welfare, then why does it now seem to be all about education? Of course, ECM conflates the two issues, and the one about finances, so I suppose it's to be expected that officials will switch seamlessly from one to the other according to whatever suits their agenda now that they have statutory licence to do so. For us on the receiving end, it only serves to further the general impression that we're under attack.

I was thinking about what I'd like to write on a single A4 page to Mr Badman as I was digging yesterday (amongst other things!) and it's taking shape now. I might be ready to blog it tomorrow. I want to convey something to him about time. The free time necessary to allow a child like Ali (and the rest!) to learn in the only way he can: without interference. The valuable time it would take out of my day to keep records, write reports and conduct meetings such as to convince a third party that sufficient learning was taking place. It would rob us of so much that's essential to us, and for what? As various people have said on the lists, there no good reason to change things. I fail to see why "maintaining the status quo is out of the question". An adequate case for that position has not been made.

And finally, EO is to have a secret meeting with Mr Badman, the details of which can't be reported to the rest of us?

Come on. I've avoided blogging about EO for a long time, ever since I was sternly rebuked for it by those who are now queuing up on the other side of the fence to sling more mud at the org than anyone else. Apparently it's ok for them to criticise, but not for me. So be it.

But my opinion hasn't changed: there is no place for a subscription-based single political body within the UK home education arena, primarily because such a body would be vulnerable to co-option by government in the same way as so many have in the past (NSPCC and Shelter to name just two.) If Mr Badman is envisaging a Tasmanian-like 'solution' to this non-problem, he's going to need, as Vijay Patel of the NSPCC said: "An independent third party" to play the part of the Tasmanian devils, as it were.

I don't think for one minute, judging by their track record, that the current group of EO reps would agree to take on that rôle, but I don't like having to take that on trust. The organisation should be disbanded, in my opinion, or should restrict itself to only running the helpline, which it does very well. Then the government would be left with no option but to deal with the many-headed hydra that would be left in its place. And HEAS. But again, I don't think Jane Lowe would sell us down the river: I don't really think any UK home educator would, to be honest. Mr Badman is on a hiding to nothing if he even tries that approach.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Worcestershire, Tasmania and the land of Notschool: "Curiouser and curiouser," said Alice.

At the Worcestershire Home Ed group meeting on Thursday, Graham Badman apparently discussed the imposition of something called the Tasmanian model of monitoring home education. A quick look at the Tasmanian Home Education Advisory Council (THEAC) site elicits this quote:

Once your Application for Home Education has been accepted by THEAC, a monitoring visit will be arranged with you. As approval of your program will be based on the information and detail presented at the monitoring visit, it is essential that dated samples of work and/or detailed information on the program and what has been completed/achieved since you commenced home education is shown.

- which isn't all that different from my own Local Authority's approach of old:

I will be visiting you on xxxx date at xxxx time. I would like to see samples of work and discuss future plans.

- except for the bit about an 'application being accepted'.

Is this seriously what he's got in mind for us all? Has he listened to what any of us have told him about the negative effects of monitoring on our children's learning? If his priority really is our children's education, and/or if he has a shadow of a conscience, he can't recommend the Tasmanian model for home education here.

We are told that Mr Badman invited further written submissions, on one side of A4 paper to be sent to him via his assistant at the following address: He has said he will read anything that's sent in this way. I think I might send something: will be thinking about how to word it while I'm digging out the new house foundations.

Onto Stephen Heppell and his Notschool thing. I mentioned on Wednesday that my younger son Ali (18) was going to have a look at the project and note down his thoughts on it. He's done that now, and you can see them here. Carlotta has written something else about Notschool too. Perhaps we'll manage to ward it off yet.

I'm still not happy about Professor Heppell's so-called 'expert in EHE' status though. In discussions with a home educator on this issue, he talked a lot about his experience with and knowledge of non-electively home educated children, but this is obviously a completely different issue. As far as I can tell, and I hope to be corrected, Professor Heppell has no experience of Elective Home Education, and nor has anyone else on the panel.

Julie Bunker reported [thanks Julie] that: "[Mr Badman] said that maintaining the status quo is out of the question. Then he said something like in the light of the current climate of concerns over child safety, things will not remain as they have been up till now."

So it seems, as people have commented on various lists, that the outcome of this 'review' was settled before it even began. It makes me wonder why they bothered with the whole pantomime in the first place. Why not just legislate for the change and have done with it? Answers, as ever, welcome in the comments box.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

NSPCC Part 3: anti child?

Last Friday, we began our three-part series on the NSPCC with an analytical overview of that organisation's involvement in the government's Independent review of home education and the reaction of home educators. Then on Sunday, we looked further back in the NSPCC's history to find out whether we were the only section of society to have been subjected to this kind of treatment by them, and learned that we were not. In fact, the NSPCC seems to have made an art form over the years of using "tabloid bandwagons [as] a very good way of raising much-needed funds".

So today we're finishing the trilogy with an investigation into the actual effects of the child protection culture. We're going to try to work out whether people think children are safer, as a result of it, or in fact more vulnerable.

Before I go on, I'd like to thank everyone who has provided information and encouragement for this series - especially my series co-author Tech, who has ordered books and searched tirelessly for quotes and contexts for me to string together. But other people have been generous too: I printed it all out and have been carrying a thick wodge of NSPCC-based text around with me all week, to which I just hope I can do justice. I probably won't manage to cover absolutely anything: if you notice anything missing, please feel free to add it in the comments section.

We'll start with this article by Jay Rayner from the Guardian archives:

Guardian NSPCC

The article quotes June McKerrow, director of the Mental Health Foundation which has conducted research on children's well-being:

"We do not need any more of these messages. If anything, the whole thing has already been taken too far."

- and it neatly sums up our own conclusion from part 2:

To put it at its baldest, the NSPCC needs cruelty to children to be seen to occur because, without that, it has no raison d'etre.

But the key point of the piece I think is this paragraph:

Of more concern to experts is what impact the NSPCC's constant stream of warnings will have upon child development. Raising children to be fully rounded individuals is about teaching them to deal with risk for themselves. When is it safe to take the stabilisers off the bike? When is it safe to let them play in the park alone? If the NSPCC's warnings delay that process it can only be detrimental. Professor [Colin] Pritchard, [a professor of psychiatric social work at the University of Southampton who has been researching child murders for 10 years] is prepared to go further. 'While 50 children are murdered each year over 250 are killed in motor accidents,' he says. 'If, as a result of the NSPCC advice, more children ride in cars because their parents won't allow them to walk on the streets then statistically more children will end up being killed in car crashes.'

A few years later in the Guardian again, Patrick Butler in an article called: Full stop missing on child abuse:

Guardian NSPCC 2

analyses a report published by the New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) called Not Seen and Not Heard: Child Abuse - A Guide for Donors and Funders by Emilie Goodall and Tristan Lumley, which contains, he says:

an intriguing and potentially explosive challenge to .. the NSPCC's Full Stop campaign.

While it doesn't go so far as to say, like the earlier article, that the campaign actually makes children more vulnerable, it does say:

Campaigning to change public attitudes and keep abuse on the radar, as NSPCC does with some success, has its place, but there is zero evidence that this leads to fewer beatings.

And now I want to talk about Frank Furedi.

Frank Furedi

- Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of the two books that Tech's been reviewing: Licensed to Hug: How Child Protection Policies Are Poisoning the Relationship Between the Generations and Damaging the Voluntary Sector (co-written with Jennie Bristow) and Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child, amongst others.

As well as those, he wrote this article for Spiked: 'A danger to the nation's children', in which he explains how The NSPCC's campaigns could poison family relations. First, he covers the ground we covered last Sunday:

In recent decades the NSPCC has become a lobby group devoted to publicising its peculiar brand of anti-parent propaganda and promoting itself.

But here's where he hits the nail right on the head, in my opinion:

There is nothing particularly novel about childhood insecurity; what is new is the attempt to turn it into a disease and a social problem. What is also new is the mendacious project of turning childhood anxiety into a justification for the predatory activity of a publicity-hungry media machine. Even worse is the message transmitted by this campaign - that the NSPCC understands children far better than their mums and dads do.

The implication that parenting under pressure is an invitation to abuse is an insult to the integrity of millions of hardworking mums and dads. It also helps to create a poisonous atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.

And he so eloquently describes here the problem that's been chewing away at me for the past few weeks, while I've been thinking about all of these campaigns:

The problem with targeting children in this way is that it distracts youngsters from working out ways of communicating problems to family members and friends. It encourages the belief that problems are something you take to a professional or disclose to an NSPCC helpline rather than share with people you know. For children, communicating problems is difficult at the best of times; displacing parents with the NSPCC will only make it more difficult to develop an intergenerational dialogue. Its effect will be to disconnect children from their parents.

Can this be an accident? Can the policy-makers be unaware of this effect? Hmmm. I don't think so.

I'm quite keen to get hold of some of this man's books myself now, but luckily Tech has done this already, and pulled out the following relevant quotes:

From Licensed to Hug: How Child Protection Policies Are Poisoning the Relationship Between the Generations and Damaging the Voluntary Sector, by Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow:

Licensed to Hug

(Amazon product description: "Since the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau in 2002, more than a third of British adults have had to get a certificate to say they are safe to be near children, and the numbers affected are increasing. Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow argue that the growth of police vetting has created a sense of mistrust. Communities are forged through the joint commitment of adults to the socialisation of children. Now, adults are afraid to interact with any child not their own. The generations are becoming distant, as adults suspect each other and children are taught to suspect adults. The vetting culture encourages risk aversion: there is a feeling that it is better to ignore young people, even if they are behaving in an anti-social manner, and even if they are in trouble and need help, rather than risk accusations of improper conduct.Vetting also gives a false sense of security as it can only identify those who have offended in the past and been caught - not what people will do after they are passed as fit to be near children. "Licensed to Hug" argues for a more common-sense approach to adult/child relations, based on the assumption that the vast majority of adults can be relied on to help and support children, and that the healthy interaction between generations enriches children's lives.")

  • "Piper and Stronach call for 'a more ethical practice':

    ... one that encourages professionals not to slavishly follow 'no touch' guidelines, but to put touch back into context (ie relationships), and take account of trust and friendships. It is argued that we need to think through notions of 'free touch' just as much as we would 'free speech'. This is no call for license, but it is a call for recognition that any system that prioritises bureaucratic constraint over 'freedom' introduces a regime of unfreedoms that then develop - through a series of 'ratchet effects' - a kind of creeping totalitarianism, not to mention a galloping fatuity."

    Piper, H. and Stronach, I., Don't Touch! The educational story of a panic, London: Routledge, in press (2008)

  • "The policy of attempting to prevent paedophiles from getting in contact with children through a mass system of vetting may well unintentionally make the situation more complicated. One regrettable outcome of such policies is to estrange children from all adults - the very people who are likely to protect them from paedophiles and other dangers they may face. The adult qualities of spontaneous compassion and commitment are, we argue, far more effective safeguarding methods than pieces of paper that promote the messages 'Keep Out' and 'Watch Your Back'."

  • "During the course of our discussion it became evident that the application of formal procedures to the conduct of human relations threatens to deskill adults. Many adults often feel at a loss about how they should relate to youngsters who are not their children. When formal rules replace the exercise of compassion and initiative, adults become discouraged from developing the kind of skills that help them to relate, interact and socialise with children."

  • "Individuals who talked to us about the 'hassle of paperwork' also hinted that they were not sure that working with kids was'worth the effort'. And if adults are not to be trusted to be near children, is it any surprise that at least some of them draw the conclusion that they really are not expected to take responsibility for the well-being of children in their community?"

  • "Alongside the growing policy concern about the impact excessive risk-aversion on childhood experience, there is now an increasing realisation that an obsessive focus on risk and procedure can actually make society more dangerous. When adults become paralysed by the injunction to follow rules at the expense of their instincts, tragic consequences may follow."

  • [News stories about The coastguard who saved a girl twice quitting over a health and safety row and Abby Rae, a two-year old who went missing from nursery and was later found dead in a pond are cited at this point.]

  • "This disturbing story, of a child disappearing because the adult who saw her thought twice and chose to cover his back rather than help her out, has attained the status of an urban myth, and is used as the backdrop to discussions about whether you might help a child climb down from a climbing frame, whether you would intervene in a nasty fight between children, whether you would help a child find her way home, whether you would pick up and cuddle a toddler who had fallen over, whether you would administer first aid on a child you did not know in a public playground if you did not hold a certificate..."

  • "People worry about these things because of the sense that 'everyone knows' that it is right to help and comfort a lost, hurt, or frightened child - but at the same time, 'in this day and age', to do so is foolhardy. Thus a human response that was once spontaneous has been interupted by warning bells, making people think twice about something that, in the recent past, they would simply have done."

  • "The principle outcome of these trends for intergenerational relations is not simply an aversion to risk but to responsibility. Adults who used to absorb some of the risks faced by children are often not inclined to continue to do so, in case their behaviour is misinterpreted. Is it any surprise that there is now a generation of adults who have aquired the habit of distancing themselves from children and young people? From their perspective, intergenerational relations are experienced as an inconvenience from which they would rather be exempt. Even professionals who work with children are under pressure to avoid taking responsibility. Their career depends more on ticking the right boxes than exercising professional judgement."

There's much more, but for brevity and etiquette's sake I've got to stop quoting from that book. The problem is that I can't paraphrase what he's saying, without diluting it beyond meaning. We need to all go and buy it! Tech says this quote from Child Protection expert Eileen Munro in the executive summary sums up the whole issue:

"In October 2007, a survey by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People found that 48% of adults said fear of being falsely accused of causing harm was a barrier to contact with children and young people, and that this would make them less likely to help when they saw a young person in danger or distress."

And finally, a few excerpts from Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child, again by Frank Furedi:

Paranoid Parenting

  • "Fear of adults victimising children is fueled by a child-protection industry obsessed with the issue of abuse."

  • "The depreciation of adulthood coincides with the idealisation of childhood and childishness, positing adults as morally inferior. In a secular variant of the religious theme fo humanity's fall from grace, innocent children are said to be ruined by toxic parents in a toxic society. Campaigners promoting the idea of stranger danger contribute to a climate where the stranger - that is, the vast majority of adults inhabiting this planet - is not worthy of a child's trust."

  • "The term *support* is often a euphemism for prescriptive advice about how parents should behave. Parenting education is primarily oriented toward altering adult behaviour and providing mothers and fathers with skills they allegedly lack. Unfortunately, projects that aim to transform incompetent adults into skilled parents tend to disempower mothers and fathers and empower professionals."

After reading all that, I'm fairly convinced of the argument that the child protection hype does nothing to help children be safer and actually does quite a lot to make them more vulnerable and isolated. So why doesn't the government listen to real experts like Frank Furedi, instead of just throwing more taxpayers' money at the NSPCC? And why is the NSPCC still in a position that enables it to repeatedly pick off target groups in its media campaigns, which - at least in the case of this review - seems to conveniently fit with the direction of government policy? We can only assume that they must work hand in glove, but I'd love to know more about this relationship and the meetings that take place between government and this so-called charity and I might do some more digging at a later date about that.

Meanwhile, I have Becta in my sights, as well as the omnipresent Capita, though I'm aware that others are miles ahead of me on this already. I'll be standing on the shoulders of giants, then. But first, it seems, something called The Tasmanian Model. Deep sigh.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The rules of engagement

From Wikipedia:

In military or police operations, the rules of engagement (ROE) determine when, where, and how force shall be used (for example, a submarine of country A cannot open fire on the shipping vessels of country B without an official declaration of war). Such rules are both general and specific, and there have been large variations between cultures throughout history. The rules may be made public, as in a martial law or curfew situation, but are typically only fully known to the force that intends to use them. The ROE should comply with the generally accepted martial law.

I was going to call this post 'Engaged' and start talking about the locks on toilet doors, because 'engaging with learning' seems to be a predominant buzz word in many of the education industry publications I've been reading this week. (But the ROE was a better analogy I thought, if we were having one.) "The student must be engaged with the learning process..", "The vast majority [of NEETs].." according to this news item:

Neets are an unknown quantity

"...are actually 'engaging in education, employment or training' - they are just 'moving in and out of the system as they drop out of or complete their previous activity'. So part of the strategy is to get them re-engaged as quickly as possible, rather than spending what may be months doing nothing."

So I want to write today, on the eve of another meeting between home educators and Mr Badman and while meetings are also being set up with Professor Heppell to discuss the review, something about the engagement of students.

So what do they mean by the word? From my Collins dictionary here:

engage v.t. to bind by contract, pledge or promise; to hire; to order; to employ; to undertake; to occupy; to busy; to attract; to bring into conflict; to interlock. [Fr. engager, fr. gage, pledge].

And a pledge is a two-way thing that requires voluntary participation. So, governments have mandates because some people still go and vote for them (or neglect to riot for their removal); eCAFs [opens pdf] can only be carried out with the family's permission and a student has to want to study in order to be engaged in the learning process. If you try to bypass the necessary rules of engagement by forcing people into situations they didn't agree to, you find yourself in trouble.

Some school pupils will be engaged with the learning process there just because it happens to suit their interests and their learning style. Others will be extrinsically motivated by the wishes of their parents, or the perceived need to gain qualifications at whatever cost, so both of those groups will presumably keep working. But there's a third group, Mr Badman's "Highly individual, entrepreneurial [students], adaptive to constant change, [which is] becoming [the] dominant lifestyle choice in younger generations in UK and US", for whom those kinds of motivations don't work. So they want to set their own targets, which is what Stephen Heppell says his students are allowed to do.

I'm not putting this very well, but I was talking to Ali about it earlier and he explained it so much better than I can, which isn't surprising really, since I'm speaking from second hand experience and he's speaking from first. I've asked him to write something about it for the blog, but he's stressing about getting it 'right'(!) so I'll try to paraphrase what he said a little bit:

"The Internet is the perfect learning platform. Really, you only need to give unlimited access to a child a PC and broadband internet access, and that child will learn in leaps and bounds. You don't need to try and regulate or stimulate that learning in any way: it will just happen. If I'd had someone asking me what my targets were for that day, week or month and trying to coerce me to stick to them, it wouldn't have worked because my targets changed by the minute according to what I discovered along the way. If someone had been expecting me to log onto a certain site or tracking my movements online, it would have just irritated me, restricted me and slowed me down. I'd have been trying to think up ways to bypass their system instead of just getting on with learning what I wanted to learn. Why are there always strings attached? Why can't they just give computers to children who need them, and let them get on with using them as the brilliant learning tool they are?"

He said a lot more than that, and has promised to have a look at Notschool and write his thoughts about that for me. I hope he does: he's a great writer. He just keeps telling me: "Don't expect anything brilliant," but I do, of course. I'm his mother! Hmmm, no pressure then..!

I've found a research report written by John Traxler for Becta entitled: Learners - Should We Leave Them To Their Own Devices? which I thought was going to be even more interesting than it actually is, but it's just about whether to allow students to use their own 'mobile learning devices' (iphones etc, I think) in class. This quote might be useful though:

With increasingly sustainable and sensitive contextual information, learner devices necessarily give institutions far greater insights into the locations and behaviour of learners. Enriching the educational experience must involve engaging as fully as possible with this contextual information and perhaps linking it to other education systems such as learning platforms or school registers. With this, however, comes the potential for greater surveillance and oversight of learners. The implications differ across the sectors; surveillance may even be a good thing for schools responsible for the care of minors but only so long as the data remains secure. Conversely, concerns about privacy and surveillance may stop some learners volunteering their devices. [My emphasis]

Anyway, it seems to me that there's a lot of engagement required, where ever you look: Graham Badman and Stephen Heppell engaging with home educators; schools and other elements of the education industry needing students to engage with their learning; governments wanting to engage with the electorate. I notice the word has made its way onto the Local Government Association's list of banned words - twice! (If they really did ban all those words, there'd be just reams of blank paper in those pdf files I've been reading for the past few months.)

But in respect of learning, a student can either choose to engage with (or resist) a prescribed course or agreement, or he can be free to engage with his own educational process. Are these alternatives mutually exclusive? This is perhaps where the toilet door analogy comes in:

You know? If it's already engaged, you're locked out and you have to find another cubicle, one that looks VACANT. I suspect that's how learning works, as well as public toilets: if someone's busy on their own programme of learning, you can't really get in to interfere with that and nor, in a sane world, would you want to.

I'd also say it depends entirely on the freedom of choice: if there was absolutely no coercion whatsoever, then those two alternatives might not be mutually incompatible, but this would mean no pressure about outcomes, evidence or attendance and I take issue with the 'NEET'-based idea that if someone's not on a recognised programme of education or employment, they're "doing nothing", because it doesn't leave any room for informal or self-directed learning whatsoever. Luckily in the case of elective home education, a student can be following her own interests and not officially classed as NEET - although a glance at this thread gives you an idea of how complicated the NEET statistics are.

Anyway, when people want to make decisions about us, they need our engagement with the process - perhaps because without it, they risk looking like dictators.

Today's blog was brought to you by the word engage which I think I have now exhausted, just in time before it was banned. Tomorrow I'm working on that 3rd and final part of the NSPCC series, now that Tech's finished the research. No more Sesame Street posts, I promise :-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Support, strings, other stuff and seeds

The third and final part of our NSPCC series has been postponed for Tech to finish off some research, so I'm just posting a general update with a few thoughts today.

I understand Mr Badman is attending another home ed meeting on Thursday morning of this week. There has been some debate on Carlotta's blog about whether we should take him up on his suggestion to ask for some form of support, or 'Why aren’t we arguing for our “share” of our tax money?' as it was reported on the Facebook thread. I think Mr Badman is trying to establish a bargaining position and that it's not in our interests to help him to do so. He talked at the Kent meeting about "wanting to 'stop the battle' and come up with a solution that stops these continued consultations," but if repeated consultations are the worst threat we're facing, I'd opt for that rather than any kind of compulsory NotSchool-type daily log-in process. At least the consultations don't negatively affect our children's learning, as official forms of monitoring would. (Mr Badman was apparently told that this was the case, and he said he didn't agree! I fail to see how he can possibly know, unless he's actually lived with autonomously educated children who have been subjected to Local Authority monitoring.)

Carlotta has also written very eloquently about autonomous learning, including the following observation:

"Often one of the biggest problems people have with autonomous education is that they simply don't believe that children have a natural curiosity. All they see is children in school who have had their curiosity ruined by compulsory education. They're thinking: how can autonomous education possibly work if children need to be coerced, either by punishments or rewards, into learning (ie. memorising) things?"

Firebird is writing about a 'typical' week this week:

"As an antidote to the depressing battle against the DCSF and its evil minions I’ve decided to address the often asked question “what’s a typical day like?” by recording what we do for the next week."

Seems similar to Clare's huge undertaking of a couple of months ago, though I think Clare wasn't so kind to herself as to set a time limit!

And I've opened Tom's business blog to general readership, having kept it as a private thing - at his request - while the business got off the ground. It's his business, but my blog. Also, the children and I have been planting seeds. We have photos and will blog them somewhere when time allows.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

NSPCC part 2: anti family?

I've just caught up with cross-referencing the posts on my blog and it occurred to me that perhaps the NSPCC warranted its own drop-down menu in the sidebar, because I'd surely written two or three posts about them now. When the job got underway, I was amazed to find that I've written nine NSPCC-related posts. Or actually ten, including this one. Now why would a home education blog warrant as many as ten posts about the NSPCC, an organisation that's supposed to prevent cruelty to children? Something's badly wrong there, isn't it? That jars in the logic part of my brain, causing a traffic pile up and setting off all the sirens. It's not right.

So, today's post is about looking at the wider picture. On Friday we ascertained (as if we didn't know before) that the NSPCC has recently been running a vendetta against elective home educators, for reasons best known to itself but possibly suggested at in that little cartoon there. (I did think about doing another one of those today, but my artistic bravado has left me now.) Today I'm going to make some attempt to pull together all the reams of information I've been given about the NSPCC's other questionable antics, the idea being to try to find out whether it's just picking on us out of the blue, or whether this is its normal modus operandi. And if it is the latter - why?

Once I'd got over being bewildered about the NSPCC repeatedly suggesting home educators might be child abusers, the next thing that raised NSPCC-related alarm bells with me was when AHEd was writing its letter to their Chief Executive. Barbara (Chair of AHEd) asked onlist for someone to find out who that was, so I googled 'NSPCC Chief Executive', expecting to find a long list of pages about someone who'd spent his or her life devoted to the issue of child protection. Instead, I found this:

Children's charity gets media savvy

The article states:

Andrew Flanagan, who takes over from Mary Marsh in January, was chief executive of Scotland's biggest media firm, STV (previously SMG), for 10 years until he resigned in 2006. ... He left SMG in the wake of shareholder pressure and subsequently took up the post of chair at Heritage House, a private publishing investment company. He has also worked for PA Consulting, the IT and telecoms company Nynex, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.


A spokesman for the NSPCC says that while Flanagan has no track record in the voluntary sector, his "experience of leading large-scale organisations through growth and change" will be a valuable addition to the organisation.

"No track record in the voluntary sector.."??? Why does a children's charity need a media man for its Chief Executive? What does a media man know about the needs of children? This information in itself, coupled with the bizarre and apparently out-of-the-blue attack on home educators, made me start to think that things are not what they seem to be, with this organisation. And that maybe.. things are not what they should be.

It doesn't feel good to dig deeper. Believe it or not, digging the dirt on people and organisations is not my thing. Taking care of my children, my house and my land is my thing but when something threatens my freedom to do that, action must be taken. The first time I became aware that anything might ever have the power to threaten that, was around the time of the South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal of 1991, when:

social workers and police removed nine children belonging to four families from their homes on the remote Orkney, Scotland island South Ronaldsay in dawn raids, following suspicions of ritualistic Satanic child abuse. The nine children were placed into foster homes and barred from any contact from their parents. During lengthy interviews the nine children denied that any abuse had occurred, and medical examinations did not reveal any evidence of abuse.

In 1991 I was just starting my family, with sons of one and two years old, and the thought that someone had the power to come and forcibly remove them from me on the strength of rumour and hearsay, as had happened to the Orkney parents, was terrifying.

There were similar cases around the same time in Rochdale and Nottingham, and the culmination of the three generated a deep mistrust of social workers and a fundamental feeling of family insecurity in myself other young parents I knew at the time. Those cases didn't just do damage to the victims involved: they damaged society for everyone else in a way that's hard to explain now, nearly twenty years later.

So in researching the NSPCC for this series, I was horrified to discover their part in those terrible witch hunts. From this site:

We kept up detailed correspondence with Dr Alan Gilmour, director of the NSPCC, providing him with statistical information and background data about occultism in the U.K. well before their public support of the satanic abuse myth. Whilst engaged in correspondence with the NSPCC they, without warning, published a critical and sensational press-release supporting the idea of satanic child sexual abuse. The NSPCC did this without ever once asking to see our documented evidence to the contrary. When we sent them a dossier, containing suspicious background on people and groups from whom they had been accepting 'evidence' they ignored the dossier entirely and when we persisted the NSPCC took legal advice and subsequently refused to comment on our evidence. The NSPCC never once telephoned or visited us to review our evidence. They knew that had they done so, they would have had to retract publicly and admit a mistake over a pronouncement which they were already incorporating into a fundraising appeal. Instead they sent a questionnaire to their branches asking their inspectors if they believed that satanic abuse existed. It was this unethical and unprofessional 'research' that prompted the public statements in their annual report in which the NSPCC said that they had 'evidence' of satanic child abuse occurring. Upon sight of this we immediately prepared a condemnatory press-release showing the NSPCC'S inaccuracies. We sent this to the influential people on various NSPCC standing committees, including Princess Margaret, The Queen Mother; Various Bishops and others. We asked SOMEONE to telephone or write to us BUT NOT ONE DID. We then mailed out the same press release to our general mailing file (all MPs; Newspaper Editors and Police & Social Services). We got only ONE reply, a courageous journalist from the London WEEKENDER Magazine who contacted the NSPCC. A spokesperson for the NSPCC backtracked immediately and blamed the sensational publicity on the media response, denying that the NSPCC had said that satanic child abuse existed. When we wrote to the NSPCC and asked them to issue a press release to the effect that their stance on satanic child abuse had been misinterpreted by the media the NSPCC point blank refused. "It is not for the society to comment upon statements published in the popular press". The NSPCC were basically saying that even if their dishonourable handling of the situation had resulted in a jeopardising of religious freedom or victimisation of innocent occultists it was not in their interests to put the matter right under the hysteria which reigned. [My italics]

I don't know if that sounds at all familiar to anyone, but in the first part of this series on Friday, we saw a similar array of half-apologies and half-retractions from the NSPCC regarding its vilification of home educators - but the same fundamental refusal to make any effort to publicly correct the eroneous message it had put out.

The problem is, people assume (like I did) that the NSPCC is a reputable group of child abuse experts and not a mob of professional fundraisers and media men who are actually running it as a very profitable business. A good business creates its own markets, everyone knows that. But if everyone knew that the NSPCC appears to fall into that bracket, they would all cancel their Standing Orders and Direct Debits to the organisation. I know of quite a few home educators who already have.

So, what has the NSPCC been doing between Orkney and the campaign against home education? Demonising men, according to Angry Harry, who wrote the following in 2004:

The National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Children in the UK spends millions of pounds every year manufacturing advertisements and propaganda which portray men and fathers as paedophiles and child abusers. These portrayals are displayed all over the country - on TV, in the radio, in the newspapers and on posters. The idea behind them is to induce the public and businesses to donate money to the NSPCC so that its staff can help to protect children from these allegedly-abusive men. Indeed, their campaigns have been so successful that the NSPCC rakes in about £100 million per year in donations. However, in my view, the NSPCC has done a great deal of damage to our society. Indeed, my belief is that it has inflicted far more damage and harm on to the nation's children than all the paedophiles and child abusers put together. What follows demonstrates that the NSPCC has damaged everyone - including all our children.

- and he proceeds to demonstrate exactly how, with such eloquence that I'm not even going to try to reproduce it here.

So in its pursuit of funding and prominence amongst children's charities, the NSPCC has so far turned against pagans, fathers and home educators, causing untold damage along the way. Who's next? The Internet, according to The Devil's Kitchen in this scathing piece which includes:

The NSPCC, it may be remembered, had been pretty vocal in helping stir up the, quite literal, witch-hunt. Since, at the time, I regularly contributed to the NSPCC, I thought I’d drop them a line asking why they’d been using my money to such mischievous effect. This was, I recall noting to them, particularly galling at a time when systematic abuse in various children’s homes was coming to light. It was, I reasoned, inconceivable that the NSPCC hadn’t received complaints from any of the children on the receiving end of this abuse, so how come they were apparently ignoring actual abuse and, instead, starting up wild-goose chases to disastrous effect?

The reply I received was so breath-taking in its cynicism that it shook even me. Yes, apparently they’d had their doubts about this ritual abuse malarkey but I had to realise that they did an awful lot of very necessary work for children, this costs money, and tabloid bandwagons are a very good way of raising much-needed funds. They rather ducked the question about why they’d failed to spot what was going on in various children’s homes over the years, and hoped they could count on my continued support. [Again, my italics.]

In its campaign against Internet freedom, the NSPCC is working with Becta, our Mr Badman's new employers. (See the editorial down the left hand side of this page [opens pdf].)

Also, as pointed out by Elaine, next in the NSPCC tabloid child abuse bandwagon queue might be, according to their latest publications, women. Put it all together, and you have the blanket assumption (paranoia?) that parents aren't safe and homes aren't safe, but of course schools are, and anyone who's been CRB-checked is. Except - we know that's not true, don't we?

I think it's safe to summarise today that the NSPCC's recent treatment of home educators was nothing personal: it is its modus operandi. In the third and final part of this series, we're going to look at some research Tech has been doing, amongst other things, to try to ascertain whether all of this child protection hype actually does make children safer - or more vulnerable.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mr Badman: a bad man?

I'm receiving emails about Graham Badman's recent visit to one of the regular home education meetings in Kent, mostly predicting - quite rightly - that I'll be interrupting my NSPCC series today to blog about him. But I don't particularly want to focus on the reports of the meeting, because I'm more interested in this Powerpoint presentation he wrote (discovered by Elaine GH), as I think it gives a very useful insight into his thinking. Funnily enough I saw that and then the report of the meeting within five minutes of one another, which tells me something I think.

I don't think Mr Badman is a bad man. I think, with great respect, that he is an old man. And if Tony Mooney reminds me of my dad, then Graham Badman reminds me of my stepdad who was brought up at a time when poverty was a grindingly real phenomena and in which learning the unwritten rules of society and thereby climbing conservatively but doggedly up the greasy pole, was the only route to success.

It's all there in that Powerpoint presentation: (Another version here if you're struggling to read that one) He's even thoughtfully set out the old unwritten rules for the benefit of those following after. No 'pull the ladder up Jack', him.

The thing is (can somebody tell him gently?) those rules don't really exist any more. Or, they might in some increasingly obsolete, failing (flailing?) old world systems of hierarchy - but it's not where the real power now is.

Mr Badman has been pointed at my blog on several occasions, so perhaps he is reading this. I hope so, because I really want to help him to understand the escalating problems faced by the old structures although I can tell that he's more than halfway there, when I look at his work and the projects in which he's involved.

Two key phrases spring out at me from his Curriculum for Trusts. First:

Highly individual, entrepreneurial [behaviour], adaptive to constant change, [is] becoming [the] dominant lifestyle choice in younger generations in UK and US

So he knows what's happening. You can't spend so much time in schools with young people not to know this. The world is changing. And second:

It is getting more and more difficult to conduct school as we have in the past

Mr Badman blames the effects of poverty for this. I disagree. I think the real reason is a fundamental change in people: they're not so easily coerced any more. They don't respect 'authority' (read: *power over*) in the way they used to and those [now not-so] hidden rules don't matter to them any more, kind though it was to share them with everyone. Working out how to climb that greasy pole is no longer most people's prevailing motivation in life.

So what is? Developing authenticity. Carving one's own path. Liberty (from dogma, rules, requirements). Curiosity and being free to follow it. Our young people want to learn what they want to learn. They no longer want the parameters of this to be dictated to them. They don't want to be guided, or judged, in the time-honoured way. I can already feel the hackles of the older generation rising in a unanimous silent, pompous cry of: "Well, it doesn't matter what they want!" Oh, but nowadays it does, I'm afraid. People are networked, informally(!) informed and empowered now: you can't keep them in their place any more. They want to set the terms of their own success, not to have them dictated by some other - be that parent, teacher, government, examining body, banker or employer.

'Success' is no longer an objective term. Like so many others, it has become subjective and in so doing, it's changing the world around it.

That Graham Badman should be in charge of the UK government's independent review of home education is no mistake: for either us or him. It's crunch point: a head-on collision of power with our innate instinctive understanding of what our children need on one side, and his remit to try to shoe-horn that into a desperately obsolete system that can't possibly adapt quickly enough, on the other.

The acquisition of money, status and power is plainly - according to his work - the most important thing in the world to Mr Badman and he perhaps assumes that to be the case for everyone else, though I think he really knows everything I've said here to be true. The question is - although he certainly seems to have the intelligence - whether he also has the necessary integrity, courage and youthful flexibility to take that on board.

As loving parents, we will continue to protect our children's autonomy. Whatever that takes.

PS: Two further points:

1. Just because Connexions doesn't know what they're doing (and you can read that both ways) doesn't make our children NEET.

2. The inevitable consequence of freedom is not criminality, as implied in your Curriculum for Trusts. Make the law fair, and most people will be happy to abide by it. The missing element, ironically, is trust.

Friday, March 13, 2009

NSPCC part 1: anti HE?

When I was a child, the NSPCC had such a positive image. It was the guardian angel of abused children, propounder of such a laudible aim as saving them from injury and distress. There was no reason to question the existence or activities of such a body: it was accepted that they were the good guys. But in preparation for this three-part series of posts, Tech (my co-author on this project) and I have been doing a lot of reading about the NSPCC and have discovered completely changed situation. So, what went wrong? In the next three posts, we'll try to find out: starting here and now, with a close look at its recent involvement with home educators; we'll then pan out tomorrow to consider the wider picture; and culminate in the third post with an evaluation of its effects on children.

The first we knew of the NSPCC's opinions of Home Education appeared in the initial DCSF press release about the Home Education review on January 19th this year, in which:

Head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, Diana Sutton, said:

“We welcome the Government’s decision to review the guidance on home education. We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children’s Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents’ rights to home educate their children, the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We welcome the fact that this review will look at where local authorities have concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child and what systems are in place to deal with those concerns.”

This was followed the very next day by the appearance on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show of Vijay Patel, the NSPCC’s Child Protection Policy Advisor who admitted, when asked about statistical evidence of child abuse in elective home education, that: "We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no."

Home educators were stunned by the slur, especially given that there was no logical reason to associate elective home education with child abuse. We started to wonder about the motives behind it, which I think was the first time many of us had ever had cause to question the NSPCC's motives about anything.

Despite the outcry, Mr Patel then compounded the insult in an interview with the Independent by implying that Victoria Climbie had been home educated: "Some people use home education to hide. Look at the Victoria Climbié case. No one asked where she was at school. We have no view about home education, but we do know that to find out about abuse someone has to know about the child."

The home education movement's response now quickly moved from shock to anger. The pressure group AHEd wrote to the NSPCC, objecting "in the strongest terms possible to these comments. It is our view," the letter continued, "That the comments demonstrate a clear prejudice against home educators and a deliberate attempt to implicate home education with false evidence and scandal in order to prejudice the outcome of the government Review into Home Education."

Some bloggers, like Mum6kids, called for Mr Patel to be sacked. Others, like Pete Darby, wrote powerful letters to the Independent in complaint: "Vijay Patel is robbing the grave of a child that the NSPCC failed to save. He is doing this in order to make a grab for power for his organisation in an attack on a minority group, a group for which there is no evidence of a problem concerning child abuse or neglect."

The political party UKIP even joined in with the call for Mr Patel to be sacked, and other blogs such as Children Are People asked for a full retraction of the comments, at least. Working Dad at Panoptican said: "The NSPCC's message has to be 'children are at risk'. To put it at its baldest, the NSPCC needs cruelty to children to be seen to occur because, without that, it has no raison d'etre," and Firebird said that the NSPCC "Should be ashamed of themselves." *Headdesk* found it "..fairly disgusting that the leadership of a charity that should be beyond reproach should be so ill-informed and in the position of being able to cause so much damage to home educating children and their families."

Jem Dowse, at Doing it our way wrote to his MP, including the sentiment: "For Mr. Patel to use this tragic case to further his agenda against the legal rights of parents to educate their children at home is abusive and extraordinarily disrespectful to the memory of that murdered child. This is emphatically not something that I would expect from a senior person in an organisation that exists to promote child welfare." Lotusbirther questioned the charity's independent status and Maire in Staffordshire commented that, "In order to extend its remit, possibly to get more money from the government or at least keep what it has, [the NSPCC's] policy adviser Mr Vijay Patel is shamelessly spreading false rumour in support of the government’s spurious review into the possibility of home education being a hot bed of child abuse." Even the Victoria Climbié Foundation became involved, as reported by Carlotta at Dare to Know, saying: "The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK is genuinely concerned about the link being made between Victoria Climbié and home education, and Victoria as a hidden child. Victoria was neither home-educated nor hidden.".

But it was on Facebook that the reaction was perhaps most vehemently expressed. A viral campaign developed on the NSPCC's page there, with many home educators' messages now having been mysteriously removed. Eventually, the charity was forced to respond as follows:

The NSPCC would like to clarify its position regarding home education. The statement issued by the NSPCC when the review of home education was announced made iit clear that the NSPCC wishes the review to balance parents’ rights to home educate their children with the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We sincerely regret any misunderstanding caused by the quote attributed to Vijay Patel in the Independent. The reference to Victoria Climbie was meant to illustrate the point that she was killed at home out of sight of the authorities. It was not intended to imply that Victoria was educated at home or that home education was in any way connected to what happened to her. We are writing to the Independent to clarify our position on this important point. Thank you.

- but many remained unsatisfied.

One home educating mother, Sarita, managed to secure an interview with Mr Patel, which - like the rest of the links in this post - really needs to be followed and read in full, to get the proper context. It's this interview that I satirised in my cartoon at the top of my post. Apologies to Sarita - I'm no Da Vinci and I probably didn't do the back of your head justice, but having never seen it, I can perhaps be forgiven. The following excerpts are taken from Sarita's immediate and detailed recollections of the meeting and may not, therefore, be definitive quotes of what was actually said.

During his meeting with Sarita, Vijay Patel stated again that "the NSPCC do not have any specific research or evidence linking home education to child abuse or neglect."

Sarita "asked him why he would - after all the complaints he received in January - do it again last week in the Independent. What was he thinking? He tried to say it was taken out of context but admits to the harm that it caused. I did say that it was unacceptable that a person used to talking to the press and knowing from experience how they work could not take sufficent care in ensuring it didn't happen again. I said he and the NSPCC have to rectify the image of home education that they have created. I asked him if when he met with Baroness Morgan, this was an intended campaign. I asked him how he could say these things without evidence. He couldn't really respond. I told him he needs to apologise publicly and make good the damage he has caused. He said that he couldn't do it publicly. He did say that there would not be any more cases quoted in the press with respect to home education."

- which was, in my opinion, a crucial point that he didn't really answer satisfatorily on that occasion, though I suspect his earlier half-question to her:

"So what about an independent agency that home educators could access..."

- spoke volumes, by way of a possible explanation. Has the NSPCC been promised the contract on elective home education, if they manage to publicly generate some kind of justification for one, on the back of the DCSF review? It certainly looks, from the orchestrated nature of the attacks, as if some collaboration has been going on behind the scenes.

Sarita said: "We then came back to the issue of public perception of home ed, the general feeling of measurement and monitoring needing to be compulsory, but mostly that home ed children could not be deemed safe in a way that school children are. By this stage, I felt he had grasped the major points of our arguments and I asked him again about the perception that he and the NSPCC were fuelling with regard to home education and child protection. I asked why he thought it appropriate that even without evidence he could talk about home education and give the impression that he knew what he was talking about? I asked him whether after listening to what I had to say, he felt that a public apology should be forthcoming. I said that the NSPCC now had an obligation to protect children who were home educated from being branded as being abused. He said he could not commit to me that he will make a public apology and put right what he has done, but he said that given that he understood more about the issues that he would talk to his managers about it."

- and the NSPCC appears to be using its lawyers to talk to the press now, instead of Mr Patel, which leaves us all wondering what his instructions were and to what extent - if any - he breached them in those two interviews. Shockingly, in his meeting with Sarita, he admitted that the NSPCC "had no real knowledge of home education other than information they had gained from LAs and LA responses to previous guidance," and, perhaps even more alarmingly, "He said he wasn't familiar with the ins and outs of ECM!"

Sarita's gut reaction was that Mr Patel was telling the truth in her meeting with him, but if so, it's astounding that the government can be working hand-in-glove with such a careless, ill-informed organisation. To give power to such people over children's lives is surely a highly dangerous strategy.

The spotlight is now on the NSPCC and many of us have been investigating the charity's other activities over the years - as well as its business connections - as a result of the events set out above to see whether home educators have been the only minority to group to be picked on by the organisation in this way. In part 2 of our NSPCC series, we'll look at what we found.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bonds and bridges (glue and oil): "Aspiration and attainment amongst young people in deprived communities" - *or* 'They're at it again'.

The NSPCC series will have to wait another day, I'm afraid: I didn't realise it was such a huge issue. I took a thick wodge of printouts about it to bed with me last night and still haven't got through them all. If you were eagerly anticipating it, I'm sorry. Bear with me: it will begin tomorrow, I promise. Mañana.

But today I'm going to tell you about something else I've recently come across on my travels: Aspiration and attainment amongst young people in deprived communities: Analysis and discussion paper: December 2008 [opens pdf] from our old friends, the Social Exclusion Task Force. I don't know about you, but to me the words 'Social Exclusion Task Force' make me think of something military. Didn't we send a Task Force to the Falkland Islands, to deal with the Argentinians? I think the choice of title is no accident: we who are happy to 'get by' - who don't harbour a not-so-secret desire to 'get on' (their choice of words, not mine) are the new enemies of UK society.

So, guess what this is all about? (The clue is in the title.) Bonds and bridges, or glue and oil. If you're not a social scientist, or you haven't been reading my blog since 2005, you might still be wondering what it's all about. But before I explain, I just want to refer you to my 2006 post on poverty, in which I explain that some of us choose not to devote our lives to the frantic pursuit of more wealth, shock horror. Why would we want to make this choice? Because we know that enough really is *enough*, and that time spent with our families is more important than anything else and therefore must take priority. Anyone who has ever harvested their own food knows how infinitely more pleasureable it is to an online shop at Tesco's and that having the time to care for one's family, house and possessions is vital for social and mental good health. I've explained in various posts how well home education works on a low budget: in fact it has directly created the challenges that led to my sons developing the skills they needed to set up their new business. [There, it's had its daily plug. We will get it further up those search engines! Hmmm. Does that contradict the rest of the paragraph? No, they only want a few jobs a week to break even. They don't want it to take over their world.]

It's a nicer life, in my opinion. It works better than the other kind for those of us who choose it, or we'd be making different choices. But of course, we don't do much to help the great money-go-round, do we? So we must be eliminated, hence the Task Force. There are no pictures of sweet smiling children on this document: it means business. But here is the summary of key findings:

  • Young people’s aspirations and those of their parents influence their educational attainment and later life outcomes. 11-14is a key age range, when young people move from idealistic to more realistic ambitions.
  • Young people are more likely to achieve positive outcomes when they develop ambitious, achievable aspirations, combined with the self-esteem, self-efficacy, information and inspirationthey need to persevere towards their goals.
  • Aspirations vary by gender, ethnicity, social class and area. White boyshave the lowest aspirations. Their educational attainment is also failing to improve at the rates of most otherethnic groups.
  • Parents are the most important influence on children. However, young people and their parents are also influenced bythe people and places where they live.
  • Communities matter. Young people in certain types of neighbourhood are less likely to develop ambitious, achievable aspirations. These neighbourhoods tend to have high levels of deprivation.
  • However deprived communities are not all the same. Young people in some very deprived communities have high aspirations.
  • Certain community characteristics are associated with low aspirations – such as close knit social networks, a sense of isolation from broader opportunities and a history of economic decline. High levels of bonding social capital and low levels ofbridging social capital* can restrict young people’s horizons and access to opportunities.
  • These communities often have lower levels of educational attainment than might be expected given their level of deprivation.
  • Evidence suggests that a locally-tailored behavioural change approach could be effective in shifting attitudes, changing behaviours and improving outcomes. This would mobilise the community around the goal of doing the best for their young people. It would provide a new model for constructive local partnership working.

  • *Bonding social capital – characterised by strong bonds (or “social glue”) among group members such as close friends and family; Bridging social capital – characterised by weaker, less dense but more cross-cutting ties (“social oil”) (Putnam, 1995)

You can see in the asterixed point at the end there, what is meant by bonds and bridges (glue and oil). Bonds, or glue - that is: "close knit social networks" or "close friends and family" are bad, whereas bridges, or oil - that is: "weaker, less dense but more cross-cutting ties", are good. Bonds are natural, intrinsic, organic and free. Bridges are artificial, extrinsic, inpersonal and usually very expensive. You usually need to be packing a portfolio in some kind of Social Studies in order to be allowed to form a social bridge with someone. Forming a bond is easy: you only have to give birth to them, or to their parents, or to live next door to them or down the street, or just be their good friend or family member: one of their tribe, if you like. So you know the person and you're part of the general background that makes them feel safe and secure and gives them a sense of belonging. But this is bad, because safe, secure people with senses of belonging don't usually feel the need to prove themselves academically. So bonds must be broken, so that bridges can be laid. (I wrote about it in more detail here, and was chatting to an Italian lady yesterday who was wondering why we're so anti-family here in the UK. Our little children are in paid care, our old people are in paid care. What went wrong? You might well ask, I told her.)

Notice also in that list, the careful insertion of the words 'outcomes', 'deprivation' and 'aspirations'. We might read 'positive outcomes' and think of young people achieving their own goals in life. This is the way we're supposed to read it, but of course its true meaning refers to the Every Child Matters five outcomes instead. 'Deprivation' makes you think of starving, deep impoverishment - not of the cheerfully contented and thrifty kind of lifestyles at which it's actually aimed. And 'aspirations' are the state-approved variety only. If you have aspirations to earn money without qualifications, those aspirations do not count. In fact, they're part of the problem.

But we need some kind of illustration to liven things up a bit. Here's one:

Cultural capital framework

That's the 'cultural capital framework'. And:

A behaviour change approach may be effective in shifting the aspirations and broader attitudes that can prevent young people from fulfilling their potential.

That 'fulfilling their potential' term refers to a person's financial worth, not any other kind.

Do we want to persevere with this, or shall I get back to the NSPCC stuff? I know, it's that that you really want.. Well, I just want to read the section on 'What works'. Oh, first: 'Communities matter'. Yes, they do to the people who live in them, thanks. But it doesn't mean that. It means 'communities make a difference regarding the number of qualifications a young person wants to get.' And:

Classified neighbourhoods

What kind of neighbourhood is yours? I'm not sure where mine fits in. Our street contains some social housing, some private rented, some owner-occupied, some detached houses, some semis, some terraces. A completely eclectic mix of buildings and residents. But people tend to happily stay here for decades, so I guess we'd be an 'Isolate area'. *Sucks teeth in manner of plumber called out to estimate a 'simple' job..*

Northern towns even have their own special section:

Area characteristics

Traditional northern town:
This case study area is a suburb of a northern ex industrial town with a 97% white British population. The area was previously one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country, but has improved in recent years. However, it still has a high rate of worklessness. There is one local secondary school for 11-16 year olds, which offers full extended services. The vast majority of young people in the local area attend this school. The proportion of pupils achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs (including Maths and English) is 10% lower than the national average. People in this area have a shared memory of a time of strong social ties and sense of community linked to the old mining and steel industries. Parents seemed to know their neighbours well, although they sometimes struggled to identify with other groups including ethnic minority groups, teenagers and the elderly living in the area. The local community was viewed by professionals and residents as close knit and cohesive. Many of the parents had been to the local secondary school and kept the same friends they had known at school. Young people presented a very localised view of their social connections, with mental maps focused on home, extended family, school, the local shops, park and friends. A high proportion of households in this area have no car. All of the parents had positive aspirations for their children’s futures. However, some felt that they lacked the material resources to give their children wider experiences or take up extra curricular activities. Some felt that they lacked the connections and advantages that make it easier for affluent children to become successful. Professionals had their own common narrative about the local community, describing a ‘programmed sense of acceptance’ that was ingrained by narrow experiences. Some professionals felt that these assumptions about the community were themselves reinforcing negative attitudes. Housing and local jobs were also raised as important influences on the local community’s attitudes.
Most young people associated occupational success with moving away from the area. Vulnerable young people depicted the local area as a barrier to their success with negative peer pressures and a lack of opportunities influencing their self esteem and ambitions. The impact of negative labelling was seen as a huge barrier to engendering a proud and aspiring common identity. However, the external and internal association of the area with the negative economic consequences of losing major industrial employers is being gradually challenged by a positive, aspirational and challenging vision at the local authority strategic level.

No car! Imagine. When you read the 'professionals opinions' in there, you can almost see the crow bar, can't you?

Strong local networks are often a source of empowerment, strength and support. However they can also constrain individuals to familiar choices and locations. Bonding networks may predispose individuals to eschew experiences that might build other forms of social capital and precipitate change (Raphael-Reed et al, 2007).

Is it only my jaw on the floor there?

And here's an 'overview of national initiatives':

Overview of national initiatives

'Nuff said. Back to the NSPCC.

(And just in case you're wondering how I manage to home educate whilst doing all of this, we've got Zara (past compulsory education age) facilitating Lyddie's IT today, and Ali is currently outside watering the flowers with the baby. It's that social glue, you see. It has its uses.)