Thursday, April 30, 2009

Twelve good men and true?

Based on my last 11 posts, here is a summary of the panel members:

1. Professor Ted Melhuish, a Principal Investigator on the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education, is on the panel because of his expertise in 'early years, home learning environment and child development'. I found that he understands the importance of 'sustained shared thinking' and that "the quality of the home learning environment is more important for intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income." I think this is good news for us, because 'sustained shared thinking' is at the heart of most autonomous home education provision. However, he was also Executive Director of the National Evaluation of Sure Start, which, along with his other work on early years child care makes me wonder whether he is, in fact, a fan of institutional care for children as opposed to parental care. If this was the case, then of course it would bode ill for us.

2. Mick Waters is Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. He apparently believes that educational curriculum should be "shaped to fit with children's lives" - which is exactly what we do. On the other hand, he seems to have ideas about "the learning they should meet", which suggests that he would not be in favour of autonomous learning unless he understood that the method actually does teach children exactly what they need to know, without needing to set this all out beforehand. Mr Waters is well versed in the ECM framework [opens pdf], so will understand how it needs to be changed ['pupil' instead of 'child' throughout will suffice] to iron out the anomalous position of elective home education within it and the difficulties this might present to Local Authorities.

3. Delroy Pommel is a member of the London Safeguarding Children Board, which has conspired to cause us many problems resulting from spurious allegations. Mr Pommel is also UK director of education at Barnardos, which provides alternative education for some children. In common with every panel member other than Professor Conroy, Mr Pommel appears to have no experience or special knowledge of elective home education.

4. Steve Hart is supposed to represent 'safeguarding' on the panel. He has led the Secure Care Inspection Service and was CSCI's national lead for child protection until its merger with Ofsted. He is an HMI for Ofsted, which - as far as I can work out - means he is an inspector of schools. He is currently part of the Joint Chief Inspectors review of safeguarding arrangements. I could find no other relevant information about Mr Hart - certainly nothing to indicate that he has any special knowledge of elective home education.

5. Jean Humphrys is Ofsted's deputy director for children. "When New Ofsted was created she helped to bring together inspectors of early years, Cafcass and social care for children. Jean is continuing to oversee aspects of policy in the early years and has maintained her strong interest in the inspection and regulation of social care provision. Prior to taking up her post as an HMI, Jean was a local authority adviser. She has extensive teaching experience and was headteacher of two schools. Jean has always been interested in finding ways to help children to succeed in life, particularly those who are disadvantaged and did extensive research into parental involvement in children's education." Obviously, elective home education that is free from state interference is the ultimate "parental involvement in children's education", so I imagine that Mrs Humphrys will be delighted to be given the opportunity to support it.

6. Paul Ennals is the chief executive of the National Children's Bureau. Like Mr Pommel, he is there to represent the interests of the 3rd sector, although quite what they might have to do with elective home education has not yet been made clear. Mr Ennals is an avowed fan of the ECM framework [opens pdf], so he will perhaps be able to work with Mr Waters to iron out the anomalous position of home education which is worrying some Local Authorities, most simply by changing 'child' to 'pupil' throughout. This is because electively home educated children are fully cared for by their parents and therefore do not need the involvement of the state.

7. Professor Stephen Heppell runs Notschool - an organisation which supplies alternative educational provision to non-electively home educated pupils. Professor Heppell is the only panel member to have actively engaged with electively home educating parents by making conversation with us in comments on our blogs. He has said that he thought the fear of home education being used as a 'cover for child abuse' was a red herring, but also said "Tick box monitoring has no hope of solving any of this," whilst not making the nature of the actual problem apparent. In addition, he has said that he wants "A dialogue between school and home education," although it was not clear what the latter might need to gain from this, if anything. Professor Heppell is on the panel to represent the interests of ICT and "future technologies", although the explicit need for this in a review about elective home education is, again, unclear. Professor Heppell is reported to be a personal friend of Graham Badman.

8. Sue Berelowitz is the chief executive of 11 Million and the deputy children's commissioner for England. She is the third ardent proponent of the ECM agenda in the panel. She is in favour of the idea of removing children who are potentially at risk of child abuse, away from the family home and into the care system sooner than the current practice allows for. Her organisation is evidently all about "mak[ing] sure that adults in charge, including the Government, listen to the views of children and young people," and she is there to represent Children's Rights, but Ms Berelowitz's position on the panel is a relatively unknown quantity, as far as I can tell.

9. Professor June Statham, from the Institute of Education, is on the panel to represent safeguarding. She coordinates programmes of fast-response research for the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families and has experience of research into early childhood services and support for vulnerable children and their families, including children in need in the community and children who are cared for away from home. She appears to have extensive knowledge, sympathy and understanding of SEN issues, but to be in favour of integration for such children in mainstream educational and childcare settings, with which the practice of elective home education obviously disagrees. It seems that much of Professor Statham's work has been about finding a wide and immensely detailed range of solutions for children outside of the family home, being cared for/ educated etc. by people other than their parents - again, a policy which would not be compatible with that of elective home educators.

10. Professor James Conroy is the only panel member whom we believe to have actual experience - as well as detailed professional knowledge - of elective home education. Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Glasgow, he seems to be a man of integrity and profound intelligence, who understands the theory of autonomous learning and the precious - and fragile - nature of its existence. Professor Conroy appears to be alone on the panel in his awareness of exactly what is at stake in the review process. He has commented on the review: “The danger of undermining parents through a culture of suspicion is politically and socially injurious. It’s bizarre to pathologise others purely because they are other.”

11. Beth Reid is from the National Autistic Society, and is on the panel for her knowledge of Special Educational Needs. She seems to be knowledgeable about and sympathetic towards children with such needs, but there is nothing to suggest that she has ever thought that parents could provide for those needs: her work seems to be mostly concerned with their experiences in school and with service provision for them. Ms Reid has said: "The obsession the government has created around testing has impeded the drive towards inclusion," which indicates that she might have some understanding of one of the reasons why many of us choose to electively home educate, although if she too is in favour of the policy of inclusion of everyone into the mainstream, she may not have much sympathy with our cause. Ms Reid co-wrote a report called 'Make school make sense for me' [opens pdf], which failed to explain the option and process of deregistration, despite stating that school bullying made some children feel suicidal, and which also described alternative Local Authority-provided education as 'home education'.

12. Graham Badman will be the 12th person in attendance at the review panel meetings. Mr Badman "has more than 40 years of experience in education, including being a teacher, Headteacher, inspector and chief education officer," but he does not seem to have had much experience or understanding of elective home education - specifically the autonomous variety, because when one of our number explained that: "Autonomous learning is like Schrödinger's Cat: the act of observing it changes its status," he replied: "I don't agree." Mr Badman is on the board of directors at Becta, which is "the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning." The organisation's strategic objectives can be seen here and many of these are in direct conflict with some electively home educating families' educational philosophies.


  • Only one member of the panel seems to have experience and a proper understanding of elective home education. At least one panel member - and the leader of the review himself - has demonstrated an extremely worrying lack of understanding about this. However, one other member is aware of the importance of 'sustained shared thinking', and one further member has conducted extensive research into parental involvement in children's education.

  • Three members of the panel are there to represent the issue of safeguarding, even though the need for this has been described as a 'red herring' by one panel member who happens to be a personal friend of the man leading the review.

  • Two members of the panel are said to be there to represent the interests of the 3rd Sector, although neither the need for this, nor the 3rd Sector's interest in elective home education, have ever been made clear.

  • The Becta/Heppell stated ICT agenda is obviously a factor in the review, although how this specifically pertains to elective home education has not been made clear either.

  • At least three members of the panel are expert proponents of ECM [opens pdf], so should have a good understanding of the anomalous position of elective home education within it, and be well able to work out how it needs to be revised to resolve this situation.

  • Both of the stated SEN representatives appear to be in favour of the policy of inclusion of children with such needs into the mainstream of service provision. This directly conflicts with the philosophy of elective home education.

  • Some of the panel members might be seen as having potentially something to gain from certain outcomes. If this is the case, it gives rise to a conflict of interests (which "occurs when an individual or organization has an interest that might compromise their reliability. A conflict of interest exists even if no improper act results from it, and can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the conflicted individual or organization.") For example, two of the panel members are employed by charities which provide alternative educational provision, and the leader of the review is employed by Becta.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Looking at the panel (11)

The 11th and final member of the review panel is Beth Reid, from the National Autistic Society, who is there for her knowledge of Special Educational Needs.

Oh dear. I was actually quite hopeful about this panel member, but I've just come across a report she's co-written called 'Make school make sense for me' [opens pdf] in which "Samuel, aged 12, talks about home education, returning to school, and ambitions."

Turns out Samuel, aged 12, isn't being electively home educated or even receiving an education at home. He's actually receiving three lessons a day in a learning support room, presumably provided by his Local Authority. He and his mother think this isn't enough of an education for him (and nor is it: so much for "efficient, full-time, suitable.."!) and all he wants is to get back to school.

I really hope Ms Reid understands, now that she's on the panel of a review about elective home education, what we consider to be home education. How can the council-provided variety (which is when a pupil can't attend school for some reason but whose parents don't opt for deregistration so the Local Authority is obliged to continue to make educational provision) even be called home education, when it doesn't take place at home? I know, elective home education often doesn't happen at home either. Electively home educating families are often out and about attending workshops and gatherings and so on, but in most cases the provision remains at least loosely home-based, so the term's use can be justified. But the non-elective verson? They should call it LA Education or - at a push - EOTAS (Education Other Than At School) which it's already often known as.

In a cached article about the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act , Ms Reid said:

The obsession the government has created around testing has impeded the drive towards inclusion

So.. she's not a fan of testing, but she is a fan of 'inclusion'? I'm not sure whether that's good news or bad, then.

Ms Reid has written this article [opens pdf] about autistic children being the targets of bullies at school. I liked the article: it showed great sensitivity and was easy to read, but I was sorry to not see parental deregistration explained as a viable option, even though:

Many parents say that the added distress of bullying has
led their child to self-harm or to feel suicidal.

She attended this All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism [opens pdf] last April, although it was actually the government minister's answer to her question that I found fascinating:

Beth Reid, National Autistic Society thanked the Minister for her comments about the NAS and asked how independent living can be made a reality for individuals with Asperger syndrome who may be dependent on their family for support yet fall outside the Fair Access to Care Services criteria
• Anne McGuire replied that in terms of independent living, the general principles highlighted in the strategy document represented the direction of travel for delivering services.

The general principles highlighted in the strategy document represented the direction of travel. Is that another open admission of preplanned mission creep, or just the ordinary kind of waffle?

Enough. I've read a lot about Ms Reid now - as much as I could access, and I can see that she seems to be industious, eloquent and passionate about children with Special Educational Needs. However, sadly, I can find nothing to suggest that she has ever thought that parents could provide for those needs.

Still, if she campaigns as energetically for the rights of electively home educated SEN children as she apparently does for schooled ones, she will perhaps be a help, rather than a hindrance to our cause.

Tomorrow I'm planning to post a summary of the 11 panel members.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Looking at the panel (10)

The tenth member of the new review panel is Professor James Conroy, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Glasgow.

Wow. Just one hour of researching this man has been an education to me.

I started with this University of Glasgow bio, which included the following:

I have written widely in the areas of religious education, religion, education and liberal democracy and education and the literary and aesthetic imagination. I have an enduring interest in (and written on) the philosophy of Hannah Arendt and the lessons to be learnt from her work for education and other social projects.

I wish the other nine panel members I've researched so far had given us such a clear and explicit insight into their thinking and I'm now struggling to understand why I couldn't find one for them.

Anyway, after reading that I (of course) had to look into the work of Hannah Arendt:

Hannah Arendt commemorative stamp

- which has been both fascinating and compelling.

In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), she coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to describe Eichmann. She raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of banality — the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction.

I'd heard of that report, but hadn't remembered the name of the author. Hmmm. The tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction. If Elaine was right in her comment on my previous post, there was something of the banality of evil in the selection of this panel - with the exception, perhaps, of Professor Conroy. I certainly see a lot of it (during my less cynical moments) in wider governmental decisions. The amazing thing is that people who are currently being paid phenomenal amounts of money just seem to go along with things - yes, absolutely without "critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction". But surely any position of responsibility morally requires such constant critical thinking? And the higher the position, the more crucial this is?

Some of Hannah Arendt's books are (blissfully) available for free. I've found this: The Origins of Totalitarianism [opens pdf]. Of course, I haven't read it all (though I would like to) but I'd just like to quote the first sentence of Chapter 10: A Classless Society:

NOTHING is more characteristic of the totalitarian movements in general and of the quality of fame of their leaders in particular than the startling swiftness with which they are forgotten and the startling ease with which they can be replaced.

She's talking about Lenin and Stalin, and Stalin's successors, but.. Blair and Brown, anyone?

I'm especially interested in her book: The Human Condition, in which Arendt "..defines the three activities - labor, work, and action - and describes four possible realms: the political, the social, the public, and the private." Our ten years of home education have made me think quite deeply about the definition of 'work' and I came to the conclusion, some time ago, that it's a subjective thing and mainly dependent on whether we're being compelled to do something or not. So gardening is a great pleasure to me and therefore can't be called work, for example, but it might be very arduous to a reluctant garden centre employee and definitely deserving of the term. But then there's the work [noun] that we produce when we do something creative and again, that's a good thing as long as weren't coerced into doing it against our will. Anyway, I've found it most useful to ignore the traditional delineations between work and recreation and to focus on choices instead. In that way, I've managed to easily get a lot done that might have been wearyingly thought of as hard labour, but which I've viewed as being just an activity, like any other. We can get tangled up in words though, can't we?

And what does all of this tell us about Professor Conroy's possible views about elective home education? I'm not sure!

According to this half-review (I tried to 'create a free account' and read the rest, but it didn't work) of his book: 'Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Imagination, Education and Democracy',

Conroy believes the values of late-industrial liberal democracies are inextricably tied to the values of the marketplace. This economic interpretation of democracy, manifested in the political, cultural, social, and, most notably, educational spaces in our society, serves to invalidate alternative perspectives "that might be judged controversial or damaging to social and economic/market stability" (Conroy, 2004, p. 20).

Might the alternative perspective of elective home education 'be judged controversial or damaging to social and economic/market stability'? I don't think it's sufficiently widespread to fall into that category - yet - but the threat of it becoming so might be partly what's sparked the recent consultations and the current review. We certainly don't fit into the Brave New World of ECM, an incompatibility that was infamously labelled 'This anomaly' by Lord Adonis in 2007.

There is a chapter about home education beginning on page 10 of this Primary Review report into 'Primary Curriculum Futures' [opens pdf] in which Professor Conroy (with his co-authors Moira Hulme and Ian Menter) says:

One substantial and growing group is comprised of those who have abandoned formal schooling because they believe it to be too constrained by the imperatives of performativity and the curriculum limitations imposed on the cultivation of the imagination in consequence thereof. In this group are parents who wish to see a greater emphasis on cultural and aesthetic engagements as well as those who want to see the world brought into learning in an unselfconscious way.

- which explains the field of autonomous home education in a nutshell as well as anything else I've read. A further excerpt of the same report tells us that Professor Conroy has studied American research into the issue:

In the midst of the many differences in philosophy, outlook and practice of home schoolers, from those who follow the national curriculum pretty rigidly to those whose approach makes Summerhill seem like a model of mainstream pedagogical rectitude, home schooling appears to consistently offer children a more efficacious educational experience even as measured by the standards of normative performativity. One constant in the midst of much complexity is the better than average performance of home schooled children when compared to age cohorts in the general population. Rudner’s (1999) study illustrated that those in grades 1-4 who are educated at home, on average, perform one grade level higher than their public and private school counterparts. Lest this be thought as an effect of early nurture likely to dissipate later in the child’s educational development, it is striking that the performance gap expands as the student progresses so that by 8th grade such children are performing at four grades above the national average in the US.

I'm running out of time for this post, but suffice to say the more I read about Professor Conroy, the better I feel. In terms of real knowledge about the actual subject of the review, he's going to run rings around every other member. The section's conclusion begins:

There are several salient features of the home schooling paradigm which may be of interest when considering the shaping of the curriculum into and for the future.

- which, along with his stated interest in educational pluralism, make me think that he perhaps sees elective home education as a potential benefit - rather than a threat - to the mainstream system.

I'll finish by quoting the sections relating to Professor Conroy in this TES article about the review:

“You’re starting with the premise that some parents might be home- schooling as cover for abuse and exploitation,” said James Conroy, professor of education at Glasgow University, who has researched home- education extensively. “But you could state the same premise with any residential school in the country. There are all kinds of abuses taking place in regular schooling. Does that mean we should do away with residential schools? Absolutely not.”


“The danger of undermining parents through a culture of suspicion is politically and socially injurious,” he said. “It’s bizarre to pathologise others purely because they are other.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking at the panel (9)

Before I start talking about the 9th panel member, I want to link to this animation [opens YouTube]: The Bad Man, by Doublets Animations. I know the family who made it: the Doublet's mum often comments here. She can declare herself if she likes: I'm not sure whether they want to remain sort of semi-anonymous or not. I think they did very well in the making of it - it must have taken ages, and required a lot of patience and skill. I also think it was an extremely good idea to produce such a film, which expresses how many of us feel about the review in ways that mere words probably can't. Or at least, all the words make it complicated and the film reduces the problem to basic simplicity, which is a good thing.

I'll be linking it in my sidebar soon. When I've finished this series on the panel I'm planning to spend one blogging session on updating the sidebar here. There are some more quotes that definitely need to go on there too: Professor Heppell's 'red herring' one, and many more. It's going to be a long sidebar!

I also want to highlight this post of Carlotta's from the weekend about 'What We're Up Against'. I've left a comment there about ECM, which I increasingly think is the only problem that the review needs to solve.

So, back to looking at the panel. Its 9th member is Professor June Statham, from the Institute of Education, which tells us more about her here:

I have over twenty-five years experience of research into early childhood services and support for vulnerable children and their families, including children in need in the community and children who are cared for away from home. I coordinate programmes of fast-response research for the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

- though I'm struggling to see the relevance in that to the issue of elective home education.

Here is a list of books she's either written or co-written. I wish I had some of them to read, but I don't, so I can only keep Googling. I see that amongst them is an Education Fact File (Were any of the facts about elective home education, I wonder?) and another is about Family Day Care:

Family day care or childminding plays a significant role in the provision of childcare in many countries, but is facing new challenges. Bringing together theory, research and knowledge from practice, this topical book presents a variety of informative perspectives on this important service. Contributors from ten countries draw on their recent research to examine how family day care has developed in differing economic and social climates. Covering the views of policy makers, childcare providers and parents, the book includes discussion of:
  • levels of government intervention
  • training and support for providers, including childminding networks
  • creating partnership between parents and carers
  • defining quality and raising standards
  • the future of family day care.
By illuminating different approaches that will inform understanding and can contribute to the formation of effective policies and practice, this book will be a useful resource for policy makers, researchers, childcare service providers, students on childcare courses and others with an interest in child care policy.

- which seems about as far away from what we do as it's possible to get. Still, presumably her expertise is diverse. I did manage to read something of the Nature of Special Education, from what's available there online and from that I think she must have extensive knowledge, sympathy and understanding of SEN issues, though I do wonder how much of the integration policy she expounds is about.. well, politics (with a small 'p') and how much is about what's actually best for each individual child. Hmm.

She's also co-written (with Anne Mooney) this JRF report about Childcare services at atypical times [opens pdf, links to summary of report], which - with everything else I've read today - tempts me to conclude that much of Professor Statham's work has been about finding a wide and immensely detailed range of solutions for 'children' (as though they're a problem) outside of the family home, being cared for/ educated etc. by people other than their parents. After ten years of home educating and building a strong and healthy home-based family, it's probably no surprise if I say that I just don't get that kind of thinking and I certainly don't see how it relates to elective home education.

There's another bio of Professor Statham here [opens pdf], which includes a list of her current and recent research projects:

2003-05: Care careers? The work and family lives of childcare workers providing for children in need in family and institutional settings
Department of Health

2002: Atypical work hours and childcare services
Joseph Rowntree Foundation

2000-02: Fifty Plus: Caring and Work after Fifty
Joseph Rowntree Foundation

1999-2001: Supporting families: a comparison of outcomes and economic evaluation of services for children in need in two areas of Wales
Wales Office of Research and Development

1996-2000: The provision of sponsored day care for children in need
Department of Health

- mostly about 'Childcare' again? Nothing related to what we do, except that they both involve children.

I think I'm going to stop there. It's raining here so no gardening, but there's still more to do than I've got time for. As ever, additions to my research about Professor Statham or any of the other panel members will be much appreciated, either in the comments here, or by email.

I'll just finish by saying that Professor Statham seems like an industrious, caring person of high intellect, but whose ideology about children and education appears to be extremely similar to that of the government, and extremely dissimilar to that of every elective home educator known to me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Looking at the panel (8)

The eighth member of the review panel is Sue Berelowitz, chief executive of something called 11 Million. The list says that Ms Berelowitz is on the panel to represent children's rights.

According to this interview:

She also acts as deputy children's commissioner for England.

Oh, I see: 11 Million is "the office of England's children's commissioner" and, the article continues, Ms Berelowitz took the job there because:

"there is potential to build on the significant improvements for children and young people, and make Every Child Matters a reality".

Another ECM expert proponent. That's good: she can help the others to work out how home educated children can possibly comply with the 'Enjoy and achieve' outcome, when it's all about attending school. Or, even more usefully, she's perhaps in a position to get those associated aims reworded, because

  • Ready for school;
  • Attend and enjoy school;
  • Achieve stretching national educational standards at primary school; and
  • Achieve stretching national educational standards at secondary school.

aren't all that compatible with elective home education, to say the least. Or just, to cover all the other problems we have with the ECM regime, she could assist the review in arranging to have the word 'child' replaced with 'pupil' throughout the ECM framework [opens pdf] and associated documents.

Because if she's representing children's rights, then electively home educated children surely have a right to a solution to this legally anomalous position.

Here's the '11 Million' website. Oh look! It's got a [creepy?] treehouse. The organisation is apparently all about:

Mak[ing] sure that adults in charge, including the Government, listen to the views of children and young people.

I'm pleased about that too. I would hate to think of a child being home educated - or schooled - against their will.

And I think I prefer this version of the five outcomes [opens Powerpoint] to the ECM [opens pdf] one, as long as it's not accompanied by a raft of Public Service Agreements which say something significantly different.

Ms Berelowitz is quoted in this BBC news item about Baby P, as follows:

Deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz told the Observer newspaper it was "received wisdom" to keep families together wherever possible, based on the assumption that children did not thrive in care homes. But, she added, it was time to consider whether taking children away earlier, before they were damaged by years of neglect, might be more beneficial.

Though I don't think this attitude could affect electively home educating families - could it? I haven't really processed what I think about the Baby P case, but one thing I have noticed in looking at the '11 Million' website is an absence of children saying something like: "I wish I hadn't been taken into care." But surely such cases exist, alongside all of the others who are appealing for more and earlier intervention?

Incidentally, Ms Berelowitz explains to Francis Maude MP in this letter [opens Word.doc] that the 11 Million brand (What, it's a pair of trainers??) cost £93,000 to develop, and its 'website development and content' costs have added up to £189,405 since 2006. Blimey. As my sons would say: "I'd have done a better job of it in three days for £50." (They would anyway: I probably wouldn't.) It brings to mind the various estimated costs of our car repairs, after our recent hit and run incident. The insurer's garage quoted something in the region of £530 in the end, and my own regular garage said they could try to suck the dent out with their suction cup thing if I liked, for free. Same outcome: five hundred times the cost.

I'm digressing, mainly because I'm struggling to find anything in all of this about Ms Berelowitz's actual personal opinions and again, the sun is shining and I have another vegetable patch to dig over and plant up. Has anyone else got any relevant insights to offer?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Looking at the panel (7)

The seventh member of the review panel is Stephen Heppell.



I suppose you could say that Professor Heppell and I have history in terms of discussing his membership of the panel on blogs, although he bowed out of the conversation (again) a couple of weeks ago - which has given me time to think through and try to process exactly what was going on there.

He - and a few other people - talk as though we should be grateful for his close involvement with the review (remember, he is a personal friend of Graham Badman) because of his commitment to alternative education, the extent of which I do not doubt. But when I first looked at the original panel line-up, it was actually his name that caused me the most concern.

The problem is that most of the other Ofsted and obviously pro-establishment people are easier to dismiss, because nobody expects that they will wholeheartedly accept the idea of educational freedom. But Professor Heppell kind of looks like he might be on our side but isn't and this is what makes his involvement with the process more dangerous and worrying to me.

He has seemed to be in favour of what we do, but we mustn't forget what it is that he does. There is definitely a conflict of interests in my opinion between the fact that he runs NotSchool (and I'm linking to my son Ali's appraisal of it there) which offers alternative, remote IT-based provision for expelled pupils, and his position on this panel. It was when we started talking about NotSchool being very expensive for what it is, that he started to smear me as a bully, though it was only in hindsight that I put the two things together.

He has a business to defend. One with charitable status, maybe, but a business nonetheless. It presumably pays him a salary and enhances his reputation, which enables him to travel around the world for his various other projects. I wish him luck with it all, and would have been very happy to never think of him again had he not become involved with this supposedly independent review of elective home education.

And his comments on this thread of Carlotta's blog bear out my concerns I think. It seems to me as if he sees the present legal position of deregistration [from school] on demand as being a problem, as do many education officials. (I'd be delighted if he came here to tell me I'm wrong, by the way. If I am wrong I'm sure he'll have absolutely no hesitation in so doing.) Yet it's something that elective home educators feel very strongly about keeping. He also seemed to be - by a process of asking leading questions and making pointed suggestions - wanting to challenge the explicit absence of obligatory, regular monitoring as enshrined in this DCSF Guidance to Local Authorities.

Many of us have extensively and repeatedly explained how regular Local Authority monitoring would seriously damage our children's education and I'm not going to go through it all again now. I'll just link to my post about it here instead, if you want the details.

My fear, in a nutshell, is that Professor Heppell's contribution to the review might consist of "Yes, I think parental provision can be effective BUT it needs to be monitored and regulated.." and the others will nod sagely and say, "Well, if our friend here the alternative educator says that.." Which would be treacherous, from our point of view and I think is one of the reasons why - despite his best efforts - he could find nobody from our ranks who would go along with his 'concerns'.

Professor Heppell might well be an expert in persuading some disaffected and troubled children to engage with the government's view of what constitutes education, but he is not an expert in elective home education, which is a completely different thing.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Looking at the panel (6)

The sixth member of the review panel is Paul Ennals - Chief Executive, NCB. He is, the list says, there to represent the 3rd sector. His NCB bio lists all of his current and previous organisational positions, but I'd like to find something he's reported as having said about something - anything! - to try to give us a more personal insight.

Well, here's a kind of insightful piece about his wishes for the 2004 budget but actually it doesn't tell us much, except that he'd like higher taxes and more money to be spent on children's services. He has a Wikipedia entry which mentions his membership of something called the DCSF 'Stakeholders Board', which immediately think of the discussions we've had here this week about how such a panel as the one for this review, is formulated. So there is a list!

I got a bit sidetracked then onto the subject of stakeholders and found this intriguing page on the ECM website, directed from DCSF about mapping them:

DCSF mapping stakeholders

Look! They have spreadsheets [opens Excel] full of them!

There's been quite a lot of discussion on the home ed lists about the concept of 'stakeholders' which, I agree, is deeply disturbing. The term originated in the business world, which is where I think it belongs. Wikipedia now defines it as "A person, group, organization, or system who affects or can be affected by an organization's actions." Well, that's all of us then, when it comes to something like the EHE review. Obviously it's the cherry-picking of preferential stakeholders that gets to define government policy development though. And yes, as parents I think we are offended, for what it's worth (which obviously isn't much) that an ever-increasing list of strangers should claim to hold stakes in our children's lives.

Back to Mr Ennals. He wrote this article in the Guardian two years ago about 'The essential elements of a Children's Plan', though there's nothing in that which tells us anything particularly relevant to the EHE review except, perhaps that he manages to mention Victoria Climbié in his last paragraph without bizarrely conflating her death with elective home education (unlike the NSPCC) which possibly offers a glimmer of hope for us:

Finally, he should revisit the origins of Every Child Matters - the case of Victoria Climbié. Would the changes brought in so far prevent such a death happening again? The risks may be reduced, but there are big issues still to be tackled around private fostering, immigration policies, and the inequalities still faced by some children from ethnic minorities.

Our absence in that list hopefully indicates that he has no particular axe to grind about us, but everything I've read about him and his views this morning tells me that he sees solutions to children's problems in the wider society, as opposed to at home with their families and this does worry me a bit, as regards his likely position with regard to elective home education.

Ooh, I've just come across this quote of his: "If they are denied access to school they also miss out on health education," which, though taken wildly out of context (I think he's talking about excluded children - I get the feeling he's one of those people who lived in blithe ignorance of our existence, and to whom it was quite a shock when he found out) still rings alarm bells.

I've just gasped to come across a Tolkien [mis]quote in one of his NBC presentations [opens pdf] - and what a quote he chose! Talking about the Integrated Qualifications Framework:

One ring to bind them all

The actual inscription on the One Ring, 'roughly translated', read as follows:

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The One Ring was created by the Dark Lord Sauron during the Second Age in order to gain dominion over the free peoples of Middle-earth, so it might indeed be a very appropriate desciption for the entire ECM framework [opens pdf], let alone just the IQF - though perhaps not quite in the way Mr Ennals had in mind!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Looking at the panel (5)

Carlotta has written a very good précis of what we see as the current position with regard to the review. People (usually at home ed meetings) keep asking me for an update: in the next couple of weeks I will just point them at that post instead of trying to explain! It also ties in nicely with what I briefly touched on yesterday about the damage that monitoring and inspection does to children. I think a lot more work needs to be done on this issue, because it's one - possibly the main one - of the very good reasons why many elective home educators are resisting calls (like this recent one from the National Association of Social Workers in Education, at whose conference Graham Badman is scheduled to speak about the review on 7th May) for the statutory monitoring and inspection of home educating families.

We think such a development would be abusive to our children's sense of security and wellbeing, and yes, some of us do home educate partly to protect our children from that kind of a regime which is so prevalent throughout the school system. We don't think it's good for children or families, or people in general, to have to live with so much stress and pressure. It certainly - as many home educators who have had it both ways will attest - detracts from the quality and uptake of educational provision.

Meanwhile, Mum6kids has been writing about the Freedom of Information requests we have underway, as we try to establish a degree of discernment on the issue of what exactly constitutes a 'welfare concern' because - as many home educating families know to their cost - this can originate from nothing more than a confused or vindictive neighbour or family member.

If you know of any other recent posts about the review that I haven't linked to, please let me know either in the comments here or by email.

The fifth member of the panel is Jean Humphreys (HMI, Ofsted) who, the chart says, is there to represent the area of special educational needs. But I'm finding her as difficult to 'google-analyse' (Googleyse?!) as Steve Hart, the other 'Ofsted, HMI' panel member at whom we looked yesterday, if not more so. I'm wondering whether there's a different variation on her name, or an alternative way of spelling it that I might be missing, or perhaps 'Ofsted, HMI' people habitually keep a low profile online.

I did find the following excerpt from this Word document about the 'Impact of ITT [Initial Teacher Training] on the School Environment' (Lee & Wilkes, 1999):

Ofsted in School ?

We have the following advice from Jean Humphreys HMI as follows;

“Schools should carry on as normal when they are alerted to the fact that they are going to have an inspection. Schools should make mention of significant partners in their self evaluation form. The inspection framework covers such relationships in two sections. (1) When judging the school’s overall effectiveness (the effectiveness of links with other organisations to promote the well-being of learners) and (2) in the leadership and management section (how effective are the links made with other providers, services, employers and other organisations to promote the integration of care, education and any extended services to enhance learning and to promote well-being). Inspectors will be interested to know how the ITT partnership has an impact on the school, particularly learners.“

She's also listed as one of the authors of a 2005 Ofsted pdf about some new school inspection arrangements.

I find it interesting to read from this that apparently "Short notice of inspection has been welcomed by schools." The things people will say when their salary depends on it! Can you imagine being genuinely pleased about the short notice of inspection - about anything? Is nobody allowed to admit any more that the process of being inspected, evaluated and assessed is a deeply unpleasant one? Does everyone have to pretend: "Oh no, it's great to be monitored! We love it! Please, come and monitor is more often!" Or as Renegade Parent puts it: Infantilise me some more!

And the thing NASWE is proposing for home educators is the regular inspection of people's homes and family lives, without prior cause for concern, just to see whether the parents in question are deemed fit to home educate. Surely it's only a short step from there to the position of extending this legalised state invasion of family homes across the board, to the whole population, as a matter of routine. And this relentless march towards full surveillance represents nothing other than the nationalisation of children and of family life.

Jean Humphreys is mentioned in this month's edition of the Children's Webmag, produced by a consortium led by The Centre for Children and Youth which is 'based at the University of Northampton, [and] has built up a national and international reputation for its multidisciplinary research and consultancy work', in an article called "Keeping Parliament Informed: The Children’s Workforce-Inspectors", as follows:

Juliet Winstanley and Jean Humphries (Ofsted) emphasised the importance of interagency working for their inspections of other children’s services, particularly Youth Offending Teams, the secure training centres and secure children’s homes, boarding schools, specialist colleges, palliative care and children’s centres.

Jean said that they have started to look at areas where inspection could be brought together - so, in bringing together education and social care inspections of, for example, residential homes, they not only have brought together the two methodologies and best practice, but also can now pay that institution one visit instead of two, which is far less disruptive. Where their inspections overlap with others - such as boarding schools or palliative care - they work to bring in relevant experts and hold inspections at the same time to share information and reduce disruption.

Juliet said that the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda is key to their work and at the heart of the process, and it is important for them to know what the services are like for the children and young people. They are focusing on vulnerable children by targeting their investigations at the provision for those with specific needs. Jean said that their regulatory remit - to ensure compliance with and the meeting of certain regulations - can be difficult to bring in line with the ECM aims without missing important details around compliance.

I don't know about you, but the mere mention of the word 'compliance' in relation to anything to do with children makes me shudder.

I'm finding more about Ms Humphreys when I just search for her name with 'Ofsted'. It seems that she is, or was, the Deputy Director for Children there. I'm yet to find evidence of her particular interest in special educational needs though - which is not, of course, to say that she doesn't have one. I've just had a look around the main Ofsted site though, and happened to read through the draft minutes of their February 2009 board meeting [opens Word.doc] which are a revelation in themselves. A significant proportion of the content is about protecting and promoting the organisation's image and trying to control how it's perceived generally. Maintaining 'good relations' with schools and unions is seen to be important, and the threat of a judicial review is apparently something for them to worry about. And there we were, just thinking they wanted to help children to improve their learning experience.

I could ramble on about this for ages and won't, but I will say something about the field of education admin in general, which came to mind when I was chatting with someone at our home ed meeting yesterday. We meet in the old gymnasium of an ex-grammar school, now converted into the LA education admin centre. When we started meeting there, 6½ years ago, the centre was always half-empty and there was no problem with parking or anything. Within three months we'd been barred from using the canteen and we were subsequently asked not to meet during the lunchtime period, because the noise of children playing overhead apparently distracted the diners - educational administrators - from their food. When we take our children into the main building to use the toilets or the vending machines, we're often viewed with alarm - not by the centre management who are nice, child-friendly people, but by - you guessed it - educational administration people. It seems, just from viewing the development of the field through the focused prism of our experiences at that centre, that it has both mushroomed in recent years and become increasingly detached from.. well, children.

I've run a search for Ms Humphreys on the Ofsted site and it came back blank. Let me know, please, if you have more luck. I also wanted to find out whether she had anything to do with the dreaded "labyrinth that is the network between The London Regional Partnership, The London Schools Safeguarding Leads Network, The London Safeguarding Children Board, The London Child Protection Committee, London Allegations Management Advisors, London Councils, The Association of London Directors of Children’s Services, Care Services Improvement Partnership and others" as mentioned in AHEd's letter to Ed Balls, but I've run out of time now today and would appreciate some help with that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Looking at the panel (4)

Before we start looking at the fourth member of the panel:

I need to go back to yesterday's post and say something more about Delroy Pommel. I've now found his name, on Googling, spelled three different ways: Pommel, Pommell and - thanks to a heads-up by email from Shirl - Pomell. It now transpires that he is a member of the London Safeguarding Children Board, and if that sounds familiar it might be because their response to the draft EHE guidance in 2007 [opens Word.doc] and subsequent position WRT elective home education:

§ Consultation on elective home education

Mary Kuhn had drafted a response based on the discussion at the last network meeting. Following approval by network members the response had been submitted. The document had also formed the basis of a London Regional Partnership response and other Regional Partnerships had used it as a basis for theirs so there had been a good cascade effect from the work.

It was agreed that elective home education should be be kept under review by the network. A further issue arising was that there was no way of tracking home educated children when whole families move on without informing anyone. This had happened in Hounslow, Waltham Forest, Enfield and Wandsworth.

Action: MK to raise with DCSF [Source: Meeting Notes 26.09.07]

For further reading about "the labyrinth that is the network between The London Regional Partnership, The London Schools Safeguarding Leads Network, The London Safeguarding Children Board, The London Child Protection Committee, London Allegations Management Advisors, London Councils, The Association of London Directors of Children’s Services, Care Services Improvement Partnership and others, [being] a frightening illustration of how hearsay can be dangerously ignited to become a bushfire," please see AHEd's letter to Ed Balls on the subject.

Incidentally (and thanks again to Shirl for this) Graham Badman himself appears to be on the London Local Safeguarding Children Boards in the same network. (Scroll down to Haringey.)

But these different variations of the same names are fascinating to me. So far we've looked at Stephen Heppell - referred to as 'Steve' in our list, Edward Melhuish - seen on our list as plain old Ted, and Delroy Pommel/Pommell/Pomell.

The fourth name on the list is "Steve Hart (HMI, Ofsted)". I will be running searches for a number of variations on his name!

He wasn't in the original line-up, but only three out of those five still remain, now joined by eight more.

I'm not finding an awful lot about him, but there is the following bio on this data-heavy pdf about Camden’s Joint Area Review:

Steve Hart - Safeguarding
Steve Hart has been employed for most of his 32 year career in social work in Children's Services but has also worked in the disability and substance misuse fields. He has extensive experience of field and residential work and has practiced and managed in both sectors. Since working for the inspectorates (SSI, CSCI and most recently OFSTED) Steve has been involved in inspecting all service sectors but his predominant work has been with children and he has extensive experience of inspecting Local Authority Children’s Services. He has led the Secure Care Inspection Service and was CSCI's national lead for child protection until its merger with Ofsted. He has worked extensively with other inspectorates, most recently as part of the national team charged by the Prime Minister with carrying out an inspection of actions taken to reduce street crime. Since taking up post as an HMI in Ofsted, Steve’s work priorities have focused upon leading JARs, and he is currently part of the Joint Chief Inspectors review of safeguarding arrangements.

And he is mentioned as the lead inspector of Richmond's Joint Area Review [opens pdf], as well as being listed as part of the inspection team on the Wolverhampton one [opens pdf].

It seems he was a part of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, but what is 'social care', and what does it have to do with elective home education? Wikipedia redirects the query to its page on social work, but again, I fail to see what that has to do with elective home education. Inspired by some of the compelling threads on UKHE, I'm inclined to suspect that it's connected to the old "A child unseen by the system is a child at risk" chestnut. But, as a very wise person pointed out there, the words 'by the system' sort of slip in unnoticed and help, along with other factors, to turn what looks like a simple truth into the blatant lie that it is.

The factor that's hardly ever picked up on is the risk involved of being regularly 'seen by the system' and the inherent damage that this causes to the natural, healthy development of a child's senses of trust, security and curiosity. It seems (and this term came from another discussion group - you know who you are!) that the political drive to nationalise our children is devoid of conscience and unwilling to bear close inspection. Much more about that to come in future posts here and elsewhere, no doubt.

Now we're off to our home ed meeting, and then a picnic in the park with friends. I've got some very fast sandwiches to make first!

PS If anyone finds more about Steve Hart, please add to comments here or email me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Looking at the panel (3)

Well, it looks like I can only manage one panel member per post - so I'd better resign myself to that and plan to rename the posts accordingly at the end, for ease of reference.

Before I start to write about Delroy Pommell, the third elective home education review panel member and the London and South East Director of Barnados, I just want to give a brief and completely unrelated mention to this article about 'New Labour and Children' by Lisa Blakemore-Brown, which I've just read. It's an absolute must-read for every parent in the UK, I think, and certainly for anyone who has anything to do with the law and government policy about children and families here.

That said, onto Mr Pommell:

He is a member of the London Child Poverty Commission, although his membership of our review panel is apparently to do with 'child protection/ 3rd sector' issues.

I am wary of anyone connected with a child poverty group in the UK, because of the real meaning of that fifth ECM [opens pdf] outcome: Achieve Economic Wellbeing, in which all the campaigners have played their part, unwittingly or otherwise. I wish they would all now put a similar amount of effort into reversing the damage, assuming they were duped by government.

But I'd like to try and find something that Mr Pommel has written or said, to try to give us an insight into his thinking.

Well, this might be encouraging - or at least interesting - because it relates to education:

Children's charity Barnardo's has called for a greater focus on vocational training and support as this year's GCSE results are unveiled. The charity has warned thousands of young people will feel rejected and disappointed by the expected focus on high achievers. And it has launched an internet advertising campaign highlighting the barriers to achievement in mainstream education among young people.

Delroy Pommel, UK director of education at Barnardo's, said: "We work with young people of all abilities who for a wide variety of reasons - such as challenging family circumstances, unmet special educational needs, homelessness and mental health difficulties - have not thrived at school. We know with the right support every young person can succeed." He added the charity provided alternative education, vocational training and special education for thousands of young people who are unable to fulfil their potential in mainstream education.

Difficult to comment about such a short piece though. What else can I find..?

Here's the full press release from Barnados relating to that particular issue. It gives a little bit more background, but again, nothing especially about Mr Pommell.

He formed part of the 'reference group' for this barnados report [opens pdf] about 'Meeting the needs of sexually exploited young people in London' by Zoe Harper and Sara Scott.. and he helped to develop/produce this one [opens pdf] about 'The lives of homeless children and families in London' by John Reacroft.

I can't find anything else about Mr Pommell. Anyone else having more luck? I'm more than happy to defer to Elaine's formidable Googling skills. Let us know if you find anything, Elaine (or anyone)?

I can say for certain that I can't find anything that states, or even hints, that Mr Pommell may have had any experience of elective home education.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Looking at the panel (2)

Next in the line-up:

is Mick Waters, Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. According to the résumé I just linked there, his goal " 'to develop a modern, world-class curriculum that will inspire and challenge all learners and prepare them for the future. He finds it fascinating!" Fascinating indeed, then, that he should find himself on a board of elective home education reviewers, because I believe that our kind of curriculum is second to none, as regards inspiring and challenging all learners and preparing them for the future. A constantly adapting, no-holds-barred, no limits approach? Exactly what every student needs. Not just taking each person's ability and aptitude into account, but framing their whole education around those things, rather than the supposed demands of the workplace. This prepares people for the future better than anything else. Imagine a future in which everyone could easily find their own natural rôle in life! [opens YouTube]

Mick believes the curriculum should be treasured and valued and that it needs to be shaped to fit with children's lives. To make the curriculum work, people in schools need to set understandings of their children alongside the learning they should meet to create learning that is irresistible.

This sounds like a man who is definitely on our side. But wait. Stop. What was that..? "..the learning they should meet.."? What learning should they meet? Are we back to those old 'five GCSEs' requirements? Really, they're so last century and not remotely suitable for every child, though there might be one or two around who are suited to them.

Before joining QCA, Mick was Chief Education Officer for the City of Manchester. In a challenging education environment schools worked hard to break the cycle of urban deprivation, promoting a wide and rich curriculum and encouraging all learners to achieve as much as possible. Key agendas included the development of joint children's services, the 14-19 strategy, the employment and skills dimension and configuring all this around Building Schools for the Future.

We've met this Building Schools for the Future , thing before haven't we? Hmm.. a blog search says not, but we did look at one aspect of it. I can't help noticing a reference to change management in there. It's worth reading that Wikipedia page to get an idea of how very preplanned and scientifically manipulative the process of organisational change has become.

The role of Director of Curriculum at QCA enables Mick to work with all partners to develop a world class curriculum that offers all young people the chance to enjoy success at school and in later adult life. This involves exploring what really matters in learning and supporting new developments, linked to the five outcomes for children.

"..Enjoy success at school.." seems to indicate that he's not all that well-placed to advise about elective home educators. "..Exploring what really matters in learning.." Has he explored and decided, then? I'd like to know what he thinks really matters in learning. His expertise with the five outcomes perhaps makes a good person to work out how the ECM framework [opens pdf] associated PSAs need to be changed to avoid causing problems for elective home educators.

This Guardian article speaks very highly of Mr Waters. He sounds like someone who is genuinely interested in the learning process, but I think I would take issue with him regarding the importance of outcomes - especially of the pre-determined variety. This presentation of his [opens pdf] about the QCA's annual review of 2007, includes:

What makes learning worth it?

- which sums up, for me, the whole problem with schools: the people organising them know that students need complete freedom to learn properly, and yet pressure from government makes that freedom impossible. This will always be the case, whenever outcomes are demanded from learning by someone other than the learner.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Let's have a look at this panel, then

Though it will have to be a relatively quick look, as the field is beckoning me, the sun is shining, and there's sooo much work to do out there.

Before I continue, I'd better clearly state that - unlike the panel members - I am not claiming to be any kind of an expert. This is just me, my search engine and some fast typing. If I get something wrong, it's not because I'm trying to bully or to intimidate anyone. Indeed, if you're on a panel of experts being paid to debate the lifestyle and children's futures of a whole swathe of the population, whose findings may (probably will) affect future legislation, then you're in an immensely powerful position as opposed to the swathes in question. So they're not really in a position to bully you, whatever they try to do.

But if you spot an inaccuracy here then please say so, either in the comments box or by email and I will either correct or remove it straight away, as I did before. Google, I suppose, isn't infallible and neither am I.

So, why do I want to write this post? I'm not quite sure I do, but I think it needs doing. Eleven people, sitting around a table (one assumes) deciding what's to be done about us. Twelve, counting Mr Badman (about which, more later.) A significant number.

We need to try to work out on what basis they're considered to be experts about us, and what position - based on opinions previously stated - they might be taking at these panel meetings. I'm not sure how close a bit of googling might get us to these answers, but I think we've got to start somewhere. So I'm starting at the top of the list, and working my way down. Then I'm off out to mow the grass.

Here's a page about Professor Melhuish, which includes:

For several years Professor Melhuish has been a Principal Investigator on the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) and Effective Pre-school Provision in Northern Ireland (EPPNI) projects based in England and Northern Ireland, which are following 4,000 children from 3-7 years of age. These studies are investigating the effects of family, community, and pre-school experiences (and their interaction) on child development.

I've found the Effective Pre-school Education report [opens pdf] and I see that another familiar name also appears in the list of authors: Kathy Silva, who was in our original review panel line-up. Perhaps just helping to compile a social science report for government is enough to qualify one to attend an expert panel in something that might be vaguely related to one's field of expertise. They're even listed as authors in that order: "Kathy Sylva.. Edward Melhuish.." If he'd have said no to the invitation, would we have got Pam Sammons, whoever she may be? I'm detecting an air of slightly panicky - or maybe just lapsidaisical - hotchpotch in the bringing together of this panel, which is absolutely not reassuring. Is there, I wonder, a formula that leaders of government-commissioned reviews are advised to follow? "Find a panel of reputable experts from various vaguely related fields to advise you. You can work through the attached list of co-authors of government-commissioned reports if you don't know enough people to ask..."

I'm going to quickly read this pdf, anyway, because it seems necessary to do so. I'm not going to fisk the whole thing, tempting though that is, because there are ten other panel members to get through and I've got grass to mow! And - you know - children, whose full-time autonomous learning doesn't obediently stop on Sundays. Right now (7am Sunday morning: I started this post yesterday) they're all still asleep. But I do want to try to glean the essence of it.

The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) project investigated the effects of preschool education and care on children’s development for children aged 3-7 years old.

The Aims of EPPE
EPPE explored five questions:
What is the impact of pre-school on children’s intellectual and social/behavioural development?
Are some pre-schools more effective than others in promoting children’s development?
What are the characteristics of an effective pre-school setting?
What is the impact of the home and childcare history on children’s development?
Do the effects of pre-school continue through Key Stage 1 (ages 6 and 7 years)?

Is your heart sinking? Mine is.

Many sources of data have been used in statistical analyses to explore the ‘value added’ by preschool after taking account of a range of child, parent and home background factors.

I did statistical analysis at college and learned that you can get it to say absolutely anything you want it to say. My pedantic, highly principled and undoubtedly naïve, 17 year-old self was in a state of shock about this for weeks.

Ohh, I'm fisking it already! Let's skip to the findings. Well, depressingly, there's this:

Key findings over the pre-school period
Impact of attending a pre-school
-Pre-school experience, compared to none, enhances all-round development in children.
-Duration of attendance (in months) is important; an earlier start (under age 3 years) is related to better intellectual development.
-Full time attendance led to no better gains for children than part-time provision.
-Disadvantaged children benefit significantly from good quality pre-school experiences, especially where they are with a mixture of children from different social backgrounds.
- Overall disadvantaged children tend to attend pre-school for shorter periods of time than those from more advantaged groups (around 4-6 months less).
Does type of pre-school matter?
-There are significant differences between individual pre-school settings and their impact on children, some settings are more effective than others in promoting positive child outcomes.
-Good quality can be found across all types of early years settings; however quality was higher overall in settings integrating care and education and in nursery schools.
Effects of quality and specific ‘practices’ in pre-school
-High quality pre-schooling is related to better intellectual and social/behavioural development for children.
-Settings that have staff with higher qualifications have higher quality scores and their children make more progress.
-Quality indicators include warm interactive relationships with children, having a trained teacher as manager and a good proportion of trained teachers on the staff.
-Where settings view educational and social development as complementary and equal in
importance, children make better all round progress.
-Effective pedagogy includes interaction traditionally associated with the term “teaching”, the provision of instructive learning environments and ‘sustained shared thinking’ to extend children’s learning.

But I'm going to cling optimistically to the final point in that section, which is:

The importance of home learning
-For all children, the quality of the home learning environment is more important for intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income. What parents do is more important than who parents are.

And, a little later:

Pre-school, whilst not eliminating differences in social backgrounds, can help to reduce the disadvantage children experience from some social groups and can help to reduce social exclusion.

This says something I've long suspected: that state education programmes and policy, especially for the early years, are more about solving the perceived problem of social exclusion than they are about what's actually best for each individual child.

The issue of 'sustained shared thinking' - so much a feature of most home educators' daily lives - is number one in the report's 'six identified areas that are particularly important':

1. The quality of adult-child verbal interactions. More ‘sustained shared thinking’ was observed in settings where children made the most progress. ‘Sustained shared thinking’ occurs when two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity, extend a narrative etc. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the understanding. It was more likely to occur when children were
interacting 1:1 with an adult or with a single peer partner and during focussed group work.

So Professor Melhuish - whatever his politics - must understand that what most home educators do for their children's learning is a very good thing. But does he also, I wonder, perceive the negative effects that monitoring and regulation would have on it? I think this is unlikely, unless he has ever electively home educated an autonomous learner - which sums up our whole problem with this review. None of the people concerned seem, to date, to understand precisely what it is that they're reviewing and what the effects of such a review on the children in question might be, because this hugely successful and beneficial process of natural learning depends entirely on the parents' ability to protect it from outside intervention, however well-meaning. For curiosity to completely thrive it has to be free to find its own way, and fed in the right time and the right way, and then a phenomenal amount of learning can take place.

The Effective Pre-school Education report [opens pdf] recommends "an equal balance of child and adult initiated activity," which might be similar to what happens naturally in the home.

According to his Birkbeck résumé,

Professor Melhuish is Executive Director of the National Evaluation of Sure Start and his work undertaken to date has addressed many issues relevant to Sure Start including cognitive, language and behavioural development of young children and the role of family factors, home environment, childcare and pre-school experience upon children's development.

and here is the homepage of 'NESS', the National Evaluation of Sure Start.

NESS looks like it was (still is?) a huge project and a quick look around the site tells me that I'm not going to learn much from it about Professor Melhuish - apart, perhaps, from this: On one of the Frequently Asked Questions [opens pdf] pages, there is one of the most splutteringly astounding examples of failing to answer a direct question that I have ever seen:

Is this a mandatory survey?
Again, we hope that you will come to see this as a useful experience after you begin to see the results and feedback from our study. It is impossible to understand Sure Start in one individual site alone; a national context is absolutely necessary in order to get a broad perspective of the varieties and similarities between and among programmes. For Sure Start to continue, we have to know what Sure Start is all about across the country! Your help in this endeavour is invaluable.

If I had posed such a question, reading that reply would probably make me want to bang my head against a wall.

I've got to stop there for today, before our too-long grass grows into a jungle and this post grows into an unreadably-long epic. I do hope Professor Melhuish doesn't feel picked upon (any more, at least, than home educators have felt recently by the process with which he is now voluntarily engaged) to be the only panel member featured in this post. It wasn't deliberate: I had hoped to cover at least a few of them before the day got underway in our house. But the children woke up and wanted a long story read to them, and now Tom needs driving to a job. I've also got a busy day tomorrow, but hopefully we can look at at least one other panel member then - hopefully, more than one.

We've now been told that the review's findings will be published in May as originally planned and not in June after all. This therefore gives us a matter of weeks in which to say anything else that needs saying. I am feeling a sense of urgency, to match my previous senses of futility and anxiety. Anyone got any others to add to that?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hit and run job - oh and the new panel, official line-up

We were the victims of a hit and run in our car yesterday, so spent the afternoon in the police station (queued up for an hour to find out that nobody had time to take my statement: got to go back today) and on the phone to garages and insurers, etc. It's such a sleek operation now, isn't it? Report the accident, they want to come straight away to get your car from your driveway, leave you with a hire car.. I said: hold on a minute. The other driver will be denying liability, hence him being a hit and run merchant. Is it wise for me to get my car fixed straight away? Five conversations later, it transpires that this wouldn't be wise, that I'll be losing my no-claims bonus and that I'll probably be better off getting quotes and just paying for the repair myself without claiming on the insurance.

Is this a sign of the times? Or just human nature to do whatever you can get away with, regardless of the impact on other people? For some reason this incident reminds me of the new panel line-up. OK, so we asked for rationale, and there is at least some attempt to provide one now:

It is imperative that the process is supported by a range of experts to ensure recommendations are rigorous and firmly rooted in evidence.

Hmmm. What evidence will it be firmly rooted in? I hope it's set out, because it will be scrutinised.

It will be used to cross check the interpretation of evidence and gain expert insight into key issues, such as the operation of current processes and practice within LAs; child development and the outcomes of home educated children; and child protection for example. It will also act as a sounding board for emerging findings and recommendations, ensuring they are based on firm evidence, are workable and will actively improve outcomes for children.

Good. First job, please: get every aspect of ECM, including all relevant PSAs, rewritten to iron out all the various problems they're going to cause for us. Next job: Do something to correct the imminent two-tier system, brought about by the new welfare reform bill, which will prevent people below a certain level of income from home educating. And yes, looking at prejudiced, ultra vires and damaging treatment of home educators by certain local authorities with a view to correcting these might be very helpful.

Meanwhile on our part, I suppose the panel members' histories and interests need to be Googled by us, to try to work out what their contribution might be, and whether we agree with their involvement.

We were chatting about it again at our home ed meeting today, in which we agreed that there's more to do on ECM and on demonstrating outcomes. I'd love to know, for example, what percentage of electively home educated young people genuinely do go on to become NEET (not just UTC: Unknown To Connexions) and how this compares with the average for schooled children. That would be a potentially powerful piece of information. Surely there's a way of finding out? (FOI requests to all the Benefits Offices?)

There's a lot we could still do: many more hours we could spend on justifying our position and our decisions, but I'm getting the same feeling about it that I got when I was waiting in the police station today: a waste of time. (Though I'll probably do some of it anyway.)

Meanwhile I'll leave you with a few other links and quotes from this week so far:

From Firebird: UK Government v the family:

In England, they came first for the single parents on Income Support, And I didn’t speak up because my husband works;

And then they came for the Home Educators, And I didn’t speak up because I send my older children to school;

And then they came for the Independent Midwives, And I didn’t speak up because my children were born in hospital;

And then . . . they came for me, because I have a child under 5 at home . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.

A powerful article.

Then, from Renegade Parent: The Baroness and the Badman - a fairy tale:

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Once upon a time, there was a Baroness. When surveying her kingdom of schools and teachers, she came across a small community of parents who had legally opted to retain their independence. ...

I love it.

I love the fact that we have such creative, determined, profoundly intelligent people on our side who are managing to home educate their children and keep the pressure on about this review. It pushes us to the limits, but there's no other choice, particularly when we look at what's happened in some places:

The bill would require homeschoolers to undergo the same assessment testing as public-schooled children (currently grades 4, 8, and 11, though as of 2005 there will be language arts and math tests in grades 3 through 8 to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act). The bill would also require homeschooling families to present their district with evidence of a medical exam annually for each homeschooled child. In addition, the bill would require the State Board of Education to draft administrative code to enforce the two previous clauses.

Shirl has written more about this in her post: The Same Thing Happened in America in 2003:

Many thanks to Ami for this info, which reads exactly like what we are now going through here in the UK...

And finally: Listening To "Experts" Inhibits Decision Making:

When thinking for themselves, students showed activity in these critical thinking brain regions, but when given advice from an expert, activity in those regions "flat lined." Interestingly, students in the study "tended to follow [the expert's] advice regardless of the situation, especially when it was bad"

Thanks to Kajsa for sending those last three links, and to Shirl for hers.