Sunday, June 14, 2009

"For example by the age of eight, I think they should be autonomous learners, able to read."

- is something Graham Badman is reported as saying in this article.

Here's how that word looks in my dictionary:

autonomous adj. 1 Having self-government. 2 Acting independently or having the freedom to do so. [Gk autonomania f. autos self + nomos law]

But in his report, Mr Badman seems unsure as to what autonomous learning actually is, and whether he is in favour of it:

What constitutes ‘autonomous’ learning[?] Could it be, as many home educating parents have argued, it defies definition but provides the ultimate opportunity for children to develop at their own rate and expands their talents and aptitudes thought the pursuit of personal interest[?] Or, does it present a more serious concern for a quality of education that lacks pace, rigour and direction[?]

At least he admits that he doesn't actually know, which is further proven by his statement about reading, above. Yes, the ability to read gives a child more independence in learning and is a great thing. But coercing someone to master a skill when they might not be ready for it or might have other preferences would be to breach their autonomy.

Some children are naturally early readers, others are not. To set an arbitrary age by which all chldren should be reading is damagingly and unnecessarily prescriptive. My older son, diagnosed severely dyslexic aged 9, could barely read at 8 despite having been at school for four years - something that he soon fixed of his own volition with the freedom of home education.

This report seems to be trying to set up a state of opposition and coercion between home educating parents and children, as illustrated in my previous post. It puts us on the same footing as parents whose children attend school against their wishes: "Do this, or else.." which isn't a stance I could ever take with my children, with whom I have an excellent relationship. Even if the recommendations are enacted I won't fall out with them over it: I will help them to explore the options, the various alternatives and the risks of their choices as I always have done. In my house, the structure of power will not be state + local authority + parent against child. Instead, in common with every other home educating parent in the country, I'll have to use everything available to me to protect and defend my child's best interest against that which would threaten it.

I suspect that many Local Authority employees whose jobs would be affected by the enaction of these recommendations, won't like them either. Only the sadistic, the rabidly ideological and the hard of heart would actually want to force their way into a child's home to question and test them. The rest - the majority - will be acting under sufferance because their jobs depend on it, as with so many other issues now. The recommendations go far too far in their intrusiveness into family life, and this is causing concern to people who don't home educate, but who can see the direction of travel of such policies.

So, let's see...

Many local authority employees won't like these recommendations. Many non-home educating parents won't like them and every home educating parent deplores them. That's potentially a lot of opposition, isn't it? I wonder how it could be successfully organised.


Blogger these boots said...

Our so far completely autonomous home ed has led to our children (now aged 7 and 6) being interested in pretty much everything around them. They can read - probably above their age levels (but they've not been tested) - and that's reassuring for me, in that I can now just ensure that they have books available on as many subjects as possible, and *know* that they are learning. In the past few weeks it's got to the stage where they tell me stuff I don't know :-)

I have a few things on hand if necessary. I won't call them curricula, they are more like projects we could focus on together, projects which I know will interest the girls, because the girls seem to be interested in everything. Some of these 'projects of focus' we've had on hand a while, years even. Some of them I've even paid a little money for.

And yet ... however great, and interesting, and valuable I think these projects are, I have not yet introduced them to my girls. They are all things which I will have to lead, instigate, or set up. And even though the girls are willing, and there is no obvious coercion at all, it still seems to go so against their natural way of exploring the world that I am reluctant to start down that path.

I do think that children who have never been coerced into learning anything have something incredibly special. I also suspect that perhaps they will take on board a little 'direction' much more naturally than children who have been schooled, and who are now unschooling or deschooled. But it does seem to me that muscling in on this willingness to co-operate is likely to put out the very spark that makes it possible in the first place. And if I extinguish that spark - no matter what government pressure I am under to do so - I don't think I could ever forgive myself.

Not sure this makes sense and perhaps I am going round in circles, but this is what I've been struggling with ever since Badman's disgusting, ill-thought through and badly-researched review came out.

9:15 am, June 14, 2009  
Blogger these boots said...

And just read that BBC article you linked to. It says, about Badman:

"[the govt] had asked him to see if local authorities were effectively monitoring and supporting home educating families."

But the govt *hadn't* asked him to do that, had it? Hadn't the govt had asked him to look into links between home ed and abuse, as far as *we* knew?

Are they not even trying to keep their hidden agenda stitch-up hidden, any more?

9:27 am, June 14, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might be an idea to commission someone who knows about research to analyse the Badman fant... report. You know, our own expert...

I've been up two nights in a row, way past my bedtime and I'm an old Boudicca for that. I am suing Badman for negligence causing me harm.


10:19 am, June 14, 2009  
Blogger Schuyler said...

There is no quantitative research, certainly, and the qualitative is really questionable. The Stafford's wrote a beautiful letter to their MP discussing how completely opinion based the review was and how without any ear to other's experience the whole charade was performed.

I was reading up on libel this morning, I believe that some of the assertions of fact are libelous statements. It would be really good to have a lawyer review the review to see how defendable the review is from a legal standpoint.

11:38 am, June 14, 2009  
Blogger cosmic seed said...

Schyuler I think you're quite right about the libel aspect - it also feels like incitement to hatred to be perfectly honest.

12:40 pm, June 14, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...

as an aside - nice article in yesterdays telegraph about reading and teeth (well, teeth as a sign of the physical development that often co incides with the sight development needed to read and understand). Nice line in it about how "our development is a hierarchy and I believe that tooth development and reading readiness come at similar levels in that hierarchy" basically saying that we are far too bound up with *age* and don't look to the childs readiness to do stuff!

Doesn't as yet seem to be online - but the optometrist has his own website at
(feels really weird being a 'telegraph reader')

2:49 pm, June 14, 2009  
Blogger mamacrow said...

from my point of view - degree in library and information, several jobs including research and 3 years for the NHS writing clinical audits - the review questions, both the ones for parents and the ones for LEAs were incredbily badly written for many reasons - would be happy to do a detailed report some time if it would be useful. The review board/panel also, was not well chosen for various reasons and again, I would be happy to do a report breaking this down if someone thinks they can put it to good use.

However, the comments Badman made about current research about Home ed children achieving better than schooled children not being very valid or helpful were fair - not maybe what we wanted to hear, but not inaccurate.

I think a lawyer's look over re libel is an excellent idea - there must be a lawyer or several in the home ed community somewhere!

4:28 pm, June 14, 2009  
Anonymous suzyg said...

Keith Holland is absolutely right, that until children's visual and auditory skills are properly developed they aren't ready to read, or be numerate, or whatever. There's a fairly accessible paper by Clancy and Finlay about language learning and what happens in the brain

Unfortunately, not many educational researchers appear to be keeping tabs on neurology these days, so what filters down to teachers is much simplified ideas like the Brain Gym or learning styles, which of course don't work for all children because they develop at different rates.

A curriculum-based education system didn't work in the 19th century and it's not working now, but to admit this would be a massive admission of failure. These people have invested their careers in this nonsense - they have much face to lose.

5:18 pm, June 14, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Maire
I agree about the research not being very strong but it does exist.There is no evidence to refute it and plenty of anecdotal evidence to back it up.
GB can't just dismiss this on the basis of his own opinion.Not if the view is that the majority of parents do their best for their children and have their best interests at heart.If autonomous education wasn't working most parents would abandon it.
But the views of hundreds of home educating families plus this research should lend weight to the argument. Unless you believe that the majority of home educators are not to be trusted and are not providing an education but instead trying to pull the wool over the LA staffs eyes.
That should not be the premise for basing your findings on.

5:39 pm, June 14, 2009  
Blogger Heidi said...

@suzyg: "until children's visual and auditory skills are properly developed they aren't ready to read, or be numerate, or whatever."

Sadly I find myself as unable to agree with this as with Badman's quoted statement. Children are ready to read or to figure when they are ready, and no one should be trying either to egg them on or to hold them back to any external agenda. My OS taught himself to read starting soon after he was 2, and by 2 years 8 months his idea of heaven was being allowed to fill a blackboard over and over with "1+1=2", "2+1=3", etc.

Maybe his short-sightedness contributed (most children that age probably can't see letters clearly) but it had little to do with his auditory skills, which have always been behind if anything. He treated the three Rs as a fascinating code to be cracked rather than a means of communication.

I feel strongly that we should be resisting anyone's desire to apply generalisations and artificial timetables to our individual children.

5:49 pm, June 14, 2009  
Anonymous Renegade Parent said...

For GB to write such an ill-referenced, subjective, contradictory report such as this - and make just plain wrong statements like "For example by the age of eight,I think they should be autonomous learners, able to read" has really bowled me over tbh.

Who is this man to assume such ownership over the minds and learning of other individuals? He is in no way stupid, so I can only conclude that he is actually morally suspect, which prior to the review I never believed to be the case.

This is as much an outrage as some of his other recommendations, and certainly the one that worries me more deeply than any of the others to be honest. However,I do worry that whilst civil liberties campaigners will probably run with it, the mainstream popular/political view is still driven by seeing age-appropriateness, formal teaching and the "broad and balanced" concept as the only way to educate "properly".

That's maybe hard to work with - but what you have written here on this blog (and other people elsewhere) is certainly a big step in the right direction. Thank you. Lisa

12:04 am, June 15, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we have to attack them on civil liberties. That's the thing which is likely to run, to get people's attention and to make them want to join us. Personally, I'd be really pissed if I wasn't a home educator and strangers wanted to interview children alone (for no discernable reason except that they want to). What sort of crap is that for society to put up with?
As to the legal side, I think we definitely have enough for a class action: we have been libelled and defamed (although they've been clever enough to say home edders "could be" child abusers.

Is there a doubt in my mind that Badman has been promised dosh from home edders, and Heppell has too? Perhaps. Perhaps not. (You cannot be sued if you make something a question).

I think we definitely have a whole host of legal possibilities. It's just 'engaging' (meaning getting) the lawyers. Three words: funding, funding, funding. Or maybe sponsorship?

P.S. Totally agree about Badman. He's obviously taken over as supreme dictator of our country. He thinks... He believes...He knows nothing... Geezer doesn't even know how to write a report. It would be chucked out of any first year University course with a load of red lines through it and 'F' marked on its cover. We should get one of these high-power university analysts to take it to bits to add to our case. Maybe someone knows someone who would do it out of the goodness of his/her heart?

12:27 am, June 15, 2009  

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