Sunday, November 29, 2009

Please don't be surveyed by OFSTEd

It is clear from recent exchanges with OFSTEd as well as their track record, that their recent attempt to try out a dry run of the kind of inspection regime of home educators, that they would like to take on as new work for themselves, would be to the detriment of home educators, and that there is nothing to be gained from assisting OFSTEd in their ambitions over us by supplying them with vital intelligence useful in creating this new role for themselves. As with the government, their interest is clearly predatory upon us, and the exercise assumes a change in the law mandating such inspections, which home educators are currently vigorously fighting to prevent.

Collaborating with this unwanted and illegitimate exercise in any way cannot be in home educator's best interests. It is therefore respectfully suggested to the local home education groups in the 15 designated LEAs, that they decline to meet with OFSTEd, or complete their questionnare, stating their reasons if they wish.

****Please feel free to cross post this message freely to all lists, blogs and social media - especially to local lists within the 15 designated counties.****

Neil Taylor Moore,
Barbara Stark
Julie Gilbert
Lizelle Denton
Kevin Denton
Louisa Herbs
Gill Kilner
Sarita Goacher
Background Information:
Ofsted memorandum in response to the Badman consultation :

Letter to Christine Gilbert, Head of Ofsted, sent by the Badman Review Action Group

Lord Lucas speaks, and the one political dividing line between home educators

I barely seem to have time to blog, these days: the children currently seem to be sleeping in the same hours as I do, which for a single parent leaves not much time for anything else. Either I'm getting older, or they are. Hmm. Actually, we all are, aren't we?

Well, I was very pleased to watch Lord Lucas's speech on Clause 26 (Schedule 1) on Thursday. You can watch it here if you like, at 5:08:30.

("Why are the chairs red in this one, and green in the one we were watching last week?" asked Lyddie. This led to an autonomous, impromptu lesson [see, we do have them!] in British politics, the like of which your average seven year-old school child isn't likely to see and I'd have never been able to plan in advance.)

Here's a taste of his speech:

This part of the Bill is ill thought-out and unjustified, and I hope very much that we will delete it. In its current form it is a skeleton exposing home educators and their children to the unknown because so much will depend on how the regulations are written. Nothing in it secures their rights as home educators to look after their children in the way they see best. There is an unfortunate conflation of education and welfare which makes the business of improving or looking after the education of these children much harder.

I found "I hope very much that we will delete it" most reassuring, after his very real suggestions of compromise from last month, although "In its current form.." worried me a bit. Like, there's another form we'd rather have? No, just the status quo please, which works quite well from our perspective and perhaps just needs a bit more guidance and training for the LAs to fully understand their part in it. Let's have reviews and inquiries to work out how to change the ECM framework [opens pdf] to fit with what we do, not to work out how to change the people to fit the new laws, please, if holding reviews and inquiries is what people want to do. Seems bizarre to me, but I suppose they must do something for a living.

There is no recognition in the Bill of the curricula and forms of education which are commonly used in home education, particularly in autonomous education. Instead, the impact assessment refers to the exemplar curricula which will be produced by the QCDA. In other words, everyone is to be corralled into state education and not allowed to go their own way. There is no reference to the training of local authority staff, which is recognised to be one of the major deficiencies in the current arrangements. There is no proper arrangement for independent appeal when a local authority decides that a person may not home educate.

He's right, and there are also some more outstanding issues regarding the impact assessment, about which more from me in a future post, I hope.

But, as a fully paid-up [ - not, 'cos it's free] member of the People's Front of Judea, I am, of course, a bit concerned about Lord Lucas's recent and ongoing fraternisation with the Judean People's Front.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, the allegory was Twittered by Graham Stuart MP, can be seen here:

- and still makes me laugh!

But there is a serious, real reason and a simple explanation (for the bewildered, with whom I have much sympathy) for the various splits and factions in the home ed community. You can basically draw a line down the middle of us: those on one side want to compromise with the powers-that-be, and those on the other side do not. Both of those links are worth following and reading for some real understanding into the situation. The second is AHEd's recently published open letter to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education.

Trying to compromise when you're being robbed of your freedoms is not wise. If someone's threatening to kill you, you don't ask if they wouldn't rather just maim you a lot instead? You fight or you run, or you die honourably. You don't invite them to chop off all of your appendages and then praise them for letting you off so lightly. And if you're shoving yourself into the powerful position of negotiating other people's freedom away, you have to tread very, very carefully, and be open and transparent about what you're doing. And, yes, open to criticism. This does not seem to be what's happening. There are secret groups forming and secret discussions taking place, excluding all but the compliant. It's extremely worrying to the rest of us, because it's our children and their freedoms they're talking about so glibly, arrogantly, powerfully and confidentially. These people do not speak for me - not least because I don't know what they're saying! But if I did, I suspect they still wouldn't.

So yes, the Monty Python references are all very funny and trite and I did appreciate the light relief... but, dear politicians who want to help us, please try to understand the origins of the problem before you get lured into accidentally conspiring to make them any worse!

One of the most distressing angles of all this for me is witnessing the best of the 'new talent' that's come to home ed politics with fresh enthusiasm and surging ideas, being nimbly co-opted by the compromisers, who are obviously more politically on-the-ball than the rest of us ( - which is worrying in itself). Some of them seem to have been advised not to work with some of us, or even to talk to us. Of course, this deepens the divide and I'm not sure if these new people are fully aware of what's going on. Suffice to say, I can understand the temptation of pragmatism, but I think it's a fool's game.

Enough, from me for today. Future posts in the pipeline include more about that impact assessment as well as something about the Ofsted agenda, but for now I'm going to leave the last word to Loubeeloo, Baz Kirby and the invincible Firebird, who says what she thinks about the government reply given to Lord Lucas in that debate - and doesn't pull any punches.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I have signed this petition

- and will be promoting it, for what good it'll do, given that this government no longer seems to be taking input.

Jills petition

The petition is here and the wording is as follows:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to uphold that parents have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of their child, to not undermine parents legitimately fulfilling their fundamental duties, and to assume that the best interests of their child is the basic concern of parents unless there is specific evidence to the contrary. In particular, the government should ensure :-
  • No right of access to the family home without evidence of a crime
  • No right to interview a child alone without evidence of risk of serious harm
  • No CRB checks or registration for parents to look after their own children, or to informally look after those of their friends, family etc
  • No licensing / registration / assessment / monitoring of methods by which parents fulfil their duties without evidence that they are failing to do so, and with specific recognition that education “otherwise” than at school is a perfectly legal option to fulfil their duty regarding education
  • No undermining of parents as being in the best position to determine how to meet their child’s needs, according to their age, ability, aptitude, and any special needs they may have
  • Greater focus on applying existing resources and procedures to cases of children known to be at risk, rather than dilution of these resources by routinely monitoring whole sections of the community
  • Compliance with the fundamental presumption of innocence unless there is specific evidence to the contrary.

I like it because it covers everything without adding any compromising, lets-meet-them-halfway sort of bits that I can't put my name to. And its author has put her name to it! I'm proud to say that Jill Harris is a Calderdale home educator, with whom I'm yet to disagree on anything.

Other things that are going on include this new wiki, about which I'm a bit less sure, though on which I need to spend some more time before I take a position I think. I'm not in favour of groups of people meeting up to work out what's to be done about us, as if we were a problem - because we're not! So if the new wiki is working along those lines, then I won't be supporting it. So far it looks like it contains the bare bones of info, in much the same way as Dani's great, one-page leaflet does (copies of which I'm printing out to take to our home ed meeting tomorrow).

Meanwhile Graham Stuart, who spoke so well for us in Parliament last week, via a lady called Leaf Lovejoy, has asked for
Twitter messages from us which set out, in 140 characters or less, our objections to the bill. I've been thinking for over a day now of how to condense all my thoughts on this down to 140 characters and am no closer to doing so! I was also introduced to a new word (for me) yesterday: e-prolixity. Hmm. The cap fits: I think I'll wear it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Assessment has an *ass* in it

First, I want to link to Dani's leaflet: “Parents bring up children, not Government” If you think this is New Labour policy, think again.

Parents bring up children, not Government

It explains the current situation for home educators, and contains some ideas regarding what we can do about it. I'll be linking to it from my sidebar: email me if you want the code for that and/or any of my other buttons there.

But today we're all talking about the impact assessment of the CSF Bill: this weekend's cat amongst the pigeons. The section on home education starts at page 83.

From this document we learn that the policy is expected to be implemented in April 2011. That gives us - and them - 17 months, if the bill goes through and everything goes according to their plan.

One question asked is: "Does enforcement comply with Hampton principles?" but I've never heard of those. Does anyone know what they are?

Costs relate to Local Authority professional and administrative officer time and also opportunity cost for parents/carers, giving a financial value to time spent with the local authority..

I wonder what is an 'opportunity cost'?

LAs estimate that 8% of 'home educated' children are receiving no education at all and 20% are not receiving a suitable education (including the 8%). Improving the educational attainment levels of these children would bring benefits in terms of increased job opportunities and salary levels.

LAs can't possibly have any idea about these figures, and - job opportunities for whom? And there is of course something deeply wrong with a system that openly measures our children's education in terms of financial output, unless we're to accept the ancient principle that only the elite can be allowed to learn for pleasure and everyone else must be trained for manual labour, which wouldn't be very Fabian of us, would it?

Page 86 contains something called the Evidence Base (for summary sheets), which is quite a hilarious title for what follows it.

There is evidence from serious case reviews and LA evidence that home educated children who are not regularly seen in the community are those where there are most likely to be child protection concerns.

That's straight from the Graham Badman school of logic, isn't it? Asinine.

While ContactPoint will lead to the right infrastructure for a registration database being in place and will prompt some follow up by local authorities, identifying electively home educated children is not its primary function.

No, but as a reason not to use it, this is weak.

We estimate that 100% of children will receive 1 in-year visit, with 50% receiving further monitoring.

There: you've got a 50% chance of being left relatively alone, if this goes through as it stands. I wonder if targets will be set.

We have not yet defined the content or rigour of a “statement of education”, but it is likely to be a short, word-processed document.

I'm lost now. Which 'statement of education' is this please, if anyone knows?

Registration will last 12 months, and will therefore be renewed every year. The intention is for this to be a light touch refresh of details, but may extend to a refreshed educational statement, which will be a short document.

Grasping at straws, but this is something we'd be able to hold them to, I guess.

Here's something about 'opportunity costs':

Opportunity costs to parents

The opportunity costs to parents of meeting with local authority officers have been factored into the costing. However, we have not included a cost for the preparation of an education plan on the basis that:

  • Even though parents and carers may not give it that name, it is a core part of planning ahead to deliver home education for their children. Any change will not represent additional time invested, but instead mean that parents and carers are using some of the time they devote to home education differently.

I've read this several times and I still don't understand what it's trying to say. Is it a recognition of the fact that all this malarky is going to take up our time, as parents? "using some of the time they devote to home education differently"? Is that a 'nice' way of saying that our children must sit in a corner and rot, while we compile plans and reports for the local authority? If so, I think we've just found the 'ass' in 'assessment'.

  • Curricula are available for immediate download from QCA and DCSF websites, and are adequate for the purposes of education planning.

*Baffled again.* Yes, but what have they got to do with us? We're not running schools. We don't do that kind of educational planning. And even if we did choose to do so, what's that statement doing in this document? It makes no sense to me.

The section on School Attendance Orders is slightly baffling too.

School attendance orders

The Badman Review makes clear that School Attendance Orders (SAOs) should be the ultimate sanction for taking a child out of elective home education and back into school. We considered including the cost of SAOs in our calculations, but have decided against it for the following reasons:
  • We have no direct data on the number of SAOs used by local authorities each year.
  • We can, however, use a proxy measure — Ministry of Justice figures on the number of adults sentenced for child truanting offences. This shows 1953 in 2003, 2072 in 2004, 2209 in 2005, 2952 in 2006, and 3,788 in 2007.
  • The actual number of children of 5-16 in school in 2006-07 was 7,440,000. So, the prevalence of sentencing was approximately 0.05%.
If we apply this percentage to 40,000 children, this means that around 20 children would be affected and for the (highly unlikely) prospective cohort of 80,000, this is 40 children. Divided among 150 local authorities, this is well within the margin of error.

What's the relevance of the existing truancy figures? They're nothing to do with home education at all. The section seems to be saying that there will be hardly any SAOs issued, so funding doesn't need to be allocated for the process, but I fail to see why such draconian rules and sanctions should be introduced when there are evidently no plans whatsoever to use them. It's bizarre.


LAs tell us that home educators who avoid interaction with the local authority tend to be providing inferior education.

LAs could tell us the moon was made of green cheese, so should we put in a bulk order for cream crackers? How do they know that home educators who avoid interaction with the local authority tend to be providing inferior education, if they're avoiding interaction with the local authority? Back to 'LAs don't know what they don't know'. At least Badman admitted this, instead of trying to assert that they do, as here.

A survey of local authorities found that in the opinion of officers monitoring home education, 20% were receiving an inadequate education and within that figure, 8% are receiving no education at all. This means that if there are 20,000 home educators, 4,000 children are getting an inadequate education among them 1600 are receiving no education at all.

Right. In the opinion of officers monitoring home education. There are quite a few of those, nationally, who flatly refuse to recognise education which doesn't include timetables, desks and workbooks. These figures mean nothing.

And then we're lectured, sternly. (Did the infamous Penny Jones write this, I wonder? I can hear echoes of her "Well, want or not, I am a government official, and these five outcomes are government policy!" in this:)

The consequences of receiving a poor or inadequate education in later life are that the young people denied an adequate education are unlikely to achieve recognised qualifications and more likely to turn to crime or substance abuse.

No. The statistics are useless for this. A child out on the streets running drugs from his 13th birthday is more likely to turn to crime or substance abuse. People like my older children, in a loving and educational family environment who make a conscious and well thought-out decision to opt out of doing GCSEs, are not. These differences are profound - and completely ignored.

The document then, disgustingly, goes on to put a monetary value on our children's heads. If they get X number of GCSEs, they'll go on to earn X amount of money and if they don't, they won't. So these decisions must be taken. There can be no freedom. They must earn the money. What if they don't want to? What if they'd prefer to have less money and more freedom? That's apparently no longer a choice they're allowed to make.

One of the next sentences contains a syntax error:

Or proposals for funding this support have been set out in the Secretary of State’s full response to the Review of Home Education in England conducted by Graham Badman.

And back to the time issue:

We envisage that home educators will spend a significant time with the Local Authority early in the process of planning the delivery of home education. These meetings will address the child’s educational needs, and identify the best way to meet these which may include access to educational and support services available in the area.

And where will the children be? Will we be expected to just dump them in a Children's Centre or something, while we lounge around chatting to local authority officers? I think not. No, local authority officers will have to get used to meetings containing our breastfeeding babies and toddlers and other children - as bored and disruptive as they become in listening to all of this droning bureaucracy taking place above their heads. No wonder they're allowing 8 hours for the ordeal. It might take that long to get past the first paragraph. Cloud cuckoo land. Hugely impractical. These people obviously don't have young children and if they do, they're the farmed-out variety.

Monitoring will improve the ongoing standard of education in individual homes.

At present, although the local authority engages with some families when they deregister their children from a school, there is no structured approach that sets out how any or all local authorities maintain contact with these children to monitor their educational attainment.

Some home educators want more support and access to a fuller range of support services. Engagement from the local authority will enable the types of support the families need to be offered, including in the form of personalised services.

Educational outcomes will therefore be improved overall by more consistent identification and intervention in homes where standards are low or there is no education plan. In extreme cases, it may be in the child’s best interest to attend a school, and this will also have an impact on attainment.

However, we cannot at this time make any detailed evaluation of the quantitative or qualitative impact this has on electively home educated children. This leads us on to the next benefit.

As a justification for home visits, this is laughable. How does the amount of support parents might want relate even remotely to official sight of their homes? To find out what someone wants, you have to ask them. You can do this by snailmail, phone, email or face-to-face meeting. You don't have to invade the privacy of their homes to try to second-guess what the answer might be. Where is the logic, here? Where's the common sense?

Evaluation will be planned now to ensure that changes in outcomes and standards can be measured accurately. The quantitative data we currently hold about home educated children’s educational attainment is limited. We do know, however, that post compulsory education, home educated young people are 4 times more likely not to be in education, employment or training than other young people.

I'd definitely query this figure. Out of all of the home educated young people I know - and because I've got three of my own, that's quite a lot - none of them is NEET. Not one of them: a properly home educated child would have no need to be. So where has this "4 times more likely" come from? It's just rubbish.

The rest of the document relating to home education is about safeguarding, again trumpeting those statistics which are now well known to be faulty.

The whole thing is a sham, isn't it? Badly put together, poorly researched and just a shoddy piece of work. Has it really come to this? I can hardly believe we're in England.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I think this question is key

From yesterday's House of Commons debate following the first reading of the CSF Bill:

Barry Sheerman: As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman has supported Every Child Matters and the five outcomes for children. Does he really believe, as he implied in response to an earlier intervention, that the five outcomes should apply to 99 per cent. of schoolchildren but not to the home educated? [link]

- because we don't and can't comply with the detail of those outcomes, as they're currently set out. [opens pdf]

I watched the whole televised debate yesterday and I agree with Carlotta and others that Graham Stuart is indeed our home ed hero.

Here he is, delivering this excellent question, if anyone's short of a pin-up:

Graham Stuart

He's said in his Tweets that we remind him of these people:

- which I think is a valid point! Watching that clip gave me a much-needed giggle of recognition yesterday.

Graham Stuart said much more in a later exchange yesterday, which has proven to be a hit with home educators, including:

As for parents who reject the Secretary of State's school system entirely and sacrifice their time and career to bring up and educate their children themselves, they are stigmatised as more likely to be child abusers than normal people. It is an absolute affront to those in the home education community, and it is baseless. The scheme is all about getting home educators in a headlock and forcing their children back into the Balls fold.

I was also cheered up by his latest Tweet, saying:

With formal Conservative opposition its chances of becoming law are slight so no need to be overly depressed.

- which, added to his previous:

I have confirmed with Michael Gove that the Conservatives will oppose compulsory registration of home educated children in the Bill.

is an encouraging thought, although I think David Laws' response to him on the issue in yesterday's debate should be noted:

I am not sure that I fully agree with the extreme position that he takes on the Badman review..

Extreme position..? Thanks, mate!

So, what will these changes, if they go through in their entirety, really mean to us? I was chatting to the father of my school-aged child earlier today, who said: "Surely it won't be too much of a problem for you? You can make the work fun, she's an intelligent girl, you've got all the resources there and she's not that far from school standards already?"

And I explained to him: "That's true, but it's not the point. These regulations would change the nature of my whole relationship with her. Instead of being her facilitator as she developed her own interests and skills in her own time, I'd have to become her educator. Every morning when we got up, we'd have to do about two hours' worth of school work. I'd have to assess her progress every few weeks and make sure she wasn't going to give any 'cause for concern', and when she'd had enough and she wanted to leave the table and do something else, I'd have to threaten her with school attendance to make her persevere until we've finished. Like her older siblings did at school, she'd gradually start seeing learning as a chore and lose all interest in it - something to be avoided whenever she could.

"It's just not what I want for her. We'd be dancing to the government's tune instead of our own. I'd never be able to deschool her and so she'd be denied even that, which was the saving of the older three. It'd be just nose to the grindstone, all the way through and my relationship with her would be strained through having to coerce her like that. She wouldn't grow up feeling like I was on her side, as the other three have, so she probably wouldn't avoid all that teenage rebellion, like they did. It would such bad news, with such profound effects, that I'm lamenting the threatened loss of my kind of parenthood, which I know from the older three works so well."

He probably wished he'd never asked, but there's her younger sister too. I ask you, how can I tame this free spirit:

and force her to the National Curriculum or anything like it? I can't and I won't. You can call that an extreme position if you like: I prefer it to Ed Balls' bawdy, spluttered "essential for a strong economy". Our children weren't born just to serve the economy! I actually cried yesterday, properly, for the first time in years.

There has to be another way.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Well, here it is

Children, Schools and Families Bill
Schedule 1 — Home education: England

It's everything Badman threatened, before we've even had a response to the latest consultation, which only closed a month ago.

I like it when people put their names to what they write

Then I know who they are, and I know where they're coming from. I put my name to this blog, and to everything else I publish and distribute. Neil T has put his name to this post, with which I am inclined to agree: I said in the comments on my previous one that I thought the parliamentary petition might be a trojan horse.

There are all kinds of quangos and other questionable interests sniffing around the issue of home education these days, like greedy predators around stumbling prey. Some of these interests will be funding professional political lobbyists with whom we can't possibly hope to compete. I was chatting to a friend last night and thinking out loud along these lines: "If I was looking at ironing out the anomaly of home education that is perhaps starting to impede, now, the scheduled 'rolling out' of the ECM programme, I'd be trying to find their weak points because it's obvious by now that we will coordinate quite strong resistance against any obvious moves against us."

And everybody knows the Conservatives will be in power after the next general election. Are they going to carry on rolling this thing out? It's already been said that they're planning their own review/inquiry into EHE and I personally don't think that this petition, which includes the words: "in the absence of a thorough independent inquiry into the condition and future of elective home education in England" goes far enough to refute that plan - in fact, it could be said to be supporting it. One way of getting us to accept and support a further inquiry, after all, would be to present us with one that we've "asked for" ourselves! I don't know if this is what's really going on - but I do know that it might be, so I'm going to be extremely cautious about exactly what I'll sign and promote.

Personally, I don't want any more consultations, inquiries or reviews into elective home education. I like the current status quo [opens pdf], in which a local authority can make inquiries if it has specific reason to believe the education might not be suitable (although I wish I could persuade my own local authority to fit its working practice to the letter of the law - the Badman report [opens pdf] is already hindering us there.)

I would like to say - and have already said - to my MP, the DCSF, Graham Badman and anyone else who asks or will listen, that home education needs leaving alone. We do a good job, and if we don't then there is already an effective solution [opens pdf]. I will keep saying this in my normal, non-parliamentary, non-legalese language, in my own way. I might also, if I get the chance (although the five offspring here are taking up quite a lot of my time these days and are of course my priority - apologies if you're waiting for an email reply!) look further into the ECM framework [opens pdf], scary prospect though that is, because I still think that this plan is at the bottom of our troubles. Let the reviews and inquiries look into that! It needs changing to accommodate the anomaly - not the other way round.

When people's innocent and legitimate daily lives have to be changed to fit the laws, instead of laws being changed to fit the people, we know we're in trouble. But that's what seems to be happening.

PS: UK Govt, please note: our children are not vulnerable (except to you) and do not need safeguarding (except from you).

  • Safeguarding the vulnerable - strengthening the powers of local authorities and others with regards to registration, inspection and intervention will mean effective systems are in place to protect those that most need it. The Bill will introduce a new home educators’ registration system and take new powers for Secretaries of State to intervene in youth offending teams that are failing and potentially putting young people and their communities at risk.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On pragmatism

"Maintaining the status quo is out of the question," said Graham Badman to a home educator back in March.

He wasn't necessarily being truthful. He was staking a claim: marking out the territory that he had been instructed to conquer. His words were designed to have a certain effect in the minds of home educators: Get used to the idea of change, because it's coming - whether you like it or not, to make them feel powerless, as if complete resistance is futile.

The Borg

If it works, it's half the battle won, isn't it? People will believe that change is inevitable and that they'd better muster their forces to try to influence the direction of change then, instead of fighting against it. Pragmatism becomes the order of the day.

It seems to have worked.

But in actual fact this is an old government, breathing its last, desperate, dying breaths. Its protagonists know that its days are numbered: some have already defected to the so-called 'other side'.

I want to try and set out, here, a brief overview of some of this government's actions regarding children and family life in an attempt to work out the direction of travel:

First we had the National Curriculum (although this was begun by the Conservatives - take note!) then the Literacy and Numeracy hours, so unpopular with at least one of my children and their teachers. The 2004 Children Act introduced the dreaded five Every Child Matters outcomes: at first supposedly as a guide for local authorities [opens pdf], but increasingly (in true frog-boiling style) seen as requirements to be imposed on all children regardless of what their own aims and objectives might be. Lord Adonis then famously identified home educators as the 'anomaly' - because so much of the ECM agenda involved a checking and monitoring regime centred around the schools and other professional childcare environments. The legal position on truancy was strengthened and then duly ratcheted up to its current, tight position over time.

And so the flexibility in education was gradually eradicated and the traditional escape routes from the new regime were systematically closed.

But news of a secret grew. A remnant of freedom; a chink of bright light beyond the closing pincers: the legal right of parents to deregister their children from school - or to never register them in the first place - and to teach them at home, themselves. In this last bastion of family life, children could still learn in freedom, largely untouchable by the claws of the State.

Their numbers swelled, enough to form a spanner in the works. Children learning in freedom?! It wouldn't do: they were at risk of finding out all kinds of dangerous things. For years now, this has been seen as a problem to be dealt with: an anomaly to be ironed out; the last loop-hole, in the end, to be closed.

But government must be seen to be open. Democracy must give the appearance of being in process. Softly softly, catchee monkey. In 2003, the process began. With the single-minded doggedness of an EU referendum, the consultations came again and again. But still the right answer was not found and could not be spun.

Next came the carefully crafted weapons of war and the review with its predicable outcome [opens pdf], ignoring the loudening clamour of rebellion. Then the Select Committee inquiry, which seemed to yield some small signs of hope, on the part of the exhausted quarry. Could it be that the enemy was divided? That some friends in high places might at last be persuaded to try to hold back the inevitable surging tide from us?

This is the time when a choice must be made. Do we believe the boldly staked claim on our territory? That maintaining the status quo is out of the question? Is our plight so absolutely desperate as some would have us think? Is it sensible, at this stage, in our current embattled, beleaguered state, for us to panic and to throw our lot indiscriminately with anyone who sounds vaguely like they might be on our side?

Surely, time is of the essence and an element of carpe diem is in order? If some change is indeed upon us then we need, at least, to take our places at the great table - the better to catch any crumbs that might fall? And now we're being flanked by the big guns. The situation looks hopeless. It seems like we have nothing to lose by being pragmatic.

But not everyone has followed the herd down this alluring but closing path of panic. There are some who still say NO. People who wait, draw breath, and take a long view. People who refuse to believe that maintaining the status quo is out of the question, just because Graham Badman said so.

I think I'll stand with them.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The voice of the child was heard by DCSF - for 45 minutes precisely. (But the child was not allowed to publish its film of the incident.)

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading this transcript of the Home Educated Youth Council's August meeting with Penny Jones at the DCSF.

Some of my favourite highlights:

PENNY JONES: So at the moment, anything we do on home education depends on the responses to the consultation, so I can’t sit here to you today and say “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.” But it’s really really important to include this as part of the consultation.

CHLOE WATSON: Quite a few kids have found that they’ve been dismissed because they’re close to their parents, it’s been implied that they are only speaking for what their parents want them to say. So we’re speaking independently (I want that noted).

JASPER GOLD: There are quite a few clauses and recommendations in the Report which seem… almost naïve of the methods that home educators use. And I was wondering, will there be anyone, when the recommendations are actually being chosen and put into final… into law, who has hands-on experience with home education?

PENNY JONES: Shall I explain to you how… sort of… things, if you like, get into law?

(I think that was a 'no', don't you? )

JASPER GOLD: Yes, I know, maybe before then… but it just seems that many of the–it may ch–it will be chosen in the end by Members of Parliament who won’t have had that experience, but it seems that they are very naïve of the methods used in home education.

CHLOE WATSON: There’s a distinct, chronic misunderstanding of how home education works, all the way through the report.

PENNY JONES: Yes… are you kind of thinking about the sorts of areas that you’re concerned about, are you worried about registration, are you worried about the monitoring, or are you worried about other things…

"I said come back tomorrow! And pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" [opens YouTube - well worth reminding yourself, if you haven't seen it for a while.]

GARETT ROSS: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says: “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family home, correspondence, etc.”

JONATHAN PRIOR: So how do you think it can be justified that, um, automatic access–automatic right of access to the home is not in any way a intrusion into personal family life?

PENNY JONES: If we look at human rights, the… legal basis for the way the government operates human rights is through the Human Rights Act, here, and the European Convention of Human Rights. And we’ve looked at this issue quite carefully because we think that the balance between the rights of the child and the rights of the parent is a very very very difficult one.

JONATHAN PRIOR: So why do you think it’s unbalanced?

PENNY JONES: Because–I don’t–we’re not saying that it’s unbalanced, we’re just saying that in any decision that’s made, different things have got to be weighed up. Now when we had a quick look at the ECHR, the key thing in there is the right to education. Every child has a right to education. Now, what we had to consider there was… it doesn’t have to be education in any particular form, it doesn’t have to be in private schools, it doesn’t have to be in maintained school, it doesn’t have to be at home, somehow the child has to be educated. And onto that is grafted, if you like, as a secondary thing, to the extent that it’s possible a child’s to be educated in accordance with the religious and philosophical preferences of their parents. So, the question for us there is quite a difficult one, and… go on Chloe.

CHLOE WATSON: I wanted to say that parents don’t just have a right to educate, they have a duty to educate, and those things are not in conflict. Parents have a duty to educate their children as they see fit according to their age, aptitude and ability…


CHLOE WATSON: …and that obviously only the parent can be the judge of that, no-one else can, because the parents know their children best. Therefore, it’s not about between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child, since the rights of the parent are only a byproduct of that responsibility. So they are not in conflict and they don’t really need ‘balancing’, because they weren’t in any way unbalanced, they follow on from one another, and it’s a non-sequitur to suggest that they are opposed, or in any way not concurrent.

PENNY JONES: Sorry, can I just carry on a bit and then… (continuing) That, sadly there are cases where things go wrong, and these things unfortunately get into the newspapers and it’s always a very very difficult judgement for the state to make, as to where is the threshold met, when the state has to intervene for the well-being of the children.

- but if they didn't get into the newspapers, they wouldn't be a problem, right? Sheesh.

Now I know the vast majority of home educated children like you, are out there, communicating, you go to clubs, you have friends. But that’s not the same–that’s not necessarily the case for every home educated child.

JONATHAN PRIOR: So why are you using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

JASPER GOLD: This report is meant to benefit home educators, I hope, and I have not met a single home educator who has been in favour of the report, and I have met well upward of a thousand who have been strongly opposed to this report. And I just don’t see that you can put forward a report in the name of “helping home education”, where there are practically no home educators that support it.

- Brilliant. No answer forthcoming, of course.

PENNY JONES: But–I mean…It seems to me that there’s very much a role for the home educated community and [inaudible] about home educated community having a role in commissioning this service, so that the right sort of people are going out [inaudible] local authority. [pause as people arrive] [inaudible] community might be able to [inaudible] ex teachers, why could they not be suitable?

GARETT ROSS: Ah. because they don’t know a thing about it, ’cause they come from a school background.

- I just love it. I bet Penny feels like she drew the short straw when they were handing out jobs at the DCSF.

PENNY JONES: Yes, but you see you need to put forward your views, about the sort of training and background that is appropriate for these people, because, you know, Graham is very clear about the Children’s Trust commissioning these services, but, you know, it does, rely here on the commu–education community coming forward and making their contribution, and that’s why he’s suggesting to that at a local level they’re involved in the commissioning.

Take note. Their plans rely on our cooperation, admitted here by DCSF.

PENNY JONES: Yeah–I mean, that–that’s something we’re doing at the next stage, ’cause what we’re doing at the moment is just consulting on those, few specific bits. Once we’ve got the legislation, once we’ve dealt with the legislation there will be plenty of guidance, and that’s the point at which we’ll need input, from people such as you.

Her choice of words here it quite telling, I think. "Once we’ve got the legislation," - then she corrects herself. "Once we’ve dealt with the legislation,". Why did she need to correct herself? Because she gave the game away.. Transcripts are excellent for bringing out the detail of these things and the hidden clues.

PENNY JONES: I think–I think…I think we need to look at the wording of that, I think…what we’re looking at there, is that there are a number of, um [pause] children educated otherwise, who are not actually educated in the home, by and large. They might be educated in, sort of, you know, small tutorial groups, or alternative arrangements which don’t hit the threshold for registration as a school. And now this would be, you know, a question for local authorities about the best way to approach that sort of arrangement.

JONATHAN PRIOR: It’s not so much about that–

CHLOE WATSON: Why, why should it be that you need to know that, as local authorities? Why would that be necessary – if a child isn’t being educated by the state, then it is no longer the state’s responsibility, since it’s the parent’s duty to ensure their child recieves a proper education. If that fails, then the child can sue that parent; if the state intervenes, then the state has to take some of that liability.

PENNY JONES: Chloe, the concern of the state, is that, because we’ve got ECHR, the state does have a responsibility to make sure that the child–every child receives a suitable education, that’s inescapeable. And, in theory, it would be possible for a home educated child, at some point in the future, to turn round to the state and say ‘look you didn’t secure my interests, I was getting a terrible education, you were aware I was getting a terrible education, why didn’t you do something about it?’ so it’s rather a different situation than you envisage.

CHLOE WATSON: Can I argue with that point, because so many children are failed by the school system, that if they knew they could do that, and if that had happened, the state would go bust, to be frank.

- As with Penny's comment about newspapers, if they're not at risk of being sued, it's not a problem. I'm all for pragmatism, but this is heartless.

JASPER GOLD: All these things that you could never teach–

PENNY JONES: No, I mean, I’m with you, I don’t think there’s anything between us

CHLOE WATSON: No, I don’t think we’re arguing at this point, I think we’re explaining, because there is a lot of…weakness, in the system’s knowledge of these things.

GARETT ROSS: Speaking of that, can we object to the ‘Every Child Matters’ outcomes, please?

JONATHAN PRIOR: I’m not sure how they, in any way fit in with, um, not only human rights, but the suitability of education full stop.

PENNY JONES: [pause] Sorry, what, the every child matters outcomes?

JONATHAN PRIOR: Yeah, they’re mentioned in this report, they’re actually of pretty major significance in this report [crosstalk]

GARETT ROSS: Under ‘Enjoy and Achieve’, it’s all, all except for one, related to school. There’s five, under ‘enjoy and achieve’, “ready for school, attend and enjoy school, achieve stretching national educational standards at primary, achieve personal and social development and enjoy recreation, achieve stretching national educational standards at secondary.”

JONATHAN PRIOR: [crosstalk] well as you hear, it’s defining a… an age, almost, if you like, uh, where certain things should be achieved, and this is wrong, it’s wrong because–

CHLOE WATSON: Yeah, we [crosstalk] fundamentally oppose benchmarked attainment, ’cause there’s a–I can’t remember exactly what page it’s on, but it says “the individuality of home educators militates against benchmarked attainment”. And, actually we… over all, I think, disagree with the whole idea of benchmarked attainment, because people are not fitted into boxes, we are far too diverse and individual for that, and we’re not made to fit government statistics, no offence, we’re made to be ourselves, and I think that’s one of the things ‘every child matters’ doesn’t take into account.

A child should be happy, and be themselves, and be free from judgement no matter what they aspire to do, and those things aren’t mentioned. I think they are far more important than ‘enjoy and achieve’, because that doesn’t really say anything.

PENNY JONES: [pause] Can–can you just explain how that sort of, impinges on our consultation and what we’re doing, ’cause I [crosstalk]

CHLOE WATSON: ECM is a framework which is not entirely relevant [crosstalk]

PENNY JONES: [crosstalk] I mean, it doesn’t directly take account of home education, because a very small proportion of children [crosstalk]

JONATHAN PRIOR: I want to read you a section of annex C: “The review will look in particular at if and how far home educated children have access to the five Every Child Matters outcomes.”

PENNY JONES: Ahh, I see, okay.

GARETT ROSS: I don’t want them.

PENNY JONES: Well, want or not, I am a government official, and these five outcomes are government policy. [loud crosstalk from all sides]

And that says everything we need to hear. Consultation? Forget it. The voice of the child clearly said "I don’t want [the five Every Child Matters outcomes]," and the government said: "I don't care what you want. This is how it is, because I said so. Now sit down and shut up."

GARETT ROSS: Yes, and they can’t be applied to families, they aren’t for families to pay attention to, they’re for government organisations like the LAs, and the–

PENNY JONES: Exactly, because the tactic, if you think about it, all taxpayers, I’m a taxpayer (come back to you in a moment [to a raised hand]) [inaudible] we have a system which, an education system which most children attend, most taxpayers are contributing to, and [inaudible] and I think the vast majority of people in this country think you do need some kind of benchmarks as to whether your education system is performing adequately, you need some sort of targets.

There she goes again, giving the game away. "..the tactic.."

JONATHAN PRIOR: The problem is, is that we’re not an education system.

PENNY JONES: [What I was trying to say was] home education… it clearly has to relate in a different way to the Every Child Matters outcomes…


PENNY JONES: …because it’s no good talking about ‘Enjoy and Achieve’ in terms of school if a child’s home educated.

JASPER GOLD: Which is exactly why we’re against the report…

GARETT ROSS: This report implies forcing those on us.

PENNY JONES: I don’t–I don’t think they are things that can be forced upon anyone, they are at a fairly high level of generallity.

A high level of generality?! What on earth is that supposed to mean??

JONATHAN PRIOR: Let me read you a section from the terms of reference…


PENNY JONES: Chloe, Chloe, I meant to say that there are people coming into this room at twelve o’clock, so we really need to cut it short…

Translation: "Oh no, don't start nailing me down to the terms of reference! Is it lunch time yet?"

CHLOE WATSON: I’m sure they’ll be happy to wait a minute [not seeing anybody waiting to use the room]

Ha! Brilliant.

PENNY JONES: Well, not terribly long, because they’ll be arriving in a bit with stacks of paper…

"Where have the props people gone? That was their cue!"

PENNY JONES: Yes, I mean, the-the Every Child Matters… [pause] um, the Every Child Matters outcomes, are not sort of specific in terms of, you know, we… we want to make children [inaudible] the children, [inaudible] and da da da da da–that’s not in legislation, we feel that has to be another stage, so I think I–[pause]–I think there’s a sense in which the every child matters outcomes can be directly applied in that clause of the bill to home education. It’s more at the policy level, in terms of how we approach home education, the place home education has within the broader policy framework.

JONATHAN PRIOR: Unfortunately, this doesn’t really apply to us in any real way, shape or form…

CHLOE WATSON: And it’s really just bureaucratic nonsense.

*Round of applause from the Kilner household*

PENNY JONES: Well, you have your opinion there…

..."And I couldn't care less what it is.."

CHLOE WATSON: And there have definitely been cases where children are pressured into saying things, like in the Orkney Islands scandal.

JONATHAN PRIOR: Or just plain put in care.

PENNY JONES: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a, there’s a really–there’s a really really good point here, which keeps cropping up again and again, I mean [inaudible] you’re going to be very powerful in [inaudible] when you look at any form of guidance, whether it’s on monitoring or education statements, or whatever it is, you’ve got to make sure that there’s a–a really big emphasis placed on the child’s voice, particularly the older children of secondary school age, to make sure that their… that their feelings and wishes are taken into account.

But the feelings of younger children will continue to be ignored.

JONATHAN PRIOR: The problem is that, um, it’s not so much–it’s not really a balance between the rights of the child and the parent, it’s between the rights of the parent and the state, and the child and the state.


*More applause.* How delicious, to read her admitting this. I wish we could see the film.

ERIC BRUYLANT: Many children I know, if–if they were forced to go to school, if they were told by the state, that they have to go; they would flatly refuse.

CHLOE WATSON: Certainly I think everyone in this room.

ERIC BRUYLANT: All those children, if you put the blame on the parents, even if the parent is neutral, and would be okay with the child going to school, you can’t get too harsh with the parent, for something which is the child’s choice.

PENNY JONES: Yeah, I mean, that’s–that’s a whole different topic, because that’s about school attendance orders, and, you know, that’s a whole area of, you know, slightly–very large, opinionated teenagers, where, you know, the balance between the parents and the child is somewhat different, and [inaudible] well it isn’t for today, because it’s a bigger topic than home education.

CHLOE WATSON: I have one last thing: can we arrange another meeting, because I feel these topics are too extensive, and we haven’t covered everything. There’s quite a lot that we all have to say.

GARETT ROSS: We’ll have a three hour one. [laughter]

PENNY JONES: I’ll have to go, but we’ll e-mail, we’ll have to e-mail about it. [crosstalk]

Thank you for coming, we’ll have to work out how to…

[crosstalk and 'thanks/you're welcome' from around the room]

[crosstalk as room is vacated]

"We'll email! Mwah mwah," is what people say when they have no intention of getting in touch again. I wonder if she did.

Gotta love the voice of the child.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy?!

I thought Graham Badman could go no lower in home educators' estimation, but this takes the biscuit.

At our first interview Mr Badman was interested in what I had to say. His opening question was to ask me if home educating mothers suffered from Munchhausen's by Proxy. I thought this to be a curious starting point - that of questioning whether home education is a symptom of mental illness. I am not medically qualified, but I was able to inform Mr Badman that there is no research evidence available that I am aware of, which makes this link.

This actually makes sense of the way the whole review was carried out and written up. If he was starting from that kind of basis of supposition, there was no chance of him ever doing anything good for home educators.

Let's get one thing straight, though:

Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP), is a disorder in which a person deliberately causes injury or illness to another person (most often their child) usually to gain attention or some other benefit. [Source]

So sufferers of this so-called syndrome (probably imaginary in itself, since its inventor was struck off the doctors' register by the General Medical Council for manipulating statistics to desperately try and prove his point in his presentation of evidence as an expert witness at Sally Clarke's trial. Remind you of anyone at all?) actively seek professional help for their children all the time, as a way of getting attention for themselves.

Home educating parents tend to do the precise opposite. Many of us avoid seeking professional help like the plague, unless it's absolutely necessary, and just want to be left in peace to bring our children up outside of the school system and to therefore enjoy our family life. Many of us have campaigned long and hard to try and hold back the incoming high tide of routine professional involvement in family life.

It's laughable (or would be, if such expert postulating hadn't led to Sally Clarke's early death and the wrongful removal of many children from their loving parents) and I'm glad to see that people on Facebook are seeing the funny side. Actually, what's funny is that Badman could get it so wrong. As Paula Rothermel said, she's not medically qualified - so why would he start effecting mass diagnoses? I'm very grateful that she shared this information with the Select Committee, and hence with the rest of us. He probably thought we'd never know.

You can see the rest of the written evidence here. Of particular interest is Tech's submission, which makes some interesting - and actually well-substantiated - suggestions about Mr Badman's own motives, not least in relation to the formation of his limited company, Nektus.

Everything comes to light in the end.