Thursday, December 17, 2009

AHEd press release:

Radical rethink in Education policy needed following government inquiry

Following criticism published today by the Children, Schools and Families Committee exposing yet another government policy-based evidence-making activity, AHEd calls for a radical rethink on education policy. The cross party group of MPs were heavily critical of the Badman report into Home Education, which recommended new home education regulations, and urged Government to learn lessons from its "unfortunate" handling of the review. AHEd agree with the findings of the report that the evidence base for the proposals is "less than robust" and that current safeguarding mechanisms are appropriate.

"The Badman review launched a vicious attack on families that has left relationships with local authorities at an all time low, with some parents withdrawing contact where relations were previously tolerable or good. We certainly hope that the government will learn from this disastrous review and that attacks will not be repeated. The DCSF has done untold damage in local areas by their authoritarian recommendations" said Barbara Stark, Chair of AHEd. 

"Families have had to invest disproportionate time and energy into fighting off the proposals in order to protect their children; we do not know how long it will be before we can say that the damage has been repaired.

Our members are very concerned that the government, in continuing to push for registration, dictating what families should teach their children, insisting on the right of access to families and children in their own homes, is authorising illegitimate monitoring procedures that are designed to undermine parental responsibility for children and are a pre-amble to increased state interference in the upbringing of all children, not just those who are educated at home."

The Select Committee is unhappy with the government's "drafting of legislation prior to publication of the related consultation findings" and we agree. AHEd is calling for the part of the Children, Schools and Families bill dealing with Elective Home Education, to be scrapped in its entirety. It is an ill-considered, unnecessary and wastefully expensive last ditch attempt of a dying government to impose unjustified draconian measures, the consequences of which they would not have to deal with.

Barbara Stark

(Chair, AHEd)

For the committee and membership of AHEd

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

That select committee report..

.. is finally here [opens pdf].

It has already been reported (quite favourably) and blogged and blogged and blogged and Twittered (Tweeted... whatever..) and - wow, expertly satirised and will no doubt be blogged and Twittered (Tweeted) and Facebooked and emailed some more.

I've read a bit of it, in and amongst our festive dashing about this week (Isn't the timing of these things masterful?! A whole month after the Queen's Speech, as well! A person could be forgiven for suspecting that the government couldn't care less what the thinking of its Select Committees might be, even when their reports are so carefully phrased as to try to placate all parties and upset none!) and will no doubt be reading it in more detail as and when I get chance. I might even blog something more about it, if anything comes to mind that doesn't seem to have already been said.

But let's face it, even if it had been 100% anti-Badman and pro-us, it wouldn't have made much difference, would it? Says she, pessimistically. As someone else has just Twit/Tweet/Twooted, "Democracy is about being overruled by those voted into power. Not about having your say, facts, or being listened to." H/T: you know who you are, and you speak very good sense IMO :-)

Oh go on then, I've got to say one grumpy thing about one thing I did catch sight of:

29. All but one of the home educators and home education organisations who contacted us were highly critical of the Badman Report and were very resistant to the idea that local authorities should be given new powers in relation to the regulation and monitoring of home education. This viewpoint has dominated debate surrounding the Badman Report more generally. On this matter we would note our unease at the reluctance of some to speak publicly on the Badman Report due to fear of harassment from sections of the home educating population.

Whaaat?? What's all that about?! Shades of Badman, or what? "All but one of the home educators and home education organisations who contacted us were highly critical of the Badman Report and were very resistant to the idea that local authorities should be given new powers in relation to the regulation and monitoring of home education," - therefore the rest of them must be being bullied into silence?! When you consider the scope for making anonymous submissions, that doesn't really add up, does it?

I'm wrong, of course. Two hundred of us are vehemently opposed to the changes whilst the other 15-45,000 are all quietly busy tying on their own blindfolds and rushing to join the queue for the scaffolding. It couldn't possibly be that they're all getting on with the home education of their children, in blissful ignorance of whatever is to come, or feeling already too besieged and/or battle-weary to care or notice much difference. No, they're all calling for more inspections! More controls! Tighter shackles, please! We are a nation of masochists.

I'd better finish this post before I start straying into the realms of sarcasm.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 11, 2009

CSF bill: Equality Impact Assessment. "Just a paper exercise"?

This post couldn't have been written without the invaluable help of three other home educating mothers: Elaine Kirk, Carole Rutherford and Ruth Gray. I'd like to express my gratitude to all three.

Ever since the publication of the bill, Elaine has been sending me information about its probable effects on children with special educational needs. One of the many things she's pointed me at is a link to the Equality Impact Assessment [opens pdf] of the bill, which begins its 3-page section on EHE (chapter 19) at page 73.

I must say I wholeheartedly agree with Elaine, and with Carole Rutherford at AIM, who has also been involved with our discussions, that this Equality Impact Assessment bears no relation to the actual impact of clause 26 on many home educated children with special needs.

It breezily asserts that:

An adverse impact is unlikely, and on the contrary the policy has the clear potential to have a positive impact by reducing and removing barriers and inequalities that currently exist.

An adverse impact is unlikely?? Carole describes the likely impact on a typical child with autism (if there is such a thing!) as follows:

An autistic child follows a script in their head and has clear expectations of what to expect from people, places and activities. For the vast majority of autistic children their home is the one place where they feel comfortable and safe. It is not only the environment that they are used to, home tends to meet all of their complex sensory needs because parents make not only reasonable adjustments but also unreasonable adjustments to ensure that their children do feel comfortable and safe. Not only is the home of an autistic child the only place that they feel safe they also have clear expectations as to who lives in that home with them and who visits them.

Principle 7 of this DCSF workbook on equality impact assessments [opens Word.doc] says:

Policy development should involve widespread consultation and involvement

People affected by a policy or programme should be consulted and involved in the design of new policies, and the review of existing ones. Such consultation should be both direct and through representative organisations, and should be based on principles of transparency and accountability.

- and yet AIM was not consulted on the development of the CSF bill's EQUIA. AIM has made the DCSF aware that they are far from happy with the home education part of Equalities Impact Assessment and their reasons why. They are currently awaiting a response from the DCSF and have now also written to Graham Stewart as Chair of the APPG and Liz Blackman MP who is chair of the All Party Group for Autism outlining their concerns about the EQUIA.

The workbook contains a table of questions for which quantitative and qualitative evidence is required when current policies are being reviewed, which includes the following:

Is due account made of the specific needs and experiences of disabled people? Or is a 'one size fits all' approach adopted?

Ruth Gray, home educating mother of twins with Asperger's, describes their 'specific needs and experiences' in relation to home visits as follows:

Even a trained person would be pushed to assess an ASD child. All ASD children present differently. There is no one size fits all, so no yardstick for "where they should be at". Also ASD kids are masters at giving an answer they think the person wants to hear, to get them off their backs.

B would say he wants to go to school to avoid a confrontation and would appear very sincere. He is very literal. He would not understand if the person was leading him or putting words in his mouth. He uses the ‘wrong’ words to describe his emotions. For example, if B says he is bored he means he is unhappy or stressed. B would clam up or say “I don't mind,” to everything. B also doesn’t talk that well if under stress (he was non verbal until he was 4.5 and on a SALT waiting list until he was 9 so his speech is not great under pressure.)

If B was asked questions about his home education, he would refuse to answer (or say “I don't know,”) because he would only talk about whatever he was obsessing over at the time of interrogation (not what he’d learned months before) or if it is specifically interesting to him for a reason at the time - not if he is asked about it. The assessor would get the idea he knows nothing from that, so we’d get a School Attendance Order straight away.

B says he can't read because he can't read everything. He can read Harry Potter but to him that isn't good enough, so his answer to “Can you read?” would be “No.” B rarely shows me what he can do, so no way would he show a stranger, no matter how well trained they were. B would cry if pushed and D would shout. Do you see where this would lead? It is scary.

And to think, the rest of us have been worried about the effects on our non-SEN children of clause 26, if it becomes law! (Well, I have at least, as you can see from the comments at that link.) Parenting a child with very special needs is a completely different kettle of fish. At least the rest of us home educating parents have some time and space in which to think and write and campaign for ourselves while our children are happily occupied with things, however limited that may be. But when I read more about what Carole Rutherford has to say:

Autistic Children tend very much to live by what I call scripted performance. By that I mean that they pretty much compartmentalise not only people, but also places and activities, in fact their lives. Everything has to have a beginning, middle and end. Change the format and you have a massive problems on your hands. I once wrote an article for a paper called ‘Ground Hog Day Everyday’ and that pretty much sums up life with autism.

- I realise that some children must need constant input, reassurance and interaction from their parents and that these families really need to be spoken out for, because they don't have much chance to do so for themselves.

The official definition of the term 'impact assessment' is:

The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.

So let's look in detail at the biophysical, social and other relevant effects of the development proposals already set out and presented to parliament in clause 26 of the CSF bill for children with disabilities and special education needs. (Bear in mind this should have been done already - it's precisely what the EQUIA is supposed to be for.) To quote from Dani's excellent leaflet:

Unregistered home educated children would be ordered to attend school

Local authorities would not be allowed to consider whether the education of unregistered children is suitable for their needs. The only consideration would be whether the child was ‘registered’ or not.

So there will be children on the autistic spectrum who have been removed from the schools that didn't cater for their needs - after great trauma in many cases, I suspect - who are now being well looked after at home by their devoted parents and given the best possible focused educational provision, but if they're not registered, then according to section 26 of the CSF bill, like children without SENs, they will have to be returned to school. Such an unwelcome and sudden lifestyle change would be very difficult for any child to cope with, but for a child on the autistic spectrum for whom, remembering Carole's words, their home is the one place where they feel comfortable and safe, the impact will be disastrous. And yet there is no mention of this in the Equality Impact Assessment whatsoever!

Back to Dani's leaflet:

Parents would be required to supply an advance plan for their children’s education every year in order to remain on the ‘register’

Local authorities would be given the power to decide whether the education provided is suitable, and whether it measures up to the plan.

Here's what Ruth Gray has to say about this:

The 12 month plan is laughable. I can't give a 12 hour plan. I am not even going to try. The boys learn on the hoof and as an example: I took them to a museum in Edinburgh (Dynamic Earth) expecting them to learn about.. well, the earth. But no, B spent weeks after getting home learning how the photography and filming of the various areas of the museum was done. The astronomy, geology etc. of it was lost on him. So if I had put on the 12 month plan "going to Dynamic Earth to learn about geology" we would have failed. However, they were still learning.

Dani's leaflet again:

Local authorities would have to reassess home educated children and parents every year

If home educated children, or their parents, do not give consent for a child to be interviewed alone, the local authorities would not have the right to insist. But they would have the right to remove that child’s name from the ‘register’ as a punishment for this refusal to cooperate. Loving parents would be forced to override their children’s wishes in order to protect their freedom to be educated outside the school system.

But from what Ruth and Carole have said above, we know full well what the likely impact of this would be on autistic children. Certainly not "reducing and removing barriers and inequalities that currently exist". Why is it that I can have a few conversations with two mothers of autistic children over a period of a couple of weeks, and come up with a more realistic impact assessment than people whose job it's supposed to be to consult with such parents and hence to properly assess the impact of their policies?

Here's how bad the impact can be. Carole pulls no punches - quite rightly. We need to know this kind of thing:

M was diagnosed with cyclical vomiting syndrome when he was only 5 years old and that is one of the reasons that we took him out of school because school was quite literally making him sick, and I do mean sick. When M has one of those attacks he can vomit 60 times an hour and we have ended up in A&E because of this. Now Graham Badman knows this, because I told him why home visits for autistic kids were not a good idea and Barry Sheerman knows this, because I told the Select Committee the same thing. M is not unique. His vomiting syndrome might be extreme and other autistic kids might not suffer the same syndrome, although it is not as rare as you might think, but other kids will react in other ways. Some will self harm. That might only be picking at their flesh but if the stress loads increases then so will the picking. This issue is actually massive and I am so sorry to have gone on for so long but even so I have only scratched the surface.

Please don't apologise, Carole. We need to know, so we can know exactly what we're protesting about, beyond our own personal situations.

AIM and NAS (the National Autistic Society) tried to put these points across to both Graham Badman and the Select Committee, but to no avail. Carole says:

Graham Badman added the NAS to his expert group and, given their vast knowledge wrapped around autism, we wonder if he actually heard what was said to him. Which is pretty much what they are all doing: listening but not hearing. Ignorance is not bliss when your kids are going to be on the cutting edge of all of these changes.

Somebody, in the process of all of these discussions made the comment that "Impact assessments are just a paper exercise." This might provide some insight into the reason it seems to have been scribbled out as a last-minute sort of afterthought. A cursory process: "Ah, we'll just say this.."

The DCSF workbook on equality impact assessments [opens Word.doc] poses two basic questions, in its 'Introduction and overview', firstly:

  • Could this policy, or does this policy, have a negative impact on one or more of the dimensions of equality? If so, how can we change or modify it, or minimise its impact, or justify it?

It could and it does. It cannot be justified. And secondly:

  • Could this policy, or does this policy, have the potential to have a positive impact on equality, by reducing and removing inequalities and barriers that already exist? If so, how can we maximise this potential?

I can't see how it could possibly have such a potential, and nor can Carole Rutherford, Elaine Kirk or Ruth Gray. We'd all be interested in discovering whether anyone reading here thinks it could.

I contend that the Equality Impact Assessment, like the main document (further analysed this week here and here), as a paper exercise, is not worth the paper it's written on.

I'll finish with a final quote from Ruth, which I think sums up this clause for all home educating families:

It's a farce, because they do not know my children (and because of all above) and so have no idea if they are reaching their full potential. Only I know that. It is not their responsibility to know that. It is mine. Unless they want to take responsibility for education off us it is not their remit to decide. What possible use is an assessment or interview unless that is the intended outcome? Do they really want that?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"It is really time that we started demanding an end to compulsion in education altogether."

This post is by Neil Taylor. It first appeared as part of a conversation on the UKHE support list and is reproduced here with his permission because I think that, like so much else Neil writes, it deserves a wider audience.

The whole point is to place education entirely in the gift of government to licence, just as driving a car is. Demonstrable competence of the driver and roadworthiness of the car is no defence against not possessing a valid driving licence or valid MOT certificate. A restaurant cooking wholesome hygienic food is no defence against not having a licence to sell food, and so on. Licensing anything is handing a previous freedom over to government to grant or refuse.

Government is essentially bidding to take over from the courts the right to determine what a suitable education is. If they can get away with writing law that allows them to do this, then that will be the law.

It is inescapably totalitarian for government to monopolise what may be considered or not considered to be suitable education, because there never has and never can be consensus on the question, and this is probably our best argument against it, but then it was inescapably totalitarian for it to make education compulsory, and appropriate the budget for it by force back in 1870. It is really time that we started demanding an end to compulsion in education altogether, because the institution is simply getting totally out of hand and an instrument of enslavement and indoctrination. We need to withdraw consent IMO not only from this further turn of the rack, but to the whole imposition.

It is one thing to regulate the selling of food, or the driving of cars by licensing, because we know that without that, there will be unscrupulous kitchen owners that will poison us by being negligent of food hygiene, and that there will be incompetents driving dangerously unroadworthy vehicles. There is some natural justice, some compelling common good to licencing in these and similar circumstances which persuades us that it is in our best interests to keep dodgy drivers and vehicles off the road for own safety etc. But education is of an entirely different order, and is at the heart of personal meanings and purposes of life itself, and owning and directing ones own life, raising ones children in accordance with ones own personal beliefs and values. To take that away, which these proposed measures do, is simply to enslave, and rob individuals of the potential to live their own lives by those personal values and purposes. It is to enslave.

If we don't make the moral argument, and bid for self ownership of our own lives, I'm not sure what other grounds might be equally fatal for this totalitarian rule.

The least you can say about this bill is that it is treasonable, since it removes any meaningful content to the freedom that is our supposed free country, that we fought to preserve with two world wars. How much worse would it have been to simply let Hitler rule us instead, since these measures head straight towards the same restrictions on educational freedom he imposed ? It must surely be unconstitutional, and I think we should argue that it is.