Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Truth

It's lucky for home educators that we have people like Dani Ahrens on our side, although I think she might say that luck doesn't come into it. She's compiled this document, which will be invaluable to us in clearly demonstrating the attempted, slanderous manipulation of statistics that's been taking place.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"We really won't stand for it. I cannot put it any better."

The unassailable logic of HEYC's Chloe Watson has brought me back to my blog editor, after last week's despicable show by Ed Balls in the Commons. She is the heroine of the UK home education movement at the moment. She cuts through parliamentary and third sector doublespeak like a knife through butter or, to be dramatic, a stake through a vampire's heart. She is a shining example of the benefits of home education. I've been wanting to blog about what I watched there on Tuesday's Parliament TV ever since, but we've had some birthday celebrations to attend to, as well as home ed meetings, other children's activities and, you know, things like sleep(!) so there hasn't been time until now.

Anyway, here is just one key part of that inspiring speech, from Tuesday's session of the Public Bill Committee (CSF Bill), still watchable in its entirety here.

If you counted them, you'll know there were fully four seconds of complete silence when she'd finished speaking, in a hearing that was otherwise full of noise. Tick.. tick.. tick.. tick. They were speechless. On our extreme left there is Graham Badman, visibly shielding his face from the shining truth of her words! Actually, his body language when she was speaking - as someone else commented to me - was fascinating to watch. In fact, throughout the whole session, he never once looks at Chloe, even when he's directly addressing her or she him. He completely denies her any eye contact, as if he can't bring himself to acknowledge her presence. This particular section started at around 2 hours and 30 minutes into the hearing, if you want to see it in a slightly wider context.

But we must be careful what we say about Mr Badman and, it seems, about Sir Paul Ennals and others "working in the field of children" (Where is this field of children? Is it being harvested?) - such delicate flowers they apparently are. Here's Sir Paul explaining why:

I don't know who's been sending those abusive emails, but I wish you wouldn't, although it seems that what's in the public domain causes at least as much distress to the poor souls.

I really like Nick Gibb's response to this though. (And ah, I see he's a Leeds man!):

In case you missed some of his words there, he said:

"Sir Paul, I think that this indicates how badly the whole measure has been handled from start to finish. You cannot blame members of the public who are unhappy with the things that emanate from the House of Commons. We have to blame the Government and, I am afraid to say, Graham Badman, for how the whole matter has been handled. People’s views about our legislation and proposals are very valid, and need to be taken very seriously when we legislate."

Music to my ears - and, it seems, to the ears of many people in that room as well. I don't think the Graham Badmans and the Paul Ennals of this world are at all used to being challenged by the general public on what they do, much less mere parents, whose position in the lives of their 'field of children' is usually relegated to something like that of chambermaid - until there's some blaming to be done.

But I don't think we've been particularly harsh, have we? I ran a quick search through this blog and I see that I devoted a post to Sir Ennals back in April last year, when he was first appointed to Mr Badman's panel of 'experts'. (Though come to think of it, Sir Ennals' specific expertise on the issue of elective home education never was made clear, was it?) Reading back over that post, I'm reminded of his position on the DCSF 'Stakeholders Board' and also about that particular phenomenon known as 'Stakeholder mapping'. So I think we can assume from that link that Sir Paul has been duly "identified [as a stakeholder] at the beginning and involved throughout the change project", that he will have been "communicated to and consulted with throughout the change process," in order to keep him "motivated," "delivering wide buy-in and commitment" and "helping to ensure [that] sign-off procedures are clear".

I hope you realise that we've been going through a specifically preplanned 'change project'. (Echoes of Common Purpose? Which, I see from that Wikipedia entry there, has been allowed rent-free use of office accomodation inside a government Department for Children, Schools and Families building in Sheffield since 1997. "The DCSF admits it has no formal record of the decision being made and no rental or tenancy agreement of any kind." "The DCSF paid for contracts worth a total of nearly £52,000 between 2004 and 2005 and a total of £11,600 between 2006 and 2007 to send officials on training courses." What a strange and curious coincidence. Hmmm! Although I see that Ed Balls was not a CP graduate as at June 2008.)

According to the insouciant Mr Badman, though, this whole process is comparable to.. say, the imposition of a new speed limit or something. Really, what are we all making such a fuss about?

(Notice the removal of spectacles and usage of eye contact at that point, for added impact.)

Paul Ennals backs this up with his quick: "I am not sure whether it is normal practice for the Committee to take such factors into account when deciding the best legislation for meeting the needs of the population that it is concerned about. I do not think that it should be either," in response to Fiona Nicholson's excellent:

"I cannot overstate the fear and apprehension that home educators are experiencing over the Bill. If it were to pass into legislation, it would be two years before we will see any of it. But there are people right now who are hardly sleeping and hardly able to eat. That has been the case for a whole year, because they are in dread of what will happen. Whether that would lead to mass civil disobedience, I have absolutely no idea.
I really believe that you will not find home-education support organisations that will deliver training on how to implement the Bill, so in respect of all those plans for softening the edges and making it palatable and home-education friendly, I cannot see where you will find such people. There are two home-education support charities: Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service. They are both registered charities. They are membership subscription organisations. They get their funding entirely from member subscriptions. Our members are not paying ours to help the Government to implement the Bill, so unless you set up your own home-education support organisation, I do not really see how you will find home educators to train local authorities to deliver the Bill, even with substantial amendments. It will be very difficult."

(Although I notice she left AHEd out of her list, perhaps deeming it more of a campaigning than a support org, which would perhaps be fair comment.)

But let's hear that again:

And once more, for the tape:

Thank you, Fiona.

And then, there was the issue of civil disobedience, although I'm not quite sure where this sprang from - the committee's private debates (at the request of Mr Vernon Coaker, seen on the right on the trio featured in my previous post) perhaps, or some other discussion.

But it's mentioned by..

Graham Badman: "My claim about other nations is simply to make the point that, where there is a registration process, there is not the sort of civil disobedience that you fear."

Fiona Nicholson: "But there are people right now who are hardly sleeping and hardly able to eat. That has been the case for a whole year, because they are in dread of what will happen. Whether that would lead to mass civil disobedience, I have absolutely no idea."

And touched on (though not by name) by Chloe Watson: "Ever since the proposal came out, it has caused great friction in my area between families and the local authority. I have had reports from home-education kids across the country about children and parents refusing to talk to the local authority. Indeed, in my area, three families within a mile radius refuse to have any contact with the local authority, because they believe that it will not follow good practice."

Interesting that Mr Badman thinks someone fears our civil disobedience, to the extent that he is anxious to reassure them that it won't happen.

He also, on being asked about support for his recommendations from amongst home educators, said:

But I wonder what made Chloe and Fiona smile so much in Graham Stuart's direction on his mention of "One who gave evidence to the Select Committee, who said he welcomed registration.." Perhaps there was some sign language in evidence off-camera on which one of them might be able to enlighten us!

Mr Badman was conflating the two very different and separate positions of those home educators who would like some more public resources, and the few (most of us only know of that one) who actually supports the plan wholesale. He also tried to suggest that "the voice of home educators may not yet have been heard," but as Chloe later pointed out very clearly:

"Nobody has been silenced." And I think we have an average response to consultations etc, of about 5,000 - which, if the rumours of there being 20,000 home educating families are true - is an outstanding response rate of around 25%! So let's have no more talk about a 'vociferous minority' please. The Department for Children, Schools and Families Public Consultation Response
Home Education – registration and monitoring proposals
, for example, explains in some 5,800 plus weasel words its excuses for ignoring the stark facts laid out in this consultation response chart [click to enlarge]:

I mean, they might all have been to better schools than me, but that looks to me like between 5 and 10 times the numbers in disagreement, as in agreement with DCSF's proposals, and I'm guessing that the 200 or so 'in agreement' will be mostly workers from that 'field of children' and not actual home educators. As Chloe went on to say, on this:

Yes, Sir Paul, Mr Badman, Mr Coaker, Mr Balls et al. Why not "listen to the people who know what they are talking about — the people who are doing the home educating, who live it, who live with the consequences of what they do?" I don't think Chloe - or any of us - received a proper answer to her perfectly justified question, but I can guess that the answer is simply that it wouldn't suit your political purposes to do so.

Before we finish here, I just want to mention autonomous learning and the extent to which Graham Badman still does not get it, as in:

"It would be of little point to have a totally monolinear education. I do not mind if a child is going to be a chess grand master—that would be terrific—but I would also expect them to know other things about the world. It is that broad spectrum that I am concerned about." (Without the option of a monolinear education, I contend that we would have had no Einstein, no Newton, no Van Gogh and so on. Autonomously home education children can and often do enjoy a broad and balanced range of study, but there are some whose aptitude is more inclined towards a certain specialism or other. This is a good and necessary thing for society!)

"I was maintaining that even within the loosest definition of “autonomous”, it should be possible for any parent to say, “Over the next 12 months, this is what I wish my child to achieve, and this is what I wish to see them do.”
I can cite, if you wish, an example of an 18-month-old grandchild who I guess psychologists would argue is at the key autonomous stage. I can tell you that in the next 12 months, although she is completely autonomous in her education because she chooses, her vocabulary will grow from about 10 words to about 1,000. She will go from monosyllabic babbling to sentences. I know that there are things that she will be able to do, because I have some form of prediction and a duty of care, albeit as a grandparent. I expect no less of her parents."

Yes, well I could probably do it for an 18-month old child. Such young children don't usually vary so much in their natural learning processes from one child to the next at certain stages - although they can. But older children need more flexibility. For me to set out something like "In the next twelve months I expect that my 7 year-old child will develop a fundamental understanding of human biology," would be abusive in my opinion, because her unique personality might lend itself better to spending that time getting to grips with the issues of perspective and scale in fine art instead and she might lack the time, energy or capacity to do both. I'm her mother, and even I don't know for sure what she's going to want to be learning about in six months time. Why do we have to be nailed down on this by someone whose whole working life has been spent with school children within the school system, where such amazingly beneficial flexibility is unheard of? I can see no benefit for us. As Fiona said: "The carrots are not there."

"When the child is much older, as a teenager, would it not be remiss of any parent, for example, not to ensure that they have access to information enabling them to judge environmental issues such as climate change? There should be something within the structure of an education allowing a parent to say, “These are the things that are important to us, which is why we are home educators, and these are the things that we therefore want for our child.”

Yes, it would be remiss of a parent to deny a teenager - or a child of any age - access to information. But hasn't Mr Badman ever heard the adage about leading horses to water? To structure a sentence like that in terms of autonomous learning, he'd have to not have a clue how it works. “These are the things that are important to us, which is why we are home educators, and these are the things that we therefore want for our child.” I want my children to each find their respective niches in life. That's their niche, not my niche. And not some niche I might like or want them to have. I was brought up by someone who didn't understand that and I can vouch for it not being the optimum upbringing for anyone other than a performing seal.

"Determining whether a child is benefiting from the sort of environment that you would get in certain homes might be quite appropriate in relation to the suitability of the education. Equally, to ascertain the child’s feelings about what education they are receiving is also important, and determining whether it accords with what the parents set out to do is crucial. There would be little point in parents submitting a registration saying, “By the age of 14, my child will have a full understanding of calculus”, if they had no intention of doing anything about it. Checking that what the parents say in their registration is the truth and that they are achieving milestones on their way to their major objectives seems appropriate and important."

Exactly. So don't try to force parents to dictate such plans for their children. What's wrong with facilitating curiosity? I assume Mr Badman still knows what that is.

And there was the usual camouflaged conflation between 'registration' and 'licensing' coming from Mr Badman, Sir Paul and Mr Coaker throughout, despite the best efforts of various committee members (Hats off to Tim Loughton) to untangle the threads:

Graham Badman: "The process of regulation simply enables local authorities to determine first of all, how many of these young people we are dealing with." How many of them makes up a tiny proportion of the information required.

Paul Ennals (in response to the question: "Would a pure requirement for notification actually act as the first filter that you require?"): "Well, it might provide some use, but it is a matter of what comes behind it. If what you are saying is compulsory notification as opposed to compulsory registration, there would still need to be something that would follow from that, unless part of the notification was completing something that set out your understanding as a parent of the needs of the child and something about your approach. Unless that was the case, I cannot see how compulsory notification would act as that first hurdle that would be required." So there has to be a judgment attached, in his opinion. Permission, in essence.

Vernon Coaker: "We were not trying to outlaw people or say that things were draconian or terrible; we were simply conducting a review to find out what was going on and analyse the numbers and some of the issues.
As a consequence of that and some of the things that have been said, none of us here would question the desire to ensure that we understand who is missing. There may be people outside the system whom we know nothing about and who may be suffering in some way that we do not understand or know. Alongside that are quality issues and, for a very small number, issues of safeguarding. If the Government step back from that, my question is whether it would not be an abrogation of Government’s responsibility to say, “Isn’t this something that we should try to understand and do something about?”
While accepting people’s right to educate their children—we respect that and do not want to undermine it—do not we as a state also have a right to ask whether we are doing all that we should to protect young people, understand who is missing and look at the quality of what is going on? We recognise the right of people such as you to be home educated and of the people whom Fiona represents to be home educators."

Conflate, conflate, conflate, conflate. You're not "trying to understand something about it" at all, so it seems. You know quite enough about it to know you don't want it to happen outside of the government's control. What is this, the politics of envy? Hmm. No, I'm more inclined to agree with Neil T actually, when he describes it as follows: "This degrading, downgrading and debasement of parenthood is itself an elite project in order to establish tight control over the lives of a subject people."

Graham Badman again: "The registration process is the first step in making an inroad into dialogue with the local authority, which has responsibilities that it cannot necessarily discharge because the current laws do not give it the power." It's the first, second and last steps (and the ones in the middle) in a process of the parents being forced to beg for their Local Authority's permission to teach their own children.

The Liberal Democrats' David Laws actually said something good for us at this point:

"You accept that in practice it is a lot more than that. We as a party have no objections with notifying, but on page 8 we see what the statement will involve. Admittedly, it is fairly brief but it is nevertheless a substantive statement setting out the educational needs of the individual child, talking about educational philosophy and outlining plans for the current year. I am not saying that those issues are not relevant to the local authority, but the provision is turning what at present is a right into something for which individuals will have to apply to the state; they will have to apply for permission to do something that does not require permission at present. Do you understand why there should have been strong feelings about it, and why people should feel that the state is intruding not only by requiring notification but by requiring registration?"

And the completely nonsensical reply?

"I think I understand their feelings. I simply don’t share them. I see them as someone who has looked in from the outside. The sort of information that the note issued today offers is not that complicated. I would almost turn your question on its head. Proper and responsible parents make that decision, often for very good reason. I acknowledge that there are many good reasons why people should decide on home education."

Proper and responsible parents make the decision to focus their energy, time and resources on their children's education, not on drawing up a series of plans and proof for their local council.

Finally, I want to include my favourite clip of the session, which just says it all, really. But first to express my gratitude to everyone who's working so hard to fight our corner for us. I appreciate every minute that everyone spends in so doing, and if Schedule 1 does somehow manage to get bulldozed through in the wash up, it won't be for the lack of decent people using all of their resources to try to prevent it.

And now for that final, most fitting clip of all:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Upsetting both sides of the argument.."

Well, I watched most of the second reading debate of the CSF bill, was duly disgusted by Balls, impressed by Gove, disappointed by Laws and amazed by the tireless, dogged perseverance of Stuart. Hats off to that man. You can watch the whole debate here, from about 2 hours in.

On the whole, the issue of home education was represented well I thought, reflecting the many hours of hard work spent by home educators in patiently educating their MPs and in generally raising awareness. (Here's a good example of part of that work.)

But it was a throwaway, largely unconnected remark made by Mr Balls in another part of the debate that particularly attracted my attention:

Did you get that? He said:

"I think, um.. upsetting both sides of the argument is often the best way to get to the right outcome."

And the men on either side of him (that's Iain Wright to our left there, and Vernon Coaker to the right) are highly amused. Mr Coaker guffaws loudly, while Mr Wright smirks over his folded arms, triumphant, openly and gleefully leering throughout the rest of Mr Balls' response.

(This exchange occurred at 2:29:26 in the video if you're interested in seeing it in context.)

This - his lazily boastful choice of words and their crowingly sycophantic reaction was a more telling moment than any other I've seen in the Commons for a long time. These men do not care about our children. At least, not with anything approaching benevolence. We can all bust a gut, work around the clock, tire ourselves out trying to convince them that we're good parents really, our children are happy and learning and not being isolated or abused and it will be a complete waste of time and energy, because they're not interested in that. They want to upset us. In fact, the more upset they make us, the happier they are.

It's a game to them: we're just another pawn on their chessboard. I don't even think they care whether they win or lose. It's all winning to them. A point here, a concession there. So what? They still think they are the crème de la crème and we are the dregs. I don't think they rate the happiness and genuine wellbeing of children as having any importance at all. Obedience, maybe. The ability to fight rough, be competitive, get to the top, take it on the chin - these things will all be prized by them, but contentment? Security? A healthy, flourishing, properly-facilitated curiosity? No, I don't think so. I think a child living in that kind of a protected environment will be seen as soft and overprotected at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. I mean, what if it spread? What would the world come to if the plebs got too big for their boots and resisted the schooling process en masse? What a nightmare, for the Balls and the Coakers and the Wrights of this world. (Not to mention the Goves and the Laws, a man who is anything but liberal and democratic according to his performance of yesterday.)

So I'm going to remember that moment, when it comes to choosing my battles in 2010. With five children (even though some have grown up, they're all still here and I still want to chat with them etc.) there are many demands on my time and energy and I'm not going to throw any of it away on Mr Balls.

They can get on with their light touches, soft touches and whatever else they want to get on with. They can count us, register us, check and measure us. We may comply, or we may not, depending on what we feel like and how we weigh the odds. But they can't take the essence of us: the family unity and the unassailable truth that we've got and they haven't. They wouldn't know it if it stared them in the face and even if they do recognise it, they don't have the power to damage it.

I hope the likes of:

Mark Field ("Does he not see that the Badman report effectively takes a one-size-fits-all approach, which is directly opposed to the fact that there is a whole variety of different reasons why home educators keep their children at home and educate them there?");

Kate Hoey ("If such registration happens, should it not be about the education of the child? Is that not where the real problem lies? People fear local authority bureaucrats, many of whom they would not want to look after their children, coming into their homes and telling them what to do about something they know nothing about," and "In reality, what starts out as light-touch, particularly when a local authority does not necessarily operate in the best possible way, can easily turn into something more than that-something that becomes another burden and is about controlling and changing what home educating parents do. I very much resent that, and I wish that it did not happen.");

Michael Gove ("I am deeply concerned about the additional bureaucratic burden that will now potentially be placed on thousands of our fellow citizens whose only crime is to want to devote themselves as fully as possible to their children's education.");

Graham Stuart ("I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that New Zealand introduced a similar licensing and monitoring system a number of years ago but last year gave it up on the grounds that it was a waste of time and money. Have the Government learned nothing from the foreign experience of this system?" and "I wonder whether my hon. Friend finds it bizarre, as I do, that this Bill, unlike any piece of legislation to deal with children going back to 1989, fails to make the interests of the child paramount in any consideration. Instead, the Bill considers any administrative failures on the part of parents as being an open and shut case for the revocation of home education, regardless of the interests of the child, and that is simply wrong." and much, much more);

Andrew Turner ("Though some may disagree, I argue that home educators understand the responsibility placed on them. They understand that the responsibility for a child's schooling falls on nobody but the parents. Unfortunately, in yet another example of a Government obsessed with conformity, the independence that home educators currently enjoy is to be placed under threat. The plans in clause 26 to ensure that home educators conform with the requirements of the national syllabus will stamp out the individuality that many home educated children cherish. Is not the whole point of home schooling the provision of an alternative channel for education?");

- and others who spoke so well for us really are conviction politicians and if so, that they really do manage to wield some parliamentary power in the coming months and years. Sadly, on being faced with a Mr Balls at the dispatch box, the temptation is to tar them all with the same brush, but I try to keep an open mind.

Meanwhile, I'm planning to continue focusing on maintaining my strong and happy family, and feeling privileged to have the time to spend happily so doing.