Thursday, February 25, 2010

The thing is, Mr Badman...

I've got the 'flu ATM and I think it must have weakened my resolve, because I wasn't going to be provoked by any more of this kind of nonsense from people of his ilk, but Graham Badman has been talking to the BBC about home education, in the context of the death of Khyra Ishaq, and this is a snatch of what he said. (A snatch is enough: I'm not seeking out any more of it):

There are a tiny minority of people who use the home education system as a mask for sometimes horrific abuse of their children.

This 'tiny minority' being the total sum of one, we assume, according to his ill-briefed and almost (if it were a laughing matter, which it is not) comical, clumsily attempted obfuscation of the statistic to the Commons Select Committee recently. This one.

It's very convenient for Mr Badman and the DCSF to try to blame Khyra's death on her 'home education status', therefore her lack of daily supervision by school staff, but in fact if the law had been properly adhered to by the local authority in question, as home educators have been tirelessly been requesting it be for years now, her mother's attempts to deregister her from school wouldn't have been recognised. She informed the local authority in writing, instead of the school's headteacher. A minor detail perhaps, but I think it underlines the reasons for our pedanticism in such respects: a clear-thinking, well-researched deregistration from school would have followed the correct legal procedure and this didn't - which, instead of leading to Khyra's case being passed around and not properly addressed, should have rung at least some small alarm bells, somewhere.

But that's not the point I want to make, through my fluey bleariness. It's the bewildering Badmanesque confusion between education and welfare that jars in the mind so discordantly. The point is this:

If Kyhra's death could have been prevented by the relevant authorities having regular sight of her, giving rise to these calls for us to be regulated - why do the resulting proposals require us to jump through so many educational hoops for the state as well?

It doesn't make sense at all, and this gives the lie to the purported motivation behind our persecution. As any home educated child could tell, it just doesn't add up. I'm not asking for regular welfare checks (on the basis of one single case, incorrectly processed by the LA?) but the problem is that the goal posts move all the time. Khyra was abused, obviously, reprehensively, due to the mental illness or evil or whatever of her parents - a terrible tragedy which would, in a sane world, have been prevented by the actions of a healthy neighbourhood, never mind the education system which bizarrely seeks to replace it.

But aside from deliberate starvation, exposure to the elements, physical beatings and other obvious manifestations of it, what exactly does constitute *child abuse* nowadays? That's quite a question. 'Inappropriate' clothing? 'Inadequate' discipline? Distress at seeing one's parents upset by officials? All of these and many more made it into the consultation about the NICE guidelines for identifying child abuse, about which I blogged last year. I daren't read the resulting document: I don't think I can face it.

To some local authority home education inspectors, failure to force one's child to learn its nine times table by the age of seven will, no doubt, constitute 'abuse', even if said child is quite happy, healthy, well cared-for and learning at what he and his parents think is the optimal level for his age, aptitude and ability. In the crazy Kafkaesque world created by Graham Badman, it no longer matters what the family thinks. All education must be dictated by the state.

It's dressed up as a process of negotiation and registration, but in reality it will amount to nothing more than permission to home educate being requested by the parents and then either granted or denied by the local authority. Denial can be on the most spurious grounds. "Oh, but of course there's an appeals procedure..." Yes. Do you know how those work at the Benefits Agency? Someone who works there told me that the procedure is as follows: the harshest decision possible is routinely made, and if the claimant fails to appeal, it's assumed they didn't really need the money.

Nothing is what it seems. What we're presented with is not the truth. (This is The Truth in relation to Schedule 1 of the CSF bill and the DCSF's excuses for it.)

We need:

  • the present law to be properly and strictly adhered to;
  • local authorities to understand their existing powers and make proper use of them instead of bleating for more when they don't; and
  • for the state to otherwise back off from normal family life in all its manifestations instead of using the extremely rare death of children from parental abuse as an excuse for yet another power-grab.

I'd also like to see the real reasons for this kind of abuse properly examined. Because it doesn't happen due to the failure of officials to prevent it, it really doesn't. It happens because some people in positions of power over children are just sick. And if we really want to understand what's going wrong, we need to find out why. That's going to be an uncomfortable process for us all, and it's not one that will lead to a firming up of the present national/global power structures and the further weakening of families and organic local communities (are they not all quite demolished yet?) so I'm not holding my breath for it to happen, but I'd love to see and perhaps take part in a parallel dialogue in this sort of area.

I'm not reading Twitter or Facebook or other blogs or lists posts at the moment (except for the fascinating thread alluded to somewhere above, which you might have spotted) but I think many of them will have covered this and made the same points. My next job here will probably be to extend and update the sidebar: we're a bit short of links to the best, most informative blogs but I've been busy and am now ill. (Is it 'abusive' to be ill in the presence of one's child? Hey, there's one they haven't thought of... have they? Hmm, that's not a safe assumption to make, I suppose.)

Meanwhile, I've been keeping an eye on the worryingly fast progress of the bill through parliament, but feeling somewhat reassured by Graham Stuart's repeated assertions that the home education element will definitely not survive the wash-up. I was chatting to a primary school teacher about it yesterday, a lady who deregistered her child from school only a few weeks ago. She was outraged when she heard about the bill's contents and straight away said: "But that's just like school! And I deregistered him to avoid all that bureaucracy - so that I could just concentrate my time on giving him the education he actually needs!"

There, she summed up the position perfectly - without even needing to stop and think about it.