Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"On behalf of all home educators..."

From up and down the country, we've recently been hearing news of Local Authorities acting as if they have a duty to monitor home educators. They do not. [opens pdf of Government 'Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities' in England] And nor do we want them to.

So groups of home educators in various Local Authority areas have (quite rightly, I think) been getting together to arrange policy meetings with Local Authority officers, to register complaints about behaviour and to ask for the law to be adhered to, instead of constantly stepped beyond. This is something I and others have done in my own Local Authority on various occasions in the past decade. We haven't had much success in bringing about policy changes, but we've made links and strengthened our own networks with the Local Authority's help. Meeting with them can be a useful - though frustrating - experience. Any home educator can do it: there's absolutely nothing to stop them.

However, the very first thing I always make a point of clearly stating in any meeting with my local authority, is the bleedin' obvious:

"I am not here claiming to represent anyone else other than myself. Some other home educators know we're coming, and roughly what we're going to ask for, but of course not all of them know this. I cannot - and I do not pretend to - speak on behalf of them."

Why do I bother to state this at the beginning of every meeting with my Local Authority? Several reasons:

  1. Diversity and dishonesty: Home Educators are not all of the same mind! We are not Stepford people: we're as diverse in our opinions as every other subgroup of the population. I know at least one local home educator who thinks - and has told the Local Authority in my hearing - that annual monitoring visits are a perfectly reasonable request for them to make. Another is of the opinion that, whilst home education should be free of monitoring, regular welfare checks should take place. Neither of these people claims - thank goodness - to be representing me in expressing these views to my (and their) local authority. I would be furious if they did! By the same token, nor do I claim to represent them. I'd be lying if I said I did.
  2. My own wellbeing and protection: Claiming (fallaciously) to represent all home educators in my local authority area would be to take far too much power and responsibility on my own shoulders. Other home educators would - quite justifiably - feel angry with me if I got something wrong [in their eyes - it might not be wrong in mine]. They might even - quite justifiably - take legal action against me. For this reason, it would be an extremely unwise and vulnerable position for me to put myself in.
  3. It's not even necessary: My views hold as much weight on their own as they would if I was claiming to speak on behalf of the [imaginary: even home educators don't know all the other home educators!] collective. I don't need to puff myself up and pretend to have power (psychic or otherwise!) that I plainly don't have. The Local Authority knows I can't possibly canvas the opinion of every single home educator in the area. Many of these aren't even online and even if they all were, I can't guarantee they've read and agreed with all of my stated positions. And yet, representing myself is sufficient for them to engage and negotiate with me.

Is a home educator in your Local Authority area falsely claiming to represent you in meetings and other interactions with your Local Authority? If so, here's what I'd do in your position:

  • Remind them and others on regular occasions of the dishonesty, vulnerability and lack of necessity of doing so (linking to this post if needs be).
  • Consider writing to the LA, anonymously or otherwise, stating that the person/group does not represent me or speak on my behalf.

Once these initial hurdles are cleared, taking part in discussions with your Local Authority, either on your own or with other local home educators is something I would recommend. It's often encouraged by others from the wider home education community, some of whom have been known to specifically target a few chosen local home educators to try to persuade them - knowingly or not - to act as a vehicle for their own interests and opinions. This seems a bit nefarious to me - if I was being targeted in such a way, with phone calls and so on, I imagine I'd be feeling quite uncomfortable and it saddens me to hear of such unnecessary manipulation of others taking place.

Let each person think - and act - for themselves.