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.


Blogger Big mamma frog said...

Yes, one of the things we've always stated in our correspondence/ meetings with the LA is that we do not - and could not- represent all the home educators in our area!

Although there are many issues that individually we might not agree on, we've had to find a single common ground that we can take forward with the LA - a very basic line that is as objective as possible i.e. we want you to act legally and respectfully towards home edders.

It's never easy sticking your head above the parapet :)

9:28 am, April 24, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting point. I do have a complaint in progress with my local authority at the moment. In it, I confess I did not explicitly state that I did not intend to represent all home educators - not because I mistakenly think that I do/should/ought to/want to, but because it never crossed my mind that they would even think I did. I certainly didn't claim to do so, but in my future correspondence with them I will be more careful.

In declining a local BBC interview yesterday, I did use the generalisation/phrase "home educators merely want to see the law respected" - with hindsight, I suppose that could be taken as me wishing to represent others, if someone wanted to pick the wording apart.

All that said: my own complaint with my LA actually has little to do with us personally. I have no fear for my own family's home educating future when we choose to ignore their requests. In many ways, I was merely using my own family as an example, to get them to respond in writing with what their stance will be - but I suspect I will get a reply stating that they have decided no further monitoring *of my family* is necessary, expecting me to then back off.

However, my point that they must act within the law DOES apply to all home educating families, so I won't be backing off. I can't (and would not wish to) claim that some families might not welcome their requests or be happy to co-operate with them, but I can claim that their practices are ultra vires and must cease, regardless of whether anyone else might think such practices are OK. In my opinion, that is not wrongly claiming to represent other families, that is merely stating a fact. I understand your point that one's own views should carry sufficient weight, but when you're dealing with an authority that's wriggling, to then begin saying "this is only my view but..." and "I cannot speak for any other family but I feel that..." weakens the argument when it is a clear case of right and wrong.

Sorry for such a long comment; I think I'm trying to say that I agree with you entirely if I was attempting to negotiate new guidelines or something, but in a black and white "in law, the LA can/the LA cannot" case, individual family's opinions don't really come into it, and I don't mean that in a disrespectful way.

9:54 am, April 24, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oooh - quite excited to see a post from you ;0)

It's been an upward struggle for many years here (our LA is quite infamous).
It would be very difficult to represent all home-edders in the area because a) they're bloody difficult to get in touch with - we're told there's somewhere in the region of 170, but where they are? Hmmmm, well...
b) of the few that I do know, quite a few say they don't have a problem with 'monitoring' and to a certain extent, expect it, but that's rather besides the point, as monitoring is not a requirement under law and therefore any such declaration that it is mandatory should (IMO) be challenged.

I've been involved in meetings with the LA for years now, although sporadically, because it isn't necessarily very easy to arrange such meetings and also, for a while I just quietly plodded on with little interference - because in reality I would much rather be left alone! These days I think I would meet with very little problems, but that's besides the point, the information sent out/on the website is (IMHO) not good and doesn't comply with guidelines/law and therefore it needs to be challenged.

One thing we are organising, however, are regular 'open meetings' that all local home-edders are invited to, a sort of 'open forum' (as the LA can send out the invites to everyone) and hopefully in this way we can meet more home-edders and also, more people can get their views across.

10:20 am, April 24, 2012  
Blogger Gill said...

Big mamma frog, agreed!

Secondaryathome, I'm guessing your complaint was sent in your own name and is therefore an action taken on your own behalf and not claiming to be representative of anyone else.

Part of the problem that's led to this post is that (I hear) some home educators are going into local meetings specifically claiming to represent all of the others.

Nikki, aww, thanks :) Quite excited to see a comment from you! And in complete agreement with it too. I like your plan for open meetings, and hope it all goes well.

11:56 am, April 24, 2012  
Blogger Dave H said...

Yes, we make it quite clear to our LA at meetings that we are all there as individuals. I think that in some way it irritates them, because they want to be able to speak to some representatives so they can tick all their proper consultation boxes before going ahead with whatever it is that they want to do. By not being such representatives, it's a lot harder for them to do that.

12:56 pm, April 24, 2012  
Blogger Gill said...

Exactly! I wish I'd included that in the post Dave, it's a really good point.

12:58 pm, April 24, 2012  
Blogger elizm said...

Useful to voice this Gill, I do agree that LAs would prefer some kind of representation. Having real consultation with individuals rather than representatives they can negotiate with forces them to really think and take full responsibility for what they put in place. IT needs to be right it's not enough to say that some HEers agree with it. dissenting voices are really important to avoid lazy thinking.

thank you

6:22 am, May 01, 2012  

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