Friday, January 16, 2015

Educational freedom under threat again

I was talking to Al, my younger son, about this blog post today. 24 year old Al was unschooled as a child, during which time he chose to teach himself the Russian language, which he now earns his living translating into English. Al tried school for a while but hated having to put his personal studies to one side in order to engage with the school programme and there were times throughout his home education when we were inspected by the local authority because of Family Court proceedings brought by his dad. As a result of these experiences Al knows for sure that he learned best - most effectively and efficiently - when he was left in peace to follow his own academic interests and with no external goals, targets or judgments being imposed. Whenever we were inspected, his self motivation to learn shrank to almost nothing, for weeks and sometimes months afterwards. When he was in school he learned very little, and nothing he actually wanted to learn or therefore wanted to retain.

Al is now undeniably a useful member of society, contributing in his own small way to the GDP as well as to the cultural and business links between Russia and the West - an educational outcome of which even Barry Sheerman would approve. (The missing tweet in that linked conversation was one of Mr Sheerman's and it said: "Why should this be a sensitive area we should know where every child is & the quality of their education!" But if he had his way, my son's educational outcomes would not have been so favourable. Whenever the quality of his education was checked, it declined markedly as a result of being monitored. So under the Sheerman regime, Al would probably have had some educational success, but not quite as much as he actually enjoyed.)

It took me a few minutes to bring Al up to speed on our current concerns about the latest news on the Association of EHE Professionals (of which, surely, the only true professionals are people who have had direct experience of it!) Further to my November post which asked: "A national body for elective home education professionals working within local authorities. What could possibly go wrong?", they are as follows:

List of speakers for the launch of the National Body for Home Education Professionals, 26 February 2015:

Graham Stuart

Lord Lucas

Nick Gibb (to be confirmed)

Barry Sheerman (to be confirmed)

Daniel Monk, Reader in Law, Birkbeck College, University College of London

Stephen Bishop, Department for Education, Lead in EHE policy

Members of the AEHEP committee, including Jenny Dodd (Chair), Dave Harvey (Vice Chair)

When he saw this list of names and I reminded him of Mr Sheerman's position with regard to monitoring and some of the difficulties home educators in Staffordshire have had with Jenny Dodd, as well as Daniel Monk's bizarre juxtapositioning of parental rights set against children's rights in education law (see also this paper) which seemed to underpin the much maligned Badman Review of 2009 - when we cause our children to receive efficient full-time education because of our parental instincts which are enforced by a very specific legal duty, not a parental right! - he understood the alarm home educators in England are feeling now and the need for this post.

His first point was to ask, then: Is this National Body for Home Education Professionals going to be impartial about the supposed need for the state to regularly monitor home educating families? As mentioned earlier in various places, there are no grounds for the NSPCC view that children who don't go to school are somehow at a greater risk of abuse than the ones who do AND there is sufficient legislation in place to protect home educated children if local authorities choose to follow it properly, so the call for routine state monitoring becomes more a matter of political opinion than anything else.

Graham Stuart and Lord Lucas have both spoken out against increased regulation (interestingly the latter then perhaps gave us a hint of things to come) but they are only speakers at the launch of this professional body, not members although we are at a loss to understand why Graham Stuart, if he is in favour of freedom in education, has pushed this professional body into existence. Barry Sheerman we know to be pro-regulation, ditto Daniel Monk. Of the AEHEP committee we think its chair will push for increased regulation and calling themselves 'home education professionals' and thereby needing to carve out that role, we assume the body of its membership will be of the same mind. So no, not impartial in the least. We fully expect this organisation to lobby for our children's educational freedom to be restricted, thereby jeopardising parents' ability to carry out their Section 7 legal duty in the same way as schools do because many of us contend that the most efficient form of education is 100% autonomous. There are already calls from some local authorities to change government guidance in ways that will deliver this outcome.

Obviously, we have to work to defend against this threat so I asked Al if he had any ideas as to what we could do about it. Point out its impartiality, he said. Public money should not be used to instigate and support projects like this. Explain, all over again, the negative effects on educational outcomes. And I guess we can only keep ourselves and our MPs informed and be ready to take action when the time is right. Any other good ideas for this would be appreciated.