Monday, January 25, 2016

"But what's wrong with compulsory registration for home educators? What difference would it make?"

I've even heard this question coming from home educators in the past few days - albeit relatively new ones: people who weren't home educating in 2009, the year of the Badman Review.

The review used Daniel Monk's extremely dubious conclusions to recommend a conditional, annual, compulsory registration scheme for which we would have to regularly reapply and the success of each family's application would depend on the results of their ongoing monitoring and assessment by local authority officials, who would have the legal right to enter our houses and interview our children alone. If you don't believe me, read the recommendations.

These recommendations were incorporated into the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which would have become law if the 2010 General Election hadn't prevented it just in time because the incoming Conservatives (and Lib Dems) rejected it. We were very lucky with the timing of this effort, but the Badman Report remains on file at the government website and some people who had pushed for it remain disappointed that its recommendations were not implemented.

The point is, compulsory registration for home education is NOT just a process of taking our names and adding them to a list. Yes, people who have deregistered their children from school are on local authority registers already and I can understand why some of them might wonder what real difference it would make if we all were, but the answer is above. The current situation, in which some of us can legitimately avoid being on register, protects everyone - including those who are currently registered - from the Badman Recommendations.

Right now, the local authority has to issue a School Attendance Order and then have this enforced by a court to compel a parent to register her child at a school. Under the Badman Recommendations, the parent's failure to comply with the registration criteria would be sufficient. It turns the entire premise of the parent's duty to secure educational provision on its head, as this becomes more of a local authority duty instead, but they were going to do it anyway - and obviously some influential people still want to.

Our children are all registered already, within six weeks of their birth according to the Registration of Births Act 1953. School attending children are then added to school registers, but all of our children remain on the birth register. If, as some campaigners suggest, "All they want to know is how many of us there are," the remaining names are there, all presumably being educated "or otherwise", unless it appears to the local authority that this might not be the case.

All of the information a compulsory home education register might provide is therefore currently stored and available. The only possible remaining reason for wanting to go to the trouble and expense of creating and maintaining such a new register, is therefore monitoring and compliance at the expense of our children's education.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Dylan Seabridge, Section 47 and home education regulation

The tragic case of Dylan Seabridge has mysteriously resurfaced across mainstream media, yesterday and today. Dylan was known to be home educated by his local authority, but education staff did not see him because home educated children are not usually compelled by law to see education officials.

Concerns about Dylan's safety were raised amongst officials more than a year before his death, but no action was taken on these concerns. Instead of social workers, bizarrely, education staff were notified to merely make inquiries into his home education.

So we need more regulation of home educators, the argument goes. This would save their lives and prevent them from dying from neglect - even though cases like that of Daniel Pelka who attended school and still died, clearly demonstrate this to be false.

And yet we already have legislation to compel access for children who are suspected to be at risk of harm: Section 47 of the Children Act 1989:

(4) Where enquiries are being made under subsection (1) with respect to a child, the local authority concerned shall (with a view to enabling them to determine what action, if any, to take with respect to him) take such steps as are reasonably practicable —

(a) to obtain access to him; or

(b) to ensure that access to him is obtained, on their behalf, by a person authorised by them for the purpose,

unless they are satisfied that they already have sufficient information with respect to him.

Calls for a compulsory register have been coming from Neil Carmichael and others since last October, and I heard an interview between that man and home educator Clinton Lee yesterday evening, in which Mr Carmichael quite despicably waved the shroud of Dylan Seabridge to make his case.

I would like to respectfully suggest that Mr Carmichael considers using his position as Chair of the Commons Select Committee on Education to make inquiries as to why the current law is being ignored in respect of children whose local authorities "have reasonable cause to suspect [they are] suffering, or [are] likely to suffer, significant harm" instead of wasting public money campaigning for expensive, unnecessary and unhelpful extra legislation.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My thinking on the NSPCC/EHE meeting: FAQ

A few people have been asking me about the meeting that took place between some home educators and the NSPCC on Friday, since I have expressed my dissatisfaction with it. I'm therefore formulating this post as a link to send people to, to explain my thinking all at once.

1. Why was there a meeting between some home educators and the NSPCC on Friday and how did it come about?

A petition was raised to ask the NSPCC to withdraw its report: Children not in schools: learning from case reviews which was critiqued on this blog in October 2014. The meeting was organised in response to the petition.

2. Why are you unhappy that the meeting took place?

Because it was a private meeting, following an agenda set by the NSPCC and shrouded in secrecy. Indeed, there was great panic when the agenda and attendees were published online the day before the meeting. As the NSPCC itself might say, if it has nothing to hide, what does it have to fear from, for example, filming the whole thing and posting it online? The House of Commons manages it: I don't see why the NSPCC can't. Also some of the names on the list of attendees worried me.

3. If it had been a public meeting, would you be happier about it?

Yes, because it would have been more about protest and less about negotiating. We can't negotiate with aggressors, as the NSPCC has shown itself to be against home education time and time again. Much less, behind closed doors and in secret. The whole thing smacks of appeasement and risks seriously weakening our position for no good reason.

4. What is it about some of the attendees that worries you?

At least two of the attendees were involved in developing this draft guidance from government to local authorities (intended to replace the excellent EHEGLA) which would have been disastrous for freedom in education. One attendee has in the past suggested an official traffic light system for grading home educating families in terms of the likely level of concern they would/should generate from authorities. Another attendee refused to take a position on whether compulsory registration would be a good or bad thing when asked by the Commons Select Committee in 2009 [Questions 55 and 56 in the hyperlinked transcript.] Another has presumably jokingly, but still worryingly, classified home educating parents in private in very unflattering ways.

This all adds up to a picture of amateur incompetence at best, and some questionable political views at worst. These people put themselves forward as our representatives. They are saying otherwise ("We just wrote to the NSPCC to protest! Anyone could have done that...") but the organisations listed after some of their names, coupled with the NSPCC's stated: consultation with some representatives from the home education community tell a different story.

5. What do you think the outcome of such a meeting might be and why?

Given the already subordinate position of entering secret negotiations based on the other party's agenda, I fear the outcome cannot be good. Home education representatives were presumably requesting understanding and leniency. What was the NSPCC asking for in return? Because it is run by professionals who do know how to negotiate properly and how to develop a 'third way' position based on compromise. And yet I see no reason for us to yield ground on the issue of registration or safeguarding when the current legal position is already sufficient.

6. There's been a suggestion that you and others might just be feeling envious that you weren't invited to the meeting and that this is secretly the real reason you are complaining about it. Is it true?

No, and it's utterly illogical. If I wanted to talk to the NSPCC what would be to stop me framing an email to them myself, getting invited along to secret meetings and so on? This does not take any special skill or talent that those of us who are in disagreement with the negotiations are somehow lacking. We did not contact the NSPCC over its report because we did not wish to strike a deal with them - end of. There is nothing we are willing to trade in return for an end to their aggressive attacks.

I will close with the words of my good friend Ali Preuss and happily confirm that jelly and ice cream is really not to my taste.

It's pretty obvious what the NSPCC tactics are as their MO never changes. Throw a few crumbs to self selecting 'community leaders' who are desperate to bag a seat at the top table with jelly and ice cream (maybe even a paper hat and party bag each) and flatter them into believing they can 'make a difference' when in reality they are simply useful idiots being set up. I know what happens next as I have seen it time and time again in different contexts. It never ends well. Talking to a toxic outfit like the NSPCC is self defeating and a complete diversion as they can so easily be called out on their serial lies and fabrication without having to try too hard. All that was required was for them to remove their offensive document and publish a formal apology for their smear campaign (which, incidentally, is not limited to HE).

PS: The offensive document has still not been removed. If that was the aim of the meeting, it has so far failed.