Sunday, 24 July 2016

Maintaining the illusion of widespread opposition to the registration of home educated children

I wrote a couple of days ago of the way in which a small group of militants try to give the impression that they are speaking on behalf of the majority of home educating parents and promote the idea that most of these parents are fiercely opposed to the registration of home educated children or any monitoring of them. Only yesterday, a fine example of this racket turned up in a provincial newspaper. here is a piece from the  Bradford Telegraph & Argus; which only appeared online yesterday;

Within hours, two of the people whom I had mentioned in my recent post here had commented on this article. They may be seen in the comments as 770177wendy and llondel. They are of course Wendy Charles-Warner and Dave Hough and they are the owners of the Facebook group Home Education and Your Local Authority: Help Dealing with Officaldom. A number of points spring immediately to mind. The first is that one of these people lives in North Wales and the other in California. Why on earth are they commenting about home education in Yorkshire? We also observe that neither of these people  are even home educating their children in the United Kingdom; this being so, it is hard to see in what way they might be representing the interests of home educating parents in this country. There is also the fact that both have a variety of identities under which they comment. Why should Dave Hough be so averse to using his own name? Wendy Charles-Warner also posts under various identities. This is done so that the same names do not appear to be cropping up again and again. A final point is the sheer dishonesty of the things which are said in the comments there! Here is Dave Hough yesterday;

parents who have the option of remaining unknown to their local authority invariably choose to remain so and not make contact.

In the first place; how could he possibly know this? Secondly, let us remind ourselves of the advice which he dished out on the 'Officialdom' group, a little while ago, to a home educating parent who was moving house;

 post a letter with a second-class stamp on your last day there informing them that as of that date you're no longer in their area but that you will still be home educating. Don't give them your new address or area, and make sure the new occupants of the house and any neighbours also know not to tell them where you've gone if they know.

One of the reasons that home educating parents do not have contact with their  local authorties is because they are denounced and ostracised for doing so on many of the online support groups for home educators. They are called traitors and Quislings; those who do allow visits from the local authority  often do so secretly, for fear of the reaction from people like Dave Hough! The chief reason that people remain, or pretend to remain, unknown to their lcoal authorities is because many of them rely upon support from Facebook groups containing other parents whose children are not at school. It is the reaction of some of the more vociferous of these parents which they fear, rather than the local authority itself.

Turning now to the comment posted by Wendy Charles-Warner, we see  she claims that;

 Freedom of information requests to Bradford Local Authority confirm that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that a single home educated child in the region has been 'radicalised'.

Seriously? How would you find that out from a Freedom of Information Request?

The two people mentioned here today are of course not the only people patrolling the internet to find articles about home education on which to comment; although they are certainly among the most industrious. The fact is that about two dozen people, at least half of whom either live abroad or are not home educating their children in this country, are responsible for over 90% of the comments one sees about the dangers of registration and monitoring. They are part of a very small sub-set in the home educating community who are desperately anxious that local authorities and the general public should see them as being the  dominant trend in British home education.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Causing trouble for home educating parents

There is a longstanding and mistaken idea that there exists in this country a powerful home education movement, which constantly agitates for and defends the supposed rights of, home educating parents. Even the Department for Education has fallen for this false belief and it is one of the reasons why there are no plans to slip through a new law to regulate and control home education in Britain. It is felt that the campaign which was waged in the aftermath of the Graham Badman report was so fierce and produced such bad publicity for the government, that it really is not worth repeating the exercise. This is the chief reason that the DfE has no intention currently of pressing for a change in the law; it would simply be more trouble than it is worth to fight all those home educators again!

In fact, despite there being anything up to 80,000 home educated children in this country, which would mean perhaps 140,000 or 150,000 home educating parents,  opposition to  any form of registration and monitoring is actively maintained by only a few hundred people; many of whom are not even home educators. I say a few hundred, there is probably a hard core of a few dozen who are doing all  the work to maintain the position that registration of home educated children would be an intolerable imposition on parents.  Hardly any of the parents of the 20,000 or more home educated children known to local authorities have any problem at all with being known and the vast majority cheerfully accept visits if their LA wished to make them.

How many parents are really determined to fight against things such as the registration of home educated children? This is very hard to say, because the tiny handful who fight against this idea manage to make themselves look far more numerous than is really the case. They do this by adopting false names and being very industrious in complaining to online newspapers and so on whenever any article appears about home education. If there is a poll on the internet on the subject of home education, they organise via Facebook groups for anti-registration messages to be sent in bulk. What this means is that an illusion is created that there is some kind of mass movement against registration and monitoring. A typical example of the way that this is done may be seen by looking at a Facebook group called Home Education and Your Local Authority; Help dealing With Officialdom. This is run by a former home educator called Wendy Charles-Warner, using the name Jennifer Downing. Many of those fighting against monitoring prefer to use false names in this way; why this should be is something of a mystery! The other person  running the group is man called David Hough, who lives in California and will hardly be affected by any of the changes in British home education which he so vigorously opposes.

The two people who run what is generally known as the ‘Officialdom’ group are to be found all over the internet under various guises; seldom or never using their real names. If an article appears in a small, provincial newspaper which suggests that somebody wants the registration of home educated children, then people from this group will comment online, putting forward their anti-registration line. Here is an example; llondel is David Hough in America. He often uses this name or sometimes Thienz to post his comments;

Readers might care to look for similar examples online; there are many. This sort of thing creates the impression that a lot of people feel as David Hough and Wendy Charles-Warner, the owners of the face book group, do about registration and monitoring; there is no reason to suppose that this is the case. Their group is devoted to stirring up parents and trying to set them in opposition to their local authority and the advice they give is always aimed at confrontation, rather than cooperation. Here is David Hough advising a parent on the ’Officialdom’ group whose local authority wishes to speak to her about her home educated child;

post a letter with a second-class stamp on your last day there informing them that as of that date you're no longer in their area but that you will still be home educating. Don't give them your new address or area, and make sure the new occupants of the house and any neighbours also know not to tell them where you've gone if they know.

An atmosphere is created of people on the run from the authorities and anxious to hide their children. It need hardly be said that this sort of behaviour only makes local authorities more suspicious of home educators and more determined to track them down! It is counter-productive. I shall give other examples of these sorts of covert operations by  small groups of militant former home educators in the next few days. In the meantime, it is worth bearing in mind that neither of the two people running this Facebook group are parents home educating their children in this country and so are not likely to be affected by any of the problems which might result from their activities.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The coming crackdown on uncooperative home educators

I mentioned a fortnight ago that local authorities in Britain are being encouraged by the Department for Education to pull themselves together and start dealing with home educators who refuse to provide information or look as though they are not actually teaching their children properly. This will be part of a general drive, which will also be directed at unregistered schools; most of which are run by Muslims and Jews. As the DfE rightly points out to LAs who have been badgering them for a new law, they already have all the powers they need under home education law to tackle what is seen by some as a growing problem.

There are two sorts of law in this country; statute law and case law. Statute law is the stuff passed by parliament and case law is how courts have interpreted those laws. In the case of home education, the statute law just states that a child must, from the age of five, be receiving an efficient, full-time education, suitable to his or her age and abilities. This seems vague enough and we must turn to case law to see what this education must be like. We know, for instance, that it must prepare a child for life in modern society (R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzeikei Hadass School Trust 1985). We also know, from Harrison and Harrison v Stevenson (1981) QB (DC) 729/81, that it must include systematic instruction, that is to say teaching, in mathematics and English. I quoted the relevant part of this judgement on July 5th.

I would guess that hardly any home educating parents in this country is aware of the fact that they are legally obliged to teach their children mathematics and that they cannot simply encourage them to acquire arithmetical skills from day to day activities. Local authorities know of this, but have chosen until now to do nothing about it. There are several reasons for this. The first is that until the last few decades, there were very few home educated children in Britain. Those that there were  more likely to be hothoused than educated autonomously. We think, for instance, of children like Ruth Lawrence.  It is the recent growth in numbers of home eduated children which is causing alarm for local authorities, especially since many of these new home educators are either not teaching their children or refuse to say whether or not this is the case.

The second reason that local authorities have turned a blind eye so far to breaches of the law regarding home education is that taking these people through the courts is a very expensive and time consuming process. Even if the LA wins, they are likely to be massively out of pocket, as home educating parents faced with the prospect of a court case often make it clear that they will fight the case vigorously; causing the local authority to have to spend money on barristers and so on. If you have hundreds of awkward parents like this in your area, then you could easily end up spending a big chunk of your money on pursuing these idiots. Here is Leicester council explaining this aspect of the  problem;

Case Law, (Harrison and Harrison V Stevenson 1982) has established that any education that does not include instruction in Maths and English, if a child is capable of learning such things, cannot be considered suitable. However, on one recent occasion, the suggestion to a family that the child should be doing some maths and some English every day so that evidence of this this could be shown to the LA Officer was countered with the argument that they are following autonomous education and that any work the child does is the intellectual property of the child and should only be shared if they wish. So even if work in books is being completed, there can be no expectation that an authority can see it. This was coupled with the threat that a Barrister, a legal expert in EHE (who has ‘never lost a case yet’) would successfully challenge any LA who sought to prosecute a parent following EHE being deemed to be unsuitable where the parent then failed to comply with a School  Attendance Order.

None of this is attractive to local authorities and it would be so much easier for them if there was a clear, specific law which set out precisely what home educators should be doing. This is what was being proposed following the Graham Badman report and it is what LAs have been begging the Department for Education to introduce over the last year or so. Unfortunately, the DfE say that they have more important things to deal with right now and so there is no chance of any new legislation. Nobody wishes to go through all the fuss of the Badman era again if it can possibly be avoided. The problem with taking parents to court based only on case law is that a higher court could reverse the earlier judgement and this would create its own difficulties for both parents and local authority officers.

Still, something must be done. Local authorities are now under pressure from central government to crack down on extremism and close any unregistered schools in their area. Since the pupils at such schools, most of which as I said are Muslim or Jewish,  are technically home educated, this means that a crackdown on home education is in the wind. A number of councils have been increasingly unhappy anyway about the large number of children who are taken out of school and then not taught anything for a year or more; so-called ‘deschooling’. Informal discussions are now taking place between a group of local authorities who are working out a coordinated strategy for tackling this problem. This will entail a series of School Attendance Orders, followed swiftly by prosecutions if they are ignored. The basis for these prosecutions will be the judgement in Harrison & Harrison V Stevenson.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

How to scare potential home educators

Following on from yesterday’s post, in which we looked at the pernicious influence of a document entitled Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth, which was consulted by those investigating the death of Dylan Seabridge, I want to consider now a fear which some well-known figures in the world of British home education seem determined to promote; the idea that parents opting to educate their children at home are routinely referred to social services. This is of course quite untrue, but for some reason people like Mike Fortune-Wood, Wendy Charles-Warner, Alison Sauer and Paula Rothermel all seem determined to promote this particular fiction and even, as in the Home Education and Safeguarding Myth paper, elevate it to the status of supposed fact. Here are two quotations on the subject; the first from Wendy Charles-Warner’s document and the second from Paula Rothermel’ book, International Perspectives on Home Education; Do We Still Need Schools?

'referral rates in some Local Authorities indicate a policy of automatic referral for home educated children,'

'there is an increasing tendency for welfare officers and social workers to become involved with home-educating families from the outset.'

Both these statements were published in 2015, so this is very much a current myth in the making. Rothermel gives no reference for her belief that social workers might be involved with home educating families ‘from the outset’, and it is possible that she has relied upon Wendy Charles-Warner for the figures to back up this strange assertion. Looking at how these figures were acquired will show us firstly that the idea is a nonsense and secondly that we may safely disregard the paper Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth as a reliable source of information on this, or indeed any other, subject.

We find that Wendy Charles-Warner is claiming that in one local authority 100% of home educated children have been referred to social services. It is of course quite untrue and the explanation casts further doubt upon the methods used by the author of the paper to compile and analyse data.

The local authority in question is Telford and Wrekin and on 31 December 2014, a Ms Martel, acting on behalf of the author of Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth, made a Freedom of Information request, asking how many children aged 5 to 16 in the LA had been referred to social services. She then asked, how many of these were home educated. The answer given was;

Aged 5-9 EHE number is 28
Aged 10-16 EHE number is 105

This was a simple error on the part of whoever answered the request, because these are the total numbers of home educated children in the LA. In fairness to the local authority, the question was not very well phrased and it is easy to see how the misunderstanding arose. Obviously, they have not referred every single child to social services. Just to be sure, I telephoned Malcolm Webster, the man at Telford and Wrekin who deals with EHE, and asked about this. He was absolutely bemused at the idea that he would have been referring every child to social services. Why on earth would he do such a thing?  Just to make perfectly sure, I followed this up with a Freedom of Information request of my own, which confirmed what I had suspected.

The fact that the document's author did not bother to make checks of this kind  indicates another flaw in the process. It also suggests that the number of social services referrals for home educated children has been greatly inflated. The numbers are very low anyway and the addition of 133 extra children in this way was sufficient to throw all the apparently careful calculations made about social services referrals hopelessly out of kilter. When this and one or two other points are taken into account, there  turn out to be no more referrals for home educated children than there are for those at school.

I do not know why these characters are so determined to spread the alarming notion that home educating parents are being referred, as a matter of course, to social services. In the case of one of those mentioned above, there is probably a strong business end to it, for she runs a company called 3rd Way Law, which is a commercial concern helping people deal with legal problems relating to home education. Obviously, the more anxiety there is about the possibility of social workers knocking on the door; the greater market there will be for an organisation which will, for a price, help deal with the supposed problem. From this perspective, it makes sound business sense to promote a feeling of unease and fear among potential home educators.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Child Practice Review on Dylan Seabridge

 I have been reading through the Child Practice Review which was held in the wake of Dylan Seabridges's death. One point leaped out at me, and this was that Wendy Charles-Warner's paper about safeguarding and home education was cited. This was a great shock, because this document has caused harm to home educators in several ways and to see it being consulted officially in this way is a little disturbing.

Those of you familiar with the thing will know that the author is hoping to tell us something about the rate of abuse in home educating families; Wendy Charles-warner claims in this paper to have something useful and novel to say about the levels of abuse in home educating families. How do we know how many home educated children are being abused? For the author, this is simple. For everybody else though, it is shockingly offensive and wholly misleading. The only way that abuse is measured is by the number of children with Child Protection Plans. The author thinks, quite wrongly, that any child with a Child Protection Plan in place must have been ill-treated, neglected or abused by her parents. She says this explicitly on page 13;

A child educated at home subject to a CPP is most usually found to have suffered at the hands of a carer or parent

This is completely untrue. Children are given Child Protection Plans for all sorts of reasons which do not involve suffering at the hands of their parents. Sometimes, a teenage mother is unable to cope, perhaps another mother has an unsuitable boyfriend, there is drug use, it look as though the mother is struggling; there are all kinds of reasons for CPPs. The aim of issuing one is often to avert problems. To suggest that any child with a CPP has ’suffered at the hands of a carer or parent’ is not only wrong, it is also stupendously offensive to parents who are being helped by social services. I know home educating parents  whose children have had, or do have, CPPs and I doubt very much whether any  of the professionals involved with them think that they are  are abusers!

In short, the only way that the author of Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth has been able to say anything at all about the abuse of both schooled and home educated children is by assuming that all or most Child Protection Plans are a result of abuse or neglect. This is quite untrue and tells us that we may safely disregard anything she has to say on the subject of levels of childhood abuse.

That a group of social workers, people from health and so on have been reading this sort of thing and seeing that a home educator herself thinks that any home educating parent with a CPP has probably been, as Wendy Charles-Warner puts it, suffering at the hands of a parent,  is terrible. I shall have more to say about this document in future posts.

Friday, 8 July 2016

International Perspectives on Home Education: Do We Still Need Schools? by Paula Rothermel - A Review, Part 2

Some readers yesterday might perhaps have thought that I was being a little harsh when I suggested that Paula Rothermel’s contribution to the above book suggests either slapdash and shoddy research or deliberate dishonesty. The evidence however points strongly in that direction. Let us begin with what Rothermel has to say about one of the most well-known horror stories of British home education; the death of seven year-old Khyra Ishaq in 2008. The details of this case are familiar to most people in this country who are involved in home education. In the introduction to her book, Rothermel cites the Serious Case Review as a reference for her claim on page 8  that; 

In the tragic case of one young child (Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board, 2010) the LA registered her as home educated simply because the parents stopped sending her to school.

This is of course absolutely untrue. In fact the child’s mother told the school as soon as she stopped sending her daughter that the child would be educated at home. As the Executive Summary of the subsequent Serious Case Review said;

The child and some siblings, were removed from state education during December 2007 and a clear statement issued by the mother, of her intention to educate them at home.

This is plain enough and the mother also told the police the same thing during a Safe and Well check. In addition to notifying the school and Education Welfare Service verbally of her intentions; on January 8th 2008 the child's mother sent a letter to the Special Educational Needs Assessment Service; explaining in writing that she would be educating her daughter Khyra at home.  The inference is inescapable. Either the author has not actually read the Serious Case Review which she cites in her reference and is accordingly unfamiliar with its contents or she is intentionally misrepresenting the facts in order to strengthen her argument. 

Consider another of Rothermel’s  statements, when she writes on page 6 of;

the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee (CSFC,2010) set up to review Badman's report

 In fact the Children, Schools and Families Committee was a standing committee established in 2007; two years before Graham Badman even began his investigations into home education. This select committee had nothing whatever to do with Badman's report, other than examining it briefly in 2009. Again, we are compelled to ask ourselves, is it the case that Rothermel simple knows nothing about the subject of which she is writing or is she exaggerating and romancing for dramatic effect? Neither of these would be what we look for in a supposedly academic work!

A charitable person will attribute  errors such as these to superficial and inadequate research rather than outright mendacity, but a quick look at the body of the book provides us with a pointer that suggests that lack of knowledge alone is not a sufficient explanation.

It might be understandable, although  still disconcerting, to find that an editor of a book like this knows little about the sources which she cites. Such ignorance could be innocent and unwitting. It is however quite a different matter where her own research is concerned. Surely she would know at once if anybody was making a mistake about that? Let us look now at Chapter 3 of the book, written by Noraisha Yusof; whom I mentioned yesterday.  On page 44, Yusof says that;

Rothermel’s (2002) study of 419 UK families showed that the home educated children outperformed  their schooled counterparts on a general mathematics test, achieving an average mark of 81 per cent, compared to the school educated pupils average mark of 45 per cent.

This seems clear and quite unambiguous. It is being claimed that Rothermel administered tests in mathematics to at least 419 children. No other construction could possibly be placed upon this sentence. In fact, as Rothermel herself knows perfectly well, the tests were  given to just 35 children. We are left once more with only two choices. The first possibility is that Dr Rothermel simply does not remember accurately the research which she conducted. The second is that she knows very well that 419 children were not tested in this way, but feels that this figure looks 12 times more impressive than the actual one of 35. When reading through the contributions to her book, it would have been easy enough for Rothermel to correct something like this. That she chose not to is curious and revealing.

This is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of the mistakes or misrepresentations to be found in this book. Paula Rothermel is well known in British home educating circles as something of an expert on the subject and I think that we may really assume that she is not lacking in knowledge about such things as the Khyra Ishaq case; still less about her own research. We are drawn inexorably to the sad conclusion that the things which I have outlined above have been done by design, rather than accidentally. 

 I would be happy to be proved wrong about this and invite those able to put forward an opposing view to do so in the comments below. Anybody wishing to check what has been said here may go to Amazon, find the book and then use the feature which allows one to look inside the book at the text. I would not want anybody simply to take my word for anything written here, but urge people to look for themselves.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

International Perspectives on Home Education: Do We Still Need Schools? by Paula Rothermel - A Review, Part 1

The editor of the above book, Paula Rothermel, is exceedingly dissatisfied with the way that it is selling; as well she might be, with sales currently running at fewer than one a year!  Instead of asking herself where she might have gone wrong in compiling it or writing the introduction, Dr Rothermel evidently finds it easier to seek a scapegoat. She has accordingly come to the conclusion that if people aren’t queuing up to buy her book, then it must be my fault for reviewing the thing on Amazon! Put like that, it sounds quite mad and yet Roxane Featherstone, who is apparently a friend of Rothermel’s, has recently been advancing this hypothesis to anybody who will listen. Perhaps it is now time to examine this book in detail and try and work out the real reason why there is such a marked reluctance to purchase it.

There are two aspects in particular of Rothermel’s book which might be causing concern among potential customers and making them hesitate before shelling out £70 for it; apart that is from the grotesquely high price. The first of these is the introduction, which is written by Rothermel herself. This is a singularly awful piece of work, containing, apart from the factual errors, some of the most misleading and inaccurate references which it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. I shall deal with this separately in a subsequent post. The second thing likely to cause both professionals involved in education, as well as home educators themselves, to raise their eyebrows a little is the list of contributors; the first of whom is a woman called  Leslie Barson. As soon as I saw the name, I gasped audibly and muttered under my breath, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ I have every reason to suppose that others glancing at the contents page reacted in precisely the same way. Leslie Barson attained notoriety a few years ago when, in the course of an interview for the Times Educational Supplement, she said;

I would remove the law that says education is compulsory ...I believe children should be able to work in paid employment as soon as they would like to, and would feel more valued if allowed to do this.

Yes, really. Here is a woman who would scrap the various laws which currently guarantee children an education and protect them from exploitation by unscrupulous parents and employers and turn back the clock a hundred and fifty years; so that children might once again spend their early years working in factories and fields, instead of being at school. This is the person whom Rothermel regards as perfectly suited to be the first name featured in her book. We return to the question of why Dr Rothermel’s book is not selling well. Here’s a hint; if you wish for professionals and academics in the field of education to buy a book, do try and avoid having the first name one sees upon opening it belonging to a woman who wishes to see the nation’s educational system dismantled, along with a return to the days when small children could be sent up chimneys and down mines!

The next name is unexceptional, somebody from Australia who is championing a crank theory of learning originating from a contemporary of Lysenko, but the third contributor once again causes a sharp intake of breath; it is one of the Yusof children. If Rothermel had scoured the length and breadth of Britain, she could hardly have uncovered a worse and less appetising example of home education than that inflicted upon the siblings of Noraisha Yusof, author of the third chapter of the book. Noraisha’s sister described her childhood as a ‘living hell’ and wrote of ‘15 years of emotional and physical abuse.’ At the age of 11, she tried to kill herself as a result of the home education to which she was subjected.  What sort of abuse was there in the Yusof home? Her brother Abraham said of his father, ‘He used to wake us up in the middle of the night by punching our faces. It was awful what he put us through.’ The father was subsequently convicted of indecently assaulting two 15 year-old girls whom he was tutoring.

In her essay on the learning of mathematics in the home environment, Noraisha Yusof does not mention the valuable contribution made by being punched in the face at night. Nor does she explain how important it is to keep the home cold and to ban television and pop music; both integral parts of her own learning in the home environment which led to her attending university to study mathematics at the age of 16.

I have not the leisure to go further into the choice of authors made for Dr Rothermel’s book, but I will limit myself to saying that the sight of a reactionary who wishes to see children in this country stripped of the legal protection they currently enjoy is hardly calculated to encourage  those of us who work in education to view her book kindly. Nor could I read, without feeling a little queasy, a piece about the virtues of learning mathematics at home, written by somebody from such an abusive home.

In the next piece about Rothermel’s book, we will look at her own contribution and try and work out whether she is guilty of nothing worse than sloppy research or whether, on the other hand, she has been deliberately untruthful in some of her claims.