For a number of years I have worked part-time for a small charity based in East London. Among other things, I act as an advocate for the parents of children with special educational needs. This entails visiting their homes, most of which are on large housing estates. In recent years, I have noticed that many of these estates seem to have at least one or two youths hanging around who look as though they are only fourteen or so. Some are truanting, others have been excluded, but there are also those who have been de-registered because their parents are allegedly home educating them.
Whenever I visit a family to discuss their child's needs, I always ask if they know of any children living nearby who are home educated. This is sheer nosiness of course. Even worse, is the fact that if I can get an address I think nothing of knocking on the door and explaining that I have been visiting Mrs. X who lives on the fifth floor and that I am interested in home education. Almost invariably, I am invited in. Such invitations are less a tribute to my personal charm, which is in any case all but non-existent these days, and more to do with the fact that they think they might be able to get something out of me.
Once these parents realise that I am not employed by the local authority, they seldom bother to dissemble. The truth is that hardly any of them have ever had any intention of educating their children, either autonomously or otherwise. Why then have their children been de-registered? The reasons vary. Some have simply been unable to persuade their teenaged offspring to get out of bed in the morning and go to school. I have mentioned elsewhere that my own nephew fell into this category. Others have children who truant so regularly that they have been at risk of prosecution. Still others are parents of children who simply don't like school and can't see the point of going. Sometimes they can nag their parents into letting them stay at home on the pretext of home education.
There are sadder cases. One fourteen year old girl lived with her mother, who was mentally ill and agoraphobic. She hated it when her daughter went off to school for the day and left her alone. The daughter did not particularly enjoy school and so after a little research on the internet, she typed up a letter for her mother to sign, stating that she would home educate her daughter. The pair of them now spend the day watching television. If anybody asks, the daughter has told her mother to say, "We're autonomous." I doubt she even knows what the word means. In twenty first Century Britain this child has been abandoned by the system and now fulfils the role of nurse-companion to her sick mother. This is utterly disgraceful. Here, incidentally is a similar case from Norfolk which they gave to the Badman review;
"Faye's mother has mental and physical health problems; her elderly husband cannot fulfil the role of carer, so this has fallen to Faye. Faye's previous school did not inform our service at the time of her de-registration, so a considerable period of time elapsed before we became involved, during which time Faye had not received any education. There were various concerns about the appropriateness of home education due to Faye's home circumstances, along with her social isolation. Faye's mother refused an offer of support from Young Carers. Faye is obese and school phobic. She has regular hospital appointments relating to her obesity and associated problems and has been offered gastric band surgery when she is older. Faye's mother will not agree to any additional support, eg CAF, and has often been reluctant to meet with our service, cancelling various appointments at short notice. However, with support and encouragement over a period of three years, Faye's home education provision has improved."
I am not suggesting that autonomously educating parents are like this in general, nor that an autonomous education cannot be good for a child. The people I talk of above are at one extreme end of the home education spectrum. I rather think that the parents on this Blog lie at the other end; they are very committed to giving their children the best possible education, by whatever approach they choose. Somewhere between these two types lie the bulk of home educating parents, some of them doing well and others perhaps not quite as well. There might be parents who took their children from school intending to educate them and found they were not capable of doing so. Others who start well and then begin to flag, maybe need a little help and encouragement.
What I do know is that the current system is so slack that it enables many parents to take their children out of school without making any provision whatsoever for their education. I believe this to be a bad thing and it is for this reason that I am in favour of some of the recommendations in the Badman Report. I am aware that these might well inconvenience some genuine home educators, but I feel that this is a price worth paying.