Sunday, 20 September 2009

It's still easy to home educate in this country

Despite recent changes in the law, the setting up of ContactPoint, proposed legislation based upon the recommendations made by Graham Badman and so on; it is still very easy to home educate in this country. All you need to do is not send your child to school. I have been prompted to reflect upon this by a comment on one of my posts by somebody who believes that he will be at risk of arrest if he goes out with his child during school hours. This is a grotesque and unrealistic fear. I cannot imagine what law would be invoked for such an arrest.

It is quite true that if one does not send one's child to school, then there is more chance of the local authority hearing about it than was once the case. But then so what? All they can do is ask you a few questions and sometimes press for a visit which you are quite at liberty to decline. Most local authorities now are familiar with the idea of home education, which was certainly not the case twenty or thirty years ago. From that point of view, home educating is a lot easier than it once was.

While I am aware that some people have had problems with Truancy Patrols, the fact is that once they know that you are home educating they will, in general, leave you alone. My daughter and I were stopped by one when she was eight and that is how we became known to the local authority. However, I had no need to give them my name and address if I chose not to. I did so because we were not hiding from the LA, just had not seen any advantage in notifying them of our existence. They certainly have no right to arrest anybody! Children alone are slightly different and sometimes the police will wish to speak to a parent or guardian in order to ensure that they are genuinely being home educated.

Of course, all this may be about to change. In other words it may become more difficult to home educate in the future, although that is in some doubt. But for anybody to suggest that it is necessary to "jump hurdles" in order to do so, as somebody did in a comment yesterday, is frankly absurd. My advice to anybody wishing to educate their own child is, "Don't send your child to school". That's all there is to it. Incidentally, I cannot help noticing that some home educators are using the term "ultra vires" in order to describe the behaviour of local authorities who ask too many questions or pretend that they are entitled to visit homes. Ultra vires is a legal expression which can be applied to a public authority exceeding their lawful powers. In the case of a local authority asking questions or saying that they wish to visit a home, this is probably "reasonably incidental to its authorised activities" and so beyond any definition of ultra vires. We do not need to turn to obscure Latin phrases to describe this sort of thing. There are perfectly good English expressions which meet the case, such as "Trying it on" or "Coming the old soldier"!


  1. We had a protracted encounter with a truancy patrol in a neighbouring LA about 5 years ago. In many ways I had plenty to complain about - I was pulled over by police as I drove away from a ..library ( obviously a well known haunt for truants in a seaside town - why not try the arcades or the funfair?)...I identified myself as a home educator and produced a membership card of a home ed org, but the EWO refused to let me leave until I filled her form in. I politely refused, and pointed out that we had a rucksack full of American homeschooling books and bizarrely (by chance) a copy of the Crime and Disorder act 2001 with the bits of the truancy regs ringed. No joy - clearly they think that truants go to extraordinary lengths to escape prosecution. I must have been feeling particularly beligerent that day because I wasn't feeling like form filling. Incident ended when I drove off with policeman banging on window and shouting I would be in trouble if I was found to be lying .... a few hours later I was rung by charming local EWO , having been tracked via the number plate of my car; who agreed that I was a known home educator and that the whole thing was just silly. I did moan a lot and did get a full apology from both the local authority and the then DFES man who agreed that the rules weren't being followed. Would I bother to argue again...? dunno - did carry around the grovelling letters for some time, but as I said elsewhere every other truancy patrol I have encountered since has been polite and didn't ask me who I was (although perhaps by now I am famous!!)

  2. I think that I would have done exactly the same as you, Julie. We actually came to the notice of the LA by meeting up with a Truancy patrol. We were not hiding, I just could not see the point of telling them that we had moved to their area. When we were stopped, I made the police officer admit that he didn't have any right to ask for our name and address as my daughter was not at school. Having established this and because he was polite, we gave the details he wanted for the EWO.

    Actually, the whole "not known to the authorities" thing became a glorious game for the whole family. Simone was almost nine when we finally became known and for a couple of years before that we used to speculate how long it would take. The rule was that we would never conceal the fact that she was home educated and that if anybody from the council or health service asked, we would always be open and give names and addresses if asked. It was quite a shame when the Truancy Patrol stopped us.....

    I know of other people who have had irritating experiences, although my impression is that most local authorities have given better guidelines now.

  3. You are in Essex, and the LEA advisor there is more competent than many others. You don't seem to accept that some LEA "advisors" are ill-prepared for their contacts with home educators, or have been completely immersed in the brave new world of Nu Labour tick-boxing that even a fairly structured home educator is viewed as deviant dissenter. Some LEAs try to swamp parents with paperwork, in the same way as the poor teachers have been buried under it for years.

    BTW, the Essex LEA Home Education Service is now being "line managed" by a micromanaging type. We have been sent a form asking us to tick the reason we are home educating. Only one reason allowed: since my husband had his reasons and I had mine, that maked two reasons -- and since 2003 we have developed other ideas,too. This is presumably to generate a neat little set of figures on an Excel spreadsheet or a bar chart in Powerpoint. It's not about getting to know us or what is actually going on in our family, of course. It's the target-setting, info-gathering culture of school being applied to home educators, who rejected the target-setting, info-gathering culture of school...

    Regarding being noticed by LEAs:things have moved on since your daughter was 9; all children now have a Unique Identifying Number and are tracked. All children are on a database. So we were contacted, but not until 6 months after our ds could have entered school.

  4. I have read this blog for a while and also noted the press report on your daughter's happy "graduation" from home education. She seemed to be an enthusiastic advocate of the way she was taught and guided.

    It does seem ironic that, having benefited from a centuries' old freedom to home educate according to your principles and her needs, you are now so keen to see that freedom withdrawn from others.

    You must be aware that in France registration was swiftly followed by the imposition of a national curriculum for home educators and a daily timetable. The Badman Review seeks to conform English law to the rabidly bureaucratic and centralised practice of central European governments, even though these systems are not as productive of talent.(It is not an accident, I think, that so many inventors and innovators are British.)

    When I was little my mother and father told me that the greater opportunities for the working classes could not last, that the upper classes would pull up the ladder of success to ensure that the succeeding generations could not "o'erleap themselves". My father died in 1990, just as tuition feed and loans were being introduced, pricing many young people out of university.

    Now, the only low-cost way to avoid the dull-as-ditchwater, dumbed-down National Curriculum is being attacked by a Nu Labour cabinet of public school grads. For some time private emails within the DES/DCFS/?? have been vowing to "crack down" on "these people". By using the old technique of slander (ever since the medieval kings called Jews baby eaters, it's been an oldie but a goodie), the grey guys in Ed Balls' Club hope to harrass us into adopting some sort of facsimile of the National Curriculum and its attendant culture of statistics-gathering. It's interesting that for centuries home education was part of a range of choices available to the aristocracy and the upper middle classes. Nobody minded when Agatha Christie or CS Lewis or Susan Hampshire or the Queen was out of school. It is only now, when home education is being adopted by oiks like me that it suddenly needs to be "monitored" or strangulated by procedure and prescription.

    I thing it's really sad that you have naively given them just what they want: a public figure who will say that it is only sloppy or silly people who do not agree with Badman's ill-researched ideas. Unlike him, I have read educational research from around the world. None of it can be large-scale research, but the impressive thing for me was the consistency across cultures and nations. Even those researchers who opposed home ed on socio-political grounds agreed that it was effective. They just thought that we should put our children in school for the good of the common weal, if you like.

    I use a structred style until lunch, then art/craft/museum trips/ministry/social visits in the afternoon. People are shocked that our children carry on this routine in what others call the school holidays. I say, "Every day's a holiday in our house. Besides, little children like routine." I am a v old-fashioned, 'this ain't no democracy' mother. So I hardly fit some of the stereotypes I've seen you include in your blog entries. It seems a shame that, having adopted a home edding style quite similar to mine, sheltering for many years under the umbrella of legendary British tolerance of all things unusual (even at times eccentric), you are now so vociferously demanding that I should not enjoy the same freedom that you had. Apparently the liberty that you enjoyed is fare too rich for the likes of me.

  5. Anonymous 1, who evidently lives in essex. We would not in any case have shown up anywhere, as we moved from North London to Essex. I can't understand why you have ticked any boxes! Essex sent us various forms and we simply ignored them. I am not paid to fill out forms and tick boxes for them. Why on Earth did you co-operate with this? It only encourages them.

  6. Anonymous 2. Why do you think that I want your freedom to home educate to be withdrawn? I don't understand how you conclude that from what I have written. I am puzzled by what you say about France. It is true that there are twice yearly inspections and that one must register with the local Town Hall. The inspections are nothing to do with a National Curriculum, nor is there any requirement for timetables. It is simply to see if the child is making progress in French langauge and mathematics. The benchmark used is not how schooled children are progressing at that age, but whether the home educated child has progressed since the last visit.

    C.S. Lewis was not home educated. He had private tutors until the age of ten and was then sent to boarding school. See his autobiography, Surprised by Joy for an account of this. He hated school.

    Where have I been vociferously demanding that you should not enjoy the same freedom which I had? This sounds like nonsense.

  7. Agree about France - one of our local families moved across there 5 years ago - they do have an annual visit, but it just checks French and a bit of maths, so no enforcement of curriculum. However I do think the whole culture there is a bit more suspicious of home educators - but I think this is because some of them home educate for "religious reasons" and there seems an underlying fear that if you are not a Catholic, you must be in a cult (and I think France is more pro active against cults than the UK).

  8. I am Anonymous 1 and 2. I did not state it since I thought that the writing style of both posts was obviously the same.

    "I can't understand why you have ticked any boxes!" I was asked to tick the boxes, I shall not be doing so. In fact, I had already sent an email stating that the only reason we agreed to meet Rumer Lacey is because she had a good reputation, and because the admin assistant in the Essex Home Ed Service office was also well-informed about Home Ed. I also informed the new Line Manager that I would not be willing to meet hastily-appointed, ill-informed staff. This would be the inevitable result of the Badman Review becoming law: lots of staff hired and thrown out into the community. The silly form has also made us more likely to refuse contact with Essex LEA in future. If they are adopting a new, more Ofsted-style approach, then meeting them would be a waste of my time.

    You *are* vociferously demanding that a heavier, more Ofsted-style regime be introduced. One which did not apply to you while providing home education for your child. You are demanding that certain styles of teaching and learning be rubber-stamped as acceptable, and that there are unacceptable styles. There are some autonomous home edders, others who do School At Home -- but these are the extreme ends of a continuum. There are many others, like us, who use a mix, for example the Living Books of Charlotte Mason/Ambleside Online, the chronological history and Great Books of the Classical style, the Unit Studies and literature-rich approach of FIAR, Sonlight etc. Try explaining that to someone fresh out of a career in the National Curriculum, where a 4-part lesson planning format has reduced teachers to the role of Tess Daly, reading from a script. It's not that school teachers are dim, they have reached a stage where it is not worth making an independent decision since it would only attract censure.

    One of the saddest things I've heard in the last few months was a caller on the radio, a primary school teacher, who said that she couldn't see why anyone would object to league tables and exams as a way of choosing a school. Another speaker stated, "But there are other ways of judging a school besides exam scores." The teacher was mystified, and wailed,"What other way could you choose a school?" She genuinely did not know of any other way of evaluating a school.

    Before correcting me about CS Lewis, read what I actually wrote: "It's interesting that for centuries home education was part of a range of choices available to the aristocracy and the upper middle classes. Nobody minded when Agatha Christie or CS Lewis or Susan Hampshire or the Queen was out of school." I was well aware of the use of tutors as one of that range of choices, and the phrase "out of school" includes those being educated in the home by governesses/tutors/friend. Louisa Alcott, writer of Little Women, was tutored by Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example. My husband thinks I read too much about stuff like this, but I am curious about things, and it helps me make informed comments. You are *not* the only brainbox on the block.

    "Where have I been vociferously demanding that you should not enjoy the same freedom which I had? This sounds like nonsense." The Badman recommendations will inevitably lead to a culture of info-gathering and tick boxes. You know that happened in the schools, and that Ed Balls warmly endorses that culture.

    I find it deeply offensive that having enjoyed the freedom to home ed in a style of your choosing, you want to make ad hominem attacks on other home educators and decide that only the Right Sort of People are doing right by their children. What difference does it make how I vote or or am "vegetarian, read the Guardian or Independent and believe that America is always to be condemned"? None of those apply to me, but even if they did, to sneer at other parents like this only weakens any case you are trying to make, and adds to the overall flavour of snobbish misanthropy of the blog.

  9. I am stunned that you regard Rumer Lacey as competent; I thought she was so fluffy minded as to be practically certifiable. I suppose that I should find it deeply offensive that you are so judgemental about the Snobbish Misanthrope community, of which I am indeed a longstanding member. However, live and let live. By the way, our family are vegetarian and my wife is an Independent reading social worker which, I suppose, says it all!

    I am madly flattered that you should regard me as a "brainbox". Intellectualism being something of which I seldom stand accused.

    I am not vociferously demanding a heavier Ofsted style regime which did not apply while I was home educating. I think that Essex have got it about right and I do not see why anybody should object to having somebody like Rumer Lacey come round to their house occasionally. I am uneasy about some people who de-register their children from school and then refuse all contact with their local authority. I think that there is the possibility there that children could slip out of sight and there are dangers in this. I am in favour of the system currently operating in Essex and some other LAs being the norm. I see no reason not to ask parents for an acoount of their future plans.

    My attacks were not ad hominem. This is an attack against a specific person or individual. I was writing in a light hearted fashion about a certain type, which is quite a diffrent matter. The very expression should tell you the case; that it concerns one rather than the generality. You are, I suspect, no Latinist.

  10. You can take the teacher out of the school...

  11. Now that is a perfect example of an ad hominem attack! Well done, you are getting the idea.

  12. "Now that is a perfect example of an ad hominem attack! Well done, you are getting the idea."

    No, it is one fellow sufferer recognising another teaching/inspecting/lecturing addict. Several times now you have attempted to lecture me, and on some occasions, without bothering to check your facts, simply assuminmg that Simon Konws Best. The only solution is to go cold turkey from the tendency to be the teacher looking down from a pedestal. When I left teaching and began home edding, I knew that I was the one who needed "deschooling", since I had been institutionalised (rather than our children, who have never been to school).

  13. The fact that you view didacticism as some species of illness or psychiatric disorder tells me a good deal about your character, while revealing little of mine. But then, we snobbish misanthropes do tend to play our cards close to our chests.

  14. "I am uneasy about some people who de-register their children from school and then refuse all contact with their local authority. I think that there is the possibility there that children could slip out of sight and there are dangers in this."

    This can all be dealt with under current law along with ContactPoint. What specifically in the Badman recommendations will improve the situation in this area in your view?