Friday, 9 October 2009

Home educated NEETs

There is great concern over the number of young people in this country who are NEETs. This acronym stands of course for young people over the age of sixteen who are Not in Education Employment or Training. The latest figures collected in the run-up to the select committee hearings next week suggest that roughly four times as many home educated young people are NEETs; 22%, compared with just over 5% of school leavers. I don't doubt for a moment that these figures will be the subject of fierce debate. For example, does the definition of "not in education" include those who are still learning at home? In other words, by "in education", do the local authorities mean only those young people in a college or school setting? But if they were true, would it tell us anything useful about home education as opposed to school education? Almost certainly not. The reasons are fairly straightforward.

Despite all the fuss and anger among the few hundred home educators who are determined to cast themselves in the role of martyrs to a callous, uncaring and monolithic state, nobody is really at all worried about those children who are being educated at home. The target is really quite different. The confusion has arisen because the expression "home educated" is used to cover practically any child who is not at school. Not all of those children are actually receiving an education and it is these who are giving cause for concern.

Well who are these children? I was accused recently of talking too much about council estates and so today I shall be talking about a fairly typical case of a child from a prosperous, middle class home who stopped being educated at the age of fourteen. I know about him because he is my nephew. I think it worth describing his circumstances at some length because he is precisely the sort of child who precipitated the recent review of elective home education conducted by Graham Badman.

When it became clear to my family that I had no intention of sending my daughter to school, there was much shaking of heads, pursing of lips, narrowing of eyes and sad looks. I dare say some readers will also have experienced this! Leader of this faction in my own family was my sister in Manchester. However, by the time her youngest son was thirteen she was having enough trouble with him to cause her to stop worrying about my affairs. He began truanting and unless she could get him off to school before leaving for work, he would simply go back to bed. Soon after his fourteenth birthday, he decided that he would simply not get up in the mornings any more. Since he was over six feet tall by then, there was no question of making him get up and get dressed.

My sister was at a loss to know what to do. My home educated daughter was ten at that time and I had discussed home education often enough with my sister. So she hit upon the luminous idea of de-registering him from school, adapting an educational philosophy from the HE-UK site and then refusing any visit. Well, she is an articulate and forceful woman and this ruse worked a treat, at least from the point of view of preventing her from being sent to prison for her son's truancy. The only slight problem was that the boy now spent all day in bed until about two in the afternoon. He would then get up and play computer games or watch television until the evening, when he would go and hang round the streets with his mates. I need hardly add that he became a NEET as soon as he reached sixteen.

It is children like these who are the problem. It would be foolish to describe him as "home educated" because nobody, least of all my sister who is a very busy woman, was providing him with any education. Nor was he educating himself autonomously, unless you count the acquisition of the ability to buy and sell small amounts of illegal drugs as a useful life skill. Nobody knows how many children there are like this. It would have taken only a single visit and a few questions by a sharp eyed local authority officer to uncover this deception. Of course, if my sister had been in the room, she would have been able to jump in first with the correct answers. This is where speaking to the child alone really comes in handy!

This then is the nature of the problem. Not children being educated autonomously, but children receiving no education of any description whatsoever. I have no idea what the remedy is to this problem. I don't think that sending my sister to prison and putting her son into care would have been a good idea. Nor do I think that it would have suited anybody to force the child back into school, where he would just disrupt the education of those who did wish to learn. It is this sort of situation that the new legislation is intended to deal with. I do not for a moment suppose that it is in anybody's mind, Graham Badman, me or anyone else, that parents who are autonomously educating their children should be the target of some crackdown. It is, as I said above, really only those who are not receiving an education at all who are likely to be affected by any new law.


  1. >>>>>>>>>I have no idea what the remedy is to this problem. I don't think that sending my sister to prison and putting her son into care would have been a good idea. Nor do I think that it would have suited anybody to force the child back into school, where he would just disrupt the education of those who did wish to learn. It is this sort of situation that the new legislation is intended to deal with.<<<<<<<<<

    How does the new legislation 'deal with' this situation? I don't understand. How would your nephew have been educated, if the new law had been in place?

    You say you don't know what the remedy is, but then say the new law would have dealt with it. Perhaps I've misunderstood the point you were making?

    Mrs Anon

  2. The reason that my sister adopted this course of action was because she knew from her conversations with me that she would be able to pull this stunt without any difficulty. She knew that she could refuse a visit and so on. If there had been the prospect of meeting an officer from the LA and explaining her plans, then I think she would have thought twice. Particularly since it might have come to light that she worked full time and could not possibly be home educating in reality.

  3. Okay, I see.

    So, you think that the situation should have continued as it was, with your nephew truanting? Eventually, the full weight of the law might have been brought to bear on your sister. Would that have changed matters? Would your nephew then have been educated? How?

    Or perhaps you are saying that you believe that your sisiter should have stopped work and taught him herself. That would have been a good solution, if the family could have managed finanacially. It's certainly what we would have done under the circumstances. But perhaps your sister felt she had no choice.

    How do you get on with your sister these days?{g} I hope she doesn't mind you telling her story here!

    Mrs Anon

  4. As things stand, there are three possible outcomes. Firstly, that the child's parents are prosecuted for truancy. Second, the child is forced back to school. Third, the situation is ignored and the child left to his own devices. I don't really like any of these optins. At least with th proposed new law, we would no how many children like this there are. As to how to tackle the problem, I am as much at a loss as everybody else! No, my sister won't mind me telling this story. her surname is different from mine and so nobody could identify her or her son from this. She was a single parent and could not have stopped work, or so it seemed to her. I don't think she would have wanted to spend the day with her son any way.

  5. Perhaps more "non school education provided by the LA" is the answer? I have had a lot of dealings with the LA over the past few months (mandated by the memebers of my home ed group, before anyone starts hurling insults at me too...) to try and get some help with the sort of things our lccal home ed group want. One of the things we have been offered is use of a science lab and so I went to have a look at it last week. It is in a brand new PRU so was wonderful and the staff etc were very helpful. Our LA boss said that he has 95 families on his books as home educators (probably about half the actual amount, I suspect) but he is also responsible for the day to day education of 300 EOTAS students in 4 PRU's and on LA funded home tuition. It is clear that although the EOTAS system isn't perfect, they are probably better equipped at mopping up the ineducatable (as far as schools are concerned) than school themselves; although also expensive....but your nephew may have had more of an education if the punishment for truancy offences wasn't just aimed at inflicting pain on the parents but also came up with some alternatives for the child.

  6. And she would not have been able to stop work and claim benefits because the law would not allow for that.

    So, it clearly didn't work out for your nephew to be left to his own devices as you say he got into drugs. That is sad and I can see how your compassion for your nephew has informed your opinions about this sort of situation.

    But for some, this, though not ideal, is a kind of a solution. I know of kids in this position who have managed to keep learning at home by themselves or with the support of the HE community (other mums drving them off to activities/exams etc, feeding them lunch, paying for happens{g}) And then they go on to FE to catch up a bit. It may not be ideal, but for them, the alternative: truancy, prosecution of the mum etc would have been far worse.

    Mrs Anon

  7. Oh really Simon, must you really write such drivel?
    Let's get this straight, your sister deregisters your nephew and then does not provide efficient, full-time education suitable to his age, aptitude and ability and SENs?

    First of all I want to ask you, why is it the authorities' job to have remedied this situation? Do you not have a duty of care towards your nephew? At the very least you should have informed the LA.

    Let me tell you what should have happened under EXISTING regulations.

    Upon deregistration the LA would likely have written to your sister for information about her educational provision. I do not know of ANY LAs who simply accept a written educational philosohpy, they are almost certain to want a statement of provision and information about resources available to the child, groups attended etc etc. They should be using the checklist in the 2007 guidelines which, if used properly and with understanding, will help them identify if they are dealing with an engaged parent (either autonomous or non-autonomous) or a dis-engaged (laissez faire) parent. If you had bothered to do your research you would know that DCSF research has already established that parental engagement is the crucial issue and that parental engagement or disengagement will have more effect upon a child's outcomes even than socio-economic factors or how educated the parent is. So, it is parental engagement the LA should be looking for, not particular curricula or teaching methods.

    An ed phil does not usually contain sufficient information to form a reliable indicator of engagement which is why all LAs will ask for a statement of provision. What is the parent actually *doing*, what resources are they using etc etc.

    Most LAs do not understand the significance of engagement, because the DCSF deliberately buried the research - so they do not understand what *quality* in the education they are actually looking for. What is it that actually divides the autonomous from the laissez faire, the structured from the hothouse? The difference is of course engagement with the child, responsiveness to his needs, purposive conversation, sustained shared thinking. This is not a deficiency in existing powers however it is a deficiency in understanding on the part of LAs which leads them to think they should be looking for timetables, curriculums and particular methods.


  8. ...cont'd...

    Quite clearly this LA did not spot the signs of disengagement in this case. But you are equally culpable here Simon. Had you let the LA know what was going on or had they made some more enquiries (assuming they knew what they were actually looking for) they would then have had what is known as "the appearance of failure to provide suitable education". The law then requires the LA to issue a notice to the parent *requiring* the parent to satisfy the LA.

    If the parent fails to comply the LA must then issue a school attendance order and if the parent does not comply the LA takes the parent to court. At any time the parent could provide information to the LA or the court to satisfy them that suitable education is taking place but the parent cannot sit back and do nothing.

    So you see Simon what we have here is not a deficiency of existing rules and regulations, what we have is LAs who do not really understand that what they need to be looking for is engaged parents v laissez faire parents and that the checklist in the 2007 guidelines is specifically designed to point them in the right direction. What we also have is the your failure to exercise your duty of care towards this child and give the LA the information which by law would have meant they would embark on the formal process that could have ended with your sister in court and your nephew back in school.

    The existing guidelines and laws are robust, they are capable of doing the job perfectly if they are used properly. Unfortunately what we have seen over the last few years is a decided tendency to just create more legislation instead of properly using existing powers.

    I would just love for you to tell me how Badman's proposals will in any way improve the likelihood of spotting disengaged parents. In my view they will just make it worse, because instead of using a checklist that specifically draws the LAs attention to factors likely to indicate that they are dealing with an engaged parent, the LA will be looking for factors that superfically match up with their own prejudices of what education should look like or with a list based on some "expert's" perception of what education looks like.

    What will this mean in practice?
    It will mean a lot of engaged autonomous educators are going to get a shedful of hassle and disengaged parents who know how to tick the boxes will just carry on as before.

    If you want to improve the situation for kids like your nephew then look again at the 2007 guidelines and start raising sh1t about the fact that LAs simply don't bother to use them.

  9. I will continue to home educate autonomously even if Badman's proposals go through and the law is against me. The reason for this is plain; I believe that the family is sacred and that it is where children learn everything worth knowing. I think that anything that strikes at the institution of the family, strikes at the heart of society.

    You should recognise those sentiments Simon and understand then why many home educators see civil disobedience as the only possible response to Badman's proposals. It's not a case of just being bolshy or stroppy - you have to understand that if Badman's recommendations are accepted many of us will find ourselves being coerced by the Government to parent other than according to our integrity, to parent other than according to the promptings of our souls. To be other than who we are. To hand control of our child's learning, dreams, hopes and outcomes to a beaurocrat when they rightfully belong to our child and our child alone.

    Has anyone given any thought to the implications of criminalising hoards of home educators? Has anyone wondered if it is truly a legitimate function of Government to seek to control the functions and interactions of private families?

    Wouldn't it be better to ensure LAs just do their job properly instead?

  10. Joely ( I think) said "I do not know of ANY LAs who simply accept a written educational philosohpy,..."
    er... here is South Hants they will; now I know they would like more, but they also know that home educators know the law and they don't demand more; had Simon's sister lived down here she would have had no trouble unless she looked for it.....

    (Having said all that we are working really hard at developing a good relationship with the LA for those who want to engage with them, so I would be really peeved if someone we knew did do what Simons's sister did, and we would try hard to help them if they did actually want to home educate despite the mothers work commitment.)

  11. I think that part of the problem Joely, might be that you are talking about how local authorities should behave and I am talking about how they actually are behaving. Many LAs will be content with educational philosophies. In some LAs, schools do not even notify their local authority when a child is de-registered; LB Enfield is one such. In some LAs, LBs Hackney, Tower hamlets, Waltham Forest, to name but three, there is a tacit agreement that they will not pursue the parents of fourteen and fifteen year olds if they leave school. You ask how a new law would help. It would involve the DCSF being made aware of what was happening, for one thing. LAs would be obliged to collect data and make regular returns about home educated children, analysing the reasons for their de-registration. This might keep local authorities on their toes a bit. For the parents, the realisation that withdrawing a child would not mean fobbing the LA off with a few photographs of Jimmy at the swimming pool or an educational philosophy would have a wholesome effect. It would make them think a little harder about what is a very serious decision. You ask why I did not inform on my sister. There are two reasons. The first is that I find anonymous denunciations disgusting. The second is that then, as I explained above, one of two things would have happened. Either my sister could have ended up in prison for allowing truancy and her son would then be taken into care. Or, the boy would have been forced back to a school which was doing nothing to meet his needs and where he would simply have made life difficult for everybody else. I am interested in what Julie has been saying on this subject, because she knows how things actually work. I am also pleased at some of the things in yesterday's announcement from the DCSF, because I hope that they are a move in the right direction, especially the bit about colleges.

  12. The point I am trying to make Simon is that LAs are not properly using the comprehensive powers they ALREADY have and the solution to this is according to you, to give them more?

    You say "In some LAs, schools do not even notify their local authority when a child is de-registered; LB Enfield is one such." But this is already illegal under the existing regs, why is a new power needed? Surely what needs to happen is that the existing one is enforced?

    You say "It would involve the DCSF being made aware of what was happening, for one thing." The DCSF could easily achieve this, if required, by making the existing 2007 guidance statutory and placing a requirement on LAs to make returns.

    You say "Either my sister could have ended up in prison for allowing truancy and her son would then be taken into care. Or, the boy would have been forced back to a school which was doing nothing to meet his needs" So how are Badman's proposals going to change that? All they do is put autonomous educators under a spotlight that should be looking for disengaged parents.

    I'm disappointed you haven't taken on board the fact that Badman's proposals wrongly focus on autonomy as the issue and that LAs already have every power they need.

    It seems to me that you are fully in the mindset of policy based evidence making. Have you considered a career in politics?

  13. I've got an idea. How about an independant review into whether schools and LAs are doing their jobs properly?

  14. Oh yeah, re yesterday's announcement from the DCSF? (putting school between children and families btw) This encapsulates the mood of home educators across the board :

  15. Simon,

    Is this yet another of your scenarios written to suit your purposes?


  16. No, Fiona, this is perfectly true. I think that I have mentioned all this before on one of the lists. If I had been writing it as a work of fiction I would have worked in a satisfying climax, such as my nephew being murdered on the streets while he should have been at school! Actually, there is quite a lot that could be done with this story, now you mention it. You say, "another of my scenarios". Am I to induce from this that you have reason to suppose that I have devised other scenarios to suit my purposes? If so, we should be told. I am shocked at the very suggestion Ms. Nicholson!

  17. You are correct, we should be told; are your posts all factual or are they written to fit their forum?
    "Ms. Nicholson" !

  18. Everything which I have written on this Blog is pretty much the truth, Fiona. I won't say that I have not combined two cases together for brevity, but the facts are all as stated. Others have accused me of creating caricatures and sterotypes, particularly when writing about families that I have visited, but it is not so. Indeed, some of the things that I have witnessed are so grotesque, that if anything I tone them down a bit. My wife, who is a social worker, came home with a beauty, which could have come straight from the pages of a comic novel. She was running a halfway house for supposedly homeless people waiting to be allocated social housing. They all had plenty of money and in most cases were running various scams. Last Christmas, one of the residents was planning a party. When my wife saw her a day or two later, she was still angry because the person she had bought the food for the party from had let her down. She had sent tinned caviar, instead of the proper sort in little glass jars! She had refused even to open the tin, because she felt it would make her look like a cheapskate! She gave it to my wife. This is the sort of anecdote which I do not include because it sounds like a Daily Mail news item. But yes, all that I write here is true, although I have changed the names of the boroughs, and also made sure that nobody can be identified.

  19. Another funny (and improbable) story for Fiona.

    A friend of mine who home educates, although this is not really relevant, lives in Muswell Hill with her Turkish husband. They often row and he storms out of the house for a couple of hours or even a day or two. This happened one evening and he wandered down to central London. Apparently he had been doing the garden and looked very unkempt. Anyway, he went to the embankment and saw somebody handing out free coffee and snawiches and decided to have some. It turned out that this was a worker from a charity for the homeless. He was delighted to see my friend's husband, who is very swarthy and obviously not English. A homeless foreigner! How cool will that look on the ethnic monitoring forms? Nabi, as we shall call him was taken that night to a hostel and promised plenty of help. He went along with all this, being a bit of a chancer and fly boy as he is. By then he had rung his wife and made up. Because he was foreign, everybody was really helpful and to cut a long story short, he was fast tracked to a council flat in Hounslow. Having no use for it himself, Nabi rented it out to some Ukranians at a profit. As they say, you couldn't make it up! I have plenty of stories like these, but do not usually tell them except to other people who work with problem families and the homeless. Nobody else would believe them.