Saturday, 10 October 2009
Home educators are angry/dismayed/up in arms/furious/worried............
We have been seeing headlines of this sort pretty regularly since January, when the DCSF announced an enquiry into elective home education. Of course, we cannot expect the writers of newspaper headlines, who all too often appear to be illiterate maniacs, to abide by the strict rules of Aristotelian Logic. Never the less, it would surely be helpful if they occasionally inserted check-words into their headlines such as "all", "some", "many", "few" or "none". The reason I say this is probably obvious. If a newspaper reporter goes to Tottenham and speaks to half a dozen disaffected Afro-Caribbean youths, he is hardly justified in writing an article with the headline "Black people angry about...". Unfortunately, this seems to be precisely what is being done with newspaper articles about home education in this country.
Nobody really knows how many children in this country are educated at home. We know that roughly twenty thousand such children are registered with local authorities as being electively home educated. We also know that some are not registered with their local authorities. Graham Badman, in his report, speculated that there could be another sixty thousand. Home education organisations often suggest that the figure is more like thirty thousand children unknown to the authorities. This would give us about fifty thousand home educated children in total and I propose to use this figure a rough estimate. Assuming that each child has two parents and that some parents have more than one child, might give us a very rough figure of eighty thousand parents in this country with children who are educated at home. It may be more, it may be less, but I shall work with this figure, at least until more data emerge.
Now, here is a question. What percentage of these eighty thousand home educating parents feel that the arrangements for monitoring home education need to change? Well, obviously it must be a tiny minority. The vast majority of home educating parents are furious about Badman's proposals, surely? They are overwhelmingly in favour of the situation remaining unchanged. Hardly any home educating parents want new and tougher monitoring of home education. This is, as it were, the standard view of the reaction of home educating parents to the Badman Report. Actually, it is a lot of nonsense. In fact fewer than 1% of home educating parents have objected to the idea of a new system of monitoring home education! The other 99% have remained resolutely silent, an interesting point to which I shall return later. First, the facts.
Despite all the shouting by an increasingly hysterical and vociferous faction of mainly autonomous home educators, the best indicator of the reaction of ordinary home educators to the proposal for a change in monitoring arrangements remains the responses of those who took part in the review which Graham Badman conducted. In answer to Question 5; "Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families?", a mere seven hundred and eighty one parents said that they either wanted the situation to remain the same or called for the abolition of monitoring entirely. This represents just under 1% of our ballpark figure of eighty thousand home educating parents. Interesting, no? The rest wanted, among other things, better training for local authority officers. This desire has been reflected in Recommendation 9 of the Badman report.
Of course there are also various petitions, but as I have said before, since these contain the names of many people who are not home educators and are also open to abuse by multiple signing, it is impossible to know whether or not more than that same 1% of home educating parents have signed them. It is also true that a number of people have written to MPs and made submissions to the select committee, but I have a strong suspicion that this is that same 1% again.
The Badman review of elective home education ran from January until May. It was widely publicised in the newspapers and on the television and I suspect that few home educating parents were unaware of it. The fact that only 1% responded by rejecting the need for a change in monitoring is very suggestive. Silence means consent. The truth is that when most of us hear about some new legislation which is likely to have a direct impact upon our lifestyle, then we only complain if we disagree with it. If we hear of it, shrug and do nothing, we are pretty well accepting that we agree with the idea or at the very least that we can live with it. This seems to have been what happened with the Badman review. Over 99% of home educators simply saw no reason at all to get worked up about it. The thousand or so who did, are a very small minority of the home education community.
Of course we must be very careful when legislating, that we do not disregard the views of small minorities. On the other hand we cannot let the existence of tiny pressure groups prevent us passing laws for the greater good. The Lord's Day Observance Society has many more than a thousand members, but I doubt if most of us would want their views to be taken overmuch into account when the decisions are being made about licensing laws and the opening of cinemas on Sunday? It is true that the passage of a new Safeguarding Bill may well cause considerable inconvenience to a small number of home educating parents. This inconvenience must however be carefully weighed against the good that such new legislation might achieve.