Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The select committee - another conspiracy?

Many autonomously educating parents seem to be furious that I have been called to give evidence at the House of Commons select committee hearing on October 14th. Inevitably, they feel that this is yet another conspiracy by the educational establishment to suppress their entire way of life! A Stitch-up is the demotic expression most popular among these people to describe what they see as happening. The more rational of us are inclined to apply Occam's Razor to the situation and assume that the simplest explanation is probably the most likely. Here is what I think has happened.

The staff sifting through the submissions to the DCSF select committee are not themselves employed by the DCSF. The select committee is completely independent and is as likely to criticise the government as applaud it. The clerical staff sorting out the submissions have probably been told that many home educators are angry about the Badman Report and that the composition of the witnesses called should perhaps reflect that. So among the five people called in the first session on the morning of October 14th, we see Fiona Nicholson from Education Otherwise, Jane Lowe from the Home Education Advisory Service and Zena Hodgson from the Home Education Centre in Somerset. All these organisations have responded unfavourably to Graham Badman's recommendations. To balance this, the staff probably thought that they should give a space to somebody who is not opposed to the recommendations.

Another reason that my submission might have caught the eye and been chosen for further attention is that it was very short. I sent a single sheet of A4 paper, with half a dozen points, each of no more than one or two sentences. I used a crisp,14 point typeface and double spacing. Others have apparently written thousands of words. In my experience, nobody in these circumstances usually reads past the first page and so my submission was bound to stand out. As a matter of interest, did any of the people who have been complaining about not being called to give evidence stop to think of this? In other words, was I the only one who sent in a single A4 sheet double spaced and making only five brief points? if so, then that is the most likely explanation as to why mine caught the eye and I was chosen to give evidence. As scripture says, when dealing with people such as civil servants one should be as cunning as a serpent and as gentle as a dove! (Well, the Bible does not actually specify civil servants in that passage, but you take my point. You have to box clever with them)

Perhaps if the people who are now moaning about me had given the same amount of thought as I did, as to the correct way of approaching matters such as a House of Commons select committee or a DCSF enquiry, then they might have got a little further and actually had their own views taken into account. That I did so and have had my opinions considered by both Graham Badman and the select committee is evidence not of some sinister conspiracy, but rather of the fact that most civil servants and government employees would rather deal with a short, easily digestible summary, as opposed to closely packed pages of print totalling several thousand words. I do not make the rules, nor do I control human nature. I just work according to what I know of both and hope for the best.

Incidentally, quite a few people coming on to this Blog lately seem to be disgusted or shocked at what they find here. The following day they come back again and are offended all over again! They remind me of a prudish old woman who deliberately goes for a walk in a red-light district, purely for the pleasurable thrill of being horrified at what she sees. May I suggest that those who genuinely find my views distasteful, simply stay away? I am not exactly dragging people in here from off the streets. Or should I attach a warning on the first page; "Sensitive home educators may find material here which will criticise autonomous education"? I would be glad of constructive suggestions for how to deal with this vexing problem.


  1. My submission was similar in shape and style (not in content) to yours Simon, but I did NOT want to be called. As soon as a microphone is placed in front of me I start to gibber like an idiot and end up even forgetting my own name. {g} So I was relieved when Jane and Fiona were called as witnesses. They will represent my views much better than I could.

    I'm not sure that it was the style of submission that got you the witness place. I do think the committee clerks were probably looking for a witness who was supportive of the review for some kind of balance to the other HE witnesses and yours was probably the only submission of support. (Or one of very few.)

    I'll be watching the back of your head with interest today!

    Try not to call anyone a fool!{g}

    Mrs Anon

  2. Well, congratulations on your presentation... You also seem keen to publicise your reasoning abilities. Please explain to me, then, your comment on The Guardian site:
    "Some local authorities, Birmingham for example, report very high numbers of NEETs among home educated teenagers."

    A NEET is someone Not in Employment, Education or Training. So how can they be "home educated teenagers", who are, by definition, in education? Whether or not that education is satisfactory or not is another issue. If it is not, what have the local authority done about it in terms of SAOs etc?

    PS I keep coming back to this blog because your Pooterish manner continues to make me smile.

  3. Excellent, Guy H. yes, I do sound somewhat like Mr. Pooter. When I showed my wife the invitation to appear before the select committee, she said, "I must be sure not to get a port wine stain on it." I am sure you will catch the allusion.

    In the Guardian comment I should of course have said, Teenagers who were formerly home educated." I did draw attention in another post to the problem of how the LAs defined NEETs.

  4. Well, I watched the back of your head too- although actually we did get to see the front views of all of you - unlike Badman and co - so is that another one for conspiracy theorists, I wonder?

    In my opinion no one on either side said anything in that session that was surprising or outrageous....even if the select comm do think the stats are woolly, the only conclusion they are going to come to is that is due to the lack of info about how many unknowns there are... so in a way complaining about Badman's statistics is like feeding them the case FOR compulsory regsistration. I have to be really negative and say that short of a sudden general election, regsistration is a done deal....

    I need to re-listen to the later "professionals session"- apparently I misssed a quote from someone that said that religious reasons wasn't an acceptable reason for home educating.....

  5. @Guy H: I was just about to make a comparison with Pooter! The resemblance is extraordinary. A fortune could be made in the literary world, perhaps.

  6. You are so right, suzyg! My wife makes the comparison regularly. For those unfamiliar with Diary of a Nobody, the protagonist is a Victorian clerk. He is prone to making entries in his diary such as, "made a good joke today". One can just imagine my doing this after making what I believe to be a devastating riposte on this Blog! I can recommend this book to everybody, it has not been out of print since 1888.