Like most parents, I have always seen it as part of my duty not only to protect my child from harm, but also from worry and anxiety, at least where this is possible. For example, a few years ago it seemed that we might lose our house. This was very worrying for me as an adult, but I could see no earthly reason to make the children upset about the prospect of being turfed out of their home, especially as there was absolutely nothing they could do to help. I accordingly said nothing to them about it. In the event, matters resolved themselves. If it had been inevitable that we would have to move, then I might of course have adopted a slightly different strategy, slowly accustoming them to the idea of moving. I am circuitously approaching the subject of visits by local authority officers to home educating families, something about which many parents are up in arms.
The truth is, coverage of the Badman report in the newspapers and on television has been sparse in the extreme. Unless their parents had made a point of telling their children about it and explaining what they see as the hidden implications in the recommendations, it is unlikely that many children would even know anything of the matter. I find it strange then that so many children are apparently becoming distressed and anxious over the possibility of home visits. Such anxiety must surely be coming from their mothers and fathers?
It is by no means certain at the moment whether the law relating to home education is actually going to change. If and when it does, there will be many months to prepare children for the prospect of a visit by the local authority. What reason can there be to upset children by telling them a lot of scare stories about new laws that have not even been passed yet? It strikes me that it is the parents who are getting worked up about all this and frightened of the idea that people will be entering their homes to assess the quality of the educational provision being made for their children. I make no comment at all on this; I have no idea whether they are right to be concerned about it. What I am quite sure of is that it is, to say the least of it, unfortunate, if their children are roped into the business as well and made to share their parents anxieties. In other words, I think that it is not Graham Badman, the local authority or its agents who are making the children distressed, but their own parents.
I was not exactly enchanted when Essex LEA notified me that they wanted to come busybodying round the place to see what I was up to with my own daughter. However, as I said at the select committee, I do recognise that society has a stake in my child and so I did not tell them to get lost. Nor did I mention the matter to my eight year old daughter. There would have been no point; it might have made her feel nervous. Instead, I waited until after breakfast on the morning that the visit was due and then said casually, as though I had just remembered it, "Oh by the way, some fool is coming from the council later. They want to make sure that I'm not keeping you chained up in the attic." She laughed and we carried on as usual. the result was that the woman's visit was of no more significance to my daughter than a visit from the man coming to read the gas meter. This is in stark contrast to accounts that have been placed in the comments here from mothers who say that visits from the LA cause the family to be tense for a couple of months in advance and for a month or so afterwards. According to such parents, the whole business causes disruption to their way of life and alters the style of their educational methods. I am pretty sure that tension of this sort is all too often created, or at least greatly exacerbated, by parents.
I rather suspect that as the prospect of new regulations draws ever closer, so we shall be hearing more and more alarming stories of children on the verge of nervous breakdowns at the thought of LA officers entering their homes. I do not for a moment suppose that the children's fears are being encouraged deliberately, but I cannot help but think that it is unnecessary for us to pass our own worries onto our children in this way.