Monday, 23 November 2009

A plot to destroy home education in this country?

Ever since Graham Badman's review of elective home education was launched in January, suggestions have been made that it was all part of a sinister and deeply laid plot, having as its ultimate aim the abolition of home education in this country. The publication of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which contains draft regulations relating to home education, seems to have provoked even normally rational people into wild speculations upon the eventual outcome for home educators if things carry on like this. So let us bring this idea out into the open and examine it carefully to see if there might be any substance in the notion that certain members of the government actually hope to make home education impossible in England and Wales.

The first question we must ask is that classic enquiry when a suspected crime has occurred; cui bono? Who benefits from this thing? Well who would benefit if home education stopped being a viable option for parents in this country? In order to answer that, we might begin by asking ourselves what the practical consequences would be of the abolition of home education.

With schools currently at bursting point, the immediate result of something like 80,000 extra children suddenly being registered at school would be a demand for somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 new teachers. (Assuming roughly one teacher per thirty new pupils.) In the long term, fifty or sixty new schools would need to be built to accommodate all these pupils; so the first beneficiary might be the teaching profession. New jobs, new schools and an acknowledgement that education is a state monopoly, not something any Tom, Dick or Harry can just do in their kitchens whenever they feel like it! This is an interesting hypothesis, but it does not really hold water.

The new regulations regarding home education are contained in the Children, School and Families Bill. They are only a small part of it. Much is taken up with various initiatives designed to raise standards in schools. If the teaching profession were behind this new bill, and I have to say that I don't really buy into the idea of a teachers lobby forcing the government's hand, then it is surprising that so many of the bill's provisions are designed to make life more difficult for teachers. For example, the idea that teachers will need in to be re-examined every few years to see if they are still fit to teach. Why on earth would teachers wish to force measures like this onto the Statute Book? I'm not sure either how keen I would be as a teacher to have a load of home educated children suddenly foisted off on me. All those weird parents causing trouble and making complaints at every touch and turn! I would have thought that most teachers could do without the aggravation. So I must conclude that if there really is a plot, then teachers are not at the back of it.

Who else might be implicated? Could it be that the government, or even just an individual member of the cabinet like Ed Balls, is dead set on getting rid of home education? What would the government get out of it? How would they benefit? I suppose that it could serve to make them look as though they were very concerned about vulnerable children and determined to take robust steps to protect them. The only problem here is that most of the electorate have not even noticed that home education is facing new controls. If it was done as a publicity stunt, then I would have expected to see a little more publicity associated with it. In the event, it has been simply slipped past in a few obscure pages of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Hardly anybody apart from home educating parents themselves even know that it has happened. For that reason, I think we can acquit the government of playing to the gallery on the child protection issue. They have not drawn enough attention to what they are doing for that to be the case.

What other culprits could be in the frame for this? It is hard to identify any one group or even a combination of groups who would benefit enough from the destruction of home education to make it worth their while. The medical profession? Big Pharma? Psychiatrists? The military-industrial complex? Area 51? I am quite open to hearing any suggestions as to who or what could be behind a plan to get rid of home education in Britain.

In the meantime, I shall continue to assume that the stated aim is the true one; to ensure that children withdrawn from school are in fact educated at home. I am quite prepared to believe that many parents disagree violently with Graham Badman, Ed Balls and many of the officers working for local authorities. I am also able to accept that people like Badman and Balls might be mistaken in what they think about home education and wrongheaded in their whole approach. I do not happen to believe personally that this is the case, but I am certainly open to the possibility that they, and of course me, are quite wrong. However, unless strong and convincing evidence emerges, I shall continue to think that they are actually acting honestly and that they have the best interests of children at heart.


  1. Yeah, and there are fairies at the bottom of the garden. A year or two ago, a FOI request revealed that private emails within the then DES were showing a clear intent by the civil servants and MPs to "crack down" on home educators. Child welfare was never mentioned -- it was the very fact that some parents do not want state education which was unacceptable. There is a lot of snobbery and social worker/teacher professional ego behind this move to restrict us.

    Anyway, why should you care? You were able to home ed your child in peace -- so, never mind the rest of us.

    I don't know why you get so cross about the conduct of the more aggressive home edders on this blog. The things you write about other parents are dreadful -- for example the comments on home educating fathers: "The sort of men who do hang out with home education groups often tend to be semi-emasculated males who are determined to outdo the women in sensitivity and gentleness. They are "New Men" and only an ordinary man with the strongest stomach and remarkably powerful ability to suppress the gagging reflex would be able to withstand their company!"

    Can you do all the things on this list? Use 5 ways to light a fire, build a treehouse, skateboard in a backyard pool,make a roller-towel holder in 45 minutes, make and fry Indian puris, repair a sash cord window, make tarte tatin AND play AfroCuban drums. If you can, you could grow up to be just like my limp-wristed, "semi-emasculated" husband!

    Simon Webb, the Chuck Norris of the home educating community? Methinks not.

  2. (Anonymous-2)

    @Anonymous: I agree; in fact it's worse than snobbery, it's typical control freak behaviour, symptomatic of very insecure groups of people. I don't know any social workers but the brightest school teachers I know are either home educating or sympathetic to HE. The rest - and this goes for DCSF and the LAs - are terrified that their competence and professionalism are being challenged and they simply cannot tolerate that. If they really care about child welfare then there are plenty of other places to start where they could have a bigger impact.

    This exercise is also about protecting bottoms - and I don't mean those of our children. There are boxes to be ticked and evidence to be provided so that if there is ever a case to answer, they can claim that they were doing something. It doesn't matter how effective the process is - and that's where Balls, Badman etc., are acting dishonestly - just so long as they can point to some legislation to cover their behinds.

    I love the list; not wishing to make Chuck - I mean Simon - feel emasculated, let's give him a little more choice: how about unblock a drain, build a rocket, strip electrical wires with bare teeth, deworm the dog and program a computer (instead of losing his blogs)?

    But, for all this, I'm not sure that any of our men would be able to suppress their gagging reflex if they were made to read Simon's blogs.

  3. I don't know where you get the idea that schools are full to bursting point. Google 'surplus school places' and you will come across a number of entries from LAs fretting about spare capacity. Our LA closed several primary schools last year.

  4. I am with Simon on this one..... I think we have got into this position for a number of reasons, but eradicating home ed isn't the master plan. I think that....

    a) we have an over controlling govt who feel that everything needs legislating and regulation.
    b) Home ed has become a much more significant activity - both interms of number and the sort of home educators ( eg no longer just the choice of parents of talented children or the liberal thinkers, but a choice made by a wider spread of people that therefore has become more noticeable.)
    c) the few high profile abuse cases that have been linked ( mostly falsely) with home ed - and the sort of Daily Mail mentality that looks for someone to blame. (The LAs therefore want more control so they sound less useless)
    d) the nanny state attitude that wants all children in public child care so they can be better "educated" ( huh!) and their mothers can get back to work.

  5. Hey thanks, Anonymous and Anonymous 2! Chuck Norris, eh? I am enormously flattered, but I'm afraid you're a little wide of the mark. Due to the fact that I work with under fives and took my baby daughter round with me all the time, most men assumed that I was gay. Even now that I am no longer carrying a baby round in a sling, my general manner causes most men to assume that I am an effeminate homosexual, rather than think of me as Chuck Norris. Still, it was a kind thought and I am grateful for it!

  6. Julie, I think you are spot on here. I think that there are a number of disconnected things happening which all tend to the same end. It can look like a general attack on home education, until you take the trouble to look a little closer. I knew a few years ago when I saw home education described in a newspaper as being "wholly unregulated" that the writing was on the wall!

  7. @Julie: I agree with all those points, and I think there's also a strong element of professional insecurity - usually from those who are least capable and therefore more vulnerable to criticism, whether they are in teaching, social services or government/civil service. This overlaps with your item (c).

    Do I think this is part of a master plan to eliminate HE? I think perhaps some of the participants would like to do that but they realise that would not be practical and wouldn't make them look good, but anything that deters it is favoured.

    Do I believe that Balls and Badman are honest about child welfare? Like any political types, I'm sure that that they have an element of belief that helps to justify their position. Expediency and some "greater good" are always in their minds and that can help to justify a lot of small things that are bad individually. Of course they are not child-eating monsters - but they aren't saints trying to do their best for all the little children.

    There is a spectrum of beliefs behind this and so a fudge of legislation to try to satisfy that.

    Some will try to push further, e.g., with appropriate curricula etc., to exert further control and provide an even greater deterrence.

    @Simon: Glad to have made your day, but I think you missed the irony!


  8. suzyg, schools are indeed closing down in places where there are fewer children. In parts of London where there are lots of children, though, it is becoming very hard to get a place at a school near where you live.

  9. Anonymous 2, one of us is certainly missing the irony. Read my post again and think, "Taking the piss out of an idiot"!

  10. @Simon: Oh dear, wrong side of the bed this morning? Make sure you have some nice fluffy slippers. I know precisely what you're trying to say and that makes it all the more fun! Still, it's better that you handle things that way than deleting another blog in a fit of pique.

    Of course, the bigger irony is that there isn't actually a lot of disagreement here - yet - but then I'm not sure that I've met anyone who believed in a conspiracy to ban HE altogether (yes, lots of on-line chatter but that's the nature of the web). As you say, there are disconnected things seen together, but that also doesn't mean that the end result is harmless; on the contrary. Having seen other, unrelated government bodies and quangos acting with a purpose, I don't expect this legislation to be the last if some people have there way. Some of those won't go away with a change of government.


  11. "there way" -> "their way" - perils of editing - before I get pulled-up.

  12. A couple of years ago, I was at an apparently defunct American homeschooling website that had some interesting if outdated figures relating to the number of children being educated outside the US school system. In 1990, it was an estimated 180,000. In 1999, it was an estimated 760,000. The number had more than quadrupled in the course of the decade. I read recently elsewhere that the number of home educated (homeschooled) children in the US has grown in the past decade by an average of 15-20% a year. If my calculations are correct, that means the number of children in the US today who are being educated outside of the school system is somewhere between 1,140,000 and 1,520,000. A huge increase on twenty years ago. These are all estimates not actual figures. The point is, this is a trend that's being paralleled in Australia and presumably also in the UK. Given the growth of home education, if I was a minister responsible for education somewhere I would be very anxious right now to revisit existing legislation not because I wanted to control home education but because I didn't want it to get out of control.

    Just a thought.

  13. I was thinking along the same lines as Bob, that this is less to do with the who and how of HE in the Uk today, but having the ducks in order ready to deal with the who and how, in much bigger numbers,of tomorrow.

    In part ( I went in details over the other areas I think they saw as issues in another post, but don't remember where it is now and am too lazy to type it all again) I think their negative vision of the masses of HEing parents tomorrow has been influenced by LA's basically forcing parents into HE as an alternative to exclusion or other sanctions.

    I think they felt they needed to be ready for a future population of HEed kids who were put on that route for the sake of "loophole" rather than "educational preferences", despite having designed clauses to head naughty LAs off at the pass.

  14. I also think that Bob has a good point. A few years ago, home education in this country was a handful of eccentrics who could safely be ignored. It is now a mass movement with tens of thousands of children being removed from school. This has got to make people in government ask what is going on and to think about how the whole things can be regulated.

  15. @Bob: An interesting point; in fact the numbers are bigger: 15% per annum is about 4x in 10 years; 20% is over 6x, so that makes somewhere between 3 million and 5 million now, IF that rate of growth has been sustained since 1999. I think there are about 75 million children in the US., so that would meant that at least 4% are HE.


  16. @Bob, Anonymous-2:

    So if the UK government is concerned by the prospect of the number of HE children in the UK growing to 400,000 (i.e., 4%, up by 5-10x on current numbers, including the suspected "hidden" ones, or 20x on "known") or more, then does the proposed legislation look like a means of (a) coping with that, or (b) deterring home educators and preventing it from ever happening?


  17. @Sarah, Simon:

    If fear of larger numbers are part of the motivation then it equally well could be because of educational preference, not simply for loophole cases. Simon is correct, it is already a mass movement, most of the members of which are not eccentric - unless anyone thinks that having a better education in a sane environment is eccentric.

    For the state, a few harmless eccentrics are one thing; a large body questioning state wisdom and authority is another. One might say that this is about killing HE in the same way that sterilising the population is about killing the human race; nobody will be killed by that. Growth might be a bit of an issue though.

  18. "If fear of larger numbers are part of the motivation then it equally well could be because of educational preference, not simply for loophole cases."

    If they were that concerned about educational preferences (at this point, give them time...) I would have expected to see the classic weapon used in other educational fields and industries to force diversity of practice out of the door. Obligatory Standardized Testing.

    The reason why so many countries use it as a weapon of choice, when it comes to keeping HEing families in line in terms of curriculum and philosophies, is that it is cheap and effective in a way that individualized home visits are not.

    You get the collywobbles about the impending exam throughout the whole year, very aware it is not just your kid being tested, it is you too. Tends to make you risk adverse to stepping outside the lines of the governemental box when it comes to pace, materials and content. Which of course is the whole point.

  19. @Sarah: The problem with OST here is that it could be a double-edged sword; unless you apply a particular set of tests to HE children that don't apply to those in school, the results might be somewhat embarrassing.

    While the official line is that school standards as measured by GCSEs and A-levels are excellent and continue to improve, anybody with a long-term view knows that this is simply false (e.g., undergraduates in science and engineering frequently need remedial maths within months of waving their 5 A* A-level certificates in the air - clearly something is going very badly wrong).

    I think that a significant part of the exponential growth in HE is from educational preference (US statistics might tell us something); I agree that other cases may make a significant contribution, but I'd lay odds that the big problem is from those uppity parents that don't think school and state standards are good enough for their precious kids.