Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Ofsted survey

Ofsted are conducting a survey about home education in fifteen local authority areas, The ostensible idea being that they wish to see what sort of services local authorities are offering to home educating families. To this end, the local authorities have been asked to distribute questionnaires to home educating parents known to them. Needless to say, this move has been treated with considerable suspicion by some parents. Conspiracy theorists were quick off the mark to suggest that the questionnaires were only being sent to structured home educators and that the aim of this was to give a distorted view of home education by writing out autonomous educators. Even the fact that reference numbers were to found on the envelopes was seen as sinister evidence that Ofsted would be trying to identify individual respondents when they collated the information! (The real reason was just to tell Ofsted which local authority area the response concerned.)

I have to say personally that I am all in favour of more information being gathered about home education. I am fascinated by the whole subject, for obvious reasons and a survey of this sort across various types of district might yield some interesting insights into elective home education as it is currently practiced in this country. Ofsted's role is;

"Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We regulate and inspect to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages."

Now if parents claim to be educating their children, then I think they must accept that Ofsted will probably end up having a role in their lives in one way or another. A number of parents object strongly to local authorities checking the nature of their educational provision and I would guess that Ofsted is perhaps gearing up to take on some sort of role in that respect. The questionnaire itself is quite unexceptionable, if slightly geared towards a structured approach. It looks to me like a genuine attempt to find out what home educating parents actually do. I cannot imagine what harm could possibly result from telling Ofsted how people home educate.

There has been very little research on home education in this country. For some inexplicable reason, the very idea of systematic and wide ranging research seems to unnerve a number of parents. I am very interested in why this should be. I am aware that Ofsted are far from popular at the moment, due to their ludicrous suggestion of using CRB checks on home educating parents, but I have noticed this reluctance to answer questions as a general thing. Why should this be, I wonder? Surely home educating parents are proud of what they are doing and wish to share their achievements with the wider world?


  1. Autonomous learning often doesn't proceed in the same way as the official variety. It can't be measured by the same tools or quantified in the same terms - at least, not while it's in process. This is what is so badly (deliberately?) misunderstood by the authorities and therefore what we seek to protect it from. Let's face it, if it really is as ultimately successful as claimed, then it's a serious threat to the current system of conventional coercive pedagogy and so will not be treated kindly - or even recognised - by that system.

    You know this. You've been told it often enough. Why do you still pretend you don't?

  2. I don't think HEing parents object to research per se; you've complained about the unqualified approbation heaped on Rothermel, Thomas and Pattison, for example. What they object to is alleged research by certain agencies. I concur with those objections. The Ofsted questionnaire is very poorly designed indeed. If it's any indicator of the quality of their research, taxpayers should be worried.

  3. There are lots of reasons that parents would be suspicious of OFSTED 'research' right at THIS moment in time, aren't there?

    a) People are upset that the possible new law is based on inadequate research. This seems to be more of the same. I mean, just more not very good research isn't an improvement, is it?

    b) The questionnaire did seem very oddly worded. A group of HEers or ex-HE'ers could have put together a much better one which would have gathered more useful information but, as usual, it seems HE'ers were not consulted.

    c) OFSTED has no experience of or track record with HE so the thought of them 'inspecting' HE provision is troubling.

    d) I'm not an AE'er but have known many AE'ers whose educational provision at various points of their HE journey would not have withstood critical, objective inspection through school-trained eyes, but whose kids eventually left home to go on to employment or Higher Education just fine. I can see how concerned they would be.

    d) The silly CRB statement which betrays OFSTED's real beliefs about parents.

    School inspectors surveying/inspecting HE? Isn't it a bit like asking the Prisons Inspectorate to investigate our child discipline methods? Or the Ministry of Agriculture checking our wildflower gardens?

    Mrs Anon

  4. Anonymous, I am well aware of the claim that autonomous education cannot be measured by the same tools as are used for conventional teaching. The onus is then surely on autonomous educators to come up with a system which can evaluate it? If it is as successful as some parents say, how can this be shown?

  5. Mrs. Anon, you date yourself at once by your terminology! Ministry of Agriculture? I think it is now called the Department of Piscine Affairs and Arability, or DPAA for short. Or something like that. You and suzyG are quite right about the shoddiness and strange wording of the survey. I noticed this myself. But the information being agthered would surely be useful anyway. Suppose that it showed that the majority of home educating parents did not have set hours for work? Wouldn't that be an interesting thing to know? Or that many had withdrawn their children from school for bullying and that the schools and local authorities had not been supportive? I can see only good coming from this exercise. What bad can people foresee?
    True, Osted have no track record of assessing HE, which is why they are asking about it. So far, many hoome educating parents have rejected LA monitoring, been less than enthusiastic about a Tasmanian Models and are now refusing to co-operate with Ofsted. I wopnder what model they do have in mind?

  6. "If it is as successful as some parents say, how can this be shown?"

    It can't for sure until it's finished, which creates a conundrum for the naysayers, I agree. I don't think there is any universal measuring tool that the parents of autonomous home educating students could come up with that would satisfy the authorities.

  7. OFSTED have always assessed EHE dealings within Authorities - guideance from about 5 yrs ago gave them strict criteria based on robust systems and policies and interaction with families outside of cases to discuss such policies and procedures. Guideance changed and their assesment went down virtually to zero when more "self assesment" came in.

    The design of the Qnrs though looks more at education content, through school glasses, than interaction between LAs and families.

    I offered help but was ignored.....they could have designed it properly with consultation first.

    In addition the remit, as set out by the Chief Inspector to Graham Stuart MP in a letter forwarded to me a few weeks ago, is not being adhered to, especially verbally in the sessions.

    On wonders what precisely Mr Brooke has in mind.

    Alison Sauer

  8. The shoddiness of the questionnaire and the source (OFSTED, just after saying HE'd parents should be CRB's) led a number of people to refuse to co-operate with the survey. No idea what proportion. So, the results will now inevitably be skewed.

    If they do show that a large majority withdrew their kids from school because of bullying, that might just show that only those with that background felt angry enough to want to engage with OFSTED and tell their story.

    In an ideal world, OFTED would have asked some sensible people (like me obviously, or Julie!) to draft the questionnaire or government would have asked a sensible body such as a university to conduct the survey and the HE community might well have been happier to participate. Though perhaps not right now, AFTER legislation has already been framed.

    More shoddy research, at this stage, isn't really what we need.

    Min of Ag and Fish? Is it not called that any more? ;-) Must start listening to the Archers again.

    Mrs Anon

  9. Oh and my favourite model is the Texas one. Minimal involvement of the state in what is essentially a family affair, just like nutition and bed-time.

    There are plenty of states in the US which keep their noses out. There's no research that says that kids do better academically in states with higher levels of 'monitoring' than in those with lower levels. Or indeed that more of the children get 'done in' and buried in back gardens.

    Mrs Anon

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