The idea that the CSF Bill would be wholly bad news for bullied children who have been taken out of school is so bizarre that I have not yet bothered to deal with it. However, since it has been suggested that I shall be personally responsible for any ensuing suicides, anorexia or sterility, perhaps I should say a few words on the subject!
Let us start by looking at a genuine bullied child who was withdrawn from school due to bullying. She is, I imagine, typical of many. Since the Summer I have been approached by a number of home educating parents locally. They have seen my daughter's picture in the local paper and are very impressed with her IGCSEs. Four parents have stopped me in the street and told me that they have removed their children from school and two of them have solicited my help. I want to look at one particular case.
Kirsty is thirteen years old. She was bullied unmercifully at her secondary school, partly because she has ginger hair and partly because she suffers from rhinitis. This gives her voice an adenoidal sound which apparently irritated the other pupils. In the end, her father took her out of school last June. Now the hope of her parents is that she will take GCSEs in the ordinary way while studying at home. Neither of her parents, both of whom are on incapacity benefit, know anything at all about the National Curriculum, GCSEs or anything else much. They knew only that their daughter was suffering and felt that life was not worth living and so took her from school. Now they simply want her to get the GCSEs while staying at home. A pretty typical example of the situation, I would imagine.
The guy asked me to come and talk to him and his daughter, which I did. First problem; he is very hard up. In order for the child to study IGCSE mathematics, she will need two textbooks costing £15 each. He will also need to download the specification from the Edexcel site. They could not afford a new cartridge for the printer. Apart from the two standard textbooks, he will really need at least one other book on calculus; the textbooks do not cover this well. That's another £15. They will also need to buy paper, pens and so on. Just for this one subject, the bill is already up to £70. Since they are wholly reliant upon state benefits, this is not realistic.
They also want and need plenty of advice on how to go about doing things. I put him in touch with a few HE lists, but he really wants somebody to talk to in person. He joined a group, but they were in the main middle class autonomous educators. He is very working class and did not feel at ease. What he ideally wants is for somebody 'From the council' as he puts it, to come round regularly to help him plan his daughter's education. People moan about the requirement for one visit a year; this man would welcome weekly visits if they were available! Essex County Council has three part-time workers handling EHE. If he is lucky, he will be able to have a brief chat on the phone as well as an annual visit, but that's his lot. Apart from that, he is on his own. There simply isn't the money for the council to provide any sort of effective service for parents like this.
At this point, I can imagine readers getting tetchy with this fellow. After all, the people who comment here are in the main pushy and articulate middle class types who are used to getting what they want and fighting for things. Not a few are actually teachers themselves. The problem is that this man, like other parents I have met is not a rebel or campaigner; he simply wants his child to have a decent education without suffering bullying. He would also, as well as the carrot of funding, welcome the stick of coercion. Why do I say this?
Like many teenagers, his daughter's default setting consists of spending hours on the computer, chatting on MSN, listening to pop music and looking at photographs of other teenagers on Facebook. When not doing this, she watches a lot of television. What her mother and father want is a timetable for her and also a structured curriculum. Like many families, education is something which has always taken place at school and the child is not particularly amenable to the idea of her parents telling her what to read and write. Her father told me that what he really wants is "A lady from the education" to come to the house and put the frighteners on the kid and tell her that unless she follows a strict timetable then she will have to go back to school. The girl would accept such a statement more readily from a teacher or local authority officer than she would from her own parents. Because this has not happened, the child has gradually settled into a routine of spending hours on the computer and only doing any academic work under protest. As things stand, she will be lucky to get one GCSE, let alone five. She wanted to study A levels when she was older, but without GCSEs this prospect is not realistic.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill would be a Godsend to this family. They actually want masses of support which they cannot currently obtain. They also need that 0.1 of the AWPU which would pay for books and so on. I do not say that all bullied children who have been deregistered from school are like this, only that quite a few are. As things stand, this child's prospects are dismal. With the right help, they would be dramatically improved.