Monday, 19 July 2010

Michael Gove's dilemma

One has to feel sorry for Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education. He played a blinder when he was in opposition by pretending to be outraged at the plans for regulating home education. Who can blame him? It was such a fantastic chance to embarrass the Labour government and help scupper one of their flagship bills. Still, it is looking increasingly as though this unprincipled piece of realpolitic will be coming back to haunt him in the future.

Gove apparently thought that his Academies Bill, about to be rammed through parliament at breakneck speed, would be a real godsend for home educating parents. The fact that he believed this shows that he no more understands home education than Ed Balls did. Gove is puzzled that so few home educating parents seem interested in setting up so-called free schools. To him, it is the perfect solution and he has told colleagues that he is bewildered that the home educators are not queuing up to start their own schools and abandon this mad idea of educating their own children at home. Combined with the fact that after the passage of his wise and good measures all the schools in England will become world class academies, he really can't understand why anybody wouldn't want their kids to go to school. He does not seem to realise that most home educating parents wish to educate their children at home and not send them to some hastily rebranded comprehensive.

June was not a good month for Michael Gove and his dealings with home education. His announcement that groups of parents would be able to set up free schools on the 'Swedish Model' in disused shops and garages coincided with news from Sweden that home education was to be banned entirely and that the free schools would be obliged to follow a state imposed curriculum. Is that the kind of 'Swedish Model' that he had in mind? At the same time, Ofsted published their survey of home education and local authorities, in which they called for compulsory registration of all home educators. Gove's response was to say that his department was examining the current situation. In the next few days, the Serious Case Review into the death of Khyra Ishaq is due to be published. It is quite possible that this will try and blame unregulated home education for the child's death, thus piling on the pressure for Gove to do something. As if that was not bad enough, the rumour is that another high profile case of abuse in a home educating family is due to hit the headlines in the next month or so.

This then is the bind in which Michael Gove finds himself. On the one hand he has said publicly that he admires the fantastic job done by home educators. On the other hand, there is hardly a teacher, social worker, local authority officer or civil servant in the country who does not believe that the practice of home education needs to be regulated in a new way. This dilemma is matched by another. On the one hand the coalition is talking of handing power back to the people and ending the statist approach which characterised the Labour government, but on the other hand Cameron and his cronies are populists, always seeking to give the people what they think they want. Listening to the reactions to Khyra ishaq's death, I am guessing that what ordinary people want would be increased regulation of home education in order to prevent further tragedies of this sort.

In the normal way of things, this would be the signal for the launch of a government enquiry. But hang on a moment, didn't we have one of those last year? Of course we did and it recommended increased regulation of home education. Any new enquiry would certainly say the same thing, because that is the view of everybody working in the field of education.

I shall be interested to see how Gove deals with the question of home education in the coming months. He would look like a right one if after all he said in opposition he then went ahead with new laws on home education. On the other hand, an announcement in the wake of some new tragedy that the government were determined to take a tough line on this would certainly play well with the vast majority of voters. My guess is that he will, at least for now, sit tight and hope that he can forget about the business entirely.


  1. Yes, all this is the interesting sort of dilemma which was inevitable-that is why I find it so irritating to keep reading posts that say things like "we won" in the battle of HE v the Labour Govt. I don't think we won anything - the Labour Govt just happened to lose the Election.

    I also agree that there is still much ignorance/complete misunderstanding amongst politicans about who does home educate and why. Yes, there are some that would choose better schools for their children if they could, and who might be interested in a "free school" - but few if any of those folk actually have the abilities or time to set one up themselves. Actually it is the very short term nature of education that is an issue - if you are a parent of a say 12 year old, you need solutions now; not to spend a year or two setting up a school that your own child may then only benefit from for a year. Michael Gove says he hopes the first schools will be up and running in Sept 2011, but I am sure that will only happen if there is already established planning. Starting from scratch will be a longer process. Who actually has time for all this?- we are trying to apply for some voluntary funding for something as a group and are bogged down by the need to have not only audited accounts and child protection policies but things like "equality and diversity" policies - none of us have the time to actually write these things - the stuff needed to become a school must be many times all that!

    As for child protection cases - that will be an ongoing issue. I have been struck recently by how "trigger happy" police and social services have become - remove children first, ask questions later. Probably all the publicity about Baby P etc. This is happening all the time; but if HE is involved it seems to make the cases seem more sinister in the eyes of the professionals involved.

  2. The judgement in the Khyra Ishaq case showed clearly that a central issue was the that the local authority did not follow its own procedures properly - a finding in a number of high profile case reviews.

    Increasing numbers of home educated children were an embarrassment to the previous government, and particularly to Ed Balls, who tends to see policy in party political terms. So it was in the previous regime's interests to use popular concern about home education as a vehicle for changing the law.

    I don't get the impression that Michael Gove is particularly interested in interfering in home education, nor is he likely, given the response to the last EHE review, to want to open that particular can of worms.

  3. "child protection policies but things like "equality and diversity" policies - none of us have the time to actually write these things "

    Write policies like these from scratch, Julie? Why would you do that? Simply find a group about the same size as yours and in the same field and then copy their policies, changing the wording where necessary. It's what everybody else does.

  4. "I don't get the impression that Michael Gove is particularly interested in interfering in home education, nor is he likely, given the response to the last EHE review, to want to open that particular can of worms. "

    I'm sure you're right suzyg. After the fuss when Ed Balls tried to meddle in the business last year, I can't see any Education Secretary wanting to get embroiled in this, unless something crops up which causes such a public uproar that he has no choice.

  5. Simon said "Write policies like these from scratch, Julie?" Yes, indeed we will copy others, but it a lot of jumping through hoops for little benefit. The amount of related hassle to start a school must be colossal. I think that any one wanting to do so must have a deep seated desire to have an effect on the education of a large number of children, not just ones own.

    The Muslim parent I mentioned elsewhere (whom a neighbouring LA sent our way when he enquired of them about free schools) certainly wanted to sort out his own childrens education, not Muslim children in general. These children had faced only what could only be described as persecution - mostly from the school; and when they were withdrawn he was accused of wanting to send them abroad to arranged marriages (it seemed pretty obvious to us that his main concern was how many IGCSEs they could get!). Setting up a free school seemed an attractive option compared to the huge fees he was paying private tutors, but he decided we were a simpler form of support. I can imagine though that many of those who make intial enquiries about free schools will find that it isn't for them.

  6. Yes, I think you are right about the free schools, Julie. I read all the stuff from the DfE thinking vaguely, I suppose, at the back of my mind that this might be something I coulddo when my daughter goes off to university. I have to say that I don't think I could handle all that is required. Even to get through the first stage involves quite a lot. This is just to get to the point where the DfE asks you to present a more detailed plan. As you say, most of us are only interested in education to the extent of dealing with our own children until they are sixteen. Apart from anything else, it would not really be like home education at all if I had to deal every day with other people's kids as well. It would take away much of the spontaneity whic is what i always valued about home educatiobn.