I never quite took to Graham Stuart. He always struck me as a vain opportunist who found in home education an obscure topic about which he could swiftly become Parliament's expert. After the select committee hearing, when the various teenage offspring of members of Education Otherwise approached him, he gave the impression that he saw himself as some matinee idol being mobbed by his fans. One could imagine his saying, 'Oh shucks, you guys! You want to talk to me and ask for my help? Why, I'm just a regular guy, but I'll surely help is I can'. He put me in mind of a Tory version of Robert Kilroy-Silk.
Something which I noticed at the select committee was that although I turned up alone, as did Jane Lowe, Carole Rutherford and Zena Hodges, Education Otherwise arrived mob-handed, accompanied by a contingent of amiable but persistent teenagers. These were the same bunch of youngsters for whom Ann Newstead's husband put together a website which for a while posed as the voice of home educated youth, being allegedly completely separate from Education Otherwise. It will be remembered that during the Badman enquiry the idea of adopting something like the Tasmanian system for home education was briefly floated. I don't know who suggested this to Badman. Paula Rothermel was wandering the world following a series of personal misfortunes and she fetched up in Tasmania for a while. Perhaps she gave him the idea. But at any rate, nobody showed any interest in this except of course for Education Otherwise. For the 'Tasmanian Model' to have been a real proposition, the Department for Children, Schools and Families would have needed a partner from the home educating community. Since for many who are not actually home educators, Education Otherwise is home education in this country, they were seen as the logical candidates. After all, anybody wanting to know about home education always goes to them first, whether it is a newspaper reporter or a government enquiry.
During the select committee hearing itself, one of the members wanted to know if home educators would be in favour of a simple registration scheme, whereby the location and educational setting of every child in the country would be known to their local authority. I was of course in favour; Zena Hodges, Carole Rutherford and Jane Lowe were not. What was Education Otherwise's position on this point? We will never know, which struck me then as very strange. The Chair tried sympathetically to extract an opinion from Fiona Nicholson, who was representing Education otherwise, but to no avail. In the end, he said in exasperation, 'Okay, that's a don't know'. I wonder if anybody else finds it odd that after all the preparation, the moment that we have all been waiting for, for home educators to have a say about Badman's proposals, and Education Otherwise don't even know if they are against one of the key points?
Graham Stuart kept in touch with Education Otherwise after the select committee hearing and formed quite a good relationship with various individual members. Even after the defeat of Schedule 1 of the CSF Bill, he still seemed to have time for them; there was no question of just shaking hands and a parting of the ways. I was therefore curious to learn of the rumour going the rounds that he has been working with certain home educators to draw up new guidelines for home education in England. Now since Education Otherwise were quite keen on the Tasmanian idea and bearing in mind that they did not know whether or not they were in favour of compulsory registration, some people are convinced that it is they who have been working with Graham Stuart. What is curious is that Graham Stuart has already claimed that things cannot remain as they are with regard to home education. As Chair of the Children, Schools and Families select committee, we should take note of what he says on this subject.
I freely admit that all this is based upon nothing more than rumour and speculation, but nevertheless it seems to me that something is in the wind and that the chances are that Education Otherwise has a hand in it. The problem would be of course that something of this sort which might affect thousands of home educators should not be undertaken in a hole and corner fashion, but out in the open. Graham Stuart has said that he is not in favour of monitoring and inspection, but I note with interest that he has carefully avoided mentioning compulsory registration. Since Education Otherwise also have an ambivalent attitude towards this, one wonders what might be hatched up if they are indeed working with him.
For my own part, I am of course quite agreeable to the idea of registration. It is however a controversial idea for some home educators and I feel that any such moves should always take place in the public eye and not as a result of meetings conducted on the quiet. For this reason, I would like to know a little more about what Graham Stuart is up to. It would be unfortunate if some new scheme were produced and included in the forthcoming White Paper on education. Anything of this sort needs to be thrashed out openly among all interested parties and not given some dubious legitimacy on the grounds that it has Education Otherwise's seal of approval.
Of course, Michael Gove might feel a bit silly about introducing an actual new law about home education so soon after the CSF Bill debacle. It is more likely that what is happening is that statutory guidelines are being drafted which would tell local authorities how to interpret the current law. According to one cagy source, somebody who does not even live in this country is involved in all this. Could this be a coded reference to Paula Rothermel in Switzerland?