An awful lot of local authority officers inspecting or supporting home educating parents seem to be ex-teachers. This never used to bother me; nearly all our friends are either teachers or social workers, so one more visiting the house didn't make much difference! Many home educators though have very negative feelings towards schools and conventional education. For them, having a teacher come round to check up on what they are doing is intolerable. I wonder if parents would be more agreeable to the idea of other home educators carrying out such visits, following a protocol agreed between home educators and the local authority?
During the review of elective home education which he carried out on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Graham Badman briefly floated the idea of the 'Tasmanian Model', asking if people thought that such a scheme might work in this country. He later changed his mind, conceding that this might have been 'a step too far'. But was it really?
Tasmania is a state of Australia with a population of around half a million, half of whom live in the capital city of Hobart. In 1993, the Minister of Education in Tasmania set up the Tasmanian Home Education Advisory Council (THEAC). This body oversees home education on the island, including registration and monitoring. It has no connection with the Ministry of Education, but is directly answerable to the Minister of Education in person. The council has six members, three of whom are home educators and three who have been appointed by the Minister of Education from the wider community. They pay a small staff to register and monitor home education. At the last count, there were around seven hundred home educators in Tasmania, about the same number as in an average English county. The THEAC employs two people to visit them and check on the provision which they are making for their children. The whole process is devised and implemented by home educating parents themselves.
It is hardly surprising that this idea of a Home Education Advisory Council was rejected out of hand by most parents in this country when Badman suggested it. For one thing, most home educators hoped that if they stood fast, then things would just carry on as before. For another, Education Otherwise was mooted as being the natural partner in such an enterprise. This alone was enough to damn it in the eyes of many. We need not go into the politics of the thing, but the fact is that some home educators in this country cannot stand Education Otherwise and would be as reluctant to allow them in their house as they would officers from their local authority.
A few days ago, I put forwards the idea of locally elected councils of home educators composed partly of local authority officers and partly of parents who had been vote onto this council by other home educating parents. I am wondering how people would feel about the idea of such a council being responsible for the registration and monitoring of home education in their local authority area? I am perfectly well aware that many parents are not keen on anybody checking what they are doing with their child's education, but there is going to be pressure for this from some quarters for the foreseeable future. I am kicking around an idea and trying to see how many parents would be satisfied to deal with a parent who is or has been a home educator herself and therefore knows about the whole business from the inside. Would this be any more acceptable than having an ex-teacher from the local authority asking questions? Or, which is entirely possible, are both unacceptable to the majority of home educating parents? What if this plan, of having former home educators as advisors, were combined with access to various facilities such as free examinations and use of school sports and music facilities, that kind of thing?
I am very interested in knowing how strongly parents here are against any sort of involvement at all with anybody and how far they might compromise if they got something from it. This is not, by the way, an attempt at what is being called 'rent seeking'! I have no interest in the matter other than in debating ideas. So nobody need bother to start describing me as 'a rent-seeking vulture queen' or anything of the sort, as I have seen one well known home educator described on a forum recently! Don't you just hate gendered insults of this sort? I have an idea that a new set of guidelines for elective home education in England is likely to emerge soon from the discussions between Alison Sauer, Imran Shah and a few others. It is less a question of whether change is happening, than what that change will be. For my part, I would like to see democratically elected representatives of home educated parents at the heart of policy making, both at the Department for Education and local authorities. This is not possible at the moment and so people have volunteered to step in and help. This is beginning to cause the most terrible divisions among home educators and the only way that I can see this stopping is if those working on behalf of parents can acquire some sort of legitimacy.