I adore this expression! It has a weird kind of beauty about it, rather like the term coined for the French when they would not join in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Remember 'Cheese-eating surrender monkeys'? So why would one home educator be so unpleasant about another as to call her a 'Rent-seeking vulture queen'?
As readers no doubt recollect vividly, the last government tried to introduce registration and monitoring of home educated children. The then opposition, including the current Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, managed to scupper this. Now that he is in government himself, Gove is finding out one or two unpalatable facts. For example, every civil servant at the Department for Education, every local authority, almost every education professional, including teachers, psychologists and so on, most voluntary organisations and many ordinary people; all these wish to see a scheme for the compulsory registration of home educated children. Many home educators are opposed to this. Since he became the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove has seen the publication of the Ofsted report about home education and local authorities and also the Serious Case Review of the Khyra Ishaq business. Both called for registration. This summer, three home educated children died in tragic circumstances in Edinburgh. Their mother is awaiting trial for their murder.
Quite possibly, Michael Gove and Nick Gibb, the Minister of State, would like to ignore all this and hope that it goes away. However, one can imagine the headlines in the papers and the gibes in parliament when the Edinburgh case hits the courts. The gutter press love dead children, especially photogenic little girls; they will have a field day. I can just see Ed Balls rising in the house to say, 'Does the Secretary of State for Education agree with me that this tragedy might not have happened if a proper system was in place regarding home education, a system such as we proposed in Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill? Does he now regret blocking this legislation?' It does not bear thinking about!
What can Michael Gove do? He would look a bit of a chump now if he introduced his own law to curb home education. Enter stage left, Graham Stuart MP. This man was the scourge of truants and their parents during 2007/2008, never missing a chance to call for tougher penalties for these people. The fact is that it would hardly be possible to have harsher punishments for this than already exist; after all mothers are being sent to prison for it. Last year, he found a new bandwagon to jump on, namely home education. As the Chair of the Commons select committee on Children, Schools and Families, he has a certain amount of influence. Last month he arranged a meeting with Nick Gibb and told him, in effect, 'Trust me, I can help with home education'. He suggested that because the home educators loved him, he would arrange for some of them to endorse new guidelines which he would have drawn up. This would show that the DfE were on the case and have a kind of legitimacy because some home educators would have been involved in them. Central to this project were Alison Sauer, who trains local authorities on home education and Imran Shah, a social worker in the South of England whose children are educated at home. Tania Berlow has bravely said that she too is involved.
This is where we come to the bit about 'rent-seeking vulture queens', because the suspicion among some other home educating parents is that these people are being paid for their efforts. There is also a suspicion that in the future, some of these home educators might be securing consultancy roles or something of that sort with the Department for Education. I have no idea whether any of this is true. There are other motives for becoming involved in this sort of thing apart from money.
Tania Berlow is so far bearing the brunt of other home educating parents' displeasure about this enterprise. This is because, like me, she has never made any effort to conceal her identity or opinions. On one forum, the irritation felt with her is chiefly that she says too much and never seems able to stop rambling, which is a fair point. Even her closest friends would not accuse Tania of brevity. She does however seem to be quite sure that nobody talking to Graham Stuart is in favour of compulsory registration or monitoring, which is surely good news for some home educators.
I think that this particular story is set to run for some while yet. It is, to say the least of it, unfortunate that Alison Sauer does not feel able to come onto some of the forums and explain what she is up to. There is a hole-and-corner feel about the thing which cannot help but make people think that there is something bit dodgy going on. I really think that if others involved, apart from Tania Berlow, came forward and talked about what they were doing, it would stop some of the unpleasantness which is developing. It might also help to kill some of the accusations of 'rent-seeking' which are flying around, is we were told who, if anybody, is being paid and how much they are receiving.