Friday, 29 October 2010

Rent-seeking vulture queens

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.


  1. No one is being paid Simon.
    Imran was informed that you had mentioned his name in connection a few weeks back and whilst had not noticed anything was happening- he did say he was not particularly bothered if people thought he was involved or not but was in general favour of the idea.
    Sorting out the mess and writing clearer guidelines is a starting point -no-one ever said CME2 2009 and maybe even S436a could not be looked at - just that there is an approach which makes logical sense given the climate labour left as their legacy.
    If Alison Sauer was writing guideliens and wanted to kill off her business (which is training local authorities) then what better way than to write something which means she would hopefully not be needed as the guideliens would spell it out.
    Is that brief enough ;>)

  2. darn that typing dyslexia- ever though of having an 'edit' button Simon?

  3. I disagree, I don't think that registration would have saved any of them. Had the Edinburgh children been registered, presumably their existence would have been noted and the relevant boxes ticked. Then the man with the clipboard would have gone away for a year and when he came back, they'd have been dead.

    It would have made very little difference in the Ishaq case because she was already known. People were writing warning memos to social services who were not following up because they were overworked and under-trained. Having to deal with an extra few thousand cases isn't going to help them spot the next bad one.

    I think if Ed Balls were to stand up and claim that his scheme would have saved those children, Gove would have him for lunch because it's patently not true.

  4. 'No one is being paid Simon.'

    Well that alone should kill the whole 'rent-seeking' thing dead at once. You are saying, if I understand you correctly, that all the people involved in this project, those doing the drafting, proofreading, research and so on, are all giving their time for nothing. Presumably, none of them are hoping to make anything at all financially from the business. I am now a little puzzled as to where this rent-seeking gibe originated.

    Is that brief enough '

    I know the effort it must have cost you, Tania, to condense yourself down to so few words !

  5. I would have thoght that a quick read of the HE-Biz forums whihc are open for anyone to join and comment would make it quite obvious.
    Yes you have understood me correctly-no money is being made and people are giving their time freely, as they did previously.

    I also agreee with David H. and I am pretty sure Michael Gove has the measure of Ed Balls and knows what is true- as do the civil servants at the Department of Education who are being civil now that the government has made its direction clear.

  6. 'I would have thought that a quick read of the HE-Biz forums '

    I can only take it that this is meant ironically. A quick read?? I don't believe that anybody has yet managed to plough through all the pages of information which you have put up there, Tania. I certainly have not been able to do so. So if we may summarise here, the situation is as follows. A group of home educators, all of whom are giving their time for nothing, are putting together a revised version of the 2007 guidelines for local authorities. None of the people doing this, including you, are in favour of compulsory registration or routine monitoring and these guidelines will make this clear. When they have been produced, they will be publicised and all other home educators will have a chance to comment and express approval or otherwise. When all this has been done, there is a possibility that these guidelines will then be officially adopted by the Department for Education. Have I got all this right?

  7. Yes you have got it right and I am done with trying to be open and explain in the forums and lists the kind of discussion that are taking place amongst the people who are participating in the core group. It is easier to discuss these things by phone as you can get feedback immediately and clarify if someone says they did not get what i was trying to say. I have said that anyone is welcome to call me at home if they want to understand or have questions about the actual process going on and what is being discussed . Most people seem to be happy to wait and see what is produced and question things then. Those who do have questions and want to understand the logic and tactical plan have been calling me at home.Those who have wish to approach with a plan of their own have been invited by Graham Stuart to do so.Bottom line though, it will be the government who decides the end strategy of how to accomplish the desired outcome (with of couse HE inpu - an outcome which Graham Stuart has already outlined ,with a direction that is more favourable to Home Education and home educators. An entirely different direction than we have seen with the past government who have left the situation in a mess. This direction should filter down to the local authority has started with the Nick Gibb reminder to LAs and also a promise of reminders to LAs about their financial duty to children with SEN.

  8. ah yes i should have put another ;>) in when I typed the word 'brief'... or maybe even a 'LOL'

    Are you getting to grips with all the text type yet or does Simone still have to explain ;>)