Essex has quite a few distinct types of home educating parents. It is true that there are a few home educating groups of the sort that one finds in other parts of the country. The people at these groups often are concerned about things like the Badman Review and the idea of compulsory registration. This is not the whole picture though. There is a pretty large number of religiously motivated home educators in the county. Near Harwich are quite a few Jehovah's Witnesses who educate their own children. Closer to me is a Christian community a bit like the Amish or a Hutterite Colony in the USA. They are an agricultural community, pretty separate from the rest of society and they teach their own children. There is also a large number of Gypsy/Roma/Travellers and a lot of showmen and their families. Basildon has a number of disaffected fourteen and fifteen years olds who have been de-registered fairly recently. These different sections of the home education scene in Essex have very different aims and objectives to those who meet to arrange activities for their children and gossip about the experience of being a home educating parent. You won't often see Travellers, Witnesses and so on at home education group meetings like this at the local library.
The Hutterite community are happy to allow Essex to visit once a year. they put on plays and musical performances for the advisor. The idea that anybody would expect them to prevent access to Rumer Lacey, the EHE advisor, would strike them as absurd. Similarly, the Witnesses at Harwich. As long as Essex County Council are not going to require them to swear an oath, take part in a war or stop worshipping Jehovah, they are quite happy to talk. The Travellers do not care overmuch about the precise legal situation anyway. If they want to allow somebody from the council to visit, they will. if they don't , then they won't. The parents of the disaffected youths in Basildon will cooperate because they are afraid of getting into trouble otherwise.
What seems to have happened over the years is that those who are connected with large organisations like Education Otherwise, along with the parents who run regular groups for home educating parents, seem to have fallen into the error of supposing that they are home education in this country. I have had at least one home educating activist from Essex commenting here and suggesting that I cannot be a normal or typical home educator because she has not heard of my attending any home education groups in the county. The problem is though, that that type of home educator, the sort who joins groups of other home educators and attends meetings of other home educators, represents only one strand of home education and not even the largest or most important strand at that. Certainly the strand with the greatest readiness to ring the papers or contact MPs, but this does not make then any more typical of home education than the Witnesses at Harwich.
Tomorrow, I shall be looking at the relations which some of these home educating parents have with the local authority. For now, I want to point out that home education in this country is a composed of a huge number of individuals, some of whom belong to distinct categories. The category from whom we hear most are those who meet in local libraries, organise trips to the zoo for their children and lobby MPs about the iniquities of Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. This is without doubt the most vociferous category of home educators, but of course having the loudest voice or being most ready to write to the newspapers does not necessarily make you the most important person around. How many Travellers or Witnesses belong to such groups? Do they have many parents of off-rolled teenagers? When protests are organised and the press take photographs, it is very noticeable that the people present are often all white. In other words, one wonders to what extent such groups are really representative themselves of most home educating parents.
A small minority of home educating parents are members of national organisations or even belong to local home education groups. It is easy though, if you are involved with such things, to start thinking that you are part of the mainstream and important bit of home education and that everybody else is somehow on the fringes. I have noticed this attitude very clearly with some of the people who comment here. It is a mistaken view and one which can, unless checked, lead one to behave in an arrogant and overbearing fashion. It might be time to step back a little and look at the broader picture of home education, in which Education Otherwise and those running various Internet lists might not be the most important players at all.