I have watched with interest as the main representative of the home educating community in this country, at least as far as the Department for Education are concerned, has changed from being Education Otherwise to the so-called 'secret group' led by Alison Sauer. I am sure that we are all aware that EO has been in a somewhat chaotic state lately, but even so this is a remarkable change in perspective.
I was at first a little puzzled when I read the document which Alison Sauer circulated. It had the appearance of something put together a little hastily and rushed out in a hurry. I think that in this case, appearances were not deceptive. Her stock may have been rising very high with the Department for Education, various MPs and Lords and quite a few local authorities; it had however plummeted with many home educating parents themselves, some of whom were viewing her as little better than a Quisling. This was not good. If she wishes to persuade those in the government like Nick Gibb, the schools Minister, that she is their vital link with the home educators, she cannot afford to become too unpopular with the very people she claims to represent. When the business with Suffolk blew up, she saw the chance to rehabilitate herself with some of those parents who were beginning to doubt her motives. As well as rushing out the document denouncing the ultra vires practices of local authorities, she also joined the HE-UK list under her real name. Her posts are a little smug and evasive; she reminds me of an infuriating child chanting, 'I know something you don't know, I know something you don't know!' By an odd coincidence, Ruth O'Hare also joined the HE-UK list under her real name at precisely the same time. For years she has posted as Firebird2110 and now she too is using her own name.
One of the problems with Alison Sauer being accepted as the authentic face of elective home education in this country is that she is actually in opposition to much of what many parents in this country believe in. Let us look at one particular aspect of these differences and see where Alison Sauer's views might be leading her in her negotiations with the administration at Westminster. Many home educating parents are opposed to regular monitoring. When their local authority contacts them after a year or two and asks for further information and to see how the education is progressing, the standard response by many is that nothing has changed and that the LA are only justified in making further enquiries if they think that something has changed. In other words, many home educators believe that the local authority should simply assume that the education is still suitable unless new evidence emerges to the contrary. This is in sharp opposition to what Alison Sauer is teaching local authorities and saying to people as varied as Graham Badman and Graham Stuart. She says;
' Periodic review of provision is allowed for in law (time being a change in circumstance).'
In other words, she believes that it is quite OK for local authorities to come back regularly year after year for new information about the nature of the educational provision being provided. This is because, contray to what is often warmly asserted on the various Internet lists, there has been a change in circumstances after a year or two. For many, this is indistinguishable from regular monitoring.
Actually, Alison Sauer agrees with me on many points and a lot of the things which I have said here and been savagely denounced for are actually identical with her views. Take this:
'Mr Badman confuses rights with duties with regard to education. There is frequent reference to balancing the rights of the child against those of the parent. However there is no conflict. Home education is not a right of parents per se, in fact the child has a right to education in both English, European and International law. In England that right gives rise to a duty on behalf of the parent to provide an education.'
There now, I could not have put it better myself! I am intrigued by what is currently taking place in the world of home education and the shift from Education Otherwise to the 'secret group'. I broadly agree with a lot of what is being planned, but my objection is that it is not being done democratically. If this group of individuals would now declare themselves and state their aims clearly, then I have an idea that although many would oppose what they are doing, others would support them. The problem is that we are not being given the opportunity to do this, because we do not even know who these people are and what they stand for. This makes me profoundly uneasy when their actions may affect so many others. I am certainly not against a change in the legal arrangements for home education, but I would like to see in detail just what is being proposed and who is involved in proposing it.