Thursday, 31 March 2011

Put not your trust in princes

I feel a little bit sorry for those who were so enthusiastic about the support they thought that they were getting from Graham Stuart MP. In case readers have forgotten, this was the fellow who was very keen to support home educators and swore that he would defend their interests against statist interference by Ed Balls & Co. There is currently a lot of dissatisfaction among some home educating parents at the introduction of one of Graham Badman's recommendations. People have been beetling off to Graham Stuart's Facebook page and urgently soliciting his help. You would have thought this a perfect chance for him to come to the rescue. And yet 'answer came there none'..... There is a very simple explanation for this.

At the end of last year, Graham Stuart had managed to persuade a number of people in the home educating community, Alison Sauer and Tania Berlow spring to mind, that the 2007 guidelines for local authorities needed to be rewritten. He did this in his capacity of 'Friend of the Home Educators' and had spoken to Nick Gibb the Schools Minister about it. We were told in December that these guidelines were almost finished and that they would be published after Christmas so that everybody could offer their views on them. Three months later and there is no sign of these new guidelines. I suspect there never will be. Graham Stuart has found that now his party is no longer in opposition, there is less advantage in embracing fringe causes like this. Michael Gove and Nick Gibb have shown that they are determined to tighten up the situation around home education and Graham Stuart has had to make a choice. Does he (a) continue to hang around with a cranky fringe group who are associated in the public mind with deaths like that of Khyra Ishaq, or does he (b) drop them like hot potatoes and concentrate on sucking up to the ministers in the hope of getting a ministerial post himself in a year or so? It is, as they say, a no-brainer.....

Being in opposition and courting various special interest groups who are angry with the government is one thing. Being in with the chance of rising in the government is quite another and Graham Stuart is now in the latter position. Perhaps angry home educators would do better now to make friends with a few Labour MPs, who will doubtless promise them all sorts of help and support, until they win the next election... You mugs!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

More about changes in the Pupil Regulations

Predictably enough, the change to the 2006 Pupil Regulations, requiring schools to keep de-registered pupils on their roll for twenty days before deleting them, is generating a good deal of sound and fury among the usual crowd on the home educating lists and forums. It is hard to see what their objection to this move is, except as a matter of general principle on the grounds that Graham Badman first suggested it. As far as I can see, this will benefit those who are considering de-registering their children because of problems with the school. Let me give an example of what I mean.

On Tuesday I went with a mother whose child is at a special school, to have an interview with the Head. This woman has not been what I would describe as cooperative so far. When the mother said that she was thinking of removing her daughter from the school entirely and I made it clear that this would be followed up with letters to the local authority, her attitude changed and she began to address the problems more seriously. Some schools, allow pupils to be de-registered quietly and do not tell their local authority the circumstances. It is a black mark for schools in the eyes of local authorities if too many pupils are taken from the school to be educated at home, so some try to keep it quiet. This will not now be possible. The Z code on the register is currently used only for pupils who are registered at the school but not yet attending. If there was a sharp rise, once the Pupils Regulations have been amended, in the Z codes from certain schools, it would indicate something which needed to be investigated. If a pupil was withdrawn from the school, then it might push the Head into making one last-ditch attempt to solve the problems of which the parent had been complaining. It seems to me a positive move for those who currently take their kids out of school because of problems. The Head to whom I spoke on Tuesday launched into a general attack on the very idea of home education when the mother talked of taking her child from school. I only listened with half an ear as she rambled on. Parents can't match the resources of schools...can't take GCSEs,.... opportunities for socialisation....great deal of work... The fool! Did she not realise who she had in her office? None other than the well know author of Elective Home Education in the UK. It was one of those occasions when one feels minded to say, 'Do you know who I am?'

On one of the lists, somebody has asked why one of the recommendations from the Badman report has surfaced in this way without any announcement or consultation. I have no idea at all whether this was a rhetorical question, but the answer is very simple and straightforward. Not all the ideas contained in Graham Badman's review were sensible or practicable. The notion of a right of entry for local authority officers to people's homes was a non-starter, for example. Several of the main ideas; a system of registration, the need for a plan of education and so on, were generally seen to be good things; although not of course by many home educators themselves. I have a suspicion that we will see a few of these brought in over the next year or so, not with a great fanfare as part of a major new piece of legislation, but rather as minor amendments to existing laws such as the 1996 Education Act and so on.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Changes in pupil registration regulations

Regular readers will recall that I have several times written here that although there may be no specific new laws planned around home education, many of the recommendations of the Badman report could be introduced in small stages, simply by modifying existing laws. We have seen this happen in recent weeks when one of the suggestions made by Graham Badman was slipped in as an amendment to the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 - as amended by The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010. This was the requirement that after parents deregister a child from school, the school should retain the child's name on their roll for twenty days. Personally, I think it a good idea, but that is neither here nor there. The fact is that when it was included as part of Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009, a number of home educating parents objected to it. It has now been brought in anyway. The same will probably be happening with other recommendations from Badman. Michael Gove and Nick Gibb will simply slip them into changes in regulations and most people will not even notice until it has been done. What sort of changes could be made without drawing up a major new law? Well, almost anything really; some of them very wide ranging. Let me give an example.

I was at a special school in Hackney yesterday, with a mother who is very unhappy about the class that her child has now been placed in. She told the head that she regarded the new class as little better than baby-sitting and that unless her daughter is moved, she will simply remove her from the school and keep her at home. One might have though that like other parents wishing to home educate, she had a perfect right to do so and simply needed to write a letter to de-register her child from the school. She does not have the right to do this at all. Children at special schools cannot be de-registered without the consent of the local authority. The legal basis for this is to be found in Regulation 8(2) of those same Education(Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 which I mentioned above. And guess what? There is absolutely nothing to stop the government tacking another bit onto the The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010, which extends this principle to all schools. I have heard it suggested that the requirement of Regulation 8(2) is discriminatory against disabled children and actually breaches the law because of this. Bringing other schools into line with this requirement would simply remove the discrimination against disabled pupils. In other words, it would be possible to compel the parents of all schoolchildren to seek permission of the local authority before they were allowed to take their kids out of school. From there, it would only be another small step to ensure that permission could be made contingent upon the parents signing an agreement that they would work closely with the local authority and accept regular visits. No signing of the agreement; no permission to de-register.

In case readers think that this is some fantasy which I have dreamed up, I suggest that they familiarise themselves with the process by which existing legislation can be amended in this way. They might be in for a shock. Michael Gove certainly does not want a big confrontation with home educators of the sort that Ed Balls had, but nor is he apparently intending to leave the situation as it is. Any future changes are likely to be small tweaks in the law and existing regulations. Most will, like the twenty day rule, be slipped past home educating parents until it is too late to do anything about it.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Home educating parents expecting to be treated differently from everybody else.....again

    Most people dealing with their local authority notice that the authority often makes mistakes or gets muddled up about the precise legal position of various matters. Property developers, for example, often find that they know more about planning law than do the local authority officers with whom they deal. There are so many laws and by-laws that it is not surprising that councils get a little confused from time to time. Sometimes of course, they also try and bluff people by misrepresenting the law. On some local land owned by Essex County Council, I saw a sign recently warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. This is of course quite untrue. It is however a good deal shorter and more menacing than a sign reading;

      'Trespassers who continue to cross this land after having received a number of verbal warnings may, if we are able to establish their address (which by the way we have no legal right to demand from them), possibly receive a letter from our legal department asking them not to trespass again. Theoretically, we could take action against you in the civil courts, but this would cost more than its worth and there would be no practical consequence for you in any case, except perhaps being ordered by an injunction not to cross this land again'

        Which is more likely to be effective; the above text or 'Trespassers will be prosecuted'? This is why local authorities sometimes send letters to people threatening them with non-existent laws. Home educators get these letters and are infuriated; everybody else ignores them. Coventry have been sending letters to parents whose children are not at school. Among the things which they have said which have made people angry are; 'You will need to decide if you have the skills and ability to educate your child', 'Failure to notify the LA in writing of your intentions to educate at home could result in prosecution for failing to ensure your child's attendance' and 'If you are new to home education an education officer will contact you and a convenient time will be arranged for a home visit, in order to further discuss your educational arrangements' Only home educators could be made angry by such innocuous advice! Of course one would need to decide if one had the ability and skills necessary to educate a child before embarking upon home education. It is not of course a legal requirement to notify the local authority in writing, but I can see why they put this. Some schools off-roll pupils by getting the parents to write and say that they will be home educating. The school keeps quiet about this awful practice and tries to conceal what they are doing from their local authority. It would certainly be a good thing if local authorities knew about this. In other areas, the schools just don't bother to notify their local authority about pupils deregistered to be home educated. The London Borough of Enfield is famous for this. Obviously the home is the most convenient place for the local authority officer to meet the parent and child, but if parents object, they can always meet elsewhere.

          Most special interest groups, whether electricians, builders, shopkeepers, farmers or home educators, find that their local authority gets a bit mixed up from time to time. On other occasions the council will try to bluff people into believing something which is not true. Most people take this in their stride and usually laugh it off. Home educators are such a prickly bunch though, that they take these things personally and see them as evidence of a conspiracy to attack their way of life! They should lighten up a bit and just try to accept that a lot of what happens between them and their local authority is par for the course. They are not being persecuted, nor can they expect to be treated any differently from any other group dealing with the council.

          The limits of parental rights

          In America and also increasingly in this country, the debate about home education causes people to raise the question of parents' rights, as opposed to the rights of the state. It is suggested that the state is now trying to take over the role of parent and interfere in family life a little too much. I don't personally buy this; society has always had a stake in the welfare of children. Those arguing against state interference in their 'right' to home educate, often bring up other supposed rights that the state is trying to deprive them of in relation to their children. In the USA, this might be the right to allow one's children to use firearms; in this country, it is more likely to be the right not to vaccinate one's children. All these ideas were thrashed out legally in this country well over a century ago and it might be interesting to examine one of the seminal cases in this field of law; R v Downes 1875 1 QBD 25. Not far from where I live in Essex, a Christian sect was founded who called themselves the Peculiar People. Peculiar in this sense means not odd, by special. The expression is taken from the Bible ( Deut 14:2, Ps 135:4, 1 Pet 2:9 and so on). This sect was composed of ordinary working men and women who simply took the Bible as their guide for day to day living. They rejected all medical help, relying instead upon the words of scripture found in the Epistle of James, chapter 5, verses fourteen and fifteen; Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of the faithful shall save the sick. In 1874, one family of Peculiar People tried this with their two year-old child. He was wasting away from an illness and they loved him very much. There was no question of neglect; they took the best possible care of the child and did everything short of calling a doctor. Instead, they invited the elders of their church to pray over the sick child. When the child died, the father was charged with and convicted of manslaughter. It was held by the courts that the conscience of parents and their rights do not take precedence over the law, nor can they override what a normal person would do in similar circumstances. R v Downes found its way right up to the House of Lords and is still a binding precedent to this day. I have sometimes wondered what the legal implications of this case are for those parents who refuse to take their children to clinics to be vaccinated. If their children contracted measles and died; would they too be liable to a charge of manslaughter? It is an interesting point. The principle laid down in R v Downes is also important for home educating parents generally. There are no exemptions in law for parents who wish to pursue strange lifestyles founded upon weird beliefs. Such parents are expected not only to follow the same letter of the law as everybody else, but also to bear in mind what a right-thinking person would see as being good for their child. After all, looking again at R v Downes, there is no specific law which says that one must call the doctor if one's child is ill. We are expected to use common sense about this and abide by the consequences if our decision is wrong. This applies equally to calling a doctor or sending a kid to school. It is not possible to withdraw from society and ignore what everybody else thinks about education and medicine! This idea has far-reaching implications for those who follow unconventional lifestyles, especially if this lifestyle might ultimately cause harm to a child.

          Sunday, 27 March 2011

          Secular and Christian home educators in Britain

          There are in Essex, where I live, quite a few Christian home educators. Up by Harwich are loads of Jehovah's Witnesses, there is a self-contained community in the countryside, a bit like the Amish and there are even the remnants of the Peculiar People of Brentwood, some of whom refuse to send their children to school. I also know a number of individual home educators who are regular church goers. I was never sure whether this accurately reflected the national picture in the UK. When one follows the groups on the Internet, there is often the impression that home education in this country is a secular, vaguely left wing affair; in sharp contrast to the USA where it is widely believed by many in this country to be the province of right wing, gun toting Christian survivalists. Since I began this blog, I have noticed that quite a few of those commenting here regularly are practising Christians. They cover a broad spectrum, ranging from Calvinists to Witnesses. Still, this may not signify. I have never made any secret of the fact that we are a church going family; maybe that attracts religious types? Recently though, I have observed how many of the more prominent home educating groups seem to have a strong Christian element at their head. Home Education UK is run by Mike Fortune-Wood, whose wife Jan is very influential in the field of home education. She had written a number of books on the subject, which people sometimes recommend on here. She is also an Anglican priest. Education otherwise, the oldest and largest home education support group, has recently undergone a complete change of management, when the people in Swindon managed to outmanoeuvre and ultimately rout those in Sheffield who had been running the show for the last few years. The leader of the Swindon faction is Shena Deuchars who is a leading light in her local Congregationalist church, or United Reform as it is now. I am wondering if this all indicates that the influence of Christianity on British home education is stronger than many people realise? Perhaps the secular side is on the wane and we shall see a situation emerging which mirrors that in America.

          Saturday, 26 March 2011

          Canadian home education

          Interesting bit about home education in Canada;

          Inclusion as a possible factor in the increasing numbers of home educated children in Britain

          We saw yesterday that quite a few children with special educational needs in this country are educated at home. According to some research, they could account for as many as a third of home educated children. If so, this might suggest that something like thirty thousand children with special needs are at home, rather than being taught at school. Christine, who knows a good deal about this subject, said that the largest group are those on the autistic spectrum and this seems to tie in with anecdotal evidence from various sources.

          A common reason for deregistering ASD children from school is that the experience of school is too distressing for them. Classrooms can be noisy and chaotic places and trying to connect with dozens of new and unknown people can be pretty awful for a child with autism. I am wondering whether this has anything to do with the trend for 'inclusion' in education. The idea behind inclusion is sound; nobody wishes to see a return to the schools for the blind such as the one which David Blunkett attended as a child. There is after all no reason why with suitable adaptations, a classroom cannot be made accessible to a child in a wheelchair. I am sure that we are all in favour of this. The case with autism though strikes me as a little different. Inclusion for these children typically means the local primary school, with the kid just joining the same class as everybody else, with perhaps a little support from a teaching assistant. Many sensitive children who are not on the autistic spectrum find the experience of nursery and school overwhelming; Lord knows what it must seem like to a child who is already hyper-sensitive to his environment.

          I have been wondering whether this trend to stick ASD kids in ordinary classrooms like this, a trend which accelerated about fifteen or twenty years ago, has not caused many such children to find the whole business of school simply unendurable. In other words, if they were to have been placed in quiet classes with far fewer members and staff trained in the particular difficulties of autism, would they have adapted to school better and their parents have been less likely to remove them from school entirely? If so, then the policy of inclusion could in a sense be said to have fuelled the rise in home education over the last few years. I am aware that many parents who have removed their children due to problems like this say that it was the best move that they ever made, but I am curious to know whether or not their children might have thrived and accepted school if the nature of the whole thing were a little different. It is an odd coincidence that the numbers of children being educated at home should have soared at precisely the same time that many local authorities were instituting rigorous programmes of 'inclusion' in their schools.

          Friday, 25 March 2011

          Home educated children with special educational needs

          Any debate on home education must take note of the fact that a large proportion of the children deregistered from school have special needs of one sort or another. What do we mean by 'special needs'? This term first became widely known as a result of the 1981 Education Act and has come to replace expressions such as 'disabled' or 'handicapped'. Now there is a slight problem with this terminology. Most ordinary people know perfectly well what they mean by 'disabled' or 'handicapped'. They mean people who are blind, deaf, in a wheelchair or have Down's Syndrome; that sort of thing. Because the expression 'Special needs' has replaced 'handicapped' in common usage, there is an unspoken assumption among a lot of people that a child with special needs is similarly likely to be blind or confined to a wheelchair. Well, some are; most are not.

          One of the most interesting things which one notices when reading the lists, blogs and forums about home education in this country is that although it is generally agree that perhaps a third of the children being home educated in Britain have 'special needs', hardly any of them appear to have what would once have been described as disabilities or handicaps. True, they are dyslectic or clumsy. A good number seem to have the symptoms of either wilfulness or ADHD, depending upon one's point of view. Not a few upon the autistic spectrum, although in very many cases this has been diagnosed by their parents rather than the appropriate specialist. A lot also suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, ME and various other debateable and ill-defined conditions of that kind. Wholly absent are children with severe learning difficulties, Down's, blindness and so on. I know one or two such; but then I work in the field. They seem completely invisible from the point of view of most home educators. Does anybody actually know a home educated child in a wheelchair or with Down's Syndrome?

          I suppose the question I am mulling over here is why are the parents of children with relatively minor disorders such as dyspraxia or ADHD so much more ready to take their children out of school than are those whose children are deaf or blind? After all, a child who cannot sit still and follow simple instructions is probably in need of quite as much specialised help as is a child who cannot see at all. I suppose that this might be a statistical artefact; there may be many more children with ADHD or on the autistic spectrum than there are deaf, blind and severely learning disabled children. I have an idea that there might be another explanation entirely for this situation, but before I explore this, I would like to know what others think. In short, the nature of the problem is this; there are many children in this country with an enormous variety of special educational needs. The only ones who seem to be deregistered from school though, seem to fall into one or two categories. Why should this be? Why do we read quite often of home educating parents whose child is on the autistic spectrum or has an attention deficit, but hardly ever hear of somebody whose child is non-verbal, has global developmental delay or severe difficulties with walking?

          Thursday, 24 March 2011

          Another needless panic by home educators

          If only more home educating parents would just pick up the telephone and speak to people, rather than spreading rumours on the Internet, then the world might be a less anxious place for them. This piece appeared in the Guardian:

          Common sense tells us that it is nothing at all to do with home education, despite the fact that in the third paragraph from the bottom, mention is made of 'home education'. A quick call to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirms that what is being talked about here is distance learning; things like the Open University. This has not stopped some home educators on sites like HE-UK and Dare to Know from pretending that the government is about to launch another consultation about home education. Idiots!

          Checking that parents are capable of educating their own children

          There is a pretty general assumption among many home educating parents in this country that any attempt to check that they are actually able to undertake their children's education is a gross restriction on their liberty as parents and probably an infringement of their rights into the bargain. So it was a couple of years ago, when the old Department for Children, Schools and Families proposed that all parents should have to engage with their local authorities and demonstrate that they had at least given home education some thought before they began it, there was an almighty fuss. Scandalous! How dare any government try to interfere with our right to home educate? This struck me at the time as a foolish, if not downright mischievous, perspective on the whole business.

          The opposition to any compulsory registration and monitoring of home education is founded upon two misconceptions; one practical and the other theoretical. The practical consideration is that it is absurd to suppose that every discontented parent in the country is able to provide an education for her child as good as that generally available in schools. Many parents simply do not know where to begin and having deregistered their children from school are quite at a loss to know how to proceed. A natural consequence of this is that many children who are supposedly being educated at home do not receive an education at all, at least as judged by any of the usual external standards which we apply to the matter. The only way that it is possible to conclude that a lot of these children are being educated is by adopting the sort of soft measurements which we habitually use for satisfying ourselves of the validity of some crank belief system. In other words, instead of objective measures such as literacy, mathematical ability, knowledge of science, understanding of history and so on; we rely instead upon subjective judgements as to the child's happiness, curiosity, love of learning and so on. This means that it is impossible for anybody but the parent herself to establish what sort of education, if any, has been furnished for the child.

          The theoretical opposition to registration and monitoring is based upon the misconception that parents have some sort of 'right' to educate their children at home. No such right exists, nor could it ever in a properly regulated society. Children have a right to an education, it is true. Parents have both a legal and moral duty to provide or cause them to receive that education. To talk of a parent's 'right' to home educate is a shocking distortion of the true situation.

          These two things together, the refusal to acknowledge that not every parent is capable, single-handedly, of providing a good education for her child, combined with the misunderstanding of the difference between duties and rights, caused so much confusion and uproar in the aftermath of Graham Badman's review of elective home education in England, that our legislators themselves got into a muddle and gave the thing up as a bad job. This was a pity, because an opportunity presented itself for society to take a hand in protecting the interests of one of its most vulnerable groups of members; young children in desperate need of receiving a good education.

          The mix-up between duties and rights has become so entrenched now in the wooly minds not only of home educators, but also of certain MPs and lawyers; that it is probably hopeless at this late stage to try and explain the difference between these two very different things. Similarly, the superficially egalitarian notion that all parents can educate their children efficiently has also become dogma for some involved in the debate. All that those of us who are concerned with the rights of children to receive a good education can do, is sit on the sidelines and shake our heads in amazement at the way that foolish and misguided notions can take a grip of even the most level headed people, until they apparently surrender themselves to absolute nonsense. This surely is how Scientology or the Flat Earth Society first became established!

          Tuesday, 22 March 2011

          Abolishing 'home education by default'

          There was some discussion yesterday of the fact that many parents home educate because the school which their children attends does not come up to scratch. This can be for serious reasons, such as that it does not protect a child from bullying or cater sufficiently for some special educational need or for more trivial causes such as failing to allow time off for chess practice. The remedy is to improve the standard of maintained schools and make it plain that they are at fault if a parent feels so dissatisfied that she deregisters her child. The government in Westminster should pursue an aggressive policy of keeping track of the number of parents who feel forced to home educate.

          I look forward to the time when home educated children are being taught at home not because the school has failed them, but becuase this is a positive choice by their parents. I think that if this situation could be achieved and that parents really did have a choice in the matter, then it might ease the minds of those who are currently a little dubious about the whole business of home education in this country. As long as we are in a position where a large proportion of parents are educating their children because they feel that they have been forced to do so, then many home educating parents will be angry and frustrated, while at the same time a lot of professionals will be uneasy at the idea of parents who are probably ill-equipped to undertake the job but are nevertheless being pushed into home education.

          It seems to me that this is one of the crucial points in the debate on home education in this country and that if we could get rid of what Graham Badman described as 'home education by default' and make sure that all parents were home educating because they actually wanted to do so; then things would be a lot better all round.

          Are the numbers of children being educated at home still rising sharply?

          There can be no doubt at all that in the decade or so between say 1998 to 2008, the number of children being educated at home in this country rose dramatically. I have seen it suggested that there was an exponential rise in numbers from the time that access to the Internet become common. Some interpreted this steep climb as being evidence that home education in Britain had become an unstoppable force and that the numbers would eventually rival the proportion of children educated in this way in the USA. That this will actually happen, seems less certain now.

          Home educating in this country is more like some fashionable and slightly cranky minority interest than a major educational movement. Those who pursue it, and I include myself firmly in this category, tend often to be the same kind of people who oppose the fluoridation of drinking water, think that vaccines cause autism, do not trust GM food and believe that we should rely upon windmills rather than nuclear power stations. There are those who become home educators simply because it is a sound educational choice, but there are many more for whom it presents just one more aspect of an 'alternative' lifestyle. Of course, this is not always the case. There are ordinary parents who have been driven half mad by the bullying to which their child has been subjected at school, or have resorted to home education because the school is not sufficiently catering for their child's special educational needs. Even in these cases though, it is very frequently the cranky parents who sees the solution in home education. Most of the normal ones stick with the school system.

          In America, the rise of home education has been massive and steady. Follow the American home education scene on the Internet and you will find a completely different set of concerns from parents in this country. Opposition to the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, does not often appear on the HE-UK list! In Britain, activity on forums and lists waxes and wanes, with various concerns rising and falling. Numbers of children being deregistered from school sometimes soar and at other times drops. This often happens due to the season of the year or depending upon whether home education is being featured a lot in the newspapers. Some local authorities report that the number of home educators registered with them can drop by around a third between September and January.

          I have mentioned the importance, as I see it, of having a clutch of good GCSEs at the end of a child's education. I am not alone in viewing the matter in this light; it is increasingly how the average person sees education. This may be due to government propaganda of course, but the fact is that ordinary parents are now convinced that without those formal qualifications, their child's life will be ruined before it has even begun. This is not a view shared by some militant home educators, but it is certainly the common perception. This cannot but have an influence on those parents who are considering the deregistration of their children from school. A recent television series by Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Dream School, begins each episode by restating the educational mantra that these young people failed to gain five 'good' GCSEs and are therefore educational failures. As the years pass, this concept sinks deeper and deeper into the national psyche; successful education equals good GCSEs. I am well aware that this idea is rank anathema for some of those who run home education lists and forums, but they are fighting a losing battle about this.

          How will this affect the numbers of home educated children in this country in the future? Very simply. As it becomes more and more accepted as dogma that children without GCSEs are failures, so too will parents be more and more reluctant to take their kids from school lest they miss out on those all-important qualifications. Teachers and local authority officers will only need to demonstrate that children being educated at home are handicapped in gaining GCSEs and this alone will be enough to discourage many parents from trying home education.

          I have a suspicion that the rise in numbers of children not at school in this country has slowed and perhaps peaked. This is only a guess of course; there are no hard data. The best way to see if this is so will be to keep extracting the figures from local authorities over the coming years and also to see whether or not Internet support groups are as popular in a couple of years as they are today. I fancy that there has been a decline in use on many lists since Schedule 1 of the CSF Bill was abandoned last year. I would be interested to know what others think about this.

          Monday, 21 March 2011

          Is Michael Gove up to something on the home education front?

          After the fiasco of Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Act last year, I can't see any government having the appetite for a major confrontation with home educators in the near future. The game is simply not worth the candle. This does not mean that things will stay the same for ever though, or that there will not be relatively minor changes to the existing legal situation. Mind you, this hinges around what one would describe as a 'minor change'. What most rational people would view as being a minor change might very well prove to be what many home educating parents would regard as a deal breaker. Take a simple scheme of registration, for instance.

          I am not the only one who has noticed a steady drip-feed of questions to the Secretary of State for Education about the numbers of home educated children in the country. These questions have come from both Labour and Conservative MPs and they are identically worded. This suggests immediately that they are 'planted' questions, rather than genuine requests for information. 'Does the Secretary for State have information about the numbers of home educated children in my constituency?'; that sort of thing. The response from the DfE is not, 'Get lost you loser and stop bothering us'. It is to the effect that the department is actively considering the situation and is working out what changes, if any, are necessary in the current arrangements for monitoring home education. A few weeks ago, we saw a new type of question, in which an MP asked the Secretary of State if he would consider introducing a mechanism for counting home educated children in the country. Anybody who has even the sketchiest knowledge of home education in this country will know that such a mechanism would be impossible without some form of compulsory registration.

          As I say, I can't imagine any major new change in the law, but requiring parents to register their intention to educate their children at home would not need anything of the sort. A simple amendment to any of the existing laws around education would do the trick. Most people, by which I mean the 99.9% of people who do not educate ther children at home, would be in favour of this and it would be vastly less controversial than all the paraphernalia which the CSF Bill proposed to introduce. I shall be watching with interest to see how many more MPs beg Gove and Gibbs to bring in a 'mechanism' which will enable the numbers of home educated children to be counted.

          Sunday, 20 March 2011

          Motives for claiming that children have learned to read without being taught

          The chances of a child fathoming out an alphabetic code like that of written English without explicit instruction are slender. Let us not mince words; they are virtually zero. The left to right progression of the symbols, silent letters and all the rest of it, can only be mastered by being taught. Nevertheless, quite a few parents claim that their children learn by themselves, with little or no teaching. What motivates people to assert something so unlikely to be true?

          We all want to believe, and also to persuade others, that our children are special. Most people's kids learn to read at school when once they have been taught the trick of the thing; just imagine how clever our child might be if he could crack the code without being taught! In every case where it has proved possible to investigate the matter, children who can read have been found to have received instruction in the matter. The idea of a child teaching himself to read is a piece of folk mythology which has had an unfortunate effect upon home educators in this country. In the first instance, it makes many parents feel like flops. Other children are apparently learning the thing without belong drilled with flashcards or trained in phonics; what is wrong with my kid? The obvious solution is to start teaching, while denying that you are doing anything of the sort. That way, you will be able to maintain your status as autonomously educating parent and also demonstrate to everybody else how bright your kid is. The only problem is that this promotes an atmosphere of humbug and cant, with people frantically teaching little Johnny to recognise A for Apple, while keeping the whole enterprise under wraps.

          I have never felt inclined to play this game. I should have done really. Just think how impressed my friends and family would be if my daughter had been able to read at the age of two without any effort on my part! Why, she would look like an infant prodigy. I have observed this happening among acquaintances, who spend a fortune on private tutors, resources and so on and then when their child gains a scholarship or passes his 11 Plus, deny that they had anything to do with it and attribute the whole business with becoming modesty to their child being naturally brilliant!

          Saturday, 19 March 2011

          One of us

          The human race seems to have a natural tendency to split itself into groups of varying sizes, the members of which claim to be better, more virtuous, cleverer, healthier or more beloved of God than all the other groups. Examples of such groups include supporters of Chelsea football team, Catholics, Girl Guides, Freemasons, Republicans, police officers, home educators, Nazis and even entire nations such as the French or English. Not infrequently, the identity of these groups is inextricably bound up with their opposition to other groups, whom they portray as being inferior and not as good as their own chosen group. So being a Chelsea supporter means believing implicitly that the supporters of the Arsenal football team are worse than your own fellow supporters, Nazis had a thing about the groups known as Communists and Jews, Republicans believe Democrats to be rogues or fools and of course the English often regard whole nations or races as being inferior to them. And then of course we come to home educators.

          All too often, home educators, whether in this country or any other, define themselves by their opposition to teachers, social workers and local authority officers. They believe implicitly, just like so many other groups, that they are wiser and more virtuous than others and that they face enemies from outside the group who seek to destroy them. This sort of foolishness is generally harmless. Of course, just as with other groups, they reserve a special hatred for those whom they regard as renegades and traitors to their group; the present writer, for example! The danger arises when this identification with the group over-rides common sense and allows the members to be persuaded of things which a rational and objective observer would find incredible. This can lead to people believing all sorts of nonsense; scientology, that the earth is flat, that the British royal family are shape-shifting lizards, almost anything in fact. It can also result in the members of the group welcoming somebody into their midst and embracing him, simply because he claims to be a member of their group.

          I have never been much of a one for joining groups. Living, as I have done, in various parts of the world for years, including Sweden and Israel, I have had ample opportunity to see the evils which attend the group mentality. I also have a very optimistic view of humanity, which leads me to suppose that almost all people, whichever group they belong to, are basically kind and good. I do not think at all that the Chelsea supporters are better than those who support Arsenal. Nor do I think the English better than the Germans, or the Conservatives better than Labour. All these groups contain roughly the same proportion of good and bad people; with the good vastly outnumbering the bad. What has all this to do with home education, my restless readers are asking themselves as they begin to fidget and check their emails, wondering when I am going to get to the point? Simply this. If we subscribe to the mindset that we, as home educators, belong to a group who are especially wise and good, who care more about our children than other folk and who are more right than others; then we are going to be less suspicious when approached by somebody who claims also to be a home educator. Since so many home educators also define themselves subconsciously by their opposition to other groups such as social workers and local authority officers, there is a natural tendency to assume that those supposedly persecuted by these groups are likely to be right and the social workers wrong. This is a deadly error.

          My first wife was Swedish and in the seventies I lived in Sweden. I did not find it at all a socialist paradise, but nor did I think it a totalitarian state. There is, it is true, more conformity than is the case in this country, but just as with the British; most people are kind and reasonable. When a case like that of Domenic Johansson unfolds, home educators in this country experience a number of emotions, not all of them rational. The alleged victims are home educators, which means of course that we must assume them to be kind and loving parents. Those opposing them are social workers; these must be the villains of the piece! Finally, the whole affair took place abroad and this is where the typical British insularity kicks in. At the back of many people's minds is the thought, 'Well of course, foreigners! there's no telling what tricks they might get up to.' Our rational thoughts are thus suppressed and we overlook the inherent implausibility of the police being sent to stop an international flight from leaving an airport and then taking a child from his parents simply because they wished to educate him at home. Later on, when a man who may best be described as a complete maniac and may well be extremely wicked, turns up on a website in this country; he is welcomed with open arms because he tells us that he is a home educator who is concerned about the plight of a little boy snatched from other home educators in a foreign country. Common sense and logic fly out of the window and he is given an uncritical welcome because he fits all the criteria for being a member of our group.

          Tomorrow, I shall be posting about the Domenic Johansson case, pointing out the inconsistencies and how the story has changed over the months since first British home educators were invited to support the cause of the Johansson family. The next day, I shall sketch out a possible hypothesis which seems to me a good deal more likely than the one to which so many parents in this country have apparently so far subscribed. I am doing this not as some sort of vindictive attack on the Johanssons, but because I have become seriously alarmed at some of what I have seen going on. I think that there might actually be dangers to home educating parents from some people involved with this case. If I am wrong, then I will be very pleased and if anybody can set me straight, I shall welcome the correction.

          Friday, 18 March 2011

          Bad news for home educators who don't want visits from their local authority

          Here are two small news items which may, in the long run, make it harder for home educating parents to refuse visits from their local authorities and just send in written reports from time to time:

          Before I write another word, bearing in mind a couple of the people who comment here regularly, I should make something crystal clear. I am not suggesting that home educated children are any more likely to be abused than those who attend school. Having got this out of the way, what are we to make of this newspaper report?

          There has already been unease in some local authorities at the idea that a child who was home educated and whose home was not visited regularly by local authority officers will, as an adult, pursue the council through the courts, claiming compensation for not having received a proper education and so being unable to get a job in later life. Again, please don't remind me that providing a suitable education is the parents' responsibility and not the local authority's; I know this as well. When panics of this sort begin, actions are not always taken on strictly reasonable grounds; there is often an irrational, knee-jerk reaction. So it may well be with these claims for compensation.

          I have an idea that quite a few local authorities will now be getting nervous and going through their books looking for possible victims of abuse whom they might have overlooked. It is inevitable that in some places, these will be thought to include home educated children who have not been seen for some time. Even before this, there were signs that some councils were starting to take a tougher approach and insist upon children being produced for their inspection. I suspect that this will become even more common in the future.

          Thursday, 17 March 2011

          Another odd coincidence

          Two more more curious coincidences on the Johansson case as it may be connected with Christopher Warren. Warren's group is also known as the Mishpachah Lev-Tsiyon. We find that;

          'Mishpachah Lev-Tsiyon (MLT) is the name of a small Christian denomination with an association of assemblies or congregations having close Messianic Jewish and Evangelical Christian affinities, with centers in Arvika municipality, Sweden, Oil City, Pennsylvania and Andhra Pradesh State, India. It describes itself as "plotting a mid course between these two". The group is officially registered in Norway as the Nye Pakts Kristne Fellesskap (New Covenant Christian Fellowship) and Den Nye Pakt (The New Covenant) and in India as the New Covenant Church of God. The main international office of MLT is located in the former Hillringsberg State School, Sweden, which closed in the 1960's.
          MLT was founded in 1986 in Oxford, England following a revelation which Christopher C. Warren, the founder, claimed he received from God in 1984.'

          Hmmmm, Oil City, Pennsylvania. Do we know anybody near there? Oh, wait a minute. Kelley Brautigam, who founded and runs the Friends of Domenic website, lives right round the corner in New Alexandria, Pennsylvania. Spooky or what? What about Andhra Pradesh in India? Have a look at this, from Christopher Warren's site;

          Observe well, this part;

          'In July 2001 32 congregations, principally in Andhra Pradesh State, but also in Orissa and Bombay (Mumbai), joined the New Covenant Church of God under the Pastorship of G. Raj Kumar'

          This Pastor Kumar would not be related by any chance to Annie Nirmal Kumar, who married Christer Johansson?

          A little more about Christopher Warren and a possible link with the Johansson case

          This link leads to a site with more information about Christopher Warren and the NCCG.

          There is one very alarming thing here; that he recruits members via the Internet and that some then travel to Sweden to join him. He is apparently very keen on single mothers with fourteen or fifteen year-old daughters. For this reason, I urge the owner of the Badman Review Action Group to remove the link to Warren's site from the list. There is also something rather odd. You will find mention here and elsewhere on the Internet of a supposed connection between this outfit and an orphanage in India. It says;

          ' The cult has, for many years, claimed to have members in India who are part of a charity/orphanage.'

          Here is Warren's own account of this orphanage;

          This is a curious coincidence. According to Christer Johansson, he and his wife and son were heading to India to work in an orphanage there. Christopher Warren claimed at one time that this orphanage had been destroyed in some sort of natural disaster and all the money lost. It will be remembered that at one time, Christer Johansson also claimed to have lost all his money and belongings in a natural disaster in India. I shall be posting again about this once I have found out a little more.

          Trust me, I'm a home educator!

          Since I am apparently on the verge of being banned from the Badman Review Action Group and shall not, in any case, be posting there again, I feel free to speak my mind pretty freely about recent events on that list.

          On February 27th, a man called Christopher Warren posted a message on the BRAG list, providing a link to a website which he ran. He was greeted enthusiastically and people hastened to endorse and cross-post details of his site to other home education lists. He now features quotations from those who welcomed him to BRAG on his website. He had been a member for over four months before posting this, which is alarming in the light of what later came to light. Why was he welcomed so uncritically and trusted at once? The answer is devastatingly simple; he said he was a home educator. It is as straightforward as that. The fact that he was posting under the Lithuanian name for the Russia city of Kaliningrad, which in turn led to the profile of somebody called Mindy Pace, did not seem to arouse any suspicions. I have now explained just who this person is, both here and on BRAG itself. I am indebted to Allie, who comments here, for other information regarding allegations against this truly dreadful man, for example;

          The first of these is sickening. It alleges that Christopher Warren seduced a fifteen year old girl when he was thirty eight. Combined with his own writings, it tells us that here is a man who is best raving mad and at worst an unbelievably wicked child molester.

          The response of some members of the Badman Review Action Group to these revelations has been interesting. One might think that the general reaction would be; 'Oh heavens, what on earth have we done? We have welcomed this dreadful man into our community and allowed him to make contact with any number of parents, some of whom might have vulnerable children.' Because this is what has happened. On the strength of claiming to be a home educator, this awful person has wormed his way into the good graces of British home educators. What his motives are, the Good Lord alone knows. Perhaps he is looking for more fifteen year-old girls to abuse. It makes my flesh crawl, even to think about this. The reaction of the list's owner was quite different. The person to blame was me! By drawing attention to this man's mad and/or wicked character, I was spreading poison and 'digging dirt'. the obvious solution was to ban me from the list and then everybody could get back to cosying up to any sort of rogue who turned up, saying, 'Trust me, I'm a home educator.'

          Fortunately, some others on the list saw the danger. Others though said that we should not judge this man and that he was entitled to his views. This, in my opinion, takes liberal mindedness to the length of raving lunacy. I certainly expected no thanks for drawing attention to this dangerous character's true nature. One does not expect that in this world! But to find myself cast in the role of villain for warning people to be careful of him is really a bit much. For this reason, I am withdrawing from the BRAG list and shall not post there again. They can welcome as many cult leaders or paedophiles on there as they wish. I will make one point though. As readers will no doubt recollect, only one of the terms of reference for the review of elective home education undertaken by Graham Badman actually concerned education per se. The others were hinting broadly that home educated children might be at risk of various kinds of abuse. When a cult leader like Christopher Warren finds it so easy to make contact with home educating parents in this country, to be welcomed into their community and swiftly endorsed and recommended to other parents is alarming. It is the sort of thing which makes one wonder how many other such individuals might be out there, perhaps preying on vulnerable families by use of the recommendations which they have received uncritically from high profile home educators here; people whose word home educating parents trust. Perhaps we should be a little more cautious about people of this sort until we know more about them. The fact that somebody claims to be a home educator is not in itself a guarantee that he is not also a crazed cultist or child molester.

          Wednesday, 16 March 2011

          More about Pastor Warren

          I thought that readers might like to read a little more about Pastor Warren and his strange beliefs. The NCCG, which he founded and controls, is regarded by some as a cult. See:

          Readers will be surprised and perhaps sightly disconcerted to learn that gay people are not the only ones who have demons in them; those born out of wedlock suffer from the same problem! So too do schizophrenics and even flu is caused by demons. And of course, they are piloting the flying saucers.....

          A prominent supporter of the Johansson family

          I am always delighted to see particularly awful examples of hypocrisy and double standards. A few days ago, somebody posted on the Badman Review Action Group list, denouncing me and providing a link to a piece which he had written about me. You may find it here;

          The author, Christopher Warren, says of me; ' Smearing and slandering innocent people is, in my opinion, a diabolical act.' Plain enough. Later on though, he quotes approvingly a 'representative of the homeschooling community in Britain' who says of my daughter ' his daughter is older now and I am very sad to report is as mad as he is.' So slandering and smearing people is diabolical, but it's OK to describe a seventeen year-old girl as mad if you dislike her father? I think I get it!

          I have written before that those organising the support for the parents of Domenic Johansson, setting up websites, circulating petitions and so on, are working to a very different agenda to that of which home educators in this country are aware. They are, to begin with, all Christians. Nothing wrong with that; I go to church every Sunday myself. The problem is that these people are deliberately concealing their true motives and opinions from those whom they approach about the Johansson case. Let us look a little more closely at Christopher Warren and see what he is really up to. His Free Sweden Net website, set up after the Johansson case became public, seems innocuous enough. He says that he is a writer and lecturer. In the section about religion, he mentions that he is a Christian, but says that he has gay friends and that he would describe himself as a 'Christian Humanist'. This is to be found in the section about his 'Personal Agenda'. So far, so good; nothing to scare the horses here! he has even written a report about home education and sent it to the Swedish government. He mentions a teaching career, writing and being a lecturer. Now let us see who he really is. This is a website which he set up to express his real views;

          At once, we notice something very odd. He has been the Pastor of various Evangelical churches for the last quarter of a century. In fact he is a full-time Minister of Religion. How is it possible for such a man to write a 'Personal Agenda' of his religious views on the Free Sweden Net site and forget to mention that? The answer is that it is not possible; this is deliberate deception. Free Sweden Net has been set up to appeal to home educators and he felt that mentioning that he was a Minister might put people off. I can tell readers that Pastor Warren wrote everything to be found on the NCCG site and pretty interesting reading it is too! To begin with, it is a compendium of crackpot, New Age beliefs. Flying saucers, levitation, astral travel, the New World Order; it is all here. Pastor Warren levitates, he has visions, Jesus tells him that there is going to be an earthquake, he sees UFOs. I have to tell you, much of this reads like the ravings of a complete lunatic. Still, we all have our own opinions; this is all harmless enough. It is when you start looking at the sections on homosexuality and feminism that the alarm bells really start ringing for many reasons. Remember that this is a man who described himself on the site for home educators as being a Christian Humanist with gay friends? What does he really think about gays? Let's see. It seems that;

          'Homosexuals have sex in the same manner as animals, (front to back or oral sex), rather than in the natural way of God's creation.'

          We learn that;

          'The AIDS virus has come from the perverted life style of homosexuals and drug addicts. (The curse is in their blood). They need help. They need to be taught that their life style is an abomination to God and how to come out of it. They must come to understand that homosexuality is not an alternative life style but a perversion.'

          And I bet you didn't know that;

          ' The disease of AIDS is spreading rapidly because homosexuals will not change their life style. They are even trying to spread it into the heterosexual community so that more money can be appropriated for seeking a cure.'

          This is not a man whom I would personally care to be in the same room as, let alone be his friend! It is this man, the levitating, flying saucer seeing, gay hating full time Minister whom home educating parents in this country are being invited to cosy up to. Nor is he the exception among those active in the campaign about Domenic Johansson. It is people like this whose word is believed when he posts on BRAG. Why I wouldn't take this man's word for it if he told me the sun was shining!

          In addition to the fact that he has gone to great lengths to conceal the fact that he has for twenty five years been a Pastor, there are serious questions about his past career. In his submission to the Swedish government, he claims that he was for ten years the Principle of a private school. Elsewhere, he specifies that this was St Albans College in Oxford. The problem is that he only left Oxford University in 1977, when he was twenty three. He moved to Norway in 1988. On the NCCG site, he says that he studied theology at Cambridge University after leaving Oxford and then trained to be a Systems Analyst in Business Computing. Cambridge do not do mail order degrees and so we must assume that he went to live there for at least a year or two. Then training to be a systems analyst; when did he manage to fit in the ten years as head of an independent school? We will leave aside the implausibility of any independent school appointing as its head a twenty four year old man with no teaching experience or even a qualification in teaching.

          There are many more questions to be answered about this strange man and I hope to look into his background in more detail. In the meantime, I would caution readers to be very careful about giving their support to any campaigns run by such people.

          Tuesday, 15 March 2011

          Giving children options or making their decisions for them?

          One of the most enjoyable aspects of home education is the freedom to teach absolutely anything which one wishes. I happen to believe that all children need a broad and balanced education, whether they will later be artists, musicians, university lecturers or road sweepers. Because I have mentioned the importance of this so often, the idea has grown in some people's minds that I am preoccupied with academic education to the exclusion of all else and that perhaps I had planned my daughter's life upon a certain path which would culminate in her going to university. Nothing could be further from the truth.

          It is true that I wanted my daughter to have a bunch of decent IGCSEs; I think that all children need them. This is what I regard as the basics, the bread and butter of education. However, in addition to things like physics and chemistry, she also spent an enormous amount of time on the arts. I could not know what direction her life was likely to take and so I thought that she needed to experience a wide range of things so that she could make up her own mind about what she liked and wished to pursue further. To this end, I made sure that she learnt three musical instruments, and took examinations in acting, among other things. I also taught her to draw, paint in water colours and oils; that sort of thing.

          One of the curious things about teaching your own child is that you soon find out that anybody can teach anything at all, even if they know nothing about it. For instance, I cannot play a single note on the guitar, but this did not stop my daughter getting Grade 5 at classical guitar. I do not act, but was easily able to teach her up to Grade 6 (Bronze Medal) in the LAMDA exams. She studied ballet for eight years and it is a matter of regret now that I did not teach her that as well; it was the only subject for which she had an external teacher. All this was supplemented by frequent trips to the opera, ballet, theatre and art galleries.

          I have observed that many home educating parents in this country seem to focus upon the arts and apparently neglect academic subjects. The natural consequence is that many of these children seemingly take to creative things rather than the more academic. I worry about this a little. My own daughter had the opportunity to take any direction. If she had not studied both mathematics and physics as well as music and art, then she would not really have been able to make an informed choice about the future direction of her life. This would have been unfair on her; effectively making the decision for her. Children who are raised only with creative and artistic options, without the systematic study of things like history and science, are being short changed and their path in life effectively decided for them. I cannot think this a good thing and it is one of the things about home education in this country which makes me a little uneasy. My own daughter could very well have chosen to study art or music rather than the philosophy, politics and economics which she will actually be studying at university. Unless she had had a wide experience of all sorts of things, her choice would have been restricted.

          Monday, 14 March 2011

          My 'smear' campaign against the Johannson family

          I recently posted on the Badman Review Action Group list, sounding a note of caution about support for the case of Domenic Johannson, the boy taken into care in Sweden. As it is presented, this case is one of a home educated child taken from his parents by the state just because he was being educated at home. As is usually the case with real life; things are a little more complicated than that. My post from BRAG was then sent to somebody running a website in support of Swedish home educators and the result was this:

          My original post on BRAG was mild enough. I said;

          'Questions have been raised as to just how happy and normal this child's life was
          before he was taken into care. His father is heavily involved with the Vaken
          website, which specialises in anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Domenic was not
          taken into care just because he was being home educated. I think that the
          Swedish authorities were genuinely concerned for his welfare and when they heard
          that his parents had given away all their belongings and were taking him to
          India so that he could live with them while they started an orphanage; I think
          that they were worried.'

          let us go through this point by point and see how it could be said to be part of a smear campaign. I said;

          'Questions have been raised as to just how happy and normal this child's life was
          before he was taken into care.'

          They have indeed been raised.

          'His father is heavily involved with the Vaken
          website, which specialises in anti-semitic conspiracy theories.'

          Christer Johannson certainly is heavily involved with this site. When Domenic was taken into care, his father believed and told others, that the refusal to allow him to home educate had been based upon his involvement with Vaken. See, for instance;

          This is by a very strong supporter of Christer Johannson, who told him that it was his connection with Vaken had made the authorities refuse him permission to home educate. this is referred to in the article when the author says;

          'But in the meantime, some locals decided that these parents should not be allowed to do this. The reasons for this are no more clear than they are legal, but Christer was once involved in an alternative on-line news mag that expressed politically incorrect ideas and as near as anyone can tell, this was the reason his home schooling plans were opposed.'

          Is Vaken anti-Semitic? It is obsessed with the idea of the Jews taking over the world. They are held to be responsible for all sorts of things, particularly the 9/11 attacks. They are usually referred to as 'Zionists' rather than 'Jews'; readers are expected to understand this code. It is like a modern day version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Believe me, this is anti-Semitic all right. I went on to say;

          'Domenic was not taken into care just because he was being home educated.'

          This is also accepted by the families supporters. Jonas Himmelstrand, the
          president of the Swedish National Association for Home Education, (ROHUS),
          says of this case;

          'Homeschooling was not the only issue regarding taking Dominic Johansson in
          custody by the social services. But having read the court verdict with all the
          issues, there stills seems to be no reason for this severe action. The young boy
          has most likely been much more hurt by the custody action than the conditions in
          his family. One cannot avoid the thought that the prejudices and lack of
          knowledge about homeschooling, could have been the pivotal reason for the
          custody action.'

          I have not really got room to go into this further here, but I shall be posting more about this case tomorrow. The support for this case is being orchestrated from the USA by right-wing, Christian groups who are stridently pro-spanking and militantly anti-gay. Obviously, it is no affair of mine if people in this country wish to align themselves with such groups, but they ought to know with whom they are getting into bed before they do so. The fact that such a restrained post of mine on a private home education list could provoke such a strong response, accusing me of running a smear campaign and being an agent of the Swedish government, is interesting and causes me to think that there might be even more to this than I have guessed. As I say, I shall be posting more extensively tomorrow.

          Friday, 11 March 2011

          Cooperative parenting; replying to my sock puppet

          Sometimes, people commenting here feed me the lines I need in so neat a fashion that I am frankly astounded. It is almost as though these individuals are my sock puppets; setting themselves up for me to knock them down again! One such commented here on the post I made yesterday, saying;

          'I think there are 2 ways to have gentle "well behaved" children,

          1. Frighten or embarrass them into it.
          2. Behave in a gentle well behaved way and show them that that's a good way to be.'

          This is, at least on the face of it, an interesting idea. Of course it is a piece of shameless self-advertising from the parent concerned who, we are invited to suppose, is gentle and well behaved, as opposed to the rest of us authoritarian types who are ogres. I quite like this image! I think that most people will see the flaw in the above claim at once. Frightening and embarrassing your child might produce a gentle, well behaved child. It is more likely to produce a neurotic or deceitful one; perhaps a child who is outwardly polite in the presence of his parents but is secretly a cruel bully. Similarly, gentle and well behaved parents might produce gentle and well behaved children. I have however known a few gentle and well behaved parents whose children were little monsters; rude to their mother, running riot, tormenting the cat and doing pretty much as they pleased because their mother did not have the gumption to control them. Real parenting is a lot more complicated than simply dividing parents up into two classes in this way; the good, gentle parent and the bad, frightening one!

          I do not suppose that I have myself ever frightened my child. I have probably embarrassed her, but that is simply an inevitable result of a middle aged father having a teenage daughter. How has discipline been maintained in our home? It is quite simple. From a very early age, it was made plain to the children that in a family, everybody has to do things that he or she would rather not do. My daughters saw this as a background. They knew that I was not over keen on doing the washing or cleaning the windows, but became aware at a young age that their mother and I did these things anyway. From the time that they were toddlers, they knew that just as we did things which we did not like, so to would they have to do the same. It might be putting their toys away in the evening or sitting down and writing; but from the moment they could walk, they were expected to understand that as well as being individuals, they were also part of a unit. I don't believe that they were frightened or embarrassed by this; it was just the background. If they wanted a smooth life, with the cheerful cooperation of their parents, then they too had to play their part.

          What sanctions were used to enforce this happy state of affairs? Well to begin with, I have never struck my children. this simply did not feature in the scheme of things. There were things that my daughter wanted to do. Going on days out and so on, visiting places like the park, playing games. If she cooperated by doing her part, then there always seemed to be time for the things which she enjoyed. If she delayed matters by messing about and not getting down to the things which we saw as her own duties; there might not be time for the pleasant excursions. This was not presented in the form of threats or rewards; she was never told that if she was a good girl we would do such and such a thing. It was more contrived to be an inevitable consequence of her own actions. If I had to tidy her room myself, because she had failed to do so, then I would have to do the laundry after that and this might eat into the time spent on things which she enjoyed. I never showed any anger or even irritation, I just let her know that the delay was her own doing and that the remedy lay in putting her toys and clothes away promptly next time. There was no nagging about the state of her bedroom; it just resulted in her missing out on time in the park or library. We did not have a computer until she was eleven and she used to book sessions on the ones in the library. If there was a delay in leaving the house because she had to do things which I had asked her do but she had not bothered with, then this ate into her hour on the library computer. This only ever happened once, but it was enough for her.

          This process of cooperation has continued to this day. Like most seventeen year-old girls, she requires a good deal of money. If I am in a cheerful mood and have some in my pocket, then I usually share it with her. If, on the other hand, there is a bad atmosphere because she is being awful, then I feel less inclined to do so. The main thing is that we both realise that if the other is irritated, then the general atmosphere in the house becomes bad and nobody wants that. I try to avoid it and so in general does she. There would be no point in her trashing her bedroom, because this would be counter-productive to her own best interests.

          I was always at pains to ensure that my daughter did not see the ill effects of her behaviour as being imposed by me. The reason is that when once a child starts to think like that, then she will persuade herself that if she evades the attention of the parent then everything will be fine. This promotes slyness and is a poor introuduction to the reality of life. The truth is that laziness and so on bring their own consequences and it is important for a child to learn this from a tender age.

          Thursday, 10 March 2011

          Coercive Parenting

          Some readers may be unfamiliar with the expression 'coercive parenting'. It is used by some very liberal and laid back parents to describe what most of us would call responsible parenting; setting boundaries for our children, seeing that they clean their teeth at night and go to bed at a suitable time; this sort of thing. The idea of coercive parenting or coercive education is popular among some autonomously educating parents. They present it as the undesirable opposite of their own methods. Some ordinary parents say that they find the term 'coercive parenting' offensive. Personally, I find the very idea of 'coercive parenting' absurd. Let us look at this peculiar notion and see what we can make of it.

          To begin with, I suppose that these people cannot be referring to physical coercion. It is literally impossible to force a child to eat a carrot or even put on her coat simply by using physical force. You certainly could not use physical force to compel a child to learn about the Tudors! Obviously, 'coercive parenting' must refer to trying to manipulate children emotionally and psychologically into doing as you wish. Now I would have no objection to doing this myself, if it worked. The problem is that it does not and cannot work. I wonder if any parents reading this have tried to use such techniques to cajole or bribe their toddlers into eating a healthy, balanced diet? 'Please, Jimmy, just try a mouthful of that delicious broccoli. How do you know you won't like it if you don't even taste it? All right, then you won't be having any pudding' The very thought of this sort of carry-on is enough to turn my blood cold! You might manage to create an eating disorder in a child like this; you certainly won't produce one who naturally eats a healthy diet in later life.

          I have been viewed by some as a coercive parent myself, one who chose an academic path for his daughter rather than a musical or artistic one. I was asked on here recently what I would do if my daughter chose not to go to university. Again, my objections to using psychological manipulation of a child is not based upon ethical considerations but upon the fact that such efforts are doomed to failure. It is quite impossible to prevent a seventeen year-old girl from doing anything she wants. If my daughter chose to drop out of college, get pregnant or start injecting heroin; there would be absolutely nothing I could do about it. I remember vividly in the late sixties and early seventies when there were plenty of parents who believed firmly in 'coercive parenting' although they did not call it that. They tried to ensure that their daughters remained virgins until they got married, did not drink, kept away from unsuitable boys and avoided smoking cannabis. It was an utterly hopeless enterprise. The girls simply lied and deceived their parents wholesale. Those wished to have sex or take drugs did so and those who chose not to refrained. The parental attitude made no difference at all.

          This does not mean that I do not believe that firm boundaries are unnecessary for a teenage girl, just as they are for a toddler. It means that I have a different idea as to how they should be maintained. I have never been one to believe either that my child is a better judge than me of what she needs to being doing academically. The whole of her course of study was laid out according to my plan and she pursued it willingly. This was not a case of forcing a reluctant child to do things which she would rather not do. It was a question of gaining her cooperation and working with her to these ends. Tomorrow I shall discuss 'cooperative parenting', which I see as the antithesis of both authoritarian parenting and letting a child dictate the course of her own life freely.

          Regretting the end of childhood.

          I have observed a number of times recently that as our children and the children of friends and relatives get older, quite a few parents seem to regret the fact that their little ones are no longer children. They are apparently sad to find that the children who once hung on their every word are now challenging and disputing anything and everything which their parents say. Some parents express this openly, by saying that it is a pity that their children have grown up. I find this faintly shocking. I can't imagine that they would really prefer their kids to remain in a state of arrested development and reliance upon their parents.

          I wonder whether this sort of thing is liable to strike home educating parents a little harder? They are often closer to their children than the parents of children who have waved their kids off to school when they were five and then later seen them form close bonds with a peer-group at secondary school. It is true that the house seemed a little empty when my daughter finally went off each day to college at the age of sixteen, but I found this more a matter for rejoicing and satisfaction than regret. I found it all but impossible to do anything else much while I was educating her and her attendance at college has freed me in a way to get on with other things.

          I revel in the fact that my daughter is now an opinionated young woman who shows only contempt for my own beliefs; whether religious or political. There would be something a little odd if this had not happened, although judging by what other parents say, some find this upsetting. The whole aim of my life has been to produce a self-reliant person who decides for herself what she wishes to do. Had this not happened and my daughter was still looking to me for guidance at the age of seventeen, I should feel that I had failed in some way. When she goes off to university in the autumn, I shall have the quiet satisfaction of knowing that a job has been completed and I can get on with other things.

          Tuesday, 8 March 2011

          Are home educators normal?

          I must begin this piece with a confession, a confession which may perhaps not come as any great surprise to my readers; I am not a normal person. Of course, by definition, anybody who fails to send his child to school must be abnormal. After all, if 99% of the population are all pursuing one course of action which is seen as being wise and good and I am one of the 1% who refuse to do so, this automatically makes me an oddity. There is though, a little more to it than that. I was a strange and atypical individual long before I officially began to home educate in 1998. In a sense, my abnormality can be said to have resulted in my home educating; not the other way around. In short, I would still be a strange person, even if I had sent my kid to school.

          I have met quite a few home educators over the years, as well as reading the views of many on various lists. Some of them of course present as being raving mad. We have one or two such people commenting on here. These people are the exception. All the home educators whom I met in person were far from being average people. They were not all as weird as me, but I certainly recognised many of my own characteristics in a lot of them. They had unconventional beliefs, quite a few were religious, they did not approve of vaccinations, they had been unhappy at school, there was a strong anti-establishment streak, they valued real life experience over book learning; this sort of thing. Not all had every one of these traits and some had none of them at all. However, by and large I would say that they tended to be odder than those people I know who do not home educate. I am bound to say that reading the posts of home educating parents on the home education lists and forums suggests to me that the parents whom I have met personally were not exceptional and that they were probably fairly typical of home educating parents across the country.

          I have been musing on this recently when considering the notion that home educating families should receive some sort of oversight from the local authority. The classic argument advanced against this proposal is that we assume that children are generally safe with their parents. We do not worry that something will happen to children over the summer holidays, just because they are not being seen every day by professionals at the school. We take it for granted that children under five may safely be left with their parents, without making demands for annual visits to check that they are still alive and well. We allow children to go home to their parents at the weekend and do not worry that their parents are going to abuse or mistreat them. Superficially at least, this reasoning is convincing. If home educating parents are just like anybody else, except that they are not sending their kids to school, then we should regard them just as we do parents whose children do attend school.

          I am not wholly persuaded by this argument. I have a strong suspicion that the overall group of home educating parents contains a higher percentage of very strange people than does the reference group of ordinary parents who send their children to school. If this were to be the case, then we would be justified in paying closer attention to these families than we would of a typical family whose children are at school. I have no doubt that in the main, these odd people are no more of a threat to their children's wellbeing and safety than any other parents. They are, if you like, harmless cranks. I am one such; a crank who rows with authority a lot and is always ready to argue with anybody who seems to oppose the interests of my family. This is not unusual in home educating parents! Interestingly, I am also quite sure that my daughter was more at hazard in her childhood than other children. I do not mean that she was at risk of being abused, starved or neglected. I have told readers before, I think, that when my daughter was two, I climbed over the barrier at Paradise Park zoo in Hertfordshire so that she could put her hand through the bars of an enclosure and stroke a tiger. We did the same trick with a wolf at London Zoo before they packed them all off to Whipsnade. I first sent her down a slide in the park when she was four days old, just as an experiment. (I of course caught her at the bottom!). She first went on a 'big' swing in the park, the kind where you have to hold on, when she was a year old. I had a theory that the movement would make a baby tighten her grip and thus prevent her from toppling off the thing when it was moving. My theory was vindicated, but I have wondered what would have happened had I been wrong. These are all minor things, but she was definitely at more risk than would have been the case with a child in a nursery.

          I am not suggesting that the average home educator is in the habit of putting her child in with the lions or anything of that sort! Perhaps they do even more dangerous things like failing to vaccinate their children against common childhood diseases. What I am saying is that many home educating parents start off from the position of being rather odd people and that when we are judging the risks to their children from being all day in their parents' company, we might not be wise to assume that those risks are precisely the same as for children whose parents send them to school. I think that the risks, of many sorts, are likely to be higher. To what extent society is justified in taking notice of this and acting is a controversial question.

          Home education case

          This is not exactly a brilliant piece of publicity for home education:

          Before anybody says anything silly; no, I do not believe that this is typical of British home education. It might not exactly endear the practice though, to those who know nothing about it but what they see in the papers.

          Monday, 7 March 2011

          Some cult-like aspects of autonomous education

          A week ago, when somebody joined the HE-UK list because she wanted some solid information before taking the serious step of deregistering her child from school, Mike Fortune-Wood was quite open about his contempt for facts and figures when it came to home education. He asked bluntly, ' why do you want hard figures, in what way are they likely to help you?'

          Now of course most of us would, if considering a new educational setting for our child, want to know a little about it. What are the future prospects if my child follows this course or that? How will colleges and prospective employers view this type of education? Almost all of us would ask questions of this sort, trying to elicit a few 'hard figures'. Such an attitude is not encouraged in circles where autonomous education is rife. There are I think two main reasons for this. First of course, the statistics are simply not available. Secondly, following autonomous education, a major strand of home education in this country, is more than simply choosing one pedagogical technique over another. It is very different from deciding to teach reading by synthetic phonics as against using look and say, for example. I chose to use look and say, but I have never encountered any bitterness and hostility from teachers who prefer phonics! There is something to be said for both methods and which you decide to use is a personal matter. This is very different from autonomous education, which displays many of the characteristics of a cult rather than a means of education.

          There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a cult. I go to church every Sunday and would not class Christianity as a cult, but there are those who would. Most agree that Scientology is a cult, except of course Scientologists themselves. There are however a number of generally agreed characteristics which all cults share and I want to look at autonomous education in the light of these and see how it shapes up.

          People drawn to cults are often in distressing circumstances, whether physical or mental; drug addicts, alcoholics, prisoners, the poor, those with borderline personality disorders, the grief stricken and so on. In this context, it is interesting to note the huge proportion of home educating parents who have withdrawn their children from school because of bullying or due to the school not making sufficient provision for their child's special educational needs. Watching one's child suffer must be among the most distressing experiences which any parent can endure and it strikes me that this group would be prime candidates for being attracted to some cult.

          The attraction of a cult to those in distress is that it offers one simple explanation which will solve all the problems and remove the suffering. Whether it is accepting that you are a miserable sinner or acknowledging the need to write a letter deregistering your child from school, the answer is to stop asking questions and seeking rational explanations and just join the group. Once you have done this, all will become clear and your problems will be solved. To a suffering parent, this is an attractive proposition. Once they join the group, they receive unconditional love and acceptance. They belong. I am not going to quote any of the posts here from home education lists, but I suggest that readers who belong to HE-UK look at what is said to parents who announce that they are going to make the decision and invite home education into their lives. It is like a camp revival meeting! established members of the group on HE-UK may not actually cry, 'Amen' or 'Yea, Lord' or 'Preach it brother', but this is certainly the general sentiment. Another parent saved! This is precisely why the woman asking for information was viewed with such suspicion. She was not coming to the light through suffering, in the approved way. Instead, she was treating the matter as a rational decision. Big mistake! The true home educator does not weigh up the pros and cons cooly in this way, but makes the decision on faith alone. Unless she has reached this point by travelling through a vale of tears, there are those who would not view her as being a true member of the community. Asking for facts and figures indeed!

          Having joined the family, new members are able to take on a new identity; that of home educators, often autonomous ones. They can say to others. 'We're autonomous', just as newly baptised Christians can claim, 'We are saved'. They are now set apart from the world. Often, it is at this point that they begin saying things which in the outside world might sound a little bit mad. This is common in cults, religions and autonomous home education. I have myself attended meetings where people would remark casually that they have been washed in the blood of the most precious lamb; not the sort of thing one would generally say down the pub or in the supermarket! It is the same with home education. Initiates will say things about the teaching of children which would cause most ordinary people to choke in disbelief.

          Essentially, these parents find an identity in autonomous home education. They are no longer misfits and cranks, but have instead found a group where they can be themselves and nobody looks askance at them. The benefits to the parents are obvious; the advantages to their children less clear. I have only scratched the surface of this phenomenon today and I hope to explore the topic further over the next few days.

          Sunday, 6 March 2011

          This blog

          When I began this blog in the summer of 2009, I hoped from the start to make it a team blog, with anybody who wished to do so contributing posts. I invited people like Mike Fortune-Wood and Fiona Nicholson of Education otherwise to join in this enterprise, but there seemed no enthusiasm for such a scheme. Because it was public and accessible through google, I thought that this might be a good place for those who believed in autonomous education to speak directly to the public and explain their beliefs; as a counterbalance to my own views. It was not to be. I issued a general invitation on September 21st 2009, but only one person took me up on the offer and contributed a post a few days later. And thereby hangs a tale.....

          The woman who put a post here was an autonomous educator who was active on the HE-UK list under the name of Diceandgiz; signing her posts 'Gizzie'. As soon as it was seen that she had joined me in posting here, she became the target of abuse on the HE-UK list. Members of that list might wish to look at the archived messages for September 2009 and see what I mean. This was not limited to the list. People began emailing her privately and abusing her for being associated with me. In the end, she became so upset that she left both here and the HE-UK list. This is what happens to those who step out of line, even they are dedicated and autonomous home educators.

          I tell this story as a cautionary tale of what is liable to happen to anybody who does decide to post on here openly. However, I renew my offer to anybody who wishes to have their views on home education published here. It seems a little much that I am the only person whose opinions are on display and if anybody else wants to write a post here, they are very welcome to do so. There is a catch! In order to become listed by blogspot as authors here, I have to put in an email address. This need not be your usual one; you can post anonymously by starting a hotmail account or something. Anyway, if anybody does want to join me in broadening the appeal of this blog and turning it into a team blog, then they can send me an email address and we will see how it goes. My email address is Just send an email address with your name or a pseudonym if you are really shy and I will generate an invitation to you to join the blog as an author.

          The only proviso I make is that any posts are not incoherent or abusive. This means nothing beginning 'Old Webb and teacher Julie say...' I think Mr Williams of Alton knows who I am talking about here. I think that it would be good to have a little fresh blood on here. More than once, people have complained that my posts are boring and repetitive; now is the chance to do something about it.

          Saturday, 5 March 2011

          Strict adherence to a curriculum in informal home education

          Over the last two days I have explained how informal education may be used to cover anything from learning to read to studying for GCSEs. Several important points were raised by people commenting here and I thought it worth addressing three of them in detail. These were the extent to which concepts in a subject like physics could be taught informally, what would happen if a child were completely incurious about the world and asked no questions and finally, what would happen if one told the local authority that one intended to cover a certain topic and then found it impossible to do so? This last relates to the 'plan of education' which was recommended in the Children, Schools and Families Bill and to which many home educating parents objected.

          I propose to teach quite a complex topic to a child who has neither asked about it nor shown any interest in or desire to learn about physics. We will be teaching the difference between transverse and longitudinal waves; something of which many adults are quite ignorant. We will also be explaining the concept of polarisation; again, something which most adults do not really understand. This is a part of the Edexcel IGCSE physics specification. The child can be any age between seven and sixteen and may be completely illiterate, have learning difficulties or be on the autistic spectrum.

          We will be begin by suggesting to our incurious and reluctant pupil that we make and play in the garden with a tin-can telephone. For those of us who grew up in the 1950s, this was as close as we got to mobile telephones. We take two empty tins and bore holes in the bottom of them. We then take a very long piece of twine or fishing line and pass it through the holes. Make big knots in the ends and then move so that you and the child each have a tin-can and are standing about fifty yards from each other. If the child puts her tin-can to her ear and you keep the line stretched taut, then anything you say will be transmitted along the line and heard by the child. Believe me, you can have a lot of fun with this!

          After you have played like this, for the whole morning if the child wishes, you can produce a cheap plastic slinky and start fiddling with it. At the same time, ask the child if she can guess how the sound of her voice travelled along the line. You can show her that if you stretch out the slinky and jerk one end, then a wave of compressions will pass along the length of it. Invite her to have a go. You can then play with the slinky for a while. Explain that a wave is simply the disturbance of particles in something and that just as the wave of compressions moves along the slinky, so too did the vibrations of her voice travel along the line to your tin can. Tell her that this type of wave, which moves in the same direction as the direction it is travelling, is called a longitudinal wave. Sound travels in longitudinal waves as the air is squashed and the compressions move. You can tell her that this is the so-called P wave in earthquakes and you can then explore how earthquakes occur by building something on a table with wooden bricks and then kicking the table. The building falls down and you can explain that the longitudinal wave transmitted the energy of your kick to the building. Good chance to talk about how waves can carry energy. You can go on to explain the meaning of terms like 'epicentre' if you wish. S waves in earthquakes can also be demonstrated at this point with a bowl of jelly, but we are now veering too far from our initial plan.

          In the afternoon, you can experiment with a skipping rope. Take one end each and create waves in it by flicking it up and down. This is fun! After a while, explain that this is a different type of wave. This is not caused by the rope being compressed or squashed, but by a wave which moves at right angles to the direction of travel. This is called a transverse wave. Light is a transverse wave in tiny particles called photons. Take a large piece of cardboard and cut a slit about two feet long in it. If you thread the skipping rope through this slit and a friend holds the cardboard with the slit upright, the waves that you and the child make will pass through it. If the friend now turns the cardboard so that the slit is horizontal; the waves will be blocked. This is polarisation. Now is a good time to get a couple of pairs of polarised sunglasses and rotate them one against the other until all the light is blocked in this way.

          It will be observed that none of this teaching relied upon the child's curiosity. It has been suggested over the last few days that I was lucky in that my child was lively and inquisitive and that other children might not be as interested in the world or ask as many questions about it. I do not personally subscribe to this view of children. I think that with very few exceptions, all children are inquisitive and curious about the world. I believe that formal education at school often destroys this curiosity. Another point raised was that if one had told the local authority that one planned to teach this or that topic, what would happen if the child was reluctant to learn about it? What would you tell the local authority a year later, as to why you hadn't covered this? All I can say is that having written that I was going to teach about transverse and longitudinal waves, I cannot see why in the course of the summer I would not make a tin-can telephone and play with a skipping rope like this. What would prevent me from doing so?

          I have demonstrated, I hope, that even a subject like GCSE physics can be explored informally, although still working closely to a curriculum. There are those though, who are opposed on ideological grounds from teaching children in this way according to a curriculum. They claim that it stifles the child's curiosity and damages their inherent love of learning. In other words, although it may be possible to do such a thing, they feel that it is actually harmful to a child's development to do so. I find this baffling! What possible harm could result to a child from playing with a tin-can telephone, fooling around with a slinky and jerking a skipping rope up and down?

          I shall leave this topic now, as I have spent three days covering it. I realise that many home educating parents will regard all this, the use of curricula and so on, as the Devil's work and so be it. The thing can be done, but if some parents honestly believe that it is wrong to play with your child in this way and talk to her, then there is really no more to be said on the subject and tomorrow I shall be discussing something quite different.