Thursday, 24 March 2011

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!

34 comments:

  1. '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.'

    Home educated children are NOT a vulnerable group and it's quite michievous of you to say so.

    Children with SEN's which are being ignored/badly handled in school however ARE extremely vulnerable.

    Thankfully, there are some courageous parents, some of whom know little about formal teaching at the outset of HE, who are prepared to make the sacrificial action of removing their children from those damaging situations and learn how to teach them successfully at home.

    Practical suggestions for assisting them in this task would be a welcome subject for a blog post from you, Simon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. 'Home educated children are NOT a vulnerable group and it's quite michievous of you to say so.'

    I did not say this at all. The vulnerable group are young children in need of a good education, generally; not home educated children specifically.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for making that clear.

    The sentence mentioning the vulnerable group was the same one in which the Badman Report was referred to. Anyone reading that would have drawn the same conclusion as I did: that you were trying to imply HE children are more vulnerable than others.

    I'm glad that you weren't attempting to do that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. 'Thank you for making that clear.'

    Oh for crying out soft...It was unmistakably clear.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Really?

    Loz, please don't make the error of thinking all anonymouses are the same person and all are anti-everything S says and thinks. Some of us are trying to have a reasoned discussion here.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes..really.

    It's also quite clear from your post that you are not anti-everything S says, therefore for me to make such an error in thinking you were yet another of the naysayers which frequent here so regularly would have been ridiculous.
    however, there are those who will latch onto your post, and cling to it for dear life, in order to scupper any plans of anyone else being able to continue a reasoned discussion..it was for them that I attempted to point out the clarity of what Simon had said. I apologise if it caused offense. :)

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  7. Thanks for the apology, Loz. Trouble is when two concepts are linked by being in the same sentence, readers, especially those unfamiliar with HE who are on the outside looking in, as it were) are likely to get the wrong impression.

    I've been reading here since S started writing this blog and have commented almost every day. Sometiems I make mistakes and misunderstand S's intentions. But it was wrong to say that he was 'unmistakably clear' as I surely wouldn't have made that mistake if he had been ;-)

    Anyway, moving on...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Response in two parts because of length.

    Part I

    Simon said

    '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.'

    The Badman report framed the debate in terms of parents' rights vs children's rights, which, as you correctly point out, it isn't. Badman also quoted Isaiah Berlin in his report, but didn’t explore what Berlin had to say in detail, which was a pity, because if he had, he might have learned something.

    Berlin made a distinction between positive and negative liberties. A negative liberty is an inherent freedom to get on with your life as you see fit and (correct me if I’m wrong) is a fundamental principle underpinning the British legal system. As a matter of principle, legislation is enacted only in response to cases where by exercising their liberty, some people have infringed the liberty of others. In other words, you can do what you want unless something you do interferes with someone else’s freedom to do what they want.

    Liberties are not the same as rights, which are freedoms determined and granted by someone else, usually by government and elected representatives. The liberties model owes much to the Viking form of government, whereas the rights model stems from the Roman system of governance that never really disappeared from mainland Europe.

    Having liberties as distinct from rights, has significant implications for the role of state agencies in one’s life. We know from bitter experience what happens when a state agency and an individual have a difference of opinion - even when the individual is right - which is why the law tends to be weighted in favour of the individual - as in the presumption of innocence.

    You’re quite right that parents have a duty, not a right, to cause their child to have a suitable education. But in order to discharge a duty, someone must have the freedom to do so. A situation where a parent is legally responsible for their child’s education, but where a local authority can intervene in the way the parent exercises that responsibility is unworkable because the local authority could, in theory, make it impossible for the parent to educate the child and then deny any responsibility for doing so and blame the parent.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Part 2

    Until the Children Act 2004 the allocation of responsibility for the education of children was quite clear. Parents were ultimately responsible for their children’s education. If the wished they could delegate the task of educating (but not the responsibility) to the local authority, which was then answerable to the parent for the quality of education it provided, and to council tax payers for the way it spent their money. But another of the services provided by local authorities was law enforcement. If it came to the attention of a LA that the law might be being broken, they could bring the accused person to justice. The accused person wasn’t accountable to the local authority - but to the community in the form of the judiciary - a separate body. It is in their law enforcement capacity that LA’s become involved ‘if it appears’ that a parent is not providing a suitable education.

    This means that LAs have two different hats in relation to education - as providers (or now commissioners) and as law enforcers. But LAs remain bodies whose role is to ensure that local people get services they need - they are not in charge of education, or in charge of the way children are brought up or educated. The waters have been muddied by the previous government attempting to give LAs some responsibility for the education and welfare of the children in its area, without clarifying who is accountable to whom for what.

    So yes, a distinction does need to be made between rights and duties, but that’s not the only distinction that has to be made. And it would have been helpful if the Badman had understood the issues.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, I did post a two part response with the first part first, but it hasn't appeared despite claims to the contrary by Blogger.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Response in two parts because of length.

    Part I

    Simon said

    '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.'

    The Badman report framed the debate in terms of parents' rights vs children's rights, which, as you correctly point out, it isn't. Badman also quoted Isaiah Berlin in his report, but didn’t explore what Berlin had to say in detail, which was a pity, because if he had, he might have learned something.

    Berlin made a distinction between positive and negative liberties. A negative liberty is an inherent freedom to get on with your life as you see fit and (correct me if I’m wrong) is a fundamental principle underpinning the British legal system. As a matter of principle, legislation is enacted only in response to cases where by exercising their liberty, some people have infringed the liberty of others. In other words, you can do what you want unless something you do interferes with someone else’s freedom to do what they want.

    Liberties are not the same as rights, which are freedoms determined and granted by someone else, usually by government and elected representatives. The liberties model owes much to the Viking form of government, whereas the rights model stems from the Roman system of governance that never really disappeared from mainland Europe.

    Having liberties as distinct from rights, has significant implications for the role of state agencies in one’s life. We know from bitter experience what happens when a state agency and an individual have a difference of opinion - even when the individual is right - which is why the law tends to be weighted in favour of the individual - as in the presumption of innocence.

    You’re quite right that parents have a duty, not a right, to cause their child to have a suitable education. But in order to discharge a duty, someone must have the freedom to do so. A situation where a parent is legally responsible for their child’s education, but where a local authority can intervene in the way the parent exercises that responsibility is unworkable because the local authority could, in theory, make it impossible for the parent to educate the child and then deny any responsibility for doing so and blame the parent.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Why does my first post keep appearing and then disappearing?

    ReplyDelete
  13. "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."

    How unfortunate that the same opportunity has not arisen for a great number of children in state institutions who are "in desperate need of receiving a good education".

    ReplyDelete
  14. I really don't see what the fuss is about. We have a right to do something if it's not specifically banned by any law. We have the right to carry out our lives as we please as long as we do not break any laws, therefore we have a right to home educate. But calling something a 'right' doesn't mean that nothing else can affect that right - it doesn't place it on some kind of pedestal where it cannot be touched. Obviously other people's rights and our duties will impinge on and affect any human activity, and in the case of HE it's the duty to ensure our children receive a suitable education and their right to receive it.

    As to the need for monitoring and registration. How many people are actually going to slip through the net in future? With the LAs duty to identify children missing education it seems unlikely that many will in future. And if home educators are known, the LA can make informal enquiries to check that a suitable education is being provided (and take further action if they think it is not being provided or do not receive enough evidence). Why do you think there is a need for further legislation and expense? What loophole or gap needs plugging in your view?

    ReplyDelete
  15. 'Why do you think there is a need for further legislation and expense? What loophole or gap needs plugging in your view?'

    The loophole that as things stand, anybody can withdraw a child from school, even on a whim, and that it can then be difficult to establish whether the child's right to an education is being respected.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous said;

    'I really don't see what the fuss is about. We have a right to do something if it's not specifically banned by any law. We have the right to carry out our lives as we please as long as we do not break any laws, therefore we have a right to home educate. But calling something a 'right' doesn't mean that nothing else can affect that right - it doesn't place it on some kind of pedestal where it cannot be touched. '

    Unfortunately, the principle of the right to carry out our lives as we please is under threat from human rights legislation that does mean that rights enshrined in law do get put on a pedestal. States party to human rights legislation have a duty to actively protect those rights, and in the case of children's rights, this puts states under pressure to intervene on the part of children, who aren't, by definition, in a strong position to defend their rights themselves.

    This is largely where the Every Child Matters agenda has come from. And reducing everything to a matter of whose rights trump whose means that children's rights will always come first and that those rights will be determined by government, not negotiated with children or the people who are responsible for their upbringing or education.

    ReplyDelete
  17. 'The loophole that as things stand, anybody can withdraw a child from school, even on a whim, and that it can then be difficult to establish whether the child's right to an education is being respected'

    Excellent point.

    Recently, I had a discussion with a 'prospective' HE mum, who states that 'she likes what she thinks Home Education is all about'.
    Now, please don't ask me to explain exactly what she means by this, as in truth I havent got a clue.
    She's an excellent mum, and I know that her only concerns are those connected with her childs education and general happpiness. However I also know that what she has based her opinion on is what she sees me and my children getting up to. Not what she has read about HE, or researched about it for herself.
    On a positive note about further legislation, surely it would ensure that newcomers could make better informed decisions ?

    ReplyDelete
  18. loz says-On a positive note about further legislation, surely it would ensure that newcomers could make better informed decisions ?

    but their is no new legislation being put forward for home education your be pleased to know!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Worn our Wbb says-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.


    by sending then back to the same system that failed how does that help those children?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Simon says,

    '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.'

    What are these 'usual external standards' and who are 'we'? If you think that there are 'many children' being denied an education in this way it would be interesting to know more about the standards you think should be applied and how this should be done.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "The loophole that as things stand, anybody can withdraw a child from school, even on a whim, and that it can then be difficult to establish whether the child's right to an education is being respected."

    The LA can ask the parent for information about their education provision. If they are unable to tell from this that a suitable education is being provided they can ask for more information and ultimately issue a School Attendance Order. Where do you think this process fall down and what would your solution be?

    ReplyDelete
  22. 'What are these 'usual external standards' and who are 'we'? If you think that there are 'many children' being denied an education in this way it would be interesting to know more about the standards you think should be applied and how this should be done. '

    I'm too would be interested in seeing not only Simons ideas, but everyone elses?
    But lets make it a hypothetical exercise...what 'hypothetically' could be applied, and how?

    ReplyDelete
  23. What's wrong with the case law established standard?

    In the case of Harrison & Harrison v. Stevenson heard at Worcester Crown Court (1981), the judge held that a 'suitable education' was one which 'prepares children for life in a modern, civilised society' and an 'efficient education' was one which 'achieves what it set out to achieve'.

    If the parents can show that their child is being provided with an education that will ultimately achieve this, does it really matter in what order they learn things, for instance?

    ReplyDelete
  24. 'I'm too would be interested in seeing not only Simons ideas, but everyone elses?
    But lets make it a hypothetical exercise...what 'hypothetically' could be applied, and how?'

    Most people are a bit bored with that exercise now, having participated it in so many times here. Simon thinks 5 GCSE's grade C and above, just like the govt. Others are happy with alternative qualifications such as OU. Others believe that the capacity to earn a living, contribute to society and be happy is a better measure of the effectiveness of HE etc etc etc.

    ReplyDelete
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