Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Studying at home for GCSEs and International GCSEs

I wrote a little yesterday about studying for and taking GCSEs at home. I said that this was a full time job and perhaps gave the impression that it meant unrelenting work at the task through all the waking hours. Somebody asked whether it would be possible to work in the evenings while doing this and so I think that I have probably not explained very well. Perhaps it would help to take a specific example of studying for a GCSE and see how it can work.

One of the most daunting things when considering the formal teaching of children with a view to their taking GCSEs is that the subjects sound so vast and all embracing that you don't know where to begin! I mean history, for instance. There's just so much of it! Does my kid need to know everything, from the Egyptians to Tony Blair? What about science? Where do I even start? Fortunately, it is all a good deal simpler than we think. For whatever subject you wish to teach, there is a specification. This sets out in great detail precisely what your child will need to know to pass the exam. Let's look at a specification for one of the IGCSEs; biology, for example. You can see it here. Just click on the link and download the PDF for the specification:


This all makes it a lot clearer. Your child doesn't have to know everything about biology; just what is listed here. We printed out a copy of the specification and then ticked off the topics as we covered them. Then when we did them again, we made another tick and a third during revision. It really was that simple. This is free; you don't need to buy a lot of textbooks and revision notes, there are plenty of books in the library and also in charity shops. We never spent more than three hours or so each morning working at academic stuff. Because few homes have laboratories attached to them, this is a traditional teachers' objection to the teaching of science at home; 'How will they do the experiments and practical work?' This is a lot of nonsense, as the teachers very well know. Most of them avoid any practical work anyway these days, because the kids can't be trusted not to injure themselves or each other. In fact, at home one can do far more than would ever be undertaken in a school setting. This ties in with what I said about only working for a few hours in the morning. let's see how.

Having read up on one small aspect of the specification in the morning and looked at what several books have to say about it, we can then fool around in the afternoon and evening having fun in a way that is really conducting experiments to reinforce what we read from the specification that morning. Suppose we dealt with this part of the IGCSE Biology Specification:

Fungi: These are organisms that are not able to carry out photosynthesis; their body is
usually organised into a mycelium made from thread-like structures called hyphae, which
contain many nuclei; some examples are single-celled; they have cell walls made of
chitin; they feed by extracellular secretion of digestive enzymes onto food material and
absorption of the organic products; this is known as saprotrophic nutrition; they may store
carbohydrate as glycogen.
Examples include Mucor, which has the typical fungal hyphal structure, and yeast which
is single-celled.

Yeast, eh? Have we tried putting a little sugar and water in the bottom of a jug and then stirring in some baking yeast? It will, after a while, froth up. Hmmm, must be producing Carbon Dioxide as a by-product. How can we test for this? Easy, just put a lighted match into the jug. If it goes out, this means that the air has been driven out and only Carbon Dioxide remains. If you are also doing chemistry, you can then experiment with the Carbon Dioxide at this point, pouring it over a candle to extinguish it or from the jug into a glass. Kids are fascinated at the idea of pouring an invisible gas. You could try brewing some wine or beer, which ties in with another part of the specification about industrial fermenters. If you have a garden, you can start a compost heap and observe the fungus in action as it decomposes the food scraps. Put a few moistened crumbs of bread in a transparent plastic cup and seal the end with cling-film. Put it in the airing cupboard and fungus will grow in the dark. This is also useful for distinguishing between fungus and plants which need light to grow. You can actually observe the mycelium mentioned in the extract from the specification which I gave above. Back to yeast again, you can seal a slice of banana in a sandwich bag and then another slice with a little yeast sprinkled on it. Which goes mushy first and why? In fact the academic work of following the specification only takes up a small part of the studying. Even if you are working, the sort of things which I discuss above can easily be undertaken in the evening or at weekends.

This is just a tiny instance of how the process works, but I can promise readers that it is not at all a hard thing to teach GCSEs in this way. In fact it is a lot of fun. The important thing is to plan ahead a bit and gear some of your outings as well to the specification; visits to museums and lectures and so on. Quite a few parents do GCSEs with their children and most families have a great time at it. The idea that taking examinations destroys all the fun in a child's learning is one of the greatest myths current in British home education. It is actually great fun!

Monday, 30 May 2011

'It’s academically nearly impossible for one person to teach all that is included in a modern high school curriculum'

The above quotation comes from the Director of the Catholic Education Foundation, but is not of course an exclusively Catholic view of home education. Among many teachers and other education professionals, I would say that it is the standard model. How can a parent hope to teach every subject, from physics to history, mathematics to chemistry, English literature to music? The fact is of course that many parents do exactly that. We certainly managed it here without any great problems. Today I want to look a little at the whole business of secondary home education. I am not going to discuss whether a parent should teach in this way. I am aware that many parents think it wrong to decide in advance what their children should learn and so this piece will be irrelevant to them.

As I dare say readers know, my own daughter passed eight IGCSEs at A*. She also passed Grade 5 classical guitar and Grade 6 acting with LAMDA. I alone taught her these things. Now three possibilities occur to one here. The first is that my daughter is some kind of brainbox who can achieve wonderful things purely because she is so clever. The second possibility is that I am a Renaissance Man; a fantastically knowledgeable polymath with an amazing flair for teaching. The third possibility is that anybody can teach their teenage child to a very high academic level and that all it really takes is a lot of research and an enormous amount of hard work on the part of both parent and child. I will not leave readers in suspense any long; the third explanation is the correct one.

Teachers, like garage mechanics, plumbers, builders and the members of practically every other trade, wish to make it appear that what they are doing is very difficult and can only be undertaken by highly trained professionals. Obviously they have to do this. Where would mechanics be if we all started learning about engines and fixing our own cars? A lot of what teachers do is related purely to schools. The supervision and control of thirty children, the administrative paperwork, all the up-to-date jargon, the National Curriculum; none of this has the least relevance to a parent teaching one or two children at home. For this, all that is needed is to download the subject specification and find out what knowledge and skills are needed to pass that particular GCSE. If the topic is history, you don't actually need to be an historian, or indeed have any prior knowledge of any of the historical periods that the child will need to know about. When my daughter was choosing her options for history, she wanted to do Imperial Russia 1855-1917. My heart sank; this was not a time or place about which I knew much. However, a few books from the library and charity shops and hey presto; we were on our way. It was the same with other subjects. Even teaching the guitar requires no previous knowledge of the instrument. I literally cannot play one note on the guitar, but it did not prove a handicap in teaching the thing.
Many parents underestimate their own abilities. They have been subtly brainwashed over the decade by the notion that professionals know best. Teachers often manage to convey the idea that they know all about the subject that they are teaching, but this is seldom the case. If they are teaching about the First World War, then before each lesson, they swot up on what they will be telling the kids, make photo-copies, track down a useful video; all the stuff that any reasonably intelligent parent could do.

What is needed to teach a child at secondary level is the realisation that this will be a full time job. The key to academic success, as measured by GCSEs and A levels, is a lot of time spent studying. Unles your child is some sort of genius, then the more hard work undertaken, the better the results. The parent must study even harder than the child. In order to get the ideas across, the parent must read all about them before the lesson and thoroughly absorb what it is wished to teach the child . You don't need to know this stuff beforehand and you can forget it later, but during the lessons themselves, you must be prepared for any questions and if you can't answer at once, you need to be able to point out the book which does contain the information.

The standard government benchmark of a 'good' education is five GCSEs including mathematics and English at Grade C or above. This is such a pathetically low expectation that one is gripped by despair. That half the children in this country fail even to attain this hideously low standard is an indictment of the educational system in this country. I cannot imagine why 99% of parents continue to be satisfied with this dreadful situation. The remedy is really in their own hands.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Why are so many home educators so weird?

My heart sank when I read in the newspaper about the couple who had decided to raise their baby as 'genderless'. I guessed, long before it was revealed in the text, that they would turn out to be home educators and so it proved. The giveaway was the photograph of their oldest son. He has long plaits, androgynous clothing and of course cannot attend school because of bullying. And he wears dresses. Below is a news item with the best photograph of this child (readers are not to read any significance into the fact that this is the Daily Mail; it just happened to have the best pictures of this truly strange family):


How did I guess that the family home educated? Easy, really. Their son looks really weird and would obviously be regarded as a complete freak wherever he went. Apparently, boys bully him and when he went to a playground wearing a pink dress, the girls did not want anything to do with him either. I have noticed in the past that pictures of boys who are being home educated often show a child with very long hair and/or a generally strange appearance such as would immediately set him apart from any other boy of a similar age. None of this is brilliant advertisement for home education and the case of baby Storm has certainly provoked people to look at the idea unfavourably. It does not help that the Stockers are, inevitably, radical unschoolers. I can assure readers that the average parent is not impressed to hear about a child who only learns what he wants, when he wants. In cases like this, most mutter to themselves that the kid needs a haircut and ought to be sent to school where he will be educated properly.

I suppose that the newspapers are bound to focus upon peculiar families; freak shows like this sell papers. I rather suspect that home educating parents have a tendency to be a little more odd than the average parent anyway, although mercifully, few are as downright odd as the Stockers! Items like this in the papers and on the television do not really help advance the cause of home education. They serve merely to underline the popular feeling about home education, which is that it is the province of cranks and nutcases. This is a pity and it would be good to see some more positive coverage of the topic, with success stories of a conventional sort. When our masters are considering changes in legislation, I cannot think that stories about home educating families like the Stockers help matters much!

Friday, 27 May 2011

'Home Educators are at the forefront of exploiting technology for educational achievement'

One of my favourite people who regularly comments here, claimed yesterday that:

'Home Educators are at the forefront of exploiting technology for educational achievement'.

I am a particular fan of this individual because quite apart from any other consideration, she provides us with a textbook example of the use of language by somebody with semantic pragmatic disorder. It would be interesting to meet her child and see if there is a genetic component to this. This is however, by the by. The idea that home educators are pioneers of technology, simply means that rather than filling their homes with a lot of expensive books and teaching their children, not a few such parents rely instead upon the Internet. All the information in the world is there, right? And our children can take control of their learning by finding out what they want to know, yes? It is at times like this that one wishes to move the keyboard out of the way and bang one's head up and down on the desk like a woodpecker.

It is quite true that almost any piece of information one might require may be found on the Internet. Unfortunately, useful and true information makes up only a tiny fraction of what is to be found in cyberspace. It is dwarfed by the sheer quantity of mad nonsense there. A child wishing to find out who the first people in America were can certainly discover about the pre-Clovis controversy and the Norse settlement in Newfoundland. Side by side with this is information from the Mormons, alleging that ancient Israelites settled in North America, other stuff claiming that the Japanese visited the country before Columbus, and also a lot of really mad sites about Atlantis and the lost continent of Mu. Very few children have enough basic knowledge of history and archaeology properly to assess the rival merits of these various theories. In a book on the subject aimed at children and published by a respectable publisher, the sensible theories will be given prominence and it will be made clear that this is what most experts believe, while the crank ideas might rate a footnote. Without this guidance, children can start to fall prey to any amount of idiocy.

Another problem of course is that children most generally waste their time on the Internet anyway, spending hours gossiping with their mates and emailing each other strange images. They may assure their parents that they are researching some pet project, but this is all too often untrue.

This whole business ties in with what I was saying yesterday about the problem with home educating parents not keeping in touch with modern developments. Ten years ago, the educational world was alight with the idea that the 'Information super highway' was the way forward. This is still the predominant idea in almost all state schools, but independent ones have been a little more cautious and tended to rely more upon books. This is often reflected in their exam results. Quite a bit of research has demonstrated that computers in the classroom do not really have such a great benefit for children and can in some cases cause harm.

The reasons for home educators enthusiastically adopting technology in this way are simple to understand. In the first place, they genuinely believe them to be of great benefit to their children's education; they have swallowed the early hype and not read of the doubts which are beginning to creep in. Secondly, the majority of homes have Internet access and filling the house with hundreds of books can be expensive. Why bother, when all the information is on the net? Anyway, things are changing so fast that those books will soon be out of date anyway. Once again, these parents are probably not aware of the evidence which suggests that those children who go on to achieve academic success tend to come from homes full of books where screen time is far lower than the national average for children of similar age. The converse may well be proved true in the future; that those children coming from homes with few books and whose screen time is above average, will be predisposed to academic failure.

Periplus in the news


Working outside the mainstream

Imagine for a moment a group of mavericks supposedly following some scientific discipline but working entirely on their own, completely cut off from mainstream science. Let us say that they are physicists. Physicists though with this one vital difference; hardly any of them have actually studied physics. They do not keep in touch with modern research on physics and they refuse to read the scientific journals which would keep them in touch with the latest developments in the field. Most of them are attached to idea which were disproved in the 1960s. They have developed their own theory of physics, but refuse to cooperate with other physicists in trying to test this theory. They know that it is true and that their ideas work and that is all there is to it! Besides, many of them are hostile to orthodox physics and believe that the motives of most physicists are suspect and that they are perpetuating a system of physics which is corrupt and dangerous; largely because they are in the pay of the government.

If you simply substitute the word 'teaching' or 'education' in the above paragraph, you might get some idea of how conventional educationalists, as well as many ordinary people, view home educators. Home educators are, by and large, hopelessly out of touch with mainstream education and yet insist that they have made a marvellous discovery in the field, a discovery that other, orthodox educationalists reject, probably because they are in the pay of the government. Until home educators move a little closer to the centre and start learning more about the latest research on their chosen subject, that is to say education, and start cooperating in research and sharing their data; they will remain outsiders. Just imagine somebody who claimed to be a physicist and yet rejected the idea of quarks because he was stuck in the mindset of the 1960s, before experimental evidence emerged for the existence of quarks. This is just what many home educators are like with their clinging to the educational ideas which were all the rage in the sixties and seventies.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Possible free virtual school for home educated children

The day before yesterday, on May 24th, a new company was incorporated and registered at Companies House. It is called Periplus Home Education and the website may be found here:


Now it is true that the founder of this enterprise, John Edwards, has the misfortune to look and sound like a used car salesman, but this should not prejudice us against him. He was until last year the head of a failing school, details about which may be found here:


A number of local authorities have received this communication, touting for business for this company, which is essentially a virtual school:

A national internet based “Free School” for home educated students
Periplus Home Education* is currently seeking expressions of interest to demonstrate the viability and sustainability of an application for the first state funded ‘school’ for home educated students. Using the new government legislation, they are currently engaged in consultation with government ministers and potential partners with respect to opening an Internet based, nationally available “Free School” for secondary age children, which, if successful, would open in September 2012. A critical and urgent step however, is an indication of the likely demand for such a school.
Home education allows great flexibility and removes the need to follow a prescribed curriculum and these freedoms are important. Whilst the model currently being developed to meet the required parameters for a state funded school cannot provide unlimited flexibility, there would be vastly more than in a normal school.
If the proposal is accepted (and this is not guaranteed) it would allow your child to continue receiving their education at home, albeit with a likely increased structure and some regulation. It would provide access to GCSE and other examinations and most importantly, it would be fully funded by the government and therefore completely free to you. It would provide access to the very best live teaching over the internet by highly qualified professional teachers in small classes with access to the best education resources on the market. At the same time, you would maintain a certain degree of autonomy over your child’s education and preserve many of the advantages that home education can bring.
Whilst the target size of the 11-16 school is 300-400 students, given that there are some 20-80,000 home educators in the UK, this is possibly an underestimate of the number that may be interested, but the proposals can be scaled on the basis of the number who reply. The admission criteria to such a school will be based on parents having shown a commitment to home education over time. It is intended that the school would demonstrate that home education can be very successful.
Although the proposals are well advanced, a vital step is securing the commitment of a sufficient number of home educating parents to the principle of “sending” their child to this internet school from September 2012. Responses from students currently aged 8-15 are especially important.
If you would like to be part of this unique school and to receive a state funded home education for your child please respond by completing and submitting the questionnaire, as soon as possible on the following link
or follow the link on the periplus website www.periplus.org.uk/free-school
in order to help demonstrate the required level of interest. If you know anyone who home educates that might be interested, please direct them to the questionnaire. We will then complete the proposal in the tight timescale required. We will keep those who respond informed of the progress of the application, and will only use your information to consult you further or seek your views about the detailed planning for the school as necessary.
The proposal in its current form is to create a school for 11-16 year old students, If you are interested in a 5-11 version of such a school or wish to continue post 16 please also express an interest. We will then consider the viability of extending the current plan.
*Legislation prevents schools from being run for profit – this proposal is therefore wholly non commercial and is being undertaken as part of our commitment as a social enterprise organisation..

Although it is not the sort of thing which would have interested me, I suppose that there are parents who would like the idea and I am wondering what others think of the this.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Organising lessons while pretending to do quite another thing

There is among many British home educators thought to be something inherently wrong in forcing one's opinions upon an innocent child. Who are we to say that our idea, that the kid should study his multiplication tables this morning, is any better than the child's wish to surf the Internet? Because some people are absolutely passionate about this and very articulate in explaining why teaching to a curriculum is bad for children and likely to put them off learning for life or make them neurotic, a lot of home educating parents who teach their kids feel faintly guilty about the practice and tend not to mention it to other home educators. They are perhaps afraid of being thought of as pushy parents or even parents who are careless of their child's psychological health. A natural consequence of this is that quite a few parents teach their children to a curriculum of their own devising, while denying vehemently to those around them that they are doing anything of the sort. Let us look at any example of this; a mother who follows a structured approach, teaching her child to read, do mathematics, learn about biology and so on, while still maintaining the fiction that what is happening is being driven by the child himself.

Before we look at the clip below, may I make two points? First, I think that this looks like a great example of home education and very similar to the methods I myself used. This is not a denunciation of the mother; rather an expression of bewilderment that she seems to be slightly uneasy about admitting that she is teaching her child. Secondly, yes I am well aware that autonomous education can include teaching is the child asks for it. This is not the case here. I spoke in detail to the film crew and they were adamant that the child actually wanted to play Super Mario and that everything in the film was instigated by the mother and not the child. Quite right too, that is what parents are for!


What is curious about this is that we are definitely watching a lesson being taught. The child has not asked to sit there and find out about birds, although he has in the past expressed an interest in the subject. The mother has decided that this is what they will do, by asking loaded questions, 'Shall we watch birds now?'. She is in control of the learning, by having the computer and choosing which website to look at. The child does not ask what the difference is between birds which walk and those which hop. His mother thinks that this is something he should know and so tells him. Left to his own devices, he would be playing with the wii. Because a laptop is used and the child is sitting on the kitchen worktop, it all looks very informal and we do not immediately notice that a lesson is taking place. If he were sitting in a chair and the mother were putting stuff up on a blackboard, it would be just the same; she is teaching her child what she thinks he should know.

So far, so good. This is just how I taught my own child at home. What I find astonishing is that the mother feels the need to pay lip service to the ideology that she is not teaching. We are told that she is an autonomous educator and that there are no lessons. This is so completely weird that one has to do a double-take. No lessons? We have just watched a lesson about the lifestyles of birds. She is teaching the child his times tables. What is strange is that although she is a teacher who plans her son's education and gives him lessons, she feels it necessary to deny this and pretend that he is in control of his own learning. Only in England would this happen!

Monday, 23 May 2011

How the introduction of registration and monitoring have not harmed a home education movement

This piece from Ireland is interesting, mainly because the parents seem just to be getting on with educating their children, rather than agitating against new laws. Perhaps there is a lesson here for parents in this country:


Don't mention the Bible!

I gained a good deal of pleasure from the accusation levelled at me yesterday by a well known figure in the home education world that I am a hypocrite. Elizabeth, part of the double act 'Luke and Elizabeth' whom some readers may have come across, felt that I was a hypocrite for mentioning that I thought that the Bible was inspired by God and that it's moral values were good ones to teach to a child.

One of the things which I have noticed in recent years is that as long as one talks of any scriptures or belief system which does not involve the Bible, people will be respectful and not offer any criticism. After all, we live in a pluralist society and must be tolerant of all faiths and none. What better way of showing our tolerance and adherence to the multicultural society than listening gravely and with a straight face while somebody tells us that he reads the Qu'ran, is a Buddhist, Pagan, Scientologist or follows Hare krishna. It costs nothing and allows us to feel virtuous. The exception to this rule is anybody who talks of, quotes from or shows any respect for the Bible. Such people are, almost by definition, hypocrites and self-righteous bigots. This ethos may be partly formed by television, where any character in either a drama or documentary who is seen with a Bible is shown to be unpleasant. If it is fiction, then as soon as we see somebody with a Bible, we know that this person is at best slightly eccentric, like Dot Cotton from Eastenders, or at worse a psychotic killer or child abuser. No normal people in television dramas have Bibles in their homes or attend church. Documentaries where people are seen next to Bibles invariably portray them as bigoted fools and often unstable and dangerous fools at that. It is almost a rule of modern television, that the Bible is shorthand code for madness and hypocrisy.

Yesterday, even referring to the contents of the Bible was enough to get me branded a hypocrite. I don't follow the ethical system of the Bible myself; I am not a Christian, but even suggesting that it was inspired by God and that its values were worth teaching was sufficient to reveal me as a self-righteous bigot.

I love this attitude, which says so much about our society. The people who feel this way have generally not read the Bible, nor would they have one in their homes. They would be happy for their friends to see a copy of the Qu'ran or a book about Buddhism, but they would rather die than have anybody see a Bible laying around the place! I have no objection at all to anybody regarding me as a hypocrite, I am certainly that. But they really should found this belief upon stronger grounds than the fact that I approve of the moral code contained in the Bible. Such condemnation says far more about them and their own beliefs than it can ever say about me and mine.

Train up a child in the way he should go

It is no particular secret that I had two main reasons for educating my own child entirely at home. One of these was that many maintained schools are so terrible now that one simply cannot rely upon them to deliver even the most rudimentary education effectively. The other motive was religious. I wanted my daughter to grow up learning about God and not to be over-influenced by the mores of today's society. I lived in Israel for years and am a Zionist who believes that the Bible contains a good deal of solid information regarding what the Lord requires from us. We must care for the feeble and sick, be loving and kind to strangers, protect the widow and orphan; stuff like that. The two passages which underpinned the plans for my daughter's upbringing were Proverbs 22: 6, 'Train up a child in the way he will go and when he is old, he will not depart from it' and also from Proverbs, 1: 7, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and instruction'.

I am aware that at this point many readers will be dismissing me as being a cross between Dot Cotton on Eastenders and a gun toting, Bible waving loony from the American deep South, but so be it! I have an idea that in fact many British home educators like having their children at home for precisely similar reasons to mine. I don't mean that their children's earliest writing practice was, like my daughter's, copying out the Commandments. I am thinking in a broader sense about transmitting their own particular values to their children and trying to counter what they see as dangerous and pernicious trends which affect children at school adversely. I have the impression, and it is no more than that, that a lot of home educators are at least as much concerned about how their child's character is formed as they are about what academic progress the kid makes when a teenager.

One seldom hears parents of school children speaking enthusiastically about the habits and belief systems which their children have acquired at school. I can't remember when last I heard a mother say, 'Johnny has learned some really sound values since he began secondary school'. Most parents fret about the negative effects which other children have upon their own child, in a moral and ethical sense. Those who keep their kids at home with them are spared this. Of course it is not really the done thing these days to talk openly about the moral and spiritual education of children, but whatever terms we use, I think that this is still a big concern for many of us. I have an idea that whatever else has prompted people to undertake the education of their children themselves, this plays a big role in reassuring them that they have made the right decision.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Real reasons for not sending children to school

It is very rare for any course of human action to be taken or adopted for one single reason. There are usually ostensible motives, the ones we reveal to others, but also there frequently exist other, perhaps less creditable explanations for what we do. Often, we do not acknowledge these hidden motives, even to ourselves. Perhaps we arrange for an elderly relative to be admitted to a hospital and then transferred to an old people's home. On the face of it, we are doing what is best for her and reap the credit for being a good niece. In fact, we are thoroughly fed up with going round her house twice a week to attend to her needs. Getting her into an institution may well be in her best interests; but that is not really why we have done it.

Of course, it is not always a case of an apparently altruistic motive concealing a base and ignoble one. It just as often happens that somebody will affect to be callous and hard and will present his actions as being based upon his own self interest, when in fact he is doing a genuine good deed! Humans are very complicated like that.

I was thinking about this recently apropos of home education. In my own case, the explanation which I regularly advance for not having sent my daughter to school is that I could provide her with a far better education at home than she could ever have received at school. This is demonstrably true, but is not really the reason for my failure to enrol her at a school. The truth is that I enjoyed her company tremendously when she was two and three and was very reluctant to deprive myself of it just because she turned five. I was essentially being selfish.

Why do some people choose not to send their children to school? I am sure that there are as many motives for this action as there are home educators, but I also have an idea that these motives fall into several broad categories. One of these is without doubt the same thing which motivated me to home educate. A mother loves her child so much and gets so much pleasure from her daughter or son, that she wishes to hang onto the child and not be deprived of his company during weekdays. There can be varying degrees of this and it can be a positive or negative motive. If it is because the mother really loves being with the child and would miss him; that would be a positive thing. If on the other hand, it is a fear of being left alone all day; this would be a negative reason, not really connected with the child at all.

Quite a few home educating parents have very bad memories of school themselves. Either the teachers failed to recognise their intelligence or the other pupils treated them badly. They are already prejudiced against school and this predisposes them to view schools as bad places. If they do send their children, then at the first hint of a problem they will deregister them. These are parents who are not really making rational decisions, but are the victims of their own pasts. A surprising number of home educators were unhappy or bullied at school and it is an odd coincidence that they go on to claim that their own children suffered similarly. In many cases, this is clearly a projection of their own anxieties onto their children.

However much evidence we manage to produce in support of our decision not to do what everybody else does and send our children to school, it is very often the case that such evidence is not the reason for our action, but merely justification for a decision which we have already taken on other, possibly less rational grounds. We are not and nor should we be purely logical where our children are concerned and there is nothing wrong with making choices based only upon natural love and affection for our offspring.

The trouble might start when the justifications which we produce for not sending our children to school are faulty or do not match up with the available objective evidence. Those opposed to the practice of home education then seize upon such discrepancies and accuse us of having hidden purposes and sinister reasons for wanting to keep our kids at home with us. What are they really up to? Obviously, this is not about the child's education at all! In a sense, they are quite right. Nobody really chooses to spend twenty four hours a day, seven days a week in the company of a toddler or teenager for purely educational reasons. There is always more to it than meets the eye.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Opening our eyes and seeing the bigger picture

One of the things which never ceases to amaze me is the way in which people commenting here apparently go out of their way to confirm what I am saying. I have remarked before that some of them seem almost like my sock puppets. The day before yesterday I posted about the New World Order and its popularity with some home educators. Somebody promptly posted a link to an Internet site called UK Column:


This is of course a New World Order conspiracy site, one of those places where people who believe that the United Nations are taking over the world hang out. Even more perfectly for my purposes, the piece about Martin Smith is also to be found on David Icke's site! You couldn't, as they say, make it up.

One person commenting here seems to be hinting that there is something fundamentally unsound about Education Otherwise. He drew our attention to the case of Lianne Smith, who was a regional organiser for EO, involved in a local authority's Children's Services, married to a paedophile rapist and also killed her children. We were urged to 'open our eyes' and asked if we could see 'the bigger picture'. I interpreted this to mean that it was being suggested that this case was the tip of the iceberg and that other stuff like this was going on with Education Otherwise. I assume that this was the same person who posted details of a number of American home educators who abused or murdered their kids.

Now in any large organisation, one is bound to get the odd paedophile. This goes for children's charities as much as it does for insurance companies or banks. Enterprises involving children are bound to attract such characters more than most. This is because they offer the opportunity to gain access to children. This is why the child abusing scoutmaster has become such a stock figure and also why CRB checks are necessary. Such people gravitate towards schools and youth organisations, swimming pools and playgrounds. Some of them, those determined to surrender to their perverted lusts, get jobs at such places. For this reason, I always took it for granted that Education Otherwise was bound to have its share of child molesters hovering in the background.

Having said all this, as far as I am aware there have only been two verified incidents of this sort. One was the case of Lianne Smith and the other that of the longstanding trustee responsible for child protection, whose husband allegedly had unfortunate tastes of this sort. Obviously there are others who have not yet come to light, that is inevitable, but is the whole charity riddled with this sort of unsavoury activity? It seems unlikely. It is not however inconceivable and it might be helpful is the person who was hinting at this could give more details here. I am open minded about the possibility, but we certainly need a little more evidence. As I said above, one finds paedophiles all over the place and it would be surprising if EO did not turn out to have a few, but the suggestion seems to be that there are more than just a few. Can anybody shed any light on this idea?

Some 'Christian' home educators in America and their strange beliefs

Although I am probably preaching to the converted here, I want to say a few words about the practice of some 'Christian' American home educators of beating their children. There have been a number of cases in recent years of such people killing their children who, oddly enough, often seem to have been adopted. Somebody gave a link to a piece about one notorious family involved in this sort of child abuse. It may be found here;


As somebody who raised his own child according to Biblical precepts, a number of things strike me about this business. The first is the inherent implausibility of Jesus saying, 'Let the little children come unto me' and then whipping them with a length of plastic tubing! Another point which springs out at one is that these idiots don't really seem to know the Bible at all. One only has to read what this supposed minister says:

' Heed the warning, taken from Proverbs in the Old Testament, that sparing the rod will spoil the child'

I dare say that any real Christian will be well aware that one will not find the advice to 'spare the rod and spoil the child' either in the Book of Proverbs or anywhere else in the Bible! It was of course said by Samuel Butler, a seventeenth century author. Of course there are passages in the Bible which seem to condone the beating of children, but then again Deuteronomy 21: 18-21 goes even further than this. It says:

'If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die'

How cool is that? I can have my kid executed if he is cheeky to me or gets pissed too often! Do these fundamentalists really want to introduce the death penalty for naughty children as well as corporal punishment? After all, it is there in the Bible. Idiots. These people depend upon a false dichotomy in their appeals for others to be cruel to their children. They say, correctly, that lack of discipline in childhood is a bad thing and then go on to claim that either you are in favour of children running riot and doing as they please or you accept the need to whip them regularly. This is such an illogical assertion that one can hardly take it seriously. It is perfectly possible to raise a well disciplined child without beating him. Or, to forestall an objection from some readers, without using shame, ridicule or verbal abuse either. If I had been unable to bring up my children without hitting them, then I do not think that I would have been much of a parent.

What I really loathe about these people is that their hitting of children is not done in a moment of temper, but is planned well in advance. Many parents strike their children because they lose patience with them or are feeling stressed. This is understandable and I would be the last to condemn such a parent. To decide ahead of time though to do this and to go to a shop and buy the things necessary to whip a child is absolutely inhuman and bears no relation at all to the teachings of Jesus or anything which we know about his character.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The New World Order

The accusation is sometimes levelled at me that I have a distorted view of the British home education scene because I rely too much upon what is said on the Internet and do not spend enough time mixing with real home educators. This is a fair point and I would be the first to concede that much of what one sees on sites such as Home Ed Forums and HE-UK is not at all representative of ordinary home educating parents. Indeed, I made that very point during the fuss about Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. The point is that these Internet groups have a very great and wholly disproportionate influence upon what is going on with home education in this country. Opposition to changes in the law are generally coordinated via these lists and forums. For this reason, it is worth keeping a close eye on them.

Something which I have noticed, and I am not alone in this, is the extent to which those who have a high profile on these places are often adherents of strange ideas such as the New World Order. This was shown very clearly the other day when the owner of one of the largest lists expounded his geopolitical world-view. While every other rational person in the world is aware that sub-Saharan Africa has for many years been teetering on the brink of starvation and gripped by regular famines which kill millions of people, this individual believes that Europe will be building a bridge across the Straits of Gibraltar and importing most of its food from Africa. This is all tied in somehow with the bombing of Libya and the invasion of Iraq. This is of course classic New World Order conspiracy theory. If it were an isolated example, it would hardly be worth mentioning, but it is not. I have exchanged emails and spoken on the telephone with a few of the well known figures on the Internet home education campaigning front and have been surprised to hear both the New World Order idea and even David Icke mentioned favourably.

If you read the lists and forums with this in mind, a lot becomes clear. Just as in some home educating circles in the USA, many of these people believe that attempts to monitor home education are part of a wider attack on liberal parents being coordinated by the United Nations/Illuminati/New World Order/sentient reptiles from outer space. It's all tied in with Big Pharma and the military-industrial complex, you see.

Before anybody asks, no I don't believe that the majority of British home educators are mad enough to believe in stuff like this. But when some of the most influential groups 'supporting' home educators are influenced by nonsense of this sort, it is bound to have an effect. Has anybody noticed that even on this blog, nothing ever happens by accident? When Blogger helpfully installed an anti-spam filter here without my asking for it, some comments vanished. At once, the assumption was that I was censoring people. When the Department for Children, Schools and Families website was being reorganised a while ago, the 2007 guidelines went missing for a while, along with a lot of other stuff. Coincidence? I don't think so! Many of the people on the home education Internet circuit thrive upon conspiracy and the idea that they are being persecuted by dark forces. They clearly enjoy believing that they are the targets of a wider international conspiracy to suppress freedom. This is one of the reasons that stories from Sweden and elsewhere are so popular; it confirms that they are fighting a battle across the world.

I am not going to direct attention at individuals, but if readers care to look at a few of the lists with what I have said in mind, they might spot some of what I have been talking about here.

More news from the USA

Following a high profile murder case involving home education, some are calling for stricter monitoring:


Monday, 16 May 2011

Brainwashing children

Very few four and five year olds would, I suspect, if left to their own devices choose to leave the company of their parents and go off to spend all day with strangers for most of the week. Fortunately, we don't give them the choice, otherwise schools would be standing half empty! Some want to go, it is true. Many small children though, want nothing more than to carry on being with Mummy all day. One way round this is not to let them get used to this peculiar arrangement for too long. After five years, this sort of attachment can get to be a bad habit and so we try to take them from their mothers earlier. If the child is sent away from his mother during the day from the age of two or three, he will have less chance to feel secure and happy in her company. Ideally, we should I suppose be starting them at six months or even earlier. That way, they would never learn the reassurance of spending week after week for years on end with their parents.

However, this is not always practical and so we must persuade the little darlings that school is a great place and that they will have lots of fun there. About six months before we are going to chuck them out of their secure home and abandon them regularly to strangers, we tell them over and over again; 'You will have a lot of fun at school. You will make many new friends. School is good, You will enjoy yourself at school'. Anybody familiar at all with Brave New World? I love this kind of conditioning. If only some enterprising company were to produce CDs repeating these reasuring lies for hours on end, we could play them to the kids while they were asleep and condition them subliminally!

Then there are the books we get for them. Topsy and Tim go to School, for instance. Gosh, look at what a good time they are having there! I bet you will have a good time at school, just like Topsy and Tim. ('You will have a lot of fun at school. You will make many new friends') Just look at what a good time Topsy is having with her new friends. ('School is good. You will enjoy yourself at school'). Tim is also making new friends and having a good time. ('You will have a lot of fun at school. You will make many new friends')

Of course, these books don't show Topsy wetting herself because she is too shy to ask where the lavatory is, nor do they show Tim being pushed to the ground by some hulking boy who likes picking on smaller children. There are other aspects of school which books alone cannot adequately convey. The appalling noise, for instance. For a sensitive child coming from a peaceful and relaxed home, this can be unnerving. The chaos and confusion in the reception class is never shown. All the classrooms in these books seem almost empty and the teacher has plenty of time to chat to Topsy and Tim and their mother.

If all else fails and your child really does not want to go to school, you can tell him: 'You have to go, it's the law'. If he is upset about this and starts to cry, be sure to reassure him by saying, 'Don't cry. You will have a lot of fun at school. You will make many new friends'. It's strange really. There is among some professionals an expressed anxiety that some home educated children would really rather be in school and that their parents might have brainwashed them into wishing to be at home. One wonders if they are serious about this and have so little insight into the way that society conditions small children. I would be interested to hear readers' stories of how they managed to kid their children into believing that school is better than being at home with their parents.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Schools and special needs scams

I visit a number of blogs, forums and lists; some of them sensible and many of them completely mad. On the sensible ones, if somebody says something really offbeat or bizarre, then other people will comment saying that this is an exaggeration or that the person is going a little too far. This is in contrast to the loopy places, where each person tries to top any strange claim by going one better. If one poster asserts that there are alien corpses at Area 51, then somebody else will claim that aliens are actually walking among us. This goes on until some madman reveals that President Obama is himself an alien. I'm sure that readers will have observed this sort of thing for themselves. I have noticed this phenomenon on a couple of the larger home education lists in this country. However raving mad the story, nobody is ever discouraged from displaying their lunacy and other people commenting will often chip in with even crazier tales of their own.

On one list recently an unbalanced mother from a village in Herefordshire suggested that when her son, who has special educational needs, was enrolled at a new school, the staff pinched his funding and used it to buy a load of new laptops. This prompted another mother to claim.... Well before we examine the other claim, let's look a little at the scams involving funding for special needs as they actually do operate in schools. As is generally known, I am not a great fan of schools, but even so there is no point in entering a fantasy world where the teachers care nothing about the education of their pupils. The thesis advanced on some of the more weird home education sites is that schools are only in it for the money and have no interest in their pupils; which is ridiculous.

The scams involving schools and special educational needs do not generally have at their heart children who genuinely have special needs. The funding that such children attract is seldom sufficient to pay for all the extra help they need and many schools would rather not have such children in the first place, because their resources are just not up to the job of dealing with them. What is actually done is to try and classify existing children as having special needs, thus getting more money for the school. Say you have a few stupid or illiterate kids in your school. If you can have them diagnosed as dyslectic or having learning difficulties, then you will qualify for extra money. This is of course why something like 20% of children in British schools now have special needs or disabilities. It has grown out of this racket. The aim is not to attract more children with genuine special needs to your school and then pinch their funding; rather it is to pretend that your existing pupils have difficulties and then get extra money for them.

Which brings us to the spectacularly mad post by a woman on one of the lists, who suggested that;

'A lot of rural schools are applying for special needs money for their repairs to huts, school trips and books .The minority(special needs) must pay for the majority (the rest of the group). I noticed a lot of rural/small schools recruit special needs students out of area/residence, in order to claim necessary funds to keep the school open'

How anybody in their senses could read such nonsense and not tell the woman that she was an idiot is beyond my comprehension. The reason is of course because the people on sites such as this hate schools so much that they will willingly believe any sort of foolish allegations. As I say, I am not at all keen on schools myself, but that does not mean that I will swallow stuff like this! (How would you 'recruit' pupils with special needs? Advertise in the local newspaper, saying, 'Wanted; Down's child for rural primary school. Must have own funding'?) The person continues:

'some students education can be hindered/held back to raise money for the school. Exaggerate any learning issue, not allowed to read with other students, etc,..'

We have now stepped across the line into absolutely loopy conspiracy theory territory. Schools are subjecting SEN pupils to sensory deprivation and preventing them from developing, just so that they can get their hands on the funding associated with the children. It is significant that not one of the fifteen hundred members of this list thought that there was anything at all implausible about this scenario. It does rather make one think that lists like this belong at the whackier end of the Internet spectrum, rather than being places where parents can gather facts and find support.


Interesting piece from an American source;


Saturday, 14 May 2011

The 'Ibiza Loophole'

I have explained before that when my oldest daughter was at primary school, we used to withdraw her from school for one day a week in order to make sure that she at least received some sort of education in basic literacy and numeracy. This was in addition to the four or five occasions a year when we went off for anything from a long weekend to a fortnight to stay on a farm in the Brecon Beacons. Haringey, our local authority, were not happy about all this. If readers think that I am a bit of a stroppy bastard when dealing with home educators, then they should see me in action against a council which is failing to provide a decent standard of education to a child! I regularly invited Haringey to prosecute me if they wished me to air my grievances publicly in court. Strangely, they never took up this invitation.

Why should somebody like me, a man almost fanatically keen on education, be prepared to take regular holidays in term time in this way? The answer is simple. In the course of a fortnight in South Wales when one of my daughters was ten and the other six, we visited the Roman gold mine at Dolaucothi, went down the coal mine at Blaenavon, spent the day at Caerphilly Castle, went for another day out to the Roman amphitheatre and museum at Caerleon, visited the National Museum in Cardiff, climbed mountains, went pony trekking, actually witnessed the birth of a calf and fed lambs from bottles. This is not by any means an exhaustive list. On another holiday, the girls went gliding, being able to take the controls when they did so. Compare this with the nonsense that my older daughter would have been doing had she been cooped up in school during that time and there was no contest at all as to which was the more educational use of her time.

One might have supposed that there was not a home educating parent in the country who would fail to understand this and agree with the value of such real life experiences. One would be wrong. Amazingly, a number of high profile home educators and former home educators, including people like Ian Dowty and Mike Fortune-Wood, are opposed to this sort of thing. They believe that children who are registered pupils at schools should be discouraged from spending time out in the real world with their parents. So strongly do they feel about this that they have been lobbying parliament in the last few weeks, warning them of the dangers of any legislation which might make actions such as those I took, easier for parents!

Let us just pause for a moment and consider this extraordinary state of affairs. As far as I am able to understand it, those who have been campaigning about the change in the pupils registration regulations, the one which would require a twenty day 'cooling off' period before deregistration became final, are saying this. They are claiming to be concerned about the prospect of children spending more time in the real world, doing things with their parents. They believe that those children would be better off in school. I think that I have this right. The expression which is being popularised by home educators for the supposed danger of an increase in the practice of taking children on holiday during term time, is the 'Ibiza Loophole'. Readers who find it hard to believe that any home educator could really worry about kids spending more time in their parents company should google this expression and see what I mean.

Why the 'Ibiza Loophole', one wonders? Why not the 'Welsh Farm Holiday Loophole'? The answer is simple, if a little distasteful. This is snobbishness upon an epic and heroic scale. Ibiza symbolises all that the middle class people who are using this phrase feel about the working classes. Forty years ago, they would probably have called it the 'Torremolinos Loophole'. If they were running this campaign before World War II, they would have described it as the 'Skegness Loophole'. The people using this awful expression believe that working class people are different from them. People like us, respectable home educators, take our children on educational trips to the right sort of place. But the working classes my dear, you wouldn't believe where they go! I mean, Ibiza! it's nothing but sand, sea, sun and sangria. Why don't we use them as examples of the sort of people whose holidays should be restricted and made more expensive? Never mind that this would mean shamelessly blackguarding another group of parents for our own purposes. After all, the sort of people that go to Ibiza are clearly not our type.

There is something singularly unedifying at seeing home educators behaving in this contemptuous way towards parents with whom they feel they have nothing in common. Speaking for myself, I think that most maintained schools are pretty hopeless and that many children would learn more in the course of a holiday with their parents than they would being stuck in a classroom. Can it really be true that most home educators feel differently?

Friday, 13 May 2011

How schools corrupt the natural relationship between parents and children

When my daughter was ten or eleven, two of our friends decided they would home educate as well. It all looked so easy. My daughter obviously enjoyed learning and was very happy and polite. She would be reading Dickens in a corner when they visited, whereas their own children only watched cartoons and talked about trashy television programmes. They hated the effect school was having on their kids and most importantly of all; the children themselves were not actually learning much. In both cases, it turned out to be a stressful and upsetting enterprise for all concerned. One lasted a year, the other three months before returning their children to school. Before we try to see what might have gone wrong, I want to share a personal anecdote.

As readers will perhaps be aware, my older daughter went to school at the traditional age. I had reservations and if it was not for my wife, I doubt that I would have sent her. Still she really wanted to go. All her friends were going and she didn't want to miss out. She had a great time at school and never wanted to be home educated, although at one stage we started taking her out of school for one day a week, just so that she could at least learn the basics. I knew that we had made a mistake when at the age of five, she started saying things like; 'reading is stupid' and 'books are boring'. This was the first time that she had ever said anything of the sort and it was clear that school was to blame.

When my older daughter was nine, she came home from school and told us that she had learned that day that Tutankhamun had been buried in a pyramid. I was surprised to learn this; after all, Tutankhamun had lived over a thousand years after the pyramids had been built. I chatted to a few other children and found that they too had been told this. I ultimately confirmed it by speaking to her teacher, an unbelievably ignorant and ill informed woman. My daughter's reaction when I tried to explain that it was not true about Tutankhamun and even showed her the relevant information in books, was very revealing. 'Miss said...'. That was it. If a teacher said something, it trumped anything said by parents, or indeed anything which she knew herself. 'Miss said..' or 'Sir said...' and that was it. These people were teachers, of course they knew more than other people. Doctors know about medicine, solicitors know about law and teachers know about stuff; that at least was the general impression. If a teacher says something, that has the force of authority in the way that a parent's statements do not. Homo Sapiens have been around for perhaps two hundred thousand years. For almost the whole of that time, parents have combined the role of parent with that of guide, mentor and teacher. In our modern society, they have surrendered the role of 'teacher' to others, who have been specially trained for this task. A natural consequence of this is that from the age of three or four, most children stop respecting their parents' abilities to tell them anything worth hearing and instead place their in faith in strangers to teach them what they need to know. They also start taking many of their views and opinions, learning how to behave and think, from the children with whom they spend so much time, rather than relying upon their parents for guidance.

This attitude quickly becomes ingrained; in effect the child becomes institutionalised. If they are taken out of school, they will not suddenly see their parents as being good people to teach them about anything, whether it is history and physics or the correct use of alcohol. They will still have the mindset that facts and academic stuff have to be acquired from professional teachers. This explains why after deregistering a child from school, many parents try and then fail to teach their kids in a structured way. They are puzzled that their children will not cooperate in learning and all too often give up and either send the child back to school or abandon any attempt to teach him anything much.

Our society is to blame for this distorted view which children learn at school about of their parents. For hundreds of thousands of years, humanity got along very well with parents raising their children and teaching them what they needed to know. The rot set in when we abdicated our responsibilities in this way and began sending them off to others to be taught. No wonder schoolchildren don't listen to their parents. By sending the kid to school, they are effectively saying, 'Well, I can't teach you. I'll have to get somebody else to do it; I don't know enough'. When we give them this idea, we can hardly complain ten years later when as teenagers they refuse to listen to our advice about alcohol, drugs or sex. We have for years been telling them that we are not up to the job of teaching them what they need to know; why should they start listening to us now?

I have an idea that this is at the root of all the trouble that so many people have when first they withdraw their children from school. I think it is why so many stop trying to teach their children after the first few months; the kids just won't cooperate and the whole thing becomes incredibly distressing for all concerned. I am far from convinced though that the remedy lies in 'deschooling' followed by 'unschooling' or anything of that sort. These are of course perfectly natural responses by hurt and upset parents who were hoping to be able to reclaim the role of being their child's teacher and guide, but we need to examine the root cause of the problem and ask ourselves why our children are behaving in this way.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The democratic process subverted (Again)

We live in a representative democracy. This means that we elect people democratically, whose job is then to represent us in the legislature. This is not direct democracy; we do not gather in the market place to vote on whether we should build a new fire station or dig another well. Having elected our representatives, they look after our interests for us until the next election. Very rarely, we are given the chance to offer an opinion directly on something which our representatives propose to do. I remember voting on one such occasion in 1975 and again last week. We do not make a habit of these referenda, because ultimately they harm the democratic process.

I have watched with fascination the events surrounding the amendment of the Pupils Registration Regulations. Let us just remind ourselves about this. A pupil deregistered by his parents would have been left on the school roll for twenty days. This would have had no practical effect upon home education whatsoever. Nevertheless, a small number of diehard reactionaries, people opposed to any change at all in any law relating to anything remotely connected to home education, were against this minor change in the regulations.

I say a small minority; this is understating the case dramatically. Home educated children are perhaps 1% of the general population. Of this 1%, an estimated one hundred an fifty thousand home educated children, I doubt if the parents of more than a few hundred objected to this change in the regulations. Opposition was coordinated through one or two Internet lists. Let us assume that a third of those belonging to the list which made the most fuss, actually contacted MPs and so on. That would be around five hundred people. I don't believe for a moment it was that many, but let's go with that figure for a moment. Home educators are less than 1% of the population and a fraction of 1% of them opposed the new regulation. That is to say a fraction of 1% of the original 1% have managed to derail a piece of legislation. There is no suggestion that any home educators but the members of these lists were involved here. In other words, maybe 99.6 % of home educators have said nothing on the subject.

Once again, an elected government is caving in cravenly to the demands of a small and democratically unrepresentative, special interest group. It is disgraceful.

We do not back off from making new laws about gun ownership because 0.3% of gun owners complain. Nor do we revise the law on burglary because thieves are not happy with it. What we see happening with home education is a vociferous minority believing, quite rightly, that if they shout loudly enough they can stop anybody looking too closely at what they are doing and trying to find ways of protecting the rights of the children involved. In other words, make enough fuss and they will be able to get anybody with concerns to back off.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The joy of home education

One of the things that must surely strike anybody who spends any length of time at all on one the various home education forums and lists, is the amount of anger and anxiety which one encounters there. In a sense, this is only to be expected. After all, many of these things were set up to support home educators who needed help and support; ergo, those who are managing fine tend not to hang around those places. We are told though that one of the most popular lists now has over fifteen hundred members and in a sense represents the interests of all home educating parents, not just the ones who go on there because they are struggling. This creates a problem.

Educating my own child was the most enjoyable activity by far which I have ever undertaken. I can imagine nothing in the world better than spending days on end in the company of a lively and inquisitive child, learning side by side with her about the world. I have never enjoyed anything in my life as I did home education, nor do I expect ever to have such fun again. My daughter too, by all accounts had a fantastic time. We went all over the place, exploring every possible aspect of life. It was great. I see in the newspaper today that the average parent in this country spends only two hours a day in the company of her child; a statistic which I find utterly incomprehensible. Why have a child in the first place unless you want to spend a lot of time with her?

I said there was a slight problem with the idea of the internet lists working to represent the interests of home educating parents as a whole. It is this. Since, as many people have pointed our frequently here, the sort of people one sees on these lists are often weird and atypical home educators, one might get a distorted view of British home education if one were to limit one's knowledge of home education simply to the types who seen on such lists. Many of them are angry misfits and an air of grievance, dissatisfaction and anger permeates these places. This creates an atmosphere which is very different from that which one meets when talking to ordinary home educating parents in real life.

Unfortunately, much of the public face of home education is drawn from precisely those lists. In other words, the sort of parents that people like Graham Stuart meet, the views of parents who make submissions to select committees and so on are all too often drawn from that type of home educator; the crank, the bitter and discontented, the barrack-room lawyer and the obsessive. These are in general the same people who contact newspapers and make their views known in a number of other ways.

The danger is that this sub-group of home educators are often taken by those unfamiliar with home education as being typical and representative of home educating parents as a group. This is a shame. The public seldom hears from mothers and fathers who are having a great a time, enjoy amicable relations with their local authority and whose children are happy and well balanced. The overall impression one gets from what one might call the public face of home education is of parents constantly fighting with schools and local authorities, whose children have suffered terribly. Those children who are shown as happy are often portrayed as being in the process of recovering from unimaginable traumata suffered in the playground and classroom. For the average person, this suggests that the majority of home educated children are suffering from psychological problems and are very vulnerable, nervous and sensitive.

It might be better for the image of home education if more emphasis were to be placed upon the robust and happy children with contented parents who were not constantly angry and battling with the government and their local authority. This might stop people from viewing home educators as troublesome cranks and encourage the perception that they are just ordinary parents whose healthy and well balanced children were having a great time.

Another disturbing case of home education

See what some home educators are like? If only the local authority had been making regular monitoring visits.


Monday, 9 May 2011

Off-rolling children with Special Educational Needs

Following the piece I did a couple of days ago about forced deregistration, I was emailed by several parents of children whose difficulties had made the school wish to get rid of them. Incidentally, it is interesting that these parents wished to email me privately, rather than putting their stories here in the comments for everybody to read. Two of them told me that this was because they actually taught their children and thought that they would be the subject of attack from some of the more aggressive types who comment here. I have had emails from other parents who say the same thing and explain that they do not comment on other blogs, lists or forums for the same reason. This is a pretty weird situation, when the home educating parents of children with special needs are fearful of attacks from other home educators whose methods are a little different from their own.

I want to focus upon one woman's story, because it seems to contain all the elements which I have heard mentioned elsewhere. In other words, it is typical of others, although not all have every feature which she mentions.

When truanting children or those who are disruptive are eased out of a school and their parents encouraged to educate them at home, things are made pretty plain to the parents. I have mentioned before about Firfield School in Newcastle, which actually typed out letters for the parents to sign, stating that they would be home educating. According to Alison Sauer, the same thing happened in Hull, although she does not give the name of the school. When the school are trying to remove SEN kids, they are usually a bit more subtle about it, although the message they deliver is no less plain.

The common thread in all the cases of which I have heard is that the it is intimated to the mother that her child is a demanding nuisance and that she herself is a neurotic fusspot. If the provision for her child's needs is inadequate and she mentions this, she is told that there are other children in the class and that hers is not the only child's needs to be considered. In one case, an autistic child was entitled to twenty five hours one-to-one support a week. The child's mother found that the person supposedly providing this support was actually dividing her time between other children in the class. When she raised this with the school, she was told that her child was 'hogging' the attention of the support worker! I have heard of a number of cases in other schools and nurseries where this has happened. A person is supposed to be working with one child and gradually becomes a general assistant to the teacher.

Schools sometimes make mothers feel that it is they who have the problem. Even where their child is plainly miserable and being made more and more unhappy by the circumstances at the school, the mother is told that nobody else has seen this and it is hinted that she is an anxious and over-protective parent. Rather than the school tackle their own shortcomings in the field of special education, the situation is transformed into a parent harassing them with unreasonable demands about an imaginary problem. This is almost a form of brainwashing and after a while the parent begins to doubt the evidence of her own senses.

Having established to their own satisfaction that the problem is the child and his parent, rather than their own approach to handling children with special needs, the school now feels free to be a little firmer with the mother. They start to be a little blunt, for her own good you understand. She must adopt a more realistic attitude about what the school can and cannot do for her child. If she objects, the feeling is that she can take it or leave it. Of course there are other schools... She is thinking about taking her child from the school and keeping him at home? Well yes, that's her right.

The mother finally realises that the school are not going to take her concerns seriously. They will close ranks to protect staff who are saying things which are unacceptable and her child is becoming more and more desperate. She sends in a letter of deregistration. This is not of course 'forced' deregistration, as such. Instead it is the skilful manipulation of a the conjurer who while appearing to offer you the choice of any card, in fact forces the one upon you which he has chosen.

John Holt and his assertions

I have been idly leafing through my old copy of How Children Fail. This is such a dreadful book that it is something of a mystery to me why it has been so popular over the years. For those fortunate enough to be unaware of his work, Holt was a teacher and wrote a number of books criticising education in schools. He does not produce evidence for his views, other than basing them upon trivial events which he witnessed in the schools where he was teaching. His books are written as though by a guru, whose word one must simply take on trust for the pronouncements. This is essentially what is known in logic as 'bare assertion'. Holt makes statements and one must take his word for it. Let's look at a few examples:

Learning is not everything and certainly one piece of learning is as good
as another

Schools should be places where children learn what they most want to
know, instead of what we want them to know

A child who wants to learn something that the school can't and doesn't
want to teach him will be told not to waste his time

These three statements were selected more or less at random from the final section of Holt's book. Let us see what we can make of them.

The first uses the neat rhetorical trick of beginning with an incontrovertibly true assertion and then following it up with a piece of nonsense. 'Learning is not everything' is of course absolutely true. The second part, 'one piece of learning is as good as another' is not true. When my brother was at school, he had no interest in anything but sport, particularly football. Although he made great efforts to avoid learning anything that he was taught, he memorised a huge amount of information relating to football. He could tell one which teams won which matches, going back for decades. In addition to this, he knew who had scored the winning goals and a lot more besides. If Holt's claim that 'one piece of learning is as good as another' were true, then in later life my brother should have found the knowledge of who scored the winning goal in the FA cup final in 1957, every bit as useful as understanding percentages as they are used in loan rates. I can assure readers that this has not been the case! Not all pieces of learning are as good as each other.

When Holt tells us that 'schools should be' this or that; it means nothing. he is really saying that he would like schools to be this way; not that there is any reason why they should be like that. I dare say that if I said here that schools should have all the desks facing the front, the teacher imposing silence and the return of the cane; it would be easier to spot this flaw in reasoning. If I said that schools should be like this, all I would be doing would be exposing my own personal prejudices, not saying anything at all profound.

What about the final statement, 'A child who wants to learn something that the school can't and doesn't want to teach him he will be told not to waste his time'. Who on earth will tell him that? His parents? His teacher? It sounds a bit mad, really. Is Holt saying that if a child wishes to go to ballet classes or learn Latin in his spare time, somebody will tell him not to, because it is a waste of time? I never heard of such a thing, although I suppose that some parents might feel that way. Is this a general thing though? One suspects not. And if it is not common, why on earth mention it in this way as though it were a universal practice for parents and teachers to disourage children from having hobbies and learning things out of school? The whole of Why Children Fail is like this; Holt's own opinions and prejudices tricked out as folk wisdom. Not only that, but the entire thing is served up in a mawkish and avuncular manner, as though Holt sees himself as the wise old village elder, transmitting his ideas to the next generation. Not a recommended read.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The limits of society's legitimate interest in the welfare of children

I have been spending a lot of time in Stamford Hill recently, an area of North London where I used to live. It is home to a very large orthodox Jewish community. The children of this group are pretty much cut off from ordinary life in twenty first century Britain. They watch no television, have no computers or games consoles, do not play in the park or hang out listening to pop music. Their homes contain few books other than those of a religious nature and they all dress like eighteenth century Poles and Lithuanians. Many do not attend school regularly, being taught in small, unregistered homes by other parents. Is this anybody's business but their parents? Most home educators would probably claim that it is not and I suppose that they would be right. And yet, many people are uneasy about such a closed community, cut off from the rest of society. Interestingly enough, this community generated one of the key cases of precedent upon which home educators now rely; R v Secretary of State for Education, ex parte Talmud Torah Mackzikei Hadass School Trust.

I know, because I have dealings with various professionals in the area, that the children of this community have incredibly high rates of stammering, bedwetting and developmental disorders. Occasional cases of child abuse surface and the person who reports them to the police then becomes a traitor to his own community. The last time this happened, a lynch mob gathered outside of the person who went to the police, chanting, 'Informer' in Yiddish. This is another problem; many of the children are not too good at English, despite the fact that their families have lived in this country for fifty or sixty years. They have little opportunity and sometimes not even the ability to disclose any problems to outsiders.

This is not of course an anti-Semitic diatribe, targeting the Jewish community! I lived in Israel myself for some years and my first wife was orthodox. Nor is this the only closed community of which I am aware. Some Christian sects are almost the same and will not readily deal with outsiders. Their loyalty is more to their church than to society in general and when a child is abused, there is a tendency to cover it up and avoid a scandal. We have seen this with the Catholic Church and it also happens with Jehovah's Witnesses.

What, if anything, should we do about this? Should separate communities of this sort be tolerated in a liberal democracy? Or should the state adopt a pro-active approach and insist that such people keep in touch with ordinary society and open up a bit; allow their children the same experiences in life as others? This could be a problem. Some parents deliberately wish to avoid their children growing up to be interested in nothing but pop music and so on. The moral codes of devout Catholics, Jews and Muslims seem to me to be vastly preferable to what passes for ethics and morality among many young people today in western society. I would be interested to know to what extent, in any, readers feel that such things should be the business of anybody but the members of the community themselves.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Forced deregistration for the purpose of home education

The claim is currently being made that the change in the pupil registration regulations, the so-called twenty day rule, is needed because of the problem of forced deregistration or off-rolling. This is odd, because when local authority officers met the Children, Schools and Families select committee on November 4th 2009, they did not say anything at all about this as being the reason that they wanted the twenty day rule. Instead, they specifically stated that it was to allow a 'cooling off' period for parents and for the school to have a chance to address the problems which the parents were facing. Still, let us take the suggestion that it is forced deregistration which is at the heart of this new initiative and see where it leads us.

There is not the least doubt that some parents are encouraged by their children's school to deregister their child, supposedly in order to home educate. At that same meeting with the local authority officers in November 2009, all those present claimed that they were aware of this problem. The Ofsted report last summer, Local Authorities and Home Education, also made mention of this, saying:

In two cases, parents reported to inspectors that the head teachers had
advised the parents to educate their child at home rather than have them
permanently excluded. It was not possible, within the scope of the
survey, to find out the school’s perspective on what had happened in
these cases

Another interesting point was raised in this report. Although some of the fifteen local authorities at which the Ofsted report looked, recorded the schools version of the reasons for deregistration, not one asked parents why they had taken the step of deregistering their children. This suggests that local authorities have no idea of the scale of the supposed problem of off-rolling. How can they, if they do not collect this sort of information in the first place?

So how common actually is the situation where a school puts pressure on a parent to take their kid out of the school and educate him at home? Nobody knows. Is is very common or freakishly rare? Nobody knows. Does this happen in most local authority areas or only in one or two? Nobody knows. That it does happen is undeniable. I have certainly seen it take place in the London boroughs of Enfield, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets. I only have personal experience of one or two cases in each area, but it is definitely going on. Whether the practice is becoming more prevalent or not, I don't know and neither does anybody else. All we can say is that it happens. So how does forced deregistration work and why are schools doing it?

The thing to remember is that this is a scam operated by schools, rather than the local authorities themselves. Often the LAs are not aware that schools are up to this game. The motive for schools doing this is very easy to understand. If a lot of kids from your school are truanting or being excluded; this reflects badly on your school. People start asking awkward questions, such as why your school's figures are worse for this than other local schools. Big black mark! What you need to do is bring down the number of children truanting, being excluded or being shifted to Pupil Referral Units. Where does home education enter the picture? You call in the parents of persistent truants and say to them, 'Well Mrs Smith, this is it! We have reached the end of the line and now we will have to prosecute you. You will go to prison and your other kids will all be taken into care.' Naturally, the mother is terrified to hear this. That is the stick. Time now for the carrot. 'Of course, there is a way out of this. If you were to assume responsibility for your child's education yourself, then the question of truancy does not arise. Look, I've typed out a letter for you to sign, which says that you are deregistering your son from this school and will teach him at home yourself.' Mother eagerly reaches for her pen....

Disruptive and disaffected teenagers also targeted by this scam. The parents are called into the school and told that Tommy is about to be permanently excluded. This will be a terrible black mark against him, it will seriously jeopardise his chances of getting a job in the future, going into further education, finding another school etc. To save him from this stigma, all the parents need to do is deregister him and educate him at home.

The purpose of these tricks is for the head to reduce the number of children truanting and being excluded at his school. The result is that on some inner city estates, there are a number of teenagers hanging round all day causing mischief because they are 'home educated'. This is not a brilliant advertisement for home education!

It has been suggested elsewhere that children with special educational needs are particularly liable to be the victims of this trick. The only one category where I have seen this happen is those with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. EBD kids are seen as a nuisance in some schools and many teachers wish to be rid of them. I have known cases of such children being off-rolled.

As is so often the case with home education, we have no hard data upon which to base our decisions; parents say one thing and local authorities another. I shall be interested to see how this ends.

A scheme worth looking at in this country


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Following a curriculum or following a child's own interests

I have noticed that the deep distaste among many home educators for curricula is often expressed in the form of a false dichotomy. The idea is promoted that a curriculum would harm the child's development and stunt his love of learning by preventing him from pursuing his own interests. In other words, either a child can be completely free to follow her own interests or she can be taught. One or the other, but not both. This might well be the case for a child trapped in school. Schools take up so much of a child's free time, that when they actually stagger home at three or four in the afternoon, many of them are in a bad mood and simply wish to slump down in front of a television and watch cartoons. A parent's attempts to engage the child's interest in anything by the time he is in that state are often fruitless. This is of course one of the big problems with school and one of the reasons why I did not think it worth sending my daughter in the first place.

None of this is the case with a child being educated at home. There is usually endless time to do whatever the child wishes to do. Since most of the time at school is wasted anyway, either on nonsense or just waiting around; the actual time spent learning does not amount to more than a couple of hours a day at most. I do not believe that even the most fanatical and dedicated structured home educator spends more than two or three hours a day on directing their child's education in an even remotely formal way. This length of time is more than is spent on actual work and studying in any school; even the best independent one. The implications of this have a profound influence on how we can conduct home education most efficiently.

Let's get up at around half past eight in the morning, have breakfast and then settle down to work in a semi-formal fashion. I say semi-formal, but in reality no home educating parent's activities with their children, even when they are adhering to a curriculum, are really in the least formal. It's their own child for heavens sake! But any way, let's sit down after breakfast and spend two or three hours working according to what the parent thinks should be learned. Twelve o'clock comes and that is it. We can now take a picnic to the park and the child is completely free to say what he wishes to do now. He is in charge of his own education and can choose for himself what happens. If he is pursuing an interest in wildlife, we can go to the zoo. If it is science, we can arrange to visit a museum or perhaps a lecture somewhere. Maybe he wishes just to work off some energy by running round the park; that's good as well.

My own daughter had a succession of passions, ranging from bird watching to fencing, bell ringing to ballet, gymnastics to chess, church, Duke of Edinburgh Award, Girl's Brigade, painting, guitar, piano, theatre, opera and cycling. The couple of hours each morning which we spent working on academic subjects neither impinged upon any of these activities nor discouraged her from taking up new ones. I have only listed a fraction of the things in which she was involved. Bear in mind that I was pursuing what would be described by many as a very structured and formal education, following the specifications of eight IGCSEs, as well as my own ideas of what should be learned. We never found that this took any time away from her own interests.

What I am suggesting is that the whole idea that a structured education will somehow discourage a child's own curiosity and thirst for knowledge is probably a myth. I have not seen any signs of this in my own child, nor in the children of those I knew who were also quite structured in this way. Of course, the case might be altered for children who have actually been to school. This can be a pretty damaging experience for a child and it is quite possible that such children have had their desire to learn harmed in such places. For any normal child though, I do not for a moment believe that spending a couple of hours each day with a parent learning about the Tudors or studying English grammar is likely to cause any harm at all. On the contrary, teaching like this often inspires a child and gives her new ideas about things which might interest her. You will often find that something upon which you touch during the teaching of history, say, then becomes one of those topics which a child wishes to pursue in her spare time. This happened with my own daughter with things like castles and then later mines. The result was that we visited a number of castles and museums containing suits of armour at her own request. When she was eight, she would far rather have gone to a castle than visited the park.

I am suggesting that when done in a relaxed and good humoured way, teaching a child what you think she should know does not harm her at all, but instead stimulates her. I think that the problem is that quite a few home educating parents have formed their views on the teaching of children by observing pathological behaviour in their children; disordered thinking and behaviour caused not by teaching per se, but by schools. This has given them a jaded view of education, which they then translate into a dislike of any formal teaching.