Sunday, 7 August 2011

The roots of confrontation between local authorities and home educators

There seems to be pretty general agreement that there is more tension between a number of home educating parents and their local authorities than was once the case. A few days ago, somebody here suggested that this was largely due to the Badman review. This is an interesting idea. There are it seems to me two main ways of looking at the situation today. On the one hand is the perspective that aggressive local authorities, acting in many cases beyond the letter of the law, have provoked peaceful and good natured home educators into becoming militant and uncooperative. By this reading of the matter, the groups of people fighting against any new laws or regulations simply represent the will of the people; they are working on behalf of the majority of home educating parents. Another view would be that those agitating so furiously against supposed local authority infringement of their ’rights’ are a small core of malcontents and trouble makers who are always arguing with various authority figures about anything at all; from fluoridation of drinking water to the vaccination of children, from the export of powdered baby milk to less economically developed nations to building nuclear power stations.

A recent debate on one of the larger Internet lists devoted to home education shed a little light upon which of these two cases is more likely to be correct. It will be recalled that during the Badman review and the framing of Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, one of the proposals which caused the greatest anger was the idea that local authority officers should have a right of entry to the homes of those educating their own children. Of course this idea was really a non-starter; the legal complications of the thing would have tied up the British courts for years to come. It was used as a rallying cry by those who rejected the whole idea of receiving visits from their local authority. Now many local authorities have never insisted anyway on making visits of this kind and have always been content to accept written evidence of the education being provided for a child. Essex, my own local authority, are like this. This never struck me as a big deal, but of course there are those who feel strongly about it.

One might think that with authorities who simply request a written report about a home educated child’s education, that even the most militant parent would feel that there was no cause for confrontation. No visits being asked for; all they want is some idea of what is going on. A couple of days ago, I mentioned the facetious idea that the owner of one of the largest home education lists put forward, for sending a pig’s heart to the local authority. This was of course a joke, but the background to the suggestion is revealing. Somebody posting on this list had been asked by her local authority to provide an account of her child’s education. One might have thought that after all the fuss and bitter opposition to receiving visits, that this would have been welcomed as a good thing. You would be wrong to think that. This request caused a well known figure in home educating circles to suggest sending as much irrelevant material as possible, simply in order to make the whole business more awkward and troublesome for the local authority. Others seconded this, agreeing that they did not want to make the process easy for the local authority and that the more awkawrdly they reacted, the better this was for their purposes. This was bloody-mindedness on an epic scale.

It looks to an objective observer as though even where their demands are fully met and home educating parents are given the option of sending in a written report, rather than being expected to allow a local authority officer into their home, some activists will still try to create a confrontation. I have a strong suspicion that even if all local authorities accepted reports and did not even ask for visits, then the next campaign would be to refuse to provide any account at all of the child’s education, on the grounds that it is no business at all of the local authority. This attitude, and I can see it emerging clearly now as a strand in British home education, suggests that much of the more militant section of the British home education scene actually wants confrontation and conflict. Even when their demands are met, they will come up with fresh grievances. We are seeing the first stirrings of this with the anger over a council’s request for a written report; we shall be seeing more of this in the future. The more reasonable and accommodating become local authorities, the more unreasonable will become the demands of some home educators.


  1. Oh dear, there is so much to comment on here today and so little time to do it. So, I'll restrict myself to one point now.

    I think we are seeing a downward spiral, not helped by either side. One side or another will need to pull back. Since the LA's are perhaps easier for someone (government) to influence, perhaps it will be them. Once that happens, the more bonkers voices everywhere will, I am sure, be marginalised.

    We all need to taek care that our own rhetoric is not contributing to the overall bonkersness though.

  2. Hmmm, I confess to bloody-mindedness when sending a report to my LA. Not only did I compile a philosopy and report, I listed every single resource we owned, every website used, every trip out and every tv programme listed. The whole thing was nearly fifty pages. On the plus side, my provision was thought to be outstanding and I never heard from them again.

    The fact is, neither side is making the others' life any easier. LAs mostly dont understand home education, and often dont know how to talk to home educators.Equally home educators can be incredibly difficult to deal with as some(many?) aren't particularly reasonable people and tend to thrive on confrontation.

    The only way I can see that the argument can successfully move forward is for both sides to bend a little and be more open and willing to listen to the other sides' point of view.

  3. Overloading bureaucracy with an excess of paperwork has always been a valid response when they're asking petty and stupid questions, I've done it on more than one occasion before ever being involved in home education.

    There are all sorts of things that can trigger such a response - one is when there's a form with stupidly small boxes for even a sensible reply, that just encourages me to answer in full and (gasp!) write outside the box. Then there's the case when they're asking for information that either they already possess, or that you can see has no relevance. I have noticed with some US government forms that they provide explanatory notes that do at least attempt to explain why they're asking for a particular piece of information.

    As for the pig heart, I suspect most people outside of certain areas of the country didn't think of the relevance of the pig bit, because they don't think in terms of Muslim or Jewish society. Most of us (excepting vegetarians) happily eat bacon and have no problem with pigs and so the issue wouldn't have come up.

    I will continue to be obstructive until I see a change in LA approach to something that is more reasonable and less "we're in charge, do as we say". Some LAs are already behaving in a more reasonable manner, so I would encourage them to put pressure on their wayward neighbours to come into line. Then perhaps we'll make progress.

  4. Some of us had noticed that some of you don't think in terms of Muslim or Jewish society. Some of us have heard some of you tell how your children were in schools full of immigrants. Some of us also recognise the symbolism of the pigs heart in relation to occult ritual. The pigs heart suggestion was quite a powerful statement to make when you consider that the Khyra Ishaq and Victoria Climbie tradgedies involved belief in demonic possession and the occult.
    The Lamming enquiry was aware of this, Every Child Matters and Graham Badman were the result.

  5. Rubbish. I do not think in terms of muslims and jews because I never see our meet them where I live. I think this area is quite impoverished in this way and would prefer a more multiracial environment for my children but we can't always choose where we live. However, my children are not racists and are shocked and disgusted when they meet it. Is something still racist if the person says or does something that unintentionally upsets someone as a result of lack of experience and knowledge? Part of the problem in the case you cite was a fear of appearing racist on the part of the authorities.

  6. You choose to not think in terms of 'Muslims and Jews'.
    Those communities have been a part of British society for many many years.

  7. "I do not think in terms of muslims and jews because I never see our meet them where I live."

    I suspect you do, actually. Do you ask the faith of all those you meet? I don't. Sometimes it is years into a friendship when I find that my friend is Jewish, for example.

  8. 'Some of us had noticed that some of you don't think in terms of Muslim or Jewish society. Some of us have heard some of you tell how your children were in schools full of immigrants. '


  9. "I suspect you do, actually. Do you ask the faith of all those you meet? I don't. Sometimes it is years into a friendship when I find that my friend is Jewish, for example."

    This is true, I suppose. I do know the faith (or lack of faith as in our case) of my close friends but obviously not of casual acquaintances. I suppose I mean that there are very few obviously ethnically different people in this area. I grew up in a far more multicultural area, one neighbour originally being from Pakistan (I think) and the other from the Caribbean, it was a very mixed street. All of my friends at school were either immigrants themselves or their parents were, some white, some people of colour. As you say, I knew little about their faiths (I knew one neighbour were Sikh because they wore turbans). Funnily enough they were much better neighbours than the white, British families we lived next door to after moving from that house. We often shared meals, played in each others houses and our parent's kept an eye on each other's children if they needed to pop out. In some ways I feel more at home in more obviously multicultural areas than I do here even if it's my first visit. It feels odd that people of colour stand out as different and this is the case here. Must admit it feels odd talking about something that I usually take for granted!

  10. Unless you live in your own personal hole in the ground, you know about Jews and Muslims.

  11. I know a little about Jews and Muslims, but it's not the first thing that springs to mind when making a joke. Obviously it would have been different if someone had actually sent a pigs head to an LA official and I don't think you would need to be a Jew or Muslim to be offended by this. PC has gone too far if we cannot even mention pigs in passing in case a Jew or Muslim is offended. I very much doubt they would have been offended just hearing someone joking about it. Are jokes mentioning pigs banned from the TV? I think not.

  12. "I very much doubt they would have been offended just hearing someone joking about it."

    Unless the joke specified sending the pigs head to a Jew or Muslim; this would obviously be different. The point is, the choice of a pig's head was random. It could just as easily have been a sheep's head. A pig wasn't chosen in order to upset and offend and I think most people would appreciate the difference.

  13. Hey anonymous, would you still prefer to live in a multiracial environment, like Tottenham perhaps?

  14. Because of course, nothing like this happens in predominantly white areas or is done by predominantly white people...

  15. No, because they're too busy ripping off the people that voted them in.