Sunday, 9 September 2012
More about making money from home education
A couple of days ago I posted about a local authority which is trying to get home educating parents to pay for courses at a further education college and suggested that it was an attempt to make money from home education. Commenting there, somebody has objected to the choice of the witnesses who gave evidence to the select committee on the same grounds; that they stand to make money from home education and should therefore have declared an interest in the proceedings from the start.
Now I must choose my words very carefully here and even so I shall probably be accused of being as stupid or mad as Peter Williams! After all, when I made the completely truthful and wholly unexceptionable remark that the majority of the eight witnesses were not technically home educators, it caused considerable annoyance. Since five of the eight do not have children aged between five and sixteen, that is to say of ‘compulsory school age, I cannot see how anybody can fail to agree that this forms a majority, but we shall let that pass for now. What of the suggestion that has been made to the effect that some also have a financial interest in home education, in particular being paid by local authorities for various services? Did they form a majority of the witnesses? Did five of the eight witnesses have such interests? This is a curious point and one which did not occur to me before the anonymous comments on my last post. Let us consider the matter.
Since the object of this session of the select committee was to examine the support offered by local authorities to home educators, its form and extent, then it is probably true that anybody being paid to provide such support should have stated the fact clearly at the beginning. Such people are partial and we are entitled to weigh their evidence more carefully than those who do not stand to make anything from the recommendations of the committee.
Two of the witnesses, Ann Brown and Hannah Flowers, certainly have no financial interest in home education. What of the others? Julie Barker makes no secret of her work with and for a local authority. She is open about this. So too is Alison Sauer, who with her husband runs a consultancy which charges local authorities for providing services. Fiona Nicholson also runs a consultancy and is pretty active in attending meetings and running a website. I have no idea if she ever receives payment for any of this, but I am pretty sure that she hopes to; she wants to make home education her career. Zena Hodges is a trustee and ‘support adviser’ for the Home Education Centre in South West England. I have a suspicion that she is paid for her services, at any rate the constitution of the Home Education Centre specifically allows for this. It says that the committee members may make payments to themselves, provided that the payment is for skills and experience needed by the group. This is so neatly worded that I would be very surprised indeed if Zena is not receiving money in this way, although I am of course open to correction on this point. Jane Lowe has written a book on home education and is a trustee and also apparently a teacher with the Home Education Advisory Service.
It is fairly plain that at least half and probably the majority of the witnesses called to give evidence to the select committee have or hope in the future to have some financial benefit from their association with a local authority in connection with home education. This was not obvious to the members of the committee and means that they probably did not realise that most of the people apparently speaking objectively about the relationship between home educators and local authorities stood to gain financially in some way if local authorities were advised to provide further services in this field. This does not of course mean that those who gave evidence were on the make! I don’t believe this for a moment. It does mean though that the proceedings were misleading and not transparent.
Another unfortunate circumstance was that the Chair of the select committee, Graham Stuart, has a close relationship with one of the witnesses, Alison Sauer. I do not, I hasten to add, mean a close personal relationship; this thought is almost unbearable! No, I mean that they have for several years been on first name terms and have collaborated in the past on a project which aimed to alter the relationship of home educating parents with local authorities. This was not made clear at the beginning of the session either.
The end result of all this is that anybody watching the evidence being given to the committee on September 5th would not know that the Chair of the select committee and most of the witnesses had various interests in either maintaining or overturning the status quo. This is not a good state of affairs; it does not make for openness.