Wednesday, 16 January 2013

British home education; examining the mythos

Most political, religious and social movements have their heroes and martyrs; people who stood up for what they believed in, no matter what the cost. British home education is no exception to this general rule. Many home educating parents today are able glibly to quote the judgements upon which they believe their ‘right’ to home educate is founded; Phillips v Brown 1980, Harrison and Harrison v Stevenson 1981 and the rest. These are the key cases which a lot of home educators today feel established home education in this country as a recognised alternative to school. This is not really true and the fact that the idea has become ossified into almost an article of faith sheds an interesting light upon home education as it is often practiced today.


The first thing to remember is that parents in this country have been home educating without any problem for centuries. That parents were the best people to teach their children was taken for granted. It has often been remarked that our present queen was home educated, but the practice was not restricted to the wealthy and privileged. Throughout the years following the Second World War, there were parents who taught their children at home quite openly and with no interference from their local authorities. This continued up to the 1970s. It was then that things took a turn for the worse or became immeasurably better, depending upon your point of view.

During the 1970s, there were quite a few people teaching their own children. Some did not send their children in the first place, while others took them out of school to teach them at home. The general attitude of local authorities was that as long as the kids were being taught at least as well as they would be at school, there was no problem. In the early 1970s, a number of parents of this sort banded together to rent premises and start home educating groups. I was involved in one or two projects of this sort.

Some of the home educators at that time later became famous. Harry Lawrence, father of Ruth was one such. Home education was being undertaken openly and without conflict with the authorities. Until that is, several high profile cases which created confrontation with local authorities and made them suspicious of the whole business. At about the same time that Harry Lawrence was home educating his daughter, two parents in Leeds were asked by their local authority for some account of the education which they were providing for their son, whose name was Oak. The local authority had no problem with home education as such, there were others doing it in Leeds. They just wanted to assure themselves that the child was receiving an education and not being left to his own devices. The parents refused to say anything at all about the education being provided and as a result, the case came to court.

While this was going on, Iris Harrison’s children were also not attending school. She made it clear that she was not teaching her children, preferring for them to decide for themselves what they wished to do. It is worth bearing in mind that the local authority were worried about her children because they had been diagnosed as being educationally sub-normal. They were thought to be in need of specialised education and the authority was concerned that they might not be receiving this.

There were other reasons to be concerned. Mrs Harrison had told the children that they should fire a rifle at the feet of any local authority officers who tried to approach the home. With the best will in the world, any local authority which failed to investigate children with special educational needs whose parents were encouraging this sort of reckless behaviour would be negligent. We must also remember that the Harrison children were very unusual in other ways. As adults, they told their mother that if they had not been home educated, then they would all have been in mental hospitals or prisons when they grew up. There was more to this story than met the eye.

In short, up until around 1980, local authorities accepted the right of parents to teach their own children at home and the practice was viewed as being unremarkable. All that was asked was that some account of the education should be given and that parents would be prepared to discuss the matter. People like Harry Lawrence had no problems with his local authority because rather than urging Ruth to shoot at local authority officers, he was teaching her mathematics.

The main thing that the cases in the late 1970s and early 1980s were about was not home education as such. That ’right’ was never in doubt. These landmark cases were to do with whether or not parents had to teach their children and also tell their local authorities what they were teaching. This is quite a different matter and it is perfectly possible to be a fervent supporter of home education, while at the same time accepting that local authorities need to know what is going on.   It was, according to the views of some, at this point that things began to go wrong. Up until that time, home education had been concerned only with the teaching and education of children. It was in the late 1970s that not sending children to school became a political act; frequently undertaken by those with an axe to grind and who tended to be opposed, as a matter of principle, to authority in general.

49 comments:

  1. At school in the 80's we were given a screenplay to watch and discuss about a home educated boy. I don't remember much - he found a dead body in a river, his parents had a farm, the school he had attended was a victorian redbrick and his parents ended up in court. Any ideas what the film was or who it was about? I believe it was based on the experiences of a real family.

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    1. LOL! You aren't serious!

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    2. Ah, the magic of Google! It's called Flying into the Wind, a David Leland film, part of the Tales out of School quartet.

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  2. 'As adults, they told their mother that if they had not been home educated, then they would all have been in mental hospitals or prisons when they grew up.'

    Interesting. Where are they quoted as having said this? I would like to read about it first hand.

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  3. 'It was, according to the views of some, at this point that things began to go wrong.'

    I wonder who the mysterious 'some' are. Probably teachers and social workers. I was teaching in the 80's and teachers were outraged by the whole idea of HE because they believed only they had the specialist skills needed to teach children adequately.

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  4. ''As adults, they told their mother that if they had not been home educated, then they would all have been in mental hospitals or prisons when they grew up.'

    Interesting. Where are they quoted as having said this? I would like to read about it first hand. '


    Scroll down to the bottom of this. Iris Harrison herself said so in 2007.


    http://freedom.edyourself.org/diary.htm

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  5. ' Any ideas what the film was or who it was about? I believe it was based on the experiences of a real family.'

    It could well have been the Harrisons, who lived on a farm and did indeed end up in court.

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  6. 'I wonder who the mysterious 'some' are. Probably teachers and social workers.'

    I don't doubt that many teachers feel this way. I was actually talking about home educators.

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  7. Haha Simon's excitement is palpable. He is about to unveil a major (for him) realisation. That a) He is a statist and b) lots of people who home educate are not,

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  8. 'Haha Simon's excitement is palpable. He is about to unveil a major (for him) realisation. That a) He is a statist and b) lots of people who home educate are not'

    Does the person making this comment even know what a 'statist' is? One suspects not. I have talked in this thread of local authorities. The devolved responsibility of local authorities to supervise education is the very antithesis of statism, which is predicated upon the centralised control of social and economic affairs. Am I in favour of such centralised control? No, I am not. Readers are invited to speculate just what the person making this comment actually means by it!

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    1. Are you suggesting that LAs are not part of the state? They operate within a legal framework defined by central government; they have a role and execute responsibilities defined by central government. Central government, ultimately, calls the shots.

      Devolved power is a convenient means of exerting central control at a local level - people like Cameron, Miliband, Balls and Osborne aren't interested in the amount of dog poo on the pavements - but it also leads to the "Fiefdom Syndrome", where people with devolved power try to build empires of their own. I suspect that this is an element in the drive for more legislation to control home education.

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  9. "The devolved responsibility of local authorities to supervise education is the very antithesis of statism, which is predicated upon the centralised control of social and economic affairs"

    Oh come on Simon, local authorities merely administer policy and statute created by central government. They are the state at local level. Are you hoping to delude yourself or your readers?

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  10. 'Are you hoping to delude yourself or your readers?'

    Neither. I am trying, and it is I know a vain hope, to educate those who comment here. Locally elected bodies which administer and interpret policy are quite the opposite of statism. It would help if you were to explain to us what you yourself understand statism to be.

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  11. It doesn't really matter does it? Since you have managed to convince yourself that local authorities are not part of the state then you will always be able to claim exemption for them from any definition of statism put forward.

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  12. 'Are you suggesting that LAs are not part of the state? They operate within a legal framework defined by central government; they have a role and execute responsibilities defined by central government. Central government, ultimately, calls the shots.'

    You know perfectly well that different local authorities interpret and apply the law relating to home education according to their own ideas on the subject. This is, as I said, the opposite of statism. A statist is not just somebody who wants state control of something, you know!

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    1. "You know perfectly well that different local authorities interpret and apply the law relating to home education according to their own ideas on the subject. "

      Therein lies the problem; if LAs used the existing laws and guidelines, and applied them in a consistent manner - instead of applying their own brain-damaged interpretations - then there would be few problems. Undoubtedly, some lives would have been saved.

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  13. Try Wikipedia "In political science, statism (French: ├ętatisme) is the belief that a government should control either economic or social policy, or both, to some degree. Statism is effectively the opposite of anarchism. Statism can take many forms. Minarchists prefer a minimal or night watchman state to protect people from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud with military, police, and courts. Some may also include fire departments, prisons, and other functions. Totalitarians prefer a maximum or all encompassing state. Limited government, welfare state, and other options make up the middle territory of the scale of statism."

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  14. "You know perfectly well that different local authorities interpret and apply the law relating to home education according to their own ideas on the subject"

    Yes they do, but that's "Feifdom Syndrome", it doesn't indicate that LAs are autonomous from the state.

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  15. 'Since you have managed to convince yourself that local authorities are not part of the state'

    This ties in very neatly what what I have been saying on other threads about the fruitlessness of debating in this way. I have not convinced myself in the least that local authorities are not part of the state. In any case, that has nothing to do with the case. Somebody accused me of being a statist and in order to refute the idea, I first need to explain the nature of statism. Since the people here seem to think that a statist means something along the lines of, 'somebody who approves of state control of an activity', this is liable to be an uphill struggle.

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  16. 'it doesn't indicate that LAs are autonomous from the state.'

    I said nothing of the sort, nor has this anything to do with statism.

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  17. 'Try Wikipedia '

    Which, alas, says it all...

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    1. "'Try Wikipedia '

      Which, alas, says it all..."

      The pot calling the kettle black.

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  18. "A statist is not just somebody who wants state control of something, you know" Yes it is.

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  19. Central government formulates policy and statute on home education and hands these down to local authorities who administer them and, usually, add another layer of policy and control over the top. (Fiefdom Syndrome). Do you imagine that LAs are independent from central government and therefore free to ignore its decrees or this excluded from your understanding of statism by some other means?

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  20. Still awaiting with baited breath your definition of "statism" and "statist" that somehow allows you (as someone in favour of central government control, control that is administered via local government, of home education (or anything else)) to wriggle off the hook!

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    1. Give him a chance, he's frantically trawling the web to find some tenuous thread of information to support his case.

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    2. I doubt it, he'll just gather a bit of info here a bit there and squadge them together to make whatever shape he wishes, as per standard Webb operating procedure.

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  21. 'Still awaiting with baited breath your definition of "statism" and "statist" that somehow allows you (as someone in favour of central government control, control that is administered via local government, of home education (or anything else)) to wriggle off the hook!'

    Vastly entertained at the idea of your having 'baited breath'. Presumably to catch flies or something?

    There is no great mystery about what a statist is. It is somebody who supports the idea of statism; that is to say a centralised control of every aspect of society. We saw this in Stalin's Russia, of course, where every last detail was prescribed from the centre. In this country, we have a very different system. Things like foreign policy and the army are adminsistered by the executive, but many other functions of the state are left to the discretion of regional authorities. Police forces, to give one example, are controlled by local chiefs and not by the central government. This would be anethema to a statist, but it is an arrangment of which I approve. You can't imagine that happening in the old-style USSR!



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  22. You are describing totalitarianism Simon, an extreme form of statism but by no means the only type. Perhaps a dictionary?

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  23. 'You are describing totalitarianism Simon, an extreme form of statism but by no means the only type. Perhaps a dictionary?'

    I must remind readers that I am not running a branch of the Workers Educational Association and have not undertaken to teach them about political theory. Totalitarianism requires a complete subservience to the state. This is not necessarily the case in statism, which is more concerned with control over institutions and policy.

    I hardly feel that I need to say any more really on this subject. It was suggested that I am a statist and I have explained why I am nothing of the sort. Those who wish to learn more about either statism or totalitarianism would do well to read a few books on the subject, rather than badgering me for explanations! I used to live in the USSR ad have had first hand experience of statism. Anybody who believes this country to be an example of statism probably needs to reconsider.

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    1. As an onlooker to this thread, it would seem to me that commenters are attempting to educate you, not the other way around. You usually try to obfuscate.

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  24. "Anybody who believes this country to be an example of statism probably needs to reconsider."

    OK so we're clear, your definition of statism is unique to you and cannot be substantiated. No, really it's fine Simon. Just go ahead and create new definitions for the words you use...it's one the ways you create the contention you enjoy after all.

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  25. Noun
    statism (uncountable)
    The belief that the centralization of power in a state is the ideal or best way to organize humanity.

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  26. 'OK so we're clear, your definition of statism is unique to you and cannot be substantiated.'

    Except perhaps by a glance at the Oxford English dictionary, which I have open before me...

    'Noun
    statism (uncountable)
    The belief that the centralization of power in a state is the ideal or best way to organize humanity.'

    Yes, this is correct. Perhaps not unique to me, after all!

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  27. Oh yes I forgot, you labour under the delusion that local authorities are independent of centralised government (the state), is that right?

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  28. Local Authorities can only ever add to, never subtract from, the controls enacted by central government. The variation we see as Home Educators in how LAs deal with us is merely a variation in the amount and types of addition that LAs make.

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  29. 'Oh yes I forgot, you labour under the delusion that local authorities are independent of centralised government (the state), is that right?'

    Well, it isn't really a delusion. In many ways there are indeed independent. I mentioned earlier the case of the police. In countries more statist than our own, Sweden for instance, there is a National Police Board. District police chiefs are appointed by the government in Stockholm and are answerable to the Ministry of Justice. Things are quite different in this country. The Chief Constable of Essex is not in the least degree answerable to the Home Office; central government have no say in the running of the police in the county. This is the difference between a statist approach and the system we enjoy here.

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    1. "The Chief Constable of Essex is not in the least degree answerable to the Home Office; central government have no say in the running of the police in the county."

      This is codswallop Simon as I'm sure you know - not least because the Home Office controls the purse strings and can withhold up to 51% of the central grant from forces deemed "inefficient".

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    2. old webb says-The Chief Constable of Essex is not in the least degree answerable to the Home Office; central government have no say in the running of the police in the county.

      The chief constable is answerable to government he can be called to the house of commons to explain his actions

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  30. "'Noun
    statism (uncountable)
    The belief that the centralization of power in a state is the ideal or best way to organize humanity.'"

    "Haha Simon's excitement is palpable. He is about to unveil a major (for him) realisation. That a) He is a statist and b) lots of people who home educate are not,"

    There's no contradiction here.

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  31. Simon wrote:
    "Well, it isn't really a delusion."

    It most clearly is.

    Like many people who have been closely intertwined with the sub-components of the state, Simon seems to have the "us and them" attitude that is part of the "Fiefdom syndrome". To people outside, it's simply the state, but the distribution and compartmentalisation of responsibility leads to many of the problems that we see in our state services today - including the failure to remember that they are there to serve.

    I should add that I'm not in any way opposed to public services; I believe most passionately in the the welfare state and the principle of services such as education and health being free at the point of delivery, employing competent, well-rewarded professionals.

    Unfortunately, there are too many failed professionals in these organisations who want power and high salaries as "managers" without direct involvement in the service delivery; Simon unwittingly illustrated this with when he said:
    "You know perfectly well that different local authorities interpret and apply the law relating to home education according to their own ideas on the subject."

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  32. lets have a post about the lies LEA officer tell about children and they parents or do you take the view Webb that LEA officers never tell lies about children and parents?

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  33. Has Webb not heard of Joy Baker "Children in Chancery" Never let the facts get in the way of rhetoric eh Simon?

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  34. 'Has Webb not heard of Joy Baker "Children in Chancery" Never let the facts get in the way of rhetoric eh Simon?'

    I have the book in front of me as I write, along with copies of the newspaper reports of the case. You do know why Norfolk County Council was uneasy about Mrs Baker educating her children, don't you? I am talking about such things as her view that girls needed only a rudimentary education, because they would only be going on to be housewives, that sort of thing?

    I am happy to discuss this case, but only if you have actually read the book and are familiar with the background.

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  35. I'll warrant then that Joy's girls would have had to learn cookery, nutrition, household management, child care and basic account keeping - all valuable life skills and skills that would have enabled them to earn a living since these are services people pay for. On the other hand Simon Webb managed to equip his daughter to take a degree in the "non-subject" of philosophy. On balance I know which education seems to have been the most suitable.

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  36. Interesting. Having accused me of avoiding facts by failing to mention Joy Baker, you now appear to be unable or unwilling to discuss the case. How much do you actually know about it?

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  37. Simon, could I point out to everyone that Irene Harrison told her children to fire an air rifle - a bit different to a 'rifle' - at the feet of LEA officers on one specific occasion, and that the judge found in her favour. As for the Lawrences, since when has 'teaching mathematics' been an all round education, and pushing your child into Oxford when they are 12 might be one of the reasons Ruth now has no contact with her father.

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  38. 'Simon, could I point out to everyone that Irene Harrison told her children to fire an air rifle - a bit different to a 'rifle' - at the feet of LEA officers on one specific occasion'

    I am happy to confirm that as far as we know, Iris Harrison only told her children on one occasion to fire a volley of shots from .22 air rifles at local authority officers;

    ' she told her sons that if the authorities arrived they should 'use their air rifles and aim at their feet'.

    An air rifle is quite capable of taking somebody's eye out and firing towards the ground increases the chance of this happening by ricochet. I still regard this as very bad advice to children. I taught my own daughter to shoot and like any responsible parent, advised her never, ever to point a gun at anybody. This sort of thing cannot help but make people suspect that Mrs Harrison was not a responsible parent.

    'mathematics' been an all round education, and pushing your child into Oxford when they are 12 might be one of the reasons Ruth now has no contact with her father.'

    I gave the learning of mathemaitcs as an example; this was not all that she was learning. I do not myself think that sending a child of eleven to Oxford is a brilliant scheme. I cited this case because I was fairly sure that readers would be familiar with it. There were other home educators at that time who also had no trouble with their local authority.


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