Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Home educators refusing visits
I have over the years watched with interest the tremendous lengths to which some parents will go in order to avoid allowing a local authority officer to visit their home in connection with the education that they are providing for their children. Very often, the reason for this reluctance is the claim that the children themselves would be distressed, frightened or upset by such a visit. I am bound to say that if I was a local authority officer, this would immediately rouse my suspicions that all was not well in the household! Ordinary children meet all sorts of adults under a variety of circumstances; both out and about and also in their homes. A knock at the door by the man who wishes to read the gas meter should not be traumatic for any reasonably well-balanced child and nor should the entry of an officer from the council. Unless a child has a learning difficulty or is on the autistic spectrum, there is something odd and a little alarming about a child who is disturbed by the presence of strangers in her home.
I think that the problem when a child displays behaviour of this sort usually lies with the parent, rather than the child. Some parents hold up the local authority to their children as a species of bogyman. They tell the child that the council want to drag them away from their parents and make them go to school, for instance. This naturally worries the child and makes the prospect of a visit scary. We saw this during the Badman enquiry, when some parents with children on the spectrum were warning their children of the possibility that they would be forced to go to school. More than one mother reported with satisfaction that her child had had a meltdown as a consequence of this.
I have an idea that if parents stopped being silly about the local authority and just treated visits as being of no greater importance than a visit from the postman or the man to read the meter, then most of these problems would melt away. The average child is not scared of meeting unknown adults in her own home and if she is, then there is generally something wrong.
Sometimes the spectre is summoned up that the local authority officer might actually wish to speak to the home educated child or, worse still, ask her questions! I am irresistibly reminded of the incident in Kent when Graham Badman visited a group of home educating parents and their children. He asked one child what she wished to be when she grew up. A normal enough question from a random adult of the kind that most children encounter regularly without becoming hysterical. She replied that she wanted to be vet, whereupon Badman reminded her that she would need a very high standard of mathematical knowledge for such a job. He asked whether the child knew, for example, about square roots; a reasonable enough question given her age and professed ambition. The result of all this was that with increasing anxiety being displayed on the part of the parents and the extreme timidity of the children, that some of the children burst into tears and began fleeing in terror. This is not normal behaviour on the part of children asked casual questions of this sort and itself raises serious doubts about the type of life that they had been leading.
Normal, well balanced children are perfectly capable of withstanding unknown adults asking them what they want to be when they grow up or how much they know about maths. There is, to my mind at least, something a little unsettling about the idea of ten or eleven year-olds who are so protected from everyday life that this sort of thing could cause them to run away in fear. When parents decline visits on such grounds as these, that is to say that it would upset their children, I tend to assume that their children have perhaps led very sheltered and protected lives, not acquiring the ability to withstand the rough and tumble of everyday life. I do not see this as a good thing, to teach children to fear strangers and become distressed if asked questions. As I said earlier, if I was a local authority officer, this sort of thing might cause me to ask just what sort of lifestyle these children are living that they would be unable to cope with meeting new people and speaking to them about their lives.