Tuesday, 30 April 2013

More about home education and worries about child abuse

Commenting here yesterday, some mischievous fool wrote;

'if the LAs can claim control of >90% of HE kids, they'll have big bragging rights - and that translates into power, glory and money.'

This must surely be the most stupid thing that anybody has ever said  on this blog and the competition for that unenviable distinction is pretty stiff! Let us try to see why local authorities really appear to be hounding certain home educators and what those parents can do to avoid being, as they see it,  harassed.

I mentioned a case of abuse yesterday that involved home educated children. Predictably, most of those commenting here could not see the problem. This is in stark contrast to everybody who is not a home educator; that is to say the other 99.9% of the population. Every parent of a child at school who reads that story can see precisely why some professionals are concerned about home education. Let me give another example and see if readers will get the point. On some home education lists, parents who do not want to be known to their local authority have said that one way they avoid this is by not registering their children with a GP. Some talk of moving from one area to another and leaving no forwarding address for their old LA. Combining this with not registering with a doctor, means that they can stay ‘under the radar’, as home educating parents call it. Here is an experiment that any reader can try. Tell some parent with a child at school that you know somebody who keeps their child at home, not sending her to school. Now explain that this parent is so desperately keen that nobody find out about this, that she refuses to register her child at a GP. What do you suppose that any ordinary parent will make of this? Try it and see. I have so far found 100% rate of parents who think that the parent behaving in this strange way must be trying to conceal something that is going on with her child.  Why else would she jeopardise her child’s health in this way?

This is an instance of what I am talking about. To many home educators, this sort of thing is perfectly normal and understandable; to the rest of the world, it is sheer lunacy and probably indicates something very wrong in a family. Things get even worse when you ask social workers and health professionals about this kind of profile. Unfortunately, moving from one area to another with a child and then trying to lose the kid’s records by not leaving a forwarding address for a local authority education department, combined with keeping the child from school and failing to register with a GP is classic behaviour of an abusive parent. It is textbook stuff, which would set alarm bells ringing all over the place if it came to light. I don’t want to debate the rights and wrongs of this; I am simply telling readers that this is the  unmistakable footprint of an abuser.

The problem here of course is that those home educators who carry on in this mad way are almost certainly not abusers. However, if you set out to mimic the lifestyle and behaviour of a certain type of criminal, then you really cannot be surprised if you are mistaken for the real thing! If I put on a mask to conceal my face and start prowling around back streets in the small hours, then I can hardly complain when the police mistake me for a genuine burglar or potential rapist.

Essentially, what is happening is this. A group of people, most of whom are quite innocent, are deliberately setting out to imitate the lifestyle and adopt the actions of abusive parents. In the process, they waste everybody’s time by generating hundreds, perhaps thousands of false positives; each of which must be investigated. Having set out in this way to do their best to fit into the classic profile of serious abusers, they squeal their heads off when those coming into contact with them sometimes mistake them for the real thing. Idiots! They are the architects of their own misfortune and I have little sympathy for them. I have a great deal of sympathy for the poor devils whose professional duty entails sifting through all this chaff to find the wheat. Their job is made immeasurably more difficult by these antics and then on top of it, some clown suggests that they are checking  these silly parents for the ‘power, glory and money’! Why, you damned fool,  they are doing their job and attempting to find out who is the real abuser among these identical cases and which are just irritating, middle class parents playing silly buggers.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Concealing the abuse of children by home educating them

There is an endearing naivety about many home educators when it comes to assessing the drawbacks and disadvantages of their chosen lifestyle. Well, I hope it is naivety, because otherwise I would have to conclude that an awful lot of home educating parents are willfully obtuse, which would not be a pleasant thought. Take the assertion frequently made by those who send their children to school; that this provides an element of protection for children which is missing in those kept at home full time. The usual response to this by home educators is to claim that home educated children are not kept at home and are in fact seen by many different people. They then typically list all the places their own children go; ballet, yoga, aromatherapy classes and so on. It is as though these predominantly middle class parents are incapable of understanding that there are any number of wicked and mad people out there for whom home education  would provide the perfect setting for domestic abuse.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I am not saying that no schoolchildren are abused at home. Indeed they are and in some cases the abuse carries on undetected for years. What I am saying is that if I wanted to mistreat a child and subject her to cruel or mad treatment; then home education would be an ideal way of keeping this from becoming generally known. This does not mean that home educated children are more likely to be abused; merely that it would be easier for their carers to abuse them than if they were to be attending school.

I posted a link yesterday to a story in the Guardian and somebody commenting later gave us a link to the original court case. Here it is:


For those who do not wish to plough through the whole thing, the story is simple. A mother, who was by the sound of it very weird, adopted three children from various foreign countries. She then wanted a forth adopted child and was denied permission because of concerns about the way she treated those she already had. She then hit upon the ingenious scheme of getting her fourteen year-old adopted daughter pregnant by artificial insemination. The child, who was a virgin, was compelled to rinse out her vagina with vinegar and lemon juice before each procedure; a painful process. This was because the mother wanted only a girl and believed that the acidic environment would favour this. She then made the girl inject syringes of donated semen into herself.

The point about this whole business that interests me is that the mother educated her children at home. Needless to say, she refused visits and rejected any monitoring.  She insisted that all contact with the local authority should be by email. At several times, social services were notified of concerns, but did not speak to the children. This was because the mother was articulate and forceful and managed to deflect any attention. The lifestyle was bizarre; for example the curtains were always kept drawn, even during the day. The family had no dealings with the neighbours, one of whom eventually contacted social services with concerns. The problem was that the mother was very well informed of her ‘rights’ and not only refused to allow visits from the council, she also managed to get rid of social services. This can be done if, as in this case, the allegations amounted only to the suggestion that she shouted and swore a lot. The children were not seen or spoken to and this too is a ‘right’ of the parents, unless there is clear evidence of cruelty or neglect.  In short, the woman behaved like many a home educating parent who was fully aware of her ’rights’!

Would matters have been any different if the children had been at school? Probably they would have been. The girl who was subjected to this degrading treatment had no friends of her own age, nor did she mix with anybody other than the people chosen by her adoptive mother. The mother was thus able to control who her children saw and to keep a watch on what was said. I have an idea that if the child had been at school, then she might well have mentioned, either to classmates or an adult,  such circumstances as having her vagina flushed out with vinegar. It is far less likely that this sort of thing would have remained secret. It is probably the case too that had the local authority been popping in from time to time to chat to the mother and children,  that things might have taken a different turn. Here was a family which had managed to isolate the children almost completely from ordinary society. They did not live in a remote rural area, but in a nice suburban street, with a teacher living on one side and a GP on the other.

I have not the least doubt that I shall now be accused of suggesting that all families are regularly checked for signs of child abuse. I dare say that others will ask why we are not checking children during the holidays or before they reach the age of five and start school. The fact is that quite literally everybody to whom I have ever spoken, apart from home educators, can see the nature of the problem here. It may be stated very simply. When children are kept at home and not sent to school, it is much easier to conceal any abusive behaviour to which they are being subjected.  

Bad publicity for home education...

Readers who are absolutely sure that home educating families should be left to their own devices, might care to read this case:


Obviously, it is not typical of British home education, but it is the sort of thing which makes many people stop and think about the possible disadvantages when a child does not mix regularly with others.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


I have been very anxious lately about the home education scene in Lancashire.  I am sure that the local authority there are not supervising and inspecting home educators in a way that I would approve of and so I have been studying their policies carefully. There is a lot that I don’t like about them and  I have now written a detailed letter to a parliamentary select committee, outlining my concerns and urging them to look into how Lancashire are organising their EHE department.

Well, actually of course; I have been doing nothing of the sort! After all, that would just be weird, wouldn’t it? I live hundreds of miles from Lancashire, I don’t home educate there; why on earth would I be fretting about how things are arranged in that county? It’s none of my business. I am pretty sure that if some readers of this blog discovered that I had been poking my nose into Lancashire’s EHE arrangements and trying to get them to run their affairs in a way that suited me, then it would be thought that I had way too much time on my hands and was turning into a frightful busybody. I am sure that we can agree on that. As for pestering a select committee about what I thought was wrong in Lancashire; that would just be absurd! I want readers to bear this in mind as I explain what has really been happening.

It has been suggested by those commenting on here, that I have an obsession with Alison Sauer; even, God save us, that I have some kind of crush on the woman! It is nothing of the sort, but rather that wherever I turn on the home education front; there is Alison Sauer, needlessly stirring up trouble. The latest example of my stumbling over her in an unexpected and unlooked for place, concerns the county in which I live, which is Essex.

I still have dealings with home educating parents in Essex, none of whom belong to any internet groups; largely because they have decided that such groups are full of troublesome maniacs. This is a view which I tend to share. I was looking for some support for one parent, when I chanced across this:


Have you ever seen the like? Here is a private citizen who lives hundreds of miles from my own county, writing to parliament to complain about what she sees as the shortcomings of my local authority when it comes to home education. Remember how we thought that this would be pretty mad if I were to be doing it about Lancashire? Recollect that we agreed that it would make me look like a terrible busybody with nothing better to do with his time? This is just precisely how I see the case here. The great irony is that home educating parents in Essex enjoy really good relations at the moment with the EHE department in Colchester. The LA officers there are friendly, helpful and offer all sorts of support if asked. I have never heard anybody complain about them. Alison says, with what justification I really do not know, ‘ Little wonder that many home educators choose not engage with the LA.’ I would be curious to know what grounds she has for thinking this.

I am sorry to mention Alison Sauer again on here, but even when I restrict my interest in home education to the county in which I actually live, two hundred miles from Alison Sauer; she pops up, causing mischief and spreading misleading information. Of course, I might be misjudging her. Perhaps she has some sort of genuine interest in home education in Essex and has heard of complaints about the staff who handle it in the county. If so, perhaps somebody could share this with us. Otherwise, I will be forced to think that this is no more than a random act of meddling and busybodying for its own sake!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

What is wrong with people??? Part 2

Another irritated complaint about the sort of things people say on home education lists. This one relates to the Education Otherwise support group. Somebody posted there yesterday, full of pleasure and enthusiasm for the speed with which her twelve year-old daughter was zooming through academic work in preparation for IGCSEs. In fact things were going so well, that the mother was thinking of letting the kid  sit the examinations early. Cue comments along the lines of, “Why are you doing this? Why not let your child decide for herself what she studies?” The suggestion was made that  “many” mysterious "agencies" had found that it was “damaging” for children younger than sixteen to take IGCSEs. These “agencies”  were not named and so it is hard to know what was meant by this. Even Fiona Nicholson, who really ought to know better, advised caution and talked of the possibility of being oppressed by examinations.

This is all so absolutely bizarre, that one hardly knows what to make of it! A child is rushing through work at a rapid rate, as many do when they are being taught one-to-one, and there is no indication that there is any pressure or stress involved. Actually, children out of school often enjoy learning things and take pleasure in working quickly through academic material. It is in school that this kind of thing is an onerous chore; you seldom find it with home educated kids. The mother was, in effect, being advised on a home education list run by a major organisation in this field, to slow her child down and discourage her from learning so fast!

I must point out that a number of people, including a woman who comments regularly on this blog, then popped up and said that their children too enjoyed studying and made very rapid progress. But how extraordinary that the first response to news of a home educated child studying and making good progress should have been that there was some sort of problem that needed to be dealt with and that all could not be well in that family for the mother to be considering IGCSEs a little earlier than they are taken in schools! 

Friday, 26 April 2013

What is wrong with people???

Today’s post will not be the carefully reasoned and meticulously researched observations on British home education that readers are used to finding on this blog. Instead, it is little more than  a mad rant. This is such an unusual occurrence that I feel it necessary to apologise in advance.

On one of the main home education lists, a new member has posted, seeking advice. He is separated from his partner and their child lives with him and is educated at home. The kid’s mother has contacted the local authority and expressed fears about the child’s health and the educational provision being made.  Somebody from the local EHE department came round to visit, but was denied sight of the child, because he or she did not wish to see the local authority officer. Now, the superior of the person who visited has insisted on physically seeing the child. 

Now to my mind, this is a complete mare’s nest anyway. If the child is fit and healthy, then all the father needed to do was to say to his son or daughter, “Look, I know this is a damned nuisance, but these idiots will not leave us alone until they have checked that I am not beating or starving you. Let’s just humour them and then they will go away.” I speak here as a man who did not notify the local authority of his provision and felt it easier for all concerned just to let them poke their head around the door when we bumped into a truancy patrol. I said something to my eight year old daughter very much  along the lines which I suggest above and it worked a treat. It is not a question of rights; it is dealing with an irritating problem in the most straightforward way that one can manage.

What advice did he actually receive? Well, that welfare is not any concern of the team who supervise or inspect elective home education. That in any case, the local authority have no legal right to insist upon seeing the child. That he should write a snotty letter to the local authority and try and put their backs up by quoting the law to them. These are all such appalling ideas that you cannot help wondering if the men who gave them are trying to cause problems for this fellow out of sheer mischief! Here is a child about whom concerns have been raised. Of course it is not the proper business of an EHE advisor to act on welfare or safeguarding concerns; that goes without saying. Ask yourself this though. If the father sticks to his guns and refuses to let them see his child, what do you think the next step will be; bearing in mind that quite apart from any genuine concern,  the people dealing with EHE will wish to cover their backs? Yes, that’s right. They will pass the enquiry over to social services. Here is another question. Which would you prefer; to deal informally and on a purely voluntary basis with your local EHE department or to have social services open a file on your child and start sniffing around your house? Anybody prefer the second of these two options?

I cannot believe that anybody could give this poor fellow such awful advice and wait with a sense of horrible anticipation for his next post, which will be along the lines of, “Social services are investigating my family; how can I get them to back off?”

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Another reason that flexi-schooling is being discouraged

I am, I will freely confess, a little slow on the uptake sometimes. During all the discussion on flexi-schooling, I have failed to connect up the dots and tie it in with various practices in schools; practices which I knew about, but did not think to associate with flexi-schooling. A reader yesterday drew attention to a new report on informal exclusions and it was after reading this report that the penny finally dropped.

I am sure that most of us know that there are children at school who do not wish to be there. Sometimes, these children register their protest by being disruptive and making life difficult for both the staff and other pupils. It only takes one or two such children in a class to slow down the teaching and sometimes make it wholly impossible to deliver a lesson. One way of dealing with this is to let these children leave the school premises; thus satisfying both them and the staff. This can be done in various ways. You can tell them to stay off school for a week if their ties are not done up properly, for example, or, and this is where we come to the subject of flexi-schooling; you can encourage them to take ‘study leave’.  This sort of thing is more common for children in the run-up to GCSEs, but can be granted informally at any time. What you do is say to the child, ‘You can work from home if you like for the next fortnight. Be sure to study hard.” It is of course all nonsense. You know and so does the kid, that there is not the slightest chance of his doing any schoolwork. He will be playing on the Xbox  and hanging around the park. You, the teacher, will be able to get on with teaching those kids who do actually want to learn. Badly behaved children are often given more ‘study days’ than those who are doing well academically.

What has this to do with flexi-schooling? Children who have been excluded from education by this racket are marked in the register as being educated off site; the same code used for children being flexi-schooled. Recent research showed that 2% of primary schools and 11% of secondary schools are doing this. It is a brilliant way to reduce bad behaviour in your school, but not very good for the children themselves.  In one school, a bunch of the more disruptive pupils were told not to come back after the Christmas holidays, but to study at home until they took their GCSEs in May. They too were marked down as being educated off site.

It is because this scandal was about to erupt, as it did when Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner, spoke out about it this week, that the Department for Education have cracked down on the use of the code in the register for children being educated off site. They evidently caught wind of this a few months ago and decided to tighten up a little before Maggie Atkinson began shooting her mouth off.  I do not think that this is the only reason that flexi-schooling is now being discouraged, but it certainly explains why such children can no longer be described as being educated off site. This system  has been so abused that the DfE are determined to put a stop to it altogether.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Department for Education clarify the situation with regard to flexi-schooling

As readers will know, a month or two back the Department for Education changed the rules on flexi-schooling. They have been challenged about this, but remain obdurate. Any Head who now agrees to a flexi-schooling arrangement must mark the pupil as being absent on the days that he is being educated at home. Whether this is an authorised or unauthorised absence, makes no difference; it will still look lousy on the school records. Any maintained school doing this will be sure to have questions asked by their local authority, Ofsted and so on, as it will make it look as though their absence rate is soaring; seldom a good sign! 

The end result of all this will be to limit dramatically the possibility of parents finding schools who will play ball on this. It has been very neatly done, because the practice has not actually been banned and nobody can claim that it has. Here is the clarification that the DfE issued yesterday:

In March the Government clarified its expectation on how schools should
record pupil’s school attendance under a flexi-schooling arrangement.

We advised that Schools should not record a pupil as attending an off-site
educational activity unless the school is actively responsible for
approving and supervising the off-site education, and has established
arrangements to ensure the safety and the welfare of the pupil while being
educated off-site.

Where parents have entered in to flexi-schooling arrangements, schools may
continue to offer those arrangements.  Pupils should be marked absent from
school during sessions when they are receiving home education.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Another myth in British home education; there is no evidence to show that socialisation is a problem for home educated children

The question of socialisation always rears its head in any discussion between home educators and  those who send their children to school. It is often asserted by home educators that there is no reason to think that their children are any less socialised than those at school, but this is not really true.

There is a bit of a difficulty when discussing socialisation of children. Parents naturally tend to think that their own kids are well adjusted and sociable. They typically think this, even if their offspring are lonely psychopaths about to carry out a massacre at the local high school. Needless to say, if anybody asks me about my own child, I will claim that she is clever, popular and well balanced. There is no reason to suppose that this is true; it is just what parents think about their own  kids. We must take home educating parents statements about sociability with a grain of salt. There is anecdotal evidence on the other side, of course. Many teachers and lecturers say that the home educated children they come into contact with are strange and do not fit in. We must treat these suggestions too with some scepticism , because teachers are not unbiased; many of them disapprove of home education and may not like the confident air that some home educated children have. Is there any objective evidence to which we can turn? Fortunately, there is; although it is not conclusive.

I am not a great fan of Paula Rothermel’s work, but she did carry out some tests on the social skills of home educated children. The results were surprising and not generally known among home educating parents. Bearing in mind that the samples were small and must be treated with caution, what was discovered? Rothermel used two different Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires and these gave differing results. One showed that the home educated children had social skills as good as those of children at school; the other diagnosed many problems with the home educated children. What sort of problems? Perhaps we should let Rothermel’s words speak for themselves. She found that, ‘ Theft amongst the home-educated boys was substantially higher than for the schoolchildren’ She also discovered that, ‘the home-educated children here emerged as mostly 'Abnormal' in terms of their 'Prosocial Behaviour'.’ and also, ‘Socially, the SDQ found 61% of the home-educated children to exhibit 'abnormal' social behaviour,’.

These are quite disturbing findings, but they are not the only conclusion that Rothermel reached. Home educated girls in particular seemed prone to difficulties in socialisation. For example:

‘the home-educated sample demonstrated more signs of aggressive behaviours than the schoolchildren from the Rutter et al study, particularly for home-educated girls where aggressiveness was at 22.7% as opposed to 5.3% for Rutter's girls’

‘A comparison with the home-educated sample's data and that provided by Ekblad (1990) relating to previous studies, revealed that the home-educated children were more aggressive than the norm and that the girls' levels of anxiety was higher than those found in other studies.’

None of this is of course conclusive and I have mentioned elsewhere my reservations about both the size of the samples used and the methods for selecting them. Never the less, it remains the fact that in the only professional evaluation of the socialisation of home educated children in this country, serious problems were found. As I said earlier, one test found these problems and the other did not, which means that the question remains open. It is however not reasonable to claim, as many home educators do, that there is no reason to think that the socialisation of home educated children is any worse than that of those at school. There is reason to think this so, but the evidence is not conclusive.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Three home educating myths

I have before examined in detail some of the odder myths associated with British home education, but  there are many new readers here lately and for their benefit  I shall today  outline three popular misconceptions about home education.

1. Paula Rothermel found that home educated children did better academically than those at school.

This old chestnut is still doing the rounds; it cropped up last month in a comment on the Times Educational Supplement forum. Briefly, the legend is that Paula Rothermel conducted extensive research and found that home educated children did fantastically well academically. This is awfully misleading for two reasons. First, because the samples used were so tiny as to be meaningless. For instance one of the claims was that 94% of six year-olds were in the top band when tested for reading ability. This was in comparison with the 16% of schooled children who fell into this band. Very impressive, until you read the fine print and learn that this research relates to just seventeen children. Even less impressive when you learn that Rothermel did not test their literacy herself, but posted the tests out and relied upon the parents to conduct them! For some reason, Rothermel's tiny, self-selected samples, which rely almost entirely upon parental assessment, are still being touted around by home educators.

2. Many famous people were home educated.

Claiming that people like Einstein or the Wright brothers were home educated is intended to show people that being home educated can create great scientists, inventors and writers. The trick here is in how you define ‘home educated’. On one of the home education lists Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, was recently described as being home educated. In fact, like most German children before World War I, he started school at the age of seven. What people do is use the British school starting age of five and then assume that any child in Europe who does not begin school at that age must be home educated! Sometimes, people are plucked at random and the assertion made that they were home educated, even though they really attended school like everybody else. Einstein and the Wright brothers are in this category as are most of the other names one sees in the lists of famous people who were home educated. Even more curious is the inclusion in such lists, of people who could not have attended school. The Home Education UK site has Joan of Arc down as being home educated. No girls at all were at school in France during her lifetime.

3. You don’t need GCSEs to get into college or university.

This one has proved an absolute killer for many home educating parents; particularly those who favour autonomous education. They avoid entering their kids for examinations and then when they are fifteen or sixteen, expect them to get into college. It very rarely comes off, except for subjects like  art, textiles, design, photography, drama and so on, where you can sometimes get in on a portfolio or audition. It is almost unheard of for a college to allow a child without GCSEs to study academic A levels like physics. Even on the rare occasions when this does happen, getting to university can be gravely handicapped by the lack of GCSEs. Because there are often many applicants for university places, all with the same A levels, a kind of tie-break sometimes takes place. If you have two young people, both with three A levels at A in the same subject, then a good way of deciding is to look at their GCSEs. The one who has ten GCSEs at A or A* will generally be preferred over the one with no GCSEs at all.

I shall be covering other misconceptions and myths over the next few weeks, because no matter how often these ideas are exposed as nonsense, a new generation of home educating parents is always ready to come forward and be led into error by people who really ought to know better.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A 'spiteful, nasty, mean son of a bitch' writes…

I was accused yesterday, not for the first time, of misogyny and bullying. Both are pretty unpleasant things and so I thought I would take the time to look at the idea that I am a ‘vile, insecure  bully', as another anonymous person put it, and see if the evidence supports this thesis.

The first thing to bear in mind is that all of us who are, or have  been, home educators are adults. This means that we must expect to encounter a little rough and tumble, with other people challenging our views and failing to agree with us. This is the same whether we are supporters of home education or Manchester United; not everybody will share our  opinions. As long as disagreement is expressed politely and the person disputing with me does so openly, I can see no reason to object to anything anybody says about me. If I say or write something publicly, then of course I can expect others to tell me if they think that I am wrong or that I am behaving badly. This has frequently happened on this blog and elsewhere. I have never felt bullied when others tell me that I am mistaken, to give one example, in my opinion that compulsory registration and monitoring would be a good thing for home education in this country. If I say this, or write about it in the newspapers, then of course it is OK for people to argue with me. This leads to another point. It was suggested yesterday that because some of the views that I was writing about had been expressed four years ago, then it was not fair to mention them now. This seems to me absurd. I wrote newspaper articles four years ago and people are still quoting them and asking if I stand by what I said. I could say that I have changed my mind or that I still hold the same view. This hardly means that I am being bullied! 

Another point to bear in mind when considering whether I am bullying people, is that I do not pursue anybody or try to press my views upon others. I am expressing here a purely personal opinion and if people do not like what I say, then surely the remedy is to stop coming here to read it?  It is ridiculous to go out of your way to come and read views with which you disagree and then say that you are being bullied by what is being said. I might mention  that when some people went to the police and tried to claim that I was bullying and harassing them, the police took this very stance. They advised those complaining, that if they did not like what I was saying, then to give me and my blog a wide berth. I spoke to the unfortunate officer in Lincolnshire who had been handling the case and he was utterly perplexed at the idea of somebody visiting a site on the internet regularly and then claiming to the police that she was being harassed by the person running the site! Interesting to note, by the by, that when the subject of yesterday's post began to blog last year, the very first people to comment were  those who were involved in trying to have me arrested! There seems to be a small group who are determined to portray themselves as victims of my bullying. They all know each other and egg each other on to see who can feel the most victimised. These remarks are meant generally and are not specifically directed against Nikki Harper, Maire Stafford or anybody else.

The charge of misogyny is a more tricky one to tackle. It is true that the majority of those whose views I examine and criticise on this blog are women. That is because women are very greatly over-represented among home educators. Most of the groups are run by women; as are the forums and blogs. Home Education UK, run by Mike Fortune-Wood is an exception and I have never been shy of stating what I think about the fool who runs it! I think that the fact that women are the subject of remark more often than men on this blog is simply a statistical thing; there are more of them involved in the enterprise with which this blog deals. If I were blogging about, say, football or motor racing, then I suspect that the proportions would be reversed and most of those about whom I commented would be men. Of course, it might be that some of these women feel that I should adopt a gentler tone when talking of women than I would if I were writing about a man. I am not likely to be doing that. I do not subscribe to the Victorian view of women as the gentler sex, needing to be handled with greater sensitivity and delicacy  than men.

Incidentally, has anybody noticed two interesting things about those who are accusing me of being a misogynistic bully? The first is that there is a preference for gendered insults such as 'son of a bitch',  'knob' and reference being made to my balls. The second is that the person saying these things will not sign his or her name. Anonymous attacks of this sort really are the mark of the bully.

Tragically, I shall be withdrawing for a few days; due to urgent commitments. Normal service will be resumed next week and in the meantime, please feel free to talk among yourselves.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A new Facebook support group for home educators

One of the things which I might not have made sufficiently clear over the last few days is that the recent posts about Cheryl Moy and Alison Sauer have been made in response to appeals from home educating parents themselves! I have been contacted by a quite a few people who are worried about the situation; particularly that Cheryl's home educating facebook group is the  first hit that comes up on searches and that as a result, many new parents end up finding it as the first port of call. I might also mention that today's post was the direct result of parents with children on the autistic spectrum asking me to look at some of the things that have been said.

Some of the mothers who have  felt dissatisfied with the way that Cheryl is behaving have now set up a new group and they ask me to publicise it; which I am happy to do. It is a facebook group called UK Hed Home Education and may be found at:


It is hoped that this will provide a rather more welcoming  environment for people.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A final few words about Cheryl Moy

My posts about Alison Sauer, Cheryl Moy and Wendy Charles-Warner seem to have struck a chord or touched a nerve with an awful lot of people. Since many of them were opposed to Cheryl Moy and had unflattering things to say about her, I think it only fair to let her own words speak for her; so that we can make an objective judgement about what sort of person she is.

As some may know, Cheryl posts on Mumsnet under the pseudonym of Pinkchez.  Here she is six weeks ago, offering advice about an aspect of the statementing process:


I think that the easiest way of seeing whether people falling out with Cheryl is down to her or is rather being caused by jealous and spiteful parents who are not as caring as her, is to look at an earlier thread on Mumsnet.

In April 2009, the school  which Cheryl’s oldest child was attending wanted to have him assessed as being possibly on the autistic spectrum. She was bitterly opposed to any such move, because she felt that her son was actually gifted and that any diagnosis of this sort would in some way be a bad thing for him. She went onto Mumsnet on April 24th 2009 to ask on a special needs thread if other mothers had children who had  been misdiagnosed and also to announce that she was setting up a support group. Here is her original post:

How many parents have got kids with these diagnosis but arent convinced its right, I have teachers doin their best to get my son labelled, but it isnt going to happen, he is highly gifted, his IQ is in the top 2% of the population at 8, but this comes with some issues, he is scared of new situations, doesnt like shopping centres above ground floor, chews clothes, wont sit still, gets bored etc,
does this sound familiar?
I'm trying to establish a support group if anyone is interested?

The exchanges which followed may be found here:


All the parents were sympathetic and did their very best to help Cheryl with advice and by sharing their own experiences. She grew increasingly angry with everybody and it took her just four days to explode and fall out with all the other parents. Here is her final post:

some people on here need to get off their high horses and see what else is happening beyond their experiences
and can i add having letters after your name means bugger all.
most have you have completely mis understood why i came on here, luckily for those that have contacted me, i now have enough open minded non ignorant/arogant people to create a support group. i do not want your opinions regarding my son, i didnt ask for them, good luck to your kids they are gonna need it with parents that have serious issues like some of you. and i dont care if this offends, you should learn to read and understand my very first message. if you didnt understand it u shud have asked instead of attacked.

As can be seen, here is Cheryl going into a group of strangers, all of whom had children with special needs, and apparently asking for advice. Her unfortunate manner managed to alienate everybody else and she ended up after a few days by accusing the other parents of attacking her. Not only that, but she tells them that they themselves  have problems that are likely to have an adverse effect upon their children! I think that this sheds some light upon the difficulties that others have with Cheryl Moy and also on her own personality. As for a woman who behaved like this then setting up a special needs group, as she claims to have done last month…


When I was interviewed on Radio Sheffield the other day, it was perhaps inevitable that one of the questions asked should relate to socialisation. I often get a little tetchy when this subject is raised in connection with home education and it was all I could do to stop myself swearing at the idiot asking the question!

     What nobody with children at school ever seems to realise is that the socialisation which is the norm at schools is actually of a very limited and specific type, which is often not transferable to real life. To explain what I mean by this, it will be necessary to relate a personal anecdote.

     When my daughter was thirteen and also in the summer when she was fourteen, the local authority here in Essex managed to get hold of some money to run a series of events over the long summer holiday. These were courses and activities aimed at children and young people of all ages. They ranged from archery and canoeing to poetry and self assertiveness workshops. All were completely free to the young people taking part. My daughter signed up for masses of things for each of those summers and had a great time.

     What I found profoundly depressing was that many of the activities had to be cancelled, because not enough children wanted to take part and it was not worth laying them on only for one or two. This was puzzling, because a constant complaint round here is that there is nothing for young people to do.  I was so curious about this that I looked into it a bit; asking the parents of schoolchildren that I know, why they thought that their own children had not been interested. The answers were interesting. Typical responses from the young people themselves were statements such as, “I wouldn’t know anybody.”  or “None of my mates are going.” The idea of turning up to met a bunch of people that they did not know was frankly unnerving for these schoolchildren. My own daughter and also incidentally a few other home educated children locally, just turned up alone and joined in. This was an uncomfortable idea for many children of school age, which is why so many events were not run in the end.

     In effect, the children at school had been conditioned to socialise with a group of thirty or so other young people, none of whom varied in age by more than twelve months. They were keen to mix with these children, but not with anybody who was slightly young or older. They certainly did not want to spend the day with strangers. This is in sharp contrast to many home educated children, who are used to mixing with unknown people of all ages; from toddlers and babies, all the way through to very old men and women. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

An interview with BBC Radio Sheffield

I thought that readers might like the opportunity to hear me talking about a favourite subject of mine; that is to say, home education. Here is a link to an interview which I gave on home education this morning. I am on a little over two hours into the programme:


For once, I find myself compelled to agree with my critics! Several people have asked the perfectly fair question of what on earth I am doing, shooting my mouth of  here about home education in Sheffield. There are sound grounds for asking this question, seeing that I neither live in nor have any connection with Sheffield and am not in any case a home educator. There is an explanation and it is a curious one.

 The researchers for the programme approached several people whom they thought might be able to speak authoritatively on  home education in Sheffield. One of these was Fiona Nicholson, who lives in the city, acts as a consultant on home education and has a site on the subject called Ed Yourself. The researcher spoke to her and she refused to take part in a programme about this subject. They also spoke to Edwina Theunnison, who is a trustee of Education Otherwise. She too declined to take part. This being the case, I thought that I ought to step into the breach! If these others had agreed to be interviewed, then I would not have involved myself.

I must draw attention to the Ingle family, who also spoke. Their son did A Levels at home, which is something I could not have faced in a million years. Here is a piece about them:


Thursday, 4 April 2013

More Sauer Consultancy related confusion!

Following from yesterday's post about the muddle surrounding Alison Sauer's various companies and trading names, I observe that on her facebook page there is another company or trading name associated with Sauer Consultancy Ltd. This is named as SC Management; obviously a variation of SC Education. This enterprise apparently is concerned  not with education, but rather;

' Project Management and Consultancy in the Chemical, Process and related industries'

The difficulty here is that there is already a registered company called SC Management Ltd and it has been running for forty years. I really can't understand why Alison and her husband play around like this with companies and trading names which are so similar to others that confusion is bound to result. I mean, Midlands Productions Ltd and Midlands Productions Limited, SC Education and SC Education Ltd, SC Management and SC Management Ltd. Am I really alone in seeing the scope for misunderstandings and mix-ups?

The nature of this blog

From time to time, somebody commenting here will say something so weird, that I feel that I must have slipped into another dimension or parallel universe. This happened yesterday, when the remark was made, apropos of this blog, that, ‘your kudos is less than your ego suggests’. This was pretty bizarre, but actually sums up the apparent attitude of quite a few of those who comment here. Perhaps it might be a good time to make one or two things clear.

First, this is a purely personal blog, visited at most by a few hundred people each day. It does not represent anything other than my own musings on a subject which is dear to me; that is to say home education. Quite a few of those commenting here get irritable if they feel that comments have been deleted or altered; even my own comments on posts that I have myself made! This happened only the other day. The impression I get is that some of those who come on here regard this in the way that they would a blog run by an organisation or company; that is to say that I abide by certain conventions or rules. I do not. It is a personal blog and although I do not operate any moderation, if I should take it into my head to delete anything, then I shall go right ahead and do so. Many blogs on home education in this country do not allow unmoderated comments to appear; I am under no sort of obligation to allow anybody to say anything here. It is, as I said, a personal blog. I might mention that soon after I started this blog, I tried to turn it into a team effort, allowing anybody who wished to do so to contribute posts. See;


Despite the huge number of angry people who were at that time commenting here, not one wished to put his or her own point of view forward in the form of a post here. I even contacted all the more well known people in the home education scene and invited them to contribute. Nobody wished to do so, probably because it would have meant putting their names to their opinions.

I shall not have as much time to spend on this blog in the next few months as I might wish and that brings me neatly to another point. I do not have unlimited time to spend  here and sometimes, when the debate seems to me to becoming fruitless, I stop visiting the comments on some threads. This is not discourtesy on my part; still less is it the case that by failing to respond, I am tacitly admitting defeat on the point under discussion. I simply do not have the time. I am currently turning out six to eight books a year and in addition to that I am writing for various magazines and newspapers. There really is not time to answer every comment here.

Finally, I must respond to the person yesterday who felt that I had less kudos than is in fact the case. I am assuming that whoever said this knows what kudos actually is; that is to say praise and acclaim. I can truthfully say that I have never received any praise and acclaim for the opinions that I share on here! Once in a while, somebody will rather grudgingly concede that I might have a point, but that is about as far as it goes. Can anybody point out to me any kudos at all that I might have received here? This is a genuine enquiry, because it is always possible that on some of those threads to which I have stopped responding,  there is much kudos to be found. I could, I will freely confess, do with some!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

SC Education

One of the most tiresome things about this blog is the way that some trifling remark of mine will be seized upon and analysed to death; those commenting being quite unable to let things drop. We saw a good example of this today. Somebody who has started commenting here recently asked who Alison Sauer is. I gave a brief and accurate answer:

She is rather a controversial figure in the British home education scene. A home educating parent herself, she runs a business which offers training to local authorities on the best way to deal with home education. Because she has a financial stake in this way, some people mistrust her and feel that she is not objective. Currently, she runs an outfit called SC Education which promotes flexi-schooling. Again, this could be a conflict of interest when she is campaigning about home education. She is a close associate of Mike Fortune-Wood, who runs the Home Education UK site and also of Wendy Charles-Warner, the Education Otherwise representative in Wales.

Of course, it could not end there! One person told me to ‘get my facts straight’ and another said that, ‘her LA training business went bust and so did her flexischooling business SC Education.’ This is not altogether true and so I responded by saying:

To be strictly accurate SC Education did not exist in the first place! She was trading under this name, but it was not registered at Companies House; which is sailing pretty close to the wind.

I thought that this would be the end of the it, but of course I was reckoning without some of the more, shall we say, determined characters who comment here. They seemed to think that this was an outrageous slur upon Alison Sauer and  indicated that I had an obsession with her. Let us just clear this up and see what the situation actually is with Alison Sauer’s various companies. I certainly do not think that the information I gave was ‘smearing’ her, as one person suggested.

Alison Sauer has a limited company called Sauer Consultancy, which she runs with her husband. Among other things, this company advises local authorities about home education. She and her husband are  also the directors of  Heatherside Homes Ltd; a company involved in property development. At the end of February 2012, Alison and her husband began two new companies and this is where things get a little confusing. She began calling her old company, Sauer Consultancy Ltd, SC Education. This was not a separate company, it was simply Sauer Consultancy, trading as SC Education. I’m not sure why she did this. I’ve been told that she felt her name was not a brilliant advertisement in view of some of the stuff which has happened in the past and that she wanted a neutral company name that would not be immediately associated with her. I don’t know how true this is.

Now there is no reason why you should not call your business by any name you like, as long as nobody else is using the name you have chosen. You must not however misrepresent yourself as  a limited company if you are not. If you are a limited company, then you must tell people who you are when you do business with them,  your registration number,  registered office and so on. This is where Alison fell down a little, because she began to stop telling people what the real name of her company was. Take a look at this;


Now anybody reading this will draw at least one erroneous conclusion about the state of affairs. The first thing which is obvious is that this is  a company which is registered in the United Kingdom. At the bottom is the registration number and the registered address is also given. What is the name of the company? Well the heading is SC Education and the text refers to, ‘SC Education and its legal advisers’. The conclusion is inescapable; this document relates to a company called SC Education. Only of course it doesn’t; because there is no such company. Here is a person dealing with the public, but not revealing the name of her company. This is what I meant by ‘sailing close to the wind’. It is not a serious matter; the most that might happen is that she could get her knuckles rapped by the people at Companies House, but it is certainly misleading and confusing.  How mentioning this could be thought of as a ‘smear’ is quite beyond me! Confusion is almost guaranteed here, because until eighteen months earlier, there had been another company registered with this name at Companies House.

There is nothing criminal about any of this, it is the sort of thing that people do quite often, but it is never the less not strictly open and above board. SC Education have been representing themselves as a limited company, but do not really exist as a company at all.  I hope that this clears up this simple misunderstanding and explains why I said that she was sailing close to the wind.

Another book...

Readers might like to see this piece of mine from today's Daily Express, about yet another book of mine; this time about the 1970s. It is not often that one gets paid to review a book which one has written! I have been putting up stuff like  this about my writing, as an explanation of why I sometimes drop out of sight or stop answering comments on posts here. It is not that I am lost for an adequate response; that very seldom happens! It is simply that I am too busy with my real work. This leads some simple souls to imagine that they have won a glorious victory in the comments here, when it is really that I have more important things to do than quibble endlessly over every minor point.


Growing up in the decade that style forgot

IMAGINE being a teenager in a world without mobiles, texts, computers, internet access, DVD players or games consoles. A time when sharing music meant not clicking a mouse but taking a vinyl record round to somebody’s house, when making a quick phone call would probably involve queuing outside a red telephone box.

Flares-and-satin-were-all-the-rage-at-the-start-of-the-decadeFlares and satin were all the rage at the start of the decade
Life in the Seventies was very different from now and nowhere are developments more pronounced than in the technology used for entertainment and communication.

Today, many teenagers would find life without a mobile phone unimaginable. So it comes as something of a shock to learn that as recently as three or four decades ago fewer than half of British households had a landline.

For the majority of people receiving calls at home was impossible and making one entailed using a call box. One of the first questions they would ask of new acquaintances was: “Are you on the telephone?” Nowadays this sounds as bizarre as asking somebody if they have electricity.

For most youngsters the only way of communicating with friends was to walk to their house, or cycle round on your Chopper bike, and see if they were in.

At the beginning of the Seventies, record players and transistor radios were the only means for kids to enjoy their music. Seeing singers and groups perform meant tuning in to Top Of The Pops on Thursday evenings. There was no way to record programmes and so it was necessary to watch them as they were broadcast – more often than not on a black and white television. Being able to listen to favourite music on demand was not something young people took for granted. Records were expensive and it was possible to build up only a modest collection at home.

Making tape recordings from records or radio broadcasts became possible as the decade progressed but the quality of such illegal “downloads” left a great deal to be desired. Some lucky teenagers had their own cassette players, although these were expensive and the music sounded nowhere near as good as it did on record players. Perhaps the greatest dream of many was to be able to play their music on an eight-track stereo. This system, with its chunky great cassettes, appeared in 1970 but had dropped out of use by 1980.
Seventies, fashion, 70s, growing up, clothes, communication, generation,Sitcoms such as Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em epitomised family television
There has never been a decade quite like the Seventies
Without the internet and the ability to access music and information about singers at will, news about the music scene had to be gleaned from such magazines as New Musical Express and Melody Maker. Fan magazines catered for the need to know more about the private lives of the members of such bands as the Bay City Rollers as well as providing the pin-up posters to be found on nearly every bedroom wall.

Television was far more of a social activity for families. With only one set in the average home and no video recorders, everyone had to watch the same thing at the same time. There were only three channels and this effectively meant that almost everybody would be watching certain popular programmes such as The Generation Game or Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em. These days the different generations watch whatever they want on their laptops, televisions, DVD players or a host of other electronic devices. Viewing is no longer the communal activity it once was, which is a pity. The television was a focal point for households in the Seventies and the teenager sitting and laughing at On The Buses with his parents inevitably felt a closer bond with them than one watching an entirely different programme from the rest of the family up in his bedroom.

The Seventies has been called “the decade that style forgot”. Teenagers wore some of the more outlandish fashions which have come to sum up the era. Platform shoes, flares, bell-bottom jeans and hotpants were all enthusiastically championed. The strange thing about many of these phenomena is that they emerged promptly in 1970 and then disappeared in 1979, fitting neatly into the decade. The 16-year-old girl wearing platforms in 1970 would have been a daring trend-setter but nine years later no sartorially savvy teenager would have been seen dead in them.

This was the period when young fashions spilled over into, and had a profound effect upon, the adult world. Photographs of families at the seaside during the Sixties show middle aged men sitting on the beach wearing collars and ties. By the Eighties this would have unthinkable. The longer hair adopted by many youths in the Seventies, together with the more casual way of dressing, became universally accepted.

The most noticeable difference between the lives of teenagers then and the way things are today lies in how they communicated with one another. As private telephones were available only in a minority of households their use by teenagers was strictly controlled. Phone charges were very high and most young people would only be able to make brief calls. This meant that practically all conversations took place face to face; social life invariably meant meeting other people and talking to them.

These days an enormous amount of interaction takes place via the printed word on Facebook and by texting on mobile telephones and it is possible for someone to enjoy a rich social life without having to leave their bedroom. This type of existence would be a bizarre concept to a teenager from the Seventies.
Seventies, fashion, 70s, growing up, clothes, communication, generation,By 1979 fashion was beginning to change, as the Bay City Rollers made way for Bob Geldof
Yet the digital revolution which made such things as mobiles and the internet possible had its roots in this fascinating 10 years and was one of the things that made it such an exhilarating time to be young.

When the decade began we all used mechanical typewriters, cameras, gramophones, clockwork watches and slide rules – the kind of technology that had existed in Queen Victoria’s reign. By 1980, however, there were push-button telephones, digital watches, electronic calculators and even the very first computer games.

Making the transition from child to adult during a period of such dramatic change was tremendously exciting. There has never been a decade quite like the Seventies. Few generations can say that they have witnessed the birth of a new era but millions of now middle-aged men and women really did see the drab, post-war world transformed in front of their very eyes.

To order a copy of A 1970s Teenager From Bell-Bottoms To Disco Dancing, by Simon Webb, (The History Press Ltd) at £9.99 send a cheque or PO made payable to Express Bookshop to: 1970s Offer, PO Box 200 Falmouth TR11 4WJ or tel 0871 988 8367 or online at www.expressbookshop.com UK delivery is free. Calls cost 10p per minute from UK landlines.