Thursday, 31 October 2013

Spot the deliberate mistake...

Here's a good game, boys and girls. Can you see what's wrong with this page:

An amusing anecdote about home education

As regular readers might know, I am the author of many books and have a good deal to do with various publishers. From time to time, I am invited, for a fee, to give my expert opinion about some manuscript or proposal that is being offered to a publisher. Expert, you ask? Expert in what, precisely? Well, archeo-mythology for one subject, social history in general and of course home education. And thereby hangs a tail…

A few days ago, I was approached by one of the largest international publishers of academic work and asked to prepare a report on a proposal which they had received. This was to be a book about home education. This is not the first time that I have been asked to do this; I am regarded by many as one of the leading experts in this country on home education. This time, the manuscript that was being offered was by somebody whose name would be instantly recognised by most home educators, an academic who has conducted some research into home edcuation. The funny thing was of course that I would have been the very last person in the entire universe that this particular person would have wanted to be offering an expert view about the proposed work.  The person in question had only his or herself to blame for this.

When you are touting round a non-fiction book to publishers, it is done by means of a proposal which you must prepare. You describe the book, say who might buy it and also compare your proposed book with other similar works on the market. This is where both the person who is trying to sell the book on which I reported this week and also the author of a previous book on home education, upon which I was also asked to comment some months ago fell down.  You see, both hopeful authors could not help being very unpleasant and uncomplimentary about my book on the subject. Both were flattering about Mike Fortune-Wood and Alan Thomas, and both were scathing about what I had written. Big mistake! This virtually guaranteed me the job of reviewing their proposals. The reason is simple.

If you  are a publisher and want somebody to point out potential shortcomings and errors in a manuscript, then there is no point at all asking chums of the author about it. In the present case, this author had mentioned various people by their Christian names; Jan, Mike, Alan and so on. When it came to my book, it was a case of Mr Webb, followed by a swift hatchet job. Obviously, the publisher came to me and asked me what I thought about the work of this academic. I am ideally placed to tell them the things that his or her friends would not.

I have to say that there was something so exquisitely funny about the idea of my writing a report on this person’s proposal, that I felt that I simply had to share it.

Mr Williams of Hampshire explains how to avoid legal problems with your local authority

Peter Williams has been explaining to readers here how letting in an official from the local authority can create legal problems at a later stage. He says:

The LA officer will be judging your home is it tidy to his standard and if he believes the education is not good enough he can then go on to cause you a lot of problems because his report about you will be used in a court of law to attempt to prove the education your giving your child is not up to standard once stuff is writing down by an LA officer it is almost impossible to get it changed.

Well, that seems quite plain. To avoid any legal action, just refuse to let the local authority officer in the house in the first place. Oh, wait a minute. let's look at this:

Oh so that's how you avoided legal problems with your local authority so successfully, Mr Williams! I'm sure that other readers will be grateful for your hints on this subject.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Local authority, wishing to talk about home education

Once again, I am struck by the apparently limitless ability of some home educating parents to make their own lives difficult and to wind each other up! On one of the largest of the home education lists, one with thousands of hapless and deluded members, a home educating  mother posted a request for  advice.  Her local authority wishes to arrange, ‘ to meet with you to discuss the provision you have made’.  Now there are a number of good pieces of advice one feels might fit the case here. For instance, ‘Just talk to them, you idiot!’ springs to mind. Or if the mother really doesn’t, for the Lord knows what reason, want to open her door to somebody from the council, perhaps she could arrange to meet the person in the local library? 

It is hardly necessary to tell readers that one angry person suggests, ‘it may be useful to get advice from a solicitor that’s what I did’. I wonder if these characters start ringing up their lawyers when the man comes round to read the gas meter?  Another person also becomes furious; ‘total bollocks’…’They have no power to force their processes on you unless they're backed by law’…’no point in even dealing with them’. Once again, one misses the normal and rational touch. 

I am still, after several years of debating this point, wholly unable to make any sense of this fanatical determination not to let people into the house. We have visitors here quite often and as long as they are polite and leave when I ask them to; I can’t see any problem. I was always very eager to talk about home education and if somebody had the wrong idea about it, I was keen to set them straight.  I never saw home education as something that I had to keep secret and start thinking about calling in the lawyers if somebody wanted to, ‘meet with you and discuss the provision you have made’. Why would you do that?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A little more about British home educators and social services

The case of the home educated children taken into care in Hackney, at which we looked yesterday, was an exceptionally revolting one. It is of  wider significance though, because of the light it sheds upon the thought processes of those involved with home education.  For example, I very much doubt whether Alan Thomas, who is a good-hearted and amiable old buffer, would have dreamed in a million years, when he was writing his report about this family, that somewhere on the fringes of the case was a man fantasising about somebody having sex with pre-pubescent schoolgirls. It simply would not cross the minds of most people connected with home education in this country. This is a problem.

Those who work with children, either as teachers, social workers or police officers, know that there are some pretty unpleasant adults around. Most home educating parents and academics don’t know this. They assume that once you have identified a man or woman as being a home educator; then that is it, you know that the person is basically sound. If only life were that simple! The truth is, there are plenty of wicked and perverted people mixed up in the world of home education, just as there are in the rest of the world. Being a home educator is no guarantee of virtue. So when a parent posts an appeal on the Education Otherwise list, telling us that she is being pursued by social workers and the police, I am open minded about the business. She might be completely innocent or she might be a dangerous lunatic. This is not the case with some on the home educating  internet lists, who fall over themselves to assure the woman that she is a good mother and advise her to have nothing at all to do with the social services.  The very fact that she is a home educating parent is, in other words, enough for them. It means that she is right, her children are loved and cared for and any social workers involved are bad people, liars and probably out to steal her children. This is a very dangerous perspective to adopt, sight unseen!

Or take another example. Eighteen months ago, an appeal was made, signed by a list of well known home educators as longs as your arm, to raise money so that a home educating mother could flee to Ireland, one step ahead of social services. Once again, the fact that she was a home educator was taken to be sufficient  to assure everybody that there was no cause to be concerned about her children. It is this attitude that makes many professionals uneasy. The very fact that somebody does not send their children to school is no sort of guarantee that their children  are safe. Most probably are; some will not be. It sometimes looks as though the more that social workers are interested in a home educating family, the more convinced are other parents that there is nothing to worry about and that it is yet another case of social workers overstepping the mark. Do not be deceived! Home educating parents are just as capable of providing an unsafe environment as anybody else. When social services are looking hard at a family, there is usually good reason.

Monday, 28 October 2013

When social workers call on home educating families

In a recent  comment on this blog, somebody drew attention to this link, which appeared on the Education Otherwise support group list. Here it is:

This was posted in connection with the idea that social workers might visit home educating parents. Scroll down and you will see mention of fathers killing their children, rather than let social workers take them away.  For those who don’t know about this particular conspiracy theory, the notion is that stealing children from families and then placing them for adoption is a money-making racket run by various businesses, in conjunction with corrupt and venial local authorities. This is said to be especially  dangerous for home educating parents, as social workers might be more inclined to seize their children and such parents should therefore fight tooth and nail to prevent social services from gaining access to their children. I have to say that in my experience, whenever social workers take an interest in a home educating family, they invariably have good reason. Still, maybe that’s just me! I’m going to look at a real case today and then let readers judge for themselves. It involves the children of a home educating mother being snatched by police and social workers and then held for over eight months in foster homes. I know something of this case, because it took place in the London Borough of Hackney, where I lived and worked for many years.  I will use the real names of those involved, because the parents have put all the information into the public domain and also so that readers can check what I am saying for themselves.

Here is what happened. On January 29th this year, a home education group was meeting in Springfield Park in Hackney. The police and social workers turned up and took away an eleven year-old boy called Guy Freeman-Pow and his nine year-old sister Mia.  They were then sent to foster homes. The rumour, quite correct in fact, was that this action had been precipitated by something which the boy had posted on his Facebook page. There was no suggestion that the children had been neglected or ill-treated, nor that their education was defective.  At subsequent court hearings, it was decided that the children should not be returned to their mother. She commissioned a report from Alan Thomas, the well known expert on home education. The report may be seen here:

The judge at the hearing in July this year, refused even to look at this report.

This then is the case as it has been circulating in certain circles; a terrible indictment of social services and the tendency of local authorities to snatch children on the most trivial pretexts. What justification could there be for a nine year-old girl to be seized like this and put into a foster home?  This is the sort of case that those of us interested in such things see all the time on internet lists about home education  and this is all that most people on such groups will ever know about it. Let’s look now in detail at the background. Readers who are prudish or of a sensitive disposition, may wish to go no further. You have been warned!

The children’s mother, Linda Pow, says that  she is, ‘ Fighting to get my children back from being stolen by police and social services for supporting my partner Michael J Freeman in the’  To begin with, her partner’s  name is not always  Michael J Freeman, but we will return to this point later. He certainly goes under this name currently and so let’s see what he does. Here is a book  called Forbidden Passion, written by this man:

Hmmm. It shows a young person tricked out as a schoolgirl and we can see right up her skirt; her knickers are showing. You will observe that the mother of the children taken by social workers endorses this book and has apparently read it. Well, we shouldn’t judge a book by the cover alone! Let’s have a look inside:

On Page 1, our eyes fall at once upon the sentence, ‘He wanted to fuck a real schoolgirl now and have sex with her.’  This isn’t too promising. By Page 2, the protagonist has met a real schoolgirl and is talking of, ‘shooting his sperm all over her face’.  Well, I think we have seen enough of that book. Those who actually read the section on offer will soon find that the small part which I have quoted is relatively inoffensive.   Still, Michael J Freeman has written many others. Perhaps this was not typical of his oeuvre. Here is his Amazon page:

Let’s have a look at a few other books of his. The Honey Trap is about a man sent to prison for producing child pornography.  The Nonce is about a man sent to prison for having sex with an underage girl. What else do we have?  The Abduction tells the story of an eight year-old girl who is abducted by a gang of paedophiles. Let's have a look at,  The Pervert. Ah, this is about a man who meets an underage prostitute via the internet. I think perhaps that readers are  beginning to get the idea! The recurring leitmotif in these stories is prison and underage sex. The author of these stories is the father of the children who were taken into care in Hackney. Before they were taken away by social workers, they were dividing their time between this country and Italy, where Michael J Freeman lives. I wonder if any readers with nine year-old daughters would care for them to spend much time in the company of a man who writes about fucking schoolgirls and shooting sperm in their faces? No? You prudes! 

This is not however the full story, not by a long chalk. Michael J Freeman is really Michael Muldoon. He has a string of convictions dating back sixty years, when at the age of fourteen he was arrested for  carrying a firearm. He was a pornographer in the 1960s and in December 1969, was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. He stabbed a man eighty nine times and then dumped the corpse in Epping Forest.  Yes, you did read that right; eighty nine stab wounds.  After his release, he started to deal in pornography again and was sent back to prison. He was also charged in connection with a film of naked children, which led to a trial  under both the Obscene Publications Act and the Protection of Children Act. Here is his own account of this:!about-videx-/c1jou

As to what  eleven year-old Guy posted on Facebook,  it was an advertisement for the book; The Nonce. When the police went to his home, they initially arrested the mother for possession of indecent material, which was found on a computer. She says that this was a misunderstanding; the material was actually on her eleven year-old son’s computer…

I have examined this case in some detail for a purpose, which is this. The next time that we hear of social workers wanting to speak to home educated children, we should not be too quick to assume that they are in the wrong and that this is persecution of an innocent family. Usually, as in this case, there is good reason to be concerned and the children’s interests are the priority.  Do any readers think that in this case, Hackney social services over-reacted? 

Friday, 25 October 2013

The public and private faces of some prominent members of the British home education movement

I shall be going off for the weekend tomorrow and as a consequence, will not be able to sort through and publish any comments here for a few days. As I am sure readers are aware, since I began this blog in 2009, comments have always been unmoderated; anybody  could come here and say anything at all that they wished. No chance of anybody being barred, censored or any of that nonsense. This all changed in May.

Those who wondered why I singled out Jai Daniels-Freestone for mention a few days ago, might not know that she was one of a group of people who were last year being very rude about me and planning to cause mischief.  I had annoyed a number of fairly well known home educators by discussing their plans publicly. They then decided to try and close down this blog; not wishing their activities to be exposed to the light of day. Some members continued  intermittent, guerrilla warfare against the blog and then in May this year, hit upon two new tactics, both of which meant that I had to start moderating comments. One of these was to arrange for an industrial level of spamming here. It was running, at its peak at over two hundred posts a day and I simply didn’t have the time to keep deleting them. These were well designed to slip through the spam filter. I have seen an exchange where a few of those who don’t like free speech when it comes to home education, revel in the disruption that they managed to cause by this means. 

At the same time that the large-scale spamming began, I received a letter threatening to sue me for libel. The woman   who sent this letter, an official representative  of Education Otherwise, was really quite cunning. Her objections were not so much in respect of what I was saying, but concerned rather  the comments here; over which I had no control. I was inclined to ignore the thing, but my wife insisted that I should reply and then delete the comments to which objection had been made. This was because it was being hinted  that an attempt would be made to try and ruin us by making us homeless.  Although I thought personally that the letter was a nonsense, whenever people claim that their solicitors are Carter-Ruck it is almost invariably a bluff,  I thought it best to prevent people being able to make comments freely any more. Once again, the easiest was of doing this was by beginning to moderate what was said here.

In short, a number of people in the home education movement who constantly bang on about freedom, liberty and all sorts of other high sounding notions, were annoyed that this blog was a forum where anybody could come and debate freely about home education. Those who have put me in the position where I have felt compelled to stop having open comments here are  really enemies of free speech.  Until this business erupted, I have never blocked anybody, exercised censorship or tried to control in any way at all what was said here.  This incident shows us a the great disparity between the liberal and freedom-loving public face of some home educators and their private actions, which are designed to prevent free discussion. I might remind readers of the attempts by another well known home educator in North Wales to have me arrested last year; again, because he didn’t like the idea of a free forum for the discussion of home education. Some of these people really will stick at nothing and I shall be examining possible motives for wishing to maintain such secrecy, when I return.  That somebody representing Education Otherwise should engage in tactics of this kind raises in my mind a question mark over that organisation too. One expects sharp practice from Home Education UK, but when Education Otherwise is mixed up in these games, it is curious.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Delving deeper into the mythical origins of British home education

We looked a little yesterday at the situation with home education in this country in the early 1970s. Parents were home educating and local authorities were, by and large, OK about the practice. By the late 1970s though, things had become a little different and the impression was that local authorities were fighting home educators and trying to put a stop to home education. This is quite untrue, but let’s see how this false and misleading impression has been cultivated.

Here is the sort of newspaper article which maintains and perpetuates the myth of the persecuted home educators of the 1970s;

Honestly, just look at this nonsense! ‘A landmark ruling in 1977 opened the doors for home education.’  As I remarked yesterday, there were plenty of home educating parents before 1977; the doors were always open to this educational option. ’ Home educating is now legal’; of course it is, it was never anything other than legal. This promotes the myth that it was one or two landmark rulings in the late 1970s and early 1980s which established the right of parents to educate their own children. I want today to look in detail at one of those famous  cases; one which is often quoted. I want to show readers what really happened in this case and demonstrate that  it was the awkwardness of a tiny minority of home educators which caused so many problems for the majority, who were getting on just fine with their local authorities.

During the first six or seven years of the 1970s, home educators in this country just got on with teaching  their children. Sometimes their local authority would ask what they were doing and the parents would tell them and then there was often no further contact. It was an idyllic situation in many ways. Then, along came  people like Mr J. D. Phillips. Phillips was living with Mrs Reah and her son Oak, who was born in 1971. They lived in Leeds. When Oak did not start school in September 1976, the local authority wrote to Mrs Reah and Mr Phillips, simply asking what arrangements they were making for the child’s education. As we saw yesterday, other local authorities were doing much the same at that time and once they had some idea about the education, they tended to leave the family alone. Mr Phillips wrote back:

Oak Reah receives efficient, full time education (from Mrs. R.H. Reah and Mr. J.D. Phillips) which is suitable to his age, aptitude, and ability: he receives this education otherwise than by regular attendance at school: he has already received this education since (and inclusive of) his 5th birthday: such education falls in accordance with current Educational Law.

Because the family refused to provide even the sketchiest details about the education being provided, the local authority kept asking, sending a number of letters. Instead of just telling them what was happening about Oak’s education, Phillips engaged a solicitor. The local authority wrote to the solicitor, who replied:

We can do no more than reiterate what we have said previously. Your powers under the Education Act 1944 only come into operation if ‘it appears  that the parents of any child  are failing to perform their duty’

This was off course, sheer bloody-mindedness. Other children were being home educated in Leeds at that time; all the local authority wanted was a brief outline of the education. Still, there it was, J. D. Phillips was determined to tell them nothing.

Eventually, in January 1978, the council wrote again, saying:

It would appear that you, being the parents of the above-named child have failed to cause your child to receive full-time education, suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
‘I therefore serve this notice upon you that you are required under section 37 of the 1944 Education Act to satisfy my authority by the 8th February 1978, that your child, Oak Reah, is receiving efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

All that the parents needed to do at any stage to stop this was to tell the local authority a little about their child’s education. They still refused to do so. A School Attendance Order was issued and Phillips ended up in court. Even now, all he needed to do  was to explain to the magistrate how he was providing an education for Oak. He refused to say anything at all on the subject.

This whole sequence of events indicates what some local authorities were having to cope with. As long as home educating parents were happy to deal reasonably with them and simply discuss what they were doing; nobody had the least objection to home education. When parents began keeping their children out of school and refusing to say a word about what they were doing, that is when the problems began for home educators in general in this country. Phillips was not the only person at that time setting out to make life difficult. Next week, we will look at a few other troublesome types who managed between them to turn a perfectly amicable situation into a battleground. Their malignant influence on home education persists to this day. If it were not for those people like J. D. Phillips, home education today would be a good deal more pleasant and there would be less conflict between parents and local authorities.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Myth of Home Education

I have written before about the powerful mythology which surrounds the early days of home education in this country. Briefly stated, it runs like this; 
Throughout the 1970s, there were only a tiny handful of home educating families in this country and they had a hard time; being mercilessly harried by unsympathetic local authorities. In the mid 1970s, a few of these persecuted souls banded together to found Education Otherwise and this is when things began to change for the better. There were a few high profile court cases around 1980, Iris Harrison, for example and following this, the right to educate children at home became more widely recognised.  Many home educating parents today believe this sort of nonsense. Let’s have a look at the reality.

I happen to remember the situation for home education in 1971-1973 and it was in many ways easier than it is today. Local authorities were aware of home educating parents and were quite happy and laid back about this type of education. Some, the London Borough of Islington for example, even provided premises for home educators. Things became progressively more difficult after Education Otherwise was formed. Of course, I am a bit of a crank and not perhaps reliable. Maybe I’m making all this up. Let’s have a look at some of those who were actually home educating in 1972 and see what their experiences were. Perhaps we should also see what officers from various local authorities were saying about home education back then. 

David Head was at one time General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement. In 1972, he became very disillusioned with schools and decided to educate his eleven year-old daughter Alison and fourteen year-old son Martin at home. He wrote to his local authority, telling them of his plans. What do readers think they did at that time, over forty years ago?  Went mad and tried to force the children back into school? Began legal proceedings?  In March, he received a letter from the local authority, saying that they understood that he was assuming responsibility for his children’s education and that they would not be attending school any more. Head wrote back with a brief outline of his plans and that was that until October. Yes, the local authority did not bother him at all for the next seven months.  The thing is, most local authorities had had experience of home education at that time and were, in the main, quite supportive. Let’s see what they were saying in different districts about home education.

Again in 1972, Alison Truefitt spoke to a number of local authority officers responsible for home education. Here is a selection of quotations by these people:

The practice is for the District Inspector to  see the parent at the divisional education offices and enquire into the details of the arrangements made for educating the child.

We used to ask to see timetables, but with the changes in child education today that could be embarrassing.

We ask for samples of work, although with changes, that could mean that we’d be satisfied with, for example, tape recordings.

In fact we couldn’t these days ask that a child covered a particular subject regularly.

This is all very interesting and confirms my own memories of that time. It is curious to note that nobody was talking about visiting the home, or even requiring any particular subjects to be taught. It was all very  easygoing  and relaxed.  A new home educator was given seven months to settle in, before anybody wanted any real  information. This is so different from the impression that many people today have of home education forty years ago, that it might be worth looking at what happened to change all this.  Over the next few days, I shall be considering a few of the famous cases and asking whether it was local authorities which suddenly changed and became opposed to home education, or whether perhaps it was a new type of home educating parent who appeared on the scene, seeking confrontation rather than cooperation. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A lesson in good behaviour!

Readers might wish to read the latest issue of Education Outside School, which may be found here:

I have to confess that I gasped in amazement when I saw on Page 11 an article entitled ‘Good behaviour’, by Jai Daniels-Freestone. It will be recalled that this woman was part of a group, which included Alison Sauer and Cheryl Moy,  who engaged in a late night conversation about ways to cause trouble for me and my family.  This resulted in nuisance deliveries to my home, my personal email account being sabotaged and one or two other small matters.  Seeing her explain about good behaviour is roughly analogous to reading an article by Al Capone explaining the importance of the law of property!

In the course of her piece, Ms Daniels-Freestone tells us about, ’the intuition, experience and tact that life has taught me’.  If you wish to learn about tact, who better to explain it than a woman who describes a complete stranger as  ’vile’?  There is something so deliciously ironic about somebody of this sort writing on this particular subject that I felt that I simply had to draw attention to it. 

A consideration for those whose children who do not even begin school

There has been some debate on one of the internet lists lately about, among other things, muscle tone. A parent whose child did not start school remarks, quite correctly, that had her son been at school, a particular type of muscle disorder might have been picked up far sooner. On a personal level, I will admit that my daughter has reached the age of twenty and has never in the whole course of her life, had a hearing test. This was of course somewhat remiss of me; it would have been easy enough to arrange.

We sometimes forget that children at school routinely receive oversight, which is likely to bring to light abnormalities and matters of concern. These may range from the relatively trivial, such as a slight hearing loss in certain frequencies or a tendency to be a little  overweight, to the more serious; a tentative diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, for example. This constant scrutiny of children by professionals who have been trained to pick up on anything from poor eyesight to an inability to play appropriately with other children can be very helpful. Of course, it isn’t perfect; many problems get overlooked. But as a rough and ready screening process, it is invaluable.

Parents are the often not the best people to spot problems in their children. Nobody likes being told that their child is different; still less that there might be something ‘wrong’ with the child. This is where teachers and the health workers who carry out things like the School Entry Health Check are very useful. They are  more objective than we are and better able to make an objective judgement about things like the acquisition of expressive language, the speed with which a child grasps the concept of sequencing and the level of social skills possessed by one of the pupils.

Children, like my own daughter, who never start school miss out on all this. There is no doubt that some home educated children who have various syndromes are delayed in getting help as a consequence. How many of us recognise the signs and symptoms of hypotonia, to give one instance? I’m not sure that anything could, or indeed should, be done about this. It is just something that one sees home educating parents mention from time to time and is worth bearing in mind if you have a child who has never been to school.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Abuse and murder of home educated children in the USA

I mentioned a week or two back that in America there have been quite a few cases of the abuse and murder of adopted children by home educators. I don't think that this is a problem in this country, but readers might like to learn a little about this phenomenon:

Nothing at all to do with home education...

Regular readers will be aware that I have written quite a few books, mainly on history and archaeology. Over the last year or so, I have also been writing novels. Some of these are under a variety of pseudonyms, but here are a couple which are not:

The cool thing about the second one is that if you click on the link and go to Amazon, you actually get the chance to read the first chapter for nothing!

Ruth Lawrence and her father

Yesterday, I posted a photograph of Ruth Lawrence, who for many is the archetypal home educated child. I have often wondered about her father and recently came across a newspaper article about him. Readers may find it interesting, although I don't suggest that for a moment that it says anything about home educating parents as a whole:

A local authority with a very high proportion of home educated children with statements of special educational need

Apropos of the discussions on this topic which have recently been taking place here, I thought readers might be interested in this news item from Stoke-on-Trent. Out of the 74 home educated children known to the local authority, 11 have statements. This is five or six times the percentage in the general school population.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Where's Mummy?

My wife, whose enthusiasm for home education has always been, I am sorry to say, a little muted, often remarked upon the absence of mothers in pictures of home educated prodigies. She felt that it indicated something about the nature of the sort of traditional home education which produced offspring capable of studying at Harvard  at the age of 6. We used to examine news cuttings, desperately trying to spot the mothers; a bit like 'Where's Wally?'. Here are a few examples:

The first of these is of course Arran Fernandez, the second Ruth Lawrence and   the third, Judith Polgar.  In each of these well known cases, you could look at a hundred pictures of these children without spotting their mummies! I don't know whether or not this says anything about the nature of highly structured home education. It is very true that my own wife is conspicuously absent from any newspaper articles, clips on Youtube and suchlike, dealing with my daughter and her education.

A cautionary tale about home education and college courses

Partly as a result of appearing in local newspapers and partly because of this  blog, I have got to know a number of home educating parents in this corner of Essex. One of them, I first met two years ago, when his daughter was twelve and had just been deregistered from her secondary school. The child liked studying, which set her apart from many of the other pupils at her school. Last week, the parents got in touch with me, because they didn’t know what to do. The girl is now fourteen and is dead keen on going to university at eighteen, to study either history or English. She will need A levels for subjects like these and so her parents made initial enquiries at the two local FE colleges; Harlow and Epping Forest. 

I might mention at this point that the mother and father had been excited to learn about the possibility of fourteen  and fifteen year-old home educated children being able to study at college. What nobody had told them, on the internet lists or elsewhere, is that this would not be possible for A levels; at least, not without a clutch of GCSEs. They are feeling very anxious now, as to what their next step should be.

Harlow and Epping Forest have traditionally been very low achieving colleges and they have recently made efforts to raise their standards. On A level courses, for instance, there was always a high dropout and failure rate. They have tackled this by making it far more difficult to get on the courses in the first place. When my daughter went to Harlow, she needed  five GCSEs at A*-C; which was pretty standard at that time, four years ago. Things have changed dramatically. Epping Forest now requires five GCSEs at A*-B. Harlow want seven GCSEs and if you wish to take mathematics at A level, you must have a GCSE at B. There are absolutely no exceptions to these rules. 

I think that the parents to whom I had been speaking had thought in terms of their daughter taking GCSEs at college or perhaps  some literacy test before A levels. Nothing doing; the colleges are not taking any chances now.  They are determined to keep up their results and not let anybody in to study A levels who might fail or drop out. The result is that the girl in question could, if she wished, study hairdressing, film-making, motor mechanics and so on. She cannot without those GCSEs, get on to an A level course. In effect, the result of withdrawing her from school and believing much of what her parents were told on various support groups has sounded the death knell for her hopes of going to university to study history.

This is a sad case, but by no means unusual. I think that many parents have vague memories of doing O levels at college or remember when they ran evening classes for those who did badly in their GCEs. Anybody thinking of home educating a teenager who might wish to study an academic subject at university, really needs to find out about this!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The advice offered on internet lists for home educators

I have long been of the opinion that many of the ‘support groups’ for home educators  found on the internet, such as  the various  lists and facebook groups, are more trouble than they are worth for parents; offering advice which ranges from the singularly unhelpful to the positively mischievous.  A perfect example of this cropped up recently on the Education Otherwise list. It concerns a mother whose child has received an injury at a time that the family were already the  object of interest for social workers.

I mentioned a few days ago about the time that my own daughter received an injury about which I was asked. When these things happen, there are usually two possible courses one may take. The first  is to allay fears and let the thing fizzle out. The second is to escalate matters until your family is the focus of enormous interest by the local social services department. I chose the easier of these two options; many home educators seem to prefer the second choice; that of turning the case into a full-blown crisis.

Briefly, the mother of a home educated child asked for help. A social worker had contacted her  and visited her home. This woman wanted permission to speak to the child’s GP and the mother granted this. At once, we wonder what prompted such a request, but at any rate, something about the child’s medical history was obviously troubling somebody at social services. Subsequently, the child banged his head. The mother thought no more of this until they were passing the hospital and the child said that he would like to go to A & E because, ‘ he would like to go to A&E to see the doctors and nurses there because they were so nice.’  This is very odd. The mother agreed and after a short visit, they left.

Forty eight hours later, the child claimed to have a pain in his stomach and then passed out for ten minutes. An ambulance was called and the  boy was taken to the same A & E department. I am not a doctor or social worker, but already, alarm bells are ringing in my head! If  a child becomes unconscious for ten minutes, either there is something seriously wrong or the child or mother is faking it. At one point the kid says that his brain hurts and the next it is stomach. He is keen to talk to doctors and nurses. It will surprise nobody to learn that the social worker who had already visited, asking about the medical records, now got in touch and wished to speak to the family again as a matter or urgency.

Speaking for myself,  my main concern at this point would be that either (a.) my child was seriously ill with some neurological disorder or brain damage,  or that (b.) he was so desperately anxious to talk to professionals that he was feigning illness. This mother’s chief worry is about the legal rights of social workers to speak to her child or enter her home. Her anxiety is not for her son’s medical condition or anxiety but instead about things such as, ‘What exactly right do the social workers have upon situations as such?’, ‘What legal right do I have in dealing with their inquiry?’, ‘
Do I have a right to ask the social worker to give me at least the option of putting everything in writing via email or letter?’, ‘ How come they could have the right to come without giving me their full name or show me any official written information for the exact allegation?’

What advice has been offered  by other members of the list? Here is a sample:

Do not allow any sw to see your child alone. 

Never give them consent to have access to any records.

so be firm and refuse any further visits if you do not want them

I can imagine nothing more likely to turn this all into a serious investigation than to adopt a policy of not cooperating now with social workers.  There were already concerns about the child’s medical condition and then within forty eight hours, there were two visits to A & E. 

What is it with some home educating parents that causes them to offer such mad advice and to do their best to exacerbate any situation like this of which they hear?  The welfare of the child is barely mentioned in any of this. All anybody is concerned about is keeping social workers at bay.  

Friday, 18 October 2013


A short, rambling and personal post today. As some readers may be aware, my daughter is in her final year at Oxford, studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics; known generally as PPE.  People sometimes ask whether there is any prejudice on the part of universities against admitting home educated children. I can only say that if there is, I've never seen it. My daughter, after all, did not spend a single day at school. The Oxford system fits in so perfectly with her home education, that it almost seems like an extension of the methods which I used when she was a small child. Let me explain.

Although  many home educators regard me as the arch-apostle of 'school at home', the educational technique that I followed was  largely based upon conversation; we talked about the subjects in an informal way. In most universities, the method of teaching is quite different from this. The students sit in what is essentially  a big classroom. A teacher stands at the front and lectures them. The idle ones can text their friends or let their minds wander during this process, just as they were able to at school.  This is the system even in first class universities such as Durham or York. Oxford is very different. There, much of the teaching takes place by the tutorial method. This means that the student has a one-to-one meeting with somebody who is very possibly the world's greatest expert on the subject under discussion. Even the larger tutorials only have a group of two or three; four at the most.  This means that the student has no choice but to take part and express opinions. Needless to say, this can be a daunting prospect if the man or woman in front of you knows more about this topic than anybody in the world! This method does not suit every young person, but for home educated children it is absolutely ideal.

Another way that Oxford differs from most other universities in this country is in the amount of written work expected.  Most universities require only one or two essays a term. At Oxford, it is two or three  a week. These cannot just be dashed off in a hurry either, not unless you seek to be humiliated on a regular basis. Just think, you might be writing about the German philosopher Nietzsche and the man who will be criticizing your essay will have written the textbooks that you have been studying!   Sustained essay writing of this sort is not taught much in maintained schools these days and so that too can prove a trial for some students. My daughter though was set increasingly long and complex essays from the age of five. Another triumph for home education! 

I think that home education is the perfect preparation for studying at Oxford and I am surprised that we do not hear of more home educated young people going there. It is my impression that their upbringing provides them with a definite advantage in that setting.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

An American perspective on home education

I thought readers might be interested in this blog, which is written by an American who was herself home educated. It gives an insight into the world of American home education.

For those who worry that some home educators might be raising their children with a weird perspective on the world...

Chris Prater is offering us a tour of the natural history museum with a biblical, young earth, creationist, flood catastrophe viewpoint. For over 12s only, maximum 15 students plus parents. Book now and pay me asap to reserve your place.

It is in two parts and you need to attend both.
The first part is on Friday 25 October - geology.
The second part is on Friday 13 December - biology.

It will be 11.30am-12.30pm, then a 30 min lunch break, then 1pm-2pm.
We can travel together by train:

Cambridge 8.55am
Baldock 9.25am
Letchworth 9.29am
Stevenage 9.40am
Welwyn Garden City 9.51am
Kings Cross 10.19am

then tube trains

It costs £100 per session for the group, and he can take a maximum of 15 students plus parents. We will split the cost per person pro rata. If we have 15 students and four parents, that would be 19 people, so £5.26 per person.

I asked him what angle he takes and this was his reply:

"The basic angle I take is one which begins with the museum's view of the Biblical account of creation and the Flood as 'myth'. In the first workshop I then consider the rise of 'Plutonist' geology with its millions of years which began seriously to displace the 'Neptunist' (Biblical Flood) geology about 200 years ago.
I challenge the Plutonist philosophical base ('The present is the key to the past') and point out the weaknesses of radiometric dating which is used to 'scientifically' support the idea of an ancient earth. I consider also some of the difficulties inherent in assuming that the universe began with the Big Bang and how our solar system could have formed from such.

In the second (biology) workshop I begin by noting Darwin's contribution to the hypothesis of evolution and briefly outline what that hypothesis says. Then we seek the all important evidence to support this idea. As the NHM cannot show any series of transitional fossils to support any change from one species to another it dabbles in Haeckel's dubious embryonic 'Recapitulation Theory'. With mutations hardly able to provide a mechanism for evolution and the 'apes to man' transition a minefield of hoaxes, failures and far too little real evidence, I end with a glance at the lack of living transitional evidence to conclude that the hypothesis of evolution by natural selection is actually a modern (?) myth which woefully lacks supporting evidence, whereas the Biblical view is rather one which evidence in the field supports.

As for myself although I have an interest in science I would hesitate to describe myself as a 'scientist' as such (though my first degree was partially in geography). My main focus is on the Bible (with two degrees here) which I stand in awe of as the word of God.

I hope this helps you to see where I am coming from.

Feel free to ask further,


A child who was not attending school...

There is of course no suggestion that this was a case of home education, but it is the sort of thing that makes some people think that there should at least be a record of those  children who are not at school:

The last post for a while about home educated children with special educational needs

We seem to have got a little bogged down on the subject of special educational needs among home educated children in this country.  I have more to say on this topic, but I think that I shall leave this subject for a while and hope that we can return to it in a week or two. Before doing so though, I want to look at one of the largest pieces of research conducted on home education in this country; one that is seldom mentioned among home educators.

Today, we shall be looking at an important piece of research shedding light upon the proportion of home educated children in this country who have special educational needs or disabilities. This is  Local Authorities and Home Education, (Ofsted, 2010).  Some comments here in recent days have been dismissive of this study, on the grounds that is was a self-selected sample. This requires some explanation. In 2009, during the  Graham Badman enquiry,  some, to say the least of it, questionable data about the possible risks of abuse to home educated children were circulating.  Since then, new figures have come to light. As might have been expected, many home educators are very keen to dismiss these data too as being unreliable.

The idea that because the sample used in the Ofsted study is self-selected, it is somehow compromised or worthless is, of course, absurd. All research on home education is of self-selected samples; that is to say people choose whether or not to participate. This is as true of Paula Rothermel’s work  as it is of all those large studies in the USA which show how marvellously home educated children do. If we disregard research into home education on the grounds that it involves  a self-selected sample, then we are left with no information whatsoever. Ignore self-selected samples and we can no longer quote approvingly those huge studies of tens of thousands of children conducted by Rudd and Ray in the United States!

At the end of 2009, Ofsted carried out a study of home education in 10% of local authority areas in England. These fifteen local authorities  ranged from urban districts such as the London Borough of Southwark and Solihull in the Midlands, to places  as diverse as Norfolk, Shropshire and  Poole.  In those areas, every single home educated child  known to the local authority,  and  also his or her parents,  were invited to attend meetings or, if they would rather do so, fill in questionnaires.  As  result, 120 parents and 130 children attended meetings to talk about their views and another 158 children and 148 parents completed questionnaires. It is interesting to note that this total of 556 people whose views and opinions were examined was considerably greater than the 419 whose views Paula Rothermel examined during her research into home education. This too was of course a self-selected group.

One of the things which emerged from this large study was that a quarter of the 130 children who attended meetings either had statements of special educational needs or had, before they were deregistered, been at the stage of ‘school action plus’. Nor was this all. In addition to this;

There were also those whose  parents, often supported by medical diagnosis, identified the children (many of whom were very able) as having some form of autistic spectrum disorder.

In other words, the total number of children with special educational needs was more than a quarter of the total.  The local authorities’ data gave a similar picture, that is to say that the proportion present at these meetings reflected the whole population of home educated children of whom they were aware. In other words, over a quarter of the children at the meetings had special educational needs and the local authorities confirmed that this was the case in general; that these were not unrepresentative samples. 

We  saw yesterday that Fiona Nicholson had gone to a great deal of trouble to ask every local authority in England about the numbers of home educated children with statements. She found, after all this, that the figure was 5%. This same figure of 5% was first published six years ago in the  study undertaken by York Consulting, (Hopwood et al, 2007).  This is interesting, because it was obtained simply by sampling the figures from nine local authorities. Sampling of this sort can yield very accurate results.  This should give us a certain amount of confidence in the figures from the Ofsted survey.

As I said earlier, I am going to move on to a different aspect of British home education in my next post. We have, I think, established that around a quarter, or rather at least a quarter, of home educated children in this country have special needs. We know that these children are between four and seven times as likely to be abused as children without such needs. In a later post, we will try putting a few different figures into those percentages and seeing what this might tell us about the increased risk of abuse for home educated children, but for now, that is all that I shall be saying about this.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

More about home educated children with special educational needs

Before looking at the only real evidence about the proportion of home educated children in this country with special needs, which I shall be doing either tomorrow or the day after,  I would like to address one or two points made  here in the comments yesterday. The first of these was an attempt to limit the definition of a child with special educational needs to those with a statement issued by the local authority.  There are a number of problems with this approach. The first is of course that a child, even one with the most serious,  medically diagnosed  difficulties, who had never attended school would not show up in these figures. The second is that there are many children at school with diagnoses of autistic spectrum disorder, to give one example, who do not have statements nor are likely ever to do so.  

Some local authorities, the London Borough of Hackney was one, have in the past had official policies of avoiding statements for children in its schools.  Elsewhere, there have been individual schools which are keen on them as a way of securing extra funding. Simply counting the number of statements issued to children who are subsequently home educated is a terrible way of working out how many children have special educational needs and disabilities!

Commenting a couple of days ago, somebody drew attention to the fact that Fiona Nicholson had earlier this year  made Freedom of Information requests to every local authority in the country and established the fact that 5% of home educated children have statements. This was a worthy endeavor, but that figure has actually been around for six years. York Consulting carried out a study in 2007, (Hopwood et al, 2007), which sampled nine local authorities and found the percentage of  home educated children with statements to be 5%. This has implications for the reliability of such sampling, something at which we shall be looking in the next few days.

Another suggestion made yesterday was that there was a correlation between the severity of a child’s special educational needs and the likelihood of abuse. No such correlation exists; or rather none has been discovered during research. If this were so, then you might reasonably expect a quadriplegic, blind and non-verbal child in a wheelchair to be more likely to be abused than an active, intelligent child with a relatively minor problem such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder. It is not so. The kid with ODD is several times more likely to be abused than the one in a wheelchair. This is because the levels of abuse of children with special educational needs relate not to the severity of the disability, but rather according to how irritating these difficulties make the child to their parents. Deaf children are four times as likely to be hit by their parents than those whose hearing is normal. Children with conduct disorders are seven times as likely to be abused or neglected as children who do not have this condition. Those with learning difficulties are far more likely to be abused than those with physical disabilities.  It is often those children with relatively mild disorders who are at the greatest risk of being abused. These are the children with special needs who are least likely to be statemented. 

I hope that this has cleared up one or two points and left the ground clear to look at how we may calculate both the proportion of home educated children in this country with special needs and also the overall abuse rates among home educated children , compared with children at school.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Still more about rates of abuse among home educated children

Debating with home educating parents can, on occasion, be like wading through treacle! As soon as you laboriously  establish one point, the terms of the argument change and you find yourself back to square one and arguing over a relatively minor point which you thought had already been conceded. 

Unfortunately, I do not have a great deal of time today to spend on this  blog, so I shall limit myself to one or two main points. The first of these is to observe that I hope we now agree that children with special needs and disabilities are more likely to be abused and neglected by their parents? I gave quite a few references for this yesterday; research ranging from America to Malawi, Turkey to Norway and even some from this country. I am therefore assuming that the debate now centres around the percentage of children with special needs in the home educated population of Britain.

As i say, I shall be going into this in greater depth in a day or two, but I will mention that one of those commenting here suggested that my own estimate of 25%, based on the available evidence, was hopelessly out and that the real figure would be more like 10%. Let us take that figure and see what the implications are for it.

Rates of abuse of children with special educational needs are, on average four times higher than for those without. This abuse is carried out by their parents at home. However, the rates vary, according to whether the special need is physical or intellectual. Almost without exception, the home educated children with special needs whom one encounters and learns of are not in wheelchairs, nor are they deaf or blind. They have what are broadly termed learning difficulties. The rates of abuse in that case are higher, ranging between five and seven times the rate of children without such difficulties. Let us work with the lower figure.

There is great controversy about the actual rates of abuse among ordinary children, a debate into which we need not go. Let us call it  X  victims per hundred children. In a groups of 1000 children without special needs, this rate would run at 10X. I hope this makes sense! Now let us assume that home educated children have no special needs. Their rate of abuse would also run at 10X. So far, so good. let us now make the assumption that somebody commenting here yesterday did, that only 10% of home educated children have special needs. Let us also take it that these needs are almost without exception, intellectual and not physical needs. Now for the sum. The 90% of home educated children without special needs will have 9X victims of abuse among them. The 10% with special needs will have 5X victims of abuse. Adding those figures together, tells us that overall, 1000 home educated children will have 14X victims  of abuse, in comparison with the 1000 children without special needs. In short, that group would have a 40% higher rate of abuse than 1000 children with no special needs. I hope everybody has followed that, because it is all that I have time for today.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The abuse of home educated children

Over the last week or so, I have been pointing out that abuse rates for home educated children are far higher than those for children at school. I have also been discussing one factor which causes this to be so; the high proportion of home educated children with learning difficulties and behavioral problems. Inevitably, this has caused offence to some, but since I find the abuse of children with special educational needs offensive, I don’t think I need worry unduly about any offence I might have caused by drawing attention to the scale of the problem.

One of those commenting here trotted out a few of the hoary old myths associated with home education and I propose today to tackle these and lay the ground for looking tomorrow at some actual figures about the abuse of home educated children. First though, let’s look at what was suggested yesterday. The first concerns the abuse of children with special educational needs, which is relevant for reasons at which I have already looked:

I would suggest that before the professionals turn their attention to a group where there is no evidence of abuse, they look at residential school settings where, sadly, there is such evidence, including one school where OFSTED gave it a glowing report, then rapidly downgraded it to 'unsatisfactory' when it realised that the safeguarding was so brilliant that a girl was excluded for being raped because it was against school policy to have sex.

those of us who are home educating because we removed our children from school situations that constituted neglect, physical abuse and emotional abuse need to hear.

This was by a mother who has children with special needs and is hinting that the abuse and neglect of such children is primarily a problem in schools and residential units. This ties in neatly with the mythology adopted by many home educators, that schools are dangerous and unsafe places for their children; rife with abuse and neglect. This is utterly untrue. I am using research mainly from America here, simply because that undertaken in this country has been patchy and small-scale. Looking at the question of abuse and neglect in general, who are the perpetrators? One study, (NCANDS, 2005) found that the figures were as follows;

79.4% parents
6.8% other relatives
3.8% unmarried partners of a parent

The rest were nearly all friends and neighbours of the family.  Abuse and neglect in schools and residential settings was completely insignificant. How insignificant? Another study looked at this, (USDHHS, 2007), and found that less than 1% of cases of abuse were by residential staff, teachers or other professionals. Yes, that’s right; less than 1%. What research there has been in this country tends to confirm these findings.

Neglect and abuse, whether sexual, physical or emotional, are domestic problems. They almost invariably take place in the home. The idea that removing a child from school will make him or her less likely to be abused is, generally speaking, nonsense. 

Another thing which the person commenting here yesterday said was this:

Would you not agree that even within those groups the overwhelming majority of children were not abused? 

If we are talking about children with special educational needs and disabilities, then this is tricky to answer. It depends what you mean by an overwhelming majority. In studies both here and the USA, some of them enormous, it was found time and time again that children with special needs were neglected and abused far more than children without such difficulties. How much more likely was they to be abused or neglected? Thinking now about those with learning difficulties and behavioral problems, one piece of research, (Sullivan & Knutson, 2009) found that:

The children at highest risk were those with behavioral disorders. Their risk is seven times higher for neglect, physical abuse and emotional abuse, and 5.5 times higher for sexual abuse than are children without disabilities.

Consider that statistic carefully;  a child with behavioral difficulties is seven times as likely to be neglected or physically abused. What is truly horrifying is that in the largest of such studies, of over 50,000 children in Nebraska, (Sullivan, 2000), it was found that overall, a third of children with special needs and disabilities had been neglected and/or abused. Returning then to the comment made yesterday, in which I was invited to agree that the overwhelming majority of children were not abused, then we must ask ourselves if we view 66% as an overwhelming majority? Around 33% of children with special educational needs are abused by their family and friends, while about 66% are not. I'm not sure that I would call 66%, an 'overwhelming majority'.

Here then is the implication for home education. If we assume, and I guess that most home educating parents will do so, that home educators  are no more likely to be wicked or abusive than other parents, then it is also fair to say that they are no more virtuous than other parents. That is to say that the levels of neglect and abuse inflicted by home educating parents are likely to be similar to those carried out by parents with children at school. What this means in plain terms is that a third of home educated children with behavioral difficulties are likely to be neglected or abused by their parents. 

Tomorrow, we will look at the implications of these percentages in practical terms when it comes to overall rates of abuse for home educated children. Because as we all know, a very large proportion of home educated children are on the autistic spectrum, have ADHD, or various types of behavioral difficulties. This means of course, that the proportion of home educated children being neglected and abused is likely to be far higher than in the school population as a whole.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The great home educating con-trick

One of the great  pleasures in life is watching how  a thousand or so home educating parents, perhaps 2% or 3% of the total number of home educators in this country, manage to make themselves appear to be an overwhelming majority and thus set the agenda for home education in this country. For those who do not know how this trick is played, it is a fascinating story.  

A small minority of home educating parents in this country belong to organisations, support groups, internet lists and so on connected with home edcuation. These often have a prevailing ideology or orthodoxy; frequently being opposed to visits from local authorities and broadly in favour of autonomous education. Those who disagree with such views usually drift off elsewhere. Such groups are crucial in maintaining the illusion of unanimity among home educators. Those belonging to them get caught up in a kind of hysteria and begin to believe the line that there is a witch-hunt against home education and that the practice might be banned, unless we all fight each and every proposed change. This is why any consultation touching upon home education elicits so much opposition. It is not, as appears to those who do not know how the gag is being worked, a spontaneous outpouring of popular anger against new plans. It is rather that a party line has been established and those associated with this or that support group or members of various internet lists are instructed what to say in their responses and to flood any consultation with furious  denunciations of any plan which promises to make the least alteration to the status quo. Frequently, these people enlist the aid of their friends and families, so that one genuine, home educating parent can be responsible for generating a dozen email responses, all rejecting the new scheme. We saw this happen with the plans in Wales recently and it is still going on.

There is a public consultation taking place until October 25th in Wales, about revised guidance on the safeguarding of children in education. Inevitably, it is being bombarded by hundreds of virtually identical responses, all of them concerned with home education.  Those wishing to object, do not even need to think up their own answers to the questions asked in the consultation. Fiona Nicholson in Sheffield, (yes, I wondered why somebody in Sheffield was so concerned about something which would only affect children in Wales, as well!), has helpfully told those on the Home Education UK and Education Otherwise internet lists what they should think and say about it:

Question 1 – Does the glossary in the Preface provide clear, useful definitions of relevant key terms? If not, what could be improved and how?
Response 1: The definition of "Harm" is a partial quote from the Children Act 1989 and should be reinstated in full. In addition "Significant harm" must be prefaced by the caveat that there is no statutory definition of significant harm and care must be taken to ensure there is no implication that "significant harm" simply means a child whose development is delayed, as otherwise this would have a profound impact on children with learning difficulties and physical disabilities.

Question 4 – Is the guidance in Chapter 2 on the roles and responsibilities of different agencies clear, accurate and helpful? If not, how could it be improved?
Response 4: Firstly, it is not helpful to repeat a meaningless phrase from an English guidance document dating from 2004. Secondly, there should be a reference to children with special needs, making it clear that this is not in itself a reason to question parents' decision to educate at home.

Question 5 – Is the information provided in Chapter 3 clear and helpful? If not, how could it be improved?
Response 5: Firstly, it should be stated that schools are required to notify the authority when a child leaves the school and starts being home educated. Secondly, a crucial phrase has been left out of the quote from Children Missing Education Guidance, namely "the duty does not apply to children and young people whose parents have chosen to electively home educate them." Thirdly, the Children Missing Education Guidance has been paraphrased inaccurately to suggest erroneously that home educated children are "a vulnerable group" and that home education is "a risk factor." Fourthly, the draft guidance has missed out an important reference to the School Attendance Order process. Fifthly, the link to supplementary guidance on Fabricated Illness is broken.

Let’s hope that the Welsh Assembly see through this barefaced plan to allow people in England to dictate to Wales what their educational policies should look like!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

An opportunity to see and hear Simon Webb pontificate

I am aware that some readers would like the chance to hear my views and opinions more often than they are currently able to. Here then, is a clip of me from a recent television programme:

Friday, 11 October 2013

What sort of home educating parents lead the fight against regulation?

Over the last few days we have been looking at the grounds for supposing that home educated children in this country are, as a group, at greatly increased risk of being abused or neglected.  This is a situation which is widely known to professionals and yet flatly denied by many home educating parents.  I want next to explore something which has been bothering me increasingly in recent months and that is this. I can well understand that parents might perhaps be slightly irritated that other people think that their chosen method of raising children is faulty and hazardous. I ask readers to remember that I did not send my own daughter to school for a single day; I know all about the disapproval that home education can attract.  The most that I ever felt though was mild annoyance.  There is a section of the home educating community though, which feels considerably more than a little annoyance when people start talking about Safeguarding and home education. They become incandescent with rage. This is odd. If anybody ever suspected that my daughter was being neglected or mistreated, and this certainly happened from time to time, my natural reaction was to explain that they were mistaken and invite them to come and see for themselves; talk to my daughter, visit my home and so on. 

I have lately been wondering why the reaction of a considerable proportion of home educating parents when concerns are raised is not to reassure those raising the concerns, but to fly at them like ferocious dogs and attack them in any way possible.  The main thing to strike one about such an approach is  that it is likely to be counter-productive, making people more anxious about the welfare of the children, not less. This then causes one to ask; why are these people so defensive and angry at being asked perfectly reasonable questions? Obviously, the great majority of home educating parents are no more likely to neglect or abuse their children than anybody else. Since they belong, as a whole, to a group with a greatly increased risk of their children being harmed, by acts of either omission or commission, surely they would wish to reassure people that, in their particular case, such fears are groundless? Anybody who recalls the saga of Graham Badman and his enquiry will know that this was not at all what many parents did.

What I will be considering over the course of the next week or so is whether perhaps the children of those  parents who are so aggressive and angry about anybody even asking questions are the very one who might be more at hazard than home educated children on the whole. I think this a perfectly reasonable question, because of course one thing which has been noticed is that many of the most vociferous parents who fought tooth and nail against any suggestion that their children might be at increased risk, are some of those whose children have behavioural disorders of various types. The incidence of special needs among home educated children on the whole might be around 25%, but looking at the subgroup of the children of parents who have been prominent in the fight against regulation or increased oversight of home education, the proportion is very much higher than that. Since such children are seven times more likely to be neglected and physically abused, this means that the fight against regulation was being led by the parents of children at very much greater risk of harm. This is curious and we will be examining the implications of this state of affairs in a day or two.