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!