Saturday, 16 November 2013

A specific proposal emerges from the APPG on home education

No broad consensus emerged from the discussions here on the subject of the APPG.  Seeing that this is essentially a forum for home educators, I would have been remarkably surprised had it done so! I want today to look at one specific idea which was mooted at the last meeting of the APPG, held on October 22nd. 

As many readers will know, some local authorities operate an informal network, whereby officers involved with home education exchange notes and sometimes plan a common strategy. This happens with travellers’ education too, by the way. On the face of it, this appears to be a good idea. After all, it is a chance for best practice to spread, isn’t it? Those authorities who are doing things well, can share their expertise with other local authorities, who will then improve. What could be wrong with that? Well, for one thing, all too often this works in the opposite direction. If you put a load of sound apples next to a rotten one, the good, healthy apples might just cause the bad one to grow better; more often, the rotten apples taints the others. I have seen this happen with home education, caused by just such a loose affiliation of local authorities.

A few years ago, there used to be regular meetings between local authority EHE departments in south-east England. These meetings took place at Hastingwood, near Harlow in Essex and EHE officers from as far away as Southampton attended them. Unfortunately, at that time, about six or seven years ago, Essex had a fellow called Mike Allpress working for their EHE department and his ideas were a little extreme, even for somebody like me! In fact, I refused to let him visit our home.  I took the trouble to ring up EHE officers in Southampton and so on and soon found that those meetings at Hasting wood were dominated by Mike Allpress and that he more or less told the others what they should be doing. This may have been because he was a man and the other local authority officers present were women; I don’t know. The upshot was that this one character was able to set the agenda on home education  for many of the local authorities in south-east England; even to the extent of getting them to put what he wanted on their responses to consultations.

What does this have to do with the last meeting of the APPG? Graham Stuart mentioned casually that he would be happy to help with the launch of:

The development of a more formalised professional association of, and/or annual  conference for, home education officers, driven by those in the profession  themselves, could be a welcome step in terms of sharing best practice nationally

This sounded so uncannily similar to those meetings which used to take place in Essex, that it at once caught my attention.  Such an organisation might indeed be, ‘a welcome step in sharing best practice nationally’. Then again; it may not. It might equally well turn, just as the regular meetings in Essex did, into a way of sharing worst practice!  I think that a good deal of thought should be given to this suggestion and in particular, readers should ask themselves whether, at the next and closed, meeting of the APPG in February, this might be established and then presented at the subsequent meeting a few months later  as a fait accompli.

Finally, while looking through my records, during  the preparation of this piece, I found a letter which I sent to Mike Allpress at Essex County Council, when he thought that he would be visiting my house. I have an idea that some readers think that I was always toadying round my local authority and slavishly following their requests. This letter should disabuse anybody of such an idea!


Dear Mr. Allpress,
           Thank you for your recent letter, the contents of which have been noted. Although I should have been delighted to meet with you on Tuesday March 13th, I am afraid that this will not be possible. 
     I observe from your letter that the reason for your visit is to advise me about my daughter’s education. You will,  I am sure,  forgive my remarking that I find myself wholly at a loss to know what advice you could possibly be intending to dispense with regard to a child whom you have never met and know nothing about. However, I dare say that you know your own business best and you may rest assured that I shall pay keen attention to any advice which you feel competent to give. It occurs to me that if any of this advice is particularly urgent, then you could perhaps send it by post, rather than waiting until we  meet. It is only a thought.
     In the meantime, I enclose a brief summary of my daughter’s progress since last we were fortunate enough to receive the attention of your office. 

                                       Yours faithfully,

                                                    Simon Webb.

1 comment:

  1. I love the letter, Simon, and sadly, agree with you about the 'tainting'.

    One other point that other readers may find helpful. Whenever someone wishes to advise me about my children's education or how to deal with their SEN or medical needs, I always find it useful to ask them what their qualifications are to do so and to toss in a few specific questions about current ideology and methodology that I am looking forward to discussing with them. Obviously, I am always polite and stress that I am eager to benefit from any expertise that may be going, but the answers are very revealing and people don't seem to want to lecture me as much afterwards. I'm sure it's purely by coincidence...