Friday, 15 November 2013
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Home education
I have heard from one or two readers this morning, who feel that they have been left behind by the recent discussion here about the APPG on home education. Perhaps I should give a little background. There are dozens of informal groups at parliament, where MPs, peers and members of various charities, special-interest groups and so on get together to discuss anything from football and farming to brass bands. Or, in this case, home education. Although such groups have no real, official status, they can exert a certain amount of power especially when they are led by the Chair of the relevant select committee. Graham Stuart, for those who didn’t know.
Because MPs and peers are usually busy, the actual running of the groups is often delegated to a secretariat; a few people who arrange meetings, issue invitations, take minutes and sometimes act as gatekeepers. These individuals can really shape the APPG in their own image. In the case of the APPG on home education, these gatekeepers are Fiona Nicholson and Jane Lowe. Now immediately, some people can see a problem with that; or really two problems. The first is of course that nobody elected these two people to that role. It looks to some as though Fiona and Jane simply had the sharpest elbows and were shrewd enough at intriguing to get themselves into this position. The second problem that some have, is even bigger. It is that Fiona Nicholson and Jane Lowe share something in common with the present writer. (And no, for those who have been reading the awful things that Maire Stafford and her cronies have been saying about me, it is not that we all dye our hair!) The fact is that any new legislation or changes in regulations will not affect Fiona and Jane, because they are no longer home educators. It will be recalled that when I was invited to give evidence to the select committee in 2009, a great fuss was made about this and it was thought that the fact that my daughter was no longer being educated at home should have been enough to disqualify me from expressing an opinion on the subject. The same thing is now being said about Fiona Nicholson and Jane Lowe.
Some current home educators have another difficulty, as far as Fiona Nicholson is concerned. In 2009, she and a few friends, such as Ian Dowty, submitted this document during the Badman enquiry.
Among other things, it recommended:
4. Recommendation: that the DCSF Elective Home Education Team should
work with home education support organisations to set up a national
Committee for Home Education, remit to include contributing to
Government policy initiatives related to home education, contributing to
Impact Assessments and making recommendations related to Home
This national committee was to have a far-ranging but rather vague role and relationship to the government. It was not unnaturally assumed that Fiona visualised herself as heading this committee, which was to some sort of Quango. This belief was strengthened when she gave evidence to the Children, Schools and Families select committee on October 14th 2009. I was also giving evidence that day and one thing which struck me very powerfully was Fiona’s inability to say whether or not she approved of compulsory registration for home educators. Barry Sheerman, the Chair, pressed her repeatedly on this point, but she waffled on for some time, finally saying:
I am not taking a position on whether I think it would be a good or bad thing
Call me an old cynic, but the construction which I put upon that was that Fiona was in favour of registration, but reluctant to say so out loud, in case it alienated too many other home educators.
In short, there are those who are suspicious of Fiona Nicholson’s involvement in the APPG, because rather than being a home educating parent, she now has a commercial interest in the subject and is apparently being paid by at least one local authority to give advice. Incidentally, the APPG apparently has a website, about which few seem aware. If there really is such a thing, one guesses that it was set up by Fiona’s son Theo, who is something of a whiz about computer and internet related matters.
I must make one final point, which is that on a personal level, I am very much a fan of Fiona’s. She is an enthusiast for both the Molesworth and William books and I never knew anybody who enjoyed those books to be otherwise than fundamentally sound!