Friday, 1 November 2013

Two myth-mongers of British home education at work

We have in recent weeks been looking, among other things, at home visits and social services as they affect home education in this country. For various reasons, there is quite a cottage industry in spreading scare-stories and trying to wind up potential home educators by perpetuating ludicrous myths about home education. Here are two of the main culprits in this field, in action. First off, we have Mike Fortune-Wood.  On the HE-UK internet list yesterday, he claimed that:

Back in the early 1980s, when the world was young and I still had a thick mop of sandy hair and could see my feet without a mirror, EO’s position was that home visits were desirable because back then most LA’s simply issued an SAO to every family that home educated. 

This is an absurd lie. Readers who wish to read an account written by men and women who were actually home educating in the 1970s, could do worse than look at Free Way to Learning (Editor, David Head, Penguin Books 1974).  This book was written by people who did not like schools and withdrew their children from them. There was no opposition at all to this course of action. The trouble between home educators and local authorities did not begin in earnest until organisations such as Education Otherwise became active. There never was a time that local authorities simply issued School Attendance Orders to every family that home educated. This is one of the great myths about home education in this country; that until a handful of noble activists became involved, it was impossible for ordinary people to educate their children at home.

A second popular myth is that local authorities set social workers onto parents who wish to educate their own children. Sometimes they do, but it is very rare and never the first response. Writing in Estudios Sobre Educacion, not a magazine that Mr and Mrs Webb are often to be found settling down with of an evening, Paula Rothermel claims that in England:

There is an increasing tendency for welfare officers and social workers to become involved with home-educating families from the outset

This is completely false. True, some local authorities use Education Welfare Officers to make initial enquiries, but social workers? Never. Why would they waste the time of social workers in this way? The only time that social workers become involved with home educating families is when there is a suspicion that a child may be at risk. Has anybody heard of a case where a local authority involved social workers at the outset; a case only of home education, with no other factors?  Paula Rothermel is of course part of this scare-story industry, which is why she has made this claim. I cannot help but remark that the rest of the article is pretty slipshod. For example, look at this statement:

 an efficient education is one that "achieves that which it set out to achieve" (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson (QB (DC) 729/81)

The quotation is of course  really by Mr Justice Woolf, speaking on April 12th, 1985, in the case of, R v Secretary of State fro Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust. She can’t even get her references right! The article itself may be found here:

When I get the time, I shall be exploring in detail the motivations which cause people to propagate nonsense of this sort, attempting to persuade parents that they are in danger from social workers. I have a suspicion that Mike Fortune-Wood knows very well that local authorities thirty years ago were not issuing SAOs to any parent who wished to home educate, just as I am sure that Paula Rothermel knows that no local authority in England uses social workers from the outset when a parent deregisters her child from school.  If, as in the case at which we looked a few days ago, you have a partner who is writing in a depraved fashion about wishing to hop in the sack with schoolgirls, then yes; you may very well expect to hear a knock at the door and find a social worker outside! It has never happened though in the case of an ordinary parent about whose family there has been no previous concern.


  1. You wanna do a post on Why SAO are issued by the LA don't have the guts to take that parent to court when then parent takes no notice of the SAO and just carry's on Home educating like we did!

  2. "an efficient education is one that "achieves that which it set out to achieve" (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson (QB (DC) 729/81)"

    This is quoted on many web sites, including LA HE web pages. If this is incorrect, it would be interesting to know when and how this error crept in. Do you have full copies of the judgements?

    1. It is indeed incorrectly quoted on many websites. You seem surprised that some local authorities are muddled about the law, as it relates to home education? My point was that I would have expected Paula Rothermel to get it right. I do have copies of the judgments, but in the form of old and smudged xeroxes.

    2. Surprised? No, I'm not sure how you reached that opinion. As I said, I merely wondered when and how this error (if it is an error) crept in. It was included in the Elective Home Education - Legal Guidelines, a document compiled by home educators but checked by lawyers. Shame the cases aren't available online.

    3. ' a document compiled by home educators but checked by lawyers'

      Lawyers, in the plural? You mean somebody other than Ian Dowty checked it over?

      ' Shame the cases aren't available online'

      Alas, those of us who have more than a superficial interest in home education often find ourselves forced to consult those musty old objects known as books! In extreme cases, we are compelled to put on our coats and trudge off to the library or even, as in this case, courts, to look at documents in situ.

    4. Daniel Monk, Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London, quotes the, 'achieves that which it sets out to achieve’, definition of efficient, as coming from the Harrison case on page 117 of his paper, Regulating home education: negotiating standards, anomalies and rights.

      Regulating home education (pdf)

      Maybe you ought to write and let him know he's wrong?