Thursday, 28 July 2016

The tyranny of opinion among home educators

For parents who send their children to school, there is a ready-made support network among all their friends, family and workmates. Everybody has been to school; many people  currently have children at school. The problems which are encountered when children are at school, whether bullying, poor teaching, undesirable culture among teenagers, to give just a few examples,  are familiar ones and many people may be called upon for advice and assistance. The case when you are home educating a child is quite different. There are no mothers at the school gate to whom you may turn, no parents who will remember how they tackled this or that difficulty, no friends or neighbours of whom you may enquire. Which of course is why so many British home educators turn to online groups, chiefly on Facebook, for support. This can be unsatisfactory.

Because I have published my personal Email address here, I often get messages from home educating parents who want advice and help. Invariably, they begin such appeals by saying, 'I couldn't tell anybody in any of the groups about this!' or perhaps, 'I feel that you are the only person who will understand.' This is pretty strange, because these people are all complete strangers to me. The reason is simple; on almost all the online support groups for home educators, there is a particular ethos and those who hold views running counter to it are made to feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, a group will be strongly opposed to visits and claim that those who accept a visit from their local authority are letting others down and indirectly making it harder for other parents. The reasoning goes that the more parents who allow their local authority to visit their home and discuss home education, the trickier it becomes for those who refuse visits. In other groups, the view might be strongly held that actually teaching children in dangerous and liable to harm them. These so-called unschoolers or autonomously educating parents can make those with a different perspective on home education feel very awkward about their own lifestyle.

Some groups are in the habit of simply ejecting anybody who does not appear to share the views of the majority about home education. It is not unknown for people to be thrown out of groups just for asking too many questions! All this makes some parents feel that they are obliged to give lip-service to ideologies with which they strongly disagree, because otherwise, they will no longer be accepted as one of the group. This is a particular thing with home educators, because as I said above, they do not have access to the same support networks as those whose childrne are at school adn tend to rely heavily on the internet for social contacts with other parents. Without the online groups, they would feel very isolated.

It is worth remembering this the next time that we hear that the majority of home educators believe this or that about registering or monitoring. Often, the only way that we know this is via the internet and  if everybody else is complaining loudly about local authorities, then there is an incentive for parents to go along with this; whatever their own opinions. In this way, some home educators find that they have nobody to whom they can talk when they wish to ask about such things as whether their children might really be better off at school.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The legality of monitoring of home education under European law

A little while ago, we looked at the fact that parents who wish to educate their own children in Britain are required to meet certain minimum standards in doing so. This inevetiably raises the question of who should decide wheter such minimum standards are being met; the parents or the state. Most home educating parents in Britain are under the mistaken impression that they are in law the final arbiters of what their children should and should not be learning. This view has never been accepted by anybody other than a handful of militant home educators. It is instructive to look at what happened when two parents from this country took their case to the European Commision on Human Rights. The ruling went against them; which was encouraging for local authorities in Britain who are in favour of monitoring home education.

A woman called Iris Harrison insisted throughout the 1970s that not only did she have the right to educate her own children, but that the lcoal authority had no right to dictate the form that this education should take. Eventally, the case was settled in court, with the judge ruling that children educated at home should at least receive systematic instruction in such subjects as reading, writing and arithmetic. (Harrison and Harrison v Stevenson (1981) QB (DC) 729/81). The parents then took their case to Europe, on the grounds that  their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights were being violated. Article 2 of the Protocol says that;

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it
assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the state shall respect the right of
parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and
philosophical convictions.

The result was not at all what Iris Harrison and her husband had hope for, as it was ruled that not only is compulsory schooling quite compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, but that if any child is not in school, then the state has a perfect right to monitor his or her education.Clive Sheldon QC wrote about this case, saying that;

It was clear that A2/P1 implied a right for the State to establish compulsory schooling, be it in State schools or private tuition of a satisfactory standard, and that verification and enforcement of educational standards is an integral part of that right.
Accordingly, the Commission held that to require the applicant parents to co-operate in the
assessment of their children’s educational standards by an education authority in order to ensure
a certain level of literacy and numeracy, whilst, nevertheless, allowing them to educate their
children at home, could not be said to constitute a lack of respect for the applicants' rights under
Art 2 of Protocol. Accordingly, the Commission found that the complaint was inadmissible

In other words, according to the ECHR, the state can monitor home education to its heart's content! Indeed, in a later case, brought by a German, it was ruled that home education can even be completely banned and that the ECHR allows for this.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Why the British government sometimes views home education with suspicion

One of the problems for home education in this country is that it often presents not just as another educational setting, but rather as a weird cult. It is a particular concern of most European governments at the moment to see that society becomes more cohesive and does not start splitting into self-contained and divisive sections; each with different core values and exclusive beliefs. One can quite see the point, the development of parallel societies within a country seldom ends well! It is from this perspective that home education is sometimes seen as likely to lead to a group of people who live by a code which varies greatly from that which the rest of a country shares and abides by. This is why Germany does not allow home education.

In Britain, there is a strong sense among the more prominent home educators that their chosen educational technique is somehow superior to the one used by almost everybody else. Before going any further, we should bear in mind that home education is essentially neither more nor less than just another way of educating children. Like all educational settings, there are advantages and disadvantages. Single-sex schools for girls, to give one example, are very good educationally for girls, but can leave them a little socially immature. What comprehensive schools lack educationally, on the other hand, they make up for in preparing children for life in a diverse society. All those involved with British education recognises such differences and are prepared to discuss them rationally.

Home educators tend to be different. They typically refuse to believe that there can be any disadvantage to the educational setting which they have chosen for their children. For them, it seems all too often to be a wonderful  ideal; one which cannot be bettered. There is often a messianic air about home education in Britain, with anybody asking too many questions about it being regarded as an enemy; just as with many cults. Here is good example, from a few years ago;

Just look at the mad things which are being said here! ‘Home educators have unique and privileged access to fundamental truths about the human condition’, ‘Home educators can reveal these truths to the rest of society’, ‘This is our precious gift’. Just replace the expression ‘home educators’ in those quotations with ‘scientologists’ or ‘Muslims’ and you will see that this is the language not of education, but religion. There is a distinctly religious feel to the thing.

Several things strike one about  peculiar ideas like this;  that home education is some sort of Utopian lifestyle which will one day change society. The first is that this theme is a very powerful one among the self-appointed leaders of home education in this country. The second is the sheer absurdity of talking about an educational setting in this exalted way! Imagine if I were to say that, ‘Those of us who send our children to comprehensive schools have unique and privileged access to fundamental truths about the human condition’. It would sound as though I had taken leave of my senses!

The final, and most important point, is this. It is in nobody’s interest to see society fragmenting into individual strands, whose members have little use for the mainstream way of life. This can be dangerous if those who belong to such groups follow some particular religion; Islam or fundamentalist Christianity. It is also unlikely to be healthy for society if political groups start to split off from the rest of us and promote values greatly at odds with those held by everybody else. There is a vague fear among some people, both in central and local government, that something of the sort is happening among home educators; that they might be indoctrinating their children with strange notions, which will make it difficult for them to fit into the ordinary scheme of things when they grow up. This is all of a piece with the worries about Muslim independent schools which are a  big concern at the moment. Perhaps if home educators stopped behaving as though they were somehow special and possessed of insights which elude parents who send their children to school, it would go some way towards allaying such fears.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Maintaining the illusion of widespread opposition to the registration of home educated children

I wrote a couple of days ago of the way in which a small group of militants try to give the impression that they are speaking on behalf of the majority of home educating parents and promote the idea that most of these parents are fiercely opposed to the registration of home educated children or any monitoring of them. Only yesterday, a fine example of this racket turned up in a provincial newspaper. Here is a piece from the  Bradford Telegraph & Argus; which only appeared online yesterday;

Within hours, two of the people whom I had mentioned in my recent post here had commented on this article. They may be seen in the comments as 770177wendy and llondel. They are of course Wendy Charles-Warner and Dave Hough and they are the owners of the Facebook group Home Education and Your Local Authority: Help Dealing with Officaldom. A number of points spring immediately to mind. The first is that one of these people lives in North Wales and the other in California. Why on earth are they commenting about home education in Yorkshire? We also observe that neither of these people  are even home educating their children in the United Kingdom; this being so, it is hard to see in what way they might be representing the interests of home educating parents in this country. There is also the fact that both have a variety of identities under which they comment. Why should Dave Hough be so averse to using his own name? Wendy Charles-Warner also posts under various identities. This is done so that the same names do not appear to be cropping up again and again. A final point is the sheer dishonesty of the things which are said in the comments there! Here is Dave Hough yesterday;

parents who have the option of remaining unknown to their local authority invariably choose to remain so and not make contact.

In the first place; how could he possibly know this? Secondly, let us remind ourselves of the advice which he dished out on the 'Officialdom' group, a little while ago, to a home educating parent who was moving house;

 post a letter with a second-class stamp on your last day there informing them that as of that date you're no longer in their area but that you will still be home educating. Don't give them your new address or area, and make sure the new occupants of the house and any neighbours also know not to tell them where you've gone if they know.

One of the reasons that home educating parents do not have contact with their  local authorties is because they are denounced and ostracised for doing so on many of the online support groups for home educators. They are called traitors and Quislings; those who do allow visits from the local authority  often do so secretly, for fear of the reaction from people like Dave Hough! The chief reason that people remain, or pretend to remain, unknown to their local authorities is because many of them rely upon support from Facebook groups containing other parents whose children are not at school. It is the reaction of some of the more vociferous of these parents which they fear, rather than the local authority itself.

Turning now to the comment posted by Wendy Charles-Warner, we see  she claims that;

 Freedom of information requests to Bradford Local Authority confirm that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that a single home educated child in the region has been 'radicalised'.

Seriously? How would you find that out from a Freedom of Information Request?

The two people mentioned here today are of course not the only people patrolling the internet to find articles about home education on which to comment; although they are certainly among the most industrious. The fact is that about two dozen people, at least half of whom either live abroad or are not home educating their children in this country, are responsible for over 90% of the comments one sees about the dangers of registration and monitoring. They are part of a very small sub-set in the home educating community who are desperately anxious that local authorities and the general public should see them as being the  dominant trend in British home education.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Causing trouble for home educating parents

There is a longstanding and mistaken idea that there exists in this country a powerful home education movement, which constantly agitates for and defends the supposed rights of, home educating parents. Even the Department for Education has fallen for this false belief and it is one of the reasons why there are no plans to slip through a new law to regulate and control home education in Britain. It is felt that the campaign which was waged in the aftermath of the Graham Badman report was so fierce and produced such bad publicity for the government, that it really is not worth repeating the exercise. This is the chief reason that the DfE has no intention currently of pressing for a change in the law; it would simply be more trouble than it is worth to fight all those home educators again!

In fact, despite there being anything up to 80,000 home educated children in this country, which would mean perhaps 140,000 or 150,000 home educating parents,  opposition to  any form of registration and monitoring is actively maintained by only a few hundred people; many of whom are not even home educators. I say a few hundred, there is probably a hard core of a few dozen who are doing all  the work to maintain the position that registration of home educated children would be an intolerable imposition on parents.  Hardly any of the parents of the 20,000 or more home educated children known to local authorities have any problem at all with being known and the vast majority cheerfully accept visits if their LA wished to make them.

How many parents are really determined to fight against things such as the registration of home educated children? This is very hard to say, because the tiny handful who fight against this idea manage to make themselves look far more numerous than is really the case. They do this by adopting false names and being very industrious in complaining to online newspapers and so on whenever any article appears about home education. If there is a poll on the internet on the subject of home education, they organise via Facebook groups for anti-registration messages to be sent in bulk. What this means is that an illusion is created that there is some kind of mass movement against registration and monitoring. A typical example of the way that this is done may be seen by looking at a Facebook group called Home Education and Your Local Authority; Help dealing With Officialdom. This is run by a former home educator called Wendy Charles-Warner, using the name Jennifer Downing. Many of those fighting against monitoring prefer to use false names in this way; why this should be is something of a mystery! The other person  running the group is man called David Hough, who lives in California and will hardly be affected by any of the changes in British home education which he so vigorously opposes.

The two people who run what is generally known as the ‘Officialdom’ group are to be found all over the internet under various guises; seldom or never using their real names. If an article appears in a small, provincial newspaper which suggests that somebody wants the registration of home educated children, then people from this group will comment online, putting forward their anti-registration line. Here is an example; llondel is David Hough in America. He often uses this name or sometimes Thienz to post his comments;

Readers might care to look for similar examples online; there are many. This sort of thing creates the impression that a lot of people feel as David Hough and Wendy Charles-Warner, the owners of the face book group, do about registration and monitoring; there is no reason to suppose that this is the case. Their group is devoted to stirring up parents and trying to set them in opposition to their local authority and the advice they give is always aimed at confrontation, rather than cooperation. Here is David Hough advising a parent on the ’Officialdom’ group whose local authority wishes to speak to her about her home educated child;

post a letter with a second-class stamp on your last day there informing them that as of that date you're no longer in their area but that you will still be home educating. Don't give them your new address or area, and make sure the new occupants of the house and any neighbours also know not to tell them where you've gone if they know.

An atmosphere is created of people on the run from the authorities and anxious to hide their children. It need hardly be said that this sort of behaviour only makes local authorities more suspicious of home educators and more determined to track them down! It is counter-productive. I shall give other examples of these sorts of covert operations by  small groups of militant former home educators in the next few days. In the meantime, it is worth bearing in mind that neither of the two people running this Facebook group are parents home educating their children in this country and so are not likely to be affected by any of the problems which might result from their activities.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The coming crackdown on uncooperative home educators

I mentioned a fortnight ago that local authorities in Britain are being encouraged by the Department for Education to pull themselves together and start dealing with home educators who refuse to provide information or look as though they are not actually teaching their children properly. This will be part of a general drive, which will also be directed at unregistered schools; most of which are run by Muslims and Jews. As the DfE rightly points out to LAs who have been badgering them for a new law, they already have all the powers they need under home education law to tackle what is seen by some as a growing problem.

There are two sorts of law in this country; statute law and case law. Statute law is the stuff passed by parliament and case law is how courts have interpreted those laws. In the case of home education, the statute law just states that a child must, from the age of five, be receiving an efficient, full-time education, suitable to his or her age and abilities. This seems vague enough and we must turn to case law to see what this education must be like. We know, for instance, that it must prepare a child for life in modern society (R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzeikei Hadass School Trust 1985). We also know, from Harrison and Harrison v Stevenson (1981) QB (DC) 729/81, that it must include systematic instruction, that is to say teaching, in mathematics and English. I quoted the relevant part of this judgement on July 5th.

I would guess that hardly any home educating parents in this country is aware of the fact that they are legally obliged to teach their children mathematics and that they cannot simply encourage them to acquire arithmetical skills from day to day activities. Local authorities know of this, but have chosen until now to do nothing about it. There are several reasons for this. The first is that until the last few decades, there were very few home educated children in Britain. Those that there were  more likely to be hothoused than educated autonomously. We think, for instance, of children like Ruth Lawrence.  It is the recent growth in numbers of home eduated children which is causing alarm for local authorities, especially since many of these new home educators are either not teaching their children or refuse to say whether or not this is the case.

The second reason that local authorities have turned a blind eye so far to breaches of the law regarding home education is that taking these people through the courts is a very expensive and time consuming process. Even if the LA wins, they are likely to be massively out of pocket, as home educating parents faced with the prospect of a court case often make it clear that they will fight the case vigorously; causing the local authority to have to spend money on barristers and so on. If you have hundreds of awkward parents like this in your area, then you could easily end up spending a big chunk of your money on pursuing these idiots. Here is Leicester council explaining this aspect of the  problem;

Case Law, (Harrison and Harrison V Stevenson 1982) has established that any education that does not include instruction in Maths and English, if a child is capable of learning such things, cannot be considered suitable. However, on one recent occasion, the suggestion to a family that the child should be doing some maths and some English every day so that evidence of this this could be shown to the LA Officer was countered with the argument that they are following autonomous education and that any work the child does is the intellectual property of the child and should only be shared if they wish. So even if work in books is being completed, there can be no expectation that an authority can see it. This was coupled with the threat that a Barrister, a legal expert in EHE (who has ‘never lost a case yet’) would successfully challenge any LA who sought to prosecute a parent following EHE being deemed to be unsuitable where the parent then failed to comply with a School  Attendance Order.

None of this is attractive to local authorities and it would be so much easier for them if there was a clear, specific law which set out precisely what home educators should be doing. This is what was being proposed following the Graham Badman report and it is what LAs have been begging the Department for Education to introduce over the last year or so. Unfortunately, the DfE say that they have more important things to deal with right now and so there is no chance of any new legislation. Nobody wishes to go through all the fuss of the Badman era again if it can possibly be avoided. The problem with taking parents to court based only on case law is that a higher court could reverse the earlier judgement and this would create its own difficulties for both parents and local authority officers.

Still, something must be done. Local authorities are now under pressure from central government to crack down on extremism and close any unregistered schools in their area. Since the pupils at such schools, most of which as I said are Muslim or Jewish,  are technically home educated, this means that a crackdown on home education is in the wind. A number of councils have been increasingly unhappy anyway about the large number of children who are taken out of school and then not taught anything for a year or more; so-called ‘deschooling’. Informal discussions are now taking place between a group of local authorities who are working out a coordinated strategy for tackling this problem. This will entail a series of School Attendance Orders, followed swiftly by prosecutions if they are ignored. The basis for these prosecutions will be the judgement in Harrison & Harrison V Stevenson.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

How to scare potential home educators

Following on from yesterday’s post, in which we looked at the pernicious influence of a document entitled Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth, which was consulted by those investigating the death of Dylan Seabridge, I want to consider now a fear which some well-known figures in the world of British home education seem determined to promote; the idea that parents opting to educate their children at home are routinely referred to social services. This is of course quite untrue, but for some reason people like Mike Fortune-Wood, Wendy Charles-Warner, Alison Sauer and Paula Rothermel all seem determined to promote this particular fiction and even, as in the Home Education and Safeguarding Myth paper, elevate it to the status of supposed fact. Here are two quotations on the subject; the first from Wendy Charles-Warner’s document and the second from Paula Rothermel’ book, International Perspectives on Home Education; Do We Still Need Schools?

'referral rates in some Local Authorities indicate a policy of automatic referral for home educated children,'

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

Both these statements were published in 2015, so this is very much a current myth in the making. Rothermel gives no reference for her belief that social workers might be involved with home educating families ‘from the outset’, and it is possible that she has relied upon Wendy Charles-Warner for the figures to back up this strange assertion. Looking at how these figures were acquired will show us firstly that the idea is a nonsense and secondly that we may safely disregard the paper Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth as a reliable source of information on this, or indeed any other, subject.

We find that Wendy Charles-Warner is claiming that in one local authority 100% of home educated children have been referred to social services. It is of course quite untrue and the explanation casts further doubt upon the methods used by the author of the paper to compile and analyse data.

The local authority in question is Telford and Wrekin and on 31 December 2014, a Ms Martel, acting on behalf of the author of Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth, made a Freedom of Information request, asking how many children aged 5 to 16 in the LA had been referred to social services. She then asked, how many of these were home educated. The answer given was;

Aged 5-9 EHE number is 28
Aged 10-16 EHE number is 105

This was a simple error on the part of whoever answered the request, because these are the total numbers of home educated children in the LA. In fairness to the local authority, the question was not very well phrased and it is easy to see how the misunderstanding arose. Obviously, they have not referred every single child to social services. Just to be sure, I telephoned Malcolm Webster, the man at Telford and Wrekin who deals with EHE, and asked about this. He was absolutely bemused at the idea that he would have been referring every child to social services. Why on earth would he do such a thing?  Just to make perfectly sure, I followed this up with a Freedom of Information request of my own, which confirmed what I had suspected.

The fact that the document's author did not bother to make checks of this kind  indicates another flaw in the process. It also suggests that the number of social services referrals for home educated children has been greatly inflated. The numbers are very low anyway and the addition of 133 extra children in this way was sufficient to throw all the apparently careful calculations made about social services referrals hopelessly out of kilter. When this and one or two other points are taken into account, there  turn out to be no more referrals for home educated children than there are for those at school.

I do not know why these characters are so determined to spread the alarming notion that home educating parents are being referred, as a matter of course, to social services. In the case of one of those mentioned above, there is probably a strong business end to it, for she runs a company called 3rd Way Law, which is a commercial concern helping people deal with legal problems relating to home education. Obviously, the more anxiety there is about the possibility of social workers knocking on the door; the greater market there will be for an organisation which will, for a price, help deal with the supposed problem. From this perspective, it makes sound business sense to promote a feeling of unease and fear among potential home educators.