Friday, 31 December 2010

What is wrong with the 2007 Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities?

I have been re-reading the current guidelines which were issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in order to advise local authorities what they should and should not be doing about home education. They may be found here;

The first thing which strikes anybody looking at these guidelines is that they are very favourably slanted towards those home educators who wish to be left alone. Local authority trying to claim that unknown home educated children might be missing from education? Think again, local authority! The guidelines are quite explicit;

2.6 Local authorities have a statutory duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, to make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education. The duty applies in relation to children of compulsory
school age who are not on a school roll, and who are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than being at school (for example, at home, privately, or in alternative provision). The guidance issued makes it clear that the duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home.

In other words, don't bother your head about kids who are being educated at home; they are not the target of this legislation. What about local authorities who insist that they are obliged to operate a policy of regular monitoring? Again, the guidelines are very clear;

2.7 Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.

Or how about this;

2.12 Local authorities also have a duty under section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002 to
safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This section states:
“A local education authority shall make arrangements for ensuring that the functions
conferred upon them in their capacity as a local education authority are exercised with a
view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.”
Section 175(1) does not extend local authorities’ functions. It does not, for example, give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education.

The current guidelines are perfectly clear and phrased in unambiguous language. (One suspects, judging by the document which has already been circulated by the group working upon the 'new' guidelines, that this may not be the case with the guidelines which they are producing!) Local authorities were very angry when the 2007 guidelines were published, because they in effect chased the local authorities away from home educating families and advised them to keep their distance. These guidelines set out the legal situation very clearly and are not in the least respect unfavourable to home educators, whether known to their local authorities or 'under the radar'. One can see why local authorities might wish for new guidelines, but why should home educators be dissatisfied with them? Last year, when the Department for Children, Schools and Families were revamping their website, the guidelines vanished for a few days. There was widespread consternation among home educators, because they felt that the 2007 guidelines were a valuable tool in asserting their rights around home education. A year later and they urgently need to be scrapped. What has changed?

The answer to the above question is that many local authorities simply disregard these guidelines. They operate policies which are in direct contravention of the principles set out in the 2007 guidelines and bluff parents who are not familiar with the law into accepting arrangements which they do not have to. Since the dropping of Schedule 1 of the CSF Bill, there has been a tendency to act as though though the provisions of the bill actually became law. I don't think that anybody could argue that this is not the case; certainly I would not do so. It is thought by some that if a new and clearer set of guidelines were produced and endorsed by the Department for Education, then this would discourage local authorities from engaging in these so-called ultra vires practices. Of course if they drive a coach and horses through the current guidelines, guidelines which could not be plainer, what on earth is to stop them from doing precisely the same with another set?

As far as I can see, the present enterprise by the 'secret group' is liable to result in a clear and easily understood set of instructions to local authorities being replaced by guidelines which are vague and possibly all but incomprehensible. The document which was circulated by the group recently certainly raises this suspicion. I am awaiting eagerly the first draft of these new guidelines.

Thursday, 30 December 2010


I am growing increasingly baffled about the need for secrecy of those currently trying to impose their own ideas upon home education in this country. In a recent post here, somebody commented anonymously claiming to be a member of the group working on the new guidelines for local authorities. I responded to what was said, whereupon another anonymous person chipped in saying, in effect, 'You fool! How do you know he is really a member of our secret group? He might be a member of another secret group entirely'. Because they both insist on remaining anonymous and because even if we knew their names, we do not know the names of those who are in fact members of the group working on the new guidelines, any attempt to debate the matter becomes pointless. Even Alison Sauer still refuses to confirm that she is writing these guidelines, which is pretty bizarre.

I have myself always had plenty of opinions on the subject of home education. I have joined Internet lists and expressed those opinions and I have commented on blogs. I use my own name and personal email address; why would I not? When I wrote a couple of pieces on home education for the national press last summer, they were published under my own name. Obviously, I could have insisted on a pseudonym, both for the newspaper articles and when I joined the lists and forums. I simply cannot imagine why I would do that. I have something to say, what I say might have an effect on people, it is only right that those people should know who is saying this. I have had a book published about home education. This too is in my own name. Readers will recall that when I was writing it, I asked for input from others; there was no secrecy about the thing.

I am completely foxed as to why those drawing up new guidelines for local authorities in their dealings with home education should not want anybody to know their names. We are assured that they are all home educators; how are we to know that this is so? Kelly Green in Canada is offering plenty of advice, chatting regularly to Alison Sauer on the telephone. There is a slight problem about this, because Kelly does not really understand UK law and this might lead her to offer bad advice.

This is the difficulty which secrecy is bringing to the project. We do not know who is contributing to the thing, what their motives are or anything about them. I have been trying to work out why I would myself want to do something like that and keep my name hidden. I suppose that one possibility would be if I was one of those home educating parents who was determined to remain unknown to the local authority. This is weird, but it might provide a legitimate reason for wishing to conceal my name. Alison Sauer and Imran Shah are not in this position those; both are fairly well known and vociferous. Neither wish to acknowledge their part in this project. We are assured that only home educators are involved in the business, but that seems to me to be unlikely. An easy way of proving this point would be for the authors to come forward.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

How can one person hope to teach all those subjects?

Critics of home education tend in the main have a pretty limited repertoire of stock arguments which they level against the practice. Socialisation is of course one of these, as is the 'fact' that it is unhealthy for a child to spend all day in her parents company. The other old standby is, 'How can one person hope to teach all those subjects?' We saw a variation on this theme yesterday, when somebody commenting here quoted my saying that I did not trust anybody else to educate my child. This was taken to be a sign of some sort of mania. The very idea of it, that a parent could expect to provide a better education for his child than a school! One strongly suspects that this comment was not made by a home educator.

Over the years, parents have been persuaded that they do not know what is best for their children and that anything from deciding whether the baby sleeps on her belly or back to the teaching of reading, should be left to professionals. The result is that many parents lack the confidence to teach their children. Teaching physics? Surely, one would need to be a highly trained and qualified physics teacher with a degree under one's belt and a laboratory at one's disposal to undertake such a thing? The same is thought to be true of music, drama, mathematics and practically every other academic subject. So widespread is this pernicious point of view, that many parents who remove their children from school do not even attempt now to teach their children any of these things. They have, in effect, been disempowered by the cult of the professional. This is a shame, because there is in reality nothing at all to prevent any parent teaching anything at all effectively.

Most of the apparatus which schools now regard as essential for teaching, electronic whiteboards for example, are really only useful if you are teaching thirty children at once. If only one or two are involved, then a sheet of paper on the table and a felt tip are just as effective. The same goes for science laboratories; very useful for the mass instruction of large groups of children, but quite irrelevant where only one or two are concerned. Twenty years ago, Julie Webb explored this idea thoroughly in her book Children Learning at Home (Falmer, 1990). She found that the lack of specialised resources made no difference at all to parents and was not a bar to the teaching on anything from chemistry and biology to sports and music. Even such basic equipment as a Bunsen burner was found to be unnecessary; parents improvising instead at the gas stove.

With the advent of the Internet, the situation became even easier for the home educating parent. All the information one could possibly require on any subject at all was there to see. If it was biology, the specification for the various GCSE boards was freely available, setting out in minute detail what was needed to pass the examination. The same is true of music, acting and everything else. There can be no possible reason why any subject cannot be taught at least as effectively in the home as it can in a school.

The idea that schools are necessary for children to learn is an official one for teachers. Among the submissions received by Graham Badman was one from the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which said;

'The NASUWT maintains that the existence of a right to home educate is anomalous with the clear emphasis in Government policy of ensuring that all children and young people can benefit from educational provision where teaching and learning is led by qualified teachers in well resourced and fit for purpose modern educational settings'

(Why do these people talk like this? Why do they say 'well resourced and fit for purpose modern educational settings' and not 'schools' like the rest of us?) Here you see the standard educational view of the matter and it is a shame that so many home educating parents seem to have fallen into the trap of believing this foolishness. Whenever there is a debate about home education, some fool will be sure to say, as Baroness Deech did a while ago, ''What about chemistry? You can't teach that in the kitchen!'

It is time that home educators in this country woke up to the fact that they are quite capable of teaching their children anything at all. In fact one-to-one tuition in a relaxed setting is the ideal vehicle for the transmission of knowledge. Children educated in this way tend to make far more rapid progress than those taught en masse in schools. I am aware that some parents have become dispirited by the idea that only professionals can undertake this sort of thing and have reacted by abandoning teaching entirely, but this is simply playing into the hands of these so-called professionals. The way to demonstrate the efficacy of home education is not to reject teaching but to show that it can be done far more effectively in the home than is possible in schools. If this belief is indeed a type of mania, as the person who commented yesterday suggested, then it is a mania backed by extensive research data from the USA!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The rise and fall of mass movements

At various times in my life I have been part of what seemed to me unstoppable movements which would irrevocably change society. In the late sixties and early seventies, it was the commune movement. Groups of people would move into large houses and live as one large family. For a time, communes were being started every week and for a few years, the movement grew at a dramatic rate. This, we thought, was the death knell of the nuclear family. Our way of life was so obviously more healthy and open that eventually most people would see the light and live as we did, rather than huddling together in little family groups. Of course, we were wrong. With one or two exceptions, the only communes which remain today are those run by religious cults. I doubt that many people under the age of forty or fifty have even heard of the commune movement.

Another example is water birth. My daughter was born underwater. Not just the labour, but the birth itself was in water. This was in 1993, at the height of the water birth craze and we were part of a movement then which we thought was going to revolutionise obstetrics. No more gas and air! An end to epidurals! Natural birth for all! Soon, most women with healthy pregnancies would be giving birth naturally in this way; at home and in hospitals. Fifteen years later in 2008, water was used in just under 1% of births in this country. The main use was for labour; very few births took place under water.

I dare say that readers will see where this is tending. In the mid nineties when I was home educating my oldest daughter for one or two days a week, home education was starting a period of growth and numbers were beginning to soar. The Internet played a role in the exponential growth which took place over the next decade or so and as word spread and information on the subject became freely available, more and more parents took up this option. It reminded me very much of the commune movement, with many parents expressing the same utopian ideals and believing themselves to be a part of an unstoppable social revolution. It is too early to say whether or not home education has really had that much effect yet. It is still below the 1% level, which means that it is still essentially the province of mavericks and cranks. Ten years ago, some people were talking of the difference which would be made to society if a large proportion of children were educated at home. Again, this was similar to the feelings expressed by members of the commune movement; the feeling of being part of something bigger than one's self which would ultimately affect society and change the way that people thought about how they lived and raised their families. This does not seem to have happened. Home education is certainly more accepted than it was ten or fifteen years ago, but there is no sign of it becoming a mainstream form of education or being adopted by more than a handful of parents.

The last ten years have been very interesting for home education; the next decade or two should prove crucial. It may mushroom into a mass movement, although it has to be said that there is little sign of this happening at the moment. On the other hand, it may enter a period of retrenchment, where it shrinks slightly and tries simply to hang on to what there is rather than expanding dramatically. A third possibility is that it will simply whither away. One need only look at movements like the Peace Pledge Union to see how groups can change in the space of a few decades from being the great thing of the future to relics of the past. It will be interesting to see which path home education takes.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The 'secret group'

I have watched with interest as the main representative of the home educating community in this country, at least as far as the Department for Education are concerned, has changed from being Education Otherwise to the so-called 'secret group' led by Alison Sauer. I am sure that we are all aware that EO has been in a somewhat chaotic state lately, but even so this is a remarkable change in perspective.

I was at first a little puzzled when I read the document which Alison Sauer circulated. It had the appearance of something put together a little hastily and rushed out in a hurry. I think that in this case, appearances were not deceptive. Her stock may have been rising very high with the Department for Education, various MPs and Lords and quite a few local authorities; it had however plummeted with many home educating parents themselves, some of whom were viewing her as little better than a Quisling. This was not good. If she wishes to persuade those in the government like Nick Gibb, the schools Minister, that she is their vital link with the home educators, she cannot afford to become too unpopular with the very people she claims to represent. When the business with Suffolk blew up, she saw the chance to rehabilitate herself with some of those parents who were beginning to doubt her motives. As well as rushing out the document denouncing the ultra vires practices of local authorities, she also joined the HE-UK list under her real name. Her posts are a little smug and evasive; she reminds me of an infuriating child chanting, 'I know something you don't know, I know something you don't know!' By an odd coincidence, Ruth O'Hare also joined the HE-UK list under her real name at precisely the same time. For years she has posted as Firebird2110 and now she too is using her own name.

One of the problems with Alison Sauer being accepted as the authentic face of elective home education in this country is that she is actually in opposition to much of what many parents in this country believe in. Let us look at one particular aspect of these differences and see where Alison Sauer's views might be leading her in her negotiations with the administration at Westminster. Many home educating parents are opposed to regular monitoring. When their local authority contacts them after a year or two and asks for further information and to see how the education is progressing, the standard response by many is that nothing has changed and that the LA are only justified in making further enquiries if they think that something has changed. In other words, many home educators believe that the local authority should simply assume that the education is still suitable unless new evidence emerges to the contrary. This is in sharp opposition to what Alison Sauer is teaching local authorities and saying to people as varied as Graham Badman and Graham Stuart. She says;

' Periodic review of provision is allowed for in law (time being a change in circumstance).'

In other words, she believes that it is quite OK for local authorities to come back regularly year after year for new information about the nature of the educational provision being provided. This is because, contray to what is often warmly asserted on the various Internet lists, there has been a change in circumstances after a year or two. For many, this is indistinguishable from regular monitoring.

Actually, Alison Sauer agrees with me on many points and a lot of the things which I have said here and been savagely denounced for are actually identical with her views. Take this:

'Mr Badman confuses rights with duties with regard to education. There is frequent reference to balancing the rights of the child against those of the parent. However there is no conflict. Home education is not a right of parents per se, in fact the child has a right to education in both English, European and International law. In England that right gives rise to a duty on behalf of the parent to provide an education.'

There now, I could not have put it better myself! I am intrigued by what is currently taking place in the world of home education and the shift from Education Otherwise to the 'secret group'. I broadly agree with a lot of what is being planned, but my objection is that it is not being done democratically. If this group of individuals would now declare themselves and state their aims clearly, then I have an idea that although many would oppose what they are doing, others would support them. The problem is that we are not being given the opportunity to do this, because we do not even know who these people are and what they stand for. This makes me profoundly uneasy when their actions may affect so many others. I am certainly not against a change in the legal arrangements for home education, but I would like to see in detail just what is being proposed and who is involved in proposing it.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Home educating parents plan free school

Interesting piece from the USA

Reasons for deregistering children from school

A few days ago I posted a news item about a child who had been taken out of school in Manchester and whose father had subsequently tried to murder her. I gave this post the rather ironic title of 'A far from perfect case of home education'. Here is a link to the case;

In retrospect, it was a mistake to use such a title; many of those who comment here are humourless and literal minded individuals who almost certainly do not do irony. However, a couple of the comments were interesting and I am going to take them at face value and see where they lead us. One person said;

'Where does it say she was home educated???????'

Another remarked;

' Typical Webb: No research, no thought, all invention and doing anything to support his own deranged views of the world.

More lies and distortion'

I am assuming that both of these people were meaning to get across the idea that this child had been prevented from attending school but was not really a home educated child. This is a very good point and one which we encounter quite frequently during the debate about home education, especially where safeguarding is concerned.

When a child is deregistered from school, she becomes for most people a 'home educated child'. This is regardless of the sort of education, if any, she is receiving. Local Authorities generally take this to be the case and so too do most home educating parents. Home educators often claim that it should be assumed that parents are educating their children efficiently, unless there is evidence to the contrary. Of course not all children who have been deregistered from school are really being educated. Here is a case of a child who was deregistered from school supposedly for the purposes of home education, but in fact to give sexual satisfaction for her family:

The truth is, parents take their children out of school for all sorts of different reasons. Some do so because they wish to educate their children, some want an easier life and an end to rows with their children about school, others feel the need to abuse their child, some are insanely jealous of their daughter meeting or talking to boys, there are those who want to avoid prosecution for truancy, parents who want a companion because they get lonely during the day; there are an infinite number of reasons for taking a child from school or not sending her in the first place. Some of these reasons relate to education, others do not.

It is very hard for anybody outside the family to know why a child is not going to school. Some home educators invite us to assume that as soon as a child is deregistered, we should at once take it for granted that her parents are providing her with a suitable education. I cannot for the life of me understand this reasoning. We have seen two teenage girls above who were withdrawn from school for reasons wholly unconnected with education. Presumably, the Local Authorities in those cases were happy to accept that an education was taking place without making any further enquiries. Maybe these parents sent a version of an educational philosophy downloaded from an Internet site and that was sufficient.

Many home educating parents seem to find it very hard to imagine anybody deregistering their child from school for reasons of cruelty and abuse. They seem to take it for granted that parents love their children and want the best for them. This is not always the case at all. There is no doubt that some children are taken out of school for bad reasons which have nothing to do with education. In the case of the child from Manchester, not being at school meant that anything which happened in the family would be likely to remain secret. She had no school friends in whom to confide, no teachers to talk to, her father did not like her to talk to anybody unless he was present. This meant that a bizarre lifestyle could flourish in a way that school might have prevented. I don't think it would have been as all a bad thing for a sympathetic and shrewd adult to drop by that home and try to see what was going on. Obviously, the warning signs might have been missed; they have certainly been missed in other cases. But this does not seem to me to be a good reason simply to give up trying to rescue children of this sort. As I have said many times before; too much emphasis on the 'rights' of the parents and not enough upon the rights of vulnerable children.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Children of God

This evening the whole family are, as usual, off to midnight mass. For those unfamiliar with this strange event, it involves much incense, ringing of little bells, kneeling and genuflecting and culminates in a shaman figure summoning down the spirit of his god to come among us.

I have never doubted for a moment the existence of the Deity. The very fact that there are so many good people in the world doing kind things seems to be sufficient proof in itself of that particular proposition. As for virgin births and people coming back from the dead; this is another matter entirely, about which I am open minded. Some of my familiar subscribe to these beliefs, including my wife and one daughter; others do not. For my own part, it is largely an irrelevance. I know that God is real and loves me and all the rest of the matter seems to be to be a finer point of doctrine, like mediaeval theologians arguing about the number of angels who could dance on the point of a pin.

I can see why many people have been put off religion and avoid church like the plague. I think that some Christians both now and in the past are to blame for a lot of this. The emphasis on judgement and damnation, the idea of God as an angry force, constantly watching out for bad behaviour and ever ready to visit punishment upon those who displease Him. If I know anything at all of the nature of God, I know this. He is a loving parent, a father and mother rolled into one. He cares for each of us like his children. We feel a faint echo of this in the love that we ourselves feel for our children, but that feeling is only a feeble, weak imitation of the love that God feels. Just as we are sad if our children do something spiteful or sly; so to is God when we sin. We wouldn't want to torture our children for doing wrong; nor does God wish to do so. When we ignore God, he will not press his attentions upon us. Imagine if your child grew up, left home and then didn't bother to get in touch for years. You would be sad, but you couldn't force your child to telephone or visit. You wouldn't want to, you would hope that the kid would do so of her own accord. This sadness is a little like what God feels when we ignore him and don't turn to him in prayer.

The world has been made by God in such a way that breaking certain rules brings unpleasant consequences. I have never in all my life seen adultery end in anything but unhappiness, I have never met a cheerful and happy thief. This is simply the way that things are.

Those familiar with Mother Julian of Norwich will know that she had a vision in which all were saved, everything was alright in the end; 'All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well'. I too believe that ultimately, every human will be brought home to God . This must surely be the divine nature. Jesus taught us to address God not as a fierce king or angry warrior, but as 'Abba'. We translate this as 'father', as in 'Our father which art in heaven', but this is way to formal. On the beach in Tel Aviv today, you will here little children calling 'Abba' to their fathers. It is more like 'daddy'. This is how God wants us to approach him; as a loving parent who wants to share our lives and is happy when we do the right thing.

I hope that all readers have a good Christmas and I shall be back in a few days with more views and opinions on home education.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A far from perfect example of home education
A very interesting account of home education;

A lot of this sounds pretty similar to accounts by God-fearing, Christian parents in the USA. The fact that the family have no television or games console in the home may be among the most important factors for success!

There are other qualifications besides GCSEs.

I have in the past been accused of an obsession with GCSEs and also of ignoring all the other qualifications out there, such as Open University courses. This is quite an interesting point, because my daughter herself almost went along this path. She did a few units of an OU course when she was eight, but in the end it was decided that International GCSEs were a better bet.

There are quite a few things to be said in favour of GCSEs and some things to be said in favour of OU courses. As far as GCSEs go, they are a standard measure of education. I don't want to get into a debate about whether they have been 'dumbed down'. We chose not to do ordinary GCSEs, partly because the coursework was a problem and partly because the IGCSEs are more rigorous and highly regarded; very much like the old GCE. When taken purely as examinations, there is no scope for the sort of cheating which has been endemic in the GCSEs for over twenty years. Everybody understands the yardstick being used for a reasonable education; five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and mathematics. This is the sort of standard measure which will allow you access to study A levels at a college and which many employers regard as the bare minimum level of education which they require for people applying for jobs. Universities too, often want to see good GCSEs in addition to A levels. Really, they are most useful and apart from those who cannot afford them, I can't imagine why anybody would prefer her child not to have them.

Mind, I don't personally think that five GCSEs at C, is what the government seem to imagine it is; the infallible mark of a teenager who has had a good education. Their lack, after a child has spent eleven years in the educational system certainly tells you something, but unless a child has learning difficulties, it would be hard to see how she could avoid scraping a C at five subjects. This again, gives IGCSEs an edge over the standard GCSE.

Open University courses are another way of gaining qualifications. We saw this year that a child who had gained a certain number of points at the OU was able to get a place at Exeter university to study law. They certainly can be used in this way, although it is rather more difficult than using GCSEs and A levels. The problem is partly that when everybody else is using one measure, it is bound to be a little harder to get them to accept something a little different. Getting into university in this way is not particularly common. Still, not everybody wants to go to university and this is another difficulty. Most employers are not familiar with Open University points as a way of judging the educational attainment of a teenager. How many points on what course works out as five GCSEs at A*-C? What is the equivalent to a couple of A levels? As I say, my daughter was doing fine getting a few points at the OU when she was eight. The only thing is, that although she was doing all the work herself, there was no way of checking this. It might have been like a coursework scam and I might have been doing it for her. This makes some course of this sort a little less reliable than if a child actually sits in a room under moderated conditions and takes an examination. The IGCSEs show that she is capable of certain level of work at mathematics; they show that she herself can perform calculus. Points on an Open University course do not necessarily demonstrate the same thing at all.

There is something a little quixotic about the determination of so many home educating parents to avoid GCSEs. It is as though they are set on making life for their children just that little bit harder as they grow up. Everybody else is using an accepted scale of measuring something and they are hell bent on using something quite different.

None of this has anything to do with whether one believes or not that GCSEs or IGCSEs are actually measuring anything or saying anything worthwhile about the intelligence or education of a teenager. It is a matter of realpolitic; this what everybody believes and this is the system which is generally accepted. That being the case, it is hard to see any justification for engaging our children, who are not old enough to make an informed choice in the matter, in opposing the system. Certainly as adults, we can choose to make our lives difficult by being bloody-minded, but it is hardly fair to encourage our children to adopt a similar frame of mind as they deal with the world. Why would you do that, anyway?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Marvellous irony

I am and have for many years been, fanatically keen on home education. It is the one thing about me which most people probably know. Part of my work entails helping parents to de-register children with special educational needs from school and I am always happy also to lend a hand with this sort of thing in my private capacity. For the last fifteen years, since I withdrew my oldest daughter from school for part of the week, I have harangued anybody who will listen, with the virtues of home education, particularly as compared with the average maintained school. It is therefore the most delicious irony that I am regarded by a small number of other home educating parents as being in some way hostile to home education! When I mention this to people who are not themselves involved with home education, they are astonished.

I am not at all a fan of most schools. Many are absolutely dreadful and provide an atrocious education; unless that is you consider the acquisition by a child of cruelty, idleness, dishonesty, crude language and poor behaviour as a suitable education. In such a case, most schools excel! I have said before, and this is not figure of speech but the literal truth, that I would not trust any of the local schools in this area to look after my cat for the day. However, there are good schools. And this is the heart of the difficulty with home education. There are good schools which provide a first class education and there are bad schools which do not. Similarly, there is good home education which provides a first class education and there is bad home education which does not. Most ordinary, non-home educating parents would have no problem in accepting the truth of both these propositions. Some home educating parents however, will cheerfully agree with the first of the statements and become incandescent with fury at the second. As scripture says, they are like those who swallow a camel and then strain at a gnat.

I am just waiting now for some fool to say, 'Oh, I suppose you mean that all home educators should be forced to adopt your methods.' Nothing of the sort. Good schools use a variety of methods. The only thing which matters ultimately is not the methods, but the results. This is generally what schools are judged on; the results which they achieve. An independent inspectorate visits schools regularly and writes reports on them. What I am advocating is a similar inspectorate for home education, with home educating parents being at the heart of the process.

I really cannot understand how anybody could fail to see that just as there is good school education and bad, so too there is good home education and bad. To me and I have to say every other parent to whom I speak, this seems so self evident as to be hardly worth discussing. If we accept this, then it is clear that just as we try to identify failing schools and try to help them improve, so too we should be making an attempt to identify failing home education and aiming to improve that as well. I am sorry that a number of home educators do not get this. Quite a few do, but they tend to be the ones who just get on with educating their children and working in partnership with their local authority towards that end. I was amused to see the quotations from parents in the document which Alison Sauer has been circulating. These are clearly parents whom the local authority feels are failing in their duty to provide a suitable education for their children. Anybody involved with schools and teaching will at once recognise the sentiments expressed. Slack and inefficient teachers say the same sort of thing when they are criticised or as some would say 'bullied' for their poor performance.

In short, I am in favour of improving the standard of education in this country for all children, both those educated at home and those at school. I have little sympathy with either teachers or parents who are not dedicated to this end. As I have said before, all the rights are with the child when it comes to education. And yet once again, we are seeing reference being made to the wholly spurious 'rights' of parents. We even saw this in the document from the Department for Education yesterday. Parents' 'right' to home educate, indeed. I never saw more pernicious nonsense in my life.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Bad news for home educators

One of the more irritating aspects of home education is that while pupils in schools take all their examinations free, courtesy of the taxpayer, home educating parents who save the state around £3000 a year for a school place, also have to pay for any GCSEs that their children take. Still, it might be argued that this is something that we should take into account when we decide not to send our children to school. We assume full responsibility for our children's education and there is an end of the matter. Every IGCSE that my daughter took cost a little over £120 and so the final bill was around £1000. There we are though; I made that decision and that is my affair, there's no point moaning about it!

Part of the impact assessment for Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, the part which dealt with home education, talked of the advantages to home educated children if more of them were to gain five GCSEs between grades A* and C. I could not agree more. No central records are kept, but every so often an individual local authority will release information about this and it always suggests that home educated children are way behind when it comes to gaining good GCSEs. Last year, for example, Dudley, a town in the Midlands, revealed the figures for home educated children in their area and the GCSEs which they had taken and passed. These were pretty shocking. Of the hundred or so home educated children know to Dudley, only half had taken any GCSEs at all. Nationally, over 98% of children sit at least one GCSE. Fewer than one in ten of the home educated children managed to gain at least five GCSEs, including mathematics and English, at grades between A* and C. This is about a fifth of the national figure for children at school.

There are a number of reasons for these poor academic results. Ineffective teaching surely pays at least some part, but there is also the question of access to examination centres and the actual financial cost of the enterprise. Some families just can't afford to chuck around money on such things and in any case do not know how to go about arranging the GCSEs in the first place. The government proposed to help with this and furnish local authorities with 10% of the Age Weighted Pupil Unit, the amount which central government provides councils with for every school pupil, for some home educated pupils. It was not absolutely clear which home educated pupils would be eligible for this funding; it was at least an encouraging start and might have developed into a promising scheme. Unfortunately, the whole idea has now been scrapped.

Here is the latest news on what the government in Westminster will be providing local councils with for their pupils. The part relating to home educated children is on pages fourteen and fifteen;

As readers will see, the statement is brief and to the point; not a penny for home educators. I cannot help but wonder if there is an element of gleeful malice in those few sentences! As though the Department for Education is saying; 'Well, you bastards, you made enough trouble for us about the Badman Review. See if you will get any of that money now after the way you moaned about the other recommendations! Losers!'

This might of course be my imagination, which some of those commenting here yesterday suggested was particularly vivid. I think that most parents were a little cautious about accepting money from the local authority anyway. They suspected, probably with good cause, that any such benefits would come with strings attached. It would have been nice to have the option though, for those who were not overly concerned about closer involvement with their local authority. I am guessing that the GCSE figures for home educated children will not after all be improving dramatically in the near future as a result of this initiative and that they will remain frankly dreadful. This is a pity for those children whose parents are unable or unwilling to enter them for examinations. I think personally, that this is a short sighted policy of the government and that the £300 or so a year which was being suggested for each child would have been money well spent.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Alison Sauer presents the first fruits of the 'secret group'

I have been looking at the document which Alison Sauer has been circulating about certain local authorities. Before I discuss it, I must mention that this has cleared up a puzzling little incident which occurred a couple of weeks ago. On December 8th, Tania Berlow drew people's attention to a website on home education. It may be found here;

There was some pretty negative reaction to this website from some members of the EO list and as a result, a few things have been deleted from it. A couple of people said that it came across like a hostile spoof and somebody told me that she thought it could be a deliberate attempt to discredit home education. For instance, the site gave some slogans which it was thought that home educating parents might want to use. Among these was, ''Better Than Sex. Get Turned On with Home Education' . (Don't use this one when local authorities or the NSPCC are fretting about home education being used as a cover for child abuse!) Another one suggested that parents who didn't home educate their children, didn't really love them. This is a great line to take when building bridges with the wider community; tell everybody with a kid at school that they don't love their children. That should make them receptive to anything else you have to say!

The reason that I mention this site is that Alison Sauer's document contains a link to it. As far as I can see, this is where she collected the quotations which she uses. I am assuming this means that she is connected with the site and that she and other members of the so-called 'secret group' wrote the material to be found there.

Looking at the document itself, it is hard to know where to begin. It may be found here;

Working as I do in a very diverse part of the East End of London, I was taken aback by one of the very first sentences. This talks of concern about 'ultra vires practices by Local Authorities being deployed against British Citizens'. I work with Asylum Seekers and refugees, many of whom have questionable status. Are the authors of the document saying that ultra vires practices would be acceptable against these individuals, because they are not British citizens? Perhaps saying 'people in Britain' would have been better than 'British citizens.

The next paragraph talks of the cost for local authorities 'in both financial and human capital terms' of their supposedly unlawful actions. 'Financial' means money and so I think that the idea is to tell us how much their activities in the field of home education cost local authorities. I will hazard a guess that 'human capital' means 'people'; if so, why not just say people or staff? Why use this bizarre jargon? Weirdly, after talking of this at the beginning, no attempt is actually made to explain the cost of what the local authorities are doing. The document says that there will be 'G & A' costs and 'Lost-Opportunity cost'. What does this mean? What are 'G & A costs'? What on earth is a 'Lost-Opportunity cost'? Would this be measured in financial terms or in terms of 'human capital'? We are also told that there are 'Implications for Individual Personnel'. What are these implications? The contorted language used here suggests that more than one person was involved in writing it. This is confirmed at the bottom of the thing, where there is a reference to 'authors'. Could Tania Berlow be one of them? It sounds a bit like some of her productions.

This is one of the big problems with looking at this thing. It is couched in a really strange jargon and it is hard to make out just what the authors are trying to prove. The 'ultra vires' actions seem to amount to local authorities asking to visit families and in some cases warning parents that unless they satisfied the authority within fifteen days that an education was taking place, a School Attendance Order would be issued. These are not really unlawful things for the local authority to do. I have in front of me a letter which I received from Essex County Council nine years ago after we had run into a truancy patrol. It says;

'Mrs Joan Barclay, an Education Welfare Officer, has informed me that your daughter Simone does not attend school. I would like to come and talk to you and Simone about the education you are providing. I hope to visit you on the morning of March 18th. If this is not convenient, perhaps you could let me know.'

Now I suppose that this is what is described in Alison Sauer's document as a 'demand to allow access to the home'. Apparently, some parents who have received similar letters have endured, 'six weeks of terror' causing 'sleepless nights, tears and sadness'! I have to say that we were showing this letter to friends and laughing about it. I can't imagine offhand why I would have been, 'bursting into uncontrollable tears' or regard this letter as a 'terrifying threat'. We need to know more about the details here, before we can judge whether or not these are ludicrous over-reactions by parents to ordinary life. In other words, without being told the specific circumstances, we cannot judge whether or not a local authority has behaved unreasonably. It is possible that these are just very sensitive parents who react badly to any sort of questions from anybody who they see as being in authority. One of the difficulties with what are described as ultra vires actions in this peculiar document is that the some of the things are far from being unlawful or ultra vires; they are in fact duties which the local authority is legally obliged to undertake. Take one of the practices which the author complains of; 'written threats of taking legal action to send the children to school unless the parents comply with the demands which were being made'. Now this might be distressing or unwelcome behaviour of the part of the local authority, but it is hardly unlawful. As a matter of fact, they have to do this under certain circumstances. The relevant law says;

'If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory
school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by
regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in
writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period
specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education'

It is to be hoped that the guidelines for local authorities on elective home education which La Sauer has been writing have been put together with a little more care than the above document. (It would, to say the least of it, be unfortunate if they begin by suggesting that abuses of state power are more acceptable when directed against foreigners and stateless persons in this country than if they were to be used against those who had citizenship!) We must hope too that the guidelines are not littered with jargon such as 'human capital' and 'G & A costs'. None of this bodes particularly well for the guidelines themselves!

For those who cannot access the document via the above link, I reproduce it below.

Ultra Vires Activities by Local Authorities in Relation to
Elective Home Education

Impact Assessment

Part One [Extract 18.12.2010]

Situation Analysis

Impact upon the Victims of Abusive Conduct by Local Authorities
Immediate Victims of Harassment
A Legal Context
The Damage to Children
The Damage to Parents
Impact upon Home Educators in General
Impact upon the Wider Society

Impact upon Local Authorities
G & A Costs
Lost-Opportunity Cost
Implications for Individual Personnel
Human Resource Implications
Legal Costs
Reputational Damage

Summary and Conclusions
Addendums & Appendices

Situation Analysis

Suffolk, Oxford, Birmingham, Gwent. Gateshead and Bournemouth are all recent examples
of ultra vires practices by Local Authorities being deployed against British citizens. These are
citizens that have made the personal sacrifice and law abiding commitment to Elective
Home Education for their children.

The true cost in human terms for the family victims of such abuses and in both financial and
human capital terms for the local authorities is far more significant than most politicians,
members of the public and particularly Local Authorities realise. This document explores
the reasons for both the human cost and financial costs resulting from practices that are not
supported by law and in many cases are contraventions of law.

Whilst remedial changes to guidelines and Statutory Instruments are being considered,
there is a significant need for Local Authorities to recognise all aspects of the damage to
society being caused by ultra vires pursuits.

1. Impact – the Victims of Abusive Conduct by Local Authorities

a. Immediate Victims of Harassment

Serious impact upon the lives of parents of and children occurs with unwarranted and
clumsy interventions into the peaceful harmony of family life, for which there is no legal
basis. It is obvious from LA reactions to complaints that they are oblivious to the impact of
their actions.

b. A Legal Context

A basic tenet of criminal law in the UK is that the threat is no less a crime than action. This
reflects the real impact of threatening conduct. If you use a toy gun to threaten, it has the
same impact as a real gun upon the victim. The Prevention of Harassment Act does not
accept that the perpetrator did not know of the impact that would result. It simply and
rightly rules; they ought to have known. (section ‘7 Liabilities for the LA’ & section ‘8 Legal
costs for the LA’ of this document refer).


Extract from the Prevention of Harassment Act:

1. Prohibition of harassment.
(1)A person must not pursue a course of conduct—
(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.
(2)For the purposes of this section, the person whose course of conduct is in
question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable
person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct
amounted to harassment of the other.


Guilty until Proven Innocent?

An even more fundamental tenet enshrined into British law is the presumption of
innocence until proven guilty. This has been aggressively and wantonly brushed aside by
the recent activities of certain local authorities. (Addendum 1 refers).

c. The Damage to Children

Whilst direct impact upon parents may be shielded from the children in the family, there is
nevertheless an indirect impact upon the children to some greater or lesser extent.

Even when circumstances allow the children to be shielded from the exact nature of the
threat, serious impact upon the children occurs indirectly by causing stress and anxiety to
the parents which of course the children sense.

The psychological effects upon children of such indirect stress are far greater. The impact
caused to parents becomes more real and personal to the child, who is disturbed by seeing
distressed parents. Indirect impact is less understandable to a child and thereby more
troubling. It is less removed and adversely effects the people whom the child has the
greatest emotional and security attachment to in life. Whilst the child may not have the
verbal skills to enunciate their feelings, the feelings of anxiety exist regardless. Such anxiety
manifests its presence to the parents in uncharacteristic behaviour patterns.

In addition and somewhat paradoxically, by deflecting the parents and demoralising them,
the quality of home education is compromised too.

With older children, the seeds of long-term disaffection with the state may well be fertilised.

It is difficult to evaluate the qualitative or quantitative effect of such indirect impact upon

d. The Damage to Parents (and Family)

A third party definition of stress to parents is less meaningful than listening to parents own
description of how they characterise the impact. The following remarks were made by
parents that had varying experiences from, demands to allow access to the home, threats to
bring the police to an unscheduled home visit, demands to prove that education was
‘suitable’ to the LA’s satisfaction, to written threats of taking legal action to send the
children to school unless parents comply with demands that were being made which were
ultra vires in nature. It speaks volumes:-

“Completely frightening threats to deprive my children of home education”

“For a law abiding person to be threatened with the police is demoralising and made me
feel really scared”

“They were deliberately intimidating and totally insensitive to my feelings.”

“It was obvious form the very start that they were completely anti-home educators and
showed not even a n ounce of respect to me.”

“It made me very angry and upset to think that people could be like this”

“Terrifying threats from people that are ignorant about home education”

“After everything I have done to help develop well brought-up children, well educated,
safe and happy, it was a point of abject despair to be verbally threatened with the police
and the law courts and worse the thought of my children being forced into a bad

“Looking back, the six weeks of terror caused sleepless nights, tears and sadness that I
sometimes could not hide from my two children. It has changed my view of Britain being
a fair place to live.”

“I am scarred by the experience.”

“Friends and family were incredibly supportive at a time where I felt devastated.”

“At my son’s birthday party I burst into uncontrollable tears just thinking about it.”

“Deeply disturbing.”

“I guess I never had experience of real fear in my life until then.”

“The implication was that I was not doing the best for my children and it made me feel
inadequate. I lost self-confidence which is still not where it was after all these weeks.”

“I am still frightened and I have cut down the times that I take [name removed] out
during school term.”

“When he said he thought that he would start the legal process against us to get our
children into school, my husband and I both cried together that night.”


“Home edding our children is the centre of family life. What bloody effect do you think it

“I was ashamed by the thought that my daughter would be taken to school and didn’t
want to tell anyone. I found a forum on the internet that really helped because I was not

“Fear, panic, anger and desperation that’s all I can say.”

e. Impact upon Home Educators in General

Abusive conduct from L.A.’s encourages ‘Defensive parenting’.
It breeds contempt for the L.A. and educational services.
It alienates parents of EHE children from the state (the L.A. is seen as being the
frontline representative of the state).
It encourages those EHE families that are not known to the LA to remain so.
It encourages adopters of EHE to decide in favour of keeping an ‘unknown’ status.

f. Impact upon the Wider Society

It leads to increased distrust and alienation towards the LA for people not even
necessarily directly involved in EHE but aware of it through family or friends.
It alienates those people who are suppliers to, contributors or active supporters of
and EHE families (i.e. relatives).
It spreads bad repute far and wide. Local Authorities are oblivious to the total
number of people involved not just directly but indirectly in EHE. Bad repute
spreads more quickly than good repute.

© 2010 This extracted document and its content are the protected copyright of it authors.
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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Missing the obvious

I sometimes wonder if my wits are slower than those of those around me. Others seem to know things about the world which I cannot quite grasp. The day before yesterday, it was the dangers of the Internet for children; today it is the motives of local authority officers. Now I have not the least doubt that among the staff employed by the hundred and fifty or so local authorities, there are many busybodies and also not a few people who are more concerned with drawing their salaries than they are with helping the citizens in their area. Some of them are probably also scared that a home educated child will come to harm and they will themselves be blamed. This is human nature. However, I also assume that most people who take up careers with children do so because they like children and care about their welfare. That at least has been my experience with the teachers, nursery workers, Ed Psychs and social workers with whom I work and whom I know socially.

Many of the home educating parents who post here and on the lists apparently think that none of the people working for in local authority departments dealing with elective home education are doing this job because they actually care about children. There are dark hints that they have completely different motives. I am puzzled by this. I may be a bit slow on the uptake here, but what other reason do people think that these staff have, apart from the obvious one of being worried about the education and welfare of children? Many of them are former teachers, which suggests to me that they like kids. I dare say they are good people; most people are certainly that. I simply cannot see why they should be doing all the things which some parents are complaining about unless they really thought that their actions were in the best interests of the child?

I hope that somebody can help with this, because I do pick up a definite undercurrent that many parents believe that these people do not have the kids' interests at heart. If they do not; what on earth is driving them?

Local authorities planning together on elective home education

From across England come eerily similar stories of local authority officers behaving in what some home educating parents see as unjustifiable ways. This centres in the main around requests to see the child physically and discuss with parents and child the nature of the educational provision being provided. The rationale behind this is fairly plain. It is easy enough for a parent to write that a child visits the library, plays the violin and belongs to various clubs; this does not make it true. Some local authority officers have found that when they talk to the children themselves, some of them have no idea at all what they are supposed to be doing. Clearly, the parents have been putting down whatever they think will sound like a good education!

Local authorities do not work in a vacuum. They talk to each other regularly, not only neighbouring authorities, but ones at the other end of the country. When Mike Allpress was the lead person in this county, Essex, on elective home education, he used to organise conferences in Harlow for other authorities in the south east. Representatives came from as far away as Southampton and a common framework would be agreed. This happens all over England. Just as some home educators band together and exchange information on lists such as the Badman Review Action Group, so too do local authorities pass on concerns to each other. Most of them also belong to the main Internet groups like BRAG, HE-UK and so on. They are very well informed about developments in the world of home education.

The behaviour of local authority officers responsible for home education in various parts of the country is now showing a common theme. In the Unitary Authority of Poole, in Suffolk, Oxfordshire, Birmingham and Gateshead, the same tactic is being used. Children who have not been seen for some time because their parents refuse visits, are the target for attention. The thrust of this is that local authorities want to see the kid and talk face to face with the parents. I can see their point. We often see parents on lists and forums who ask for help in putting together educational philosophies, but who would be rather at a loss if asked outright just what they had been doing for their kids education this week!

Home education in this country has been established by precedent, rather than statute. Apart from a few oblique references in some laws which were drawn up without even considering home education as such, most of the legal basis comes from old court cases; Bevan v Shears, Phillips v Brown, Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson and so on. Having failed, at least for now, to gain any new legislation, the aim is to build up a few court cases which will tend to show that local authorities have more power than the old cases of precedent indicate. They are being quite cautious about this and as soon as a parent complains to one of the home eduction groups, they will back-pedal. However, as I have pointed out before, the great majority of home educating parents do not belong to Internet groups. The first that we will hear of such a court case is when it has been reported in the papers.

At a guess, I would say that several local authorities will find parents who are supposedly home educating but are actually not providing even the sketchiest attempt at any sort of education. These parents will have School Attendance Orders issued against them and at least a few will refuse to comply with them. The resulting prosecutions will allow the local authorities to state their views in court and as long as they choose the right parents, the magistrates will then allow the allow the prosecution to succeed. A few successes of this sort, particularly if any appeals by the parents to higher courts fail, will change the landscape of home education in this country. As I say, the present way that home education is tolerated in England is a result of court decisions. The situation can be altered in the same way. In the absence of any new legislation, this is how local authorities will be able to effect a change in the legal situation around home education. What has been noticed in places like Birmingham and Suffolk are the opening shots in this campaign.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Internet security, Part 2

I have for some years been puzzled about all the fuss about the dangers which the Internet poses to children and young people. What is particularly interesting to me is that when I ask ordinary people what these dangers actually are, they seem unable to tell me! I am very much inclined to think that it is another aspect of the obsessive protection which so many parents today are determined to afford their children; protection which does them no favours once they are a little older. The peak age for deaths from road accidents among children and young people is eleven and twelve. The reason? These are children who have always been driven to school by their parents and not allowed out on their own to cross the road. As soon as they start secondary school and travel by themselves, they find they do not know the elementary principles of road safety. Mind you, a lot of parents now continue to take their kids to school even when they are fourteen or fifteen. No wonder such children are unable to assess hazards by themselves.

Returning to the subject of the perils of the Internet, a particular anxiety for parents seems to be that the child might reveal her personal contact details; in ordinary language, her address. This is apparently extremely dangerous. I wonder what the danger is thought to consist of? let us look at the past and see how things worked for many years, without any great harm befalling children. I have already mentioned that anybody leafing through a local paper will be able to take his pick of photographs of children and teenagers. May Queen, winner of a Duke of Edinburgh's Award, choristers, school sports days; the list is endless. It has often been the custom to describe the young person by name and road, as in; 'Gladys Jones of Church Lane won the prize for best kept garden' or something similar. A quick trip to the local library to consult the electoral register would soon tell you what number in Church Lane the Jones live at. Oh, no! Somebody has hold of the child's personal details! Still, it might be argued, this is only a local matter. With the Internet, anybody in Britain might find out a child's home address if she isn't careful. Looking through a pile of old magazines and comics from the fifties and sixties, we find that a number have sections for penpals. Children and teenagers write in and ask for others to write to them. They typically detail their hobbies and interests, sometimes send a photograph and, horror of horrors, their address is there for all to see in a nationally circulated publication!

Now I don't recall ever reading a guide to 'Penpal Security' or even 'Having Your Picture in the Local Paper Security' and I never heard of an child being abducted, raped or murdered as a result of these things. What actually is the danger of a complete stranger seeing a photograph of a teenager or child and knowing her address? Obviously, if there is a danger then it must also have existed in the fifties and sixties.

One threat which many parents worry about is that their child could be 'groomed' by a paedophile. I don't doubt for a moment that some weird adults wrote to children in the sixties and engaged them as penpals by pretending to be children themselves. I am sure that the same thing happens today, although it is unlikely to be by letter. Instant messenger or email is more likely. A child's home address in this context is quite irrelevant. The grooming adult is not likely to send the kid a letter!

What other dangers are there? Could a stranger stake out the home of a child? Well this is possible, but unlikely. If I were that way inclined and wanted to watch the house of a teenager, why would I go any further than my own neighbourhood? There are plenty of children and teenagers living round here and if I wanted to, I suppose that I could go and hide in their back gardens at night. I would hardly need to get an address from the Internet if that was what I enjoyed doing. There has never been a shortage of Peeping Toms, even before the Internet was even thought of.

What about rape and murder? The same applies really. Children are almost always raped and murdered by their friends and families; the risk from complete strangers is very small. Besides, what am I going to do? See a kid's picture on the Internet, note with pleasure that her address is there and then take a train to her home town and knock on the door? Why would I go to all that trouble when there are plenty of other kids locally?

Those adults who wish to form inappropriate relationships with and abuse children do not need to use the Internet. having an address would not really help such people. They need to build a friendship with the child, gain their trust. Such people generally get jobs as teachers, tennis coaches and swimming instructors. That way they can actually get to know the children. A random address of some child who is unknown to them would be useless.

Perhaps readers can give me a few tips here on why the addresses of children are so much more likely to bring harm to them now than was the case fifty years ago? I am genuinely intrigued by this.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Internet security

Those over the age of thirty five or forty, the generation which did not grow up with computers, always seem to assume that there is something uniquely dangerous about the Internet and that one must be fanatically cautious about what is said and done there. Somebody commenting here recently, for example, had been trawling the net and seeing what could be gleaned about me and my family. There is quite a bit, including various new items which concern my daughter.

It is not really very hard to track down people's personal details. If a news item about a child appears in the local paper, it might say perhaps, 'Mary Smith (14) of Foxes lane'. If you wanted to, you could then consult the electoral register at the local library and then you would have her exact address. Most of us wouldn't want to do this, but some weird people might. This is an example of how personal details can be uncovered without going anywhere near the Internet. One is bound to say; so what? We all know that teenage girls live in houses and flats throughout the country. Most of us see them entering their houses in our own street without giving this a second thought. If one were that keen, I suppose that it would be possible to follow teenage girls home from school and see where they lived. All these things are possible and have been done in the past, long before the Internet came into existence.

There seems to be a feeling that once a young person's whereabouts become known on the web, her house will become a magnet for stalkers, psychos, perverts and serial killers; but this seems unlikely. If I want to stalk a teenage girl, why on earth would I trawl the net for targets? As I said, they are all around us. The person who commented here about my daughter has, rather oddly, gone to the trouble of trying to identify the very house where she lives on google streetview. She thinks, or claims to think, that the knowledge that a teenage girl is living in this particular house or that might be enough to put somebody at hazard.

One can never be entirely safe from strange people and although some of them are dangerous, the vast majority are harmless and inadequate. I am guessing that the individual who went to the trouble of finding my daughter's address and then wished to peer at the house, perhaps in the hope of catching a glimpse of her, is more likely to be the Peeping Tom type than the crazed rapist. It is curious though that somebody would do this; come onto a blog about home education and then try to prove that he could find out the address and spy on the home of a young girl. I had better not tell you what my daughter's private opinion of this person is, as it might offend those readers who are unused to strong language!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Between September and December 2009, Ofsted circulated questionnaires in and visited fifteen local authority areas with a view to finding out the views of home educating parents on a wide range of topics. They spoke face-to-face with a hundred and twenty parents and a hundred and thirty children of home educators and received the views of many more via their answers to the questionnaires. It was a worthwhile project. Among other things, this research uncovered evidence of offrolling and also the fact that parents of children with special educational needs were being discouraged from deregistering their children from school by the threat of withdrawal of all support services. One mother was told that it was a case of 'school and services or home education and no services'.

You might have though that nobody in their senses could possibly have been opposed to a survey of this sort, but you would have been wrong. Across various Internet lists, those in the local authority areas concerned were being urged to boycott the whole process and refuse even to speak to any of those conducting the research. It was broadly hinted that those who participated would be no better than Quislings.

Even when somebody very sympathetic to home education such as Pula Rothermel tries to find out what home educators want and how they feel about home education, 80% do not wish to answer any questions. A social worker doing an MA contacted Mike Fortune-Wood recently and expressed a desire to contact members of Home Education UK in order to find out what their objections would be to the involvement of social workers in their lives as a way of safeguarding their children. Now speaking personally, I would not have seen the need for any social worker to come within a hundred miles of my family when I was educating my daughter. I would have welcomed an opportunity to explain my reasons for feeling this to be unnecessary. I would have been happy to have the chance to set the record straight on this question. Mike Fortune-Wood's reply to this person deserves to be quoted in full;

'The problem with your question is that it is overly provocative.

The very idea that children need to be 'seen' by a SW to be safe is of
itself offensive. it is in any event beyond any legal requirement and an
infringement of article 8 of the ECHR.

I'm not sure that I feel comfortable with someone asking my members under
what conditions they would be happy to have their human rights infringed.

There is neither a duty or power for either a child protection department or
an LEA, or a merged child services department to undertake any such checks.
Neither can I imagine that routine checking of HE families could possibly be
of any use.'

Now I will say nothing of the horribly paternalistic attitude shown here. Why not simply publish this person's email address and leave it up to others to either contact or not contact this individual as they see fit? Perhaps Mike Fortune-Wood is not confident that 'his' members would make the right decision about this!

This is indeed an' overly provocative' question. That is the whole point. The questions posed for theses of this sort are often very controversial; one recent one was 'Are social services a necessary branch of local government or would the situation be improved by a return to individual philanthropy of the sort common in Victorian Britain?' The whole point is that the question might be devised not in order to prove a point but often to argue against it. Without knowing the precise wording of the title of this piece of work, it is impossible to know what the thrust of this person's argument was likely to be. Even if we assume that she was going to argue that home educated children needed to be seen by social workers, surely here is a perfect opportunity for parents to put their case and counteract such an idea? Why would anybody not wish to engage in a debate on this? There is certainly a strand of local authority thinking which believes that social services should be keeping an eye on home educated children. Many parents do not agree with this proposition; why not explain why parents are against this?

The reluctance of home educating parents to take part in research or answer questions about their lifestyle hardly helps their cause. The person who contacted Mike Fortune-Wood has probably gone off thinking that home educators are as secretive and closed as the Plymouth Brethren or Amish. Is this impression really helpful? Most parents of children at school are open, even boastful and proud, about their children's achievements and their own style of parenting. I simply cannot see why giving somebody the brush-off in this way could possible be a good idea.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Resentment at being forced to do something

One of the things which I have noticed during the recent debates about the behaviour of the local authorities in both Birmingham and Suffolk is that the people commenting on the Internet lists are very angry. Actually, they are not just angry about the doorstepping by local authority officers; some of them seem to be in a permanent state of fury! This is curious, because I thoroughly enjoyed being a home educator and I was happy for most of the time. Educating my child was a source of great joy to me and this joy permeated my entire life. It was great; like a constant high!

Now I am quite prepared to believe that some of these angry parents have had problems with their local authority. A lot of us have problems with our local authority, although not always about home education. Rowing with the council is one of those things that have become a leitmotif of the age; rubbish collections, streetlights, education, petty rules, parking regulations, the list is endless. Home educators are certainly not alone in getting pissed off with their local authority. Most of us manage to keep these disagreements in perspective. However irritable I get on the telephone with the council, I can usually chuckle about it in the evening with my wife. One feels that this is probably not the case with the angry people one encounters on HE-UK and BRAG!

I could not help but notice that when I posted about Suffolk, one of those commenting had a laid back and rational view of the matter. By an odd coincidence, this person was somebody, like me, who has chosen to be a home educator. The great majority of those who are becoming angry on a regular basis have not chosen to home educate; they say that they have been forced to do it. This cannot help but give them a rather different perspective from somebody who embraced the idea enthusiastically from the day of the child's birth and always intended to do it. We all of us get a little tetchy when we are made to do something. It stops being fun if we have been compelled to undertake an activity or task. iIwonder if this could be at the root of the terrible anger which I come across, not only on the lists, but here on my own blog.

All parents get upset and angry if something is harming their child; whether it is a bully at school, failure to provide sufficient support for a special educational need or simply something which causes the child unhappiness. Many home educators have felt compelled to undertake the education of their children, not because they are keen on home education, but because they feel that this is the only way to rescue the child from misery. This decision to de-register the child from school is often the culmination of increasingly fraught and bitter arguments with the school and the local authority. This does not, from the beginning, tend to create a foundation for cordial relations with the local authority, whom many such parents blame for their child's unhappiness. Parents like this are already angry with their local authority before they start to home educate. This does not bode well for the future. On top of this is the fact that although they may not begrudge the child the home education, they are at the same time keenly aware that this is not something which they have really chosen freely. They sent the child to school at four or five like everybody else and now they have had to adopt a new and strange lifestyle. Their family and neighbours might disapprove, they have less money and freedom than they had when the kid was in school; it would be surprising if some of them did not get a little angry about this new situation.

I have noticed that those who chose to educate their own child seem to be more relaxed and good natured about it than many of those who felt that they have been forced into it. This is not to be wondered at. I have also noticed that those growing angriest about the local authorities are often those who have had fights with their own local authorities before having to take their children out of school. It is not hard to see that they are projecting a lot of their anger onto the local authority in Suffolk or Birmingham. I would be curious to hear of parents whose children have never attended school who are able to generate the same levels of anger as those who already have a history of fighting with their own council.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Doorstepping in Suffolk

I have been trying, not for the first time, to try and make sense of what is happening in the world of home education by putting myself in the place of the participants and thinking how I would feel and act. In Suffolk, at least one parent has received a letter from the local authority, saying that because they have not seen the home educated child for five years, they wish to pop round and assure themselves that the child is still physically alive and well and in the county. There have been predictable howls of outrage about this.

Let me first try and put myself in the place of the parent and see what I would do in a similar situation. This should not be hard. I was never overenthusiastic about having apparatchiks from local government poking into my affairs. I am still not. It should not be difficult for me to put myself in this person's place, because exactly the same thing happened to me when I was home educating. The local authority told me that I had been living and home educating in their county for years and that they wouldn't mind seeing the kid, just to make sure everything was OK.

The first thing to say at once is that I found this irritating. I knew the child was safe, well and receiving a far better education that she was ever likely to get at the local maintained school. What the Devil business was it of these people? Judging by what has been said on the lists, this was not the initial reaction of the parent to whom Suffolk sent a letter. Apparently the family were 'traumatised'. This sounds a bit rummy to me. What on earth is going on in their house that they would be traumatised at the prospect of a knock on the door from a local authority officer? Their child was apparently in tears. Now call me Mr Oldfashioned, but if I got a letter through the post that I thought might upset my child, I would not even mention it to her. Why would I? I'm the adult, it is for me to tackle things like that. What would I actually do in such a circumstance? To begin with of course, the bit about the unannounced visit is just designed to encourage the family to engage with their local authority. I might allow such a person into my home; I might not, depending upon how I was feeling that day. I would be inclined to ring Suffolk County Council and say something to the following effect;

'I have your letter and quite honestly it's a bit of a sauce. There's no point at all in your coming round at random like that, because you won't get into the house or see my child. If you want to meet her and see that she is alive and well, then I don't mind arranging to meet you in the library. What about next Thursday lunchtime? I don't mind doing this once in a while, although it's a great nuisance. If you pester me too much though, I shall make such a fuss to MPs and so on that you will think that you would better have stuck your head in a hornets' nest'.

Everybody is now happy. The parent and his family are freed from the fear of an unannounced knock on the door and the local authority are able to satisfy themselves that the child is alive and well.

Looking at the matter now from the point of view of Suffolk; it is possible to have some sympathy for them. Some home education advisors employed by local authorities behave as though they are running semi-autonomous fiefdoms. They play their cards close to their chests and often nobody actually sees their files and records from one year to the next. When somebody moves on or dies without handing on the caseload with plenty of notice, it can be discovered that everything is in a terrible state and it is impossible to know who has been seen and who not or even who is still being home educated. The last thing any local authority wants is for it to come to light that some kid in their area has died or is being cruelly mistreated without their knowing about it. It looks lousy when that sort of thing turns up in the papers. The easiest thing would be to trawl through the jumbled up files and then physically visit every one of those families just to make sure that they are still in the local authority area. Again, a very similar thing happened to me when a new officer started work in Essex and wanted to visit every family on the books, even though I had just allowed a visit six months earlier.

It strikes me that with a little bit of give and take, it should be possible to resolve these difficulties without recourse to the Human Rights Act!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

He was one as well!

Many years ago, I used to spend a lot of time in the company of homosexuals. Hardly surprising, since I was hanging round the Gay Liberation Front, who at that time had a commune in Penge. Something which I noticed was that a certain type of 'gay' person, usually the camp, theatrical ones who sprinkled their conversation with Polari, constantly claimed that many famous people were or had been homosexual. They would say, 'That Henry Cooper; he's gay. Well known fact' or 'Everybody in theatre knows about Sean Connery'. Something which I soon noticed was that nearly all the people to whom they referred were actually not homosexuals at all. If it wasn't that, it would be the Ancient Greeks. They would rave on about how enlightened that society was, where men could commit sodomy at the drop of a hat and nobody would think twice about it.

I have been reminded of all this while glancing through the newly revamped Home Education UK website. There is a section on it called 'Famous People'. Now I am assuming that these are supposed to be not just famous people, but famous people who were actually home educated. Just as with my 'gay' friends, I cannot help but notice that half the people here were no more home educated than I was. Charles Dickens, for example. Unless you count a spell working in a warehouse when he was a small child, there is no possible way that Dickens could be described as home educated. Is working in a warehouse an acceptable form of home education? No wonder the local authorities in places like Suffolk are getting a bit edgy these days! Franklin Roosevelt? Went to boarding school. The Wright brothers? Attended both elementary and high school, although truanted a bit and were once suspended.

I am not going to go through the entire list of names, except to say that the great majority are dubious. Joan of Arc? How many village girls in France five hundred years ago did go to school? As I say, this all reminds me very much of a tiny minority group claiming that loads of famous people shared their own peculiarity. I would be curious to see a list of people who were genuinely home educated by choice. Oh yes, I almost forgot. Davy Crocket. I wonder how many schools there were around when he was growing up on the wild frontier?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Implications of higher estimates for the number of home educated children in this country

Different people make different guesses about the number of electively home educated children in this country. These guesses though, remain just that. Paula Rothermel a few years ago produced a figure of almost half a million, the York Consulting research suggested perhaps a twentieth of that. When Graham Badman put forward the figure of a possible eighty thousand, some claimed that this was a wild exaggeration.

The reason that the estimates vary so greatly is that different people are trying to prove different things. Since nobody has the least idea of the numbers, nobody can really argue with the guesses. If a home education organisation wishes to demonstrate that home education is hardly worth bothering about, they might suggest that only thirty thousand or so are involved. If on the other hand, somebody wishes to portray it as an unstoppable, mass movement, then the claim might be made that the numbers exceed a hundred thousand. Those calling for increased regulation of home education use the same tricks.

Mike Fortune-Wood now claims that his research suggests that the true number of home educated children in this country is eighty thousand. Let us take that number and see where it leads us. York Consulting found that the average number of home educated children per family was 1.4. This would suggest that there are somewhere in the region of a hundred thousand parents of home educated children in the country. (This is based upon the blatantly heteronormative assumption that each child will have two parents and if I offend any families living in seaside resorts on the south coast where this may not be the case, I can only apologise.)

Not all parents of home educated children are in favour of home education. We know that some mothers have difficulties with ex-partners over this question. Even with parents who remain together, one or the other can be against the practice. So when working out what percentage of parents of home educated children are in favour of this aspect or other, I think it wise to take all the parents into account when making our calculations. After all, when responding to those conducting research, it is quite common for both parents to submit separate responses.

A fairly large Internet list like the Badman Review Action Group has about seven hundred and fifty members. Not all those who belong are actually home educating parents. There are quite a few people like me and Ali Edgely who do not have a child aged between five and sixteen being educated out of school. I would guess that about a third of the members are like that. The remaining five hundred would mean that for all the anger and noise generate on such a list, it represents the interests of just 0.5% of home educating parents. Hardly representative! When they conducted a survey to see who was opposed to compulsory registration, eighty nine people voted against the idea. Even if we assume that all were home educating parents, this tells us the views of fewer than 0.1 of home educating parents in this country.

Even the biggest groups, Education Otherwise for instance, have only three thousand members or so. Again, not all these are home educating parents. If they were, then this group would represent the interests of just 3% of home educating parents in this country. Realistically, this is more like to be 2%, as many members are not genuine home educators. The implications for the legitimacy of these organisations is greatly diluted, the larger the estimated numbers of home educated children. Try looking at the responses sent to the Badman review and the subsequent select committee hearing and then calculating by removing about a third, sent by people who were not home educating parents, and then expressing the remaining numbers as a percentage of a hundred thousand. They are pitifully small in number and hardly able to claim anything at all about the average home educating parents.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Doing the maths

I mentioned in passing yesterday that 99.9% of people sent their children to school. Upon which, predictably enough, somebody challenged me to 'do the maths'. Actually, the real figure is probably even less than this. The most thorough study attempting to discover the prevalence of home education in this country was the survey carried out in nine local authority areas by York Consulting. This took place in 2006 and was called; The Prevalence of Home Education in England: A Feasibility Study. In the nine local authority areas at which they looked, Hopwood et al found that the percentage of home educated children know to the authority varied between 0.09 and 0.42. this is less than half the 0.1 which I suggested yesterday. Even these figures may be inflated. When Ofsted conducted a study in fifteen local authority areas, they discovered that the numbers of electively home educated children fluctuated wildly throughout the year. In one authority, there were six hundred and thirty in September, but this had dropped to four hundred and thirty or so by June. People begin in September, full of enthusiasm and then a third of them have given up by Christmas!

York Consulting were criticised for choosing local authority areas with a high proportion of Gypsy/Roma/Traveller families and this too could have artificially inflated the numbers, as compared with the other hundred and forty or so local authorities at which they did not look. Even if you assume that the numbers of home educated children are roughly double that of those actually known to the local authorities, this would still only give a maximum figure of 0.84% of children aged between five and sixteen, well below the 0.1 which I claimed yesterday.

I notice that in his revamped website, Mike Fortune-Wood is suggesting that there might be eighty thousand children being educated at home. I am curious to know upon what he bases this figure. He seems to have taken the number of children known to local authorities at the beginning of the year, rounded it up and then quadrupled it! I would be interested to know his rationale for this method of calculation. One might as well simply multiply by the date and add the change in your pocket in order to obtain a figure!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Public opinion

One of the difficulties which everybody has with home educating parents is that there seems to be a far higher proportion of crackpots and cranks among them than is the case with the general population. In other words, if you were to take a group of home educating parents and set them alongside a group of people who sent their kids to school, the home educating ones would contain more peculiar individuals than average. This is not necessarily a bad thing of course. Weird and atypical people sometimes produce great inventions, write fantastic poetry or have radical idea which revolutionise human thought. These are the exceptions. Most weird people are just.... well, weird!

I suppose that when 99.9% of the population do something as a matter of routine, then the odd 0.1% are bound by definition to be out of step with society. This would be the case whether it was being prepared to accept blood transfusions, living in flats and houses rather than caravans or sending your children to school. What happens though is that very often these people forget how peculiar their behaviour is, because they gravitate to other people who share their peculiarities. Jehovah's Witnesses hang out with other Witnesses, travellers cluster together and home educators frequently join groups and online communities full of other strange people who don't send their kids to school. Often, friends and relatives stop mentioning that it is really odd not to send their children to school like everybody else and so after a while, they regard it as perfectly normal.

The difficulty arises when those with these unusual notions come into contact with ordinary people. The family whose child desperately needs a blood transfusion to save her life, for instance. It is crystal clear to the hospital staff that this is a vital procedure. They hand the form to the parents as a matter of routine, only to find that they refuse to sign it on the grounds that the Bible forbids this common practice. For anybody but Witnesses, this is barking mad and demonstrates a callous disregard for the child's life. In the same way, teachers and local authority officers take it for granted that children should be taught. They come up against a parent who assures them that this is quite unnecessary and that they are opposed to the practice on principle. Small wonder that they think the parent is showing an irresponsible attitude to her daughter's welfare and future life prospects.

This is not to say that either the Jehovah's Witness or the home educating parent are actually wrongheaded and negligent of their children's welfare; only that ordinary people who are not members of the group, cult, call it what you will, believe this strongly to be the case. If it were only doctors or teachers who felt this way, then one could perhaps dismiss this as professionals prejudice. Unfortunately, it is not. For the man or woman in the street too, the idea of refusing either blood transfusions or teaching for a child is almost criminally negligent.

It is this problem that many home educators must confront, although many seem unable or unwilling to do so. The fact that their way of life is seen by many as bizarre and running counter to their children's best interests. Any debating position which fails to take this into account is pretty pointless, because ultimately it is the mores of society which tend to become codified into law. Until the man on the Clapham omnibus is persuaded that schools and teaching are not necessary for children's development, then home education will always be at hazard of regulation or suppression.