Saturday, 30 April 2011

Children missing from education

In February 2007, for reasons which need not concern us, the 1996 Education Act was amended. Section 436A was added, which laid upon local authorities a duty to seek out and identify children in their area who were not receiving an education. Part of the new legislation says that local authorities should:

make inquiries with parents educating children at home about the educational provision being made for them.

Rather confusingly, Section 437 goes on to say local authorities should only make these enquiries:

if it appears that a child is not receiving education.

There is of course a contradiction here. On the one hand, local authorities should seek out parents who are not providing an education for their children and then make enquiries of them. Home educating parents are specifically included in this. A few paragraphs later, we are told that these enquiries should only be made of home educating parents, 'if it appears' that a child is not receiving an education. So are the local authority to make enquiries of all home educating parents about the educational provision, as Section 436A would seem to suggest? Or should they limit these enquiries only to those cases where is appears to them that an education is not being provided, as is laid down in Section 437?

It is this conundrum which is currently exercising the minds of a number of home educators and former home educators. Although the law is not clear, common sense would suggests that the duty in Section 436A should probably be the thing the to follow. Different people have many and various duties in law, some of which it is for local authorities to enforce. For example, an hotel owner must provide things like wash basins and take care to keep meat products separate from other foods in his kitchen. This is his duty and it is entirely his responsibility to see that such things are done. Nevertheless, the local authority has a duty to check that he is doing this. They will do so, regardless of whether they have reason to suppose that he is failing in this duty. Similarly, parents have a duty to provide their children with an education, either at school or at home. The local authority, just as in the case of the hotel owner, will check that this duty is being complied with. they do so whether or not they have cause to doubt that a suitable education is being provided. The law may be confusing, but our common sense tells us that when hotel owners, shopkeepers, managers of factories, teachers or parents have a duty; some at least will seek to evade this duty. This is human nature. The role of local authorities is to keep an eye out for such evasions and check that they do not happen. It seems as though, once again, home educators wish for special consideration which is not given to others.

Friday, 29 April 2011

A robust form of education

As I have probably mentioned , I home educated my daughter not because she was bullied or because I was anxious about the pressures of school, but because I wished to give her a good education. It is after all upon the quality of education, which this pedagogical technique must ultimately be judged; not its other supposed advantages. When we are weighing up the merits of an educational setting, looking at a school for example, then it is the education being provided which should really concern us. Of course the sports facilities and pastoral care are important, but the single most important question will be; does this place provide a good education? Looked at from this perspective, home education succeeds brilliantly, matching anything which can be offered in the most expensive independent school in the country.

It should not be surprising that home education is so effective. Even in the most exclusive private school, the child will be learning in a group, with only an hour or two each week for most subjects. This is in contrast to the intensive, one to one tuition which is possible with home education. It is the ultimate 'personalised learning', to use the modern jargon. The child will always be set work to precisely his own level of ability, there is unlimited time available for extension work and extra-mural activities, the slightest problem or lack of understanding may be dealt with as soon as it is noticed. No time at all is wasted in the educational process; no settling down, no kids mucking about, no disruptive children, no bright children becoming bored, nor slow ones falling behind. Just solid and unrelenting focus upon one or two children, whose needs are paramount. Little wonder that under such conditions, children are able to thrive academically in a way that many are unable to do at school.

It is not as though the information which school teachers provide is particularly arcane or obscure. The specifications for GCSEs, either standard or international, are freely available. These explain precisely what the child needs to know in order to get top marks and it is then simply a matter of ensuring that he knows it! Nothing could be simpler. Without the distractions and irrelevant activities which take up so much time in schools, it is hard to see how any child of average ability could fail to get A* at all his examinations.

When, as is perhaps inevitable, there are attempts in the future by teachers or educationalists to criticise the idea of home education, these are the points which need to be used to counter such criticism; that home education is extremely effective as a form of education. If this can be shown, then the debate will be won. If home education comes across to professionals as a slipshod and second rate means of educating a child, something favoured only by sandal wearing homeopaths, whose children are too timid and shy to mix with others, then in the end there will be a crackdown on the practice. It is this aspect of home education, that it is a robust and effective form of education, that we need to be demonstrating to sceptics.

A good idea...

Now here is something which our masters could consider:

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Greenwich Council and home education

As solid evidence of my contention that some home educating parents could start a fight in an empty room, I offer the following. It is Greenwich Council's advice to parents who wish to educate their own children:

Greenwich are currently being accused of misinterpreting the law, persecuting certain home educators and generally behaving in a way which would disgrace the Gestapo. Specifically, their website is supposedly suggesting that annual visits are compulsory. Let's see: 'a Home Education Officer will make a request to visit the family on an annual basis, if possible,' Does this sound like compulsion? 'Will make a request', 'if possible'. What Greenwich are saying really is that the passage of time is a change in circumstance and that what constitutes a suitable education for a five year old might not be quite the thing when that same child is eleven or even fifteen. For that reason they are asking to see what is being done from time to time. Many local authorities suggest that they would ideally like to visit every year; this is not illegal. Most of them, once they are sure that the child is actually being educated, will stop coming round after a while. My own council, Essex, when asking for an annual visit used to say in the letter that they would be happy with a written report instead and that visits were not really vital.

One cannot help feeling that if parents just spoke to their local authority and invited them round for a chat, a lot of the unpleasantness of which one hears might be avoided. Once the council know that a child is OK and that she is getting an education, they tend to leave the family alone. This strikes me as the most sensible policy all round for both parents and councils.

Local authorities telling lies

Regular readers will be aware that I have something of a bee in my bonnet about parents' 'rights' as opposed to children's rights. Although it is not always explicitly stated in such terms, much of the debate about British home education hinges around a supposed 'right' of parents to educate their own children. This becomes clear when we examine the sort of problems which parents bring to the attention of the lists and forums which support home educators. Typically, a parent will complain that her local authority is exceeding its legal duties in one way or another, or misleading parents about the law or behaving in some other way which is upsetting to the parents of children who are not at school. The comments which follow are invariably concerned with the behaviour of the council concerned; Are they following the letter of the law? Have they exceeded their powers? Do they understand the precise responsibilities laid upon them by this or that guidance? Nobody asks what seems to me to be the only important question in the case, that is to say enquiring of the parent whether or not she is actually providing her child with an education.

There is no doubt at all that local authorities habitually mislead people about their legal duties and powers. Generally, they do so because they honestly feel that a lot of the children being kept out of school would be better off if they were to be sent to school. However, proving that a local authority has overstepped its powers or even told a lie to a parent does not shed any light upon whether the child in the case is in fact being educated. In other words, the debate is more about the dealings of the local authority with the parent than it is about the child's education. It seems as though if some of those on the lists and forums can only prove to their own satisfaction that a council has not complied with the law, then they feel that the point has been won; another victory for home education! If however the child is not actually being educated, then all the lies in the world being told by some local authority have no more to do with the case than the flowers that bloom in the spring. It is this one crucial question, whether a child is receiving an efficient education suitable to his age and whatever special needs he might have, which is never addressed in these places. Those commenting will tell the mother, 'You should do this' or 'You should quote that piece of the law at them', they never ask outright; 'Is the council right to have these concerns?' The assumption is always that the local authority is wrong and the parent right. By encouraging such parents without taking the trouble first to establish the facts, those who give such advice are sometimes guilty helping a parent to violate a child's rights. It is criminally irresponsible to aid and abet a parent in this way unless you first take the effort to find out whether her child is really being educated.

I suppose that the closest analogy is that of a criminal case in a courtroom. Many of these cases centre around whether or not the police have followed this procedure or that, was their notebook written up at the time of the incident; stuff like that. If the police can be shown to be telling falsehoods in court, we are invited to suppose that a logical conclusion is that the man in the dock is innocent. This is not so at all. Almost invariably, both the police and the defendant are telling lies and misleading the court. Proving that the police have lied does not at all show that the man in the dock is telling the truth.

We need to get away from this obsessive desire to catch out local authorities and start asking ourselves whether or not all the parents whom they are pursuing are giving their children an education. If they are not, then the rights of their children to that education are far more important than some minor lie told by a local authority officer.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The salami approach to home education legislation

Several things are becoming clear since the business about delaying the removal of a child's name from the register for twenty days after the parents announce their intention to home educate. First, as will be seen from Nick Gibb's letter below, this change will be coming in September, regardless of what protests are made. It is such a minor point and nobody except for a handful of the more militant home educating parents can see what all the fuss is about. Secondly, Graham Stuart has somehow been squared by the leadership of the Conservative party and is no longer a maverick MP ready and willing to fight alongside home educators for their supposed rights. This was predictable.

So what will Michael Gove and Nick Gibb's strategy be? I don't think that they are likely to make a big song and dance and try to push through a huge raft of changes to the law on home education, the way that Ed Balls did. Rather, I have an idea that they will take the most important proposals and try to slip them through 'salami' style. By this, I mean very thin slices at a time so that each one appears to be fairly uncontroversial and sensible. taken by itself. The twenty day business, for example, looks to most people like a fuss about nothing. I can understand, but do not agree with, those who oppose this change in the pupil registration regulations. Most non-home educating parents don't even see what the problem is. Compulsory registration would be a logical next step. Most home educating parents had more or less conceded this point, assuming that when ContactPoint came into full operation, it would mean de facto registration anyway. Like the twenty day rule, it is something that the vast majority of parents and professionals in this country would see as a sensible move to protect children. With Education Otherwise out of the political arena, there is nobody to coordinate opposition in any case. I don't think that they were that against registration anyway.

If the Coalition play their cards right and just stick these changes in at intervals, the chances are that no home educators will even notice them until they have almost become law. In this way, they will be able to put through most of the main recommendations of the Badman review without too much bother. I have heard that several Labour MPs are now ready to champion the cause of home education, falling over themselves to agree with parents that Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill was in retrospect a great mistake. They really are shameless!

Duties and rights

Once again, there seems to be a little confusion between duties and rights. Since they are connected, although remaining quite different things, it is worth looking at this question and seeing how it relates to home education.

A right is something which the law guarantees somebody. I am going to leave aside the question of abstract moral rights, because unless one is a theist, such rights are an irrelevance. In British law, children have a right to an efficient education, suitable to their age and ability and also having regard to any special needs which they have. Now any right of this sort which anybody has, must be associated with corresponding duties on the part of others. In the case of the child's right to an education, the parent has the duty to ensure that the child has this right; that he or she is actually provided with an education. So far so good. Rights create duties as a matter of routine; one cannot have a right without others having a duty to respect that right. Now for the confusion, confusion to which even Nick Gibb seems to have fallen prey. He talks in his letter of 'the rights of parents to home educate their children'. This is sheer lunacy. The idea now becomes that there are two sets of people with rights and that one must balance up the rights of one set against the rights of the other. This confusion has arisen through faulty logic and wooly thinking. Many people are vaguely aware that rights create duties and so they have extended the idea by suggesting that the process works in the opposite direction and that duties may also create rights.

This idea of duties creating rights for the person upon whom the duty has been thrust is not tenable philosophically, but we do not need to get bogged down in arguments of that sort. It is enough to look at the legal position of parents to see that such a right does not and cannot exist. It is the duty of parents to cause their children to receive an efficient education. Let us take an extreme example; that of a person with severe learning difficulties, non-verbal and barely able to feed herself, who has nevertheless become pregnant and given birth to a child. This has actually happened; this is not merely a gedanken experiment. This parent has all the usual rights in law that everybody else has. Being learning disabled does not mean that she has any fewer rights than the rest of us; this is obvious both legally and morally. If, as has been suggested, there is a 'right' of parents to home educate, then she too is possessed of this right. She cannot speak or even take care of herself properly and yet it is being seriously suggested by some of those commenting here that she has a legal 'right' to educate her child. Is this really what those who are talking of a 'parental right to home educate' mean? Are they really trying to say that there is a universal and legal right which all parents of whatever ability have and which is guaranteed by law? I am honestly puzzled by such a position and look forward to having it explained to me.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

A 'parental right'

You just know that I am at a loose end when I start browsing through the Home Education UK site for want of anything better to do! I did not actually get very far, because on the very first page there was an enormous, glaring and fundamental mistake. No wonder people get muddled up about home education if they take their information from sites like this. It is claimed that;

Even though the law expresses the right to home educate as a parental right

As my daughter would say, WTF? Where does the law in this country even mention a 'right to home educate', let alone describe it as a 'parental right'? What on earth is going on here, that one of the major websites on home education in this country can mislead people so shamelessly? Can anybody shed light upon this piece of misinformation? I mean, really!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Supposed reasons which prevent people from educating their own children

In the last few days, people commenting here have put forward several possible ideas as to what might be stopping other parents from home educating. One of these was that very few people do it and that it involves going against the trend. Another is that some people might not be aware that home education is a legal option. Both seem pretty feeble explanations of anything!

When we embark upon a new enterprise, whether it is buying a car, doing electrical work around the home or arranging for our children's education; the onus is firmly upon us to establish the legal position. if I fail to insure my car and when caught, I claim that somebody in the pub told me that I didn't need insurance, this will not be a good excuse. It is up to us all, when starting a new enterprise to look into the matter and find out the facts and legal situation. From that point of view, arranging your child's education is no different from any other project. If we can't be bothered to check out the legal situation beforehand and simply take the word of friends and neighbours for what the law is relating to this, then we can hardly be surprised if we end up in a muddle and don't get to the facts.

That other people send their children to school, therefore some people feel that they too should send their children to school, is an even worse reason for not home educating! My neighbours go to the pub and also drink wine with their meals. This is very common; one might say everybody does it. I am a temperance man though; I do not drink alcohol. By the sort of reasoning that has been used to explain why parents go ahead and send their children to school without thinking about it, I suppose that I would be joining the man next door at the pub of an evening and drinking alcohol with him. After all, it's what everybody does. Remember at school when you tried to justify some foolish action by saying, 'Please sir, Smith did it first and I copied him?' Do you recollect what the teacher used to say? 'If Smith jumped out of the window, would you jump after him?' Precisely. If, as adults, we see our friends and neighbours engaged in a foolish or harmful activity, we really are not obliged to copy them. Somebody said here that most parents don't even think about possible alternatives to school; if true, this only compounds the felony, it is not a mitigation at all.

Quite apart from all this, I don't really believe for a moment that many parents in this country have not heard, even in a vague way, about home education. Almost everybody is aware of cases like Ruth Lawrence, even the popular papers carry bits about various child prodigies who have not been to school. It is generally known that some children do not go to school, but are instead educated by their parents at home. The real reasons that people do not choose to home educate have little to do with either peer pressure or ignorance. It is a lot of trouble and generally means remaining poor. Add to this the fact that most people would not wish to spend all day with their children and I don't think we need to cast around any further for an explanation of the popularity of schools and the fact that few people educate their own children. Occam's Razor triumphs again!

Nick Gibb's response to complaints about the changes in pupil registration


Thank you for your letter of 30 March addressed to the Secretary of
State, on behalf of a number of your constituents, about the proposed
changes to the Pupil Registration Regulations regarding parents choosing
to remove their children from school to home educate. I am replying as
the Minister of State for Schools.

I would like to reassure you that it is absolutely not our intention
that this change should affect the rights of parents to home educate
their children with immediate effect if they wish to do so. Similarly,
it is not our intention that this change should be used to put pressure
on parents to return their child to school. We will make this clear in
supporting guidance to schools and local authorities.

Our aim is to give parents and schools a short period of time to resolve
any issues that may have led to the parent withdrawing their child from
school, in particular where a parent may have been unfairly coerced into
home educating against their will. Currently, a parent who has withdrawn
their child from school has to re-apply for a school place, and there is
no guarantee that one would be available at the school which the child
had previously attended. The proposed change will secure the child's
place for twenty days before it is made available for another child.

I understand your constituents' concern that the proposed change may be
open to abuse from parents who may try to use it as a way of taking
their children on holiday during term time. I am confident however that
schools and local authorities will be able to recognise whether a
parent's wish to withdraw their child from school is genuine or not and
deal with the situation accordingly.

We believe that this and the other proposed changes to the Pupil
Registration Regulations will benefit parents and schools, which is why
we want the changes to come into effect for the start of the new school
year in September 2011. It is for this reason that the consultation on
the changes was targeted at key representative bodies, and unfortunately
it was not possible to include individual schools, local authorities or
home educators in the time available.

I hope this reply goes some way to addressing the concerns of your

With best wishes
Nick Gibb MP

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Government and local authorities misleading home educators

One of the perennial complaints on some of the home educating lists and forums is the extent to which many people are uninformed as to the correct legal position surrounding home education. I am absolutely baffled by all this. Recently, people commenting here made the same point; that some parents might send their kids to school simply because they thought that they were legally obliged to do so. This is all such a lot of nonsense.

Of course government, both local and national, try to bluff people into thinking that the law is different from what it actually is in all sorts of different ways. Nobody could deny this for a moment. Almost invariably though, this is done because those misrepresenting the law are trying to protect some vulnerable group of people. Let us look at a specific example, which is very similar to the situation with home education. My wife has a horse which I ride from time to time. Everybody who rides a horse on the public roads wears a riding hat. There are no exceptions to this and it is generally supposed that this is the law, just as motor cyclists are obliged to wear crash helmets. I always thought that this was the law until last week. Everybody at riding schools says that it is the law and no stable will allow you to take out a horse on the road without your wearing a riding hat. My wife has been riding for many years and has always insisted that this is a legal requirement. We argued recently when I went out on her horse, because I didn't wear a hat in the forest and would not put one on even when we reached the road. When I took the trouble to look into it, I discovered that this law only applies to children under fourteen. In other words, nearly every rider in the country is being misled by old wives tales, government leaflets and advice from their local authority into believing that they must wear a riding hat when on the public highway! It's just like all those parents who are told that they must send their children to school; what a scandal!

Two things strike one about this. First, it is in general a good thing that riders wear protective headgear. I am glad that the government and local authorities are misleading them about this and that there is an old wives tale which insists that one must wear a hat. It is certainly a good thing that all riders do so. Secondly of course, that I have laboured under this delusion for so many years is nobody's fault but my own. There was nothing to stop me looking into this years ago and that I have behaved like a gullible sheep is nobody else's responsibility. This is precisely the same situation with home education. In general, it is good that parents believe the old wives tale that they must send their children to school. I don't at all blame local authorities for propagating this misleading idea on their websites and hope that they will continue to do so. If parents did not believe it to be so, many would neither send their children to school nor educate them at home. It would be a bad thing. Just as in the case of me and my own following the herd without looking into the matter; there is nothing to stop any of those parents from researching home education and finding out that it is perfectly legal. It only takes a few minutes on the Internet to discover the facts.

We all of us believe things about the law which are not true. This is usually because we are too lazy to look into the business and prefer to rely upon other people's ignorant and ill-informed opinions. That's fine; I do it all the time myself. There is no point complaining about this though and objecting that this or that council website has information on it which is inconsistent with the true legal position. The onus is on individuals to delve deeper into the question themselves and find out the truth. Would I really be justified now in launching a campaign to get our local authority to change all their advice to riders and try to make them explain that there is no legal duty for riders to wear hats? Why would I do something so mischievous? I am glad that people believe this, it protects them. I almost regret having drawn attention to this, because I dare say that some of those fighting with Suffolk and Birmingham over their advice on home education, will now extend their campaign and insist that these councils also change what their are currently telling riders!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Predicting the outcome from a taught curriculum

I wrote a couple of days ago about my dislike of and reluctance to use the National Curriculum. One of my problems with it is that it attempts to predict what the effect will be of its content upon the children being taught. This seems to me an almost impossible task. I certainly could, and did, plan a year in advance what I would be teaching my daughter. As to what the outcomes of that teaching would be upon her developing mind; I did not even try and guess this! She might have closed her ears entirely to my wise and good educational provision, she might have been voraciously interested and asked to do a bunch of extension work on the subject, perhaps she would have learnt it by rote in an unenthusiastic fashion or maybe it would turn out to be what she wished to devote her life to in the future. If not even a loving father can predict these outcomes, I am not at all sure how worthwhile it is for teachers to attempt to do so!

A curriculum is really nothing more than a plan of teaching. In its simplest form it could be as brief as; 2011/2012 English, science and mathematics. It is enough to know that those subjects will actually be taught, never mind fooling around trying to guess what the kid will make of them! This is reason number two thousand and ninety seven why I never touched the National Curriculum with the proverbial bargepole.

I simply must draw my readers attention to the latest piece of foolishness connected with the National Curriculum; something so bizarre that it will have them choking into their morning coffee. One of the bits of jargon of which nobody but teachers are likely to be aware are the so-called PLTs. This stands for personal learning and thinking skills. These are things that the Department for Education feel are vital for children to acquire in order to cope with life in the twenty first century. They are probably right, but I am not at all sure that schools are the best places to pick up these skills. The hope is that pupils will become; independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners and self managers. Hands up everybody who thinks that sitting through the National Curriculum in a maintained school is the best way to encourage a child to become those things?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Taking away parental responsibility for education

I have been following closely the arguments on various forums and lists against the new pupil registration regulations. These would allow schools to keep on roll for twenty days a child whom the parents had deregistered in order to home educate. There is of course no suggestion that the child will be compelled to attend school during this time; just that he will be listed on the register as Code Z, on roll but not attending. This code is currently used for children whose parents have registered their children at the school but whose kids have not actually started attending yet. Somebody on one list said something very curious. She said that this move would deprive a parent of legal responsibility for the child's education for this period and she regarded this as being a bad thing. There is a problem with this perspective.

When a parent signs over responsibility for educating her child to a third party, she is saying in effect, 'I can't cope. I need somebody else to look after my child's needs as I am not up to it'. It is rather like those parents who turn up at social services from time to time and dump their kids there, saying, 'I've had enough. I can't do this any more and I want the local authority to take over the job of looking after my kids'. Imagine if a parent did this when the child was five and then turned up seven or eight years later, saying, 'It's OK, I can cope now. Just hand the child back, I want him right now, this very day'. After all those years of taking over the mother's duties, I think that the local authority might be wise to ask a few questions and not just ring up the foster carers and tell them to bring the kid round to the office that very moment! They might reasonably ask the mother, 'What has changed, why do you now feel able to look after your own child when for the last eight years you have not been able to? Why did you give us the job in the first place?'

The situation with a parent who offloads the job of her child's education onto the council is in much the same. She has surrendered her duty to educate her child and asked the local authority to undertake it on her behalf. This is usually because she is too busy, poor or ill-educated to do it herself. Then, typically years down the line, she changes her mind and decides that she can do it herself. I think it only reasonable that the local authority should be able to ask her if she is sure that this is what she wants. After all, she has tacitly admitted that she doesn't feel up to the job by enrolling her child at school in the first place. Why the sudden mad hurry after all that time; why does she feel it necessary to assume this duty again at once, that very day? In other words, it is not that she is being deprived of the legal responsibility for her child's education by this new regulation. She has already deprived herself of this responsibility by asking the local authority to carry out her duties, instead of doing the job herself. All that will happen under the new regulations is that the local authority might just double check that this is what she now wants and that circumstances have changed and that she can really do this. I cannot personally see anything wrong with this, although I dare say that this will be portrayed as the local authority bullying parents and trying to force them to change their mind about home edcuating their child.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Doing 'school at home'

I talked yesterday a little about the National Curriculum and how any structured home educator was liable to be viewed as following it slavishly. Another popular misconception about those of us who work systematically with our children towards certain educational ends is that we are doing 'school at home'. I have never really understood what 'school at home' means. It conjures up, for me at least, an image of me sitting on a raised dais at the back of our kitchen. In files my daughter and I say impatiently, 'Come on, come on, settle down now. Take your seat'. When she is seated at the kitchen table I take out the register and begin checking that my pupil is present. 'Webb?', I call out. She replies, 'Here Sir'. Now it's down to business. 'All right, come on, stop the noise. Open your book at page three hundred and ten'.

Is this the sort of thing, do you suppose, that those who talk about parents who do school at home have in mind? Probably not, but it is hard to understand what they do really mean. Is there any home educating parent in Britain who operates according to a strict timetable? Are there any who have rigid hours for their child's education, starting at nine and finishing at three or four, with weekends free? More to the point, do any parents, even the most structured, really follow a curriculum minutely and refuse to vary it at all? Are there parents who will not strike off in a completely new and unlooked for direction as a result of some random interest which their child has picked up? What does 'school at home' even mean? I think that it is worth trying to find out just what is meant by this expression, because some home educators draw a sharp distinction, an opposition even, between home education and home schooling. They seem to feel that what they are doing, home education, is almost the antithesis of home schooling and they get quite ratty if some newspaper refers to them as home schooling.

I am hoping that since a number of people who comment here seem to be pretty much against 'school at home', one of them will be able to explain to the rest of us what they mean by it.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Home educators and the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum is an almost mythical object of detestation to many home educating parents. It symbolises all that they hate about formal education and schools. Anybody who suggests that home educators should plan a little and be more structured in their approach is routinely accused of trying to 'impose' the National Curriculum'. (For some strange reason, such people are always apparently trying to do this 'by the back door') During Graham Badman's review of elective home education in England, the rumour was rife on the Internet lists that he was going to recommend that home educating parents be forced to follow the National Curriculum. This is the ultimate nightmare in some strands of British home education.

Now I have to say straight away that I did not pay any attention at all to the National Curriculum when I was teaching my daughter. I was of course vaguely aware of the ages at which this curriculum says that children should be acquiring certain skills and learning various things, but I found it wholly irrelevant in a domestic setting. From the age of five onwards, the National Curriculum requires that children are taught English, mathematics, science, ICT and history. This seems to be to be just about reasonable. However, one must also make sure that they are learning geography, art and design and religious education as well, to say nothing of music, citizenship, physical education, design and technology and personal, social and health education. Call me a raving autonomous educator if you will, but this seems a little excessive for five and six year-olds! I do not like either the way that these subjects are typically taught. In history for instance, there is no clear and coherent narrative which will allow a child to understand the context of what he is learning. One term he is doing a project on the Aztecs, then the Tudors and then jumping straight to the Victorians. This is an awful approach and one which I would not have dreamt of following with my own child.

Actually, I have never heard of a home educating parent who did follow the National Curriculum. I simply cannot imagine this being done at home and I would be keen to hear if anybody has ever heard of such a parent. The advice is certainly given by both local authorities and the Department for Education that home educators might wish to be aware of the National Curriculum and be guided by it. This is another matter entirely and not bad advice at all. It wouldn't do anybody any harm at least to know what school pupils of a similar age to your own son or daughter were doing. If nothing else, this would be helpful if one decided to send a child back to school; it would ensure that the child had not fallen too far behind his contemporaries. The idea that some wicked future government could ever try and force home educating parents to follow the National Curriculum, a fear regularly expressed on some forums and blogs, is too grotesque for words. I actually asked Graham Badman about this supposed scheme on his part directly and he seemed to be utterly bemused by the thought. As he pointed out, it is hard enough to make sure that every maintained school in the country adheres to this curriculum; quite how one would ensure that scores of thousands of parents did so is mind boggling.

I quite like the way the National Curriculum is brandished about by home educators as being synonymous with structured teaching. I have myself been accused by some of the loopier people of this type as being a slave to this curriculum, a suggestion which has provided a good deal of innocent amusement in the Webb household, where my views on this bloated and unwieldy instrument are pretty generally known. It is, I suppose, helpful for these parents to have something like this which sums up all that they dislike about education so neatly. I doubt though that their dislike of the National Curriculum is anything like as strong as mine.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The ambulance chasers of home education

One of the accusations often thrown around in the world of British home education is that many of those active in doing things connected with home education are motivate purely by money. We saw this with the so-called 'secret group', who were apparently drawing up new versions of the 2007 guidelines for local authorities. A popular term of abuse thrown at such people is 'rent seekers'; as in my personal favourite; 'rent seeking vulture queen'. Why, the accusation has even been levelled against me, the suggestion being made that my book was an attempt to cash in on the Badman Review. Since I have yet to receive a penny for the thing, this particular cock won't really fight.

There are those who are making a little money out of home education and these are the consultants and advisers, a whole tribe of whom seem to have sprung up in the last year or two. Somebody commented here a few days ago that such people persuade home educating parents that they are needed by making them scared that the family courts will become involved and that they might even lose their children as a result of home educating. These are the people who benefit from the atmosphere of paranoia which is to be found on some lists, blogs and forums. Parents who were quite perky and confident come onto these places and get sucked into the fear that there is a government conspiracy to prevent them from educating their own children and that they are a persecuted minority. Some parents realise how mad this is and leave the groups fairly quickly. Others stay and buy in to this fantasy. It is upon these that some of the 'consultants' and 'advisers' prey. They offer, for a price, to come and help write an educational philosophy, to speak on behalf of parents being menaced by their local authority and things like that. A while ago, these types were openly touting for business on some lists, although this has now been discouraged. They are still contacting parents privately though, having got their details from places like the Education Otherwise list.

As I say, one person commenting here is aware of this, I wonder if anybody else has had experience of this sort of thing, that is to say parents being made frightened by advisers trying to put the wind up them about trouble with the authorities over home educating. I have the impression that this has become something of a cottage industry among home educators and former home educators recently. Has anybody else noticed this?

Friday, 15 April 2011

The motives of civil servants

One again, I find myself baffled at the interpretation which some home educators are putting upon current events. As most readers know by now, plans are being made for a change in the law allowing schools to keep a pupil on roll for twenty days after deregistering for home education. Over on the HE-UK list, this is being blamed upon civil servants at the Department for Education who are determined to push through the recommendations of the Badman report. The only question which I find myself unable to answer is, why would they want to do that? In other words, what is their motive, what do they stand to gain from this action? Let us look at the matter objectively.

One can see that local authority officers might have a stake in new regulations about home education. They might be able to make their jobs more secure and look as though they are saving children from abuse by playing up the need for monitoring home educated children. I don't personally believe that this is their primary motivation, but this idea is at least plausible, particularly with all the cuts being made by local authorities at the moment. But civil servants? They have job security; it is almost impossible to sack an established civil servant except for gross misconduct. Civil servants move routinely from one ministry to the other; somebody in the Department for Education today might well end up in the Ministry of Defence next year. Those working for the DfE are not at all committed to any particular method of education or policy on education. How would it possibly make the least bit of difference to them whether or not deregistration of pupils took immediate effect or was delayed for twenty days? Why would they even care; they're not going to be implementing the policy.

I have been giving this a good deal of thought and looking at it from all angles, but however I turn it round in my mind, I just cannot see why any civil servant at the Department for Education should give a stuff about encouraging ministers to implement the recommendations of the Badman report. What on earth is in it for them? I would be glad if any readers can explain this to me. I was myself a civil servant at one time and this really does not tie in with how I remember things. Mind you, that was forty years ago and perhaps things have changed since then. So let's see if anybody can come up with a convincing reason why any civil servant should still be trying to get Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill into law. This is not faux naivete, but rather genuine bewilderment as to what any civil servant would gain were any one of Badman's recommendations to be made law. Help me out here; I am puzzled!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The politics of home education

    Education Otherwise is retrenching. It has since 2007 been getting into the habit of spending more than it should and not generally on its core work of advising and supporting home educating parents. Individual members would of course offer help, but the central organisation became a little too involved in campaigning and politics. This is now changing and EO is in a sense returning to its roots; withdrawing from arguing with the government and devoting more time to supporting its members. Some see this is a good thing, others as a bad move. It has been argued that without a main organisation with which to deal, the Department for Education will feel able to divide and rule; passing any amendments to existing laws which they feel like and then relying upon the fact that there is no national body to coordinate a response. This at least has been the view expressed recently by Mike Fortune-Wood of Home Education UK. He originally belonged to Education Otherwise at one time, but decided that he could start a better organisation of his own and has spent the last few years sniping at and criticising EO. There was a rumour going the rounds recently that Home Ed Forums up in Scotland felt that the future in this field belonged to them and some members there were crowing about the fact that both Education Otherwise and Home Education UK were practically moribund and that they would themselves in the future be the ones representing the interests of home educators. They even offered to buy the Home Education UK brand name from Mike Fortune-Wood and take it over. He declined.

      The extent to which national home education organisations have been helpful for home educating parents in the past few years is debateable. Some people swear that they would not have been able to cope without the support offered and I am quite prepared to believe that this is true. However, when reading the lists these days, some of us feel that they cause more mischief than they are worth. There is often an air of us and them, as though local authorities and civil servants at the Department for Education were by definition the enemy and always up to no good. This is in sharp contrast to the cordial relations enjoyed by home educators with their local authorities in many areas. The suspicion is that rather than solving problems and reducing tensions between parents and local authority officers, the advice being given out on some forums and lists is actually exacerbating things.

        My own view, and I have expressed this both here and in my book, is that the future lies in local arrangements between parents and their local authorities. Most local authorities are perfectly happy with the idea of home education as such; they are just a little uneasy about some individual families. It is their attempts to deal with these individual cases which often turn up on the Internet lists and are then brandished as examples of how local authorities are in the business of persecuting home educating parents. This then frightens other home educators and makes them less anxious to cooperate with the local authority themselves. The fact that having a cheerful and good natured relationship with the local authority is often regarded as little better than treason on some lists, also discourages people from talking about good relations with local authorities. The result is that the bad experiences are often all that people read about on the lists. This creates a skewed and unbalanced view of home education in Britain today.

          One feels that it is time to acknowledge that most people rub along pretty well with their local authority and that the cases of fighting are very much the exception. It is time to drop the idea that home educators are locked in a life or death struggle for survival with both central government and local authorities and for parents to start trying to reach an amicable arrangement with the individual local government officers with whom they come into contact.

          Interesting news item

          This is a recent news item which might indicate which way the wind is blowing as regards home education;

          Wednesday, 13 April 2011

          The hours I spend on this blog...

          Several people have mentioned that I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time on this blog lately. There are two reasons for it appearing so. One is of course my innate courtesy. It only takes me twenty minutes or so to write a post each day. Having done this, I feel that it is polite to answer any points which people raise about what I have said. I do so even if those commenting are complete bloody fools. I may also observe that when I am out for the day and unable to respond at once, people tend to get a little ratty and accuse me of evading their questions!

          The reason that I often respond to comments fairly swiftly is not, as some apparently suppose, because I am sitting here all day, chewing my fingers anxiously and waiting for people to react to what I have said. I am aware that it is often claimed elsewhere that I am a man who craves attention and that this is my primary motive for keeping this blog, but this is not really the case. I simply wish to provide a counter-balance to a lot of the idiotic things which people write about home education. So how come I am online so much? Don't I have a job to go to? Does time really weigh so heavily on my hands since my daughter went to college that I have nothing better to do all day than argue with other home educating parents? These are fair questions and a number of people, (or the same person a number of times, it is hard to tell with all the anonymous comments), voiced such concerns yesterday.

          The answer is simple enough. I am working on the computer a lot of the time these days. I have four books due to be published in the next year and I type them on the computer. While I am typing, it is easy enough to flick over to the Internet and check other things at the same time. That is why I seem to be online so much. Just to reassure readers who might be thinking that the books I have been writing are about home education, titles perhaps like, Why I am Right and Everybody else is Wrong or Autonomous Educators are Idiots and I alone know how to Home Educate, I can reassure everybody that these books have nothing at all to do with education, whether at home or anywhere else. They are about history and archaeology, which are by way of being my specialist subjects. The first will be published in a couple of months and for those who are interested, it may be found here;

          I shall actually be posting about this book in the next couple of weeks and giving a link to a clip where I talk about the book and explore its themes a little. Won't that be a rare treat for all you lucky readers; a chance to see and hear me in person? I hope that this explains why I have been unusually quick off the mark in recent months to answer comments, although that should not really be thought a bad thing in itself; more a matter of common courtesy.

          Tuesday, 12 April 2011

          Local authorities already have all the powers they need...

          I am always delighted, as I have remarked before, to see particularly flagrant examples of hypocrisy and double-dealing. We saw one such yesterday, when it was suggested that local authorities who do not believe that children are being provided with a suitable and efficient education should issue a School Attendance Order. Why, they have all the powers they need already, you know. I have not the slightest doubt that the people who write this sort of thing know perfectly well that it is not true. Similarly, the person who commented that educational philosophies were not enough and that local authorities should expect a good deal more than that alone as evidence that an education is taking place was being less than candid. Let us look at those two points and see what we can make of them.

          Local authorities do ask for evidence that children are receiving an education. The easiest thing would be for the local authority officer to drop round and have a chat with the kid, let him show some of his work and talk about it. This of course won't answer, because as is well known the children of home educating parents are liable to have nervous breakdowns, screaming fits or go into status epilepticus if they are introduced to an unknown adult. Lord knows what happens in such homes when the man comes round to read the meter! Presumably the child has a blanket thrown over his head and is put in a darkened room to recover. Without visiting, how is evidence provided to the local authority? Ah, I know. Perhaps the exercise books for the last year or so, containing essays about plays that have been studied, diagrams of the nitrogen cycle, what the child has been learning about the Tudors; that sort of thing? Why no, this won't be forthcoming; the family are autonomous, you see. Well what about notebooks where the child has pursued an interest of his own, made detailed observation of an ants' nest or something of that sort? Written material about some interest of his own? Unfortunately not, because although he is twelve, his parents have not yet got round to teaching him to read and write. He is illiterate and can just about scrawl his own name in block capitals. ( This is no exaggeration by the way. The teenage sons of three very well known home educating parents are functionally illiterate because their parents had ideological objections to teaching them to read and write).

          Perhaps the best thing to do for the evidence is for the mother to submit a diary, accompanied by photographs. We know quite a bit about this scam, because parents on some home education lists who have the wind up when the local authority have been in touch ask how to produce such evidence, then post asking for advice on how to deal with this crisis. Easy peasy! Just pretend that your son is studying biology by practical work in the garden. Take a few pictures of him looking thoughtfully at a beanstalk and then scribble a few pages of a supposed diary. Photocopy this and send the copies and the pictures to the local authority. Be sure to quote the appropriate law when you do so. This will make the local authority realise that although your kid is growing up pitifully ignorant and unable even to write his own address, it would be impossible to prove this to a lay magistrate.

          This is the way in which many children in this country are denied an education, in defiance of both their legal and moral rights. The local authority can only issue an SAO if it appears to them that the child is not receiving an education. On the evidence sent, it is possible that he is; it is equally likely that he is not. If they do take action, all the home education lists will at once be aware of the fact and without knowing the facts will offer their unqualified support for the parent concerned. There will be the expense of prosecuting, negative publicity and at the end of it all, the magistrate might not choose to allow the prosecution anyway. Little wonder that few School Attendance Orders are ever issued.

          On medieval peasants

          I suggested a couple of days ago that a child who did not receive a broad and balanced curriculum might end up like a medieval peasant, with a stunted and restricted outlook on life. Predictably, a number of people were quick to assure me that medieval peasants were a lot sharper than I seemed to think and that they were real whizzes at growing their own organic vegetables. I should have expected this. These types are rather like the pre-Raphaelites, harking back to a simpler and less complicated lifestyle in which children were unencumbered by too much book learning. This is quite a strong theme among some British home educators; the Guardian reading, sandals wearing, organic food and no vaccinations brigade.

          Perhaps I did not make my meaning clear enough though and the fault may be mine. My reference to medieval peasants was meant to convey that this class had little opportunity for exploring elevated ideas; art, literature, science and culture. They had enough on their plates averting starvation and very little time to sit down in the evenings and read Chaucer. Their everyday life occupied them fully and they had neither time nor money to explore anything else. This is the risk that I see when parents talk about education being part of everyday life. Instead of actually trying to introduce their children to the wonders of mathematics and high culture, ancient history and quantum theory, they might rely upon what their child knows and encounters every day. History will consist of looking at pictures in the family album. Geography will entail learning about the streets around his house, mathematics will be learnt during shopping trips.

          For many of us, the role and purpose of educating children is to show them something beyond their ordinary lives, ideas which they might not come across in the local shops or while looking at their family history. This is why I compared such a lifestyle to that of a medieval peasant; the horribly stunted horizons of this lifestyle are uncannily similar. It is all very well saying that little Timmy will learn about maths while shopping with his mother, but unless somebody takes the trouble to show him things like calculus or Algebra, he may well grow up thinking that mathematics consists only of arithmetic. This is not very exciting or stimulating and the child's view of the subject has been artificially limited, to the great detriment of his future development. The same happens when history is taught through the family photograph album. In this way, even the most fascinating topic can be made humdrum and dull for the child.

          Sunday, 10 April 2011

          Should home educating parents face tests?

          Commenting here yesterday, somebody suggested, perhaps not entirely seriously, that parents who wish to home educate should first be tested on their literacy and English. This was prompted by an exchange with Peter Williams, whose semi-literate ravings are not perhaps the best advertisement in the world for unregulated home education.

          It is an interesting idea, whether meant jokingly or not. After all, the child is entitled to an efficient education; what if a parent is incapable of providing such an education? There can be no doubt at all that providing a full-time education for a child is a hugely demanding task. Common sense tells us that not everybody would be up to this and if parents are not very well educated themselves, then their children's education is bound to be scrappy and ineffective. This is hardly satisfactory. Local authority officers often encounter parents like this, mothers and fathers who are barely literate and seem to believe that the Internet can provide all the education their children might need. As things stand, there is little that can be done about this, even assuming that something should be done.

          This idea can of course easily turn into a slippery slope. Some states in America require home educating parents to have a qualification in teaching and I don't believe that anybody in this country would be in favour of such a scheme. It seems odd though that a parent with a very low IQ and restricted literacy skills should be regarded in law as being just as competent to educate her child as a university professor! Many ordinary, non-home educating parents are shocked to hear that anybody at all can just take their child from school and educate the kids themselves. I think that most people would think it quite reasonable that some sort of assessment of a parent's ability were to be undertaken before home education began. Devising a method would be tricky though. I don't think that it would be right to deny the opportunity to home educate to parents who did not have a degree or the correct number of GCSEs. On the other hand, a broader and more informal assessment would almost certainly militate against working class parents and in favour of those speaking RP and reading the Guardian rather than the Sun. I shall give this matter a little though and report back. In the meantime, I wonder what readers think about the notion of preventing illiterate fools from being allowed to home educate?

          Saturday, 9 April 2011

          The little edge of darkness in British home education

          It is very easy to laugh when people come on here and post things like;

          'WHO THE HELL WANT TO LEAR ABOUT SHAKESPEARE?' 'who the hell wants to learn about the tudors? what use is that webb?' 'no broad exposure to culture for me lol'

          Yes, the style is inimitable; it is of course Mr Peter Williams of Alton! We sometimes dismiss this as the ravings of a lone crank, but it is less amusing and far more disturbing when prominent figures on the home education scene in this country start complaining that the Department for Education are advising home educating parents to follow a broad and balanced curriculum. Either these people are unwittingly channelling the spirit of Peter Williams or there is a common purpose at work motivating both Mr Williams and Ian Dowty, the home educating lawyer. There is such a common purpose. It is that quintessentially English characteristic of anti-intellectualism and philistinism.

          In most countries, to say that somebody is clever is an unalloyed compliment. For the English, it is an insult. When we say, 'Of course, Smith is very clever', we wait for the 'But...'. Even if it does not come, we understand that the listener is really speaking slightingly of Smith, not saying something nice at all really. We don't like 'clever' people in this country. We say as a put down, 'Don't be clever!'; we even use the word as a direct snub, 'He's a Clever Dick'. This ties neatly in with one of the main trends in British home education, the so-called 'natural' education. There is nothing new about this idea of course; centuries ago we heard about 'books in babbling brooks and sermons in stones'. The idea being that children and adults too can learn more about the world from communing with nature than they can from poring over dry, dusty books. It is this which lies at the heart of opposition to any sort of a curriculum for many parents. Johnny is out in the fields, learning first hand about the wonders of nature. Why should I call him indoors to study biology from a dull textbook; he is already studying biology.

          This notion, that all curricula are Beds of Procrustes which will stifle the holy curiosity of childhood, has been around since the Enlightenment. Being opposed as so many are to a broad and balanced curriculum, I suspect that few of these types will have read Emile, by Rousseau, but if they did then it would be a revelation to them. Now during the stone age, it is quite possible that the child of some hunter-gatherer might have learned all he needed to know while wandering the forests and plains with his parents. I doubt this is still the case. There may well be 'books in babbling brooks', but these books will not teach us how to calculate percentages so that we do not get ripped off by a loan company. Nor will they teach us how to read. When I raised this topic a few days ago, it was suggested that the reason that parents were suspicious of the idea of a broad and balanced curriculum was because it might lead to local authorities judging their child's education by the National Curriculum. This is not at all the real reason. Many parents simply do not want to provide their children with a broad and balanced education, whether a curriculum is involved or not. Their blood runs cold at the idea of anybody asking them about what sort of education they are providing, because they are well aware at the back of their minds that it would fall woefully short by most definitions. This is why the idea of a plan of education or a curriculum put the wind up a lot of home educating parents; not for any ideological reason.

          We are seeing the gradual emergence of a cohort consisting of thousands of young people who have been educated in this way, with an emphasis not upon learning from books, but from everyday life. I have an idea that these children have been stunted intellectually. Everyday life is all too often trivial and uninspiring; the idea of education is to introduce children to elevated ideas and things which they would never encounter in their ordinary life. We return here to the idea of the rights of children, in particular the right to an education which will enable them to rise above their humdrum existence and learn about other people, faraway places and the great intellectual ideas of the world. This is anathema to many home educating parents, who would far rather that their children simply learnt by going to the shops or working in an allotment. These children are liable to grow up with the mentality of medieval peasants, with little or no awareness of any world beyond their own village or any ideas other than those of their parents and neighbours. It is a sobering thought and it is why the DfE would like to see all children exposed to a broad and balanced curriculum.

          My personal position on home education

          I educated my own daughter from the summer of 1998, when she turned five, until June 2009. My experience of home education before then stretches back to 1972 and I am still involved with helping parents deregister their children from school. The idea that I am opposed in any way to home education is too absurd for words. I thought it worth reminding any new readers of this; I have been associated one way and another with home education for many years and am devoted to the idea. I have also written one of the few academic books on the subject to have been published in this country; Elective Home Education in the UK, Trentham Books 2010.

          My concern with home education has nothing at all to do with any supposed 'right' to home educate, still less with the 'rights' of parents. This is all such nonsense, both legally and morally, that I cannot spare time even to consider the ideas. Children in this country have both a legal and moral right to receive a good education. The legal right is to receive an efficient, full-time education suitable to their age and ability; parents have a duty in law to ensure that this right is respected. They also have a moral right to see that their children receive the best possible education that can be provided. If they the parents are willing and able to furnish their child with this education themselves, then they should do so. If they cannot do so or do not wish to, then they should send the child to school or engage a governess or tutor.

          My only concern in anything to do with home education is the right of a child to a good education. If a parent keeps her child from school and cannot educate him, then the child's right is being denied him. He should be sent to school and if the mother is reluctant to take this step, then legal pressure should be brought to bear. If the child is attending a school which is not providing a good education and the mother or father can do better; then again, the child is being denied something to which he has a legal and moral right. His parents should remove him from the school and educate him at home.

          The idea that I am somehow against home education is so foolish and ill-informed that I sometimes get a little irritated. I am now and have been for many years a supporter of the rights of children, both in my professional and personal life. Education is one of those rights, in whatever form it is provided.

          Friday, 8 April 2011

          Mangling the English language; using plain words when writing about home education

          Readers were probably as amazed as I was to read S. L.'s comment here a few days ago, when she rebuked me for wreaking 'havoc and ill-repute upon the goodly cause of HE'. Why on earth, they might have been justified in asking, was this person writing English in a style which would not have looked out of place in The Duchess of Malfi? The answer is simple. For some reason, many home educators habitually write in a very strange way. Admittedly, not all sound as astonishingly weird as S.L., but many still manage to sound pretty peculiar when commenting on lists and forums or submitting evidence to select committees. They use a very stilted and slightly archaic style, as though they fear that using plain English will make them appear ignorant or naive. In fact of course, this sort of writing creates precisely the opposite effect.

          I think that part of the problem is that parents feel that they have to write in a formal or 'posh' way when communicating with officials or saying anything about education. Perhaps they think that ministers, civil servants and teachers will look down on them if they write just as they speak. This is not so; the best written English is natural and unforced. I call this sort of language that so many home educators use as their written medium, 'ill-educated formal', as it is popular with people who do not really know how to express themselves or convey their ideas and so fall back on jargon or long and half-understood words. Mike Fortune-Wood provides some brilliant examples of this. We recall with pleasure one particularly pompous letter which he wrote, which included the phrase 'it ill behoves yourselves'! Perhaps I am doing him an injustice; maybe he speaks to his wife over the breakfast table in this way, although I am inclined to doubt it.

          I recently came across the best example of this sort of thing that I have ever seen when reading about home education and felt that I simply had to share it with a wider audience. It is, regrettably, written by people from a university, who really ought to know better. The original document may be found here:

          I want to look at one paragraph of this document, because it encapsulates what I have been saying about the forced and inelegant use of language which one often sees when people are writing about home education. My own opinion is that this is not really English at all, although it contains so many loan words from that language that it appears on the face of it to be a passage of English. Let us look at this paragraph, The authors are talking about different kinds of home educating parents in this country:

          One substantial and growing group is comprised of those who have abandoned formal schooling because they believe it to be too constrained by the imperatives of performativity and the curriculum limitations imposed on the cultivation of the imagination in consequence thereof. In this group are parents who wish to see a greater emphasis on cultural and aesthetic engagements as well as those who want to see the world brought into learning in an unselfconscious way. What many home schooling families share across their political, religious and cultural differences (and indeed something shared with small school movements) is a significant emphasis on engagement with story. Moreover, there are many home school resource providers who offer curriculum materials that meet nationally determined targets. Most are values-based,

          This truly is so dreadful that it has a weird kind of beauty! What can they mean by the 'imperatives of performativity'? One supposes that they mean that children at school are made to demonstrate what they know, to 'perform' in other words. The problem is that the word which they have used 'performativity' has a very precise technical meaning which does not fit this context at all. I think that they have used it because they think it looks grander and more impressive than simply saying 'performing' or 'performance'. What about, 'a significant emphasis on engagement with story.' Does this actually convey any meaning? I know what curriculum materials are which meet nationally determined targets; this is stuff which ties in with the National Curriculum. But how do such materials differ when they are 'values-based'? What about 'in consequence thereof' ? Do these people really not know how hideous and contorted this sounds? Why not 'because' or 'as a result' ?

          There is something about the whole subject of home education which seems to attract poor writing and execrable English. Parents can make a start in tackling this by avoiding words like 'thereof' and 'whereby' when they are writing about it; words that no normal human being uses in ordinary speech. When one sees academics like those above writing in this way, it almost looks as though the battle is lost. With examples like this, no wonder ordinary home educating parents are coming on here and writing about 'goodly causes' and 'havoc and ill-repute'!

          Wednesday, 6 April 2011

          A broad and balanced curriculum

          I have remarked before that talking to some home educators is rather like passing through the looking-glass with Alice and entering a world where everybody thinks and acts in the opposite way that they would in the real world. Take the expression 'a broad and balanced curriculum' in connection with the education of children. Over the last few days I have been asking people whom I meet in the course of my everyday life whether or not they think this is good thing and something which all parents should hope that their children receive. I have asked the women at the checkout in the local supermarket, a couple of people at bus stops, friends, colleagues, home educating parents and various other people. I have to report that every single person to whom I spoke thought this a good and desirable idea and nobody could think of any bad points to it.

          The reason that a 'broad and balanced curriculum' is thought to be a good thing is that without it, a child's education might become lopsided. I see this in the orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill. There are some good schools, such as the Lubavitch place, but many children study nothing at all but scripture. Most of feel that this is unhealthy and that the kids would do better to be learning about a few things other than what the Bible said about mixing linen and wool fibres in your clothing. One of the most important cases for home educators, that which helped define what we mean by a 'suitable' and 'efficient' education, came of course from this community; R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzeikei Hadass School Trust.

          Certainly for my own daughter, I thought it very important to provide such a curriculum; to ensure that she studied art as well as literature, music as well as science, that she swam and rode as well as learning about algebra. As I say, most people feel that way. I was therefore astonished to see Fiona Nicholson, formerly of Education Otherwise, objecting strongly to the inclusion of this passage in the Department for Education's section on home education;

          'parents do not have to follow the National Curriculum. However, parents should deliver a broad and balanced curriculum'

          Apparently a barrister, of all unlikely people, is now working on this and the hope is that the DfE will stop encouraging parents to ensure that their children receive a broad and balanced curriculum in their education. This renders all comment superfluous and simply confirms that many home educators are actually thinking and acting in a way that is completely at odds with practically everybody else in modern British society. No wonder the DfE feels minded to introduce new regulations without reference to their sensitivities if this is the sort of mindset from which they work.

          On assessing individuals and not being taken in by how they define themselves

          Yesterday morning I noticed on one of the lists to which I belong that a journalist from the Sunday Express was trying to get in touch with women who had been home educated, with a particular view to seeing if they would consider home educating their own children. I immediately thought of C who comes on here pretty regularly and so simply posted the request here so that she could read it for herself. She, after all, was home educated and also chose as a mother herself to home educate.

          I thought no more about this, it was an innocuous enough post, nothing surely to which even the most irritable and aggressive home educator could take exception. Imagine my surprise on looking at the comments that evening! 'Self-deluded prick', 'despicable little man'; all for reposting a request from somebody to get in touch with home educators.

          This set me thinking about something which I have been mulling over quite a lot recently. Now by any standard, it is plain that the two people whom I quote above are singularly unpleasant individuals. This is notwithstanding the fact that they are home educators. It is of course only to be expected that any large group should contain some awful people of this sort. It would be the same if our reference group were to be composed of Liberal Democrats, electricians, Freemasons, footballers or aroma-therapists. Some members of these groups will be pleasant and engaging, while others will be nasty pieces of work. After all, I have met people who described themselves as Socialists who were nevertheless greedy and selfish and I have also met others who call themselves Conservatives who are open-hearted and generous. It is not what a person calls himself that matters, but what sort of a character he really has.

          One frequently sees home educating parents posting on forums and lists, who are having trouble with their local authorities. What never ceases to amaze me is the unconditional and quite unreasoning belief expressed by others on the list that simply by virtue of being home educators, these people must be right and their local authority wrong in any dispute between them. Common sense would suggest that in many cases where a problem arises between somebody and their local authority, it is the fault of the individual rather than the council. This never seems to occur to home educators. Because these people claim to belong to the same reference group as everybody else, this is at once enough to make them right. In a worst case scenario, this can lead home educating parents to endorse mad and dangerous cult leaders. Have a look at the Free Sweden Net site run by Christopher Warren, widely supposed to have an unhealthy interest in underage girls, and you will find an endorsement from Karen Rodgers, a home educating mother in this country. Why does she recommend this madman? Simple; it is because he says he is a home educator!

          Whenever I read about somebody having a row with their council, I assume that one party or the other and quite possibly both, are at fault. This radical idea does not occur to home educators, who seem naturally to jump to the conclusion that if somebody calling herself a home educator is having trouble with her local authority, then the LA is in the wrong and the parent is automatically in the right. In some cases, this is no doubt true, but in others it is manifestly not the case; at least judging by the information being given. This blind loyalty to individuals based only on their membership of the same group as us can be a very dangerous thing. We should bear in mind that not all home educators are really good natured, pleasant individuals who are fit to teach their own children. Neither are all local authority officers double-dyed villains whose only motive is to force reluctant children back into school. We should take the time to look at each situation on a case by case basis and not be too hasty to support this person or condemn that, purely on their membership of one group or another.

          Tuesday, 5 April 2011

          Journalist looking for home educated women

          I am writing a feature for S magazine, the supplement that comes with the Sunday Express newspaper, on home schooling and I'm looking to speak to three women who were all educated at home. The idea came about due to the apparent rise in numbers of parents home schooling their children, and the feature would ask the women about their own experiences, what they liked and didn't like and, if they are now parents, if they too would want to home school their own children. It would be great to speak to three women of different ages and backgrounds, to get a broad variety of experiences and views on the issue. The feature would also include a pull out box on how readers can go about home schooling their children, if that's something they now wish to do. I do hope this is something you can help me with and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Kind regards Suzy Barber> Freelance writer and editor 07712 885974>

          Monday, 4 April 2011

          Guidelines on home education for local authorities

          As readers are probably aware, there was at the end of last year some controversy about the drafting of new guidelines for local authorities, explaining the legal position of home education and advising how to handle home education in their area. It is worth reminding ourselves that this new, supposed consultation was restricted in membership to a tiny group of individuals, only one of whom would admit to being involved at all. I thought it might be a good idea to see how open the process was for the existing guidelines, so that we may contrast the situation then and now. Here is an account of the public consultation which led to the framing of the 2007 guidelines;

          It will be seen that over six hundred home educating parents were involved in this; by far the biggest group. Every home educating parent in the country had the opportunity to contribute their views on this matter directly to the relevant government department. Now observe this brief statement from the Department for Education website;

          Note that the guidelines are to be reviewed. By whom? Will there be an open consultation, as before, to which all stakeholders may contribute? Or will the consultation be limited to a tiny number of self-chosen experts and Home Education Consultants? It is an interesting point. Who is doing this reviewing of which the DfE speaks and when is it to be done? One observes that this note about the review appeared on the website at the same time that consultation on the new twenty day rule closed. Is this a coincidence?

          I have, as is widely known, no particular objection to new regulations or even new legislation about home education. However, I am disturbed at the hole-and-corner way that these changes are now being effected. It is looking suspiciously as though things are being done on the quiet, without involving ordinary home educators themselves. There was a good deal of criticism of the last administration because of the way that they tried to change the law on home education. At least though, they did the thing publicly, with open consultations to which we could all respond. From the 2007 Guidelines to the Badman report and the select committee; anybody could submit evidence and take part, attempting to influence the outcome of any proposed changes. This is not happening this time and I find this a little alarming. It is time that those home educators who have taken part in the framing of new guidelines spoke out publicly and told us what they have been up to.

          Sunday, 3 April 2011

          A new conspiracy theory

          The world of British home education is often swept by conspiracy theories, in which the simple and obvious explanations for things are thought to conceal deeper and more sinister motives. I have written of such ideas on here several times. I quite often receive emails from home educators which offer me information or advice; much of it about my personal character and disposition. A number of readers have contacted me, for example, to point out that I am a complete fuckwit. This assessment of my mental abilities, although doubtless meant kindly, is superfluous; my family already remind me regularly of this aspect of my personality. I am nevertheless grateful for all such feedback. On other occasions, people contact me to draw my attention to things that they think I should know about and mention in my blog. Recently, I have had three emails, all suggesting the same thing. Two were from fairly well known names on the home educating scene and so I thought that I would set out the theory they propound and see what others make of it.

          I have written before about the strange business of the new guidelines which were being prepared and which were apparently intended to replace the existing 2007 guidelines to local authorities on dealing with home education. Alison Sauer was involved with this project, as were Imran Shah and Tania Berlow. The whole thing was supposedly being done in cooperation with Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Commons select committee on families and children, who had received the go-ahead from Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister. We were told at the end of last year that a first draft would be ready after Christmas and that we would all be able then to offer our criticism. While this was happening, Alison Sauer and Imran Shah, stopped posting on the various lists and forums, presumably, as it was widely suggested, to avoid answering questions about this business. They then reappeared and nothing was ever said about the new guidelines. That was three months ago and we have heard nothing since. It is assumed that the thing is dead in the water.

          A week or so ago, it came to light that the Department for Education intends to implement one of the recommendations of the Badman report, something which was included in Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill; the bit about children's names being retained on the school register for twenty days after their parents have de-registered them.

          What my correspondents say is that these two events are linked in some way. The idea seems to be that the story about the new guidelines was a red herring and that while home educating parents were occupied with this, behind the scenes civil servants at the DfE were actually drawing up plans to implement Badman's ideas piecemeal. The hint is being made that either Alison Sauer and her friends knew about this and are hoping for well paid jobs in connection with some new monitoring regime, or that they have been used as fall guys and tricked by Nick Gibb, who all along intended to introduce new monitoring requirements for home education. So in one version of the theory, those working with Graham Stuart are dupes and in the other villains who are selling out other home educators in order to obtain jobs with the DfE. Nick Gibb and Graham Stuart emerge as Machiavellian conspirators, whose plots are of such Byzantine complexity as to bewilder a Borgia.

          I can believe that Nick Gibb intends and has always intended to bring in new regulations around home education, but I am not so sure about Graham Stuart, Alison Sauer et al. It would help allay any such suspicions if these people would explain openly what was actually going on last year and what has happened since. In the meantime, I shall keep readers posted of any new developments of which I hear.

          Saturday, 2 April 2011

          Some proposals for satisfying both local authorities and home educating parents

          • 1. The local authority will provide the same facilities for GCSEs that school pupils have. Parents will not have to pay for them, nor spend ages searching for a place where their children can take them.

          • 2. Every year or so, parents and children will meet with local authority staff in a neutral setting such as a private room in a library or other friendly place. They will all have a chat and talk about how home education is going and if there are any problems. particularly, there will be a discussion about what the local authority could do to help.

          • 3. School laboratories, music rooms and playing fields will be made available to groups of home educated children.

          • 4. Parents will give a rough idea of what they are hoping that their child will achieve or might be doing in the coming year.

          • 5. Children will be able to sit in on some classes and take part in some activities without the need to be registered pupils at a school.

          • 6. Parents will meet local authority staff without their children, once or twice a year for an informal chat. The local authority officers will be able to give them an idea of what children of the same age at school are doing and why.

          • 7. Parents will be able to borrow any textbooks and other resources which they need from schools. This will be paid for by the 0.1 of the AWPU which was promised last year.