Thursday, 30 June 2011

Meanwhile, down in Somerset...

It is no particular secret that British home educators are prone to squabbling among themselves; this happens at both a national and local level. On the national level, there is a constant struggle to be the top dog organisation for home educators. Education Otherwise has held the crown for so many years that others sometimes despair of supplanting it. Every so often, discontented members split off and found their own projects; the Home Education Advisory Service for example or Home Education UK. HE-UK, under the personal control of Mike Fortune-Wood certainly has pretensions to become the leading home education group in the country. The owner of this particular organisation often predicts the imminent downfall of Education Otherwise, but this never actually seems to happen. There are other contenders for the leadership of British home educators. Home Education Forums is one of these. They are so ambitious, that last year they had the cheek to approach Mike Fortune-Wood and suggested that since they were so clearly the market leaders these days, HE-UK should sell them their brand so that they could take over it themselves. Mike Fortune-Wood was singularly unimpressed by this proposal!

This factionalism is also evident at a local level; just look at Somerset. Now before we go any further, and going off at a slight tangent, I have to say that I find something more than a little odd about grown up women who use little-girl names for each other. I have two old friends called Jennifer and Rebecca. I have know them both for many years, but even so if I took the liberty of addressing them as Jenny, Becki or Becks; I strongly suspect that I would get a thick ear. Not so among the home educating parents of Somerset, most of whom seem to be known by endearing little diminutives like Linny and Ali or Tans and Jacs. Yuk! Is this hideously twee or what? Having mentioned Ali, otherwise known as the charming and delightful Alison Edgeley, I cannot help making an observation. When I gave evidence at the select committee in October 2009, there was an outcry because I was no longer apparently a home educator; my daughter having turned sixteen two months earlier. Home education was said no longer to be any of my business. What then shall we say of Alison Edgeley, who hoofed her own children back to school five years ago because they were getting in the way of a new business which she was trying to launch? Five years down the line and she is still mixed up in home education; posting on forums and lists and even making a nuisance of herself anonymously on here.

Now the Somerset home educators are forever falling out with each other and flying at each other throats in a rage. (Metaphorically, you understand. I don’t mean to suggest that the citizens of Frome are having to dodge round furious catfights in the street between brawling home educators!) They exchange angry and tearful telephone calls and emails; constantly falling out and then making up again with hugs and kisses. Last year, Tania Berlow and Jacquie Cox were jointly submitting evidence to Parliament, but today they are at daggers drawn over who is actually teacher’s pet. Both are upset because each thought that she was Alison Sauer’s favourite. This has caused both of them to make spiteful and bitchy comments , not only about each other, but also about various friends and supporters. Linny for instance, a chum of Jacs‘, was so upset by Tans that Jacs had to comfort her with tea and cake.

One of the things about the this bunch that should act as a warning sign to all right-thinking people is that they all of them make a fetish of their honesty, integrity and, most significantly, their ability to speak plainly. Now I have often met men and women who announced that they were outspoken and told it as it was. Men who proclaim, ’I’m John Blunt; I call a spade a spade and don’t have any time for pussyfooting around’. Without exception, such characters turn out to be rude, insulting and abrasive. I have to say that, judging by what I have so far seen, the home educating Linnys , Alis, Tans and Jacs of Somerset seem to fit perfectly into this pattern!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Children’s rights

We looked yesterday at New World Order ideology. Today, I wish to consider one aspect of this theory and how it has permeated, one might almost say contaminated, British home education and those connected with it in any capacity.

In the early 1970s, I was very heavily involved in the Children’s Rights movement in this country. For some of us who went to school during the fifties and were teenagers in the sixties, the helplessness of children was an absolute scandal. They could be beaten without any legal redress by parents and teachers and any adult who wished could strike them a passing blow with impunity. It was not uncommon for park keepers or even bus conductors to hit children and they had no legal remedy. In many ways, their position was almost that of slaves in the eighteenth century. Gradually, this changed and a good thing too. One area where these changes are currently being opposed in Britain is in the field of home education.

I mentioned yesterday that one of the big things with American home educators was ’parental rights’. This means, among other things, the right of parents to hit their children whenever they want. This is an important issue in the USA. Another aspect is the right of parents to allow their children to carry and use firearms. Both these ’rights’ would be under threat if America ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. The USA and Somalia are the only countries in the world which have not ratified this treaty. Home educators in America, of which there could be as many as two million, are among the most vociferous opponents of the UNCRC.

This attitude has crossed the Atlantic and is now prevalent among British home educators as well. Perhaps it has something to do with the Internet and the ease with which crazy ideas are able to travel the world so readily these days. At any rate, British home educators are also very keen now on their ’rights’. Parental ’right’ to home educate has become a big thing on the home education scene here. I have quite a different perspective on this and I rather think that my own viewpoint was more common twenty years ago than it is now. It is based upon the idea of children’s rights, which has, as I mentioned above, been very important to me for forty years or so. When my daughter was little, she had the right to the best possible education which I was capable of providing for her. If I was able to provide the best education at home, then I had a duty to do this; no matter what sacrifices this entailed my making. If on the other hand, I was unable or unwilling to provide a decent education at home and a local school could give her a better education, then my duty was to send her there. Where ’parental rights’ entered into all this, I really could not say. This was my duty.

Reading the 2007 guidelines for local authorities on home education is very revealing. A child’s right to education is mentioned only once in this document, but the parents’ right to home educate rates five mentions. Interesting, no? Government pronouncements on home education these days always talk of parents’ ‘right to home educate’. I suppose that this is in keeping with the spirit of the age. We are all very concerned now that nobody’s rights are infringed and if we fail to acknowledge the parental right to home educate, then who knows? Perhaps they will be bringing a case against us under the Human Rights Act? This is a disgustingly craven way for the government to behave. The reason that they are so keen to emphasise parents’ supposed rights in this matter is that it is the parents, as adults, who will cause trouble. They are the people who must be fawned around and placated. You will notice that there is ten times more talk of parents’ right to home educate whenever anybody is talking about this subject, than there is of children’s rights to education. This is awful and it is a definite step backwards, as least as far as children’s rights are concerned.

As I say, this kind of thinking has drifted over here from the USA. It is popular with both right wing Christians and New World Order nuts; both of whom are over-represented on the American home educating scene. I am horrified to see British parents adopting this reactionary viewpoint and look forward to the day when a more progressive stand is taken on the matter and children’s rights move to the centre of the debate on home education, where they belong.

My association with Tania Berlow.

You know it’s a bad sign when somebody starts putting up your old emails on the Internet... The person who has done this, goes on to say:

Are you refusing to take my name out of this equation because you're now labouring under the misapprehension that I repeated something you said to me 9 months ago’

Step forward, Tania Berlow of Somerset. Now it has never been a secret that I have had dealings in the past with Tania Berlow. However, Jacquie Cox has drawn attention to this recently and now Tania herself has started to publish my old emails. I know the home educating world only too well and I can see where this is leading. I recollect vividly the stories which were being circulated a few years ago that Graham Badman was related to me or a colleague or something. If I don’t act quickly now, then by next week I dare say people will be saying that Tania Berlow is my sister or wife! Before we go any further, here is the email which I sent to Tania last year, sympathising for some trouble she was having:

I was sorry to read about your having trouble with the police and social workers. I doubt that any father would pull a stroke of this sort, however acrimonious the divorce. I think that you are on the way to becoming even more disliked in some circles than me! It just shows how fickle home educators can be. Yesterday you were the darling of the anti-Badman crusade and today a traitor; It reminds me of the Wheel of Fortune in tarot. I hope that you are not letting this get you down too much. I was myself a little taken aback at some of the attacks which I have received over the last year or so, but these days I just find them amusing. I am sure that this will come to you to. I do not agree with you on some major points, but I have no doubt that you mean well. Good luck with everything. I am happy to ring and chat some time, but I rather suspect that you are too busy for this at the moment. Simon '‘

Now I can’t se anything objectionable about that, but Tania says that:

I reprint it to show others that you have no compunction in making an association to CW and myself and implying that I lack judgement, would 'fall' for someone like CW and that somehow I have sympathy with the NWO ideology’

Does anybody else put that construction upon this? The fact is, I had some contact with Tania last year, because she emailed me and asked me to telephone her. I did so and am able to report that she is every bit as verbose in her private capacity as she is when making written submissions to select committees and so on. I don’t remember that we discussed much of importance; a lot of it was personal stuff. At one point she asked me to publicise in this blog some company which was providing distance learning for home educated children, but that is the only thing I recall clearly. We also exchanged a few emails, which will also no doubt soon be surfacing.

The root of Tania’s annoyance seems to be that she thinks that I was suggesting in a recent post that she had had dealings with Christopher Warren. If I gave that impression, it was unintentional. I meant to convey that some home educators like her, Alison Sauer and Kelly Green were more likely to be taken in by rogues of that sort if they represented themselves as home educators. When she says that she had no knowledge of this man before March this year, I have no reason to doubt her word. She also desires me to say that she has no sympathy with or leanings towards New World Order theories, but there I am in a somewhat tricky position. I formed quite a different view during our telephone conversations, although I might have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

It is to be hoped that this clears up any confusion, but knowing the British home education scene, I am inclined to doubt it. I am just waiting for the Simon Webb/Tania Berlow conspiracy theories to start!

The New World Order and home educators.

The New World Order is a conspiracy theory which holds that a world government is emerging which is for the time being operating in secret. For some, this means a group such as the Illuminati, for others the United Nations is the villain of the piece. The New World order has been a popular idea with some home educators in the USA for years. They are fighting hard to prevent America ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child becausethey fear that this removes parental rights and makes the state the child’s first parent. It is all part of a sinister plot by the UN to take away their parental rights. Sound familiar to anybody?

I have watched over the last few years as some of the concepts in the New World Order nonsense find their way into the British home education scene. There is a sub-division of N W O theories which concerns mass surveillance. One observes that opposition to ID cards and ContactPoint was very strong on the home education lists and forums and that opting out of the SCR, which I mentioned yesterday, is also being advocated by some. An essential part of belief in the New World Order is that everything is linked together and few things happen for obvious reasons. New law proposed which would introduce monitoring of home education? Well for most of us this was a, possibly, misguided attempt on the part of some politicians to protect children. You blind fools! It is the tentacles of the world government trying to replace you as parents and substitute the state! Government encourages vaccinations? Ha, it’s another trick of the military-industrial complex, who are working hand in glove with Big Pharma. Summary Care Records? Another manifestation of mass surveillance; ContactPoint under another name. Obscure document vanishes from the DfE site for a few days? Ha, they're trying to conceal something. In this world, nothing ever happens by accident or chance. even computer and IT glitches become part of a plot to deprive them of their 'rights'.

Now of course not all home educators think this way. In fact I am guessing that they are a tiny minority. The problem is that quite a few of the more influential ones do subscribe to these ideas. I am talking here about the prolific posters on forums and the owners of lists. Some of these people represent themselves as speaking on behalf of home educators in general and are often listened to seriously by those outside the home educating community. I am not going to name names here, but I can assure readers that I have had conversations with a number of well known people on the home education scene and been surprised and dismayed at how often some part of the New World Order mythology seems to crop up. One or two explicitly subscribe to the ideas, the rest half believe a lot of the theory.

All this sounds quite funny and pretty harmless, but it is not. For one thing, the terminology of the New Word Order conspiracy theorists has a way of filtering down until everybody uses it. The concept of parental ’rights’ for instance; as in the ’right’ to home educate. This derives from the whole American idea of ’rights’ being usurped by the federal government or UN. The difficulty is that once people have this way of looking at things, then they will see others with the same paranoid worldview as being friends and allies in the struggle against the UN/statist governments/the Illuminati and so on. This can make for some very odd bedfellows, which is why some pretty dubious characters end up being welcomed by home educators.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Moderating this blog

After two years when people have been able to say anything they wish, the time has finally come to introduce some limits on what appears here. Let me explain. When people set out on a course of action which they know will affect many others, changing the law for instance, then these people put themselves in the public domain. It is fair to question their motives and examine their fitness to be involved in changing the law. This was the case with Graham Badman, Ed Balls and some of the witnesses who gave evidence at the select committee in October 2009. Precisely the same situation now exists with those people who have declared themselves to be engaged in a project to change the law in this country as it relates to home education. Just as in the case of Graham Badman, it is quite reasonable to ask why they are doing this and what, if anything, they hope to get out of it. I am sure that we all remember the suggestions that Graham Badman stood to gain financially from Schedule 1 of the CSF Bill due to his connection with two companies.

By writing newspaper articles and a book about home education, I have to some extent put myself in the same position. People are accordingly free to criticise and insult me if they wish and this blog provides a vehicle for them to do so. The case of people commenting here is somewhat different. I am happy for anybody to heap as much abuse on me as they wish; I have decided to put a stop to it when it is directed against people who are simply commenting here. This is starting to look to me like an attempt to drive some people off here and stop them from posting comments. I am not going to allow bullying of that sort. When people say things on the comments page like: ’Your personal stuff is safe with me’, this sounds like a threat to reveal private information. Similarly, the announcement of an impending birth has traditionally been the prerogative of the parents, rather than some random person commenting on a blog.

To sum up, anybody can say anything they like about me or question the motives of anybody trying to change the law or introduce new restrictions on home education. That is quite right and proper. No more sniping at other people for their comments though.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Summary Care Records

One can usually hazard a pretty accurate guess as to the line which home educating activists will be taking on many contemporary issues; from ID cards to vaccinations. It made it, I suppose, inevitable that controversy should arise in the home educating community about the introduction of Summary Care Records, knows as SCRs for short. These are a short account of the most important bits in your medical record that a doctor treating you would need to know. Allergies to penicillin, blood group, history of diabetes, that sort of thing. As things stand, if you were to be knocked unconscious in a road accident, there could be a considerable delay in finding who your doctor was and getting access to the sort of information which could save your life. This will speed things up and allow a doctor treating you to find the important stuff out straight away.

There are various things to remember about Summary Care Records. They are completely voluntary. Your doctor will write to you and explain how you can opt out if you do not want to be in the scheme. You can also have notes added to the SCR yourself, if you think that they are misleading. You will be able to view your own SCR online and see what the doctors have put in there and you can also see your child’s SCR, unless she has Gillick Competency, in which case she can view her own record.

Needless to say, there has been a rush of home educating parents who have opted their children out from this scheme, although I cannot quite see why. It seems to me to be very irresponsible and suggest an adherence to dogma at the expense of their child's future welfare. The SCR only contains the bare bones of a person’s medical history; not chapter and verse. There seems to be an anxiety about the information in an SCR being hacked, but so what? I would be happy for my own allergies to become public knowledge!

The real reason that home educators oppose things like the SCR is that there is a visceral distrust of professionals among many such people. Anybody trained to work with children, whether a teacher or doctor, is often viewed with suspicion as the kind of person who would try to prevent home education if at all possible. In other words, this is more paranoia than any rational concern. I am simply counting down and waiting for the explosion from militant home educators to this news:

What do you want to bet that we will be hearing from home educating parents who claim that they will now stop visiting doctors and hospitals entirely when their child is injured or sick?

Georgie Eden

Well, well, everything now seems to be coming together about the operations of Alison Sauer and her friends. I think that I have a pretty good picture of how it has all been working, although Jacquie Cox has certainly produced a few surprising rabbits from the hat! Mind you, she may not be a completely reliable and objective witness herself. For example, she claims that only she and Alison Sauer were involved in the EHE guidelines; Alison writing them and she, Jacquie, doing the proof reading. This would mean that Rainbow-Leaf Lovejoy is not telling the truth when she claims that it was her doing the proof reading. I do not know either of these two women well enough to judge who is telling the truth about this.

Last year I had quite a few dealings with Tania Berlow, at her instigation. She sent me her telephone number and urged me several times to get in touch. It now appears that this was all being reported back to Jacquie Cox and Alison Sauer, which I did not realise. This means that I no longer feel any need to maintain confidentiality about anything Tania told me and I shall be going into this at a later date. Something which is interesting is that Alison Sauer apparently assigned a man who goes by the name of Georgie Eden to keep an eye on Tania and persuade her not to shoot her mouth off too much. I have never in all my life heard anything like this! These people may not have been engaged in a conspiracy, but the were certainly playing at secret agents a lot. So who is Georgie Eden, another close chum of Alison’s? There are clues.

Georgie Eden posted a bit on various lists, including the Badman review Action Group in November 2010. It is fairly clear that this person is not English. For example, he writes Ofsted as OFFsted. This suggests that he has only been given the name of the organisation over the telephone and is rendering it phonetically. I have actually never seen a literate English person write Ofsted like this. He talks of parents obtaining, ’ 'fast alleviation and
'. This is pure American legal jargon, which made me suspect at first that it was really Betsy Anderson. Georgie Eden also uses the word ‘tools’ to describe actions and strategies and refers to ‘home education facilitators’. Of course, Kelly Green uses both these expressions. On balance, I am guessing that Georgie Eden is American. Could it be somebody fairly well known, like Pat Faranga? I have an idea that this information too is heading for the public domain pretty soon!

What is very clear to me is that even when she had been fully informed about Christopher Warren’s background, Alison Sauer was still happy to keep in touch with him. She was apparently so keen to slag me off that she was prepared to ignore the fact that her correspondent was an abusive man who at the age of forty, seduced a fifteen year-old girl. This does not inspire confidence in somebody who is trying to alter the law relating to home edcuation in this country.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

My dealings with Christopher Warren

I said the day before yesterday that I had had no email conversations with Christopher Warren, apart from the comments which I posted on BRAG and a request which I sent him to remove my name from his site. After checking through all my old emails (!), I now find that I actually sent him the following in March:

Simon Webb's Smear Campaign
From: simon webb Add to Contacts


Dear Mr Warren,
I read with interest your piece about me. I answer your points in my latest post on Home Education Heretic; you may care to glance at it. I am planning to write a post about you and your website, but I have run into a difficulty and would like to give you the chance to clear it up. As far as I can understand, you were at Oxford from 1999 until 2002. However on your site, you say that you have been living in Sweden for thirteen years. Obviously, both cannot be true and perhaps I am getting muddled up myself here! If you could let me know when you actually were at Oxford and when you moved to Sweden, it would be very helpful in putting together the piece which I am planning. Thanks a lot.

Simon Webb.

I received no reply to this and only sent it because I wanted to give him the chance to set the record straight and make sure that I said nothing inaccurate about him. His response was evidently to get in touch with Alison Sauer at once. This rather suggests that they were on a friendly footing at least until three months ago.

Deleting posts

Comments made on blogs run by blogger are prone to being deleted at random or moved without warning to a section marked spam. This is a problem which affects not just this blog, but any run via blogger. My daughter keeps her own blog on wordpress and assures me that blogger is notorious for these problems. Home educators, living as they do in a world where nothing happens by coincidence and everything is part of some overarching plot against them, simply do not seem to get this! I have only ever deleted one person's comments from this blog and that was Peter Williams. He started posting literally every couple of minutes with single lines suggesting that my daughter and I should eat horse shit and so on. Apart from that, I have never bothered who says what here.

I did not ask blogger to install a spam filter; they did it all blogs. Sometimes I forget for days at a time to check this thing and see what is caught there. This is because I have a life apart from this blog and am actually quite busy at the moment. Somebody yesterday became angry about this and threatened to start her own blog if I did not sort the problem out. I can only advise anybody who wishes to do this to go right ahead. I do not censor anything here and am not answerable for blogger's activities with spam.

What is curious is that this happens on all blogs run with blogger and yet I have never seen any accusations elsewhere that it is anything other than a technical glitch. Why do home educators always seem to assume malign intent on the part of others towards them?

A final word about Christopher Warren and home educators

If there is a stick anywhere about, one can as a general rule expect many home educators to catch hold of the wrong end of it. After the post which I published recently about Christopher Warren, some people commenting here seem to think that I am suggesting that there is something sinister about his connection with Alison Sauer and Kelly Green; some kind of conspiracy perhaps. I was hinting at nothing of the sort. Let me state the case as clearly as I am able and see whether or not people grasp the nature of the problem.

Some home educators feel beleagured and under threat from governments and local authorities. As a result, they adopt an attitude that all home educators should stick together for self-protection. When somebody steps forward and says, ‘I’m a home educator, trust me’; why then, they tend to do just that.

Alison Sauer, Kelly Green, Tania Berlow and a number of others all have a broadly similar outlook on home education. They encourage each other in these beliefs and make common cause with others who say that they feel the same way. When a dangerous, religious maniac with a predilection for under-age girls gets in touch with people like this, their first instinct is often not to ask themselves who on earth this man is or to examine his background. It is instead to welcome him with open arms as a fellow persecuted home educator. This was what happened in Alison Sauer's and Kelly Green's case certainly. When the man concerned is alleged to be a predatory paedophile who operates via the Internet to find lonely and vulnerable women with young daughters; this can cause problems and possibly expose children to danger. Warren is holed up in compound in Sweden with a number of ’wives’. It is widely believed that he recruits new members to this strange commune on the Internet. Accepting that somebody is OK simply because he says that he is a home educator is incredibly dangerous. Publicly endorsing a man like this, as Karen Rodgers did, or naming him alongside other genuine home educators on a blog, as Kelly Green did by publicly thanking him for his help, is reckless and irresponsible.

There are quite a few vulnerable single mothers reading the Badman Review Action Group, the Kelly Green and Gold blog and so on. If they see somebody like Christopher Warren being publicly associated with home education, praised and applauded by high profile home educators; then it has the effect of making some people think that he must be OK and trustworthy. They feel that he is in the same category as Alison Sauer, Kelly green and Karen Rodgers; just one more person fighting hard for the fundamental freedom to home educate.

My contention is that only in home educating circles would such a man find it so easy to be accepted and endorsed. I have sent his details to a few friends who work with children in both the statutory and voluntary circle. All were horrified at the thought of such a person being associated with any movement or group involving children. There are clearly many questions to be answered about Warren and his activities and yet as far as some home educators are concerned, the fact that he is, or claims to be, a home educator trumps any such worries. By definition, he must be OK; he’s a home educator! As I remarked in a previous post, this is a disaster waiting to happen. If well known home educators are prepared to cosy up to such a man as this and ignore the warning signs; who else are they playing footsy with? And yet even after I drew attention to these matters on the Badman Review Action Group, the anger was directed against me. People were agitating for my removal from the list for telling people about Warren and the kind of person he is. Their way of dealing with the problem was to allow Warren to keep posting and even publish a link to his website.

My concern is, as I said a few days ago, that there are other people like this lurking in the world of home education. Those who have been friendly with Christopher Warren are obviously blind to the dangers and take any plausible rogue at face value, just as long as he utters the magic words: ‘I’m a home educator’. Terrible attitude, terrible danger for children.

Caring and creative children

Many of our friends have children who have not done brilliantly at school from an academic viewpoint. I have noticed that this is, at least according to their parents, because they are sensitive and talented in various areas and so unable to knuckle down to study like all the other kids. None of these children are home educated and yet I have noticed the same attitude appearing frequently on the home education lists and forums; my kid may not have a bunch of GCSEs, but boy is he creative/compassionate/caring/sensitive/talented/concerned. It is almost as though they regard these things as being a consolation prize for failing to pass all those GCSEs and A levels!

As I say, none of the parents I am thinking about here in my personal life are home educators and it is odd that they should have such a similar mindset to many of the home educating parents one encounters on the Internet. I think that this might be more a matter of background and class, rather than schooled or home educated. I have noticed that when the children of working class people I know muff up their GCSEs, their parents usually attribute it to their children’s laziness or lack of intelligence; this never happens with middle class parents. For them, it is because the child is too artistic or musical, loves animals so much or was too busy doing voluntary work. I don’t believe that middle class parents ever have lazy or stupid children; these traits are definitely confined to the working classes.

Now of course I value characteristics such as altruism, honesty and compassion very highly in my daughters. I regard a good ethical system as being at least as important as a grounding in academic subjects. I did not send my daughter to school for two main reasons and both were equally important. One was religious; I wanted her to grow up knowing the Lord and following his wishes as revealed in various scriptures. The other was that I did not trust the local maintained schools to provide an adequate education. An education without a moral code is a terrible thing. Almost as bad as religion which is not backed up by scientific knowledge! I would have been dismayed had my daughter not grown up to be honest and caring, but I certainly did not regard this as a substitute for having academic qualifications. Quite a few people have commented here telling me how wonderfully kind and caring their children are and hinting that this is more important than the kids knowing how a nuclear power station works or understanding the nitrogen cycle. I cannot quite agree with this point of view. Compassion and caring for the environment which are not backed by solid facts can easily be misplaced. There is no point getting involved with campaigns to stop the export of powered baby milk to less economically developed nations unless you know the facts and figures. Similarly, one cannot be opposed to nuclear power unless one fully grasps the difference between ionising radiation and all other types of electro-magnetic radiation.

I am fascinated by the fact that so many parents on the lists and forums speak of their children in precisely the same way as the parents whom I know whose children did attend school. Do more middle class people hang out on these places? Do some of them choose to home educate because they already suspect that their children will not do well at school and are lining up an alibi? Are the main ideologies of British home education shaped by parents whose children are not academic anyway? Could this be why there is often an implied disdain for GCSEs and SATs tests? Do I detect the faint tang of sour grapes in the air? There is no doubt that there is a strong trend of anti-school feeling in the home education scene in this country. I shall explore this idea in another post later this week, because I am sure that there must be a rational explanation for it.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Christopher Warren and the British home education scene

Back in March, a man called Christopher Warren posted on the Badman Review Action Group. I raised a few questions about the suitability of such a person being on that list and people got so angry that there was talk of chucking me off. I left, having drawn attention to the dangers of becoming mixed up with such a character. Here are a few links about Christopher Warren:

Of course, this might all be lies, although there is a great deal about Warren and his cult, the New Covenant Church of God on the Internet. By his own account, he is a very odd man. See his official site here:

Gay readers will perhaps be surprised to learn that they are possessed by demons! I have suspected for some time that this awful man was involved with helping Alison Sauer draw up the new EHE guidelines. If true, the very presence of such a person anywhere near the things is enough to contaminate them and make them unacceptable to anybody who feels strongly about child abuse; which I am guessing includes most of us. Just what is his involvement in the business?

Much of the activity in the British home education scene is shaped and guided by a small number of people. One sees their names crop up again and again, both on lists and forums, in letters to newspapers and at Parliament. Alison Sauer is of course one of these people. She is advised by and has had many telephone conversations about the new guidelines with, Kelly Green in Canada. This American woman got Alison to write an introduction for her book. She runs a blog called Kelly Green and Gold. Apart from Alison Sauer, Kelly Green is in touch with other home educators in this country whose names will be familiar to many. People like Tania Berlow, for instance. Reading her blog enables one to work out who has been involved in drawing up the EHE guidelines. On December 30th last year, you will see this on Kelly Green’s blog:

I want to thank Pat Farenga, Alison Sauer, Tania Berlow, Diane Varty, Leaf Lovejoy, Grit of grit's day, and many other correspondents for helping me shape’

Pat Faranga is nothing to do with the case, she thanks him because he gave a glowing recommendation to her book. Alison Sauer, Tania Berlow and Leaf Lovejoy though have all been involved in drawing up the EHE guidelines. This is interesting. But wait, what’s missing from this picture boys and girls? The above quotation is not as it was first posted by Kelly Green. She actually included somebody else in her thanks and then removed his name after I drew attention to him in March. Fortunately, her original post was archived. Try this. Google CCM Warren and Diane Varty and see what comes up. You will find this:

I want to thank Pat Farenga, CCM Warren, Alison Sauer, Tania Berlow, Diane Varty, Grit of grit's day, and many other correspondents for helping me shape my’

See what’s happened here? She has taken one member of the group working on the guidelines out and replace it with another. Out goes Christopher Warren and in comes Leaf Lovejoy. Interesting, no?

I have know about this for some time, but it was only yesterday when Jacquie Cox who also worked on the EHE guidelines confirmed it, that I knew for sure that Warren had been involved in the thing. The question which British home educators need to ask is this. Are they happy to see a dangerous madman like Christopher Warren working at the heart of a project which, if successful, will affect every home educating parent in the country? What does it say about Alison Sauer, the motivating force behind the thing, that she is happy to accept advice and guidance from this man? There are many other questions, but I think that I shall put them into another post, because this one is getting a little too long. I urge readers to look into this for themselves and not to take my word for anything. Check out the New Covenant Church of God, see what you can find out about Christopher Warren and the allegations surrounding him about under-age girls and then ask whether this person should be involved at all with home education in this country. What impression does this give those critical of home education about the sort of people that home educators are prepared to consort with?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Waiting for a home educating abuse ring to emerge in this country

I mentioned yesterday that home educators in this country often tend to have a particular mindset, whereby they will enthusiastically embrace evidence of the good effects of home education and ignore anything at all negative. This can be very dangerous, because it is frequently combined with a dislike and mistrust of ‘professionals’; be they teachers, social workers, doctors or anybody else whose job entails their caring about the welfare of children. Anybody who is, or claims to be a home educator is almost by definition in the right and social workers and teachers are always presumed to be wrong, whatever they are saying about children being educated at home. The dangers this pose should be fairly plain and obvious to an objective observer.

Any parent posting messages on any of the home educating support lists and forums in this country about a problem they are experiencing, are sure of the uncritical support of those on the lists. Other members seldom ask just why the social workers are knocking on a family's door or how social services became involved in the first place. It is enough that this is a home educating parent and one of us! Of course she is being persecuted. This same unquestioning acceptance of anybody who claims to be a home educator is extended to complete maniacs, such as Christopher Warren, the English cult leader in Sweden. He has faced allegations of raping children and runs a bizarre religious commune, having a number of ’wives’, some of them barely of the age of consent, but because he is a home educator, he must be OK. When he posted on the Badman Review Action Group, I asked a few questions. This was enough to make people agitate for my removal from the list and I so left. How dare I question a home educator in this way? This odious man managed to persuade others on the list that he was an innocent victim of government persecution and so Karen Rodgers, well known on other lists as well, endorsed him and his site. Free Sweden Net now bears the following from Karen:

"Great website and really scary content. Sweden is so often held up here as an example of an enlightened modern country. What an irony!" (KR, United Kingdom, 1 March 2011)

On other occasions, right wing American groups who believe in beating their children regularly and allowing them to carry guns, have also been endorsed by British home educators. Anybody from abroad who posts on any British list because their children are not at school and social services are concerned, can be sure of finding support on either BRAG or HE-UK.

The danger is that this willingness, on the one hand to believe no ill of anybody who says he is a home educator and on the other to mistrust teachers and social workers, will produce a situation where children who are not at school will end up being abused and their abusers actually will be protected by other home educators. The belief is, though not explicitly stated, that if social services are chasing a home educating parent, then they are the villains and the parent is the victim. This is not at all how I see it. We have in the past seen cases in Education Otherwise of this sort of thing happening. I strongly suspect that sooner or later, this attitude will create the ideal circumstances for some unscrupulous person to set up as a home educator and abuse not only his own children but other peoples’ as well. The hatred and mistrust felt towards professionals, combined with the sympathy felt towards all home educating parents makes this inevitable. The only way that such a situation could be avoided would be if home educators started being a little less hostile towards teachers and social workers and somewhat more searching about the motives of other parents. I don’t expect this to happen and so sooner or later, some charismatic fellow like Christopher Warren will become prominent in home educating circles here with disastrous results.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

More about dead children, particularly black ones.

We looked yesterday at the emotive argument often used by home educators, that of the bullied child who had been educated at home and then forced back to school with tragic consequences. We found, as I had suspected, that nobody knows of a single case of a home educated child being forced back to school, let alone of one who subsequently suffered any harm as a result.
Of course, home educators are not the only ones who wheel out suffering children to bolster their arguments. During the select committee hearings in 2009, I was astounded to hear the present Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, offer her reasons for supporting Schedule 1 of the CSF Bill. She said;

‘I would give you two words, and they are the first and second names of the child who died — Khyra Ishaq’

Khyra Ishaq was of course not only a sweet looking little girl, she was also dead and black; a winning combination if ever I heard one for a debate of this sort! Those who are worried about children being at home with their parents have a history of using dead kids in this way. Some of the legislation which many home educators feel is against their best interests was introduced in the wake of Victoria Climbie’s death. The reports about this actually had a picture of Victoria printed on the cover; perhaps the most flagrant example of using a dead kid to make one’s point when fighting or supporting new laws. Another photogenic, little black girl; how cool is that? And what's more, she's dead. Ha, let's see anybody disagree with the measures we propose now! Those who used Khyra Ishaq and Victoria Climbie in this way were clearly not familiar with the old adage that hard cases make bad law!

The problem is that both sides in these debates seem to be working from a blinkered perspective. Home educators claim quite correctly that some children are bullied so badly at school that they are driven to despair and suffer horribly. They go on to assert that home education offers a refuge to such children and removes them from the bullies. This is to ignore the fact that a huge amount of bullying also takes place in the home and that for some children, school can itself act as a refuge from bullying and abuse. Those opposed to home education are able to point to the occasional case of a child being educated at home who has suffered bullying, abuse or even died at the hands of her parents. They too ignore an important fact; that almost all child victims of domestic abuse and murder are registered pupils at schools.

Using dead children can be a pretty good knock-down debating point, whether you are discussing the merits of exporting powdered baby milk to less economically developed countries, mass vaccinations or the building of a nuclear power station. A debate about home education is the perfect excuse to bring in the dead children and blame your opponents for their deaths. As somebody pointed out yesterday, I have myself been guilty of this! On home educating lists, we often see mention of ’bullycide’ and the figure of sixteen deaths a year from bullying. I tried to track down the source of this figure a few years ago and could get no further than a registered charity which was making a good income from bullying and refused to tell me how they calculated this often mentioned statistic. The problem is that on both sides of the home educating debate are entrenched interests and people who are absolutely convinced that they are right. Neither side begins by examining the evidence and then seeing where it might lead and what the implications are. Instead, they start by believing either that home education is good and right or that it is dangerous and wrong. They then set out to gather evidence to support of this predetermined position. One can always find children who have been bullied at school and then been home educated. Similarly, one can always find other children who have been mistreated at home and who view school as a sanctuary. It is true that every so often a child who is being educated at home in this country is tortured or murdered, but then far more children at school suffer in this way.

It would be nice if a group of home educators and a bunch of social workers, teachers and other professionals could get together and examine all the available evidence in a neutral and dispassionate way, seeing where it might lead. They might possibly discover that they have more in common than either side has suspected. I don’t really expect this to happen any time soon; but it is an interesting idea! Of course, this is pretty much what was supposed to have happened at the select committee hearings in October 2009, but I have to say it did not really work that way. All parties were only interested in furthering their own special interests; not in discovering new truths.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Blood on our hands!

During the recent debate about the idea of a twenty day ‘cooling off’ period before a deregistered child’s name was removed from the school roll, one of the stock mythic characters of home education was brought into action once more. This is the bullied child who is forced back to school and then suffers harm either from his persecutors at school or because, unable to bear the agony of school any longer, he kills himself.

Now I am not at the best of times over-keen on claims of this sort, that some action or other will end up costing the lives of innocent children. There is something a little distasteful about resorting to this tactic; effective as propaganda though it may be. It has the effect, doubtless intended, of making those on the other side of the argument look like cruel and heartless wretches who do not care about the suffering of little children, but it does not tell us anything at all about the facts of the matter. Bringing in this hypothetical character simply stifles rational debate and makes people a little uneasy about pressing their points too vigorously, lest they seem unfeeling and callous towards this poor child. Home educators in this country are very fond of using this image, that of the suicidal, home educated child who dies because of some new piece of legislation or other. This imaginary child was brought into play a great deal during the campaign against Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill last year and inevitably I too was named as one of those who would be responsible for the deaths of these children. The following comes from the Dare to Know blog:

'Wednesday, March 17, 2010
To all supporters of Schedule 1
...of the CSF bill, Deech, Soley, Badman, Ed Balls, Simon Webb, whoever you may be. Be very aware that by forcing children, either because of some administrative error on the part of parents, or because an ignorant LA officer says so and without any chance to offer a defence in court, back into school, you will almost certainly have blood on your hands'

Strong words indeed! It was this sort of thing, talk of bloodshed and so on, which resulted in the Department for Children, Schools and Families declining to answer any further Freedom of Information requests about the Badman Report, not as somebody suggested here the other day, because of a spoof blog.

What I am trying to establish currently is whether a case of this sort has ever happened in the real world. That is to say a child who has been deregistered from school in this country being forced back into school by a local authority and then suffering harm as a consequence. Is this a real hazard or merely a piece of emotive propaganda used by some home educators whenever anybody suggests changing the law? Let’s face it, School Attendance Orders are raring than rocking-horse shit. When did anybody ever hear of any home educated child being forced to return to school as a result of an SAO being issued? I have been researching hard, trying to identify a single case of this happening and so far I have drawn a blank. I have found plenty of claims that it has happened, but no solid information at all. This is strange, because you would think that such a child would have become a cause celebre of the home educating world. Before I can move on and find a case of a child suffering harm as a result of being forced back to school, I must first find a case of a child who has been made to return to school after having been home educated. Does anybody know of such a child? Does such a person actually exist?

My feeling is that the unfortunate home educated child who is forced back to school and then bullied to death is a figment of some home educators’ imaginations. That being the case, it is pretty shameless of them to trot out this figure every time somebody talks of a change in some minor regulation. It is in any case a pretty primitive argument. Whenever somebody disagrees with home educators about the need for a change in the status quo, they are asked rhetorically:

’Do you want children to die? Do you want their blood on your hands? Because that’s what will happen if you press ahead with this!’

There is still some mileage left in this hoary old myth, as we saw when the Department for Education backed down over the twenty days business recently, but I can’t help wondering when somebody will call time on this strategy. It is wearing a bit thin. In the meantime, can anybody help me to discover any home educated child who has been forced back to school by a local authority or the courts? Does such a child really exist in Britain? The search has been on now for over a month and I am growing increasingly sceptical about the existence of a kid like this! Come on you militant home educators, help me out here. Somebody must know of a verifiable case of this sort!

Parents can’t hope to achieve as much as a school

One of the regular objections made by teachers and other professions in the field of education to the idea of home education is that one or two untrained people cannot replicate all that modern schools provide. This is quite true of course; they can’t. How could I ever have found the time for the endless risk assessments and drawing up of policy documents? There were no CRB checks, no Ofsted inspections. We had no cleaners in the evening to straighten the place up and prepare it for the next day, nor did we hold regular staff meetings or arrange Inset days. We had no staff room, no proper facilities for sport, no laboratories, the child was left unsupervised for long periods of time because we did not arrange a supply teacher to cover my absences due to shopping and so on. From a school point of view; the enterprise was a disaster waiting to happen.
I posted a link a short while ago to a family who live round the corner from me in Buckhurst Hill. This mother is doing A levels with her kids very successfully. She used to be an opera singer. Others with no background at all in education do GCSEs. The whole notion that one needs a school to do these things is of course nonsense.

The one thing which I have a slight doubt about is how the personality of home educated children turns out after spending so much time in adult, rather than children’s company. This factor is pretty much the same whether the education has been structured or unstructured. The less time that children have spent at school, the more likely they are to present as a little strange and atypical, at least compared with other young people who have attended school. Those who are deregistered at the age of twelve or thirteen seem OK, but I have to say that young people who have never been to school often come across as a bit odd. Not necessarily a bad ’odd’, but odd none the less. They speak differently, dress differently, often have their hair done differently; they are just a bit…different. This is not of course a bad thing in itself, just something I have noticed.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Alison Sauer and Education Otherwise; a correction

Last week, Shena Deuchars of Education Otherwise was very keen to distance the organisation from Alison Sauer, after somebody commented here that she used to work for EO. Shena said, very definitely in response to this idea:

‘"But Alison Sauer did once hold a position within the EO organisation, until recently wasn't it?"

No, she did not. I have phoned her this afternoon to ask. I am assured that she has never been an LC, a trustee or a volunteer in any capacity.'

Now of course, I know perfectly well that Alison Sauer has in the past represented Education Otherwise at national level. I am sure that others also know this. Just look at this piece from The Scotsman:

I love the dogmatic way that she paints home education in her own image!

If you are a professional teacher you don’t know what you are talking about when it comes to home education. We don’t do any teaching. Our philosophy is self-directed learning’

Don’t you just adore that ‘we’ don’t do any teaching? 'Our' philosophy is self-directed learning. Is that official EO policy that she is expounding here? I wonder why Education Otherwise are so keen to disown her now?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Protecting our children and close friends

I have long thought that the online home educating community has many similarities to those groups who believe that there are alien spaceships at Area 51 or that a secret cabal rules the world. For these people, there are no coincidences. If a document disappears briefly from the Department for Education website; it can only be because a sinister cover-up is in progress. They often like to see themselves as fighting against dark forces which would otherwise destroy them and their families; nobly resisting statist efforts to force their conformity. Home education for these people is not just about educating their children at home, it is part of a whole ideology and world-view. Because they like to play at being secret agents or resistance fighters in this way, many of them hide their true identities and adopt a nom de guerre. Apart from anything else, calling yourself ‘Firebird’ is far more romantic than being just plain Ruth O’Hare!

Now there is no particular harm in this as long as one is just using this anonymity to comment on lists and forums. One can be ruder than one would if using a real name; we see this all the time on this blog. It is when people begin to be engaged in activities which might have a grave effect upon others that this secrecy or anonymity becomes a little bit of a problem. On the blog to which I gave a link the other day, the one about the new EHE guidelines, the author suggested something quite extraordinary. This was that Alison Sauer did not wish to be identified as the author of these guidelines so as to protect her child and friends. Of all the possible excuses for anonymity, this seems to me to be the feeblest. I know something about this, because with the possible exception of Graham Badman, I doubt whether anybody in the British home educating scene has been as insulted and abused as I! (Just try googling my name along with ‘home education’ and you will see what I mean).

Now I might have occasionally pointed out some of the more fruity things which people said about me during the Badman business to my daughter. We would have a laugh about them. My wife did not find it funny and so I would not show her any of it. As for my friends, most of them did not even know about the abuse that was being heaped upon me. How would they, unless I told them? I am really intrigued about this idea that one could put together a document which might have very serious effects for tens of thousands of families and then feel able to conceal one’s name on the grounds that one was protecting children, family and friends. Protecting them from what, for heaven’s sake? I have written newspaper articles, kept a blog and written an entire book on the subject of home education; all without causing any harm to my family and friends. Everything I have written on the subject has my name attached to it. Perhaps somebody could tell me what harm they are actually afraid will befall them if their real name becomes associated with their views on home education?

In Alison Sauer’s case, the idea that she is a private person who shrinks from attracting the attention of others is particularly grotesque. Somebody speculated in a comment that the blog to which I referred earlier is actually Alison Sauer’s work. They are probably right. She and her husband are history buffs and Alison belongs to a 17th century re-enactment society. She regularly dresses up in historical costumes and there are images of her like this all over the Internet. If this has not caused her daughter to die of embarrassment, then I doubt that any harm would be caused by putting her name to the EHE guidelines!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Ofsted report on home education

Just to remind readers, Ofsted did conduct a survey about home education at the end of 2009 and beginning of last year. the report may be found here:

Some of the topics which have been discussed on this blog are mentioned in this report, such as special needs and off-rolling.

Counteracting sexism when home educating a daughter

One of the great things about educating a girl at home is that one has the opportunity to work vigorously against society’s attempts to prevent her from achieving her full potential, both physically and mentally. There are those who believe that we live in a post-feminist world, where the major battles against sexism and male chauvinism have been won and that only extremists would continue to moan on about sexism. People expressing this view are generally either men or Daily Mail readers.

The indoctrination of females and crippling of their abilities begins from birth. Of course one can work against this in the home, but most girls end up spending a lot of their time in state institutions from the age of two or three and this means that they start learning from a very early age that society’s views about sex and gender are radically different from those which they have encountered at home. By the age of eleven, when they start secondary school, this process has been operating for eight or nine years.
Watch any science or maths class at an ordinary mixed comprehensive. By this time, the girls know their place. The girl who is bright and knows the answers will have learnt to do one of two things. She will either keep her mouth shut, for fear that the boys in the class and some of the girls, will make mocking reference to he supposed intelligence. This can be as subtle as boys exchanging glances and rolling their eyes when she answers the teacher’s questions or as crude as outright bullying. Or she might accept her role as freak and nerd and decide that being a loner is the price she must pay for excelling academically. This discrimination against bright girls is a separate thing from the general sneering which goes on in many schools at those who want to learn. The commonest strategy that girls adopt in the face of this sort of thing is to stop answering questions and pretend that they don’t know and have no interest in the subject. Unfortunately, this pretence can become the real thing if acted often enough.

A similar thing happens with the physical strength of girls. It is often said that girls are not as strong as boys because they are smaller and therefore have smaller muscles. This would be true if we all used our muscles at 100% capability, but few people other than Olympic athletes do this. A girl’s muscles are proportionate to her body, which means that she can support her body weight by her muscles every bit as well as a boy. This means that in the gym, climbing trees and so on, there is no reason at all for girls to do any less well than boys. Any apparent lack in strength is more psychological than physical. This too results from early education. The girl learns at school that it is not quite the thing to be able to climb higher up a tree than boys and so she does not do it. Very early on in their lives, schoolgirls learn to flatter males and avoid bruising their fragile egos by outdoing them either intellectually or physically. When my daughter was fourteen, I was running the church youth club. She regularly outdid the boys of her age at physical activities, including tree climbing and this caused some little unpleasantness. The reaction of the other girls was interesting. They obviously thought it bad form for her to show the boys up in this way and couldn’t see why a girl would do this. They were already in the habit of flattering the boys and pretending to be weaker and more stupid than they already were.

Home education for girls means that when the child encounters this sort of thing, she will see it as a foolish aberration, not a way that she should try and behave. In other words, it is quite possible when home educating, to raise a child free of sexism; a child who will attempt to do her best, whether or not it upsets any males in the vicinity!

Home educating in India

A new blog about the EHE guidelines

Somebody has started a blog about the new EHE guidelines for local authorities. It may be found here:

One problem glares out at one immediately; it is not possible to post comments. The author claims that he has disabled the comments facility because he does not ‘wish to spend my time moderating a volatile debate’ This is ridiculous. Lord knows that there are enough volatile debates on this blog, but I don’t have to spend my time moderating them! Why would I even bother doing that? People can say what they want about my opinions and if I feel like it I will join in and debate on equal terms with them. I suspect that the real reason that this man does not allow comments is because he does not like to be contradicted. This presents a problem. Without cutting and pasting his rather long posts onto here, it will not really be possible to offer a detailed, point by point critique. My own posts tend to be rather short and are intended more as a starting point for discussion.
However, a few points do stand out and are worth mentioning. He suggests that one of the reasons that Alison Sauer might be so shy of admitting authorship of the EHE guidelines is to protect her children and family. This sounds grotesque. Tania Berlow, Jacquie Cox and Rainbow-Leaf Lovejoy have publicly talked of their involvement. I doubt that their children are at risk as a result. I know that things get a little heated in the home educating community, but I wouldn’t think that anybody is going to kidnap Alison’s children or torch her house over this!

The author of the new blog asks rhetorically:

One test for success for new guidelines, therefore, will be whether they will lead to greater clarity for both local authorities and home educators. Will they outline not only what local authorities should do, what their duties actually are, but also what they must NOT do?

I have already pointed out that the suggestion for data sharing between local authorities which is put forward in the new guidelines has no basis in law and seems to be a pet idea of whoever wrote the guidelines. There are a number of similar examples where the guidelines reference not current law, but possible future legislation.

the current round of speculation about Mr. Stuart’s proposals seems rather a waste of energy.’

Run that one past me again. In what sense are these ‘Mr Stuart’s proposals’? Did he have a hand in writing them? We need to be told more about this if that was the case.
I have pointed out one or two things, but the best thing for readers to do is read this blog for themselves. If and when it is possible to post comments, I shall go on there and go through the thing point by point, but I am reluctant simply to reproduce it all here and without doing that it would be unfair to offer any detailed criticism.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Who actually produced the new guidelines on elective home education?

One of the most curious and disturbing things about the new EHE guidelines is that not one person has so far come forward and admitted to having written any part of them. This is odd. Even Alison Sauer will not confirm that she wrote a single word of this document. Since this might have an enormous effect on how local authorities deal with home educating parents in the future and in view of the controversial nature of the sections on special needs, perhaps it might be worth trying to work out who was involved in the thing.
We know that one member of the team who produced the guidelines was a woman called Rainbow-Leaf Lovejoy. (Stop sniggering at the back; that’s her real name. I have an idea that she is known to Allie who comments here pretty regularly).Tania Berlow was also mixed up in the business, but to what extent is unknown. A woman called Jacqui also worked on the guidelines although, according to her own account, only to find out what was going on.

The secrecy surrounding the guidelines is not accidental. I have been contacted by a number of people who emailed Graham Stuart MP about their concerns. He passed their details on to Alison Sauer, who then got in touch with them. Several people were invited to become involved, but it was made plain that the whole thing was top secret and that they must agree not to tell anybody that they were involved or reveal the names of any others who they got to hear of who were working on the guidelines. This secrecy is alarming, considering that this is a project which might affect many thousands of parents.

I think it is almost certain that Kelly Green, an American living in Canada who writes a blog called Kelly Green and Gold, was also a member of this group. The problem here is that she is a very ignorant woman who claimed on her blog that Graham Badman was a civil servant at the Department for Children, Schools and Families and that I was an adviser to the Department. She knows nothing about British law and I cannot really see how she became involved in the matter. Alison Sauer’s husband Ralph helped to produce an earlier document about the so-called ultra vires practices of some local authorities and so it is possible that he was also involved with the guidelines.

I am very puzzled as to why Alison does not simply release the final draft of the EHE guidelines. She commented on here, telling us that the version at which everybody is currently looking is not the final one, but I don’t know why she does not simply let us see the one which she sent to Graham Stuart. I have a suspicion that when this does emerge, there will be even more irritation and outright anger than was caused by the draft which is currently in the public domain. Otherwise, why not simply show it to us?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Home educators set out, very much against their own best interests, to alienate the Open University.

I have for several years entertained the suspicion that home educators are the most quarrelsome and disagreeable special interest group in this country. I am increasingly inclined to believe that some of them must be quite literally stark, raving mad.

The Open University has been a very good thing for home educated children in this country. It has enabled them to gain access to places at universities such as Oxford and Exeter, which might otherwise have been denied them. The OU is one of the most progressive and enlightened universities and given how helpful they have been to home educators and their children, you might think that the news that they are thinking of running a course to teach people about home education would be greeted with pleasure. You would? Why, you gullible fool! Don’t you realise that the OU are all part of the military/industrial complex, in the pocket of Big Pharma, part of the New World Order and probably controlled by the Illuminati? Who funds them? Central government of course and they are heavily involved with orthodox educationalists. What sort of course would they run on home education?

The first angry and suspicious emails have already begun arriving at the Open University and unless I am very much mistaken in my understanding of British home educators, this small trickle will soon become a mighty flood; thus persuading the OU that many home educating parents in this country are completely off their heads.
What are the objections to the Open University teaching about home education, say as part of a course about education and childhood development? Where shall we start? For one thing, they might not let home educators check what sort of things they will be saying before they start the course. This is of course perfectly true. When the OU run a course on Comparative Religion, they will certainly ask leaders of various faiths for their views, but will not allow them to vet the materials used. This is because the OU is independent. Imagine if the only things they were allowed to teach about Islam were those things approved by various Imams. Their impartiality would be shot to pieces at a stroke.

Another problem seems to be that local government officers might take such a course and then think that they know as much about home education as parents. It does not bear thinking about! Suppose that home educating parents wanted to go on the course and did not have the money to afford it? This would mean that the OU was discriminating in favour of professionals and against parents. Perhaps the maddest objection of all is one being promoted by a former head teacher, who fears that such a course might become compulsory for any parent who wished to educate her child. This would mean that a de facto register of home educators would be started and those who were too poor to afford the course would not be allowed to be home educators! You see what might happen? Home education in this country would be restricted to the wealthy. And all because the Open University went blindly ahead and began to teach a unit about it. As one person puts it:

'this would be a very dangerous step towards needing some sort of licence to home educate, and an agreed/prescribed method of doing it.'

All this is so completely loopy that I feel like putting my head in my hands and groaning. At the moment many home educating parents enjoy excellent relations with the Open University. I have a suspicion that this why they are considering running a unit about home education; because they have seen what a good thing it is. They wish to show people that it is a rising trend and that it is something worth learning about. Whether they will still be feeling so amiably disposed towards home educators after they have been on the receiving end of one of the home educating community’s famous campaigns, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Radio play about home education

Tomorrow on Radio 4 at 2.15, the BBC are broadcasting a dramatised account of the home edcuation of the Polgar sisters. Their father Laszlo is rather a cult figure among some home educators, having faced enormous difficulties in educating his daughters. If any parents in 21st century Britain think that there are problems in home educating their kids, they should have tried it behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s. This programme contains an interview with the Polgar girls' mother and father.

On the fringe

Imran Shah, a home educating parent from the south of England, is by all accounts a competent enough social worker. If I wished to know anything about child protection procedures for example, he is certainly a man whose opinion I would value. Unfortunate then that on Saturday he chose instead to deliver a lecture about neurology and endocrinology; subjects in which he is ’interested’. Mike Fortune-Wood would similarly be worth hearing if he talked about setting up a large support network for home educators. He is probably not a man though whose views on the law I would seek and yet this was a subject on which he felt able to pontificate at the same meeting on Saturday. Call me Mr Old-fashioned, but when I want to know about the law, I tend to go to a solicitor or barrister! Nor would I go to somebody who studied anthropology at university if I wished to find out about the acquisition of literacy and I think that Harriet Pattinson knows who I am talking about here.

One of the things which I have noticed about home educating parents is that they have a tendency to follow people who are not accepted experts in various fields. There are many neurologists and they have written books on the subject. Their work appears in peer-reviewed journals. Why not read what these men and women have to say about their specialist subject, rather than relying upon what a social worker tells us about what they have discovered? Some people have spent their professional lives studying in great detail the process whereby children learn to read. They too have published books about this. Why not read these books if you wish to know about the acquisition of literacy? I suppose that the answer is that people like Harriet Pattinson, Mike Fortune-Wood and Imran Shah are known to be autonomous home educators. This is fine and dandy, but does not of course make them experts about law or neurology. It simply means that they will tell other autonomously educating parents what they wish to hear; confirm them in their own beliefs if you will. This may be comforting and reassuring, which is why all those home educators gathered in London last Saturday, but it won’t really teach anybody much. They would have gained more from a couple of hours spent researching the topics in the local library. Or, they could do what I do. When I want to know something about some specialised topic which touches upon home education; I ask the experts. Even world famous scientists will often respond to email questions or answer phone calls. I am guessing here though that most of the audience did not really come to learn about either neurology or law; they wanted people to tell them that they were doing the right thing and not, as many privately fear, screwing up their kids educational chances. From that point of view, the day was a resounding success!

Monday, 13 June 2011

School-aged children attending college

I recently bumped into a father who I have not seen for over a year or so. He and his family live some way from here in a village. His son was always bullied at primary school for being, shall we say, not as masculine as the average boy. The problem intensified when the kid started secondary school and so he deregistered him and began to home educate. It didn’t really work out, because however dreadful school was, at least the boy was mixing with other children. He missed this when he started spending all his time with his parents. They carried on for a couple of years until they managed to persuade the local authority, Essex, to allow the child to attend college part-time. This was the last I heard of the family until the other day.

The college placement fell through very quickly. There were a number of other fourteen and fifteen year-old boys at the college and they were a pretty rough bunch. They made this boy’s life a misery and because the college was really geared to the needs of sixteen to eighteen year-olds and not schoolchildren, the policy on bullying was pretty feeble. After one term, it was back to home education; which did not really suit either parents or child.

One of the problems with arranging college places for fourteen to sixteen year-olds, something which many home educating parents see as a solution to their problems, is that the sort of teenager of this age who usually fetches up at an FE college is a very different kettle of fish from the average home educated child. Home educated children have sometimes been withdrawn from school because they are vulnerable or the victims of bullying; the fourteen year-olds offered places at college are often the bullies themselves who have now been excluded from school. This can create problems for a sensitive child who is found a place at college. Our local college has a group of younger teenagers and they are all studying vocational subjects; mainly motor car mechanics. I see them at lunchtimes and they look and behave like the kids in Lord of the Flies. Heaven help a vulnerable or delicate child of the same age who was attending college with these characters!

I have myself remarked that it is unnatural for children at school all to be lumped into a group of the same age, but of course this does provide a measure of protection for them. The fourteen year-old girls spend all their lessons with fourteen year-old boys. This can serve to prevent the more mature of them from getting up to much mischief or being exploited by older boys. Most of the students in an FE college will be in the sixteen to eighteen year-old bracket. Some will be nineteen and one or two will be twenty or twenty one. Mixing freely with boys this age could present a hazard to a vulnerable girl of fourteen attending a college.

I am not really sure why so many home educating parents seem to be keen on the idea of college for their young teenagers. This subject often comes up on Internet lists and forums and the impression sometimes seems to be that local authorities are being unreasonable when they will not fund places for fourteen or fifteen year-olds who have been home educated. It might be more that those working for the local authority can see the pitfalls of this sort of thing more clearly and are trying to protect the children. If anybody wishes for their fourteen year-old child to receive education in a formal setting, rather than being educated at home, there exists a large network of purpose built institutions, staffed by trained professionals. All children are guaranteed free education at such places and there is sure to be one near most homes. They are called schools.

A final, but exceedingly serious, problem with the new EHE guidelines produced by Sauer Consultancy Ltd

I have over the last few days pointed out one or two difficulties which are likely to arise with the new guidelines which have been produced by Alison Sauer. Still, perhaps they won’t be adopted in the end? Even so, a considerable amount of damage has already been done. Influential MPs such as Graham Stuart, Chair of the CSF select committee, and Lord Lucas have learned a lot about home education from their dealings with Alison Sauer. They evidently believe that she has given them an objective view of home education in Britain and they have now passed her views on to Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister. The thing is, they have been given a weird and distorted view of home education and unless somebody sets them straight, the home educating community in this country could be heading for trouble.

I want to look today at how Alison Sauer thinks that home education works in this country. She explains that it is a spectrum with autonomous or child-led education at one end. This is fair enough, although there might be a problem with her understanding of this concept. Still, it is true that some home educators call themselves ’autonomous’ or 'child-led’; it is a genuine trend in British home education. At the other end of the spectrum is, according to these guidelines, ’school-at-home’. Now I have never in my life heard anybody say that they are a ’school-at-home’ educator. That's because this is a pejorative expression coined not by those who follow a structured education, but by unstructured educators who wish to be derogatory about structured home education. Many structured home educating parents are really irritated by being described as doing ’school-at-home’. To use this phrase to describe home educators who actually teach is a little offensive. Has anybody ever heard of a home educator who says, ’We do school at home’?

According to Alison, such parents use a curriculum to cater for the whole of their children’s education. Has anybody ever met such a parent? Even more bizarrely, she claims that such families:

maintain a clear distinction between education and leisure, and often keep the school rhythm of terms and holidays’

This is such nonsense that it made me laugh out loud! Has anybody here ever heard a structured home educating parent say, ’No more education for Jimmy for the next few weeks; the local schools broke up for Easter yesterday’?

I can imagine that at this point some autonomous educators are chortling with glee at the idea of structured education being misrepresented in this way. Perhaps before they fall off their chairs laughing, they should read Alison’s description of autonomous education, where they will learn that ’learning takes place without teaching’

The strange ideas contained in this document may well have been accepted by people like Graham Stuart and very possibly Nick Gibb as being the standard model of home education in this country. It is not; it is one person’s idea on the subject. When that person believes that, ‘A Local Authority is responsible for any child of compulsory school age that has been brought to their attention as having, or probably having, special educational needs’, you are in serious trouble. Even if these guidelines end up in the bin, the damage has been done and some in parliament have now a strange and distorted view of what home education in this country is actually about.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Social ineptness and awkwardness considered as a possible cause, rather than consequence of home education.

Those who followed the comments on the recent article in The Independent about some Hollywood starlet’s decision not to send her children to school, will have noticed an old and familiar accusation being made; that home educated children grow up to be weird loners, unable to interact normally with others.

Now before we go any further, I have to say that I have no evidence at all that this is so; I simply have not met enough adults who were educated at home to form an opinion. I have met one strange person who did not go to school, but the overwhelming majority of people who present as odd or unable to get along in society did go to school. So I am not putting it forward as an hypothesis that a greater proportion of adults who were home educated are actually socially inept. This is however what is commonly asserted by those who disapprove of home education.

Having got that out of the way, a home educating mother with children on the autistic spectrum contacted me recently, wondering if I could float this idea on the Blog; the possibility that if we meet such adults who were home educated, it might be that they were home educated because they already had difficulties in being with groups of people and that this behaviour could simply linger on into adulthood. She had noticed that the Ofsted survey of home education which was released last year showed a large proportion of home educated children with special educational needs. Other surveys have revealed the same thing and judging by anecdotal evidence, many such children are on the autistic spectrum.

Might it be possible that if a large number of children with autistic features or traits are removed from school because they have difficulties coping with large group situations, then these children might retain this aspect of their characters as teenagers and adults? If so, then any social awkwardness or dislike of group settings, would not have been caused by their being home educated at all. It is rather that this bit of their characters caused their parents to home educate them in the first place. In short, we would be in danger of muddling up cause and effect.

As I say, neither I nor the mother with whom I exchanged emails are asserting that this is so; merely wondering whether this might provide a possible explanation for those strange adults that people who are opposed to home education seem to meet so often. Of course another and to my mind more likely explanation is that those people who claim to encounter so many strange home educated adults are not telling the truth about this anyway and could just be inventing the idea to prove a debating point. The fellow commenting on the Independent article, for instance, claimed to have met four socially awkward adults who had been home educated. I find it unlikely that anybody unconnected with home education would have met four people in the course of everyday life who had been educated at home; it is after only less than 1% of the population. That they would all have been noticeably strange seems to me improbable.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The new EHE guidelines and special needs

Although we are told that the version of Alison Sauer’s new guidelines for local authorities now circulating is not the final one, I have been assured that the section on SEN is unchanged in the final draft which Graham Stuart now has. This was confirmed when somebody helpfully sent me some notes and handouts from a training session run by Sauer Consultancy Ltd for a local authority in the north of England.

My jaw dropped when I read what Alison wished to remind local authorities about in the new guidelines and I am not sure that the implications are yet clear to most parents. She says on page 20:

A Local Authority is responsible for any child of compulsory school age that ‘has been brought to their attention as having (or probably having) special educational needs.
Where such a child comes to the attention of the Local Authority, the Local Authority has a duty to establish whether the child has SENs that are not currently being met.

Now this, although surprising to many home educating parents of children with special needs, is perfectly true. If you are home educating a child and somebody rings up your local authority and says that she believes your child to be dyslectic or have Asperger’s, then the Local Authority have a legal duty to assess your child and see if you are providing for these needs; which may or may not exist. This is a power of which very few LAs are really aware or ever consider exercising. Most home educators are glad about this; they do not want their local authority knocking on the door to ask questions and carry out assessments unless they the parents invite them to do so. This section from the 1996 Education Act makes the situation clear. It is s321 (3):

(1) A local education authority shall exercise their powers with a view to securing that, of
the children for whom they are responsible, they identify those to whom subsection (2)
below applies.
(2) This subsection applies to a child if—
(a) he has special educational needs, and
(b) it is necessary for the authority to determine the special educational provision
which any learning difficulty he may have calls for.
(3) For the purposes of this Part a local education authority are responsible for a child if
he is in their area and—

(d) he is not a registered pupil at a school but is not under the age of two or over
compulsory school age and has been brought to their attention as having (or
probably having) special educational needs.

Now the question is, why on earth would Alison Sauer wish to remind local authorities that they are responsible in this way for all home educated children who have, or might appear to have , special educational needs? Do most home educating parents of such children really want their local authorities to assume responsibility in this way for their children? Or have they taken their kids from school precisely because they no longer wish the local authority to be responsible in this way, because they wish to take over that responsibility themselves? I wonder if anybody can imagine the effect that reading the bits quoted above would have upon an overly zealous Educational Welfare Officer investigating a home educated child whom she thought might have special needs? After all, the local authority is responsible for this child and has a duty in law to check that his needs are being met.

I must emphasise that this part of the act is not only concerned with statemented children, but with any child, whether or not at school, who somebody tells the council might have special needs. As I say, few local authorities currently assume this duty, but they still have it legally. The question is, why on earth would anybody involved with home education wish to remind them about this and urge them to start knocking on the doors of all home educated children with special needs so that they can take over responsibility in this way? The 2007 guidelines for local authorities, by comparison, limited themselves to a few words about children with statements and said nothing at all about this general duty. Are the new guidelines an improvement in this respect?

A problem with the EHE guidelines

Alison Sauer tell us that the version of the EHE guidelines to which I have posted a link here is not the final version which was sent to the Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee. Nevertheless, it must still give us an insight into Alison’s thought processes and one particular point leaps out when we read it. As far as one is able to understand, these guidelines are intended to advise local authorities on the law regarding home education. They are supposed to stop LAs from making up the law as they go along. It is reasonable then to assume that when these guideline say that such a thing must be done or may not be done, that this is in reference to the legal situation. Unless this is the case, then the things are pointless.

On page 14, we find a section headed Second Opinion. This relates to the situation where a local authority has doubts as to whether a suitable education is being provided to a child. It says:

If at any stage the parents disagree with the Local Authority’s decision that there are serious concerns, then they may ask for a second opinion. This must come from an EHE officer who deals with home educators in another Local Authority area.

Observe, this opinion must come from such an officer. Now local authorities do not generally pass cases around to each other in this way. Why on earth should a local government officer in Somerset start assessing a kid living in Yorkshire? However, if these guidelines are to be believed, then they will be legally required to do so in the future. They must do it; this is after all a guide to the law on home education. There are only two possibilities here. Either this document is not a guide to the legal duties of local authorities at all and is just a list of things which Alison Sauer would like to see local authorities doing; in which case the thing is a complete nonsense. Or, and this is alarming, it contains guidance to some future legislation which will indeed impose a duty on local authorities to swap information in this way. These are the only two possible constructions one may put upon page 14 of this paper and I for one am very curious to know which is the correct one!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The new EHE guidelines

The guidelines which Alison Sauer produced may be found here:

The new EHE guidelines for local authorities

When Alison Sauer began writing extensive new guidance for local authorities, telling them how they should deal with home educating parents, it was not hard to foresee that it would all end in tears. For one thing, she had no clear mandate to undertake this work on behalf of other home educators and for another, there was an obvious conflict of interest in that she runs a company which trains local authorities in how to deal with home educating parents. In other words, the whole thing looked to many like a job creation scheme for the Sauer Consultancy; the company which she and her husband Ralph set up. A further complication which raised eyebrows was that the job of writing these guidelines had not been put out to tender, but apparently awarded to the Sauer Consultancy under a nod and a wink from the chair of a Commons select committee.
Something which has raised the liveliest suspicions about those involved in this project is that it has all been done on the quiet, with Alison Sauer refusing even to confirm that she is involved in the business at all. This is frankly odd. The story went round that various people were helping with this, including Tania Berlow, who said last year:

I am the only person who has stuck their head above the parapet and has said publicly that I have become one of many who are now inputting into a draft process which will be opened to all HErs once it is drafted.

The allegation is now being made that Alison Sauer alone wrote these guidelines single-handedly and ignored anybody else’s suggestions.
The Sauer Consultancy does not just advise local authorities on home education, but covers a wide range of ’cultural services’, whatever they might be! They provide:

Project Management
Export and Cultural Consultancy
Tenders and Contract Management
Training in Tenders and Contract Management

Their clients include private companies both in this country and abroad; it is not some little outfit just concerned with home education. Just why a commercial enterprise like this was given the job of writing new guidelines for local authorities is something of a mystery. Were any other companies approached and offered the job? Will the Sauer Consultancy benefit if the guidelines are adopted, for example by training local authorities in their application and interpretation? Did Graham Stuart, Chair of the relevant Commons select committee, offer this commission officially or is it just some private project of his? What is his connection, if any, with the Sauer Consultancy? Until these questions are answered, I think that we might all be a little cautious of the new EHE guidelines, regardless of their actual content. The conflict of interest when a business is asked in this way to produce statutory guidelines regarding a field of work in which it is involved is enough to raise cause grave concern.

There is one final problem, one which nobody seems yet to have noticed. The Children Schools and Families Bill 2009 was examined by the Commons Children Schools and Families select committee. This was an impartial examination of the parts of the bill which worried home educators. I know; I was one of the witnesses who gave evidence to the select committee. The job of the select committee is to examine such things. What will happen if questions are asked about these new guidelines? Suppose that some sections of the home educating community cuts up rough about them as they did with the Badman report? The Children, Schools and Families select committee can hardly be expected now to view the matter objectively, because its Chair, Graham Stuart, was intimately involved with producing them in the first place. He could hardly offer an impartial opinion on something for which he was himself responsible. quis custodiet ipsos custodes?