Sunday, 30 September 2012

A treat for readers!

I thought that readers might like to read what Myra Robinson, a local authority officer in the north of England, has to say about home education. I was on a television programme with her a few years ago and formed quite a favourable impression, but of course readers must judge for themselves.

More about changing the law on home education

I feel a little sorry for the Welsh home educator who commented here yesterday, saying what a pleasure it was to find a place where home education could be discussed without the quarrelsome and ill -mannered antics of those on some of the home education lists and forums. No sooner had she said this, than some of the more aggressive types zoomed in and showed her that this blog was not a safe space after all! It would be interesting, incidentally, to know how many of those commenting here are, like her, Welsh and so likely to be affected by the laws being proposed by the Welsh Assembly. Anyway, back to the desirability or otherwise of changing the law.

When the Children Schools and Families Bill was about to be passed a couple of years ago, with its provision for the compulsory registration of home education, the assertion was made that such registration and monitoring would harm home educated children. The same suggestion is now being made about the proposed measures in Wales. Commenting here yesterday, somebody claimed that this sort of thing was bad because:

less confident home-educators, who are, nevertheless, doing a better job than schools, may be harmed, along with their children.

This is the sort of thing home educators often say whenever anybody wants to change the law.  I was myself mentioned in the blog Dare to Know, as somebody who would have 'blood on his hands'  if the parts of the CSF Bill relating to home education were to be passed! Statements like this are a bit true, but wholly misleading. For example, I might say that black people are lazy. Well, this is true as far as it goes; after all there are lazy black people. It is misleading though, because of course not all black people are lazy. So suggesting that home educated children will be harmed by this or that new regulation or law may be true, but misleading because not all children will be harmed. Some may be harmed, but others will benefit. So in a sense, both the local authorities and the more militant home educators are both right. The LAs say that registration and monitoring will benefit some home educated children and home educators say that some children will be harmed. This is what it is like in the real world; nothing is black and white and whatever you do, there will be bad consequences for somebody!

Let us draw a comparison with the introduction of compulsory seat belts some years ago. If at the time, I had campaigned against the proposed legislation by claiming that children would be killed and injured as a direct result of this law, I would have appeared to be a bit of a crank. Still, that is probably what has happened. Because drivers feel safer when they and their passengers are wearing seatbelts, they tend to drive faster. This is bad news for pedestrians in built up areas and is likely to end in more pedestrian casualties than when the cars were travelling more slowly. This of course has led to campaigns to reduce the speed limit in certain places. However, those actually in cars are far less likely to be killed and injured when they are wearing seatbelts, so on balance it was a good idea. This is because lots of children travel in cars and there are fewer on bicycles or foot; the net result is fewer children being injured in road accidents.

Introducing a law to regulate home education would be very similar to this situation. Some children would suffer harm, but others would benefit. In order to work out if it is a good plan or not, we have to consider a number of factors. For example, some home educated children are already suffering harm, although others are benefiting enormously from being home educated. A new law would change the balance, with perhaps more children benefiting and fewer suffering harm. Or perhaps it would be the other way round!

Simply stating that home educated children would suffer harm if new legislation were to be passed is utterly meaningless. Of course some will suffer harm, just as some are already suffering. What we must do, and it is not at all an easy proposition, is discover the relative proportions of the increase or decrease in those likely to suffer harm and those who will probably benefit. Then we must somehow calculate the proportions of those being benefited and harmed under the current arrangements. We also need to define just what we mean by 'harm' and 'benefit'.

None of this is straightforward and many of the suggested benefits and much of the supposed harm is pretty vague and intangible. In a sense, there is no fundamental difference between the views of home educating parents and those of most local authorities. Both sides know that some home educated children benefit from the education they receive. Both know also that some children are harmed by being withdrawn from school and educated at home. The debate hinges around the exact proportions involved and this is where the crux of the matter lies.

There is no such thing as a perfect human system or institution. Always, there are victims and winners. This is true of home education, just as it is with schools. I do not see this as grounds for doing nothing and declaring that no change should ever be undertaken. I can see ways that I think that schools could be improved and I can also see scope for new ways of organising home education. My suspicion is that those who oppose any change in the field of education are probably the sort of reactionaries who just do not like new ideas and new ways of doing things. I can understand this; the older I get, the less fond I am of change myself! However, there is a powerful reason for changing the law and this is that the present legal situation is not at all clear. This ambiguity leads to conflict, because sometimes local authorities overstep the mark because they genuinely believe that they have powers which they do not possess. If the precise duties of both parents and local authorities were to be set out in plain language, then I think it likely that there would be less antagonism and confrontation as a consequence, because everybody would know where they stood.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Why everything in the home education garden is lovely…

I am not a great fan of the schools in this country. I think that there is a lot wrong with them and there is plenty of scope for improvement. Come to think of it, the same is true of hospitals, policing, the administration of local authorities, the government in Westminster and the European Union. The regulations and laws governing all the things which I mention above could do with overhauling; either by tightening up, relaxing, scrapping or bringing in a raft of new legislation. This is the case with practically any human enterprise of which one might think; there is always room for improvement. Well, with one notable exception of course; that exception being the law relating to home education. According to many home educators, this is absolutely perfect and any sort of change would inevitably cause harm to vulnerable children. Although the legal situation surrounding home education in England and Wales has arisen in a haphazard and piecemeal fashion, by happy chance it is the best arrangement that could possibly have been devised by human ingenuity.

When one looks at the awful jumble of the 1996 Education Act, as amended by sections 436A and 437, the 2004 Children Act, the Education (Pupil registration)(England) Regulations 2006 and all the case law from Bevan and Shears 1911 onward; one realises what a mess the law relating to home education in this country is. No wonder there is confusion about the various responsibilities of local authorities and their role, the rights of children and a host of other things. The situation is a nightmare. Never the less, whenever any attempt is made to tidy up this tangle, even by something as minor as a slight change in the pupil registrations regulations, there is an outcry from the more militant home educators. The battle cry is always the same, that the law is fine as it is and any change would be for the worse. Nobody, either parents, local authorities or central government really believes this. Indeed, it would be remarkable if this were to be the case, that all these various statutes and the case law interpreting them should miraculously have given rise to the best possible arrangement for the benefit of children being educated at home by their parents.

In the next week or so, I shall be exploring the motives of both home educators and local authorities and seeing if it is possible to work out what people really want; as opposed to what they are claiming in public. This is a fascinating topic and one which is, I am sure, dear to the hearts of many readers.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The real reasons for the opposition to the Welsh proposals for the registration and monitoring of home education

The Welsh Assembly hope to introduce a scheme to register and monitor home educators and their children, to ensure that an education is actually being delivered. Most ordinary people see nothing wrong with this, but a small number of militant home educators are fighting the proposals ferociously. Many of these are the same people who fought against the attempt to change the law in England in 2009 and 2010. There are not many of them, perhaps a couple of hundred at most, but they are very vociferous.

One of the things that I would like to know about these people is whether or not they really believe what they say. Let me explain. Although there are some home educating parents who are grateful for the help of their local authority, I am guessing that the vast majority just want to be left alone. This is the case with the whole spectrum of home educators; ranging from radical unschoolers at one end to the fanatically structured at the other. It is obvious why this should be the case. If you practice autonomous education, then the very act of examining and asking probing questions about the education could have the effect of altering its style or direction. If on the other hand, like me, you are an extremely structured educator, then you are just as likely to be unwelcoming to inspection. This is because those investigating the education that you are providing will not understand what you are up to and the hour or so spent in a visit will just disrupt the smooth running of the day’s work. This is why I did not register with either of the local authorities where we lived while I was educating my child; there would have been no point.

So far, so good. Up to this point I am in complete accord with all the other parents who do not wish to be registered or monitored. Where I perhaps differ is that I have not the least doubt that a regimen of national monitoring of this sort would have an effect, a generally beneficial effect, upon home education. To understand why I think this, it is necessary to look at the supposed beliefs of those home educators who are opposed to the proposals currently under consideration in Wales.

Militant home educators are a tricksy bunch. They will say anything at all in support of their cause if they think that it will play well with those who know nothing about home education. For example, during the Badman business, the focus was upon ‘rights’. There was much talk of the ‘rights’ of parents and, to a lesser extent, those of the children themselves. You will not hear much about this during the present campaign, because it has rightly been gauged that popular opinion is in favour of monitoring and talk of ‘rights’ will not sway most parents whose children are at school. Instead, the emphasis is on the cost of registration and monitoring and the pointlessness of it.

The thing that I am unable to figure out is whether or not the home educators opposed to the idea of monitoring really believe that it would have no effect or only a bad effect upon home education? I somehow doubt that do. At the moment, one withdraws a child from school or fails to send her and there is an end to the matter. Parents can avoid meeting with or speaking to local authority officers and fob them off for years at a time with copied ‘philosophies’ or threats of legal action. Some of the children of such parents are probably being educated; others are probably not. Does anybody really doubt that if they knew that they would be expected to give some account of the education that their children were receiving, then many of those parents would put their shoulders to the wheel and provide some structured teaching and get their children to read, write, study history and do sums? I would say that this is a racing certainty. Of course, most autonomous educators do believe this; but unlike me, they think that it would be a bad thing if this were to happen.

Diverting the debate to various states in America or other countries, such as New Zealand is very neatly done, but does not alter the fact that compulsory registration and monitoring would have a great effect on home education either in England or in Wales. One of those effects would be that more parents would be undertaking structured work with their children; that is to say actually teaching them. I think that this would be a good thing and so, I suspect, would almost all non-home educators. The militant home educators who are opposing any such move tend to be autonomous educators who think that for parents to feel obliged to teach their children regularly would be a bad thing. Because this sounds pretty mad to most people whose children attend school, they find it necessary to dissemble and claim instead that they are worried about the waste of money that such a scheme would entail. This is not an honest way to carry on. I think that it would be interesting to hear what those who do not approve of the idea of registration and monitoring think the actual results would be. Do they, like me, think that the natural consequence would be more parents teaching their children in a  structured way? If so, is this at the heart of their opposition?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Why the Welsh proposals make logical and legal sense

I shall probably regret doing this, but I think that the time has come to consider the proposed legislation in Wales which would require parents to register home educated children and allow their education to be monitored. I fully appreciate the opposition of some to the idea, but even so, the people fighting against the idea of registration and monitoring are almost certainly wrong and labouring under a fundamental misapprehension. The misapprehension is the very same one which gripped many of those who also campaigned against Graham Badman and his ideas.

The law makes certain assumptions about ordinary people. It assumes, for instance, that the default setting of normal citizens is not to be stealing, murdering or torturing their children to death. This means that unless evidence emerges, the police will not come knocking on your door to check that you have not harmed your child or are storing stolen goods on the premises. We have a general duty to avoid doing these things and so it is taken for granted that unless there is reason to think otherwise, we are not doing them. Society could hardly function if the police and authorities were constantly fretting that we were breaking the law in some way; it has to be assumed that we are not. This general assumption has been mistakenly thought by many home educators to include the fact that we are causing our children to receive a suitable education. In other words, if the police are not checking our homes regularly for stolen goods, why should the local authority check our children regularly to ensure that we are educating them? It is an ingenious idea, but unfortunately it is quite wrong-headed and confused.

We all have a general duty to avoid breaking the law. This largely consists of refraining from doing things. We must restrain ourselves if we feel like stealing, we must avoid starving or mistreating our children. In the case of children, the law takes it as given that parents voluntarily undertake to ensure the wellbeing of their children. Unless evidence of cruelty or neglect comes to light, we believe that parents look after their children and protect them from harm.

We have been talking so far of various assumptions made about citizens by the law; that they will not rob, rape or murder, that they will look after their children and so on. There are however additional and positive duties which are from time to time laid upon us. These are things which the law does not just expect us to refrain from doing as a matter of course, such as stealing or mistreating our children, but activities in which we must participate. These are things that we are compelled to do; not merely refrain from doing. One of these is jury service. If I am summoned for jury service, society is calling upon me to do something, to fulfil a duty. Because this is something thrust upon us, some of us will try to evade this duty. We will pretend to be deaf or have various commitments which prevent us undertaking this active duty. This happens with all duties which are pushed on us without our volunteering for them; some will try to get out of them. Another case is if a constable calls for our assistance while making an arrest. We have a legal duty to go to his aid. Some will not want to and try to evade this duty. From time to time, prosecutions result from this reluctance to undertake such duties.

Now the law might assume that in general people will avoid evildoing and obey the law by not going out of their way to commit crimes, but this is not at all the case with duties which are pressed upon them. In these cases it makes perfect sense to assume that some people called upon to perform a duty will try to get out of it. They have not freely chosen to undertake the duty; why should they do so? I am sure we all know the efforts that some people go to avoid jury service! In this case, enquiries may be routinely made into the reasons people claim to have for not accomplishing whatever the duty requires of them. We know that some people will wriggle out of undertaking a duty and since this is a very small section of the population, it is quite in order to look into the case closely, to make sure that not too many of us are evading our duty.

The situation which I have described above with respect to duties which some people will try and evade is precisely what is happening with the duty to cause our children to receive an education. The law may very well, and indeed does, take it for granted that we are not starving or torturing our children; it does not and should not assume that everybody is cheerfully undertaking the extra legal duty laid down by statute to provide the child with an education. Just as with any other duty imposed upon us, there will be those who seek to shirk it. This is simply human nature and it would be odd if this were not to happen. Because of this, it makes perfect sense to check that the duty is in fact being performed; that is to say that the parents are providing their children with a suitable education.

The ideas currently under discussion in Wales, amount to no more than this; that society will check that parents are fulfilling a duty which has been forced upon them. It is entirely possible that most of them are already doing so. Inevitably, there will be some who are not and the aim is to identify these and get them to realise that they must either provide an education for their children themselves or delegate the task to others.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Not quite a home educator

The essence of home education lies in regarding your own child as being too special and precious to be treated like all other children. This is not in itself a bad thing, of course. Just because every other kid in the class is the victim of an unprincipled bully, there is no reason at all why you should accept that your son should be one of them. In my own case, I saw that all the children in the neighbourhood were attending lousy schools where they were receiving an inferior education and did not see why my own daughter should follow suit. Of course, this attitude on the part of parents who choose to educate their children at home does not tend to endear them to other mothers and fathers! It makes us look a little snobbish, as though we think that we are better than they are or care more for our children.

Now choosing home education is one thing; that is to say ignoring the local school and just letting them get on with it while you tackle the job yourself. Just imagine though, sending your child to an ordinary state school and then applying to the Secretary of State for Education to force them to teach your own kid to an entirely different curriculum to everybody else! This is the peculiar thing attempted by the woman who runs this blog:

This person was unhappy with the Early Years Foundation Stage; the curriculum taught to all young children in the country. I have reservations about it myself, as I am sure will many readers. The remedy is of course, not to send your child to a state school if you disapprove that strongly. What Frances Laing did though was to send her child to school and then cut up rough because the kid was expected to learn and achieve what every other child at every state school in the country was expected to be doing.

I cannot help but think that in her heart, Frances is really a home educator. As you will see from her blog, her request for her child to be freed from the constraints of the Early Years Foundation Stage was turned down flat. You have to ask yourself though, feeling as she did about state schools; why on earth did she send her child to one in the first place? I wonder of any readers know anything about this woman, of whom I had never heard until yesterday? I am sure that she is really a home educator, albeit a frustrated one who is unable actually to teach her own child at home for whatever reason. At any rate she certainly seems to have that bloody-minded and awkward streak that is the infallible hallmark of the true home educator.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Another oddly misleading bio

We looked yesterday at the way that a well known home educator was able to write almost three hundred words about her experience of home education, without once mentioning that she was actually a home educator herself. I regarded this as something of an achievement and was surprised to see it surpassed by yet another high-profile home educator. Here is her bio from the blog she keeps:

I’m a novelist and poet living in a village perched on the edge of mountains, from where I run an independent press with the assistance of my son and daughter. Independence is a recurring motif in my thinking – I home educated my four highly independent children (now independent young people); did my PhD in feminist theology at a time when it was an emerging mode of thought ; run independent courses in creative writing with the highly independent poet, Pete Marshall, and have moved through major institutions, educational, spiritual and domestic, to work towards my independence.I have published books on home education and parenting, focussing on living with children in ways that respect their autonomy, as well as novels and poetry collections. I’m working on a novel that explores metamorphosis in the lives of three people – I’m Still Here – and a poetry collection that includes a long sequence about Cwmorthin – an abandoned slate mining village near my home. The sequence, ‘Ty Schrödinger’, will be part of the collection A Small Bird Burning. You can find out more about my books here.

I am sure that many readers will recognise the author from this description; she is of course none other than Jan Fortune-Wood, or just Jan Fortune as she wishes to be known since her divorce. What is missing from today’s picture, children? Well the fact that the writer has managed not to mention that she is a priest! This is really weird. She tells us that she is a novelist, that she has a PhD, as well as letting us know that she is a publisher. Why miss out the part about being an ordained priest?

Something else that I am puzzled by is that she claims to have ‘moved through major institutions, educational, spiritual and domestic’ . I think we may safely assume that the major spiritual institution through which she has moved must be a coded reference to the Anglican Church. What though was the major domestic institution? Is she talking here of her marriage? If so, it is a strange way of stating the case; I cannot personally imagine referring to my marriage as a ‘major domestic institution’! This is the trouble with Jan Fortune’s writing. It is OK when you read it with the eye of faith and do not enquire to deeply into the meaning of the words. Once you stop and try to figure out what she is actually saying though, you are lost.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Bumping into an old friend

Wherever I go on the Internet lately, I seem to keep bumping into the same person. It’s just like real life, really. You know how it is when you see  someone you know slightly while visiting the shops and then come across her the following day at the cinema and then a few days later,  find yourself sitting next to her in a coffee shop? Sometimes it almost seems as though you’re being stalked. This is how I am beginning to feel about Alison Sauer. Whether I am reading the online version of the Times Educational Supplement, browsing some forum or even reading my daily paper, there she is; touting for business. The woman is indefatigable and one wonders if she prowls the streets of Barnoldswick wearing sandwich-boards and crying, ‘Get your personalised education here! Flexi-schooling, special rates!’

I most recently came across Alison while reading an article in the Daily Telegraph which was published online. It may be seen here and Alison’s comment is the twelfth down:

I followed the link to her company to see how things are developing there lately and two things struck me. The first was the testimonials from satisfied customers. The London Borough of Newham, for example, find her courses, ‘Very well facilitated - interesting, informative and food for thought’ I’m not entirely sure what they mean by ‘facilitated’, but at any rate they seem pleased with her. These recommendations put me in mind of the sort of things you see in advertisements for patent medicines or lucky charms on the back pages of certain magazines. You know the sort of thing, ‘Mrs BD of Giggleswick says, “Since I have followed Alison’s system, I am no longer troubled by litigious home educators and my health is a million times better. Thank you Alison and SC Education, you have been a life saver!”’

The other thing that struck me about the website, and I find this truly extraordinary, is Alison’s personal account of herself. She says:

Born in Yorkshire and educated in the North of England, Alison Sauer has worked for herself providing training and consultancy services to business, local authorities, educators and charities for over 20 years.
Alison is a director of The Sauer Consultancy Limited, a company which has been providing training and consultancy in home education to local authorities for more than eight years.
She has been involved in a number of consultations on home education including the consultations for the Scottish Guidance on Home Education, Children Missing from Education and most recently, the Badman Review and its subsequent analysis by the House of Commons Education Select Committee. In addition, she has advised and participated in a number of home education research projects and studies.
Alison is a member of the Centre for Personalised Education Trust (CPE-PEN), a think-tank organisation whose members include academics and teachers from both state and private schools. Working alongside CPE-PEN, one of Alison's current projects aims to improve the availability of flexischooling in state schools. This project involves networking with flexischooling headteachers, parents and local authorities, raising awareness of flexischooling, and analysing the flexischooling schemes currently operating.
In the past, she has represented voluntary organisations and been called upon as a home education expert for newspapers, radio and television. She has also written for ACE (Advisory Centre for Education) on home education issues.
Alison is a passionate believer in good organisation, communication and networking and endeavours through offering professional development workshops and courses to improve the skills of many organisations in both the public and the private sector.

What’s missing from this picture, boys and girls? Yes, that’s right; no mention at of the fact that she is herself a home educator! This is an odd omission. Of all the things that I have done in my life, I am proudest of all of having educated my daughter. When I wrote an academic book on the subject of home education, I made sure that this was mentioned in the blurb. I cannot imagine airbrushing it from my personal history in the way that Alison has done; anybody would think that she is ashamed of being a home educator! I think the explanation lies in the fact that, as I have remarked before, she likes to run with the fox and hunt with the hounds. Many local authorities are a little suspicious of home educators and if she represented herself as one, it might put the punters off. So when talking to other parents, she is happy to admit to not sending young Johannes to school. Dealing with local authorities though, he becomes an embarrassment; something to be hidden away metaphorically, like the kids in Flowers in the Attic.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Wendy Charles-Warner

                                    Wendy Charles Warner
A number of comments have been made in this blog which suggest that Wendy Charles Warner has behaved in a criminal or immoral fashion. I have no personal knowledge of any such behaviour, nor any reason whatsoever to suppose that these suggestions are true. May I ask readers to think very carefully before posting and to refrain from posting anything which could be interpreted in this way.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Opposing the Welsh proposals

Somebody commenting here was quite affronted when I said that raising concerns about the possible cost of registering and monitoring home educated children was the latest strategy by home educators anxious to head off the Welsh scheme. She thought that I was hinting that this was something which she herself had dreamed up. Nothing of the sort; I was merely suggesting that she was surfing the zeitgeist.

Few ordinary people seem to be actually opposed to the idea of home education. They may be a little dubious about its efficacy or see it as an odd enterprise that they would not care themselves to undertake, but that is all. It is when they realise that there is no compulsory involvement of the ’authorities’ that the eyebrows start to raise. They will say things like, ’Who do you have to ask for permission?’ or ’I suppose the council check up on you regularly?’ When they discover that you simply don’t need to send the kid to school and there is no need to notify anybody; that is when you can sense that they think that there is something amiss.

Most home educating parents know this and also are aware that the average citizen thinks that it is a grand idea to ensure that home educated children must be registered and inspected by the local authority. This presents a problem when you are campaigning against anything of the sort. The tactic is to find an objection which will resonate with the man or woman in the street. We saw this a lot during the organised opposition to Graham Badman’s proposals. Some of this is discussed on home educating lists and forums, while key players also exchange emails and telephone calls, devising ideas which may then be planted on the lists or put in comments to online newspaper articles on the subject. You need only use a word like 'conflate' on the home education lists and in no time at all it will go viral and everybody will be using it. The same thing happens with ideas. A brilliant example of this was the idea a while ago that children would be left on the school roll for a time after being deregistered. It was a sensible plan and so something ad to be dreamed up which would show ordinary parents the implications. This was duly done and named the 'Ibiza Loophole'. This particular piece of propaganda was successful.

During these times of austerity, two linked ideas have emerged from discussions as being best calculated to gain the approval of ordinary people for the fight against the Welsh proposals. One of these is the projected cost and the other,  all the things that are wrong with the educational system and should be fixed first, before we start fretting about home education. The notion is being put about that if we spend money on a scheme to register home educators, then that money will have to be taken from more needy folk to pay for it. Gosh, how terrible if this meant that some child genuinely in danger were to suffer because of this obsession with a tiny number of home educated children!  Surely there are better things to use that money for? Another strand which is emerging is to agree that education in general is in a frightful state, especially in Wales. Then, we can bring the conversation round to educational standards in schools; the exams fiasco, exclusions and various other problems. My, it does seem a pity that with all these serious difficulties involving literally hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, they are worrying about a tiny handful of a few hundred home educated children. Why, if they got their house in order, people might not even feel the need to remove their kids from school!

The truth is of course that nearly all home educators know that their children are safe and cared for and just want the authorities to piss off and leave them alone. Saying this to people who sent their own kids to school would be tactless and so other sentiments need to be expressed if we are not to alienate the man in the street. Keep an eye on the comments being made to newspaper articles and so on, as the Welsh proposals gather pace and you will see a coordinated campaign of comments along these lines. As articles appear, so somebody will draw attention to them on various lists and forums and this encourages home educating parents to comment. The result is that it looks from a glance at the comments as though there is mass opposition to any plan to change the law.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Petition against the compulsory registration of home educators in Wales

Here is a petition that readers might wish to sign:

Now there's something funny about the list of people on this petition. What can it be? Oh, I know! The overwhelming majority of them live not in Wales but in places as far afield as Singapore and the USA. Most though live in England. You have to ask yourself why, after having fought so hard to acquire the power to make their own laws, the Welsh would be likely to take notice of what a load of people in England have to say about their plans...

What about New Zealand?

The more articulate home educators in this country are very good at citing various faraway places as showing why the situation in this country with regard to home education should never change. We saw this here recently, when somebody brought up New Zealand as a knockdown argument against the  routine monitoring of home education. I suspect that those using the case of New Zealand in this way actually know very well why it is not comparable with this country, but for the benefit of those who genuinely do not, let’s have a look at why the cases of this country and New Zealand are wholly dissimilar when it comes to home education.

In England, any parent wishing to educate a child at home must do one of two things. The first option is, as in my own case, to do nothing at all; that is to say just not sending the child to school at the age of five. The second is if the child is attending school,  writing to the Head and saying that you are taking your child out of the school. That’s it. No seeking permission, no registration; nothing at all. It is this state of affairs that many militant home educators are determined to maintain at all costs. Where does New Zealand fit into all this? Some people in this country are concerned that children being educated at home might not be receiving a good education. New Zealand, until a few years ago, used to monitor home education pretty closely and found that 95% of children being educated in this way were getting an acceptable education. This appeared to remain the case even when routine monitoring was stopped. Therefore, so the argument goes, it would be a waste of time and money to start routine monitoring of home educated children in England.

Assuming that it is true that 95% of home educated children in New Zealand are getting good education, does that tell us anything useful about the current situation in England? Not in the slightest. This is because parents in New Zealand are not allowed to educate their children at home until they have fulfilled certain conditions. The law there is very clear. The 1989 Education Act says that permission to educate a child at home will only be granted if it can be shown that the child, ‘will be taught as regularly and as well’ as if he were at school. Note that; home educated children in New Zealand must be taught and not only that,  taught as much as children at school and to at least as high a standard. Of course, some children in this country are getting this at home; many are not. There are an awful lot of parents here who do not approve of regular teaching, certainly not as frequently as it is given in schools. These would be breaking the law in New Zealand.

In order to home educate in New Zealand, one must ask for permission from the Ministry of Education. No nonsense here about just dealing with a local authority! Permission is not always granted. There are two reasons for this. One is that if a child about whom there is anxiety is taken from school, the school will contact the Ministry of Education and explain why they think why home education is a bad idea. Secondly, to gain permission anyway, called being granted an exemption, parents must fill out a very detailed outline of the type of teaching which they mean to undertake. Teaching, remember, not just allowing the child to learn autonomously. Here is a very abbreviated version of the sort of thing parents would need to be setting out in detail before they could even be considered for permission to teach their child at home:

1. Special Education Needs
If enrolled in a registered school, would your child be likely to need special education, forexample in a special class or clinic or by a special service? If yes, how do you plan to meet your child’s special educational needs?

2. Knowledge and understanding
Describe your knowledge and understanding of the broad curriculum areas you intend to cover as you educate your child.

3. Curriculum
Describe your curriculum or programme. Detail what you intend to cover with your child in different areas of your stated curriculum. The National Curriculum Framework may serve as a guide but use of this is not compulsory. It lists seven essential learning areas and eight grouipings of essential skills. These are listed below for your information should you wish to use the National Curriculum Framework as a guide.

4. The National Curriculum
Essential Learning Areas
Language and Languages
Social Sciences
The Arts
Health and Well-Being

Essential Skills
Communication Skills
Numeracy Skills
Information Skills
Problem-solving Skills
Self-management and competitive Skills
Social and co-operative Skills
Physical Skills
Work and study Skills
Whatever source of curriculum you select, you should be specific about the skills you want your child to learn and you should be clear about matching the learning needs of your child to your programme.

5. Topic Plan
To help the Ministry understand how your curriculum vision translates into practical terms, we ask you to includ one topic of your choosing.

We are looking for the following elements in your statement:
The Topic Title –
The Aim – what you are going to teach your child.
Resources – what materials you would use to teach the topic.
Method – what steps would you take to communicate/teach the material? Please be as
clear as possible.
Evaluation – how you will test/measure the effectiveness of your teaching.

6. Resources and Reference Material
(There is no need to list the titles of books.) Please provide a comprehensive list of all resources and reference material available to you. Also list the type of material you may intend to include in the future. Do not list the titles of every publication.

7. Environment
State how you will use the environment and your community to extend and enrich your child’s education. Please include in this a description of any educational visits you hope to make.

8. Social Contact
Describe how you intend to provide for your child’s need for social contact with other children.

9. Assessment and Evaluation
Explain how you are going to assess and evaluate the progress your child is making. Remember, you will need to have some record of this over the years, eg, if your child wants to enter an apprenticeship, this will be needed.

10. Regularity
The legislation requires a commitment to regularity. In explaining your routines, show how you will meet the requirement that your child will be taught at least as regularly as in a registered school. Some parents provide a timetable to meet this request, some describe their integrated approach. You may like to include one of the following:
• Timetable or
• Integrated curriculum description or
• Description of typical routines used.

11. Other Information
Please make any other comments you consider relevant.

There are several consequences of all this. First, the sort of parent in this country who has a row with the head at her child’s school or is anxious about bullying and then dashes off a letter deregistering the kid, is unknown in New Zealand. Applying for an exemption is a serious process which can drag on for ages. It is very common for the Ministry of Education to consider an application  and then write back asking for further and fuller details. This alone discourages parents from just taking their children from school in response to some temporary problem. It is one thing to take a child out of school and say that you will ‘de-school’  for six or nine months; quite another to realise that you will be expected to provide fulltime teaching from the word go! Although the majority of applications for an exemption are eventually granted, quite a few are not. These are the cases where the school is worried about the child or the parents seem to be incapable of providing an education.  It must be borne in mind too that applications for exemption must be renewed twice a year and can be withdrawn at any time.

I think that readers are now beginning to see why 95% of home educated children in New Zealand might be getting a good education. It is because those who are not prepared to teach their children as much and as well as a school are not allowed to home educate in the first place. Those who do not feel up to the job of teaching to a high standard usually don't  bother to apply for an exemption. Trying to draw any comparison between this state of affairs and the case of England, where anybody can take their child from school at the drop of a hat and then announce that the kid will be doing nothing for six months, is absolutely meaningless. I am not at all surprised that the great majority of home educated children in New Zealand are receiving a good education. This would also be the case in this country if we put into place the same system here.

Of course, if those who talk enthusiastically about New Zealand and the high educational standards achieved by home educating parents there are in favour of a rigorous system like the one there being instituted in this country; I would be the first to give my support. Imagine parents in this country being expected to teach their children fulltime to as high a standard as schools! It sounds great to me and I will certainly join in any campaign for this. Until then, it is probably best that English home educators give the subject of New Zealand a wide berth, as it raises more questions for them than it answers.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Do parents in this country have a right to educate their children at home?

The debate about the Welsh proposals to regulate home education have inevitably brought forth the usual talk of a parental ’right’ to home educate. This is so at odds with the actual state of affairs in England and Wales that I feel it is time once more to shoot down this absurd notion.

We have various rights in this country; for example the right to a fair trial. We are the passive recipients of this right no matter who or what we are. We can be clever or stupid, deaf or blind, confined to a wheelchair or mentally ill, foreign or British; we all have a right, guaranteed by law, to receive a fair trial. The same situation applies to children and education. They have a right, guaranteed under law, to a full-time education. This is irrespective of whether they are clever or stupid, disabled, foreign or anything else; it is a right they all enjoy between the ages of five and sixteen.

Rights are enjoyed by all, but this is not the case with duties. These often entail some activity on the part of those upon whom they are imposed. Take sitting as a juror. This is not a right but a duty. If a potential juror were to be unable to undertake the duty, then he would not be called upon to perform it. Suppose somebody called for jury service were to be deaf, blind, unable to speak and also suffering from a psychosis. Few of us would want such a person to sit in judgement upon us. A person of this sort would not be allowed to undertake the duty of jury service. This is because sitting on a jury is a duty and not a right. Because it entails an activity, it is quite reasonable to enquire whether or not the person concerned is capable of fulfilling the duty. Of course, being deaf, blind, unable to speak and being also mentally ill would not affect somebody’s right to a fair trial. This is the difference between a right and a duty.

Wherever there is a right, there are corresponding duties. In other words, if we have a right to a fair trial, then others have a duty to make sure that we get it. If I have a right to walk down the street, then that right must be protected and others have a duty not to impede me as I stroll down the high road. Rights and duties again, you see; two very different things.

Now if children in this country have a right to an efficient, full-time education, then others must have a duty to see that they get it. The people who have this duty are usually the parents. They have a duty, which means that they must take active steps to ensure that the child’s rights are granted to it. Some undertake this duty by registering the child at school, others prefer to provide the education themselves. They are fulfilling a duty by doing this, not exercising a right.

Since, just as in the case of the disabled juror at whom we looked above, undertaking the duty of providing the child with an education is an active thing, something which parents do, not something to which they are entitled, it is perfectly reasonable that society check that they are in fact capable of carrying out this duty. We would not wish to impose a duty upon somebody who was not up to the job, would we? So it is that society, in the form of local authorities, might wish to reassure themselves that parents are able to perform what is a very arduous duty. Providing a full-time education for a child should not be lightly undertaken and our common sense tells us that just as in the case of the juror who could not be expected to fulfil his duty during a trial, so too will there be parents who are not really up to the job of providing an education for their child. That there should be a presumption that all parents are able to fulfil their duty in this way, would be ridiculous. Many would clearly not be able to do so.

All that is being proposed in Wales is that society enquire a little into the extent to which individual parents are able personally to provide their children with an education, rather than fulfilling their duty towards their child by handing the job over to trained professionals. This has nothing at all to do with the ’rights’ of the parents; they have none in this case. It is concerned solely and simply with protecting the right of the child to a suitable education. In other words, the aim will be to ensure that those charged with the duty of causing the child to receive an education, that is to say the parents, are in fact discharging this duty.

Any debate about the Welsh proposals which makes any mention whatsoever of the ’rights’ of parents has already taken a wrong turn. The only debate about the matter should be whether or not it is being claimed that all parents are actually capable of undertaking this duty, that of educating their children themselves at home. If we agree that some are not, and most of us would concede this, then the question arises as to the extent to which society is entitled to make enquiries and take action to safeguard the rights of children.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Statute and case law; an important distinction for home educators

First, a little quiz for home educators. What do these four cases have in common?

Bevan v Shears

Phillips v Brown

Harrison and Harrison v Stevenson

R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzeikei Hadass School Trust

This was a fairly easy one, since Phillips v Brown was quoted several times here yesterday. Of course they are all precedents relied upon by home educators to justify the legal basis for their activities. Many would probably say that these cases helped establish that they had a right to home educate, although as I have explained before, this not really the way to look at the matter. What else do they have in common? This is a little trickier, so I shall give you all a clue;





These are the years of the cases and it will be seen at once that they took place from almost thirty to over a hundred years ago. So what, you ask? They are still binding today aren’t they? Well, yes and no, but mainly no. Let me explain.

There are two kinds of law. One is statute law, the acts passed by parliament. The other is case law; how the courts interpret the statutes and the judgements which they make involving them. These past cases, also called precedent, are binding on courts in the future; at least as long as the court is on the same level or lower than the one which made the ruling. The reason for relying upon case law is that the laws passed by parliament are often unclear. Take the 1944 Education Act, for example. Today, we think that this plainly provides for the home education of children by their parents, but for the first fifteen or twenty years after it was passed, this was not at all how it seemed to people. That favourite part, beloved of home educators,  ‘by regular attendance at school or otherwise’, was generally thought to refer to the provision of teaching by a tutor or governess. It wasn’t until cases like that of Joy Baker that the courts finally agreed that it could also mean parents themselves.

The reason that I gave the list of dates above is that we can see at once that none of these cases are interpretations of the law as it is today. Bevan v Shears looked at the education acts of 1870 and 1880, while the others concerned themselves with the 1944 Education Act. These acts have now been superseded by others; the 1996 Education Act, as amended by Sections 436A and 437, the 1989 Children Act, the 2004 Children Act, the Education(pupil registration)(England) Regulations 2006 and many others which have a bearing upon home education.

The thing to consider is that none of these more recent laws have yet been interpreted by the courts in relation to home education. Local authorities claim that they have the correct view and some home educating parents are sure that they are right. Just as with the earlier laws, such as the 1944 Education Act and the 1870 Elementary Education Act, the situation with regard to home education is not plain. This is because most laws are framed without considering home education; they are really concerned only with children at school. This means that we must try to deduce how they affect home education and the duties of parents and local authorities towards home education by indirect means. This is not entirely satisfactory.

The bottom line is that the clock is ticking for home educators. Currently, they are able to rely upon precedent, some of which dates back over a century, to establish what they see as their ’rights’. This will change if a court case should take place which hinges around local authority actions involving home education in the light of the 2004 Children Act, to give one example.

At the moment it is an open question as to who is right about the correct interpretation of the laws affecting home education which have been passed over the last twenty years or so. The courts have not been asked to rule. The precedents upon which home educating parents have relied for so long are not fixed and immutable, but can alter according to new legislation and case law. It will be interesting to see whether it is a local authority prosecuting a home educating parent or a home educating parent seeking a judicial review who first bring these questions into open court.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Are local authorities acting unlawfully when they monitor home education on a regular basis?

One of the most irritating features of home education in this country is the tendency of parents to latch on to random and fairly obscure words and phrases, incorporating them in every letter they write to their council or submission made to a select committee. ‘Conflate’ is one such word, ‘purposive’ is another; as in ‘learning by purposive conversation‘. Combined with the use of odd Latin expressions, I think that the hope is that this will lend their writing a veneer of erudition. Sadly, it has the opposite effect!

Without doubt, the most popular and overused expression in recent years has been ‘ultra vires’. These Latin words simply means beyond one’s powers and are generally used in connection with statutory bodies such as local authorities or government departments. For home educators, this phrase is most often used about the routine monitoring of home education. This is on the increase in some areas; the county of Lincolnshire and city of Nottingham, for example. The claim is made that these local authorities are accordingly acting in an unlawful manner and exceeding their powers. Let us see if this might be true.

The basis for many of the claims made about local authorities overstepping the mark with home education are founded upon a couple of lines in the 2007 guidelines on home education. They say:

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

There are three points to consider here. First, local authorities go beyond their statutory duties all the time and mostly people are glad about this. The statutory duties are the absolute bare minimum that an authority must undertake. If they do not do these things, then they are in breach of the law and Council Tax payers or the government can call them to account. Doing more than this bare minimum though is what most of us expect from our council. If my council has a statutory duty to run at least one library and then instead opens three or four, I am not going to complain about this. If they have a duty to empty my bin at least once a fortnight, I shall not be taking them to a judicial review if they want to collect my rubbish more frequently than this. They are not acting unlawfully by doing more than their statutory duty.

In other words, the fact that they may have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring home education on a regular basis does not mean that they cannot or should not do this. It is just one of those extra things that they might choose to do which goes beyond the absolute minimum that they are obliged to do by law.

The second point to consider is that it is in any case debatable whether or not such a duty exists in law. The law is unclear on this point and many local authorities take a different view of it than that held by home educating parents. Before instituting a policy of this sort, local authorities always take extensive legal advice, knowing as they do that home educators are a touchy bunch. I rang up  Lincolnshire and Nottingham and they both confirmed that they have taken the advice of barristers on this question before sending out the letters to which some home educating parents object. What it essentially boils down to is this. The legal department at these  local authorities believe one thing and have been confirmed in their belief by consultation with experts in the law relating to education. A handful of parents believe that they have a better understanding of the law, chiefly because of what they have read on various internet lists to which they belong. It will be interesting to see which side are right!

The third point is even simpler. Let us assume that local authorities do not have a right to monitor the quality of home education on a regular basis. In other words, let us concede everything that the most militant home educators assert so forcefully. Let us even grant that such actions on the part of local authorities would be unlawful. None of this makes the least difference. The aim of yearly checks has nothing to do with the quality of home education; they are intended simply and solely to establish that an education is actually still taking place. They have no reference at all to the quality of the thing; they just want evidence that the child is in fact being educated. The passage of time can have the effect of altering what would be a suitable education for a child and the fact that the local authority was satisfied that a child of five was receiving a suitable education tells them nothing at all about that same child at twelve or fourteen.

Local authorities are not acting unlawfully in checking each year that children who are not at school are receiving an education. It may not be strictly part of their duties to do this, but as I remarked above, we are usually pleased when our council does more than they have to! I am not at all sure that those home educating parents who have learnt all the law they know from just reading blogs and home educating forums really do know more than the Borough Solicitors in various places. The way to settle the matter would of course be to seek a judicial review and I understand that two people are currently attempting this in Lincolnshire. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

More trouble than they’re worth…

I think that if I ran an attraction for children, then I would have a strict and inflexible policy whereby home educated children and their families were absolutely forbidden from entry under any circumstances. This would be to both my advantage and also that of the home educators themselves. For me, the benefits of such a policy would be clear and immense; it would save me from having to come into contact with a quarrelsome bunch of people who are frequently irritating and sometimes completely mad. The home educating parents would benefit from being able to kid themselves that they were members of a persecuted and despised minority like Gypsies or asylum seekers. You know how many of them love that; just look at how popular that piece by pastor Niemoller is with them, the one about ‘then they came for the Jews’.

I have been prompted to muse along these lines by a couple of recent things involving angry home educators. The first was School Film Week, about which I wrote here. Some home educating parents became so abusive and frankly aggressive that the head of a charity was obliged to talk of the need to protect his staff. The latest example is even more extraordinary and may be familiar to those readers belonging to a few home educating lists.

The usual entry price for an adult and child to Legoland is around £60. This puts it out of the reach for many families as a casual day out; the cost to the average family would be well over £100, just to get into the place. School parties can get in much more cheaply, for £5 or £6. This is to Legoland’s advantage, because of course once the school holiday’s end in September, there is a sharp falling off in the number of visitors. If they didn’t cut prices for large groups, they might be in financial difficulties. They allow the schools to justify such visits by putting on vaguely ‘educational’ workshops. Recently, they decided to extend the same deal to home educated children. Instead of £60, home educated children only need pay £5.50 and an accompanying adult gets in free. You would think that this would have been welcomed as a very generous and thoughtful offer to the home educating community. You would have been dead wrong. It resulted in a flurry of complaints and angry rows at the ticket office.

I was so interested in this that I took the time to ring Legoland and ask them what they made of it all. One person to whom I spoke said that people were wishing that they had not decided to make this offer to home educating families, as it was all taking up a lot of time to deal with. They were having to ring head office, forward emails and talk to furious home educators themselves, some of whom were inarticulate and barely civil. What went wrong, you ask?

To begin with, Legoland gave the impression that home educating families could only have these cut prices on Mondays. So what you ask, this is still a really good deal. You idiot! Don’t you realise that this is discrimination and prejudice against the home educating community? Why should schoolchildren be allowed to visit on any day of the week and home educating children restricted to Mondays. This is ghettoisation. No, I am honestly not making any of this up. In the event, it appeared that this was a misunderstanding and that home educators can actually go on any day, but by the time that was clarified, a number of formal complaints had been made, all of which will have to be dealt with. This extra work over what was intended to be a gesture of goodwill has not exactly endeared home educators to the staff at Legoland.  A couple of families turned up to take advantage of the new prices and found that the staff at the ticket office had not yet been informed of the new deal. The parents immediately kicked off and started blazing rows about having to wait while the staff checked with the main office. One of these parents seemed quite proud of having done this and actually used the word ‘row’ to describe her behaviour on a home educating list.

The result of all this was that a simple offer by a commercial concern intended to give home educated children the same opportunities as those at school has generated a good deal of ill will towards home educators. Their reputation for being troublesome lunatics is once again confirmed among ordinary people. Hands up who thinks that this is a good thing? Please don't point out that these people represent only a small minority of home educators; I am well aware of this. They are however the public face of home education, the ones people see and come into contact with. The staff at Legoland won't even notice the quiet and normal home educating parents who just pay their money without any fuss.  The ones who stick in their mind will be the angry people who phoned up and abused them for what was, after all, and attempt to give their children the same as everybody else.

Monday, 10 September 2012

This blog spreading through the internet!

I have remarked before that I seem to see more and more of what I write here turning up in odd places. The latest example is this:

There does not appear to be any motive for this, as there are no advertisements. Somebody has even had the cheek to claim copyright for my work!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

More about making money from home education

A couple of days ago I posted about a local authority which is trying to get home educating parents to pay for courses at a further education college and suggested that it was an attempt to make money from home education. Commenting there, somebody has objected to the choice of the witnesses who gave evidence to the select committee on the same grounds; that they stand to make money from home education and should therefore have declared an interest in the proceedings from the start.

Now I must choose my words very carefully here and even so I shall probably be accused of being as stupid or mad as Peter Williams! After all, when I made the completely truthful and wholly unexceptionable remark that the majority of the eight witnesses were not technically home educators, it caused considerable annoyance. Since five of the eight do not have children aged between five and sixteen, that is to say of ‘compulsory school age, I cannot see how anybody can fail to agree that this forms a majority, but we shall let that pass for now. What of the suggestion that has been made to the effect that some also have a financial interest in home education, in particular  being paid by local authorities for various services? Did they form a majority of the witnesses? Did five of the eight witnesses have such interests? This is a curious point and one which did not occur to me before the anonymous comments on my last post. Let us consider the matter.

Since the object of this session of the select committee was to examine the support offered by local authorities to home educators, its form and extent, then it is probably true that anybody being paid to provide such support should have stated the fact clearly at the beginning. Such people are partial and we are entitled to weigh their evidence more carefully than those who do not stand to make anything from the recommendations of the committee.

Two of the witnesses, Ann Brown and Hannah Flowers, certainly have no financial interest in home education. What of the others? Julie Barker makes no secret of her work with and for a local authority. She is open about this. So too is Alison Sauer, who with her husband runs a consultancy which charges local authorities for providing services. Fiona Nicholson also runs a consultancy and is pretty active in attending meetings and running a website. I have no idea if she ever receives payment for any of this, but I am pretty sure that she hopes to; she wants to make home education her career. Zena Hodges is a trustee and ‘support adviser’ for the Home Education Centre in South West England. I have a suspicion that she is paid for her services, at any rate the constitution of the Home Education Centre specifically allows for this. It says that the committee members may make payments to themselves, provided that the payment is for skills and experience needed by the group. This is so neatly worded that I would be very surprised indeed if Zena is not receiving money in this way, although I am of course open to correction on this point. Jane Lowe has written a book on home education and is a trustee and also apparently a teacher with the Home Education Advisory Service.

It is fairly plain that at least half and probably the majority of the  witnesses called to give evidence to the select committee have or hope in the future to have some financial benefit from their association with a local authority in connection with home education. This was not obvious to the members of the committee and means that they probably did not realise that most of the people apparently speaking objectively about the relationship between home educators and local authorities stood to gain financially in some way if local authorities were advised to provide further services in this field. This does not of course mean that those who gave evidence were on the make! I don’t believe this for a moment. It does mean though that the proceedings were misleading and not transparent.

Another unfortunate circumstance was that the Chair of the select committee, Graham Stuart, has a close relationship with one of the witnesses, Alison Sauer. I do not, I hasten to add, mean a close personal relationship; this thought is almost unbearable! No, I mean that they have for several years been on first name terms and have collaborated in the past on a project which aimed to alter the relationship of home educating parents with local authorities. This was not made clear at the beginning of the session either.

The end result of all this is that anybody watching the evidence being given to the committee on September 5th would not know that the Chair of the select committee and most of the witnesses had various interests in either maintaining or overturning the status quo. This is not a good state of affairs; it does not make for openness.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Making money out of home education

Those who hang around on home educating forums and lists on the internet will probably be familiar with the expression ‘rent seeker’. It is meant to describe a particular type of home educator who hopes to make money out of home education by hiring herself, or himself, out to local authorities or central government and charging for services. I have myself been accused of this and of course the archetypal ’rent seeker’, at least according to some, gave evidence to the select committee a couple of days ago.

Now I am all in favour of private enterprise in such matters, but I am also pleased to see the state getting in on this act as well and so was enchanted to see a local authority attempting to turn home education into a money-spinner. As readers probably know, it is possible for local authorities to obtain funding for home educated children to attend college once they are fourteen. Here is a local authority discussing this among themselves:$

Notice incidentally how home educators are ‘challenging’ the local authority to provide the funding! Not just asking or requesting. Interesting too to note one of their motives in agreeing to such requests:

BCSB is, therefore, supportive of any mechanisms which

may enable the local authority to track and monitor the education, safety and wellbeing

of those children who are receiving a home education.

Still, this is all to the good. Home educated children are actually getting to attend college and study for nothing, as the government has explicitly stated that they may. Some authorities though have scented an opportunity to make a bob or two from all this; the London Borough of Bexley, for example. Take a look at this:

You will see that they are specifically targeting home educators and charging them cash upfront. You might be able to claim some of this back, but this is by no means certain. I have tried in vain to find out from Bexley whether any poor sap has actually been fleeced in this way, but they are strangely reluctant to discuss the matter or even say if anybody has handed over cash for one of these courses. I wonder if anybody knows any other local authority trying this on?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Education select committee hearing on September 5th 2012

The witnesses who gave evidence about home education to the select committee were a remarkably homogenous bunch; all female, all white, all aged between forty and sixty five, all well spoken and probably all well educated as well. Most intriguing of all, every single one of them spoke in that same quiet, patient way that teachers and social workers do. This was eerie! In a sense, the whole session was a little like the three card trick. Many people are concerned that not all parents are capable of providing a proper education to their children and so eight women are presented who nobody in their senses would doubt for a moment are able to give their kids a decent education. It would have been interesting to put eight of the less sane and articulate home educators in front of the MPs and see what they made of them.

Despite the fact that Graham Stuart is now the Chair of the committee, I picked up on the fact that there seemed to be an appetite for some sort of registration among other members. This is because two facts emerged clearly. The first was that nobody knows how many children in this country are not at school because their parents are supposedly educating them at home. The second was that nobody has the least idea how many of those children are actually receiving an education. There were valiant attempts to obscure these facts, notably when Fiona Nicholson made the astonishingly untruthful claim that we know precisely how many children are being educated at home, because we have the figures from the local authorities. Incidentally, I watched with bated breath when Fiona was asked whether she was in favour of a simple scheme which would mean the registration of all home educated children. Great amusement was caused three years ago, when she gave evidence to the select committee at that time. Despite being asked by the then Chair several times, she appeared uncertain as to whether she was in favour of registration and he finally put her down as a ’Don’t know’! This time, she was ready and answered crisply and firmly as soon as the question was asked.

I have an idea that several members of the select committee smelt a rat when presented with such a clearly intelligent and well-informed group of women. They were clearly not typical of the sort of parent with whom many local authorities come into contact and about the children of whom there is such concern. Although there was no talk of monitoring this time, the idea of registration was definitely in the air. I would not be surprised if that actually happened in the end. It would of course not be the end of the matter, particularly if events in Wales follow their current course. Whether compulsory registration of home educated children would be a good or bad thing is a debatable point, but I have an idea that it is the direction that many people’s minds may be moving. It might seem like some to be a reasonable compromise between the wishes of the local authorities and the strong feelings of many home educators; a bare minimum to which few reasonable parents could object.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Education Otherwise endorse a strange and abusive home educator

I have a huge problem with the American organisation, the Home School Defense League Association and also with its founder, Michael Farris. This has nothing to do with the fact that the HSDLA is a right wing, Christian group. After all, I am a regular churchgoer myself and vote Conservative. Right wing Christians are fine by me! No, my objection to these people is that they equate parental discipline with the ritual beating of children. Either one is in favour of thrashing small children or one is a hopeless, lily-livered, bleeding-heart liberal who is opposed to discipline in childhood.

When I say ‘ritual beating’, it is important that readers understand that I am not talking about the odd smack delivered to a child when the parent is frazzled and angry. This happens with most parents and is regrettable but probably harmless in the long run. What I mean is a deliberate and cold blooded policy of beating the child, sometimes with the hand and often with an implement, in order to break the child’s spirit and force obedience to the will of the parent. This is loathsome.

I actually have a couple of books by Michael Farris and pretty strange reading they make. Consider What a Daughter Needs from her Dad. Now I always thought that what my daughter needed was love, understanding, guidance, teaching; stuff like that. What I apparently left out was the need to humiliate her by striking her repeatedly on the buttocks with a piece of wood. Discipline, you see! Farris even helpfully suggests the use of a wooden spoon for this vital part of childrearing. Anybody else think that there is something a little perverted about a man beating his young daughter on the backside with a bit if wood, or is it just me?

Michael Farris and the HSDLA do seem to have a bit of a thing about spanking; their favoured term for this kind of physical abuse. Whenever the USA looks as though it might be about to sign up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (the only countries not to sign up to this are America and Somalia), the HSDLA wades in and reminds parents that this might mean an end to spanking their children. Here is Farris warning parents a couple of months ago about another ’dangerous treaty’ that the USA might get mixed up in; the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 15 of this calls for a ban on ’inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. That would be a good thing, right? No, you fool! As Michael Farris says, ‘This means that spanking will be banned entirely in the United States’. The guy really does have a thing about spanking.

Because of all this, I was surprised to find that Farris’ books are in Education Otherwise’s Amazon Store on their public website. Putting his books there is really a form of endorsement, suggesting that these are suitable for home educators to buy and read. When a man is so determined that children should be physically abused by being subjected to the degrading ritual of being struck regularly on the buttocks with a piece of wood, I feel that this alone should be sufficient grounds for ordinary people to edge past him cautiously and give him a wide berth. The books in the Amazon Store are both pretty weird. To give one example, the Bible has always been  important in our family. It seemed natural that my daughter would read it often and so she did. That was of course entirely up to her. Michael Farris, in The Homeschooling Father, says that he offered his children $100 if they would read the Bible regularly for a year! Am I alone in finding   that rather odd?

It is of course up to Education Otherwise which books they recommend, but I really think that Michael Farris’ works should be treated with caution. He is a strange man with an unhealthy fixation on corporal punishment and what with that and paying children to read the Bible, I hardly think that he is somebody that Education Otherwise would wish to be endorsing in any way at all.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Campaigning against the Welsh proposals on home education; a slight problem

I can see a problem looming for those who are gearing up for a Badman style campaign against the Welsh Assembly’s new proposals to regulate home education. It is a very simple one and has perhaps already occurred to some people in Wales. It is this; most of those shooting their mouths off on the subject don’t actually live in Wales and will not be affected in the least by any measures implemented by the Welsh Assembly. I have an idea that this is likely to deal a death-blow to the organised opposition to the registration and inspection proposals which are currently being debated in the principality.

There are not all that many home educating families in Wales, at least compared with this country. Certainly not the tens of thousands that we have in England. Almost all the people who have so far been expressing opinions on the subject are living here in England. I can quite see their point. They fear, quite realistically, that if a regimen of monitoring and inspection is successfully instituted in Wales, then after a year or two, it will be the most natural thing in the world for the government in Westminster to point to it as a great idea that we should adopt here. They are right to fear this; I should say that it would be a racing certainty if the Welsh proposals go through.

Never the less, when meetings in Wales are packed with various English people, some of whom are not even home educators,  it is going to raise a few eyebrows. This will  look particularly odd when speakers from England at such conferences  outnumber the Welsh, as here:

 It will also look a bit strange when the responses to the consultation there are found to be vastly more numerous than the total number of Welsh home educators! I am going to be interested to see who in the Welsh Assembly is the first to draw attention to this situation. I quite understand the motives of those in England who are mixing themselves up in this affair, but really it could be argued that  it is nobody else’s business, apart from those who actually live in Wales.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Home education in Wales

Here are the the changes that the   Welsh Assembly proposes to introduce around home education:

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Dramatic news about home educated children

Over on Mumsnet, the most popular British parenting forum with five million hits a month, a well known home educator has made some pretty dramatic claims about the academic attainment of home educated children in this country. Her claims are specific, unambiguous and clear. She says that hundreds of home educated children known to her have obtained places at top British universities without taking GCSEs or A Levels and without studying at the Open University;

‘these young people (who played computer games all day if they wanted, and had no formal work, and nothing most of you would recognise as educational, remember)’

Among the universities that these home educated children who did no formal work, nor anything most people would regard as educational, went to were Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and the London School of Economics. They studied things like mathematics,  medicine, veterinary science and classics.

Now these are startling claims and,  if true, nobody would be more delighted than me. I am always excited to hear of home educated children getting on in this way. I have emailed the woman directly to ask for details of all this, but she has not replied. I am putting the thing up here in order to ask readers if they know about any of this. If there are hundreds of such cases, then I am guessing that some at least must be well known to others. last year I contacted the universities mentioned above and asked about this very question. Not one had given an offer to a young person without any formal qualifications in the last two years. Competition for places at medical school and to study to be a vet is so ferocious that every year teenagers with four or five As at A Level are routinely turned away.  Would a university really offer a place to study mathematics to a young person without even a GCSE in the subject?

I am not of course asking for the names of the young people concerned. It would be enough to know the name of the university, so that I could find out more about the process for applying if young people have no qualifications at all. I think that this would be a great help to others who were hoping to follow this route to admission. I was very surprised to see Edinburgh mentioned, because their one, inflexible rule is that anybody applying to them must have at least a GCSE in a foreign language. They make no exceptions at all to this and it is hard to see how you could manage that with ‘no formal work and nothing most of you would recognise as educational’.

It is certainly true that some autonomously home educated children get places at university. Janet Ford’s son managed this, as did Shena Deuchar’s daughter. However, one took GCSEs at twelve and the other studied with the Open University, so these are not the sort of people that we are looking at here. I hope that readers will be able to shed some light on this, because if this is not true, then it means that a deliberate attempt has been made to mislead other parents on the biggest parenting site in the country. This would, to say the least of it, be unfortunate. I might mention that my attention was drawn to this by a friend of mine who is a teacher. Her feeling was that the whole thing is a complete nonsense and that it is all made up. I am open minded for now, but would certainly like a few details before I make up my mind.

Bad publicity for home education…

Home educators who spend a lot of time prowling the internet and looking for references to their lifestyle tend on the whole to be a pretty angry and intemperate bunch; always on the lookout for fancied slights and supposed discrimination. They google “home education” with  various other words such as “abuse”, “local authority” or “regulation”, until they come across some newspaper article or forum which is discussing home education. They then comment themselves and contact various other like-minded individuals, until the comments pages are flooded with virulently pro-home education sentiments. Anybody who is the least bit dubious about the benefits of home education or who feels that greater checks are needed, is shouted down, mocked and abused. There are only a couple of dozen people at this game, but you see them all over the internet. Let some well-meaning mother express concern about a home educating family on some parenting site, for instance, and before you know it the usual home educators are on the thread, denouncing her as a fool and bigot.

The sort of behaviour which I outline above  is very well known to many in the field of education. The home educators engaging in this practice give a terrible impression of home educators in general. It is perfectly clear that they have massive chips on their shoulders for various reasons and regard anybody who is the slightest bit sceptical about home education as a bitter enemy. People in local authorities, the staff on the Time Educational Supplement and others actively involved with education, take all this in their stride. They know what some of these characters can be like and don’t take offence. Problems can arise though when these tactics spill over into the real world and people unfamiliar with the more aggressive type of home educator come up against campaigns of this sort.

When the National School Film Week introduced a minimum booking of ten seats for their event in October, it was seen by some as ‘pure discrimination’, ‘bias’ and ‘prejudice’. It was of course nothing of the sort; just a small charity trying to reduce staff costs and avoid wasting the time of cinemas by getting them to come in  and show films to just two or three children. Following the kind of strategy which I have talked about, some home educators organised angry messages on the Facebook page of this charity and also saw to it that masses of emails were sent. Many of these were very aggressive in tone, so much so that that the head of the charity had this to say in public:

'In closing, I must also refute the accusations made by a small minority of home educators against Film Education and members of its staff, that we are deliberately discriminating against home educated children and young people. We are prepared, if necessary, to take appropriate action to protect our staff and our organisation from such unfounded accusations'

This is now on the public website. What sort of impression does this give to ordinary people of home educators? Action might need to be taken to protect the staff of a charity from home educators? I do wish that people would stop to think before they get up to these capers. An awful lot of people already think that home educating parents must be a bit weird. This sort of thing hardly helps. The average person reading what has been put up on the site will be shaking his head in disapproval at the thought of the abuse to which this charity’s workers have been subjected. This is just the kind of publicity which home education in this country can do without.