Saturday, 21 December 2013

On censorship and abuse

I am beginning to wonder if I shall be able to leave this blog alone for a couple of months, without people coming on and here and accusing me of censorship, abuse and various other things! The last time that I stopped blogging for a while and got out of the habit of checking here regularly, there was spamming  on an industrial scale. At least a hundred spams were making it past the filter and clogging everything up.  Because I did not wish to have to come here every day and delete them: I switched on the moderation. I blogged about this at the beginning of October. That way, I could just skim through the comments every week or two and then publish the genuine ones.  I did the same thing last week, when I decided to leave this blog alone until the spring. Inevitably, somebody found this sinister and chose to accuse me not only of censorship, but also, almost unbelievably, of abusing Lisa Amphlett and her friends. Here is the comment:

This comment won't be published because Simon is currently employing censorship, but the only reason recent discussions have been so fierce is that Amphlett et al fought back, unusually. Most people just take the abuse in silence and they did not.

The idea that it was I who was being abusive, is more than a little staggering! I have been perfectly courteous to Lisa Amphlett and her cronies who have come on here to comment. In return, I have been called a cunt, by two different people, a rat, told that I have paranoid delusions and read various other vulgar language, spanning the whole gamut of crudity from fuck to shit, piss to crap. All the abuse was directed against me and none was directed by me against Lisa Amphlett or anybody else. 

I will now hope to switch on the moderation and forget about this blog for a while. I must ask those who comment to exercise a little patience. If it takes a week to publish your comment, that is not censorship, but rather an indication that I am busy with other matters and am likely to be so for at least two months. A delay in having a comment posted is not censorship; at least not in the normal meaning of the word.

Monday, 16 December 2013

A final word about posting comments on a blog

This really will be the final post here; at least for the next couple of months. I have been trying to get to the bottom of the accusations being made by Lisa Amphlett and Raquel Toney, which involve my having mentioned the names of children and consequently upset their parents. I have now commented twice on Lisa Amphlett's blog, attempting to get her to tell me why she is spreading these stories about me. She says, in answer to my latest comment:

 Whether or not you understand it YOU ARE HARASSING ME despite me having asked you to stop. I will ask you once again. Please leave me alone.

This must rank as the strangest reaction from anybody to a comment on their blog!  She posts about me, using my name and accusing me of something pretty unpleasant and when I ask what grounds she has for saying these things; she tells me that I am harassing her. It's a good job that I didn't feel that way, when her friend Raquel came on here today and called me a cunt! I suppose that this means that I could post anything I like about a named person and then, if the person commented here, trying to set the record straight; I could claim that I was being harassed by them.  

Nailing an old lie...

Alas, the time is drawing near when I will have to give up this blog for a few months. I know what a grief this will be to my loyal readers, but I have many writing commitments and am also working a in a school some way from my home. I simply don't have time for this at the moment. Before leaving though, I thought that I would take the opportunity to deal with one of the oldest rumours circulating about me. This is that I have named children on this blog. Raquel, who has been commenting here today in her inimitable, if somewhat scatological, way, evidently wants to keep this story alive. She says of me;

it is really fucking creepy when a blogger finds out the names of a person's children and uses them in his blog or emails to the parents.

Please note that this is a specific allegation; that I use children's names on this blog. As if this was not a public enough accusation, Lisa Amphlett says on her own blog that;

. Other parents have, in the past, been understandably upset to have had their children unnecessarily mentioned by Simon Webb — it’s not something that most of us would consider doing out of human decency. I have a lot of sympathy for them.

I asked Lisa Amphlett  for details of this, but all she would say is that it is, 'absolutely true'. 

Now I know that some people who visit this blog have difficulty following one, coherent train of thought to its conclusion, but I would really like them to make an effort on this occasion. I have seen this rumour appear in so many places and yet whenever I ask for details of whose children I am supposed to have named here; nobody seems to know. Everybody has heard it said so often that it must be true. Goebbels used the same technique of repeating a lie so often that in the end, people believed it!

Here then is what I am asking. We have seen two well-known home educators recently making a specific allegation against me; that I have named children, other than my own, on this blog. What is this all about? Where did this idea come from? I will stay here long enough to deal with this matter, but after that I shall be dropping this blog for a month or two.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Why I started this blog

Now that some of the less well-balanced types seem to have wandered off elsewhere, I thought that I might explain how and why I came to start this blog. Since it was largely to counter the activities of people like Lisa Amphlett that I began blogging back in 2009, readers might find this interesting. It will also not have escaped notice that I have recently been called a ‘creepy stalker’ and ‘bully’; these complaints too are worth examining.

      In the summer of 2009, before this blog existed, I found myself the target of a good deal of venom by Lisa Amphlett and others. Complete strangers were inventing all sorts of mad stories about me and spreading them all over the internet. I had no way of countering these falsehoods and since they were being related publicly, I thought that I should take steps to deal with them.  Before I started this blog, Lisa Amphlett was already telling people that I was dangerous:

This was at a time that I had never even heard of her! I am tempted to ask in what way Lisa Amphlett thought that I was dangerous. Did she think that I was physically abusive? Was I a rapist or murderer? No, it was simply that I had a different view about home education than she herself had. Since I had at that time been home educating for eleven years, while she herself was not even  a home educator, you might find it a bit rich that she should choose to say such a thing.

What sort of stories were being fabricated and spread at that time? Well, that I was a former colleague of Graham Badman, for one. The general view among Lisa Amphlett and her cronies like Maire Stafford these days seems to be that googling people’s names is ‘cyber stalking’. They have certainly changed their view about this.  Maire Stafford, who by the way was also making offensive tweets about me at the same time as Lisa Amphlett; that is to say before I started this blog, was all in favour of this sort of thing. Before we look at that, let’s look at a tweet of Maire’s on July 30th 2009:

On the same day, some fool posted this on the HE-UK list:

There is a Simon Webb mentioned here as an Area Education Officer.... under
Badman! Listed is the 
CFHE Directorate Structure Chart which is readily available on the
internet.... .

http://docs. gview?a=v
<="" docs.="" em="""" gview?a="v&" q="cache:W9Udfm7e" whatdotheyknow.=""
m/request/7844/ response/ 21038/attach/ 2/cfe-structure- chart1106. pdf+Simon+ Web
b+badman&hl= en>
&q=cache:W9Udfm7eA8 AJ:www.whatdothe request/7844/ response/ 21038/att
ach/2/cfe-structure -chart1106. pdf+Simon+ Webb+badman& hl=en

Like many others, this person  had been researching my life and googling my name to see if he could find anything interesting about me and my family. You might have thought that people like Lisa Amphlett and Maire Stafford would denounce this as ‘creepy stalking’ or ‘cyber stalking’, but you would be wrong. That same day, Maire Stafford said of this on the HE-UK list:

Brilliant research 

Oddly enough, nobody thought that there was anything creepy about the remarks being made about my daughter and the attempts to connect me with Graham Badman. Perhaps Lisa Amphlett did not know about this smear campaign? Of course she did, otherwise she would hardly have tweeted on August 7th 2009 that; ‘Simon Webb says that he is not badman's colleague.’ Lisa Amphlett was right in the thick of  the attacks on me at that time;

This is why I started this blog; to provide a platform to tackle the rumours that these people were doing their best to spread. Those who have been talking  about stalking and bullying  might stop and ask themselves why they did not have so much to say about this when researching my life on the internet was such a flourishing cottage  industry! Of course, there was not a word of truth in the idea that I was or had been a colleague of Graham Badman's. Here's an idea, the next time that anybody feels like saying that I have been cyber stalking or bullying; don't bother. I cannot tell readers how revolting it is to see people like Lisa Amphlett now claiming to be upset. If she and others like here had not been so keen to dig into my life and tell lies about me in the past, this blog would not even exist.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The normality of home education in this country until the mid 1970s

There is,  among home educators in this country, a mythic narrative which supposedly explains the origin of their chosen way of life. It goes something like this. Before the 1970s, hardly anybody in Britain educated their children at home.  Around the middle of that decade half a dozen or so parents, who were determined at all costs not to send their children to school,  got together and formed Education Otherwise; a group which would fight to establish home education as an accepted right for parents. There was stern opposition from some reactionary forces in local authorities. This led to the persecution of some of these parents; Iris Harrison, for instance. Never the less, these brave pioneers persevered and now home education is an option available for all parents. We owe those people a great debt for their struggle. This roughly is the story of home education’s beginning in Britain; as  put about by home educating organisations and widely accepted by many parents. 

There are several things about the above legend which make one a little uneasy; not the  least of which is  that it is a pack of nonsense from beginning to end. That is not the only problem, although it is certainly a serious one! I hope to explore the difficulties that this myth has created, but it will take several posts. Today, I want to look briefly at home education as it features in children’s literature of 20th century Britain. This might give us some idea of how unremarkable home education has been in this country, as far back as one looks. Far from being a radical movement, challenging the established order; home education could almost be regarded as being a part of the established order, from time out of mind.

Before looking at  how  home education crops up in 20th century books, it is worth looking back a little further and noting that home education is mentioned frequently in 19th century novels and that the practice at that time was viewed as entirely normal and respectable. To give just two examples, all the Bennet sisters  in Pride and Prejudice were educated at home and home education makes an appearance in several of Dickens’ books.  The home education by their father of Louisa and Tom Gradgrind is integral to the plot of Hard Times.

Moving on now to the 20th century; by which time universal schooling had become the accepted norm, home education was still seen as being quite unremarkable; even by ordinary families.  In The Railway Children, written by E. Nesbit published in 1905, none of the children attend school. This is seen as hardly worth mentioning; it is certainly not a plot device. It is just that quite a few children at that time were taught at home and the author describes the life of just such a family. Moving on a few years to Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, which was published in 1936, we see another example of home education. The three Fossil children live with their guardian , Sylvia and her old nanny. For a time, Sylvia stops sending the children to school and attempts to educate them  herself. This does not work very well and so she engages tutors. Just as in The Railway Children, there is no suggestion that this is in any way an unusual course of events; it is presented as simply another incident in the lives of the children. These are not wealthy or important families.

     A number of home educated children appear in the William stories by Richmal Crompton, but it is in Enid Blyton’s books that home education is referred to regularly as being something which happened throughout the 1940s, without anybody seeing anything odd or unusual about it. The protagonist of The Naughtiest Girl in the School, 1940, is first met at the age of twelve. When  we encounter her, she has always been educated at home. In First Term at Malory Towers, 1946,  Gwendoline Mary Lacey is another twelve year-old who has never been to school.

That home education appears in so many children’s books of this period, leads us to suppose that it was a pretty common practice not to send children to school; educating them at home for at least part of their childhood.  The idea that home education was somehow freakish and out of the ordinary, does not really stand up.  I have explained on here several times in recent months that home education was not at all frowned upon  by local authorities; right up to the early 1970s. I know this to be true, apart from anything else, by personal experience. And yet something happened during the 70s to bring about a state of confrontation between local authorities and some parents who did not send their children to school. This was nothing to do with home education as such, and I will look in my next post at just what went wrong with the situation and how home education became transformed form a normal, every day activity into something controversial which generated tension between parents and local authorities.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Driving a coach and horses through the law on education.

One of the things that readers might have noticed about local authorities who are dealing with home educators, is that they are very fond of quoting the law. Sometimes, they do this regretfully; as though they are left with no choice but to undertake this or that duty. Their letters often contain sentences beginning, ‘We have a legal duty to…’ or, 'We are required by law...'. This is all the most horrible hypocrisy, because every local authority in the entire country is regularly and flagrantly ignoring great chunks of the legislation which relates to education. Let me give a glaring example of this.

At a recent  primary school assembly, the Head announced that he wanted to talk about a very great man. It’s coming up to Christmas and when he continued by saying that this person was probably the greatest man ever to live and that he changed the world; I thought that I could guess who he was talking about. ‘Nobody has ever taught us more about forgiveness’, continued the Head and by that time I was pretty sure to whom he was referring. What’s that? No you fool, he wasn’t talking about Jesus! He meant Nelson Mandela, obviously. In this primary school, as in practically every other maintained school in the country, assemblies are only held once a week and neither Jesus nor God ever get a mention. They are wholly secular occasions, where awards are given for industry or, as in the case of Nelson Mandela, some famous person might be mentioned. There is of course never any mention of  the Deity; let alone prayers and hymns. This is very odd, because Section 70 of  the School Standards and Framework Act  1998  specifically requires that;

each pupil in attendance at a community, foundation or voluntary school shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship

What’s more, the law states that this act of collective worship should be of a wholly or mainly Christian nature. I do not suppose that there is a single school in the whole country which abides by this law. It is universally ignored and every local authority knows this very well. You might get an act of collective worship  at some church schools, but even then it will in general be only once a week. At other schools, there is nothing even remotely approaching religious observance of the sort required by the law. It does not matter whether we think that such daily worship is a good thing or not; it is the law and local authorities take not the least notice of it.  I can think of a dozen other example of laws relating to education which are widely flouted, but this one is common to every school in the land. It is curious that these same local authorities are able to recollect chapter and verse of the law as it touches upon home education and show such devotion to enforcing it! Hypocrisy always irritates me and this is an especially good instance.  When it suits them, local authorities are perfectly willing and able to disregard the law about education and schools. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Why don‘t people want to be with their children?

Unlike many home educators, I have no ideological objection to schools; nor do I think them bad places in themselves. I have remarked before that they are, to me, a necessary evil; in an ideal world, they would not be needed. The question that I have been considering lately though is why nearly everybody sends their children to school as soon as they can. Of course, it goes without saying that part of the explanation is simply that this is what you do when your child turns five, but there must be a little more to it than that. After all, there is nothing magical about the age of five. Legally, you could delay starting school until the child was six, seven or even older. What actually happens is that almost everybody sends children before that all-important age of five. It is a rare child today who begins school at about his or her fifth birthday; most start when they are three or four, by which time an awful lot of them have already been in nurseries for a couple of years. 

When my daughter was two, I enjoyed her company enormously; she was an endless source of pleasure to me. Why on Earth would I have given her to strangers, so that they could have her instead of me?  In some families, where both parents are working, it is presumably a matter of convenience, but for most; it seems to be a relief for them to get shot of their kids. During the decades that I was working with families with small children, the request made most often was, ‘Can you help me get a nursery place?’ This was being asked by single mothers, when their babies were six months old. There was a great desire to see the children packed off to day-care, so that the mothers could get on with their lives. Once the children were at school, then there were breakfast clubs, after school clubs, holiday play schemes and a dozen other ways that parents could ensure that they saw as little of their children as possible. In recent years, this has become very common and many parents appear to have the idea that it is for the state to look after their offspring for most of the time and that the parents should only have to have them for an hour or two in the evenings. It is not at all uncommon to hear people bemoaning the approach of the summer holidays and complaining that they do not know how they will cope. Usually, it is clear that this is because the parents just don't like being with their children too much and dread being forced to spend time with them.

I am genuinely foxed by all this. I can truthfully say that I never became bored with my daughter, from the first day of her birth. I still don’t, even though she is now twenty. I cannot imagine why I would be wanting to shove her out of the way for as long as I could manage. It is against this background that we need to consider the political and philosophical objections that some home educators have to the notion of the state as parent. This is sometimes represented as being a sinister plot, whereby the state will take over the care and upbringing of our children for unknown reasons of its own. It is nothing of the kind! It is just that nearly all  the parents that one meets wish to see their children safely out of the way in nurseries and schools from as soon as they can walk and talk. The government is not pushing for parents to give them their children; the parents are clamouring for the state to adopt their babies and children and keep  them out  of their parents' way.

Home educating parents are different, in that they are happy to spend all day, every day with their kids. I wonder sometimes whether this love of their own children and unwillingness to fob them off on others, makes a lot of other parents faintly suspicious of home educators. It's such a weird way to feel about your kids these days, that perhaps this is at the root of some of the fears that we see about the practice of home education.

The futility of giving home educators a public platform

Last month, I wrote here about the All-Party Parliamentary Group on home education and Graham Stuart’s  idea for some sort of committee of professionals concerned with home education. I had serious reservations about this and said so on November 16th. Now there’s a great difference between thinking that something is a bad idea and believing it to be part of a sinister plot against home educators.  A conspiracy theory is currently emerging which sees the APPG’s plans as part of some Europe-wide attack on home education. Even this blog, it has been suggested, plays a role in this scheme; it being, apparently, no coincidence that I should be saying unflattering things about Lisa Amphlett, so soon after she wrote that peculiar letter to Graham Stuart.

For the last few weeks, I have been trying to look at the real reasons that local authorities are sometimes uneasy about home education. This has not proved an easy task, because of course the sort of militant home educating parents that one encounters on the internet are not infrequently a little excitable and irrational. They have difficulty concentrating as well; combined with a tendency to wander off and lose track of what is being said. I feel like saying sharply, ‘Stop chattering and face the front, militant home educators and listen to what I am saying. It’s your time you’re wasting!’ However, I recollect in time that these people are supposedly adults and stop myself before making grossly inappropriate remarks of this sort. 

It is only by understanding why many people have concerns about home education that any sort of modus vivendi will be reached with those professionals in the field of education who are pressing for regulation. Perhaps if home educating parents could listen to these people, then they might be able to respond intelligently and allay their fears. As I say, over the last few weeks, I have been setting out some aspects of home education which are seen  as being a problem. I have talked to many teachers about this and have also been in touch with local authority officers who deal with elective home education.  Some of the views which  I have expressed here on this subject were my own; some were those which have been put to me by teachers and others. It has been a hopeless enterprise. Yesterday, for instance, I posted about the phenomenon of parents who take their children out of school because the  teachers say that their children are falling behind or disrupting the class; then find that they are unable to provide a reasonable education. This is something which worries quite a few teachers. You might have thought that this was the perfect opportunity for home educators who are dissatisfied with the way that local authorities feel, to speak out on a public forum and set them straight.  If education professionals are wrong about this; why not explain why they are wrong? But no. Out of sixty comments, only three addressed the subject of the post. The others would rather concern themselves with fantasies about me masturbating or claim that I was mentally ill.   In other words, around 95% of the comments had nothing to do with home education; although that was the topic of the post. I have already received a couple of emails from people about this and their view was that it is pointless to try and debate with those people. They don’t really have any sensible views about the matter.

In recent months, there have been many people from the world of mainstream education coming to view this blog. I suggested to some of these people that I would try and draw out home educating parents to give their views and opinions on what they wanted from local authorities. There has been very little of a constructive nature and the overall impression that the visitors have had has not been at all favourable to home educators in general. To speak bluntly; most of them were shocked and dismayed at what they saw here. Any sort of dialogue is impossible and the best that they can do is to make any arrangements unilaterally, without worrying over-much about upsetting the more aggressive type of home educating parent. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

American Christian home educators

An interesting site about home educated Americans who have broken away from their strict, religious backgrounds:>

Perhaps not the best way to present home education...

Readers might want to watch a new comedy, which begins on television on December 23rd. It will be on Channel 4 and is written by Caitlin Moran. The plot will be about a group of home educated children living on a housing estate in Wolverhampton and will be a bit like Shameless. Here is a link to it:

I'm not at all sure that this is going to be a brilliant representation of home education and could make people who watch it feel that such children would do better if they were in school.

Local authorities and their attitude to home educators; or, why Desforges was right

One of the difficulties sometimes faced by local authorities is what to do when some parent whom they suspect of being incapable of providing a decent education to her child, announces that she is withdrawing him from school. Should they just leave her to get on with it? Warn her that it might prove harder than she thinks? Offer her help and support? Most local authorities adopt all three of these strategies, but ultimately it is the parent’s choice; it is after all, the parent who remains responsible for her child’s education and not the local authority. This does not mean that the teachers at the school and others in the education department might not be profoundly uneasy about the course of events; more that there is little that they can do about it.

Here is a simple fact; one which is well known to schools. When a child without special educational needs fails to thrive academically at school and take advantage of the education on offer, this usually has more to do with her parents and home circumstances than it does with the school. All the available research suggests strongly that parental influence is the single greatest factor which affects how well children will do at school.  Indeed, many home educators know this perfectly well. We recently saw a home educating parent come on here and ask why I was not addressing the implications of the report,  The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review by Charles Desforge and Alberto Abouchaar. I am now doing so.

It has long been known that  academically high achieving pupils tend to have parents who support them in their learning. This is far more important than parental income or education. There is an uncomfortable corollary to this and that is that those children who fall behind academically are often being failed by their parents, rather than the school. Interestingly, many of the tens of thousands of children who are being home educated in this country were taken out of school by their parents for this very reason; that they were not doing very well there from an educational point of view.    Here is the problem. Many of these children were doing poorly at school because of their parents’ attitude to education and learning. Once they are out of school, they  often lose any other influence upon their education. This means that they can slip behind drastically, very quickly. Teachers are appalled about this, as are many local authority officers.  Not all children being deregistered from school to be educated at home are in this category of course; but it is a recognised phenomenon.  The outlook for such children is not good.

This tendency for parents whose children are not doing well at school to withdraw them and  keep them at home has only in the last decade or two reached the tens of thousands. These numbers are still, as readers have pointed out here many times, low; at least compared with the numbers of children at school. It is of course their parents’ responsibility and if the children reach the age of sixteen or seventeen without any qualifications; that too is a matter of parental choice.  Perhaps before making such a serious decision, it might be helpful for such parents to ask themselves why their child is not doing well at school. If those who do do well are associated with parents who support them in their learning, could it be that those whose children struggle might do better to look at their own attitudes to education, rather than simply blaming the school and deregistering the child? There are signs that the outlook for a lot of these children is bleak. Many Further Education Colleges are reporting attempts by parents whose children have been taken out of school to enrol them for A levels and so on. Since very few of these children have any GCSEs, this is seldom possible. It would be interesting to see what the long-term prospects are for these kids.

Monday, 9 December 2013

But you can’t do a GCSE in chemistry at home…

George Bernard Shaw remarked that all professions are conspiracies against the laity. Teaching is no exception to this rule. Teachers are, as a class, determined that other people, parents in particular, should believe that they are doing something fantastically subtle and clever;  undertaking an operation which no ordinary person could hope to understand, let alone emulate. It is, of course, not so, but that is the impression that they wish to make upon the rest of us. Unfortunately, like all really good propagandists, they sometimes come to believe  their own fantasies. I have lost count of the number of teachers who, after  conceding that most parents could look after their children up to the age of seven or eight, perhaps even teach them to read and write,  then go on to say triumphantly, ‘Yes, but what about secondary? You couldn’t do chemistry or physics at home, could you?’ This is widely regarded as a knock-down argument against home education after the age of eleven or twelve. The tragic thing is, I think that those using this as a debating point really think that it is true!

The irony is that, as anybody who has witnessed a science lesson in a maintained secondary school will know, there is very little practical work such as experiments, these days. Nobody would trust the average fourteen year-old in a state school to handle sulphuric acid safely or dissect a frog without chopping off some other pupil’s fingers. Science is mainly done by means of photo-copied handouts and the watching of clips from Youtube. In fact, it is incomparably better to teach things like chemistry, physics and biology at home, than it is to leave it to a school. You can experiment with flames and acids, cut up dead animals, make your own indicators, rather than relying upon strips of litmus paper; all sorts of really enjoyable activities. I defy anybody not to find that their child is interested in science, once they have discovered that rose petals and tea leaves can both be used to distinguish between acids and alkalis. This is just the kind of thing that all children love; boiling things up and sloshing about liquids that change colour!  

The specifications for the International GCSEs are all available on the websites of Cambridge and Edexcel. These tell you precisely what your child will need to know in order to pass the examination. There are also old exam papers there with marking schemes, so that you can tell exactly how the child is likely to do. I know that there is nothing to it, because of course we studied for all three science IGCSEs at home. The child concerned got A* for all of them, which, for home educated children, is about par for the course.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The competitive edge

Concern is sometimes expressed about the way in which the upper echelons of our society seem to be occupied by men and women who were privately educated. The senior judiciary, medical profession, the government and civil service all seem to be in the grip of those who attended independent schools. Nor is this all. As I pointed out the other day;  athletics and sport also have more than their fair share of such people.  

What are private schools doing that maintained schools are not, that their pupils manage to make it high up so many different ladders? Obviously, the education on offer in such places is a good deal better than that which one is likely to see at the average comprehensive, but there is another factor to take into account. This is the competitive spirit which is fostered in independent schools and actively discouraged in  those run by local authorities.  I looked a couple of days ago at a typical PE lesson in a low performing primary school and explained how the very notion of competition was seen as being a bad thing; something to be suppressed. Anybody who has seen a sports day at the average maintained school will know just what I mean! It is not only in sport though that this spirit has been crushed and eradicated. Remember end of term reports; where the children were ranked according to how well they did in various subjects? Spelling and general knowledge contests? These have all gone now. Striving to be better at things than your classmates is seen as being not quite the thing. Nobody is better than anybody else and being clever, strong or fast will not help you to achieve recognition. There are no longer any losers. However, if there are no losers; neither are there any winners. How different, how very different, is the situation in independent schools!

Whether on the playing field or at end of term tests; pupils in private schools are urged to compete with one another and try to be better than the next boy or girl. Many schools have house systems, where different groups will  be encouraged to enter into ferocious rivalry; both academic and athletic. We saw recently about some aspects of the hidden curriculum at state schools. This then is part of the hidden curriculum in the private sector; being taught to fight for a higher place and win competitions. How does this help the children at these schools to get on? Let’s consider somewhere else where privately educated children appear to have more than their fair share of influence; the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, sometimes known collectively as Oxbridge.  To get a place at Oxbridge, it is not enough just to get, for example, five or six A levels. That sort of thing is taken for granted; it is a pre-condition, if you like, of even entering the game.  The game of getting into those universities is really a fierce competition. Pupils from state schools are often handicapped in this game. They are used to waiting their turn. They hand over their AS level results, make their application and expect to be awarded a place as their reward for having studied hard. Nothing of the sort! There are aptitude tests to be taken before an interview is even considered and a personal statement to be polished. If you are lucky, you will be offered an interview. However, there are five or six times as many applicants as there are places to be offered. This really is a competition! If they get to interview, then there are often written tests to be taken there as well and then long, difficult conversations  with world famous specialists. Around 80% will be rejected.  This kind of thing is very familiar to any pupil from an independent school; they know about contests where only one person scoops the winner’s prize.  Not so the kid from the state school; this is all being played by rules which are new to him!

This is where home education can give a child an edge. Maintained schools might set out to blunt the competitive spirit, but we are not bound to follow the same philosophy. Children educated at home can actually find themselves on an even footing with pupils from the best private schools, if that is what their parents wish. Instead of being systematically handicapped, as so often happens at state schools, they can be inculcated with the same ethos which gives independently educated pupils their edge.

Motives for home education in this country

One of the things which triggered the report on home education by Graham Badman was that in the first decade of the present century, the numbers of children being educated at home appeared to be rising steeply.   Tens of thousands of children were not at school; what if this  continued, until hundreds of thousands of children were involved? So what, we may say! What business  would that have been of the government’s? There were two considerations. One was the natural and reprehensible desire of governments to regulate things for the sake of it. The other was that it was becoming pretty clear that many of those deregistering their children from school were doing so not because they felt that they could provide their children with a better education than the school, but because sending the kid to school was interfering with their own lifestyle. This is appalling; that  parents would place their own convenience above the opportunity for their children to receive a good education.  This tendency by home educators to embark upon home education as a matter of lifestyle, rather than for the benefit of their children’s education, has been widely noted; not least in surveys by organisations such as Education Otherwise. In one  survey,  conducted among all its two and a half thousand members in 2003, Education Otherwise found that a third of those who answered, said that the strongest influence upon their decision to home educate related to family lifestyle, rather than education.

This trend of avoiding sending children to school, purely because this accorded with some kind of ’alternative’ lifestyle, was worrying to many professionals in the field of education.  With number rising each year, it was felt that at the very least, some effort should be made to find out what was happening. Since 2009 though, the numbers of home educated children have first flattened out and are now declining. Because the problem is still limited to a relatively small number of children, compared with those in the schools system, the decision has been reached to leave home education alone. Of course, if the numbers began rising sharply again; that could all change.

For those who are now gnashing their teeth and denouncing me as a liar, I thought that it might prove interesting to look at a recent example of this kind of thing. On one of the largest of the internet lists for home educators, one with thousands of members, a woman posted recently about the question of what to do about her son’s education.  She has two sons. Both are home educated, but the older boy has recently expressed the desire to go to school. What are the mother’s concerns about this? What sort of things motivated her to educate her children at home in the first place? Let’s have a look;

 My  son has just decided that actually he quite likes the sound of school … I am thrown into complete disarray and terrified at the idea of having to help him find the right school, visit schools, sort out getting admission to a school and all the rest of the palaver this might involve…
I've been feeling in recent weeks how much more relaxed my life might be if both the boys were in school. This is all just reminding me of one of the reasons I chose to home educate in the first place - being tied to someone else's schedule (term dates, school hours, home work, etc.) which have the potential to completely rearrange our lives...

Readers will see at once that there is no mention at all of the child’s education! Neither in the initial post, nor in subsequent exchanges with others on the list, is education mentioned. The whole problem is framed in terms of the possible effect upon the mother’s own life. Somebody tells her of the risk of attracting attention from the local authority in the future, somebody else says something about social services. Education does not rate the least mention. It is perhaps significant that not one of the thousands of members on this, one of the largest of the home education lists, thought it worth asking whether this proposed change would provide the child with a better education. It was taken entirely as read that the important point was how school   would affect the mother, not how it might benefit or harm the child himself. Any further comment would be superfluous. It is this trend which worries many local authorities and causes them to press for regulation. They know, as do most readers here, that for many people who don’t send their children to school, education is not the most important feature of the scheme; it is all about the parents' own  convenience and lifestyle.

Friday, 6 December 2013

How unfair! How come so many British athletes and sports stars were privately educated?

I remarked yesterday that members of the senior judiciary are more  likely to have been educated at independent schools. During the Olympic Games last year, the same thing was noticed about athletes; many of them were privately educated. Why should this be? Here is a fairly typical maintained school in a poor area.  It is time for the PE lesson and the children are about to play basketball. Now most of you probably imagine basketball as being a fast-moving, energetic and furiously competitive game; with plenty of running about. You fools! That was back in the old days. Here is how it is organised in this typical school. The eight and nine year-olds are divided into two teams. These teams are scrupulously matched, with the same number of feeble skinny kids in each, a similar number of girls, black children  and so on. None of that old-fashioned stuff, where a team captain chooses who he or she wants.  Then, the two teams are lined up on either side of the hoop. They stand still and are reproved if they make too much noise. Turns are taken, so that a member of each team takes the ball and attempts to throw it through the hoop. Once this has been done, then that person walks quietly to the end of the line and it is time for the next person in the opposing team to be given the ball. This way, you see, every child gets an equal number of goes and nobody is left out. 

Supporting your own side too vociferously is frowned upon. You must cheer equally for the opposing side. If it looks as though one side is winning by too great a margin, then the teacher cunningly adjusts the score! One minute, it is ten to five, but then a few goes later, she will announce that the score is now eleven ten. The children are not fooled by this, of course. 

One of the reasons for not letting the kids run about is that if two children collide, then an incident report must be filled out. This is a real pain and so it is better not to allow rough contact. When one boy grabbed another and shoved him, while they were queuing up at the end of playtime, I had to write out a report on the event; although nobody had been hurt and the whole incident was over in a couple of seconds. This entailed writing down on a form how many adults witnessed the supposed assault, the names of the children involved, an account of the sequence of events and the action taken afterwards.   This had to be counter-signed by another teacher and copies made in the office. One copy went to the deputy head, another to the class teacher of the other boy involved and the original filed in our class.  This wasted twenty minutes of a teacher’s time; twenty minutes that could have been devoted to teaching. There is no really vigorous physical activity at all. Most of the lesson is spent standing in line and every so often, the teacher calls for the children to come and sit at her feet, while she rebukes them for cheering too loudly or perhaps jumping too high. It is the dullest forty five minutes imaginable.

During the Olympic games last year, it was noticed that a disproportionate number of our best athletes and sportsmen and women had been privately educated. This is because the chances of any child in an average primary school getting a taste for competitive sport are not high, to say the least of it.  They are discouraged from vigorous play in the playground, the playing fields have been sold to property speculators and any sort of striving for personal excellence in the field of sport is frowned upon.  Things are very different in the independent sector. There, team games such as rugby are officially encouraged. The children are urged to do better than their opponents. Little wonder then that they are the young people who have an advantage when it comes to developing their athletic prowess!

School; another aspect of the hidden curriculum

In the last few years, there has been increasing concern about the supposed lack of social mobility in this country. Poor, black and working class children just don’t seem to get as far as Oxbridge and professions such as medicine and law are still dominated by privately educated, middle class types. I’m very interested in this phenomenon and have been looking closely at some of the more unexpected causes of this failure for children to move from one social class to another. School plays a great role in this problem, but not always in a straightforward and obvious way. Let’s look at an apparently trivial incident which I witnessed today; one that casts light upon this whole business.

Here is an English lesson; one in which a class of nine year-olds are being taught the difference between fact and opinion. The way that this is being done is by acting out an imaginary scene from a trial. This takes the form of a dialogue in the court  between an impartial judge and an obviously prejudiced policeman, who says things about the defendant such as, ‘Well, he looks guilty to me!’.  The teacher wants two children to play the parts of the judge and the policeman. First, she wants somebody to be the judge. She says, ‘Now remember, judges speak very posh, because they mostly went to private schools, so you’ll have to speak like this…’ She then gives a grotesque and exaggerated impression of an upper class voice. Let’s look at what these working class children are being taught here.

The first lesson is that there is not the least hope of their ever becoming judges. They know that they are certainly not posh and of course none of them go to a private school. Here is one possible ambition disposed of immediately. What else are they learning? They learn that being posh and well educated is something that they should mock. The teacher is sneering at the way posh people talk. The message that these children take form this is that clearly enunciated, standard English is somehow ridiculous and that people who  speak it are different from them.  At one time, ordinary working class children like this were taught at school to aspire to better themselves and to aim high. These days, they learn that ‘posh’ people like judges are somehow a different species. In the 1950s at schools in East London, children were taught that they could rise, if they wished. They  were encouraged to think beyond their day to day lives. Some of those pupils did indeed rise and go on to become professors, judges, doctors and so on. There is not the remotest chance of this sort of thing happening when children are being inculcated with class enmity, as is very common in working class schools today.

There is another pernicious effect of this sort of attitude.  There has been concern that some schools become popular with the middle classes and that they then monopolise them, to the exclusion of others; who then end up at so-called ‘sink schools’.  Here is what happens sometimes when middle class parents send their children to a very working class school of the type that I have been writing about lately. Because the pupils have been encouraged to hate anything at all ‘posh’, they extend this feeling towards those who speak correct and grammatical English. Well spoken children are viewed with great suspicion. If they also have an interest in books and want to work hard, they are soon mocked and shunned. They then become very miserable and their parent often remove them from the school and send them to one with a less hostile atmosphere.

There is a good deal more to be said on this topic, but that is all that I have time for tonight. Readers might like to reflect that exclusivity is not only the province of the middle or upper classes and that in some schools, pupils are actively encouraged to dislike and mistrust those of a different social standing from themselves. This is hardly a good thing from the point of social mobility.

The war against home education

Dealing with some of the more militant types of home educator is a bit like coping with a remedial class for slow learners. Everything needs to be repeated endlessly, explained in a dozen different ways and then the whole, soul-destroying process begins anew the next day. Not only that, but one gets the same silly comments and interruptions, the constant cries of, “Sir, I don’t get it!” I felt this most forcibly when people were asking on here recently, as to  why I went into detail about the actual reason that our old friend went to Ireland.  I assumed that my motives would be plain, but I see now that I must settle down and explain, step by step, exactly why I wanted to set the case out in such detail.

To begin with, it is necessary for readers to understand that there is a certain strand among British home educators who believe, or purport to believe, I am not sure which, that some sort of war is being waged against their chosen method of education. They claim that attempts are constantly being made to suppress home education and that there is an agenda by some in the mainstream educational establishment to do away with the practice entirely. It is of course preposterous, but there it is. In order to maintain this worldview,  these people  need always to be uncovering new plots against home educators; they require  a continuous stream of threats and menaces to their favoured  lifestyle. (Of course, fighting all these attacks on their liberties makes for a far more congenial life than actually educating their children! It is  essentially a displacement activity, which means that rather than teaching their kids their times tables, they can instead spend their time  lobbying MPs and writing political manifestos).

Sometimes, there are slack periods, when no obvious danger is looming on the horizon for home education in this country.  When this happens, they  have  to fabricate threats and pretend that some individual is being persecuted because she is a home educator.  This stops other home educating parents becoming complacent and thinking that they are safe! This is what was done last year, when this appeal was widely circulated among home educators;

A well-known member of the HE community and trusted friend needs our help. The 
person's family is facing a possible court order and they felt the need to leave the country very quickly in order to protect the children from unfounded interference based on home education as a risk factor. 

Now anybody reading this, would assume that home education was integral to the threat facing this person. She is a member of the HE community and  she is facing a court order and the possibility of ‘unfounded interference based on home education as a risk factor’.  This was very neatly done and many people fell for it. Of course, the attention of social services and their unfounded interference was precipitated not by home education at all, but by the sequence of events which I outlined a few days ago. The key factors were things such as the condition of the home, the call to the police and previous trouble with various authorities which also had nothing to do with home education. The mother in this case was also in the habit of posting about her use of illegal drugs and that probably didn’t help matters either! So while it was not wholly untruthful to say that home education was a risk factor, the ‘unfounded interference’ about which people were worrying, was not based upon this. If it was a factor, it amounted to about 0.00001% of the total of concerns being expressed by the agencies involved.

This is not an exceptional case, of course. We regularly see home educators trying to work up fears that they are under attack and that if we don’t all support them, then our own lifestyles will be the next to be targeted by the government. I have mentioned any number of incidents of this sort  on here over the years; this was not the worst example of such scaremongering, not by a long chalk. In this case though, hardly anybody with whom I have been in contact knew the true story. Those who signed the original letter have been very keen to keep the actual events from being known, because it shows that all those people like Neil Taylor-Moore, Alison Preuss and Barbara Stark, who signed that letter,  were playing people for mugs and using a case which had very little to do with home education in order to put the wind up them.  It was this practice, which is not limited to that particular instance, to which I wished to draw attention. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

New terminiology in home education

Readers will perhaps recall that at the time of the  Badman enquiry, a variety of unflattering names were coined for those home educators who were suspected of being in favour of increased monitoring, so that they could profit financially. For example, they were called, 'Rent seekers'. I have been watching the emergence of two new terms for such people. So far, these terms have been limited to the likes of Fiona Nicholson, who is felt by some of the more unbalanced home educators to be Quisling in chief and  sidekick to Graham Stuart. I have seen her described as both a 'minion' and a 'fence-sitter'. 

I have to say that I like the expression 'minion'. It makes Fiona sound like a character from Game of Thrones! Incidentally, here is a little puzzle. The most demented and irrational of the home educating crowd all seem to be in the Midlands or the north of England. I wonder why that should be? There are plenty of home educators in London and the south of England, but they seem a little saner and less excitable than those in places like  Stafford and Doncaster. Whenever I am the victim of an especially unpleasant rumour, I can be quite sure that it will have had it's origins somewhere well north of London and the Home Counties. Is it something in the water, or what? 

How to obtain information about home education from Graham Stuart; the right way and the wrong way

Some readers have been asking today  about Graham Stuart’s reply to Lisa Amphlett. I thought that it was worth talking a little about this and publishing it here. There were hints that my post  yesterday  was part of a coordinated attempt to smear a group of home educators in the Midlands. It wasn’t of course, it’s just that there is no such thing as coincidence in the Looking-glass world inhabited by these characters. Still, it gives me a chance to look at the correct way to find things out from MPs and also to look at the wrong way of going about the business. The hint was, you see, that because one of this group had failed to extract answers from an MP about something to do with home education, that must be why I had posted about a woman who had been in Ireland and is now in the midlands. (Yes, I realise that this makes no sense at all, but you know what these people are like!)

A couple of weeks back, I wanted to know  three things about Graham Stuart’s intentions,  and also about  the  functioning of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on home education.  The best way to find things out, is of course simply to ask. If you are going to do this, it is better by far to limit your enquiries to one simple question at a time. Once this has been asked, you can leave it a week or two and then ask another question. It might take a few weeks, but that way you tend to find out what you want to know. The first thing I wanted was a written statement of Graham Stuart’s plans, if any, for new regulations about home education. I emailed him on November 22nd, saying;

Dear Mr Stuart,      I'm sorry to trouble you, but a number of people are concerned that you might be in favour of some new regulation for home education in this country. I wonder if you could just confirm whether this is true or not? Thanks a lot.
                                            Simon Webb.

Short and to the point, you see. An hour and  half later,  one of his advisers replied, saying:

Dear Mr Webb,

Thank you for your email. 

The APPG for Home Education, which Graham chairs, is encouraging local authority home education officers to form a national organisation so that they can build expertise, and also challenge bad practice and ignorance in their authorities.

There is no question whatever of Graham suggesting or supporting new regulation regarding home education.  The aim is precisely to avoid some of the problems which arise through local authority officials misinterpreting the existing regulations (whether by accident or design).

Kind regards,


You see? Easy peasy and now I have a written statement about this MP’s intentions; ’ There is no question whatever of Graham suggesting or supporting new regulation regarding home education.‘ Working in this way, I shall  eventually have simple answers to all my questions. Now let’s look at the wrong way to go about it.  Here is another email to Graham Stuart, this one sent the day after my own:

Dear Graham,
Thank you for taking the time to engage with me on Twitter and invite communication via email. In the interests of openness and transparency, this is an open letter that I will publish on my blog along with any response.
I write with reference to two points:
1. The APPG and its structure, and
2. The proposal that you mentioned at the end of the last APPG meeting in October 2013.
I will deal with them separately for clarity’s sake.
I appreciate that the APPG has been functioning for some time without widespread interest from the HE community. However, your minuted suggestion that  ”home education experts from local authority areas” should come together to form a national organisation to “build expertise and challenge bad practice and ignorance” has precipitated interest, criticism and concern. This is, I believe, largely because of the potentially negative outcomes of such a proposal, which I will expand upon below.
A key concern for me is the unelected nature of the APPG, its secretariat (HEAS) and the “secretariat support”. I can only find the APPG minutes on the secretariat support’s personal website, and from reading those minutes I have deduced that she is responsible for the preparation of delegate lists, invites, agendas, supporting/briefing papers and minutes. I tried to communicate directly with this individual, to be told that my questions would not be answered.
My questions regarding the structure of the APPG are below:
How and when was the secretariat and secretariat function proposed, agreed and clarified? By whom? What were the terms of reference?
To whom do I direct my request for a full client list of the secretariat/secretariat support, as per P11 of the HoC Guide to the Rules on All-Party Groups?
How do I arrange for all future delegate lists/agendas, supporting/briefing papers and minutes to be either made publicly available at the time of their production or sent directly to me and any other interested parties?
What is the formal position of the APPG with regard to proposals that are made and taken forward through the APPG without consultation with and representation of the home education community, especially when such proposals have the potential to negatively impact upon all home educating families?
Is there a procedure for challenging/appeal against the decision to incorporate a secretariat and/or “secretariat support” — on the grounds of, say, a lack of neutrality, conflict of interest, or unprofessionalism when dealing with key stakeholders?
With regard to the proposal itself, I outlined my concerns in my blog post “Questions arising from the home education APPG” (hyperlink here). The professionalisation of “home education” will legitimise and validate what is currently an optional role (and rightly so) within local authorities.
A national organisation has the potential to rubber stamp local authorities as “good” (whatever “good” is defined as; surely operating within the law does not require national organisation?) without maintaining adequate oversight of developing problems or bad practice — this happens surprisingly quickly, and even local authorities with “good” reputations continue to make mistakes.
It could well block home educators from tackling local problems at a local level, effectively funnelling all efforts through a monolithic, “official” body. This is the antithesis of localism and it is incredibly disempowering and destructive in the medium to long term (it happened in my own local authority area when “experts” intervened without the consent of many active local home educators). Having seen the detailed and complex level at which home educators have had to operate in “good practice” areas, I fail to see how a national organisation could hope to replicate the levels of application, dedication and diversity needed to turn local authorities round.
The most worrying aspect, for me at least, is the potential this association has to cause significant harm in the hands of a government that has few sympathies with the importance of families and the primacy of the parent with regard to welfare and education. You and I tweeted about Barry Sheerman’s perspective (hyperlink here) a week or two ago, and it is precisely this entrenched attitude towards home education, also seen in many local authority officers, that could turn any professional organisation into a powerful lobbying group against freedom in education after the next general election.
It is true that there is nothing to stop officers organising if they so wish. However, I think it is totally unacceptable to organise and/or additionally resource this through an unelected and unaccountable body in the face of significant opposition from the affected community, and I would like to express my opposition to this in the strongest terms.
My questions regarding your proposal are below:
Have you had discussions about this national organisation prior to proposing it at the end of the last APPG?
When you referred to “home education experts from local authorities” did you mean local authority officers, consultants or individuals from the home education community?
What is your definition of “home education expert”?
What exactly is the purpose of the next APPG? Is it to scope the proposal, or actively take it forward? Has there been or will there be an evidence based impact assessment?
Are there formal mechanisms in place to deal with opposition from key stakeholders?
I am conscious of asking so many questions but I think they are reasonable and pertinent to the current situation, so thank you for your patience. Should you need any clarification regarding any of the points I have raised, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you and sharing any responses.
Lisa Amphlett

Oh, dear! Can anybody spot the difference between this email and my own? Yes, that’s right, mine was a couple of dozen words, containing a single question. Lisa Amphlett’s, on the other hand, is a long, rambling communication, with no fewer than thirteen questions embedded in it.  What do readers think are the chances of anybody ploughing through all that and answering all the  questions? That’s right; practically zero!  So it proved, because here is the answer which she received ten days later:

Dear Lisa
Thank you for your letter of 23 November about the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Home Education.
APPGs are designed to provide an opportunity for Parliamentarians to learn more about a topic, and that is the function served by the Home Education group.
As you may know, I have been engaged in highlighting and challenging inappropriate behaviour by local authority officers regarding home education for some years. This can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. It is my belief, and that of the APPG, that an association of local authority officers dealing with Home Education would make it easier to share best practice, stamp out misunderstanding and ensure fair treatment of home educating families.
Any such association would determine its own priorities but could provide local authority officers with guidance to help them challenge the sometimes unnecessarily defensive approach adopted by some local authorities towards home educating parents.
Yours sincerely,

This all illustrates the  two cardinal rules for such endeavours. First, keep it short and secondly, ask only one simple question at a time.  I have a suspicion that Lisa Amphlett will never receive answers to her questions, whereas I have now the answers to the two most important questions I wished to ask. The third, I shall have in another few days. 

Already, the rage is mounting about this and the conspiracy theorists are gearing up. I fear that the only real mystery is why anybody would think for a moment that such a long winded and prolix communication had the remotest chance of being answered!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Oh, no! Simon Webb is publicising the names of children

I suppose that I have only myself to blame for the latest piece of nonsense to be circulating about me on face book and twitter! When Lisa Amphlett was expressing the desire to speak to me on the telephone or at least exchange emails with me yesterday, I just knew that it would end badly. I said as much to her on the comments here, when I declined politely to do so. She was persuasive though, saying;

my offer of an email, telephone or face to face conversation stands. How can honest communication be anything less than a good idea? 

How indeed? And how could I have been such a mug? Despite refusing to play, she eventually sent me a personal email, trying to draw me into a debate. I could have deleted it, but felt that that would be a bit rude. She was clearly anxious to be in touch with me.  Now the first thing that I noticed was that she had CC’d her email into a third party; a man whose name I did not recognise. Obviously, I checked this person, just in case he was a lawyer or something. A quick google led me to a newspaper article featuring this man, who turned out to be Lisa Amphlett’s partner. In the article, they were very free with their personal details, mentioning their daughter’s name and precise age. I was amused to find that this meant that from 2009 to 2012, Lisa’s daughter had been under the age of five and she had therefore not technically been a home educator at all during those years of activism on behalf of the cause. It will be recalled that much has been made of the fact that Fiona Nicholson is not technically a home educator either, by virtue of her  own son’s age. 

I replied amiably enough to Lisa’s email, checking that I was right about her daughter’s age. I mentioned that I too had been regarded by some as not competent to speak about home education, because my daughter too was not aged between five and sixteen and I was therefore not a home educator. I thought this pleasingly ironic. Let us pause for a moment here and consider what has happened. Lisa has in the past telephoned a newspaper and advertised her daughter’s name and age. She clearly didn’t mind this information being freely available on the internet. She has gone out of her way to get me to exchange emails with her, even though I have told her that I don’t wish to do so. I have teased her about the fact that for three years of her home education activity, she was not officially a home educator at all and we part on what seems to me good terms. Anybody see anything reprehensible in my conduct?

Before we go any further, I should explain that I was pretty sure that this would all end  in unpleasantness, whether I did or did not  respond to Lisa Amphlett’s advances. How could I know this? It is really very simple. Whenever anybody makes a fetish of being honest and truthful, as Lisa did when she talked of, ‘my personal integrity, which I take very seriously’, you can be pretty sure that the individual will turn out to be a tricksy liar! (It’s much the same as her friend Maire Stafford, you see. She of course describes herself in her twitter profile as being mild, shy, timid and sweet; it’s a racing certainty that such a person will prove to be an aggressive bully).

So far, so good. At Lisa Amphlett’s urging, I have been in touch with her and exchanged a few good humoured messages. Imagine my surprise, when I found that as a result of this, people were talking of trying to close down this blog or speculating about calling the police. You gasp? You think it unlikely? Here is a man called Peter Flynn, tweeting last night;

 breach of privacy. Report them to the Blog hosting firm !

if he used the names of my children I'd report him to the police.

So, I am to be reported to the police and also the Blog hosting firm, because Lisa Amphlett wanted a newspaper to report the name and age of her daughter? No, that would be crazy! It must be because I publicised the child’s name by mentioning it to her mother. But wait, surely her own mother would already know her daughter’s name? Very odd.

Here is another of that same crowd:

he is playing a dirty game..using names of children etc. Nasty man.

I won't weary readers with any more examples.  The good thing here is that we are able to see precisely what has happened and follow  these untruthful rumours to their source. This can only be the personal email that I sent Lisa Amphlett. It is good to be able to see in detail how these rumours are started and who is responsible for them. If nothing else, it should act as a warning for others who become embroiled with this particular bunch of home educators. I say home educators, but you have to ask how much time they are actually  able to spare for educating their children! One sees them engaging in all sorts of conspiracies and rumour mongering at all hours of the day and night, but they never seem to discuss education or childcare. They are all of them too obsessed with fighting imaginary hobgoblins. A little more education and a little less fretting about supposed threats to their chosen lifestyle would be my recommendation for some of this particular crew! In the meantime, the take-home message is clear. If somebody claims that her personal integrity is very important to her; be afraid, be very afraid! You will soon find lies and innuendo about yourself being spread across the internet.

The ‘Exiled Educator’; an update

Readers will perhaps recall that there was a little unpleasantness here a couple of weeks ago, following  a casual remark which I made in answer to a comment by Gill Kilner. I said:

I have just remembered, weren't you one of that gang who helped somebody slip out of the country and relocate to Ireland, in order to avoid answering all those awkward questions from social services about leaving her kids alone in the house?

Cue predictable outrage, in the course of which I was accused of everything  from criminal harassment and libel to suffering from a cogitative dissonance! How dare I say that she left her children alone in the house! I knew nothing about it and was smearing an innocent woman! There was renewed hostility when I elaborated by explaining that the  woman’s seventeen year-old son had been left in charge of his younger siblings and that this came to the attention of social services, because he was not a fit person to be left looking after young children. 

This sort of thing is a bit of a distraction from the real business of this blog, but now that the dust has settled a little, I thought that I would set out the facts of the case and allow readers to decide for themselves if I was right.

The mother in question  went off for the evening, leaving her teenage son to take care of the younger children.  While he was babysitting  a prank call was made  to the police from the house. They duly attended the property, whereupon the boy refused to let them in. They then forced entry to the home. At this point, perhaps we could just consider what I said; that the mother left her children alone in the house. Anybody think that this is the sort of thing that having a responsible adult in the house would have prevented from happening?

Having gained entry to the home, the police discovered that not only was there not a responsible adult looking after the children, conditions in the place left somewhat to be desired. There was, for example, animal shit all over the floor. As a result of this, they did the sensible thing and notified social services. The mother had had trouble before with both the police and social services. She was pregnant at the time and was in the habit of smoking cannabis and then more or less boasting about it. There were rumours that the kids might be about to be taken into care and so she left the country for Ireland, where she started a blog briefly, called,  The Exiled Educator. This may be found here:

  She had the baby, returned to this country and now lives in the north of England,  not far from  Nottingham.

I am hoping that some of those who were so unpleasant to me about what I said will now take the opportunity to apologise; beginning with Gill Kilner. I don’t really expect this to happen, but readers might like to look back at the things people said here, when they evidently knew all about this and wanted to pretend that I was making up lies about this case. What a bunch!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The spontaneous acquisition of literacy

The idea has been advanced lately, in the comments on this blog,  that if education were not compulsory and also that if children did not go to school, then they would still learn to read and write.  It is suggested that this would be a natural process, a by-product if you like, of living in a literate society. Mention is made of libraries, travel and the internet as means by which literacy would be acquired more or less automatically; perhaps with a little gentle encouragement from parents. This is all so fantastic, that I hardly know where to begin!

I think that part of the problem here is that some of those who comment on this blog simply don’t know how millions of children in this country live. These well-meaning people are so used to living in and visiting  homes filled with books, newspapers and magazines, environments which are overflowing with print, places where adults read and talk about books; that they cannot imagine the linguistically impoverished  backgrounds of the children living in some parts of the country. Learn to read spontaneously? These children don’t really learn to speak, until they start nursery!

Although I am working currently in a school, for many years I used to do home visiting in various capacities. I can tell readers now that an awful lot of children live in homes where there is literally no printed matter. Until they start school, they never see anybody read anything at all. Their homes are filled with flickering screens of various types; four or five televisions, games consoles, DVD players  and computers. Reading is not part of their lives in any way at all. They hear almost no conversation.  Somebody talked of travel yesterday, as though that were also the sort of thing which would stimulate and encourage literacy. I could introduce readers to  five year-old children in east London who have literally never been more than a mile and a half from their home. Their lives are as restricted as medieval peasants. These are children who have never travelled the few miles to central London, never been on a train, never visited a library. On a school trip with a group of seven year-olds from Hackney, I saw children panicking, because they had never seen an escalator before! They were terrified at this strange metal object which threatened to carry them down under ground and we had to take some of them down the fixed stairs. I am not talking here of a few pathological or atypical cases; this sort of life is common on some of the housing estates that I know.

School is a beacon of hope for these children. It is the only hope that they will ever have for being stimulated, for learning, for discovering anything beyond their immediate existence. These kids find it hard enough to learn to read and write as it is. The notion that they would achieve this without school is utterly grotesque.

This is not to say that it is impossible for children to learn to read without direct instruction. Those who see their parents reading a newspaper every day and become curious as to what is going on, those whose parents point out words regularly, saying things like, ‘This sign  says exit’ and so  on, the ones whose homes are filled with books and other reading matter; these children will be primed to acquire literacy. These are the children whose lives are probably enriched by visits to museums and zoos, those whose parents talk to them all the time and set up activities for them. I don’t personally think this the best way for a child to learn reading and writing, but it certainly happens. There is then a tendency for the parents of such children to say; ’I didn’t teach my child to read and now he is applying for Oxford. That must mean that nobody’s children need to be taught to read.’  This is a grave error and I shall have more to say about it in future posts. We are, incidentally, approaching now the crux of the matter; the main anxiety of local authorities when it comes to home education.