Before i begin, i would like to make 3 things very clear.
1. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a politically active home educator. I home educate for my own reasons and in a general sense tend not to get overheated about political changes that perhaps i should care about more. But there is only so often you can have to fill in the same questions on a consultation, questions that take you away from working with your children, before irritation sets in. I’m not immune to that.
2. Because of the above, i have taken my facts and figures in good faith directly from people who i know to be well informed and much more politically aware than i will ever be. These statistics etc are ones i have absorbed directly from sources collected on the UK Home Educators on Facebook page.
3. I have, until such time as Home Education is effectively made illegal, nothing to lose from even the unpleasant possibility of visits and registration becoming compulsory. We’ve been known to the LEA since Fran was 5 and in that time have submitted 4 written reports and had one highly positive home visit. For us, nothing would change if home visits from LEA Education Officers became mandatory, so long as they continued to stick to the law and within the latest guidance for LEAs, thrashed out at public expense for the second time, in October 2008. It would be even better if they had stuck to the non-statutory guidance that was worked out previously in July 2007 with the co-operation of considerable numbers of home educators.
Here is the the DCSF page for full details. The quote to cause the most outrage has been “However, there are concerns that some children are not receiving the education they need. And in some extreme cases, home education could be used as a cover for abuse.”
Whether or not you think this consultation is a good thing (if you leave aside the fact that we’ve already done it several times!) and there are plenty of people who read this blog who don’t home educate, i think it is a worthwhile exercise to go through that page and on each point, ask if the same could be asked of schools? Do school adequately protect? Do schools adequately educate? Do schooled children avoid being the subjects of abuse at home? When abuse at home is suspected in a schooled child, is it addressed and is the child rescued from it without exception?
I think it is also worth making it very clear that we are talking about several groups of children here:-
*there are schooled children,
*there are home educated children who are known to the LEA through choice of parents, because they have de registered from school and therefore already been known to the LEA or because they have been reported or “found”
*there are home educated children who are NOT known to the LEA
*there are children “missing in education”.
To me, children missing in education suggests they have been lost. This worries me. I’m worried because for the life of me, i don’t understand why a government that collects data on births, deaths, immigration, emigration, who has a school place and who they pay child benefit to can’t contrive to put all that data together and come up with a reasonably accurate list of what children should be in the country and where they are? I’m not sure i actually WANT them to achieve that, because many happily “unfound” HE families would then be found and bothered by them, but i have to say, i do think they ought to be able to achieve it. By the time you add in doctors records, hospital records, health visitors, playgroups and nurseries, Surestart and Social Services the number of children actually completely invisible ought to be relatively small, surely?
Children Missing in Education (ie not in school and not being home educated, either with or without LEA knowledge) are NOT, in my opinion or in the opinion of the law as it stands, the same as children being home educated by interested, caring parents who are exercising their right in law to stay outside the school system. If this distinction was kept clear, i do believe there might be a good deal less anger at this latest consultation from within the HE community.
I think it is also important to make clear that the fight here does not appear to be about whether home education is actually an effective way of providing an education. We tend to get pulled into this argument a lot because it is the easy route to take. From outside, home education seems a strange and unquantifiable thing to many people but while i can provide a link to the BBC Education page with the fair assumption it will provide enough gloom about schools to make you weep, i don’t know of any children who have been HE’d who have failed to learn to read/write/express themselves/contribute meaningfully at their level, nor do i see any evidence at all on the BBC or elsewhere that it doesn’t work. I’m bound to say that if there were some stories that would make good unbiased reading to suggest that HE fails, the government and the tabloids would have found them. The conversations about parents being effective teachers, about exams, effective learning, socialisation and happiness are as old as the hills. We’ve all told our tales a million times.
The allegation we are facing is that home education can be used as a cover for abuse and the agenda appears to be that in order to prove that this is not so, we will have to be inspected, judged and held up for scrutiny. It is my personal understanding that in this country, we live by the democratic premise that we are innocent unless proven guilty. Having to prove i am not a child abuser, despite there being no evidence to say i am, does not feel like the upholding of this democratic principle to me. Is it? Am i guilty unless judged innocent by an Education Welfare Officer, simply because i have chosen to legally educate my child outside the school system?
When a school fails to notice girls suddenly going missing because they have been taken abroad and forced into marriages, when schools fail to notice or act upon families being terrorised by a rapist fathers and when social services fails to remove children who then die at their parents hands, someone launches a polite investigation and some people lose their jobs. But based on some unfounded, unsubstantiated feelings, the Home Education Community may lose their right to freedom of choice and privacy, may even lose their legal right to go unhindered unless there is considerable concern that appropriate education is not being provided -Â but that is just fine because it might “save just one life”.
Let’s remember, this consultation specifically mentions home educated children, not children missing in education.
Let’s be quite clear, the NSPCC said they had no evidence to support this concern.
I had a conversation by IM earlier, with an interested party (not a home educator) who has an impartial foot in both home ed and school camps. This person asked me a series of questions (ones asked as often as the “what about socialisation?” one we are so bored of but much more pertinent!), which i answered and which, with permission, i am transcribing the answers to here with a few additions where it makes sense to add a word or two. I have, at the request of the other person, not used their exact words and have paraphrased instead. Questions in bold, my answers in standard text.
The conversation began with a suggestion my poster was very anti-school and that some children find safe-haven from abuse at home in school.
Absolutely true. That doesn’t mean we should have our rights curtailed. I am not anti-school, i am anti the government suggesting that parents who choose to home ed their children, who enjoy spending time with them, should be assumed to be abusive unless they prove otherwise. Children are not safer, or better educated, purely if they are in school. I was bullied senseless at school and no one stopped it even when they knew, so i am unlikely to feel school is a safe haven. My home is a safe haven for my kids and home is a safe haven for many kids driven to despair in school. If school can’t stop abuse, why should my kids be in school in case i am abusing them?
It is obviously not people like you the government are looking for with their checks and there will be good and bad examples on each side. Are you perhaps being too militant though?
If i thought that lumping 50,000+ extra visits a year on social services would either find the people who want to hide, or save a single life, i would agree. But 60 professional visits didn’t save Baby P and until they put their house in order, i do not believe that spending a 4th lot of money on another consultation, using such prejudiced language is right or fair, especially with no evidence. It is being headed up by the same man as the Baby P investigation, which smacks of a hidden agenda to me.
[Later addition] I object strongly to feeling that an investigation into whether my community is ‘adequately controlled’ may turn into one of those “good day to bury bad news’ scenarios. I’ve got a bad feeling that Mr Badman will conclude his investigation into Baby P with an assertion that the new checks and legislation will stop children from being missing in “the system” (isn’t that word generally intended to be about something that works!?!?!?) and that all children must now be registered with their educational provision verified by LEA checks. I will NOT stand by and let myself become a scapegoat for someone else’s failings.
I say this is a shocking waste of resources that would be better spent actually doing the job of child protection. I say that visiting 50,000+ home educated children a year will place intolerable strain on an overworked department and risk more lives than it could possibly save.
It seems your main problem is with social services, not school. Do you have a poster with statistics about them?
Our main problem is that THEY insist on clouding it by saying home educators need to be assessed in terms of social issues because of our educational choice. Why would that be? Either this is an educational issue or a social care issue. If they don’t trust us, they should say they want to send round a social worker and be done with it. Education inspectors are not social workers and can’t do that job. Their premise is that our children are not as safe as schooled children because they are not in school. What else can we fight back with other than reasons why we don’t believe our children would be safer in school?
The reality is they are suggesting that it is odd to wish to take full responsibility for your child and spend a lot of time with them. In a society complaining of unruly, unparented children breaking down acceptable social behaviour boundaries, that seems odd. It seems odd to me to accuse parents of unwholesome motives for wanting to be with their children when we are biologically programmed to do so. Can you imagine the outcry if we turned the same prejudice and suspicion on people who put their children in full time nursery from 4 weeks old because they really don’t want to spend time with them? But no, of course that won’t happen because it doesn’t suit their economic models. Can you imagine the outcry if 4 consultations in 2 years were directed against a religious or skin colour group?
I’ll end by exhorting interested parties who haven’t already to go and take a look at the Facebook group and the information being collected there? If you’d like direct links to some reading, spend a little time looking at these.
Ahed Press Release from Home Educators.
The consultation itself, a 6 question one which can be answered by home educators and the public at large. For reasons which have not been made clear, this consultation has been reduced from a standard 12 weeks to 4 weeks, a measure thatÂ “allows for shorter consultation periods in exceptional circumstances, such as where Departments need to respond quickly in the best interest of the public”. To me, this seems like the type of measure that should be used for terrorism or say… hmmm… how about a council where children known to be a risk from their parents are left with them and die at their hands and where this happens not once (a tragic disaster) but more than once?
The 60 questions that LEAs and educational persons can answer, many of which seem to make no sense (how about the one effectively asking “How many Home Educated children don’t you know of in your local area?”) and many of which have no legal basis in law.
Many people do not understand why we home educate, nor do they understand how it works. Perhaps that is fair enough. I don’t really understand how chucking 30 children of the same age but widely differing abilities into an entirely unrealistic environment is supposed to aid education or socialisation, but at least i have tried school and been through it myself. I don’t really understand rushing back to work soon after having a baby, but i do understand about financial pressures, i do understand commitment to a job or love of a job and i did grow up in a house where my mum absolutely loved her career. I have an insight.
Many people think that perhaps forcing a visit on HE families and legislating so they are educated in a way deemed “fit” is perhaps a good idea. I say, visit a child who has been devastated by school and is terrified of being made to go back and you’ll understand the pain it will bring, i say talk to the families who have suffered at the hands of LEA inspectors who only believe in one form of education and i say look closely at our educational system and how badly so many children fail. I say talk to a 16 year old (as i have) who has already lost hope because 11 years in school have failed to teach him to read.
I say remember that diversity is what breeds hope and creativity and i say that we should remember that even in these times where everything in the news seems to be negative and barbaric, most people are still good and kind and thoughtful and caring – most people still want to do what is right.
I say look again at every single case the government would use to say that children missing in education are at risk and are justification for curtailing the freedoms of HE, and you’ll find they might not have been at school, but all of them were known to their local social care system.
I say, before you think that regulating and restricting one of the great freedoms to parentÂ and educate decently and as you see fit is a good thing, think of the times in history when smaller, minority groups have been the ones to feel the heat of oppression first. Think carefully, because home educated or in school, we the parent are responsible for making sure the education provided is suitable to age, aptitude and ability. We are already a society who can send a parent to jail because their child, perhaps a bored or bullied child, persistently truants; if you send your child to a school that fails to provide a suitable education, in actual fact it is your responsibility, not the schools. How far could that be taken? Think carefully because you might believe you would rather die than home educate, but you never know what is around the corner and the unthinkable can become reality very suddenly.
Before you decide not to answer the consultation as a person who believes in realistic freedom because it does not concern you, ask what might be next, when they finally pin HEers down where they want them. Because, in the words of the great, if you tolerate this, your children will be next.
With thanks to Gill for checking my logic and facts were straight!