Tuesday, 30 September 2008

No faith

These days I seem to spend a lot of time, IRL and online, with people who have a variety of religious and/or spiritual beliefs. I often wonder why I have no beliefs along these lines and others do. Then I wonder how it can be that so many people get so much from these beliefs and yet I feel no lack.

I often wonder if some of the framework of morality and ethics that a religious upbringing provides, I got from the atheist, politically aware family that I was raised in. We didn’t have faith but we did have beliefs and these, I think, are why I felt so secure in knowing right from wrong, in my childhood. I was certainly brought up to think that we all have duties towards each other – as well as rights. This is one of the things that irritates me when people blame the ‘breakdown of society’ on the decline of religious observance. There was an article along those lines in our local paper today. I object to the notion that my children will be inherently 'worse' than children raised with faith.

But, for many of my friends, their beliefs are about way more than a code of conduct. They feel immense comfort in the notion of a divine or cosmic being or essence that is watching over them. I’ve never felt that to be anything other than a creepy notion. I certainly do have moments of despair about the self-destructive impulses of my species but I feel comforted by the thought of the vast universe. We are just one little rock. It is sad that we can cause ourselves, each other and other creatures such pain. It is rather shameful that we appear intent on destroying our planet. But the planet will adapt and something else will happen.

My personal fate is of little importance. I find death a rather comforting thought. I am a little creature that lives for a very short time and then I’m gone. Everlasting life sounds exhausting to me! I’m not after heaven or salvation. Let me be gone when I’ve had my time. I find it re-assuring that just as there is a limit to the pleasure any human can experience, so there is to the pain – for me and for everyone else. I miss people that I have lost but they are dead. I have a human brain, which means I have a bank of memories and the people I have loved are in my mind. Over generations they will be forgotten and that’s ok too.

Maybe I’m shallow. Maybe the fact that a beautiful sunset or a flawless beach are just that to me, shows that I’m lacking something. But they are just that and they can still move me to tears. They don’t move me to tears as evidence of divine creation or cosmic energy but as the place I’m lucky enough to call home. I’m an animal with the capacity to appreciate beauty. How cool is that? (as my dd would say...)

My lack of spiritual beliefs means that I do believe that there are people entirely alone, suffering. It is a harsh world, in many ways. But there are also many, many examples of what a Christian friend of mine would call fellowship. I’m frequently amazed by people’s goodwill towards each other and their capacity for empathy when others are going through a hard time.

I do understand the offence caused by people who condemn religion – even if I have my moments of nodding along with them sometimes. There is nothing to be gained from ranting at people about all the things you find offensive, or plain ridiculous, about their beliefs. It’s not like anyone is going to suddenly throw up their hands and say, “hey, you’re right, it’s a silly idea.” It’s arrogant and unpleasant to listen to. Mind you, I say the same about people who want to accost me in the street, or on my doorstep, to let me know I’m doomed to everlasting hell unless I agree with them. Oh yeah, and most of them would like me to live a celibate life and renounce the love of my life too.

I sometimes have to cough down a comment or two when I fear that people I care about are damaging themselves through adherence to a spiritual or religious belief I don’t share. But I remind myself that they are probably doing the same thing when watching me go my merry way. In the end, I believe in freedom more than ‘being right’ – way more.

One of the things that age has changed in me is the fact that I now have far more faith in human capacity to get things wrong than I ever did when I was a young woman. I wanted to find a formula that could be applied to ensure a better world and for me that was a political quest. Now I believe that one of the few things we can rely on is that whatever we do, there will be unintended consequences. This has killed the revolutionary in me (she was always rather tentative anyway!) and made me feel that the best change is done in small steps with plenty of opportunity to rectify the messes that you will, inevitably, make along the way. But that’s all dependent on there being a will in the first place and that demands the recognition that we will be best served by caring for each other and the world around us – rather than seeking to win the race or get the biggest heap of gold. But, just as I no longer believe in a political formula for a better world, so I don’t believe in a religious one. Because I don’t believe in God/spiritual forces I think that religions are human constructions and so they will be full of error. Unintended consequences abound! If we start with an idea that the first thing that must happen is that everyone adopt the exact same belief system we’re off on the merry path to witch burning and stoning. I don’t want to go there.

I don’t anticipate a death-bed conversion to any religion. But I never say never. That’s something else that I think I’ve learned over the last twenty years or so. We are changing creatures and people do the most surprising things. But I think that spending a childhood with no God, no religion, makes it more likely I’ll live and die that way. People who are raised with faith often do tend to miss it if they go without later on, I’ve observed. We’ll see.

This evening we’ve all been talking about religion. I was trying to explain that Jesus is both God and the Son of God. Pearlie raised an eyebrow and said, “that must have been a complicated family tree.”

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Migraine

Yesterday I woke with a migraine. It is always bad when I wake with one. I had a cluster of triggers the day before – hormonal, got too hungry between meals, didn’t drink enough – and I’m also wondering if the twister wasn’t the last straw...

Dani went off to work and I got up slowly and tried to function. I sat with P, who was doing some maths, but I was more a grim, occasionally groaning presence than any help. Leo was writing in his spell book and watching Merlin clips on i-player. I told the kids I was going to lie down and I did but it really isn’t possible to shake a migraine unless I sleep deeply. I can do that thing of holding myself in light sleep (I think I learned it when they were babies) but the pain just goes on. I phoned D and asked her to come in at lunchtime (bringing bread for kids’ lunches) and she agreed. When she saw how grim I was she arranged to work from home for the afternoon. Then I felt I could really sleep. I know the kids are really fine these days if I do crash out but I just can’t relax properly if it’s daytime and I’m the only adult in the house.

After a sleep I was no longer feeling like I was about to throw up or cry, so I lay on the sofa for the rest of the day. I’m so lucky that D appreciates how incapacitated I am by migraine. It’s also lucky that technology can help with working at home.

Right, D and P are off at a wedding and I’ve things to arrange for Leo before I can go to work. The weather here is amazing - far better than it was for most of the summer. I’ve got to work today and tomorrow – ho hum.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Twister

We went to the fair this evening. Now, when I was a child and a teen I could go on the twister and come running off feeling excited and energised. I took the kids on the twister tonight and could barely stagger off the ride! I still enjoyed it but my head seemed to take several minutes to re-adjust. It was the children’s first time on a more scary, grown up ride. They usually want to stick with the giant inflatable slides and flying chairs. They loved it and have decided they will definitely go on it next time the fair comes down.

Leo took a lot of cleaning at bedtime as he appeared to have varnished himself with a thin layer of toffee apple. Pearlie had a luminous pink tongue from consumption of candy floss. There is something magic about taking them to the fair. I can still remember the gut leaping thrill of seeing the fair arriving in town, back when I was Leo’s age.

Yesterday, while I was at work, Dani and the kids went to London to see a show. This was thanks to some free tickets that another home edder was offering on one of the national lists. It was Joseph and his Amazing so on, starring one of the runners up from the BBC Saturday evening show. As it turned out, he wasn’t actually in it but they said the show was excellent. Leo woke me this morning singing - Aaah, Aaah, Aah! - like a member of the chorus. Many thanks are due to the home edder who supplied the tickets.

Hoping

I've been keeping up with some goings on in California - via Lesbian Dad. I have also recently got back in touch with a great friend from my student days, who lives out there and has just married her beloved. I hope for her, and the many others like her, that the proposition is defeated. It would re-write the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

It is clear from just a bit of reading that this is a hugely emotional matter for many people - and some of what I've read (and watched) has had me in tears. This surprised me a bit as getting married has always seemed like a rather odd thing to me and I've never felt in the least deprived - on a personal level. I wouldn't do it if I could and the whole civil partnership thingy doesn't appeal. But this touches me because it is about whether or not people are prepared to afford the same respect to same-sex unions as they do to heterosexual ones. It is making people say what they really feel and (because it is directly about the very heart of the experience of being lesbian or gay) it chips off some of the shell that I suspect many lesbian and gay people (and our friends and families) have around us.

Back when I was young it was the era of the Tories and Section 28. I found a thriving lesbian and gay community here and it was, in many ways, a good time to come out. But part of what I learned was to glory in my life's experiences in spite of what the world might say. I learned to find support where it was offered and shut out the rest. And there was, of course, a lot of sh*t. I was very lucky compared to many other people and I often stop to reflect on my good fortune at being born in this place and time and into a birth family of such warmth and love. But it would be a lie to say that the negativity never got to me. I knew I wanted a partner and children and I knew that there were plenty of people who did then, and still do now, deem that 'wrong'. None of us can live our day to day life dwelling on the fact that the most precious part of our existence is thought sick, dirty or even just 'lesser' by some others. I know it is so but I try not to think about it. It's corrosive to peace of mind and does no good.

But, when something like this Prop 8 thing happens in a community, it breaks the shell a bit. This is because people have allowed themselves hope and joy. They have been seen beaming and crying and glorying in their love. To have this experience taken away, written off or downgraded, would be a boot to that exposed heart. I hope they don't have to bear that.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

It’s raining and our son is off at home ed group wearing a dressing up cloak with a fur fabric trim. For those in the know, it is Westphalian Trim.

P and I had plans for this morning but, thanks to the library service prize of a free DVD loan for completing the summer reading scheme, I’m doing my best to tune out Totally Spies! It is probably my least favourite programme. The high pitched American teeny voices make me want to scream. OK, got headphones on now – that’s better! It has to be watched now because it’ll be overdue again tomorrow.

We had a nice trip to see D’s parents at the weekend. D’s dad had set up his moth lamp and we all had a look at some of the moths who’d been attracted during the night. Then the kids made friends with the frogs in the pond. We had a yummy lunch and came away with a DVD player that they didn’t need, which is great because P could do with one in her room. If we’d got it set up now then I wouldn’t be having to endure Totally Spies!





It was my birthday recently and I got lots of nice things – thanks to all. Dani got me some old Miss Marple videos (1980s, Joan Hickson ,BBC ones) which I’d been coveting. They’d been in the second-hand shop since March and when they finally disappeared I thought, “well, they’ve gone now...” in a gloomy way. I was thrilled when I opened this big parcel and they spilled out all over the bed. She got me thirteen tapes for £20, which is a real bargain and I’m enjoying watching them.

I’m still on a Patrick Gale kick and have an Ali Smith and book of Vanessa Gebbie’s short stories lined up too. My mum got me a book of Jackie Kay’s poetry that I’ve been wanting. I’m reading a lot at the moment and writing a lot too. It feels very good. Making the time isn’t easy but I am determined. I also got myself lots of nice bath and hair stuff with birthday vouchers – and as presents – so I’m preparing for the winter with cocoa butter and lip creams, and so on. It’s been years since I have had much of that sort of stuff. It’s lovely to feel so pampered. Reading in the bath is one of my all time favourite activities.

Dani and I went out for the evening in honour of my birthday. We saw Clare Teal and her voice is even more impressive live. She was very witty and down-to-earth too. We had a drink or two and wandered home – a good night.

The rest of life is feeling rather overly busy and complicated. A slight mix-up over venue booking has thrown one of the home ed group things into a certain amount of chaos. I’m sure everything will settle down but we have a few things that are still not started and, until we’re living the complete routine, it’s hard to know how it will work.

P and I have just had a lovely surprise. My dad turns seventy in a week or two and he has decided that, instead of being given present, he is treating everyone else in the family. So, some little brown envelopes have just appeared through the door – one for each of us. He enclosed a note with the wise observation,
“You don’t have to last for seventy years to realise that a lot of little treats (even very little ones) is better than one big one.”
I agree, wholeheartedly!

Friday, 19 September 2008

A day in the life of the Greenhouse family

I have been interested to read some ‘days in the life of’ blog posts at people’s blogs recently. It is so interesting, the way the internet can introduce us to people we’d never meet in our day to day lives. I’m sure it’s a good thing.

One of the reasons we moved to this blog was because I don’t feel comfortable talking in detail about what the children are doing. So, let’s see if I can give you a rough idea of our days that doesn’t break my own rule ;-)

The most notable feature in the way we live our family life is probably the fact that it is rather structured for people who purport to be autonomous home educators! This is because the children have a lot of commitments. It is also because both D and I work outside the home so we have to make sure that we can get to work and be at work without it interfering with the children’s things. We have timetables on the big noticeboard in our kitchen. This is useful in reminding us where we’re meant to be – and when – but is also so that we don’t add in impossible things.

Because we have these timetables, each day of the week has a distinct character. Fridays are pretty laid back, for example, whereas Mondays involve a lot of coming and going – as do Thursdays. If something swaps from one day to another then we’re often in total chaos.

So, on one of the days of the week, this might happen...

Dani gets up and heads off to work at about 8.40am. Sometimes both children are awake by then, but often L is still asleep. If he is, he usually wakes when she opens the door.

I will shower and dress and be offering breakfasts or making packed lunches, by nine. Children appear when they want and either make their own food or ask me to do it. I pay attention to what is eaten because I know it will influence ability to cope with whatever the day may throw at us! Leo copes better with a substantial whack of protein in the morning so he might have egg or vege sausage. If someone doesn’t have much breakfast, and they’ll be out for lunch, then I add more to their pack and remind them to raid it mid-morning.

P might head off to a local home ed group, leaving me and L with a couple of hours at home. I will take my cue from him and we’ll either do things together or separately. I’ll be trying to fit in things like getting washing on the line and washing up dishes. We might read our books side by side or he might be on the computer or pottering about. We might work together on his maths book or write stories. He might have a creation on the go and spend time in the re-cycling collecting materials. There’s always some drawing and sometimes things like fimo or watercolour painting. I’ll give him a hand with his keyboard practice if he wants me to – acting as music stand and occasional metronome! We talk and also enjoy silent time. The tv isn’t really on in the mornings here. In years gone by we used to watch schools tv but this isn’t very popular now.

It is equally possible that L might head off to a group and P and I will be at home. We have some scheduled slots for things she’s decided to concentrate on at the moment – but these are, of course, changeable if we feel like it. We also play cards or other games and chat and drink tea.

P might re-appear, or she might have something else to get to. I suppose I can tell you the bare bones of what these things might be! Maybe it’ll be art, or French with my mum or a sewing workshop. Soon it’ll be a self-managed learning group. She will be in touch with us throughout the day if she’s not with us.

D and I may ‘change mummies’ at lunchtime. If it’s what we call ‘tight changeover’ then I will be ready for work and on the doorstep as she comes along the road. We will exchange a few words. If we need to say more then I’ll be on the phone to her as I walk to the bus stop.

I find my journeys to work a very restful time. I will listen to music or have a read through of a story I’ve written and do some editing. Sometimes I listen to other people’s conversations. At work I do worky things until 7pm during vacations or 8pm during the term, when I head home.

The afternoon at home might involve a group activity for someone, or a visit to the grandmothers’, or time together. If Dani has time alone with L she’ll do some stuff with him – often his chemistry set or another messy experiment type thing. She’s very good at helping with materials and so on. If she and P are alone they’ll often do something outdoorsy – a bike ride or trip to town for something. When she has both of them for an afternoon – and there’s no groups or other social stuff – she often takes them to the swimming pool and/or library.

Whoever is around, later afternoons tend to involve some tv watching and/or quiet time for people. If the sun is shining, the kids may play in the street for a while – chalking on the pavements or dangling hulk from the upstairs window and swinging him about... If we’ve ended up in the park with other home edders (which happens most weeks) then we might be there until quite late.

We eat together when we can. When I’m at work until eight then the other three will usually have eaten before I get in. Evenings are actually rather lovely now. If no-one is going out – I go to writing, Dani to knitting and P to a bookgroup and Woodcraft– we’ll usually be together in the living room. Saturdays often seem to involve a roast dinner. We have some favourite family programmes – lots of comedy, Doctor Who (of course) other dramas and some factual stuff. We also watch stuff like X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. At the moment we all like to watch Who Do You Think You Are?

Kids usually go to bed at 9.30pm and have half an hour of the book they’re currently sharing with a parent. After ten they are in their rooms until morning – reading or sleeping. D and I will talk, watch programmes on tv or computer, plan things we need to plan, do banking and so on. There might be some fundraising or other admin for a home ed group. There’s cups of tea in the evening too. We often go to sleep way too late – way after midnight. Sometimes I fall asleep under a woollen blanket on the sofa and D wakes me to go to bed.

That could be any weekday. Some weekdays the kids are with me all day because D’s doing 9 to 5 at work. Weekends are a bit different because the kids don’t have any groups at weekends. I work a lot of weekends, which means D and the kids are usually together and they often see cousins.

We do a lot of groupy stuff but it is important to the way we home ed. I’m happy that the children have autonomy in their learning but, for me, it is necessary that they are offered lots of interesting opportunities. I also think that being able to get along with other people is probably the most vital life skill there is. That doesn’t mean you have to live in a social whirl – I often crave time at home – but no-one lives in a complete social vacuum.

We often have days that are a break with every routine. Today, P went on a five mile nature walk with other older HE kids – led by rangers from a nature reserve. One day soon we’re going on a biggish home ed trip to a planetarium. When groups aren’t happening much (over the summer) we do quite a few days out.

I rarely get a whole day at home. I would do that more if I could but it’s impossible at the moment. We are very lucky that we’re generally a healthy bunch (migraines aside) and so we can stand the pace. The children get time at home – but mostly in chunks here and there. It amazes me how much they get done when they’re here! Mess making, especially...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Stuff

Well, it’s very odd having a blog where I’m not blogging the children’s comings and goings. It makes me realise how much of that we do! Not that I’m complaining because it suits us just fine – but, still, is there much else to say?

Yes, there is, because we parents also have lives! Honest, we do... Yesterday I went to my writing group. I spent a fab two or three hours round a kitchen table, drinking wine and reading and talking and gasping and laughing and all that. There is something so inspiring and refreshing in meeting up for a limited time to focus just on that one thing –our writing. I’ve been introduced to these people through my friend, E. They are not a group of people I’d have met in my day to day life, so it’s interesting to find myself sharing this thing with them. This thing that I love.

Dani made some fingerless gloves for L’s latest incarnation – Barnaby Grimes. She’s now working on some of those fingerless gloves with a flap, for P.

We are also planning a short local history course, which we’re going to offer to one of the home ed groups that P is going to. Neither of us has ever offered anything like that to anyone before – but we’re quite excited to be doing it. I have to confess to browsing at work and borrowing things like 100 ideas for teaching history. The course is going to be four sessions based around a rather bizarre bit of our local history.

I threw L by going to work this morning for a staff forum. He is used to waking up when he hears Dani opening the front door to leave and rushing, bleary eyed, down the stairs to kiss her goodbye. This morning it was me standing there! P is nearly always up before other people. She has never needed much sleep and that doesn’t seem to be changing.

I have decided to keep blogging books. Dani and L are currently reading Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth, which they are enjoying. P and I are reading Fly by Night. This is good but fairly heavy going. We have to re-cap from time to time because, as P said, there’s so many similes! The other night I made the awful discovery that it doesn’t belong to us! So, P, M and J, if you’re reading – we’ll pop it in the post as soon as we’ve finished. I’m mortified as I don’t like it when people don’t return my books... I’m still into Patrick Gale and Dani is reading a book about the South Downs.

Oh, and one little moment with children... I came home from work the other night to find hideous bloody werewolf footprints on the pavement. Dani had helped to find a fake blood recipe on the internet and sacrificed the end of a tin of golden syrup – very realistic!

Monday, 15 September 2008

First draft of response to CME Guidance Consultation

Update 18/9/08: I sent it in, with a couple of very minor amendments, and got an acknowledgement with Response Identifier no. 23. Deadline is October 24th, so plenty of time still to get yours in!

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Whew! I finally got to the end of the questions. Don't feel you have to read all this if you don't want to, but if anyone does have the stamina to plough through it all I would appreciate any comments. I'll probably leave this up here to look at all in one piece for a few days before sending it in, so if there are glaring errors here it's not too late to correct them.

For those who have no idea what this is about, have a look at EO's campaign page on it, and if you are thinking of composing your own response, you might want to check out Carlotta's response too.

Respondent Information Questions

Please tick the box that best describes you as a respondent

 Not Checked Local Authority

 Not Checked School/College

 Not Checked Central Government Department

 Not Checked Youth Justice Service

 Not Checked Health/PCT/SHA

 Not Checked Social Services

 Not Checked Police

Checked Parent/Carer

 Not Checked Voluntary/Community Sector

 Not Checked Connexions

 Not Checked Children's Trust

 Not Checked Other

Consultation Questions

1 Based on your experience of local authorities implementing this duty since it was introduced in 2007, does the guidance make clear the actions which local authorities are expected to take to help them comply with the duty?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

The draft guidance is confusing and in my opinion makes it less clear to local authorities how they should comply with the duty in s436A of the Education Act 1996.

My experience, as a member of the home education community in Brighton & Hove, is that our local authority's attempt to implement this duty so far has already resulted in unwarranted intrusions into the private lives of home educating families.

For example, one local family received officious letters and telephone calls from the Education Welfare Service after their home educated son had been involved in a serious accident requiring hospital treatment. At this worrying and stressful time for the family, this was the last thing they needed. The child in question was already known to be home educated by the Local Authority's EOTAS team, and the parents made it clear to hospital staff that he was home educated. There was therefore no question that he was 'missing education' and there was no need for this follow up work to be done.

Another family had the distressing experience of an Education Welfare Officer arriving unannounced on the doorstep, and asking inappropriate questions of the 14 year old child who answered the door. He was left with the impression that his younger brother was in hospital, even though the hospital admission being followed up had taken place some years previously. As this family was in fact home educating perfectly legally, there was no need for this heavy handed and incompetent approach. A polite letter would have been sufficient.

Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to engage the local authority in dialogue about how to implement the duty in such a way that home educators are treated with respect and not automatically suspected. The local authority's internal strategy document on Children Missing Education includes prejudiced statements about home education, and the procedural flowcharts within it do not provide for the perfectly legal outcome that a child is found to be home educated and no action is required.

The draft guidance as it stands would intensify all these problems and make the lives of law abiding home educators more difficult. It would make the process of meaningful dialogue between home educators and the local authority much more difficult, directly contradicting the stated aim of the Elective Home Education Guidelines issued in November 2007.

2 Does the guidance make clear the role that implementation of this duty has in the wider programme of work led by local authorities to improve outcomes for children and young people, including promoting their safety and well-being?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I found the entire document to be extremely unclear, with many confusing statements about the relationships between education and other aspects of children's lives.

For example, paragraph 1.1.4 begins "Children not receiving a suitable education are clearly at risk of a range of negative outcomes that could have long term damaging consequences for their life chances."

After discussing qualifications, this paragraph then goes on: "They are also are more likely to be vulnerable in one way or another. They may be from disadvantaged families, (experiencing multiple risks such as poverty, substance misuse, mental ill-health and poor housing), travelling communities, immigrant families, be unaccompanied asylum seeking or trafficked children, or be at risk of neglect or abuse or disengaged from education."

This sentence is so poorly constructed that it is not at all clear what it means. Are the disadvantages of poverty and poor housing being presented here as causes of a lack of education, or consequences of it? Is being from a travelling community or an immigrant family to be viewed as inherently 'vulnerable'? I think it is offensive to lump together all members of these minority communities with those who would traffic, neglect or abuse children.

Many young people are 'disengaged' from the current education system, because it fails to meet their individual needs and because they know they are not safe from bullying in the school environment. This is not necessarily an indicator of increased risk outside of that environment.

3 Does the guidance accurately describe the range of circumstances that put children's safety at risk and puts them at risk of not receiving a suitable education?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I think it is extremely unhelpful to conflate these two issues. The draft guidance repeatedly elides 'at risk of not receiving a suitable education' (already a highly subjective phrase) into 'at risk of not achieving the 5 Every Child Matters outcomes' or simply 'at risk' or 'vulnerable'.

Defining a wide range of circumstances as indicators of 'vulnerability' or 'risk' leads to the danger that all unorthodox choices will be viewed as suspicious or dangerous. Diversity in parenting and educational approaches is useful and valuable for society, and I do not agree with an approach that seeks to marginalise and stigmatise alternatives as this draft guidance does.

The five outcomes are not a test which children and parents will pass or fail. They are all open to wide ranging interpretation, and are only useful as a framework to support the development of services for families, not as a means of assessing parents.

In particular, I object to all home educators being subjected to additional investigations because of home education being mentioned as part of this list of people "more at risk of not receiving a suitable education" (para 3.3).

The mention of home education in this list is nonsensical. It says that "children whose parents withdraw them from school in order to home educate them but then fail to provide a suitable education;" are "more at risk of not receiving suitable education". Surely if it is already known that parents are not providing a suitable education, then these children are by definition not receiving a suitable education, not just at risk of this.

It seems likely to me that local authorities will interpret the inclusion of this point in the list as a green light to undertake an assessment of the education being provided by all home educating parents, and to view all home educated children as "more at risk of not receiving a suitable education".

As a member of a thriving home education community, filled with parents who are dedicated to providing their children with a rich, individually tailored education, I find this idea ludicrously offensive.

The whole concept of a list of groups who are "more at risk of not receiving a suitable education" is misguided. It is likely to lead to the exercise of prejudices, rather than sensitive support for individual children.

4 Does the guidance show effectively what steps local authorities should take when children are living in difficult circumstances that put them at more risk of not receiving a suitable education?

Answer/Comments

No. The draft guidance hops about from one area to another with no coherent structure. Having included home educated children in the list of those living in "difficult circumstances" it makes no reference to how local authorities should treat home educating families in the subsequent section of the document. This will lead to local authority officers applying their own (often inexperienced and ignorant) judgment as to whether home education should be considered 'suitable'.

According to the November 2007 guidelines on Elective Home Education, Local Authorities should have a senior officer who is trained to understand and respect the wide diversity of educational philosophies applied by home educating families, and who is well versed in the law in this area. Officers dealing with Children Missing Education should be advised to pass on to that officer contact details of families not previously known to be home educating. CME policy does not need to include any procedure for assessing the suitability of home education provision - it should just be about identifying the place of education for each child.

5 What are the key challenges local authorities could face to implementing these guidelines effectively?

Answer/Comments

The relationship between Section 436A and Section 437 of the 1996 Education Act is not self-evident and needs to be explained clearly in guidance.

As this draft stands, it leaves Local Authorities without a clear understanding of this difficult relationship. This will lead to serious confusion and the risk of possible legal challenges if local authorities misinterpret their duties and overstep their legal powers.

Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act sets out a clear equivalence in law between education provided at school and otherwise. Since education otherwise than at school is provided by a small minority of parents and is therefore not widely understood, there is a danger that members of the public, teachers, health service staff, social workers and other local authority officers may mistake children who are being lawfully educated otherwise for children who are missing education, simply because the children are not at school. An important function of this guidance, therefore, is to safeguard the freedom of parents to choose the legal option of home education as a means of fulfilling their duty under Section 7.

Section 437 already gives local authorities powers to take action if a child does not appear to be receiving a suitable education. These powers apply whether or not the child is registered at a school.

Section 436A does not give additional powers to local authorities to assess the suitability of education being provided to children, either at school or by their parents. It is simply about identifying those children whose parents are not undertaking to provide an education at all.

Because of the danger of mistaken identity mentioned above, this process needs to be undertaken sensitively and with regard to the right to privacy of families who may well be perfectly lawfully home educating.

I think the guidance should emphasise that all enquiries of parents where it is not known whether a child is receiving an education otherwise than at school should be made politely, and on the basis of a presumption of innocence.

The current draft falls far short of this kind of clarity, and could lead to distressing and unnecessary problems both for local authorities and for home educated children.

6 Does the guidance make clear the duties and powers that local authorities have in relation to home educated children when parents are not providing them with a suitable education?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

The draft guidance contradicts the guidelines on Elective Home Education issued by the DCSF in November 2007.

Paragraph 1.2.7 of the draft guidance states that "Local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to enable them to establish whether a child who is being educated at home (under section 7 of the Education Act 1997) is not receiving suitable education."

This appears to be an amalgamation of the duty to identify children missing education (s. 436A) and the duty to take action if it appears that a child is not receiving a suitable education (s. 437).

As such it is confusing and misleading. It will give local authorities the impression that they are required to assess the education being provided by all home educating parents.

As is made clear in the Elective Home Education Guidelines, there is no duty or power for local authorities to routinely monitor home educators. If it is not the intention of this guidance to introduce such a duty by the back door, then the references to home education need to be substantially redrafted.

The paragraphs that need to be changed are:

2.2, which suggests that local authorities should include "Date it was considered that home education provision was not suitable" as a data field in their database. This will have the effect of encouraging local authorities to believe that they have a duty to assess the education being provided by all home educating parents.

3.3, as mentioned above. There is no need to include home educators in this list, if the list is to be retained

5.1, which also encourages local authorities to assess the provision made by all home educating families.

6.17. If a child is receiving a suitable education at home, that child is not the target of this duty. This is not dependent on the local authority making an assessment and being satisfied that the education is suitable. Just as local authorities are not required to investigate the suitability of the education being received by children who are registered at school, there is no need for them to routinely assess the education received by children at home. This paragraph also states that local authorities have the power to issue a school attendance order if it appears that a parent is not providing a suitable education. This is not accurate; authorities must first issue a notice requiring the parents to satisfy them that the child is receiving a suitable education. Only if the parents do not respond to this notice with satisfactory information may the authority issue a school attendance order.

6.27, which again includes home educated children (with the meaningless caveat about the local authority not considering the education provided to be suitable) in a list of "vulnerable" groups. This leads directly (para 6.8) to an increased likelihood of home educators being visited out of the blue when they have recently arrived in an area, especially if their previous LA had difficulty understanding or accepting their educational philosophy. This kind of intervention is disturbing for children and damaging to parents' provision of a suitable education; it is not harmless when inappropriately undertaken, and should not be encouraged without good reason.

6.31, which has been badly drafted, so that it doesn't make sense.

7 Does the guidance contain all the 'signposts' to other relevant guidance; sources of support and advice for local authorities that will enable them to implement this duty effectively?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

As mentioned previously, the draft guidance refers to the DCSF guidelines on Elective Home Education, but effectively contradicts those guidelines by implying that local authorities have a duty to assess all home educators.

Given this approach of the draft guidance, it is especially unfortunate that there is no discussion of the legal definition of the term "suitable" in this context. While it is mentioned that "suitable education" means efficient, full time education suitable to the chid's age, aptitude and ability and any special needs the child may have, this is not prominent enough and there is no discussion of the case law definitions of "efficient" and "suitable" as there is in the EHE guidelines.

Local authorities should be encouraged (as they are in the EHE guidelines) to work with home education support organisations. Developing respectful relationships with the home education community is the most effective way to ensure that home educating families feel safe to use state services if they need to.

There is not enough information about Data Protection legislation and the question
of consent for data to be shared.

8 Beyond the publication of the guidance, what would be the most effective means of communicating the importance of implementing the new duty, and the processes that will help its implementation, to professionals working with children?

Answer/Comments

As advised by the 2007 EHE guidelines, local authority officers should undertake training to ensure that they understand and respect the wide diversity of educational approaches used by home educating families.

Publication of the draft guidance as it stands would have a negative effect on the appropriate implementation of the duty by local authorities. The existing 2007 guidance on CME should be allowed to remain in force and given a chance to be fully understood and incorporated into local policies.

9 Have you any details of good practice that would be useful to include in the final version of the 'guidance'?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked No Response

10 Did you find the draft guidance clear, unambiguous and easy to follow?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I found the guidance to be muddled, highly ambiguous, and incoherent.

11 a) We have developed standard data definitions at Appendix 1 of the guidance. These were developed in consultation with several local authorities. Do you agree with these definitions?

 Not Checked Agree

Checked Disagree

 Not Checked Not sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I do not agree with the definition of children who are not receiving a suitable education. It is perfectly possible for a child not to be receiving an education suitable to his/her age, aptitude and ability while on the roll of a school. Given that education at school and otherwise are legally equivalent, there is no reason for this definition to include a specific statement about the education being provided at home not being "suitable" when this is not included for education being provided at school.

I also don't agree with the proposed 'subsets', as it seems to me that these could be understood to include children who are in fact lawfully educated at home. Children who are never registered at school or whose parents choose to home educate them at a point of transition between one school and another are not necessarily missing education, nor are they necessarily 'refusing' to attend school or accept a school place.

I think the references throughout the document, and in these data definitions, to "Elective home education that is unsuitable in accordance with Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act;" are confusing and unhelpful. Either somebody is being educated in accordance with Section 7 or they are not. Whether or not they are registered at a school is irrelevant.

11 b) If not, what amendments would you suggest and why?

Answer/Comments

I think the first definition should say " "A compulsory school-age child who is not receiving efficient full-time education suitable—

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

Friday, 12 September 2008

When the sun shines

I feel we really have to grab it. We spent a lovely hour in the park this morning. L is being Barnaby Grimes at the moment and he was having a good time chasing squirrels and so on – in full costume minus the topper, which we can’t afford. Pearlie was whizzing down the slope on the skateboard – working in tricks like high fiving Leo and picking up things off the ground as she passed. It made me very grateful to be home edding.

It struck me that the recent piece in the Independent was very sad, for several reasons. The fact of children kept locked up in institutions, in this country, while my children are free to play in the sunshine, is sickening enough on its own. The awful tragedy of children withdrawn from school and kept in starving isolation –in a street of terraced houses not unlike our own – is another bitter indication of the place and times in which we live. And the leap from these awful things to the journalist’s view that only regular local authority checks can ensure the safety and education of my own children, is depressing. These are, presumably, the same local authorities that he calls to account for abandoning permanently excluded children to wander the streets. This is what Johann Hari had to say,
“The law here needs to be altered so local authorities regularly interview home-schooled kids.”

Why? Are we to believe that this would keep children safe and ensure that they thrive? Another news story this week indicates that state ‘checking’ can be a woefully inadequate way of dealing with the plight of children being abused. If a consultant paediatrician can fail to notice grave injuries, including a broken back, in a toddler known to be at risk of abuse, what else can go unnoticed? I don’t have any easy answers. But I don’t see how pouring money into mass monitoring exercise would be anything other than a waste of resources that could be used where they are really needed – in saving children.

I realised when reading the article that it is likely that I would agree with Johann Hari on many things. I do believe that many children in this country are abandoned, in one way or another. I don’t have a rosy notion that family life always means love and care. Adults, including parents, fail to care for children – hurt them, abuse them, neglect them and sometimes kill them. But I am appalled (like Johann Hari) at the way children are failed by the state too. So, why does he think this state is to be relied on to ensure the safety of yet more children? It does a pretty lousy job looking out for those who are relying on it for a start in life. People in prison are thirteen times more likely than those in the general population to have been in local authority care as a child. State intervention often doesn’t (in spite of the best intentions of those who work in social services) result in an improvement in a child’s well-being, especially in the long term.

Sometimes children will be saved by state intervention. Sometimes families need access to professional services for therapy of all sorts, which the state provides. These are the realities of the world we live in and I don’t deny them. I’m glad those services exist. But, do I think the state should waste my money and the time of over-stretched social workers or education welfare staff on routinely interviewing my children? No. My kids have had a busy day today. At the moment they are running a stall on the doorstep. They’re selling old toys and cheese straws that they made together. They’re fine. You can believe that because I love them. I would never knowingly fail them. That is the case with the majority of all parents and home educating parents are no different.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Hats

Today was one of those days when I wear different hats. I was the parent helper on rota at Kids’ Club. It was the first session back after the hols and new children came along. That was all very calm and lovely, but I was quite absorbed and when Dani appeared to take over from me, I was shocked at the time.

I left there and set off for the bus stop at a jog as I had less than an hour before I was due to be sitting at the enquiry desk at work. Then I discovered I’d forgotten my sandwich and so had to buy some rubbish food from a corner shop. Dani found my sandwich in the bag I’d left with Leo at Kids’ Club.

I did two hours on the desk at work – reading emails, catching up on routine things and answering queries about books, journals and passwords - as well as answering phones and directing throngs of PGCE students to a library induction session being run by a colleague. Then I went straight to a meeting, before snatching my first sit down and cup of tea – at 4.30pm. I then worked the rest of the day until we shut up shop at 7pm. My bus had decided to leave the stop early, so I waited for the next one and got home just before 8pm.

A working day that involves being out of the house from 9.30am to 8pm isn’t really that long and many people work longer days, but I find the shift from home ed group to work very tiring. I end up feeling like I’ve lived two days in one.

I am very lucky, in many ways, that I can keep my work life neatly parcelled up in the hours when I’m there. The different bits of my life don’t tend to overlap and that is better for me than a life where my money earning activities were enmeshed in my family or child time. But I do sometimes feel like I’m always about to rush off somewhere!

The swift swapping of hats is one of the key features of my life as a parent. It is something I have learned to do far better than I would ever have believed possible, before we had children. When I was working nine to five, Monday to Friday, before we had kids, I used to need a whole routine to prepare for the working week. I can remember ironing a week’s worth of shirts on Sunday night! I really had no idea...

Monday, 8 September 2008

Reports

I went round to my mum’s place today and picked up a bag full of school work and reports. I’ve read it through and deposited most in the recycling. TBH, most of it was exercise books of neat writing covered in ticks and reports that said I was clever and good. All a bit sick making! I kept three things.

The first is a report from what is now called year three, but which was my last year in something called first school. I went through the system during a brief period when they chopped the years about a bit round here. I kept this because it is dated July 1979 and, though it is very brief, it contains this:
Language – Good at all aspects of this subject, but writes particularly interesting stories.
It pleases me that twenty nine years ago, at the age of eight, I was doing something that I still love to do today. I guess it’s in deep.

The second is my English book from what is now called year seven, but which was my last year in middle school. That year I had a teacher who clashed with my emerging political awareness. He had a large union flag on the classroom wall and a poster of Churchill. History with him involved copying down accounts of battles and weaponry and so on! In English, I wrote a lot of opinionated pieces and he hated them! In the back of the book is an essay called “To make a change in the country”. I can remember taking a deep breath and writing a piece that advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was 1983 and my family were very involved in local CND activities. I didn’t do a bad job. I answered the deterrence argument and talked about the money spent on weaponry that could save starving people and included stats about the proportion of the population against the placing of US cruise missiles on UK soil. He gave me a B minus and a page of rant about how I wouldn’t like to live under a totalitarian regime! I’ve kept that to remind me of the power of a teacher and the start of my frustrations in the system.

The third thing I have kept is the front page of my school report for 1985/6 – the school year that followed my sister’s death and the year in which I came to recognise my lesbianism. That was one of the hardest years of my life. I have blogged before about my feelings in school at that time. I’m not exaggerating to say that I was clinging on at times – counting minutes, seconds, until the school day ended. I was keeping my head low and often despairing. My form tutor had this to day about me,
“Annalie is a quiet, hardworking member of the form. Always neatly dressed.”
So, there we are. I might have been falling apart inside but at least I was neatly dressed!
My head of year noted,
“Attendance could certainly be improved”.
Actually, it couldn’t be improved and no-one ever took the time to ask me why I was ill so much – what was going on. I did have one teacher who supported me wonderfully but this was all done on a personal basis – in spite of the system. She is someone I count as a friend forever. But I’ve kept that page as a reminder of being in a bad place – a place where I had no control over my day to day life and where I felt battered by the end of every day. I never want to be in such a place again.

Most of my old school work and reports reminded me of what it was to be so approved! So many pats on the head... Why didn’t they help me more when times were hard? Why did they mean so little inside? I guess because they weren’t for the real me. They were for the facade.

I had some good teachers along the way and some who were kind people. When my maths teacher said I deserved an “A in my O level as few he had ever taught” I realise now that he wasn’t talking about the way I’d applied myself to maths, but the way I’d struggled to get through the last two years of school.

There’s nothing in those teenage reports that touches the reality of how I was living. The gobbing and shoving and bra strap tugging that was the reality of every lesson change. The foul, violent language littered with homophobia and shaming sexual comments. The horror of the showers and the baying mob that pursued anyone ‘different’. There’s no mention of that in my secondary school reports and so I think I’ll chuck them in the recycling. Just in case I start believing in the fiction of that neatly dressed girl who was “working hard”.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Too much STUFF!

I’m very full of apple crumble and custard. The grandmothers have a tree and we get windfalls and more.

Today we spent a family day together at a local community festival type thing. The kids had had a clear out and we’d got various toddler age toys out of the loft so that we could have a stall. P and L made a few quid each and we made the odd donation to worthy causes. It was rather strange to spend the afternoon in a school hall, but there you go. We would have been out on a playing field, but the weather was unpredictable.

When we were in the loft (trying not to notice the damp and crumbly bits) we found a marble run that we put up there a few years ago. It is, as I recall, a bit wobbly and it was frustrating for the kids when they were little but I’m hoping it will be fun now.

It amazes me how much stuff we accumulate in this little house. I don’t think of us as hugely extravagant in terms of the objects we buy (our extravagances tend to be more to do with trips and shows and group activities) but both the kids rooms fairly groan with toys and books. I was feeling quite superior about the few boxes of stuff that D and I have in our room, but then my mum called to tell me that she’d found a whole trunk of my stuff in her loft. That wasn’t the house I grew up in so my mum must have moved it all there when they moved in to their current house – about fifteen years ago. They’re clearing their loft because they’re getting some free insulation done by virtue of being pensioners. I went and got the few bits I wanted. These included some cuddly toys from my childhood. I gave Leo my lovely hedgey (a hedgehog dressed in shirt, trousers and apron) and his baby and I gave Pearlie a pair of rabbits – one black and one white – who were a couple, I think. I also gave a creature to each local cousin.

Now my mum has phoned to say that she’s found all my school reports! I will have to go and get them, just to give the kids a laugh. My mum’s own reports were there too and I remembered her comment for rounders at grammar school, “her batting is weak and she could improve it.” She always told us there was no chance of her improving because they made her take off her glasses and she couldn’t see the ball!

We don’t buy anything much in terms of special home ed resources. We have tons of books but we’d have them anyway. As well as owning books, we have access to the library where I work, which is very lucky. It contains a library of books for education students to use in school with children and has a good children’s fiction section too. If the kids want something in the way of a ‘workbooky’ thing, we use free stuff off the internet. Things like science kits, they’ve tended to get as birthday and Christmas presents. Leo got a chemistry set last year and he and Dani have done lots of cool stuff with that. But we don’t have shelves full of resources and I’m glad I had Dani to stay my hand in the first few years of home ed, when I was often to be found browsing catalogues of stuff! I did once waste quite a lot of money on an onset and rime set that Leo never showed any interest in as he merrily learned to read from the books in the house.

But, we still have too much stuff. There are boxes in the kids rooms that contain toys that everyone forgets we even own. We did manage to sell quite a few games today and dent our stock of things that need batteries. But the kids entered a competition to make a clay creation and P’s won. Guess what her prize was? Yes, a game requiring batteries!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Damp, drugs, doomy post

Hello, people. I am in a rather murky mood at the mo so apologies if this is a bit gloomy. I have a mouth ulcer like a volcanic crater in my gum and it seems to be bad enough to convince my neck glands to swell and ear to throb.
We had a visit from a builder this week. What we had hoped was a fairly minor repair job uncovered serious problems with our roof. Builders did some patching that should see us through the winter but it looks like we’ll need a new roof in the spring. Someone, at some point in the history of this house, cut out the purlins (horizontal beams) from the loft space. Though there was a later attempt to shore the roof up with some bits of timber, these weren’t secured properly, so the roof has sagged. It has sagged so far that the shape is quite distorted and the tiles no longer make a proper seal. Water has been getting in, running down the rafters and pooling at the front and back of the house. It was this water damage that we noticed in an upstairs bedroom. It is going to be a major job to have a whole new roof, involving big scaffolding and waterproofing over it and all that... Yes, it will be as expensive as it sounds!
I have also been feeling a bit gloomy since the kids and I had a rather unpleasant encounter with a woman in the street. We live near a shopping area that is suffering from the closure of local shops and the problems associated with a sizeable population of people with drug and alcohol problems – some of whom are dossing in the derelict shops and around the place. On Monday, we were waiting for the bus near a doorway, in which a woman was sitting with her bags, drinking a can of something. I had noticed her but, when my glance identified her as a woman, I wasn’t sufficiently bothered to move us along to the next bus stop. I do do that kind of thing fairly readily if there is a group of people drinking or they have dogs – just because fights break out so frequently. Unfortunately, I made the wrong assessment and suddenly (with no warning) she came roaring out of the doorway, screaming and pointing into my face. She believed that I had insulted her (obviously I hadn’t!) and wasn’t going to be appeased by my assurances that I hadn’t. No doubt she was paranoid, either because of drugs or mental illness. Luckily, we walked away and she did not come after us. But it was scary for the kids and Leo, in particular, was frightened by her. I was as re-assuring as I could be but the truth is that she was clearly ill and unpredictable and my kids need to learn to be on the look-out for people in that state, round here.
This was reinforced a couple of days later when I was waiting for my bus to work. There was a couple in the shelter (it was raining) and they were both drinking. The woman was on the phone talking about rehab. Two guys appeared to see her boyfriend (this involved things being passed between hands) and then (out of nowhere) two plain clothed police officers appeared and started searching all four people. I just got on my bus to work!
According to the local paper (and it seems likely) the problem is that people addicted to heroin can pick up their methadone from a clinic place near here and then they sell that and buy heroin. Drug dealing is really quite easy to spot once you know it’s going on. It all seems so pointless. There must be a better way... I suppose I should be pleased if there are police doing searches as, from a selfish point of view, it might move the dealing a bit further from here. But I don’t suppose it solves anyone’s problems really. It scares me a little that teenagers I know are offered drugs almost every time they go into the town – day and night.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Futures

I have, recently, been feeling very glad of the thriving home ed scene here in Brighton. At this ‘back-to-schoolish’ time of the year, I think it really helps me to feel that we have plenty to get back to – just not school. For me, it is especially helpful to chat with home ed parents who have children older than ours.

Like many other people, I stayed very firmly on the conveyor belt of the education system, throughout my teens. I didn’t even take a year out (which we now have to call a ‘gap year’, apparently) but went straight from sixth form college to university. At the age of twenty one, I found myself back in my home town, without much idea of what I wanted to ‘do’ and with a degree in sociology. It was 1992 and there were not many jobs around. I ended up working in the bookshop that had been my Saturday and holiday job from the age of fifteen. I did, eventually, make use of my first degree, as I needed to have one to get on the MA course that I followed to get a professionally recognised qualification. So, it all worked out for me, I guess. But, my experience of sticking close to the system through my teenage years, means that I find it hard to imagine different routes for my children.

Talking with other parents makes me realise that teenage years are hard for everyone and there’s no guarantee of a smooth ride for anyone – home ed, or not. But I find it encouraging to know that people do find a way through, without the system. Equally, that people can pick and choose from what’s on offer in the FE and HE sectors of the system.

If P were at school, she’d be going into a secondary school this autumn. I guess this is what has got me thinking about the years ahead. She is very good at living in the moment and enjoys a busy day to day life. I am very happy that she is so happy. Whatever happens in the future, I think that time spent happy and secure is like emotional money in the bank for coping with the harder times.

As a parent, I have noticed a change in the way our decision to home ed is perceived, as our children get older. As a family, we are happily settled into this way of living. But, in terms of the pressure from the world outside, it gets harder. Somehow it is easier to explain a day to day life of sandpits and finger painting than the reality of a home ed with older children. I also don’t want to be telling everyone the details of the children’s activities. It feels way too weird and too much like trying to justify ourselves – hence, the end of the other blog.

So, I’m glad of the chances I get to talk to home ed parents with older kids and also the online presence of people with older (and grown) children.