Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Another letter to our MP

Dear David,

As we are sure you are aware, the Children, Schools and Families Bill received its first reading in the Commons last week. The Bill contains several of the most disturbing elements of the Badman Review recommendations.

We were dismayed to find that even before the results of the recent public consultation have been published, the government proposes to implement a licensing system for home education. More than 5000 people responded to the consultation. Among them were many home educating families, concerned at this rush to legislation that redefines the legal position of something so central to their lives.

The Bill proposes that any home educated child who is not ‘registered’ with the local authority will be the subject of a School Attendance Order, should they be discovered. In such a situation, the Bill states that “an authority shall disregard any education being provided to the child as a home- educated child.”

Though the government has clearly decided to back away from the idea of creating a new criminal offence of failing to register, it is attempting to create a compulsory system by threatening to force home educated children into school if their parents do not comply.

Similarly, the Bill states that there will be no automatic right of entry to homes or to see children alone. However, the proposed new Section 19F(1)(e) would give local authorities the right to remove a child’s name from the home education register if it appears to them that:

“by reason of a failure to co-operate with the authority in arrangements made by them under section 19E, or an objection to a meeting as mentioned in section 19E(4), the authority have not had an adequate opportunity to ascertain the matters referred to in section 19E(1)”

Our interpretation of this is that the system of monitoring will be determined by the local authority, and any objections raised by a home educating family could easily lead to their child’s removal from the register and a consequent School Attendance Order.

These sections in particular, especially combined with the proposed new section 19C (which allows for the issuing of regulations on various key aspects of the registration system) would have the effect of locking home educating families into a monitoring system, which can be amended without Parliamentary scrutiny by any future government.

We feel that our family’s decision to follow an alternative educational path has been defined from the outset of this process as a problem for the government to solve. This was clear to us from the moment the Terms of Reference for Graham Badman’s Review were published in January this year.
In spite of thousands of critical responses from home educating families both to the initial Review and the public consultation, this premise does not appear to have changed.

To us, this premise is mystifying. Our children’s education has, so far, been made up of largely unplanned, self-directed learning. As parents, we have seen this working. The children are curious, enthusiastic, engaged learners. They are learning to plan for themselves and to set their own goals. They are learning about the world and their place in it. They are happy.

We cannot see any benefit to them in an ever-escalating process of government intervention in their lives. After witnessing what has happened in state schools over the last twenty years, we cannot help but feel that any system of monitoring imposed on home educating families, no matter how “light touch” the government may claim it to be, will follow this same path of ever more control.

Please do all you can to represent our concerns in Parliament, including by voting for any amendments to the Bill which seek to delete Clauses 26 and 27 and Schedule 1.

Yours sincerely,

Dani Ahrens and Allie Rogers

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Dani's consultation response

I answered Disagree to all the questions. These were my comments. My response identifier was 3200.

Deadline for responding to this consultation is 23.45 on Monday 19th October.

1. Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?

The rights of children to receive a suitable education are not in contradiction to the "rights" of parents to home educate, so the two things cannot be balanced against each other.

Parents have a duty to educate their children, both morally and in law. Their only "right" is to determine the most appropriate way to carry out this duty, bearing in mind their intimate knowledge of the needs and preferences of their individual children.

This is at the heart of English education law. The duties of the parent are one of the four foundations referred to by Lord Bingham in the Ali case (Ali v Lord Grey School [2006] UKHL 14), who said:
“This fourfold foundation has endured over a long period because it has, I think, certain inherent strengths. First, it recognises that the party with the keenest personal interest in securing the best available education for a child ordinarily is, or ought to be, the parent of the child.”

If a parent should fail to carry out their duty to provide their child with an education suitable to the child's age, aptitude and ability, and any special educational needs the child may have, then the local authority has a duty to take action.

The balance between the rights of children to a suitable education and the right of families to privacy is already struck in the most appropriate place. The law recognises that there may sometimes be a need for local authorities to act, but that this will only happen when parents fail in their duty.

The proposals outlined in the consultation document would severely unbalance the "fourfold foundation". Lord Adonis was advised in 2006 that such disruption would not necessarily bolster children’s rights to education. He wrote:
“I am advised that this [the fourfold foundation] is more effective in securing the right than would be a free-standing right to education in English law. Not only is it flexible enough to allow for various different arrangements for education (for example, education provided by LEAs, by the independent sector, by Academies or at home), but it also places clear and positive duties on the various parties (parents, local education authorities, Secretary of State and governing bodies) which are much more easily enforceable.”

I have seen no evidence that the proposals would "improve the quality of education" received by my children. On the contrary, the imposition of a considerable amount of bureaucracy and interference, by people who do not know the children personally or understand the educational approach we have chosen as a family, is very likely to damage their education.

I am also opposed to the proposed additional review of the definition of ‘suitable education’. I do not think a further review would result in a better definition of a suitable education than the one contained in s7 of the Education Act 1996: “suitable to the age, aptitude and ability of the child, and any special educational needs he may have”.

This definition, and the additional interpretations provided by case law, have in common that they are centred on the needs of an individual child in the context of their whole life. They are tools that a reasonable person could use when making their personal or professional judgment in a particular case. They are not a list of tick boxes. This is a sensible and appropriate approach, when considering the learning needs of a large and diverse population of children.

As with the legal framework surrounding education as a whole, there is no problem with the definition of ‘suitable’, and no need to fix it.

2. Do you agree that a register should be kept?

I do not see why parents who make a minority choice about their children’s education should be obliged to register with the local authority.

I have made numerous choices about how I live my life, some of which put me in a minority in the UK. For example, I choose not to eat meat, and I choose not to own a car. Both of these choices have a direct impact on the daily lives of my children, just as the choice to educate them without using the school system does. But I am not obliged to put my name on a register of vegetarians or pedestrians – these things are accepted as valid, legal choices, and my freedom to make them is acknowledged, because they do not impinge on anyone else’s freedom to make their own dietary or transport choices.

As things stand, my valid, legal choice to educate my children outside the school system is treated similarly. I can see no evidence for the proposal to change this state of affairs.

3. Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?

I do not agree with registration.

The consultation document does not clearly state what information would be required. It says that:
“Regulations will specify the information that parents must provide which is likely to be child's name, date of birth, address, the same information for adults with parental responsibility; a statement of approach to education, and the location where education is conducted if not the home”.

It is not clear whether “a statement of approach to education” is the same thing as “an initial statement of educational intent forming the basis for subsequent educational monitoring arrangements”, mentioned earlier in the document, nor whether both of these are the same as the “clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months” recommended by Graham Badman.

Because of the way we have chosen to approach education in our family, it is impossible for us to provide an annual statement of intended outcomes for each child. We cannot and do not want to predict what our children will choose to learn in the coming year. That is up to them. We will not interfere with their motivation to learn what they need to learn, in an attempt to force their learning to coincide with a pre-determined plan.

My children have the freedom to direct their own education. Any plans or intentions regarding their education belong to them, not to their parents, and certainly not to the local authority. As facilitators of their education, we are accountable to the children, not the local authority.

Annual monitoring against a meaningless statement would add nothing to our children’s rich and varied education.

The fact that the list of information likely to be required includes “the location where education is conducted if not the home” is a clear indication to me that the authors of the document have no knowledge about home education. My children learn wherever they are. The location of their education is in their own minds. I will not comply with a system designed by people who think education is so narrow that it can be conducted in just one place.

4. Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?

I do not agree with registration.

The ‘register’, as described in the Badman report and in this consultation document, is not a register as this would be commonly understood, but is in fact a licensing scheme.

Educating my children at home is not dangerous, for them or anyone else. It does not cost society anything, and requires no specific support or services from the local authority. There is no need for the state to licence this activity. We should remain at liberty to choose to do it or not.

5. Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?

I do not agree with registration.

In what way would it help children to criminalise their parents for something as ridiculous as failing to register as home educators?

6a. Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?

Schools are under pressure to ensure attendance by all pupils on their roll. If children are on roll but actually being educated at home, the school’s attendance figures would be affected. They would therefore put pressure on parents and children who have decided to home educate, to attend school for an additional 4 weeks.

Many children who are withdrawn from school have suffered months or years of bullying or inadequate educational provision. To expect these children to continue attending school for 4 more weeks under such circumstances would be cruel.

Schools and local authorities would use this time to put pressure on parents to change their minds about choosing home education. There should be no presumption in the law that one form of education is preferable for all children. Why is there no proposal of a 20 day tryout period for children who start school, during which the truancy laws do not apply, and after which the child may return to home education without further bureaucracy?

6b. Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?

The local authority has no responsibility for the education of home educated children, and therefore would have no need of achievement and future attainment data.

If this information is to be given to anybody, it should be the parents.

In fact, the opinions of the school about the future attainment of a child who is no longer being educated by them are largely irrelevant when the child and her parents have the freedom to achieve and attain whatever they want, and are no longer restricted by a narrow curriculum and a standardised testing regime.

7. Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?

I do not agree with the registration and monitoring of home education.

8. Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?

It is not possible to make a prima facie statement about this. Each case needs to be considered individually.

If a child has a child protection plan and the parents want to deregister, and if *in that case* the social workers involved with the child think that would be a bad thing to do, they already have powers to prevent it. They could apply for an Education Supervision Order, which removes parental responsibility for education and gives it to the local authority.

For some children, home education can significantly improve stressful and damaging situations, and lead to a more harmonious family lifestyle. Bullying at school is a significant safeguarding concern. For many home educated children, being withdrawn from school has vastly improved their safety and well-being.

I would not suggest that in all cases where children are under stress, home education is going to be the right course of action for a particular child or family. Likewise, it should not be presumed that school education is always the best thing for an individual child.

9. Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?

In the last seven days, my children have been educated in many different places, including (but not limited to) a swimming pool, two different libraries, a community garden, our living room, the function room of a pub, a community centre, two different youth centres, two parks, a playbase used for out of school activities, an optician's surgery, several different buses, our kitchen, the Houses of Parliament, two trains, their own bedrooms, beside a garden pond, a second hand bookshop, a houseboat, and a museum.

Next week, we will visit a similar number of different places and they will continue to find learning opportunities everywhere they go.

What exactly do you mean by "the premises where home education is taking place"?

If you think local authorities have the time and money to visit all the places home educated children learn, you are sadly mistaken.

10. Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?

There is no benefit to our children in being required to demonstrate what they have learned. We reject a model of education that expects children to regurgitate facts on demand. This is the main reason why we have chosen home education and not school.

A short conversation once a year is not going to reveal anything to the local authority officer about either the education or well-being of home educated children. It is, however, likely to result in a significant number of ‘false positives’ where, through misunderstanding or prejudice, officers conclude that there is cause for concern and further action, when in fact there is no problem in the family. This real risk to the well-being of children does not appear to have been considered at all.

11. Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual basis? This would not preclude more frequent monitoring if the local authority thought that was necessary.

My home is not the ‘premises’ of an educational institution. It is not a workplace. It is a family home.

Educating our children is part and parcel of our everyday family life. It is not open to inspection by state officials.

As a council taxpayer and an active citizen, I am appalled at the waste of public money involved in arranging frequent home visits to thousands of happy, well-functioning families, when children’s services are overstretched and unable to provide adequate support to families with urgent and serious needs.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Honouring our children

“It seems timely on the 20th anniversary of the UN convention that we seek to examine whether or not this sector of the community actually honours children as expressed in the UN convention.”

Graham Badman
Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence, To be published as HC 999-i
House of Commons
Minutes of evidence taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
Elective Home Education
Monday 12 October 2009

Which “sector of the community” do you imagine Graham Badman is referring to here? Yes, it’s us – home educators. Something about us, about what we do or perhaps about who we are, means that we should be “examined” to see if we “honour our children”.

This hurts more than just as a passing insult. This hurts on behalf of all the children failed, so badly failed, by our government. A government signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

No, I will not be taking lessons in honouring children’s rights from this government.

"Article 22 (Refugee children): Children have the right to special protection and help if they are refugees (if they have been forced to leave their home and live in another country), as well as all the rights in this Convention."

It seems that this government interprets “special protection and help” to mean a special low rate of benefits, a ban on their families earning money and years on end waiting to find out if they really are safe or will be deported back to danger. That’s if those children don’t find themselves imprisoned.

I wonder if Graham Badman, with his concern for children, ever questions his priorities? Rather than worrying about the details of what my children (well loved, well fed, intellectually stimulated, free children) know,

“I cannot conceive of a situation where, for example, a child of middle secondary years does not know something about oriental history, given the world as it is now; does not know something about carbon sequestration, if they are interested in science; and does not know something about the nature of the economy.” (Graham Badman, evidence to Select Committee, as above)

he might look at what should be done for children in genuine need and whose rights under the UN Convention are far from “actually honoured”.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Autonomous home educators - what's that then?

I have always been pretty happy with the label of autonomous home educators. How people respond to that tends to depend on who they are. Most people who don't home educate don't look beyond the home educator bit, which is more than weird enough and quite enough to be getting along with thank you... In real life home ed circles I don't often have much of a need to define us, as people tend to get to know us and then they figure out what we do. In the often over-intense world of the internet, where home educators can analyse themselves and each other for more hours than is really sensible, the labels matter more. And, of course, they matter more when you feel under attack. That's always true.

So, what do I mean by autonomous home educators? It's been a bit more than five years since we announced, on another blog, that that was what we were about. Are we still? Well, I'd say so. I think that autonomous home education is often misunderstood. People sometimes contrast it with structured home education, but that is a misunderstanding. The point of the autonomous bit, for us, is that the children are directing their education. Does this mean they never do anything strucured? No, why should it? I suppose it might, if they chose never to undertake any structured learning, but it certainly doesn't have to. They aren't confined to just informal learning experiences. They aren't confined to *anything*.

So, it might be (and is, in fact) that sometimes the children choose to undertake some structured and externally assessed course of study. At other times they are busy with things of their own devising. How they make their decisions is their business, but I think it's fair to say that, in our family, people (adults and children) often make announcements about what they're planning to do. Other family members will then chip in with something as insightful as,
"oh, yeah? That's nice/cool/weird..."
At other times people might ask,
"What do I need to have studied/exams do I need to have passed to do X thing?"
That's when having adults, who have a bit of life experience (and have sat rather more exams than anyone needs to) is handy. Children can then make their choices based on that extra knowledge, as well as their own enjoyment.

I suppose that the autonomy bit is really more about how we live, as a family, than anything else. One of the parts of parenting that I never felt comfortable with was the bit about making children do things 'for their own good'. I wasn't brought up by someone who liked doing that either, so I don't really have a model. It doesn't come naturally to me and when I have done it it has generally upset me, children and anyone else within a five mile radius. I just can't imagine telling someone that they had to do their maths any more than I can imagine telling them that they had to eat their spinach. So I haven't done either. Strangely, or perhaps not, they both do maths and eat spinach. Maybe it's because I'd be just as happy if they were playing the recorder through their noses and eating baked beans?

That's not to say that I don't ever encourage people to do things, because I do. Trying to treat other people decently is necessary for family life and friendships and I'm not shy of saying so... But if what you're doing isn't hurting anyone else then it's probably fine and dandy as far as I'm concerned.

Sometimes I have wondered if we have found it easy to stick with this path because we do see lots of evidence of our children's 'academic' development as well as all other sorts. If we didn't see that then would we start 'making' them do certain things? I don't know. I can only know that we are fine as we are, thanks. I genuinely don't see any need to decide on goals for my children as they appear to be rather good at identifying their own goals and doing what they need to do to reach them. More than anything else, that's the thing I'd like to get across to the DCSF. If what we do is evidently working fine *for us* why should we change it?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A snapshot

As I am failing to come up with well argued and interesting posts for this blog and I am also unable keep the thing up to date, I've decided to post a snapshot. Here's what happened today.

Dani went off to work and I got up and offered children breakfast. P had eaten and showered already and settled down in her room to do get on with something she's working on at the moment. Leo was waiting for a book to arrive from Amazon, so he spent quite a while writing and drawing in his spell book, on the hallway floor by the letterbox! It didn't come today - but he has high hopes for tomorrow.

I pottered about doing bits of housework and answering P's occasional questions. Leo did his laundry and I helped him to peg it out on the line. The weather has been amazing.

I had a coffee and did some maths with Pearl. Leo was pottering happily in the garden. He managed to bang a nail into a bouncy ball and then tied string to it, so he could play with it without losing it over the garden wall.

The morning got a bit frantic when I got simultaneous phone calls from the delivery driver saying our grocery shop would be late and one from a BBC journalist looking for someone to watch the PMs speech with her and then comment on it. I couldn't help the journalist because (is this surprising?) our day was rather busy with home education... The shopping turned up but not until after lunch.

I cobbled together a lunch (lots of mash and one quorn sausage each!) and then the shopping arrived just as we had to leave the house for Squeezebox. The kids had a band session, while I waited and read my book. I am finding this book a bit of a struggle as it's darker and more grizzly than I usually read. P and L's band is working towards a gig at Christmas and, after that, they have decided to stop. Both the kids have really enjoyed being in the band but now want to drop that commitment to free up the time and money for other things.

After Squeezebox, we went up to the park for an hour. There was a really large group of home edders there this week. Both the children found people to chat to and play with and I had a quick cuppa with friends. Then it was time for Leo's Little Green Pig session. I dropped him off and then went home to put away the shopping because we were expecting a plumber to arrive later on and the hall was full of bags.

Pearl's Little Green Pig group was meeting in town this week, to work on some podcasts, so she went off to that. Dani picked up Leo after she finished at work and they came home. The plumber turned up and fixed our shower and the tap in Pearl's bathroom - all very quick and good value. I was just serving up some pasta when Pearl got in from town.

The evening has been quiet. Leo discovered series three of Black Books on the channel four website and Pearl watched Friends in her room. Pearl is now typing in her room (her manual typewriter makes a heck of a clunk!) and I left Leo reading in bed. I think D wants this computer now, so I'm off to flop on the sofa.

Tomorrow will be very different but I don't imagine I'll get round to blogging that...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sunny morning

The sun shines into this basement in the mornings - just slipping in across the kitchen table. P and L are sitting there doing some stuff with fimo. The Indigo Girls are singing in the corner. So far this morning, children have read, written, calculated, played in the street, chatted, made food and drink - lived and learned. So have I. I will just keep doing this, whatever the govt decrees.

In the end, we will have to have the courage of our convictions, but that's nothing new is it? Haven't we all done this many a time? Amy Ray says this in the song I'm listening to now,
"Here's what I find about compromise - don't do it if it hurts inside,
cause either way you're screwed,
eventually you'll find you may as well feel good: you may as well have some pride."

I think most people know that if they'd stuck to just the approved paths in life they'd have missed out a hell of a lot of living. I know I would.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


OK, so it seems I have lost the blogging bug. But I don't really want to stop, so let's see if I can manage something - anything! Dani is mostly spending computer time doing things related to the Badman review. If I get a substantial chunk of time then I'm trying to work on short stories etc.

September has arrived and things here are slowing transforming themselves into the more group-orientated life we have during 'terms'. It is odd how very different 'holiday' time is for us. It is partly because most of the children's group activities stop and also because we see more of schooled cousins. Once the term starts that all changes.

This term has some interesting things ahead for P. She is going to be doing a first aid course over four sessions, starting this week. That's going to be followed by some ohotography and probably basket weaving. There's her learning group (fortnightly) run by South Downs Learning College. Little Green Pig starts again, which both the children are going back to. P has various other plans but she doesn't want me wittering on about them all on here! Busy life, though.

Yesterday was a sudden return of summer, which seems to have vanished again now. P has got involved with some people campaigning for cleaner air around the nearest main road and she went out to do an hour surveying the traffic with them. She had to cadge some suncream from someone!

Leo is happy that Kids' Club is starting again today. He is not as into group settings as P but he really likes the chance to have a good play with a gang of friends. He has fond memories of the Merlin inspired 'show' they did last Christmas and is keen to do something similar this year. I have mentioned that a narrator would be a big help as the audience did find it challening to follow last year. The beheading was very well done though...

Right, today is a busy day. D and I still have the same work pattern so we have a tight changeover in the middle of today. D is meeting with a councillor later too. Now must get dressed and get going!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Summer stuff

In an attempt to keep this blog alive, here's another post! Since returning from St Ives, we have been enjoying some lovely weather at home.

On Monday, Dani took the kids on a bike ride. They got the train to Polegate and then rode about nine miles on the Cuckoo Trail. Leo fell off rather dramatically but got off lightly with just a skinned knee. They saw excellent wildlife but I'm not allowed to give you any details because they want to.

There's been lots going on at home as well as out and about. Both the children have been writing letters. Once again, I can give you no details but will say that it is great to see them getting their opinions out there. They are both fans of snail mail. Leo was thrilled to hear that a letter to the US would go airmail. The fact that an email whizzes about the world in a flash is not exciting to him - just normal. Isn't it odd how we have such different ideas about 'normal' to those of our children?

Also going on at home - more zine making, drawing, making a string bag (P) and sewing (L) and some maths stuff (both). Recent conversations have been good - lots about current affairs.

Yesterday, Pearl, Leo and I went to the beach hut with an auntie, two cousins and a grandmother. It was a beautiful day and just right for some swimming in the sea. A neighbour from across the road, who happens to have a beach hut a few doors away from ours (yes, weird!) was there with a canoe. He took each child out for a little paddle, which cousin D declared to be,

"the experience of a lifetime!"

The sea in Brighton (Hove actually) is far less cold than the sea in Cornwall, so it felt like a bath to me. After lunch, the sea was a bit more choppy (not at all dangerously so, just some bigger waves) and several of the kids had fun letting waves break over their heads and so forth!

A sparkly day on the beach

A happy Leo

Pearl and cousin B finding interesting stones.

The kids have just popped to the post office and to Dani's work to do some important photocopying. Then we're off out again - to a favourite park.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Follow up letter to our MP

I've just sent this, after receiving a forwarded letter, apparently from Delyth Morgan but actually containing the same wording as this blog post by Ed Balls:

Dear David,

Thank you for forwarding to us the pro forma letter you received from Baroness Morgan, dated 29th July 2009.

As we had already received an identically worded letter from a DCSF official, and had seen the same text on Ed Balls' blog, published on 27th July (, the content of the letter was no surprise to us.

We are sure you will appreciate that we are in no way reassured or satisfied by this letter. We made several very specific points in our letter to you, and we think Baroness Morgan could have at least done us (and you) the courtesy of reading and directly addressing the letter she was purporting to reply to.

We do not accept the logic of the letter's third paragraph, which outlines the government's stated reason for commissioning the Badman Review in the first place. There is no inherent conflict between the principle of parents having the right to decide how and where their children should be educated and the principle of children being safe and receiving the education they need. The two things do not therefore need to be balanced against each other.

In fact, parents do not, in English law, have a "right to decide how and where their children should be educated" except that which is conferred by Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act. The rights of parents, in this context, are entirely bound up with the parental *duty* to ensure that children receive an education suitable to their age, aptitude and ability and any special educational needs they may have.

Parents do not have a right to choose to deny their children the education they need, nor do they have a right to choose to put their children in danger. There is no conflict between the parent's duty to provide an education and the child's right to receive an education; these are both enshrined in the very same piece of statute law.

We remain extremely concerned at the prospect of hasty legislation on the basis of the flimsy logic displayed both in this letter and in the Badman Review report. The letter you have forwarded to us includes a statement of the government's intention to legislate "at the first possible opportunity this year".

This seems to us to be another clear indication that the current consultation is a sham, as the consultation results are unlikely to be published until January 2010. As we mentioned when we met at your surgery, the government has already made a commitment to "improve monitoring arrangements for home education" in the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill, which has been included in the Draft Legislative Programme for the next Parliamentary Session.

Clearly, then, the consultation contravenes Criterion 1 of the BERR Code of Practice on consultations ( which states that consultations must be undertaken when there is time for the consultation result to influence policy outcome.

Similarly, we fail to see how the Parliamentary Select Committee's inquiry into the Badman Review and the associated consultation can have any meaningful outcome, if the consultation and legislation proceed on their current timescales. The Committee has called for evidence to be submitted by 22nd September, less than a month before the closing date of the consultation. By the time the evidence has been considered, and a conclusion reached by the Committee, the consultation will have finished, and the process of drafting the Bill will presumably be well advanced.

As you may be aware, Liberty are concerned about the prospect of legislation to implement Graham Badman's Recommendation 7, giving local authority officers the right of access to private homes. As they explained in letters to home educators last week, "A right of access to the home engages Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 - the right to respect for family and private life. Interference with the right to privacy will only be justified if it can be shown to be necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances."

With such serious concerns surrounding the proposals, we think the most sensible thing for the government to do would be to halt the consultation, withdraw the proposal to legislate this year, and take some time to give these issues appropriate consideration.

The Select Committee should be allowed to complete its inquiry, and there should be a full Impact Assessment carried out, before a new consultation (lasting at least 12 weeks) is started. In accordance with the BERR Code of Practice, there should be a possibility for the consultation to influence policy, so it is not acceptable for legislation to be drafted while a consultation is underway.

We would appreciate it if you would pass this letter on to the relevant ministers, and we look forward to receiving a reply which actually addresses our concerns.

Finally, we are intending to visit Parliament on 13th October, as part of a mass lobby being organised on this issue. We are planning to arrive at 2.30pm, and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you again and discuss this matter further. We expect that there will be around 6 of your constituents taking part in the lobby, accompanied by their children. Please can you let us know whether you will be able to meet us on that day?

Yours sincerely,


As ever, feel free to link to, use or adapt this if you find it useful.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

OK, so what happened to blogging?

I have no real excuse for the total lack of activity on this blog. I could blame it all on the Badman Review (tempting to blame everything on that really...) but the truth is that we've been doing other things. Here's what we've been up to in the last week - our family holiday to St Ives!

St Ives is my second favourite place in the world. I love the beaches and the way the town is almost surrounded by sea. I love the light and the hills and the damp air. I love the ease with which the local economy relieves you of your money without you ever feeling ripped off. Whenever I am there I feel free to read and think and cut off from the demands of life at home. I think we all get different things from the place but it works very well as a holiday destination for us. Here's why...

We arrived on Saturday, after a fairly trouble free journey from Brighton. The train down to the west country does tend to suffer from random (usually fairly minor) delays, and this one was no exception - twenty minutes, for some reason. On the whole, train journeys are a total pleasure these days. The children have books and paper and pens and Leo's portable dvd player. I read most of a Barbara Vine book I'd borrowed from my friend, E. Dani knitted and was quizzed on her knitting. Pearlie went off to explore the train a bit and found that a woman was travelling with a large, placid rabbit in a holdall on the seat beside her.

After picking up the keys to our apartment (expensive but with lovely view) we went out to get some pasties for tea and began the work of relaxing...

View from the balcony of our flat.

We had our first swim on Porthminster beach on Sunday and then pottered around the shops buying books and so on. The tv reception is awful in St Ives and we soon gave up on the tv and played lots of games of Bananagrams instead. Then we all tended to read in bed - so much more relaxing than being shackled to screens... In the evening, Leo and I went on a lantern ghost story walk. This was a very good example of such walks - being led by a man who was a local historian, so we did get some history in with the usual apocryphal tales.

On Monday we went to the local museum, which is very odd! Leo was in search of the bible of James Wallace, the last ghost-layer of the town. We looked at that and the other, bizarre assortment of objects they have on display. It is one of those museums that has photographs of nameless people in unusual costumes. My favourite was of a middle aged man in some druid-like get-up, with a campervan in the background, in which a young, bearded fellow was smirking. I'd say it was about 1975 - judging by the young fellow's cheesecloth shirt...

Tuesday was warm and sunny, so we went to the beach again. The sea down there is certainly colder than the channel and I had to talk firmly to myself to get my shoulders under the water. I tend to remind myself that I got through childbirth, so I really can't shy away from a moment of discomfort on getting into the cold sea... Once in, it was lovely. Layers of mum podge mean that I no longer turn blue and shudder - unlike our poor children, who do an impressive line in full-body shivering. We bought them some towelling robes, which proved useful.

On Tuesday night we went on a trip to the beautiful Minack Theatre. I had never been there before and it was as lovely as I'd always hoped it would be. The seagulls and the waves just embed you in the play in some way. It was the Ilkley Players doing The Crucible and I was very impressed. We'd actually watched the film version with the children the night before, which I think was a good idea. They were both total stars, sitting though the whole play in virtual silence. I would guess they were the youngest people there by about three years in P's case and more like six in Leo's! Unfortunately, both kids fell asleep on the minibus back to St Ives and, on waking, Leo threw up rather dramatically down a steep pavement as we walked home. He startled a woman the next day by exclaiming, with some delight, "that's my sick!" when we walked past the splat! It had been a long day - lots of sea swimming and then not in bed until well after midnight.

We were all rather tired on Wednesday and took things easy. We decided to go to the Tate. I have a rather edgy relationship with art galleries - unlike D, or the children, I think. I often feel rather boxed in by the pressure of looking at the art and get nagging thoughts that I'm not looking at it 'properly' or not getting what I might from it. This time I had a surprising and joyous experience when we entered the gallery with the work of Laurence Weiner. Instead of feeling tense and unsure, I felt like my head was exploding with images, characters and stories. I wonder if this is what people generally experience in art galleries? If so, then maybe I do 'get it' after all... The children declared that they had enjoyed the exhibition and we discussed the artists. Both Dani and Pearl like Barbara Hepworth's stuff a great deal.

We popped in at the library that afternoon, just to browse around a little. I read some of the story of the creation of the Minack Theatre and felt I'd like to know a bit more about Rowena Cade. We had tea at Blas Burgerworks - yum.

Thursday turned out to be another beautiful day, so we went to Porthgwidden beach cafe for an extravagant breakfast. After a bit of swimming there, we popped home for lunch and then went over to Porthminster for more swimming.

Leo sets off across the Atlantic.

Pearlie in a hole.

As the tide went out, Dani and the kids managed to get right across to the harbour.

They are the little people right in the middle of this beach shot!

I was devouring the latest Patrick Gale book.

Friday was a bit grey. We set off on a walk along the South West Coast Path. We ended up doing the whole six miles to Zennor. Six miles doesn't sound like much of a walk, does it?

We looked a bit less tidy than this on arrival at Zennor!

Well, on downland or ambling through the weald, it isn't a long walk. But when those six miles are clambering on rocky cliff top paths, in sandals because we hadn't taken our walking boots, it was plenty long enough... We had failed to pack enough water and virtually fell into a backpackers hostel at Zennor, gasping for a drink. Dani and I have something of a history of being over-prepared for minor excursions (full first aid kit in the park...) and then under-prepared for tough walks like this. We were reminded of a giant starway in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, which we failed to notice was marked 'strenuous.' On setting off for Zennor, I had one plaster in my pocket and lack of boots was really rather silly. A turned ankle might well have demanded a helicopter rescue, which would have been embarassing to say the least! The children took it all very happily and tended to scamper on like mountain goats while we lumbered up the rocks... The scenery was wonderful, as was the wildlife, but I think the children will want to be the ones to tell about that.

We got the bus back into St Ives, which took all of twenty minutes. The walk had taken us four hours!

The train journey home ran a little late owing to "being held up in the west country". That was the official explanation, though there were no highwaymen that I saw.

So, that was St Ives this time. Reading, beaches, walking, beauty, art, games, talking - all sorts. Leo is into a new series of books - the Spooks books by Joseph Delaney. Pearlie has taken to reading the Guardian. Dani bought some lovely new yarn. I wonder if I will find time to blog real life now?

But, you know, we don't get to do enough of this sort of thing in real life. If things are quiet here then maybe we're all reading...

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


We are still here but too busy to blog! We have been doing various things re. the Badman Review. We had a fairly encouraging visit to our MP. I hope that something will come of that. Dani has put in work on postcards for supportive family and friends to send. Those are all genuine home ed kids having a good time in the park :-)I swing between feeling hopeful that we can resist at least the worst excesses of all the nonsense and despondent that all is lost. We shall see.

Saturday was our local community festival and we did a stall selling some of the kids’ old toys. We all got a bit sunburned as we failed to appreciate the fact that our shady stall would become sunny as the day wore on. P and her cousin S were photographed for the local paper. They had both put in lots of work as part of the organising group for the day. I have been so impressed with their efforts – selling plants, stamping the ‘passports’ for the day and putting flyers on parked cars. They also sat in a fair few meetings. Pearlie seems to enjoy that. Can’t imagine where she gets that from... ;-)

This week is frantic. We are doing our best to get ready for HESFES but we seem to have lots of other stuff happening. Last night was the Little Green Pig Open Mic. L took part in a couple of collaborative pieces and also read a story of his own. He does write a mean story and he did very well at the reading – standing close to the microphone, doing an intro and using gesture. He had practised alone in his room so we had no idea how prepared he was. Home edders were well represented – as usual. I really like it that LGP includes both school children and home edders.
I have to keep rushing back to town to get things we’ve suddenly realised are vital for HESFES. No doubt there will come a moment when we just have to stop doing that! Do other people do this?

“Melamine cups... That’s what we need...Wellies.... A bigger sun suit... Shorts... Matches... Washing-up liquid! Painkillers... Burn plasters... More string! The railcard has run out! Panic!”

As we have a normal week in terms of home ed groups, work for me and Dani - and P eager to keep up with maths books - it is all a bit tight. Will be blogging again after HESFES...

Friday, 12 June 2009

“Where’s your plan?”says Mr Badman...

It is difficult to know where to start when it comes to the Badman report. Why don’t we want to be registered? Why don’t we want to open our homes to local authority officials or allow them to interview our children alone? Many people will, I know, be blogging their opinions on these – as we probably will. But this blog post is going to be about this recommendation:

“At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.”

I can give you a statement of our family’s educational approach, if you want. We’ve done this for our local authority back in 2004 when we started home educating. It was an explanation of the philosophy on which we base our children’s education. At its heart were two terms – child-led and autonomous.

I don’t believe that Graham Badman has never heard these two terms. So I can only assume that he wants to outlaw an educational approach based on them. How so? Well, the crucial point is that we don’t have “planned outcomes for the child.”

Perhaps this is a surprise to some people. Our son was four when we started home educating. Surely we decided on an approach to literacy, and set about teaching him to read? Well, no, actually, we didn’t. So, can he read? Erm, yes... How did that happen? Well, that would be another blog post in itself, but let’s just say that it was an unplanned, efficient, empowering voyage of discovery.

Now I know that teachers in schools are compelled to do a huge amount of planning. I work in a university and see the kind of detailed plans that education students on placement must produce for a literacy hour with a class of four/five year olds. OK. If that’s the system that the govt decrees and the teachers, parents and children comply with – then that’s up to them.

The state education system is a top down model. The govt decides the curriculum, the teachers design the lessons and the students consume them. In such a model you’ll find planning – and lots of it! But our whole approach to education is based on our children’s intrinsic desire to learn. They are in the driving seat. If they want to make plans (which they often do, actually, being the children of parents who love a plan!) then they do. They are not answerable to us should the plan not come off, or should they choose to change the plan. Indeed, we believe that practising these planning skills is a wonderful learning opportunity in itself.

More than anything, I want our children to remain free to discover. I believe that their enthusiasm for learning is precious. I will not see them robbed of it by an official who wants to hold us to some list of ‘outcomes’. I will not have their education (which I believe to be their right and their property) reduced to a list of tick boxes on a sheet. I won’t have that sheet held over us all. We don’t all share your obsession with measuring...

Graham Badman would have the govt believe that people who educate as we do are carrying out some kind of ‘unproven’ experiment on our children. "Where are the studies that show it works?" Well, to that I can only, politely, ask him to look at state schooling. Does that work? Really? For all the children? In every way? We are not cranks attempting to keep our children in ignorance. There is still some John Holt on the reading lists for trainee teachers, isn’t there? Look him up, Mr Badman. Look him up, Mr Balls.

Mr Badman and Mr Balls. You couldn’t make it up, could you?! They are surely some characters from a lesser known Roald Dahl book?

BTW, while I have been typing this my children’s unplanned activities (i.e. I had no idea they would happen last year!) have been:

Walking over to Dani’s workplace to photocopy a hand-made zine. P has been making this for the last week or so. It’s a zine of lists. She has been inspired by some sessions on zine making that we allowed her to take in the company of a self-confessed Anarchist, no less... Oh dear, is this helping our case?

L has been making short films of action figures with the video camera. Some of these are shop bought figures and some home-made aliens made out of Fimo.

Discovering a “way cool” caterpillar in the garden. This was L again. He took the camera out to record the event.

Scooting off to a local community association meeting to do some work for our approaching community festival day. We had no idea our twelve year old would decide to attend planning meetings for this year’s event. She’s done lots of work – delivering things, selling plants to fundraise, etc.

Reading me some snippets from First News. This was L again. He thought I should know something important about the mother of the person who won last year’s “Britain’s Got Talent”. Now I do.

Varnishing a stone from the garden that looks like an alien egg. Yes, this was Leo too.

Writing some X-Files case notes with a dipping pen and ink. Leo likes to use many different things to write.

Outcomes? Hold on, I’ll just pull their heads open and have a look...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Call to action

Imagine a world where...

  • All vegetarians* are required to register with their local authorities, and inform the authorities whenever they move house.
  • Vegetarians must be visited annually by an inspector (usually a former employee of the meat industry), who will assess their dietary plans for the coming year against government standards.
  • Inspectors have the right to interview children in vegetarian families, without their parents present, in order to find out whether the children are safe and well, and ask them if they are happy to be living on a vegetarian diet.

No need to use your imagination - this is reality.

These are measures actually being proposed by the British government, not for vegetarians but for people in England who make the lawful choice to educate their children outside the school system.

The proposed heavy-handed system of registration, monitoring and inspection will cost millions of pounds to implement. Money which will be diverted from providing services for families who actually need and want help. If you are looking for a needle in a haystack, don't make the haystack bigger!

If home educators can be treated this way, who will be next?

Would you be happy for your child to be questioned alone by a government official they do not know, when there is no reason to suppose any crime has been committed?

Do you trust the government to keep safe the personal data of thousands of families?

To bring in this system, the government is proposing to change the law. We have a short time in which to raise our voices and object.

What you can do:

*or people who don't drive/people who use homeopathy/smokers/people who don't have a television/any other group of people exercising their lawful right to make a minority choice

Monday, 8 June 2009


I am appalled that the BNP has two MEPs heading for Europe. It is shocking to me that this party of fascist thuggery is able to attract the votes of nearly one million voters in this country. It makes my blood run cold.

On a happier note, I am glad of this - from the Green Party website.

"Party leader Caroline Lucas was re-elected comfortably, with the South East Green Party vote up by half, from 8% to 12%, finishing ahead of Labour. Dr Lucas's bid for election to the Westminster Parliament received a huge boost from a vote of 33.7% in Brighton and Hove. The Greens came first in Brighton and Hove, almost 6,000 votes ahead of the Conservatives, and with more than double Labour's vote across three parliamentary constituencies. Caroline Lucas will be contesting the Brighton Pavilion seat in the general election."

I think it could really happen next time. A Green MP for me, I hope.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Autonomy as they get older

As our children get older, I’m very happy with the way our family’s autonomous approach to home ed continues to work for us. I think that there are probably plenty of people who can quite easily understand a happy five year old doing finger-painting and playing with Lego, but who doubt that older children (like ours) can go on learning through their own choice of activities. Well, for our family, so far, this is working really well.

In some ways, nothing has really changed in the way we home ed now and how we did things five years ago. We haven’t felt the need to introduce any compulsion into the children’s activities and we still have a pretty busy lifestyle of groups and so on. In other ways, things have changed a lot as the children get older. There’s more independent activities for both of them – P in particular. The children’s social lives change as they get older. People need different kinds of support - financial is pretty important!

Some things are constant – conversation, books, outings. Some things change – interests (of course), and resources needed and used. Probably the greatest joy for me is the sense of freedom that endures. I love it that my twelve year old can get up at ten and read the paper while chatting with me, before pottering off to a day of things she has chosen and often organised for herself. That does seem rather wonderful when I compare it to the option of getting on the bus to senior school at 8am every morning. Equally wonderful is the freedom for someone to pursue something with a passion. L went to a story writing workshop on spooky stories this week and got up the following morning to finish his story. That took a couple of hours (off and on) and he was able to do it in his pjs.

Of course, every day is not a joyful journey of educational discovery because life has bumps. We get tired. Dani and I have to juggle work, home ed, looking after the house and pursuing our own interests. That doesn’t always happen well and we muck up from time to time. But I’d far rather be juggling like this than packing the kids off each morning and working 9-5. I love the little moments that we snatch when I can just hear everyone thinking happily away to themselves. I love coming home from work to be greeted by excited people telling me all about their varied days.

I have no idea if we will still be doing this, in this way, in another five years. I imagine that things will change as the children hit their mid-teens – in many ways. But, as long as we’re all happy and making choices that suit us, then I’ll be chuffed. If the govt. wants to propose anything that will curtail our choices then they can’t expect us to roll over. This is too precious.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A mish mash

Here’s a few things that have been going on in the Greenhouse (and out of it) lately.

L has been writing lots of stuff - on blog, typed and printed and by hand. He’s also been drawing. He doesn’t want me to give you details but you can read his blogs if you want.

We’ve all been finding out something each week about a particular country. My ignorance astounds me.

People are always asking questions in this house. Recent examples - why does the earth spin? How does fermentation work?

I had a tiring weekend going to work while fighting with a migraine. It hit me on Sunday night, in the end, and I fell asleep on the sofa while D was making the dinner.

P is currently out buying foodstuffs for a picnic. This is the second picnic she and friends have organised for themselves. They are doing the whole thing – picking a theme and a location, buying and making the food, researching transport and so on. I hope they get good weather for this one.

D and I spent a long afternoon tidying and putting stuff in our new loft space. It is a brilliant space but I think we’ll have no problem filling it... One of our aims was to make L’s bedroom much less cluttered so it will be easier to decorate. We’re hoping to get that done over the next month or two. L is desperate for a proper desk.

I have been going to my creative writing course, which is quite intensive. We get very prescriptive homework each week, which is quite unlike any other creative writing course I’ve done. It is good because it makes me tackle weak points in my writing but I do find it hard to give it time when I have so little time for the story I’m currently working on. We shall see.

P has been making pretty bunting to decorate her room. She’s also been taking photos and getting some beautiful prints done. She has a plan for an exhibition but I’d better not say too much about that.

We have the tvs working again, although the dish is currently sitting on some scaffolding rather than the chimney stack. I’m really hoping that everything will get properly finished this week and then the scaffolding can come down and the dish be properly attached to the chimney stack. I must say that having tv back again has made me realise how much rubbish there is on tv. We rather enjoyed a period of cherry picking our programmes.

While we were without tv, we borrowed dvds of Black Books from the library. The kids really enjoyed it. It is a bit ruder than I remembered but never mind!

I am helping P cover all the MEP year seven maths books. She is aiming at completing them all by mid-July – her target, of course, not ours. She did a mock foundation level GCSE maths paper on the BBC website a few weeks ago and managed to get 80% which would be enough for a c at GCSE, I think.

I showed L how to add up in columns the other day and he was pleased with the fact that this meant he could now add up huge numbers. The workbook we were looking at only had three digit numbers, which I thought was odd. I mean, how many nine year olds can resist adding up millions? Once you ‘get it’ it really doesn’t make any difference how large the numbers are, does it?

We went to see No Fit State Circus on Friday. This was rather spectacular but poor old L was struck down with a migraine and had to go outside and miss the second half. Dani walked around outside with him and he managed not to throw up. They waited on the windy seafront for me and P to emerge. I’d certainly recommend the show but probably not if you have really little ones. Being on your feet the whole time and being shunted about by stewards is rather taxing for small people.

L went to a book signing, which you can read about on his blog - linked earlier.

Dani is knitting a lot. She has a little notebook full of strange markings, which she keeps at her elbow... All very mysterious to a non-knitter.

I’m sure there’s been loads more happening but I can’t be bothered to tell you more now. Time to make lunch, I think.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


We are still here but circumstances have made blogging rather tricky recently. We have been without a tv for a couple of weeks – as the builders have been re-building the chimney stack on which the sky dish sits. This means that the computer has been being a tv fairly often. When it isn’t being a tv then it is in great demand as a computer. I tend to get two minutes here and there.

Things were also further complicated by a trojan that got on the pc and caused some chaos before we dealt with it. A local computer guy came to work on it for us as D had exhausted her abilities. My abilities with such things go about as far as running a scan and then making panic noises... All is well now, though we are using Vista which is taking a little bit of getting used to.

The building work should be over in a couple of days (probably by Wednesday night) and we are full of plans for moving some stuff to the loft and then re-decorating Leo’s bedroom. The garden is also in urgent need of some attention. We need the scaffolding to go before we can really do that.

May is Brighton Festival month and we went to a free event last night at a park nearby. It was good but pretty packed. The kids did a good job of slithering through the crowds so they could see but I spent rather a lot of time looking at the backs of tall people. We’re planning a trip to the circus later in the week and I’m hoping that the fact that it is not a seated event doesn’t mean I have same experience.

P had her birthday last week (12!!) and we are having a little family picnic tomorrow. She got a camera as her main present and has been enjoying exploring the features.

I have been watching a lot of X-Files with L. I have been rather enjoying it. It isn’t something I chose to watch when it was made (sci-fi and conspiracy not really being my sort of thing) but my horizons have been widened by having someone in the family who is drawn to such stuff. I was counting my blessings this week that this period without tv has occurred when there is online tv and also when the kids are older and we don’t have to have endless repeats of The Fun Song Factory or Scooby Doo! Those things were great when they were little but it is nice being able to truly enjoy the same programmes.

I went to the first week of my new writing course. It’s hard to judge on one session but I hope it will be useful. I have homework! Whether or not I get it done is very much dependent on my getting a turn on the pc. Everyone here is just going out to a knitting/crochet event but I have to leave for work in half an hour so I can’t do it now... Ho hum.

D and the kids went to a St George’s day event recently and D brought me home a book and a rose. The stories are by some of my favourite authors but they are based on/influenced by operas and I know virtually nothing about opera. A learning opportunity – should I get time!

Kids are busy as ever. We still have a plastered grandmother. She is back at fracture clinic this week – so fingers crossed for that. Summer is galloping towards us and is full of all sorts of exciting events.

The home ed review team should be reporting in this month and everyone is rather on tenterhooks about that. I must confess that I’m trying not to get too drawn into the internal home ed politics of it. There’ll be decisions to be made when we see what they propose. Until then I’m trying to keep focussed on doing what it is we really want to do with our lives. Things in my life (most unbloggable) are dealing me a hefty reminder that we should live each day as fully as we can.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

What about love?

I have been spending quite a lot of time with my mum recently. She has broken her ankle. It has got us talking about what happens when people get older and how we would like to be cared for. My mum is (when she’s not falling in holes at allotments!) a fit and active 73 year old. She is not in need of twenty four hour personal or medical care but, if she were, I like to think that we, as a family, would be able to provide it. We might need some support to do that but we certainly wouldn’t need the kind of services offered to the Figg family of Coventry.

What kind of ‘care’ is it to come and snatch a woman of 86 from her family home (with police and battering ram at the ready) and take her back to an institution in which her daughter says she is unhappy? What kind of brutal, self-righteous ‘care’ is that? So, apparently, ‘experts’ deem that this woman needs the kind of specialist attention that can only be provided in an institution. A spokesperson for the local authority is quoted as saying,

“Social services decided she needed to be in a specialist home because they were concerned that the high level of care she required might not be met by her daughter and her partner.
He said: "If someone needs caring for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we have to look at what additional support is there and whether one person can realistically offer that level of care.
"There is a lot of personal care management as well as the dispensation of often complex medication.”

What strikes me is that an institution might well be very competent at dispensing complex medication but people there won’t be dispensing love.

We, as a society, have fallen into the trap of thinking that care is some kind of product – a package or a programme. To care is a verb – caring is about doing. For me, that doing is often motivated by loving. Love is almost entirely absent from official discussion about how people are best cared for. I was thinking this a few weeks ago when there was a report on some study or other that claimed that children in nurseries had better ‘skills’ than those cared for by their grandparents. I couldn’t help wondering how one would quantify the benefits of being cared for (in your very early years) by people who love you. I suspect it can’t be done. But I'm still sure that those extra hugs and kisses in toddlerhood are of huge significance to the long-term health and happiness of those people lucky enough to get them.

The thing is that we are people, not plants. We do best when we are recognised as the unique individuals we are. This is best done by people who know us very well. When people know us for who we really are, and love us for that, we are really home. In my later years I don’t want to come to in a moment of lucidity to find myself dressed in a peach frock, parked in front of some daytime soap. I want to be with people who know *me* not how to care for an ‘old person’.

I’m not saying that no-one should use residential care services. People have to make the decisions that work for them. But if people want to live together with their elderly relatives, rather than see them placed in an institution, then I’d rather my taxes were funding services to help them do that than paying the wages of people to come and abduct them back into four walls ‘for their own good’.

The failure to recognise the huge significance of love is probably no surprise when you look at how governments behave. But what has happened in our world that the word of an ‘expert’ has come to trump our love for each other? What dark times are these that we are being sold the idea that institutional settings are in our best interest, from the cradle to the grave?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


I managed to get a touch of sunburn on my face yesterday. It was a beautiful day and we took bikes across town to the best cycling park. Sunday I spent with the injured grandmother and Dani took the kids on a country walk. Friday and Saturday were lazy days at home (it was drizzly), watching videos, pottering around and so on. The injured grandmother came round to use our ground floor shower. I introduced the kids to “A murder is announced” – BBC 1980s version with Joan Hickson.

I have a bit of spare time with week because I’ve taken some leave from work. I’m determined to make some space for writing and haircuts for me and the boy. He’s hasn’t wanted a haircut recently but it was annoying him yesterday while he was bike riding.

Builders are back on the roof this morning and kids have Squeezebox, so it feels like a pretty normal Tuesday. But we’ll soon notice that it’s school holidays if we go to the park later...

I have been mulling a post about how home ed/life changes as people grow up. But I need a proper stretch of time on the computer and now we are four heavy computer users that’s not easy!

Oh, yeah, and we did Easter as much as we ever do - buns and chocolate. Dani made excellent hot cross buns. I had some sort of Christian knock the door last week to ask me if I was interested in celebrating the death of Jesus! I'm no expert but I thought it was the resurrection that was the cause for celebration.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Structural engineer, chimney stack, life and all that

I must not (bangs head on wall – gently!) ever say that things are all going well with the building work. We have had a visit from a structural engineer and we need more scaffolding for the removal and re-building of the chimney stack up on the roof. “Can of worms!” – as the builder keeps saying to me. The mysterious missing chimney breast in the basement was not, it turns out, supported by anything. So it looks like we’ll be getting some steels inserted under that at some point soon too.

Life goes on around all this. Both P and L would like people to visit their blogs. We have been playing Boggle with the injured grandmother and admiring her wonderful purple plaster. School holidays have meant some more time with local cousins. P and L are really on fire with motivation at the moment and it’s great to be summoned for help with craft knives or maths questions, but I’m flagging a bit because of the house stuff. This is a small house and the work being done feels rather like major surgery on its aged body. I’m not sleeping well. D and I are both busy at work. Easter vacation isn’t much of a vacation at my work as lots of students are working on dissertations and so on.

I am looking forward to the weekend and some rest. In the meantime I’m off to find out a fact about Yemen. P has decided that each week we should pick a country off the map and each find out a fact about it... A home educator’s work is never done. Wouldn’t have it any other way, of course. And, by the way, we spent time today considering at what ages different family members would be (or were) half the age of others. It’s fun. It was interesting to see that L is now three quarters of P’s age when six years ago he was only half her age. P only has to wait until she’s 26 and she’ll be half of my 52... I wonder if the house will still be standing then???

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Dani's side of A4

Dear Home Education Review Team,

It seems to me that the government has asked you to undertake this review because they see home education as an anomaly. It is untidy. It cannot be slotted neatly into the system of assessment, targets, outcomes and league tables. It is uncontrolled. The government sees all this as a problem.

I would like you to consider a shift in perspective. I agree that home education is untidy, but I do not think this means it is a problem. Learning is a human process, a natural and integral part of being human. As such it is bound to be messy, creative, diverse and unpredictable.
Like all natural processes, learning by human children is affected by the environment in which it takes place. For my autonomously educated children, any change in the direction of more control, assessment or regulation of home education would be a damaging restriction of their learning environment.

One of the reasons our family chooses home education is because we do not think compulsory attendance at school, the national curriculum, SATs and league tables offer a free enough environment for children’s learning. Since becoming involved in the home education community in our town, it has become clear to me that the diverse and uncontrolled nature of home education is what makes it a much needed refuge for many children whose needs are simply not catered for by the school system as it is.

English law deliberately and expressly permits diversity in education, and home education is for many parents the only way they can ensure their children receive an education suited to their specific needs, as the law requires. However, many local authorities see this flexibility as a ‘loophole’. Families and educationalists alike have a feeling that home educators are somehow getting away with something. This in itself leads to a lack of easy and honest communication. Home educators often wish to preserve their freedom by staying ‘under the radar’ while local authorities perceive this as unwholesome secrecy.

If the review is to change anything, I would like this atmosphere of mistrust to be broken down. This will have to be a gradual process, but there are several simple things the government and local authorities could do to begin it.

National government should:
  • Reissue the November 2007 guidelines on Elective Home Education as statutory guidance.
  • Rewrite the statutory guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education issued in January 2009, so that the conflict between this guidance and the Elective Home Education guidelines is removed. Paragraph 87 of the January 2009 guidance is directly at odds with the paragraphs in the Elective Home Education guidelines to which it refers. This contradiction must be resolved, and the correct procedures (as set out in the EHE guidelines) should be made clear to local authorities. It is not surprising that local authorities find the law confusing if they are given contradictory guidance. However, the law is quite clear that there is no duty or power for local authorities to routinely interrogate home educating families as to the suitability of their education.
Local authorities should:
  • View work with home educating families as an exercise in offering universal services to everyone on an equal basis, rather than a regime of inspection and assessment. I think it would be a big improvement if this work were done by staff with expertise in Equalities and Diversity, not by education professionals.
  • Examine the services they provide to school pupils (such as free daytime access to swimming pools, educational library services for schools, bikeability training, etc) to see if there are ways to extend these services on an invitational basis to home educating families
  • Invite local home education communities to advise on policy development, staff training and appropriate service provision.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Allie's side of A4 to the home ed review team

I heard that Graham Badman had promised to read any individual submissions that were no longer than one side of A4. As it seems he will not, personally, see each completed questionnaire, I though it was worth sending something. I sent the following to the team:

I should like to submit the following to the team conducting the review into home education.

My partner and I have been home educating our two children since September 2004. Our children are now aged eleven and nine.

Our children’s education is autonomous and we do not differentiate between learning and life. This is, as I am sure you are aware, the case for a great many home educators in this country. We are lucky enough to live in Brighton, which has a large and thriving community of home educators and much of our children’s time is spent outside of the home. We are confident that our children are being educated in accordance with the law.

The role of the local authority in our children’s lives is primarily that of a service provider and this is the way we would like it to remain. Our children make extensive use of public parks, swimming pools, libraries and museums. These things are invaluable to us as a home educating family. However, it would be fair to say that the local authority’s EOTAS (education otherwise than at school) department is largely irrelevant to our lives – except as an occasional irritant. Our daughter chose to come out of school at the age of seven (after three years of schooling) and we accepted one visit from the local authority. It was clear to us that this visit was not being conducted as a service to our child or our family. While I do not mean this as a criticism of the individual employed by the local authority to conduct such visits, it was clear that the visit was essentially an inspection and a test. Since that time we have chosen to send written reports to our local authority and have declined any further visits.

We have been fortunate in the fact that our local authority has not questioned our right to decline a visit by a member of their staff. This is not always the case in this city – or across the country. The guidelines published by the DCSF in 2007 are not being followed by many local authorities, who prefer to create their own interpretations of the law. I am sure that many other home educators have been able to give you examples of this. I think it is high time that the current situation was changed. I would suggest that the guidelines issued in 2007 be re-issued as statutory guidance. These guidelines were largely positively received by home educators and contain valuable advice to local authorities on their role.

I understand that part of the concern that has led to this review has related to safeguarding. I do not assume that all home educated children are necessarily always thriving. Support services may be needed by home educating families as much as by any other. However, ignorance of the legality of home education and the way it works in practice is widespread in many of these services. If home educating families could believe that they would not be met with suspicion and ignorance when they access support services, more may well do so. At the moment, there is often woeful ignorance, which I have heard reported by many friends and on national email lists. Training for social services, health services and, of course, education staff should include information about home education. If local authorities run services that offer support to families and children then they should be marketed to home educating families as well as to families whose children attend school. I would be more than happy to see home educated children considered in the publicity for everything from summer sports courses to help lines and advice services. I must admit that I find it frustrating that local authorities are usually more than ready to assume the role of inspector (a role they do not have in law) and simultaneously reluctant to fulfil their role as service provider to all sections of the local population, including home educators.

It is probably not as good as it could have been was I less pre-occupied with our roof and other things. But I got a very polite response assuring me it would be read by Graham Badman, so I'm glad I sent something. It is what I would genuinely like to see, which I think we should be putting to the review team. You can bet that the LAs who are pushing for change are not hesitating to present their wish-list.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Opinions wanted

So, we had a super trip to the zoo on Sunday, which Leo has blogged. It was his chosen birthday excursion and it was surprisingly enjoyable. We haven’t been for years and I felt that the whole place was much better. The elephants are no longer there which is good. They clearly didn’t have the space they needed. There is a super rainforest space, which is big and open, where we got to see sloths. I’d certainly recommend it. We got the kids in for free using some vouchers off the internet.

While we were there we got a call to tell us that my mum had broken her ankle. She is in a temporary plaster until next Monday and then a cast. She is doing her best to get about but not really managing the crutches. Has anyone ever hear of these trolleys? Anyone else had a similar injury and think they would work? Or not?
Roof work is continuing here thanks to the dry weather. Of course, nothing is ever really simple and little niggles crop up as we go. Old houses = cans of worms. But fingers crossed it will all progress ok now.

Right, I have people wanting this pc and wanting me to do some maths with them, so I shall go.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Still here

We are still here but rather pre-occupied with all things roof related at the moment. All is ok but been somewhat delayed by weather etc. so we still have plastic for our roof at the moment. I can’t tell you how relieved I will be when it is all done and sound. I am not sleeping very well and that, coupled with getting up early, is making me very tired by the end of the day. I fell asleep on the sofa most nights this week.

I did manage to get a page of my thoughts off to the home ed review team this evening. It really wasn’t good enough to share with everyone! My main point was that the current situation is unsatisfactory what with LAs making up the law as they see fit and the best thing would be to re-issue the 2007 guidelines as statutory guidance. I also advised that properly trained LA staff would remove a barrier to service use by home ed families and that they should market all their services to home educating families as well as families using schools. I stressed that the LA’s role in our family life is that of service provider and that is how we want it to stay. I was inspired by Gill’s post to actually say what I’d like to see, rather than get drawn into arguing with the things we think they are thinking!

Anyway, we shall see.

Everyone in the family is pootling on with their stuff. I am trying not to blog details of what the kids are up to – unless they ask me to – but they are both highly productive at the moment. Dani has been working on a funding application for one of the home ed groups we are part of and being very busy at her work. I have signed up for a ten week creative writing course next term, which I’m very pleased about. It runs on the only weekday morning that neither of us is at work and the kids both have group things, so I’m hoping I can follow it properly. I’m quite excited.

OK, flagging here, better stop!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Boy with birthday and house with no roof

Yesterday was Leo’s ninth birthday and we spent most of the day at home – at his request – apart from a short trip to the park. Pearlie also went to her Sussex Wildlife Trust course in the morning, where they made soup with nettles etc. and cooked it on a fire. She has really enjoyed this course – making wooden cutlery and other nice things – and it was lovely for her to go on a day with some warmth.
Leo got his presents from us and P and was very happy with those. I won’t blog details in case he wants to. He’s having a family gathering at the weekend where he will get more pressies, so the joy is spread! We went to the Muesli Mountain Market on the way to the park (Muesli Mountain is a nickname for this part of town – dates back twenty or thirty years and is a pop at the sort of folk who live round here) so that Leo could consider the purchase of a writing case. He decided to buy it. I love it and am quite jealous!

Meanwhile, the house was having its old and saggy roof removed. The huge weight of the roof and all its tiles was effectively sitting on the joists (not how a roof should be supported!) and once it was taken off, those joists started to wobble. As the builders walked on them they bounced up and down and so did the upstairs ceilings! Builder has decided that these joists need supporting with new timbers so those will be coming on Monday. The lifted weight has meant that cracks have appeared around the edges of Leo’s bedroom ceiling as it moved with the wobbly joists. I suddenly got anxious when it was time for Leo to go to bed and put him in our bed (no worrying cracks) and slept on P’s bedroom floor on (actually, rather more off) a camping mat. Builder has popped in this morning to re-assure me that the ceiling is not going to fall down on anyone and that all will be stable when new timbers are fitted and fixed to old joists.

This house is nearly 150 years old and has clearly suffered from bad decisions in the past. I just hope we are making good ones now. I think we are. But it is not fun going through this process. At the moment our roof is effectively some sheets of tin and some plastic sheeting so I hope the ‘drizzle’ forecast for Sunday is light.

I should be, and am, grateful that we are in position to be getting this work done now. I am aware that other people are facing decidedly dodgy times at the moment. As we went past a newspaper advertising board yesterday, Leo spotted this:

“Recession has grip on Sussex”.

Leo said, “It can’t have a grip on us because it doesn’t have a solid form. If it was incarnated as some kind of monster it could have a grip on us.”

I think it probably is turning into some kind of monster for a lot of people.

Right, we have to keep an eye on the time today because of various commitments. I shall be trying to stay calm and enjoy a day without the scary banging from overhead!

P has asked me to ask here if anyone has any advice about how long flowers should be pressed fo. How does she know when they are really done?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Up and doing

I think we’re expecting builders and/or building inspector this morning, so I’m dressed. Getting up early means there’s time to fit in a short conversation about academic research, blogging and the advancement of human knowledge, with Dani, before she leaves for work. The kids are certainly awake and I suspect watching tv, with every intention of getting dressed in a minute!

Things are busy here. Leo’s birthday approaches and we are having a little family gathering at the weekend. He wants to go to London Zoo for a birthday trip, which is not cheap, so we’re doing that as a family trip in a week or two.

There have been some excellent and cheering things happening. The council has decided to build a new building in the park where we have Kids’ Club. Hopefully they will site it in a different bit of the park so we can continue using the old building while they construct the new one. That’s a huge relief. The search for venues for home ed groups is never easy, is it?

The fabulous John Fardell sent the children a signed copy of his new book. We had contacted him a while ago to try to find out more about the proposed publication date of his new book and he felt we deserved a free copy. Hoorah! Everyone wants to read it so we’re trying to find half an hour a day when we can all be together and enjoy it as a family book.

We got our HESFES ticket in the post. We have had an offer, from a grandmother, to drive us to the site with our gear this year and I think we’ll take her up on that. It will mean we can take better cooking stuff, which looks like it will be necessary this year. I’m considering splashing out on air beds too as my old bones complain a bit about tatty foam camping mats. Mustn’t get carried away though!

I am currently reading Leo Brisingr, which is very wordy! I find that I do like these fantasy books but they are not for the fainthearted. You have to be up for the 700 pages and enjoy every detailed description. Pearl and Dani are reading Noughts and Crosses. Pearlie has also been enjoying some new historical novels. I can’t remember what they are but they are set in the 1600s.

People reading Leo’s blog/s may have noticed that he is rather into The X Files at the moment. There are FBI ID cards all around the house.

I’m waiting to hear if I have got onto a writing course at CCE next term. It happens to run in a two hour time slot which is just about the only moment in the week when both D and I are not at work – so it looks just possible. I like to do a course every now and then because it beings me into contact with new people who write fiction.

Right. I hear the sound of padding feet and think it is time to make toast. Hope the building people arrive before we have to go to Squeezebox.