Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Latest govt consultation

Oh, blimey, here we go again. It seems that there are people in govt. who will not rest until they have managed to secure more powers for the local authorities, in regard to home educated children. The latest govt consultation can be found here. I think this is the third consultation that we have had to respond to in less than two years.

The consultation document is a rather sorry little thing that reminds me of an undergrad student’s hurried first attempt at writing a questionnaire. To find out rather more about the consultation you need to read the terms of reference document.

I do have sympathy with the desire to provide safeguards for young people forced into marriage or domestic servitude. I also think that there are things badly wrong with the way we (as a society) attempt to ensure the safety of children from neglect and other forms of abuse. But, when the consultation document says:

“Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen?”

I’m somewhat mystified. It seems to me that all kinds of things ‘could’ be used to cover such scenarios. But *is* home education being used in this way? Given the tiny number of home educated children – as a proportion of the population – and the far larger numbers of abused children – as a proportion of the population – is this really a major problem? Many things are used as a cover for the abuse of children, I suspect. How about moving house frequently? Couldn't this be used as a way of keeping abuse secret? If so, should we introduce special monitoring for families that move house frequently? Of course not. That would be a ridiculous waste of resources, wouldn't it? Yes, some abuse may be uncovered, but much more might go uninvestigated while time and money was wasted contacting people about whom there was no concern, other than their choice to move house several times. It seems to me that our choice of educational provision is the same - not relevant in itself.

No, I suspect that there is another agenda here. There are people who are frustrated by their lack of power to swan into the homes of their fellow citizens and tell them how to bring up their children. It’s not about supporting children and young people – far less about empowering them. You can tell how much our govt respects the rights of our children by the fact that it is still legal to assault a child in this country (under the ‘cover’ of ‘reasonable chastisement’) and that our children are subject to police sweeps on the streets (called ‘truancy patrols’). No, it’s not for the children that they keep pushing for more powers. It’s about setting up procedures and making sure that families can’t stray too far from the state-sanctioned norm. It’s about keeping us all in the Five Outcomes Fold.

The consultation document loves the ‘Five Outcomes’ – those banal, mantra like statements of supposed universal desire.

“Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

Be healthy

Stay safe

Enjoy and acheive (their spelling mistake BTW)

Make a positive contribution.

achieve economic well-being”

I don’t like the ‘outcomes’ – as I may have mentioned before... I find some of them downright offensive. How about ‘Be healthy’? Is it a failing to be ill? Should someone have prevented it? If your child has ME, or leukaemia, or even just a common cold, is this a sign of poor care? No. Even worse, is it a failing of the child? Never mind your suffering, kid, why aren’t you achieving health? I mean, I know the government likes to feel in control but how about a bit of humility here? We don’t control these things for our children – much as we might wish we could.

What do they mean by ‘outcomes’ anyway? Are these things to be experienced constantly as day to day outcomes – or at a given age – or at the ‘end’ of childhood? I can’t imagine that children are expected to ‘achieve economic wellbeing’ at the age of eight, are they?

It’s hard to even read this document so it makes sense. Are home educated children able to achieve ‘Stay safe’? Can anyone explain to me what this means? Stay safe? In what way is this an outcome? Is this not a state of being? And does anyone want unqualified safety for their child? On Saturday, our son fell off his bike in the park and grazed his knee. If we had left the bike at home then he wouldn’t have had that accident. He would have ‘stayed safe’. Of course, he wouldn’t have had the enjoyment and achievement of riding eight times round the cycle track either.

These matters are not a list of bullet points to be checked off. A child’s life, anyone’s life, is a patchwork of pleasure, pain, safety, risk, health and illness, achievement and failure. My children, everyone’s children, will sometimes ‘achieve’ their silly ‘outcomes’ and sometimes not. This is called life and, so far, I have found no-one – parent, teacher or government – who is able to weed out the ‘bad’ bits and leave the ‘good’. And, in honesty, it’s not what I’d want for my children. My children need to fail, suffer loss, illness, struggle financially, let others down, put up with things they don’t enjoy and take silly risks. It is through these things that we learn and grow and appreciate what we have. Of course, in common with the vast majority of parents, I do my best and hope for the best for my children. But I’m not stupid enough to think that I can tick boxes and get guarantees.

Once again I am being asked to respond to their agenda, or let them make their own assumptions. So I’ll do my best to answer their questions. I know that those who have not had to think about the relationship between home educating families and the state may think this is all a bit of a fuss over nothing. But the view from here is that this lot are determined to get us ‘better regulated’ and they’ll keep on with their damn consultations until they get the answer they want.


Gill said...


Very well said!

peri said...

Oh dear - another very silly bit of time wasting - I have filled it in but IMHO a large % of the questions are just plain dumb!

Thanks for the heads-up.

Elizabeth said...

Love the critisism on the 'be healthy' bit. Ever met a school child without a runny nose?

mamacrow said...

well I had a big long rant earlier, but luckily it got lost in the ether!

this paper does smack awfully of having been born from a chance throw away remark in the cafe - 'hey, what if it was a cover for abuse?' 'Hmmm, better cover that base...'

cosmic seed said...

Hear Hear!!

Carlotta said...

That paragraph about risk, failure, financial insecurity, etc needs to be repeated somewhere on someone's response to the consult!

Ditto Gill. Applause and very well said!

Annkrozeika said...

Fantastic post!

Mieke said...

Echoing and agreeing with all the above! Inspiring!
I know I really should fill in this consultation (and I will), but I do not like being on the defensive about home ed. HE was such a positive choice for us and it has made our lives so much better. I wish they would look and listen to that! Or would that be too educational?

Rosie Cotton said...

Here Here!! Well done :)