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.