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?