Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cultural Bias

I've been reading Enid Blyton's Famous Five books for bedtime stories, and it struck me how very school-biased (boarding school, even), the writing is. I don't hold her to blame for it particularly, but it did make me think how even now, we live in a society that is very focused on the idea that children must go to school. This, of course, is a big part of the problem with which home educators are fighting.

Everyone assumes children go to school, and I guess most home educators are used to the questions about which school, how the children like it and how they're getting on. I'm sure more than a few enjoy the effect of responding with "he doesn't go to school" or similar, even though that usually means rolling out the usual responses about it being legal, how socialisation is not a problem, what about exams, etc. I'm sure we've all done it at least once.

Of course, the government is very school-biased, both at local and national level. I've seen statements to the effect that they consider school is the best place for children to learn, and various bits of government propaganda make out that school is the only option. It's the way that the terms 'education' and 'school' get interchanged, mostly wrongly, that causes a lot of confusion. I've already mentioned Baroness Deech and her particular bias in favour of school, and she's not the only one. Yes, some home educators may claim to be educating children while doing nothing of the sort, but is that really less acceptable than the many schools pulling the same trick?

We have two main options here. Either we can just put up with it, and accept that home education is always going to be viewed as a slightly weird fringe activity by most people, or we can go on a publicity campaign and build on what's already been done as part of fighting Badman and Balls and attempt to pull home education into mainstream acceptance. When parents of pre-school children are generally aware of home education as an alternative to school and are prepared to choose it as a 'normal' option rather than thinking of it as some strange and possibly illegal thing to do, we will have succeeded. The downside of succeeding too well might be that the government decides it wants to impose control, but if there are ten times the number, there would be more than the not-inconsiderable noise we raised this time around. We will undoubtedly have to deal with government again in the future, so preparing and consolidating our position now will make that easier.

Have a good think about how to push home education in your area. Talk to radio stations, newspapers, leave leaflets in your local library, even see if playgroups would be willing to display some. We need to have the usual questions and the usual answers out there and common knowledge, so that we get asked them a lot less. One day I'll be able to respond to the school question from a random stranger when on holiday and instead of being asked a follow-up about socialisation, be asked what sort of home education philosophy we follow, or what C's current study areas are.

As a postscript, I noticed that Blyton's books have been updated a bit. They're now in metric and decimal money and certain bits have been re-written to please the Safely Elf, such as the firework scene in one of the Secret Seven books. They're still sexist though.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Inspection and Monitoring

So, anything from light-touch monitoring (whatever that is) to having to sit SATs and conform to the National Curriculum. Fortunately the SATs and NC have yet to feature in government proposals, but given Michael Gove's love affair with the Swedish system, we need to keep an eye on it.

There seems to be a background expectation of change, whoever wins the imminent election. Home education has had to raise its profile too high to be able to duck back under cover and carry on. I did cover this in an earlier post, So What Comes Next?, where we need to be vigilant and not duck down and get steamrollered by whatever it is that comes next.

So, to the title of this post. The thing that is most likely to hit us is an obligation to make ourselves known to officialdom. Some already are known, whether they like it or not, but a good many of us are still not formally down on paper even though we haven't exactly been hiding, with petitions, visits to Parliament, writing to MPs and DCSF, TV, radio and newspaper interviews, etc. If LAs are quick enough off the mark with ContactPoint, they will be able to pick up on many of those missing from their lists before an incoming Conservative government takes it away from them.

A 'light touch' scheme, as proposed by the LibDems, would merely require us to provide the names and addresses of our children, and probably our own details, to the local authority. What could be lighter and less intrusive? Except it won't end with that. Once the LA has that information, it won't just leave it to sit in a filing cabinet (but might leave it sitting on a train), it will want to use it.

So the education inspector will call and, buoyed up by the CSF Bill proposals, will no doubt want to see an education plan for the coming year. Hang on, that wasn't part of the light touch, was it? More than a few inspectors will probably try to insist on a home visit, now you've told them where it is, even though there's nothing about that in the light touch either. And where are the samples of work, where is the child? Before we know it, we'll be back with all the inspectors who want to implement the law as they'd like it to be rather than as it is, except now they'll have more families to harass. The good inspectors, who've been at it for several years and have experience to do a proper job, will have to be supplemented by untrained and unqualified extra staff, many of whom will come from a school background and are likely to expect to see school at home. That doesn't sound very light touch, more like hassle and arguments.

It will be very difficult to keep a 'light touch' notification scheme down to just that. Local authorities are going to take what's offered and keep pushing for more, because they are burdened down with other legislation that forces them to not trust parents. As we don't trust them either, based on years of examples of power-mad inspectors and social services, it will get messy. The big difference now, however, is that we've been woken up from our slumber and have armed ourselves with a good understanding of the law and an awareness of what we might lose. It may be that we end up with some awful scheme, but we can fight to make sure it doesn't creep forward and trample our families.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Suitable and Efficient

Having seen the writing on the wall for the CSF Bill, the government fired up a plan B, in the form of a consultation into what constitutes a suitable education. There is currently no definition in law, but courts have indicated that education is deemed to be “efficient” if it achieves what it sets out to achieve and “suitable” if it “equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life of the country as a whole, so long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so.”

I suspect that there is no good universal definition of "efficient", so the one that the judge used is likely to stick around. School is certainly not efficient when looked at on the basis of an individual child, who is likely to spend much of the time in class not being educated. So the government may need to tread carefully lest they come up with a definition that shows up their system in a bad light. It can be argued that they fail even this loose definition because school sets out to provide each child with five GCSE passes including English and Maths and most definitely does not achieve that. So, planks and splinters, perhaps the state needs to get its own house in order first.

This leaves us with "suitable". Once again, for school this can probably be expressed in terms of government targets, because that is how they think. Five GCSEs at A-C and half of children going on to university where they can build up huge debts while gaining devalued or worthless degrees.

However, many home educators reject those targets, or at least prefer to place them in a wider context. The government position is simple: it considers academic achievement to be the only metric, forever stressing how many children have achieved their targets. Home educators tend to be more focused on the overall quality of life, which is much harder to assess and is definitely not amenable to a simple tick-box approach. The government introduced its Every Child Matters programme, but this seems to be a bit of an afterthought, and certainly doesn't appear to apply much in some schools. It is very much a product of the nanny state, trying to remove common sense and replace it with a set of rules. "You will enjoy yourselves and you will do it like this."

Anyway, back to "suitable". This is a very individual metric. Bill Gates decided that he didn't need a university degree, and given his career, one can argue with him. Alan Sugar and Richard Branson gained much of their education in the school of life and have been very successful. Yes, these are three extreme examples, but they are part of a spectrum of people who succeeded with a wide range of educational achievements at 16. Looking the other way, there are doubtless people with good university degrees who are unsuccessful, and more who achieved the magic five GCSEs. For whatever reason, academic achievement failed to equip them for their situation.

This is where home education scores more highly, because by the nature of it, children are expose to the world and are actively encouraged to pursue their ideas, often to the short-term exclusion of all else. Here's another term: "balanced curriculum". This is a very misleading thing, which the government defines as advancing equally in all subjects each year. Why does this have to happen for an education to be suitable? In the limit, a child could learn one subject per year with a GCSE at the end for eleven years and come out at the end of compulsory school with eleven passes. However, a snapshot at age eight would see that child as lacking in certain areas despite the three or four exam passes. In practice there has to be overlap between subjects because basics such as maths and English will find their way into other areas of life and no one subject is an island, so it is inevitable that advancement is required along a broad front.

To follow this overlap thread a bit further, ask why we have to have arbitrary boundaries of subjects? The sciences are all inter-related, and maths features in all of them. A child studying chemistry will be exposed to aspects of physics and biology and will use maths as a tool. An interest in volcanoes can be expanded to include history - dealing with effects of volcanic action, geography - pinpointing locations of volcanic activity, geology - discovering rock types and plate tectonics, and more. Astronomy can be handled in a similar manner, plenty of rich history with religion and the centre of the universe, a bit of maths and physics to explain the motion of bodies, etc.

So what is "suitable"? To go back to that judicial definition, it pretty much hits the spot. A child who has, by adulthood, mastered enough skills to see him through the next stages of his life, but is also equipped to learn new ones as the need arises, meets that definition perfectly. For each child the skill set will be different according to interests and upbringing, but that is because we are not cookie-cutter clones to be assessed with a standard set of tick boxes.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Full-Time Education

The regulations regarding home education are vague on the subject of full-time, but acknowledge that it doesn't have to match a school day. However, what is a full-time education? Certainly not the five hours a child spends in class each day at school. That's full-time attendance at school, but most people would agree that it doesn't equate to five hours of education. The actual useful education received during that time will vary by child, depending on many factors such as the child's interest in the subject matter, the teacher, other children, etc.

So let's look at an hour-long lesson in a school where children don't just remain in the same room all the time. Some time will be lost at the start of the lesson as children arrive from their previous class, possibly at slightly different times depending on how far they had to walk from the previous class and when they were released from that class. So the first five minutes are for settling down. The teacher will introduce the day's activities, possibly with a recap of the previous lesson, which takes another five minutes. Then we come to where the real education starts, the subject matter for the day. Typically there will be a mix of verbal explanation and visual aids, followed by the children doing their own work on the day's topic. At some point the children will complete the exercise, there will be time spent collecting and setting homework and the children will be packing up ready to leave for the next lesson. So in that hour, there could be as little as fifteen minutes of useful education.

This suggests that school is about 25% efficient, so that five hours of sitting in a classroom yields about one and a quarter hours of education for a typical child. The bright ones will no doubt receive less, and the less able will receive more. As regards on-on-one time, with thirty children in a class they can have no more than two minutes on average of the teacher's time in that hour. Then we come to school terms, which limit the official education to about forty weeks a year, which is 1,000 hours in the classroom and 250 hours of education.

Now, home educators don't really take long breaks because educating at home takes place at all times and even when on holiday there are opportunities for education. So, 250 hours in 365 days (yes, we educate at weekends too) is about 41 minutes of education a day to match the effective full-time education offered by state schools. Want a day off? Easy, just spend a bit longer each day for the next couple of days and the time is made up.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

So What Comes Next?

So the CSF Bill is nearly dead. There's an outside chance that if Gordon Brown hung on for a 3rd June election it could scrape through, but that's not likely. So we can assume that home educators have won this battle and can look forward.

There is undoubtedly more to come, whoever wins the election. If it's Labour, or they are at least in charge of education, we will have to deal with Schedule 1 again, and soon, which may mean concentrating on the Lords to get them to amend it to tone it down. We would be unlikely to be able to do much in the short term (i.e. the next Parliament) if this happens.

If the LibDems have any say then they will be pushing for their notification scheme, although they may be on our side for the rest.

If the Conservatives are running education then we still have to be careful. They are on our side in getting rid of the CSF Bill because they don't really want to be stuck with implementing it, but at some point after the election they will turn their attention to us as part of whatever they do on education.

It is therefore important to keep working hard to convince them to leave us alone and make it clear that we will fight them as hard as we fought Ed Balls if we don't like what they propose, and it is important that we consider carefully the effects on all aspects of HE before agreeing with them. We are indeed a diverse group, but united really well to fight the current battle, but we must be careful that the unity is not shattered by the government picking off particular groups with bribes and leaving others less well off

We also need to be mindful of what happens in five years time. What may seem a good idea with a benign and friendly government who are willing to provide support and facilities for minimal sacrifice on our part may let whoever wins in 2014/5 cut all of that as expensive and be left with a helpful database containing everything we've tried to avoid them getting this time. Government is very Jekyll and Hyde by its nature.

To follow up on an analogy I used elsewhere, we're in the castle and they're trying to get in. At the moment we're doing OK, we've repelled them from the walls and they didn't have time to assemble catapults or a ram. However, the next Parliament will have plenty of time to breach the walls. If that looks likely, then we need to be ready with the boiling oil and rocks to drop, and know in advance whether we can make an effort and divert them in a direction we prefer. Obviously we'd prefer them to be outside, but once in, what happens next?

I have my own personal list for when just saying NO is no longer going to work, and high on it are demands that we can also shout from the castle walls if a breach is imminent. These are on such matters as LA behaviour, qualification of inspectors, what they think they are inspecting, etc. I am reluctant to put forward my ideas because I am aware that they would not be acceptable to some, I don't want to make government think that even I would be happy with them and I'm mindful that Mr Hyde may turn up shortly so any ground given may later be used against us. The best we can do is attempt to make them pay a high price for any concessions we are forced to give.

It is a great shame that we have come to this - I blame Ed Balls and his department for destroying trust and for mindlessly parroting their balance of rights speech over and over again. Whether it was deliberate or not, home educators are going to be very reluctant to engage with the government for a long time. We are a minority, we are not understood by many people who also fail to realise the full implications of what they so blithely post in newspaper comment sections, we were doing a good job before all this started - certainly better than the government is doing with schools and we would just like to be left alone to continue doing that job.

So my message to whoever is in office after the election is this: Leave us alone, we've managed for many years with no support or assistance and we don't like all those nasty strings on what you're offering. Go and sort out schools and when you've managed to get bullying and abuse down to our levels, pupil satisfaction and happiness up to our levels and academic achievement up to even your target levels, then perhaps you will be better qualified to understand why we home educate and how it works. Then we might be ready to talk to you.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Today we went to the Cambridge Science Festival. Last year we spent an entire day looking at biology stuff, largely on the back of C's interest in such things when we were in the US. This time I was keen to try chemistry. Suggestions that he might like it have been ignored up to now, so the idea was to dangle it in front of him and see whether he liked it.

We got kitted out with white lab coats and safety goggles for the first bit, and had a play with coloured slime. The slime was quite simple - PVA glue, a bit of food colouring, mix well in a ziplock bag and then add some 4% borax solution. It sets to a workable slime.

Next was the crazy chemistry section, where we started with a simple volcano using sodium bicarbonate and and vinegar. There was a slightly different type of volcano on an adjacent bench, made with water, washing-up liquid, mix well in a conical flask and throw in some dry ice. C discovered that he could make a column of soap bubbles almost as high as he could reach before the weight of the water overcame the surface tension and it collapsed. Other experiments of interest were the salt and vinegar cleaning copper coins, zinc-plating twopence pieces and some fun stuff with catalysts. C also got to melt a polystyrene cup in acetone.

We gave back the lab coats and glasses and headed for safer areas. A bit of crystal growth, plus looking at some impressively-large crystals and some really small ones under a microscope. Then another fun bit - a bunch of students with vats of liquid nitrogen, so C got to smash a daffodil and observe bananas, apples and carrots meet the same fate. Other fun was had by immersing balloons into liquid nitrogen, whereupon they would be almost deflated when removed and would re-inflate to full size as they warmed up. I assume that the gas in the balloons had condensed to liquid to make them shrink that much.

C put together a model of a menthol molecule, then we had a break for a drink and some biscuits, followed by more liquid nitrogen fun, making ice cream.

Then it was pretty much closing time - where did the time go?

The final comment is that yes, he appears hooked on chemistry, so we stopped off in a bookshop and have acquired a suitable book to start working from. Now if only we could get a proper chemistry set, as seen back in the 70s with real chemicals in it.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

To respond more fully to the points raised by Baroness Deech, here are a few notes.

The scheme proposed by the Bill requires registration in a form to be defined, providing information that has yet to be defined, and followed by monitoring in a form to be defined, and the requirement to submit in advance a plan for the following year, again in a format to be defined. Any disagreement with the opinion of the local authority inspector is via an appeals procedure which is yet to be defined. It appears that the government have not thought this through very far, and have left themselves plenty of provision to make the requirements very onerous indeed. If we are to have a light-touch scheme then why isn't that explicitly defined in the Bill? Surely that's what it's there for and to leave everything to secondary legislation that does not appear to require Parliamentary scrutiny does not inspire confidence. To me, light-touch would at most be providing them with the name of a child and the address at which the child lives. As child benefit is pretty universal in England, the government actually has all this information anyway, so why a whole new bureaucratic structure to collect it again?

On the subject of being representative, many organisations that receive unsolicted complaints usually consider that for every person that does complain, there are at least ten more who didn't. The consultation on the home education proposals received over five thousand responses, compared to a DCSF average of less than a hundred, based on a quick scan through their website. Ninety-five percent of those responses were opposed to the government proposals, which was translated by Ed Balls as a majority in favour. It seems that the Baroness learned her maths at the same school.

On the subject of rights of the child, I would put it to her that she is ignoring the rights of the huge majority of children. It is all very well to ask home educated children whether they would prefer to go to school, and indeed many of us do make it clear to our children that should they wish to attend school, they are free to do so. However, no one asks schoolchildren whether they would prefer to be educated otherwise than at school, so there is an implicit bias in the approach. If the rights of the child are so important, why are they not mentioned anywhere in the home education section of the Bill? The only language there is for the benefit of the authority, not the child. Attempts to amend this oversight failed in the Commons committee stage, so we assume that the government does not consider the rights of home educated children to be that important, unlike the parents.

Mention of the UNCRC has largely ignored the section which requires states to respect that the parents have primary duty with regard to the child. Indeed, state involvement in child care in the UK fails many and is best avoided except in very few cases, and even then, the state continues to fail even with all the evidence presented and recorded.

Home education does not have minimum hours because it takes place on a continuous spectrum, where children are learning all the time as opportunity presents. Indeed, at the APPG meeting where the Baroness appears to have finally closed her mind to the good of home education, my son was sat on a bench quietly doing arithmetic exercises while the adults were discussing his future. This was after having spent time in Parliament, watching debate in the Commons and noting other points of interest that can be used to cover history in the coming months. School children spend up to twenty-five hours a week in class, but probably have about five hours of
useful instruction in that time, with the rest being taken up with the start and end of classes, disruption from other pupils, not understanding the task and so sitting idle (or disrupting the class) waiting for attention from the teacher, or having finished the exercise early and waiting for the end of class.

It is possible to get into Cambridge, having been home educated, so even top universities recognise that home education works. Indeed, given the way many home educated children are taught to think for themselves and find out information on subjects they wish to learn, they are probably better equipped for university life than many schoolchildren, who will have been taught how to pass tests, often by rote and with no deeper understanding of the subject. Universities often complain about this problem.

On the subject of the ECHR and Germany, the ban dates back to the Nazi era where it was considered desirable that all children should receive state indoctrination. Modern Germany obviously prefers to maintain conformance to a state ideal, whereas British history values independence of thought, even when that independence is under attack, as now.

The Baroness has a misunderstanding of autonomous education. It does not involve absense of teaching, it merely directs that teaching to subjects in which the child has expressed an interest. So a child wishing to learn physics will receive assistance from a parent or, if the parent feels it is necessary, from another person. The same is true of any subject, and often different families will have lessons in a small group to pool resources. The important point which the Baroness has failed to grasp is that we are teaching our children how to learn, a skill that is sadly not on the National Curriculum and has sadly died a death in schools, smothered by paperwork. If a child knows how to learn then he is equipped for anything that the future may throw his way because he has the tools to adapt to his situation.

As for contempt for the state, I doubt very much if this is restricted to the middle classes. It probably shows more because they have more confidence and resources to fight back against state intrusion, but many children are successfully educated at home by working-class families and indeed, research elsewhere has shown that these children are likely to do better than their school-attending peers. No, the real issue with the state is that it has attacked us as a group with misleading and inaccurate statements, flawed research that rejects evidence that did not support its conclusions, has failed to listen to the huge level of objection to the subsequent proposals and patronisingly repeats the same platitudes whenever challenged. Is it any wonder that home educators currently have a low opinion of the state and will remember how bad it can be for many years to come?

Once again the Baroness is worried about forced marriages. This is a total red herring, because many children go abroad on holiday and it is trivial for a family wishing to force a child into marriage to take that child overseas at the start of the summer holiday and by the time school restarts, it will be too late to do much. Even Graham Badman found no evidence of home education being used as cover for forced marriages.

The NSPCC is out of touch with current law, which is surprising. Social workers do have powers to gain access to children considered to be at risk. However, many schoolchildren suffer abuse and are not picked up even by adults who see them regularly in the classrooms. It is notable that social workers themselves do not want to have routine access as called for by the NSPCC because it lays them open to accusations of abuse or of asking leading questions of a child. There have already been too many cases of adults in positions of power abusing those positions and it is not surprising that parents are reluctant to allow hostile strangers such access to their children.

Habeus Corpus. What a good idea, especially when the government in the recent past has wanted to detain suspects for ninety days without trial. Let's have some evidence first. Most home educated children are out and about a lot, seeing other families, going on visits to places such as libraries and museums and yes, going to the supermarket. They are not confined to a room with thirty other people for five hours a day and are not hidden. Any who were hidden to avoid authorities would remain so with their parents not bothering to register them.

On the subject of visits, yes it would be expensive to visit three or four times a year. The level of resources required, and the reduction in services to other children would put far more at risk than could possibly be saved. Two weeks notice is the minimum required - it is common for families to go on holidays of that duration, so extra bureaucracy and stress would be created if a single week's notice was given that arrived just after a family had commenced such a holiday, because the inspector would turn up to an empty house the following week. it is also important
that inpsections be fitted in around normal learning, so that the child does not miss out on an activity that was already arranged for the day.

As for presenting work, the Baroness is assuming that there is work to present in a particular form. She has already expressed her dislike of autonomous education, but it is a popular approach with many children and so she would need to guarantee that inspectors are properly trained to understand and assess progress fairly and competently. Current evidence from around the country shows significant variation in the approach of local authorities and individual inspectors and we object to having such people in a position of power over us.

I am somewhat horrified by the attitude of the Baroness to force children back to school while an appeal is in progress. What happened to the rights of the child that she was espousing earlier in her speech?

Lords Second Reading

Watching the second reading of the CSF Bill in the Lords, I was heartened by the fact that many Lords were expressing reservations about the home education provision. We will undoubtedly have unfinished business with them during the next Parliament because several consider that something must change. However, they seemed to understand our concerns and will hopefully be open to an informed debate.

However, Baroness Deech gets a special mention. She produced an amazing outburst of bile and vitriol against home educators. She expressed several opinions that were totally irrelevant to home education, including a concern about forced marriages, which can happen to any child, regardless of educational status. She has managed to demonstrate all the reasons why home educators do not wish to engage with government, with a very statist and totalitarian viewpoint wanting us to be inspected four times a year and under a very tight regime of how we could educate our children. She has totally missed the point of why we opt out of the state system and has proposed to penalise us even more for doing so. I think she's our new poster child(!) highlighting why we don't want state interference because she represents all that is bad about state control.

It is notable that they are all of the opinion that change is coming, and it is up to us to drive that change and make sure that whatever surfaces next is acceptable to all of us.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Education is a Journey

It's well known that education doesn't stop when you leave school or university. I know that several things that I found boring at school have become interesting to me over the years, such as history. Of course, there are others that I hated at school and have yet to really overcome the dislike despite the passage of many years, but that's probably just as well because I haven't got time for them at the moment.

While this is primarily about C's education, I find that my experiences over the past year are not what I would have expected had you asked me back in March 2009.

Then Badman hit the fan. In common with a lot of the home education community, I was horrified, and started my media career that week by means of a radio interview with the local radio station. I've always been low-profile, so it was novel to put myself up for such a thing. It was only afterwards that I remembered that the presenter was a former teacher.

Since then there have been other things - I didn't go to the picnic, but because I'd sent in an email to the radio station that morning wishing luck to those who were going, I got contacted and ended up arranging for them to interview someone from the area who did go, having found her contact details, called, passed on the radio station's number, called them back to say she'd contact them when in a better place. I hate making phone calls, but I managed it.

Then there was the select committee inquiry. I put something into that at the eleventh hour, sitting in a hotel room in Hawaii, and the consultation. I managed to organise a meeting between some locals and our MP, and conveniently passed over some petition signatures. Watching the select committee interviewing witnesses courtesy of Parliament TV.

Then it was onto the Bill itself, and I saw the draconian section on home education that had nothing to do with the best interests of the child and everything to do with bureaucracy and making people obey or else. I've learned an awful lot about how Parliament works, and how the reality is often far removed from what we'd like it to be. Vigorous debate, followed by slavish obedience to the party line regardless of evidence and concerns. MPs voting despite not having heard a word of what was said in the chamber, delegating their thought processes to the whips.

Somewhere in there I had a go at working through the Bill and writing up amendments. They were a bit cautious wanting to disarm the worst of the proposals rather than propose anything new because I know that what's OK with me may not be with others. Having seen what MPs submitted, I could have been a lot more radical about ripping the guts out of Schedule 1. I guess there's the opportunity of the Lords for that.

I volunteered the family to be filmed by the BBC. It was an interesting experience, seeing how a programme is put together from the inside. C enjoyed being on TV and the cats showed how creative they could be at disrupting interviews. It also gave me an idea for a scrutiny committee submission, which was duly submitted almost at the deadline. It turned out to be useful because it provided Graham Stuart with some of the material for his piece in committee on the last day.

We've just had the Khyra Ishaq media blitz, and I was listening to Badman and then Ann Newstead on BBC Radio WM via iPlayer. I overcame my dislike of telephones and called in and got to say my piece on-air.

Now we're engaging with the Lords, and need to get enough of them interested in debating the Bill to hold it up until Gordon Brown gathers enough bottle to go and see the Queen.

I look back over the past year and there seems to be a lot of distance covered between then and now. I'm sure that many other home educators have made similar journeys in knowledge and achievements as we all pull together to get this awful legislation thrown out.