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?

1 comment:

  1. Super, extremely logical post. I actually enjoyed reading it, which is saying something, considering the topic you are discussing, which is not enjoyable at all. Reading it I realized, you all have nothing to worry about. The Baroness's position is that of a lunatic fringe group, interested only in its own agenda, and refusing to consider any evidence that would threaten that agenda. We can be thankful that most people simply don't accept that agenda. I really don't believe they do. And I have also become convinced that nobody is actually taking her seriously. She seems to have an audience of one.