Home Educators are thinking that it may be worth getting on to the Children's Commissioner in order to tell him what we think of the prospective DfES consultation on changes to Home Education legislation. (NB: Am no longer going to use their euphemism "light touch" to describe these changes as they look to be anything but).
Anyhow, contacting the Children's Commissioner could be a good idea. From the website of the Children's Commissioner:
"We are an independent organisation that was set up by parliament as part of the Children Act 2004.
We look after the interests and act as the voice of children and young people. We do this by:
*exposing issues informed by children and young people themselves
*provoking and facilitating quality discussion and debate
*influencing the public, parents, carers and politicians through effective advocacy, particularly through the media
*informing and scrutinizing government policy
*holding organisations to account
*celebrating and promoting the participation of children and young people."
Given that Prof. Sir Albert Aynsley-Green seems to be asking for it, here is just one of the reasons why we don't want strangers who know next to nothing about our families poking their noses into our private lives without any due cause. Even if the authorities don't come close to doing anything as drastic as they did in this story (which was to haul a home educating family whose children have Asperger Syndrome through the courts under threat of losing their children), we will still find the presence of strangers in our home extremely intrusive and disruptive. I have, on several previous occasions, asked the children whether they would like to meet someone they have never met before who would sit in judgment upon their education and effectively upon their entire private lives, and surprise, surprise, Sir Albert, they said they would much rather not have to do so, for "really, what would they know?" There. Represent that view for us, will you?
The thing is, as far as our educational provision is concerned, we are getting by perfectly well without any state "help" thank you very much. We have always done so and see no need of the state right now. Should we run into trouble, we will try to think of solutions without state help. The state is not our only fall-back, but should that be the case, and we do get into a desperate situation, then we will ask. That is what you were meant to be there for. That was why state education was established in the first place - to plug the gaps, not to co-opt, regulate and ultimately destroy the other precious initiatives that could otherwise spring up all over the place. So unless we reach the point when we do need you, leave us alone to get on with it and go help someone who genuinely needs your help. Stop threatening to destroy the learning that is going on here, for you most likely will.
As to how this translates into what to say to the DfES, I would say that the above means that we should all leave well enough alone. We would love it if Sir Albert could tell the DfES that for the reasons above and below, the department shouldn't dream of giving LAs a duty to monitor all home educators. Let it remain that LAs only have a duty to monitor a home educating family when there is good reason to believe that an education is not taking place. This formalization, as it currently exists, keeps the balance about right, for it offers protection to the few home educating families who do struggle with their educational provision, and yet it leaves the others to get on with it unhindered and not having to cope with the worrying vagaries of state intrusion.
And of course, it has the added benefit for the state in that it means that the principle of parental responsibility for education (as enshrined in Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act) remains unchallenged. To insist on monitoring every Home Educating family is, on it's own, sufficient to undermine the principle of parental responsibility in the situation where the monitoring is not desired, but further, a duty to monitor will doubtless carry with it the need to establish a set of criteria as to what the state deems to be an adequate education, which again quite clearly undermines the principle of parental responsibility for educational provision, particularly if the parent/guardian's provision deviates in any way from the characterisation of education by the state.
If you want the principle of parental responsibility challenged, deciding to control those who actively chose not to take up the offer of state education is a sure-fire way of doing it and although I am the very last person to want this principle overturned in law, I would go to court to demonstrate that it had been. It is almost impossible to conceive of the trouble this would cause the schooling system and the state!
On top of all of which, Sir Albert, it is probably worth telling the DfES that they risk meeting with serious resistance from the Home Education community. HEors will say 'no' to home visits. They will resist serious intrusion into their private lives. Should an LA decide that it needs to make informal, preliminary enquiries in order to establish that on balance of probabilities a suitable education is taking place, home educators will continue to present evidence of education in a way that suits that family. They will not be dictated to as to how they should present this evidence. If LAs are given a duty to monitor home education in a specified way, meeting certain prescribed criteria, this will doubtless mean that when they meet with steadfast resistance and they will have to issue more and more School Attendance Orders. Is this really what LAs want to have to do? Spend a great deal of time and money trying to intrude upon the private lives of happy families (a right to family privacy of course being inscribed in European Human Rights law), to force them to use educational provision that they have not chosen and probably won't work for them nearly as well? Really, really, really?
Yep, Sir Albert - tell the DfES to leave the law alone. We can live with it as it is. The balance has been achieved through a prolonged evolution and a certain wisdom has been produced over time. It may not be perfect for either side - most HEing families would far rather have nothing at all to do with LAs, and LAs would far rather have a perfect right to stomp into everyone's front rooms and tell us exactly what to do, but as the law stands it is the best balance that we could hope for.
There, am off to send the above argument to Sir Albert at firstname.lastname@example.org and Happy New Year to everyone.