Sunday, December 30, 2007

Unschooling Theory

In case you missed it in his links, there is a beautifully succinct description of unschooling by the David Friedman, who I am pretty sure is the author of Machinery of Freedom and son of Milton.

He explains it all, bar the bit about why the brain works best when it is not subject to coercion. (Lest we forget: that the mind of the learner must act first in every act of learning and that all successful learning is therefore autonomous. That coercion may be defined as being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind, and that this reduces the capacity for creativity, criticism and rationality. )

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tim and David on Homeschooling

These would be big-time blogger Tim Worstall and libertarian homeschooling virtuoso David Friedman. Comments to both posts are revealing on the subject of how home education is viewed by the wider world.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Talented Youngster"

Way to go, Thomas!

If You Home Educate and Live in Bromley....

...get out fast, for otherwise you will find that your family is no longer your responsibility.

From the woeful misreading of current legislation that is the Bromley Safeguarding Children Board Guidance on Home Education...(check out the bit in red for the quite extraordinary appropriation of parental duties by the state):

"Safeguarding Issues:

....Being out of school means the child does not have the routine monitoring of their welfare and day to day contact with a range of professionals that is afforded to children at school. This will require all agencies in contact with home educated children to ensure that the child’s welfare is being promoted.

Safeguarding Children in Education (DfES 2004) states:

“responsibility for children who are educated at home by their parents are not solely education issues. These matters are best dealt with by a multi agency approach and should be addressed in locally agreed procedures in accordance with the principles set out in ‘Working Together’ and the Assessment Framework.”

The ‘Every Child Matters’ 2004 framework sets out the criteria by which all children’s well being should be measured. That is that they should be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and, in due course, experience economic well being. Attendance at school plays an important part, not just in ensuring that a child achieves academically, but it also providing routine health surveillance and opportunities for social interaction that promote greater awareness of safety issues and wider contribution to the community. It is therefore implicit that, as well as ensuring a child receiving home education is meeting the needs of the education curriculum, the local authority should ensure that outcomes for home educated children in all dimensions of the Every Child Matters agenda are promoted.

To this end Bromley Safeguarding Children Board requires agencies within Bromley to ensure they promote the well being of home educated children in all aspects of their development.

Process within Bromley: (from October 2006)

When a parent elects to home educate the relevant school will pass details of the child to the Education Welfare Service, who will complete a Common Assessment Framework checklist within 10 days. If the checklist indicates immediate concerns the EWS will either undertake a CAF or refer the case to Social Care, if the case meets Social Care referral thresholds. If the CAF checklist does not indicate any immediate concerns for the child then the EWS will complete a CAF within 6 weeks. Completing the CAF will allow the EWS team to ensure that those aspects of a child’s life outside of education that would normally be promoted through school are being addressed. If, after the completion of the CAF it is clear that all of the home educated child’s needs are being met then the EWS Team will undertake the continued monitoring of the educational arrangements for the child. The EWS Team will request that monitoring of the child’s education takes place within the family home and that the child is part of the discussions around their education. This will enable the team to ensure that the Every Child Matters 5 outcomes are being met.

If the initial CAF assessment raises concerns about how some aspects of the child’s care might be met or there is knowledge of past or current concerns in relation to a child whose parents have elected to home educate, then the EWS assessor will convene a CAF meeting (advice/assistance can be accessed from the CAF Team) to plan how best the needs of the child can be addressed in line with section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This puts a duty on Local Authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need and to provide a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs. This may include requesting that Children's Social Care undertaking an initial assessment, under the ‘Framework for the Assessment of children in Need’.

Where there are previous or current concerns regarding the child but the parents do not co-operate with an assessment under the Common Assessment Framework or an initial assessment by Children’s Social Care then it will be deemed that the parent is not behaving as a reasonable parent and Children’s Social Care will consider whether the threshold for convening a child protection conference has been reached.

Where any agency comes into contact with a child being educated at home and has concerns for their welfare then they should follow the procedure outlined in What To Do If You’re Worried A Child Is Being Abused – HM Government 2003 and refer to an appropriate agency.

September 2006.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jesus was Home Educated

The lead article in the Christmas edition of the Spectator continues in the time-honored tradition of deriving pretty much any lesson you care to think of from the gospels.

"The awesome mystery of Christmas is contained in the dual nature of the infant Jesus: the knowledge of His almighty power, juxtaposed with the spectacle of His absolute vulnerability in the crib..." blah.

However, in order to avoid being too Scrooge-like about the spirit of Christmas, I thought I might join in. According to this site, Jesus was probably home educated.

"Supposedly, universal education for Jewish boys from age six wasn't initiated until 63AD, by Joshua ben Gimla. So Jesus's early education was probably mostly in the hands of his father, and the other men of the village."

OK, you wouldn't want for your child to end up the way He did, but He didn't do so badly along the way. From the pulpit therefore: emulate the holy family. Home educate your child.

The Spectator leader does pull itself together however. They write that in response to the Unicef report that British children are having the worst time of all children in the developed world, the government has launched the ten-year Children's Plan:

"...when such policies are announced, it is wise to step back and ask who is truly responsible for the welfare of children - and to remember the sage warning of Sir Keith Joseph that 'the very first words that a British baby is apt to be taught to utter are that "the government should do something about it" ' "

"...better child-care is hailed as the answer to everything. ...The government wants all primary schools to provide facilities between 8 am and 6 pm. Thus will these public institutions of learning become a network of glorified creches. "

"Of course, for those who have to work to make ends meet, child-care provision is essential. But is should be treated as a second-best necessity rather than a cause of celebration. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the adverse consequences for children - emotional and educational - who spend too many hours a week away from their parents and their home. The pioneer in this field is the controversial Professor Jay Belsky of Birkbeck College, London. But more familiar experts, such as Dr Penelope Leach are reaching similar conclusions. Their findings do not sit easily with modern liberal values. But parenthood is not designed to suit the lifestyle preferences of the adult. It is a sacred, lifelong obligation, as well as an unparalleled blessing."

Amen to that!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How Children Learn

This one is now on my wish list.

With yet more completely autonomously educated teens slotting easily into their desired life choices, and in fact many of them doing high level academic courses without any previous attempt at even structured, let alone coerced learning, it should remain only a matter of time before books such as the above become the mainstream.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lone Parents and Home Education

From page 113 of the Department for Work and Pensions' Ready for Work document:

"It was strongly felt that increased conditionality was not appropriate for...parents who choose to home educate".

This from the section on the consultation responses to the new welfare reform proposals whereby lone parents who can work will be required to actively seek work once their youngest child is 12 or over from October 2008, 10 or over from 2009 or 7 or over from October 2010.

However, as far as we can see, there is no news on whether the government will take this part of the response to their consultation seriously.


.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Education Everywhere

...is the great title for a new telephone helpline service which is staffed by experienced home educators who can offer advice on all matters to do with educating everywhere.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Some Psychiatrists on School Refusal

From the Royal College of Psychiatrists "fact sheet": Mental Health and Growing Up, Third Edition. Children who do not go to school :

"You and your child's teachers should encourage your child to go back to school as quickly as possible. Keeping your child off school will make the problem worse. "

No, you are wrong or not by any means always right. Please don't pretend this is a fact sheet.

"If you sort out any underlying problems, like bullying or school work, many of the symptoms will improve."

And if you don't sort it out? Er, not sure. It seems, for wont of any other apparent solution, that children still do have to go back to school. Right, but let's not forget that there are a substantial number of child suicides every year that are specifically related to school problems. Is that not on your conscience, oh you royal grandees?

And just in case anyone is still tempted to think that this is likely to be the child's fault and not the school's, you don't have to go far to find people who were miserable, just miserable to the point of being suicidal in schools, and yet who have not had problems in the rest of their lives.

What is the matter with these eminences who pretend to so much knowledge? Why are children the only class of humans in this country, apart from prisoners, who are apparently compelled to spend huge amount of their time in a particular place that is not of their choosing? Why is being imprisoned in a place you hate, good training for the rest of your life? Why is leaving school and seeking an education elsewhere not evidence of perfectly adaptive and creative problem solving?

Get with it, the RCP.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ContactPoint Updates

Writer Dave Hill has set up a Facebook Group entitled "Dump ContactPoint (The "Children's Index" Database) with plenty of links to good articles. Spread the word among your Facebook friends.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Seven Things About Me

I was recently tagged by the Clues Academy with the "Seven Facts You Don't Already Know about Me" meme. This was a good thing in some ways. It was particularly good to hear that there are other atheist libertarians out there and that some of them are out and proud. May this particular meme continue to grow!

It wasn't such a good thing in that with a little introspection, I realised that regular readers of this blog would already know about the bits I regard as interesting and open to the public, that the really juicy bits would have to remain a matter for pillow talk only and that the rest was too boring to blog.

However, in the hope that there is just a little bit of slack in the above, here goes:

Seven facts that you may not already know about me:

1. My book of the year, without a doubt, is Richard Dawkins' God Delusion, the essence of which is conveyed very effectively in this TED Talk. Both of these give me the kick I need to stop faffing around and declare my atheism with pride. As with all good ideas that I truly treasure, the theories in the "God Delusion" carry explanatory force. They are not contradictory. They match the evidence. They fit with other good explanations and in Dawkins' scheme of things, you don't even have to declare the infallibility of your atheism in order to call yourself an atheist. So phew - atheism can be said to be compatible with the acknowledgment of the tentative nature of knowledge!

There are only two slightly substandard sentences and a couple of dodgy sentiments in this book, and you only notice them as the rest of it is so peerlessly written and so powerfully argued.

2. My moment of the year: attending the birth of someone so precious to me. Seeing her strength. Feeling so good that I didn't get to hold baby for about 12 hours, cos mum didn't see the need to let go of her. Seeing all the skills of proper parenting coming back home to rest. Realising that my own parenting skills are now good and proper in many regards. Feeling proud that we have, with the help of so many people and organisations, learned these skills.

3. Another huge moment: the birth of another miracle baby: a child born against so many odds it is even now, two months later, hard to believe she actually made it here. A beautiful soul who babbles away with amazing virtuosity.

4. I've spent a significant amount of this year being blown away by the things DH gets up to. Walking into a room where he had been working, and thinking "how on earth did you manage that!" Being so perennially grateful that he has such pronounced skills in so many areas where I have none at all, not least in being a huge risk taker. Bother, have just bitten a nail.

5. Our TV programme of the year? Scrubs. It is a huge common preference in our household. I think the children started to watch it since it works on so many levels. They started out enjoying the physical comedy, but they quickly started to derive a huge amount from the more complex parts, such as the insights into human nature and the frequent perfection of the plotting. You forgive the lapses into sentimentality, cos the characters are believably sentimental. Humans are, I guess - witness the two dodgy sentences in the "God Delusion" and of course there's this post...yup, I shan't forget walking on on Dd whilst she was practicing her dancing in front of the computer, courtesy of a master of fun dance, Dr Turkleton himself.

6. Talking of spilling effortlessly into the sentimental, I shall also never forget hearing Ds patiently and good humouredly repeating the phrase "splendid old chap", even if his version didn't exactly carry the precise timbre that could have been expected by his American interlocutors. I shall also not forget hearing him explaining for the umpteenth time that quite a few Brits, himself included, actually have very good, clean, straight teeth. Funnily enough, I think his education so international that I am surprised that people realise he is English at all.

On a related point, he talks and types and completes seemingly impossible tasks so quickly, that I wonder what education in the information age is doing to his mind.

7. I haven't done a sudoku puzzle in a month, though I still wake up in the middle of the night to do a Kakuro puzzle. I don't know which comes first. The insomnia or the Kakuro.

Ignoring the rules of the meme...tag yourself if you want to!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Calls for the Scrapping of ContactPoint

...are growing louder by the day. Liberty and an alliance of independent school heads are now in on the job.

If you haven't done so already, the petition against the establishment of the database could do with your signature. Blogdial explains strongly and succinctly why you should sign.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Abusive State

As previously noted, one of the most worrying areas of concern in the new Elective Home Education Guidelines is that they fail to make it sufficiently clear that there must be a good reason to suspect a significant degree of harm or risk of harm to a child before social workers have a right (and a duty) to come knocking on people's doors.

The argument from the DCSF seems to be that because home educated children are not necessarily seen regularly by statutory services, that they are therefore necessarily at risk. Indeed this is precisely the argument that a LA seem to have used very recently when they demanded to see a home educating family not very far away from us. There was no reason to suspect that this home educating family were at risk other than that they hadn't been seen by any statutory services recently. The social workers came a-visiting, but left agreeing that there was no case to pursue. Sadly this satisfactory outcome was only achieved after the family had had to deal with the stress of the intrusion, make arrangements for a Home Educating advocate to attend the meeting, make a sound case for themselves, ask whether it was strictly necessary for the social workers to go digging in their children's medical records and resist the calls for them to undertake a Common Assessment.

Is this the future for home educating families everywhere in England? It would seem a little unfair when you consider that the only statutory service that school children necessarily come across is their school. The idea here is presumably that teachers will reliably be able to spot abuse. Yet we hear from a survey conducted by CBBC's Newsround that:

"In a crisis, 76% would turn first to their mother for help, 11% would choose their father and 2% would go to a teacher".

Perhaps social work departments shouldn't just be picking on HE families. Perhaps they should go knocking on the doors of every family in England.

Conversely, it would be interesting to know if the aforementioned HE family has grounds for complaint, either directly via the local authority complaints procedure, or via the Local Government Ombudsman.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

City Councils Still Wanting to Act as Parents

In an otherwise inspiring article about home education in The Western Daily Press, we sadly find Bristol City Council still wittering on:

"The Department for Education and Skills has been discussing how to regulate home education with several groups representing home educators and with local authorities. Bristol City Council welcomed the idea of more guidelines to protect children who are educated at home. A spokesman said: "Parents who educate their children at home are subject to almost no regulations."The council welcomes any new measures which work in the interest of Bristol children."

Oh for goodness sake, catch up, Bristol CC. Firstly, it is not the DfES anymore. It has been renamed the Department for Children, Schools and Families since 28th June 2007.

Secondly, most home education groups have been discussing why regulation of home educators is damaging rather than how to regulate us.

Thirdly, the new guidelines are out. Your article was already a day late because it would otherwise be clear to you that guidelines haven't changed anything by way of enabling the "state to protect children from their parents. "

Fourthly, guidelines cannot change the law and the law of the land is clear: education is the responsibility of the parent, protecting a child from harm is the responsibility of the parent, and social workers don't have a right to doorstep us unless there is reasonable cause to suspect a significant degree of harm or risk of harm to the child. The state cannot and should not try to act in loco parentis, for it will be screwed in so many ways if it does. This on top of doing endless damage to families.

Fifthly, (does anyone else do lists when cross?), the new guidelines make it quite clear that the government think that the current level of legislation surrounding this area is perfectly adequate to the task of protecting children.

Sixthly, I personally have already felt that worrying a little less about what LAs may get up to has made a significant difference for the better in our home education experience.

ie: it would be nice if the LAs would stop moaning, realise the limits of their responsibilities, that they don't have certain duties and that they are therefore not going to be held liable. They could also realise that their jobs are at times necessarily difficult, and that they should just got on with it, for in doing so, they would make life significantly better for large numbers of families.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Guidelines - The Nitty Gritty

After reading what appear to be the finalised Elective Home Education Guidelines for England yesterday afternoon, the children and I went about home education with lighter hearts, for the guidelines appear to be almost as good as we could reasonably expect. They at least make it seem as if we will be able to continue with our chosen form of education, even if they haven't entirely eradicated the fear that some irrational LA bod is lurking out there who will try to take it all away from us. For whilst the guidelines do indeed appear to remain within the law, (for which I think we should thank the hundreds of home educating individuals and groups who responded to the DCSF consultation, since I suspect that this powerful rejoinder compelled the DCSF to listen to their lawyers), they are still only guidelines. Local authority workers may push them to legal limits wherever they find some ambiguity or may even ignore them completely.

On the plus side, there is much to celebrate and much that home educators may use in our dealings with LAs. Bold type seems to be employed as a means of shouting at the LAs, many of whom had so clearly demonstrated that they'd forgotten their statutory and ethical limits in their consultation responses.

"The purpose of these guidelines is to support local authorities in carrying out their statutory responsibilities. "

"The responsibility for a child's education rests with their parents."

"Local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education."

Further on the plus side, it is made quite clear that

"Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis";

"Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made";

Better still, the variety of educational provision is explicitly acknowledged as acceptable.

"2.5.... Local authorities should recognise that there are many approaches to education provision, not just a "school at home" model. What is suitable for one child will not be for another, but all children should be involved in a learning process."

and:

"3.14 It is important to recognise that there are many, equally valid, approaches to educational provision. Local authorities should, therefore, consider a wide range of information from home educating parents, in a range of formats. The information may be in the form of specific examples of learning e.g. pictures/paintings/models, diaries of educational activity, projects, assessments, samples of work, books, educational visits etc".

However, there are some areas which are ambiguous enough to allow abusive Local Authorities to continue with abusive practices. Particularly notably:

"2.15 As outlined above, local authorities have general duties to make arrangments to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (section 175 Education Act 2002 in relation to their function as a LA and for other functions in sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004). These powers allow local authorities to insist on seeing children in order to enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern. (Sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989)."

Hang on a mo there - given that we suspect that the LAs either don't know the law or choose to ignore it, and also appear to hope that home educators don't know it either, it looks as if the guidelines should have clarified that there have to be specific conditions before a local authority has a duty to investigate. Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 states that a child who is worthy of investigation must be:

(i) the subject of an emergency protection order; or
(ii)in police protection;
or that there must be
(b) reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer,
significant harm.

It would have been helpful if this section had been included in the guidelines for it will not be sufficient for LAs simply to have vague concerns about low level problems. There must be reasonable cause to suspect a significant degree of harm. Home Educators everywhere will have to know their law and be reading it back to any doorstepping social workers.

Gill has a further take on the guidelines.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Elective Home Education Consultation Results

...are just in. New guidelines are here.

At first glance, they appear to respect the laws of the land.

From Cruel at School

Perhaps Dr. Tanya (see post below) has been persuaded by items such as this one from Cruel at School.

Respect to Bev and Tiah!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Change of Heart?

Well, blow me down! Psychologist Tanya Byron, with a previous record for rather rigid behaviorist techniques, recommends home education as a possible solution for bullying in school.

"You can take your daughter out of school and give her a break until the school sorts things out (get support from your GP who can also provide letters about your child’s stress), or you can move her to another school. You have the right to educate her at home and you can set the curriculum with the help of organisations such as education-otherwise.org. "

Wonder how that all fits together then.

Delays for the Children's Database.

Feeling optimistic this am. Perhaps this represents the beginning of the end for ContactPoint.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Looking for Clues

...as to how the Elective Home Education consultation results and guidance will pan out, we have this which comes by way of a response to the e-petition:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that all parents are informed of their legal right to home educate their Children."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Children's Database Petition

In the light of the recent database security fiasco and prompted by posts such as this one by ARCH, it might be worth checking that you have indeed signed the petition to abandon plans to create a children's database (aka: Information Sharing Index and ContactPoint). (Deadline to sign: 20th December).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Idiot Policy

Good grief. Have not blogged this story for a number of days, as have been waiting to feel sufficiently calm to comment appropriately. Ahem, breathing deeply....

It seems that whilst the struggle in the Spectator and other arenas continues between the paternalistic and the libertarian strands that present an on-going tension in Conservative politics, it is clear from the news that Mr Cameron thinks that all children should be reading by the time they are six, that education remains firmly within the paternalistic fold.

What are they thinking? Apparently only those children with serious learning difficulties will be exempted from this target. Duhhhhhh...(sorry, be calm....another deep breath.) The Tories need to know that this could well cause an awful lot more children to be labelled with serious learning difficulties when they actually have nothing of the sort. They need to know that many perfectly normal children are simply not neurologically ready to read at six. Phonics will be neither here nor there to these children. Yet give their brains a chance to mature, and they learn to read incredibly quickly - within the space of months. So instead of labouring away for years to get them to a certain standard of reading, as teachers do in schools, you wait till children are reading ready, and they then can do it in a TINY NUMBER OF HOURS.

Over and over again I have actually witnessed this for myself. It is the case that many children in the HE community who have no ostensible learning difficulties of any sort whatsoever, don't learn to read until they are 7, 8 or even much older and yet once they've started, are reading incredibly efficiently within a very short space of time. And just in case you are wondering, since their learning isn't predicated upon reading - yes, it is true - information can arrive in other ways, these children don't fall behind.

The Observer article mentions the fact that there are plenty of highly successful people who didn't learn to read until later than is currently expected:

"it was revealed that Zenna Atkins, now chair of the schools inspection authority Ofsted, was illiterate at the age of 11 and 'couldn't read the back of a cornflake packet's instructions'. "

Again I know this to be perfectly likely. A very successful businessman with accountancy credentials recently told me that he would never have got into grammar school at 11, his reading and writing were so poor. He was only grateful that there used to be a second entry exam at age 13. I wonder how profitable it would have been to have labelled this man a failure at a young age.

Actually, there are so many examples of successful people out there who did not learn to read at the required times, that it could almost make you wonder if there are some problems with early reading. Perhaps it means that one doesn't develop a satisfactory auditory memory, or it could alter one's eyesight for the worse, as is currently thought to be the case in the some Far Eastern countries, where children do close work from a very young age, and up to three quarters of them now need glasses.

Oh well, even if the Conservative party cannot make the leap towards leaving it up to the learner, at least James Bartholomew, (of Spectator fame) has made the connection between home education and educational freedom.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Answering the Local Authority Case

In recent weeks, the HE community has had sight of a number of responses to the consultation on Elective Home Education Guidelines from LAs and Safeguarding Children's Boards which have had the effect of producing a collective exasperated sigh, then a reality-seeking headshake. Eeeeuuuughhhhh, bwbwbwwbbwww.

Yup, guess what: most of these responses set out with the premise that there are some terrible child abuse situations in the HE community that the local authorities know about and that therefore they should be monitoring all HEors to make sure that this isn't happening.

Ho hum...right oh. In a bid to answer the charges laid at the HE door, it looked as if we needed to know just a little bit more about at least some of these cases that the LAs supposedly know about. Interestingly, it has proved very, very difficult to ascertain whether these cases are in many instances genuine. A home educator of admirable tenacity issued a Freedom of Information request to a group of professionals with a safeguarding remit who made a response to the EHE consultation containing some vague allegations, from which it emerged that the person who wrote the response didn't actually have the details of the cases to which it referred. There is worse to come: this same response was offered up and used as a basis for responses from many other LAs. In other words, when LAs made allegations about problem HE families, they may not actually have any direct experience of such cases.

All that aside, the thing is that in all the problem cases where more details were given, it was transparently clear that LAs already do have perfectly sufficient powers to act and should not therefore, be needing to call upon the DCSF for more powers to intervene in HEors lives on this basis alone.

Of course, despite what they may be saying in their responses, the problem cases they know about aren't the real issue for the LAs. The real point of difficulty is when an HE family provides them with a perfectly acceptable philosophy of education and a description of work done: LAs are left wondering about whether it is safe to leave such a family alone. Could this family actually be abusing their children and superficially be managing to disguise it very well?

There are however, perfectly satisfactory answers to this perceived problem. The first, of course, is that HE families do not live in a vacuum. If these families know the HE community and if their problems are severe, almost inevitably the HE community can't deal with it, and one way or another someone refers this family to the services, faux de mieux. If the families aren't known to other HEors, other family members, neighbours, or the school from which they have de-regged, refer them to SS. In fact in many HEors experience, the bar for referral to SS is set ridiculously low: many more HEors get referred to SS than is necessary.

This still leaves the families that somehow have managed to live in a vacuum, hiding their children away under the stairs for years at a time. I think the chances of such a family managing to do this are vanishingly small. The chances of such a family not being known to other family members or neighbours is vanishingly small. The chances of them being able to produce an adequate ed. phil are small. (Most HEors who produce a satisfactory ed. phil are in contact with other HEors, and therefore, if they have serious problems, the HE community is likely to know about it.) Doctors with their new database are likely to get alerts when a child is not being vaccinated and hasn't visited them about this and the new ContactPoint (children's database) should be doing something to detect this sort of a problem.

If we really are going to try to build a properly risk averse society, we should not be spending huge amounts of time, effort and money preventing problems that are very unlikely to happen, we would be far better off putting all our efforts into preparing for something that is actually likely to happen, like building flood defences. We should also be focusing on coping with something that we already know is actually happening, such as dealing with the abused children we already know about. LAs will be wasting an awful lot of public money if they insist on looking through the whole of the HE haystack looking for that needle of a family. It would be far more efficient to let the community continue to work to produce the evidence.

Of course, it isn't all about welfare concerns. We also have to deal with the other myth that seems to be doing the rounds following on from a particular LA HE inspector regularly repeating the same refrain that 25% of HEors are not educating their children properly.

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction - impossible to resist...tu quoque. Since when were 75 % of school children properly educated? But actually the more mature response is that this particular HE inspector is very, very unlikely to have a clue what she is talking about.

Many HEing families don't go down a conventional school route. They don't emulate school at home. They don't sit down with workbooks and force their children through exams they don't want to take and yet, despite all this, their children are educated entirely appropriately, according to their age, ability and aptitude. The HE community has now seen way too many individuals who have been autonomously HEd, go right through and end up with all the life skills and college courses they could possibly need, not to know that this is the case. The repeated failure of many LA HE inspectors to understand this is precisely why the HE community is making this whole stand in the first place.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Home Education Post 16

Education Otherwise have secured the necessary assurances in the face of the raising of the age of compulsory education and training to 18.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Site of the Day

Free Rice. Donate rice and increase your vocabulary. Is sensitive to skill level.

New fav word: "concinnity".

Saturday, October 27, 2007

No Answer to Privacy Problems

Baroness Walmsley in a recent debate in the House of Lords raised a number of pertinent points with regard to the privacy of children and families in the face of the establishment of the Contactpoint and eCAF databases. With regard to Contactpoint, she asked:

"Is the Minister aware that young people are very anxious about this database and believe that their privacy is being interfered with? I was at a meeting of young people yesterday; it is run by the all-party group and BT and is called Seen and Heard. One of the main issues raised was that, although those who know about the database are very concerned about it, many young people have no idea what it is all about. What are the Government going to do about that? One young person also told me that her boyfriend visited a school where the database was live and was shown it. She was concerned that security was very relaxed. It is vital that this system is available only to authorised users."

So much for all those government reassurances about security then and so much for the main stakeholders being happy about all this. Seems as if things are not panning out quite as the government would wish in this regard.

She raises another consequence of the database:

"Experience demonstrates that families seeking to keep under the radar will often not contact specialist services..."

Sadly her implied solution is to ensure that generic services do supply accurate information for ContactPoint , thereby rendering any attempt to maintain family privacy null and void, particularly since it is easy to imagine that families who do try to hide will probably find themselves on the eCAF database with every intimate corner of their lives on record and this simply for making the error of trying to keep below the radar.

She says of the eCAF database:

"I move seamlessly to my third concern—the new electronic common assessment framework. It is extraordinary that throughout the whole debate on the regulations for ContactPoint, the Government did not once mention their intention to create a second, parallel, national electronic database containing sensitive assessments of children seeking services. All our concerns about the security of ContactPoint are amplified in relation to eCAF. It is simply not possible to keep such a large database secure. It will have thousands of users, quite conceivably as many as ContactPoint. While arguments about the potential insecurity of ContactPoint have been countered with assertions from the Government that it will contain only minimal information, the same cannot be said about eCAF. It will contain detailed personal information about children seeking services and clear indications of their vulnerability. The Government have insisted that eCAF is a consent-based process, but my informants, Action on Rights for Children, have been contacted by several practitioners involved in the pilots, who tell them that consent to share eCAFs is not being sought and that families are being told that they will not be able to access services unless they agree to an eCAF. That is disgraceful."

Quite right. And what did Lord Adonis have to say by way of an answer?

This is what ARCH Blog had to say on the subject:

"And now here comes the fog: Lord Adonis replied by talking at length about Contactpoint (the other national database, formerly known as the Infomation Sharing Index, that acts as glorified directory of all children). He talked for so long, answering questions that hadn’t been asked, that - oh, whoops:

"I am almost out of time, so I will have to respond to many of the other points in writing. A number of concerns have been raised about eCAF, to which I will also respond in writing, as I think that some alarmism has been generated.

This tactic of defaulting to Contactpoint whenever awkward questions arise about any of the other databases must have been decided centrally. It’s a straight repeat of our exchange with
Beverley Hughes in the Telegraph letters page shortly after publication of the FIPR report to the ICO on children’s databases. "

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Consultation Results Delayed

As if the nerves weren't frayed enough already, from the DCSF:

"As you know the consultation on home education guidelines closed on 31 July. Although we had aimed to publish a summary of the consultation results and guidelines this week, due to the large number of responses we received, this is now scheduled to take place by the end of next month. (That's end of November presumably). The consultation results will be published on the Department's e-consultation website http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for providing us with valuable feedback on the guidelines. "

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Problems for Legislators with Definition of Education

Further on the 2006 DfES consultation on a proposal to provide further guidance as to what constitutes full time education in independent schools to which many home educators responded, we have a follow-up consultation which, amongst some other sources of contention and alarm, does little to solve the original problem of how one ascertains who is the main provider of an education.

The problem with the first consultation was that if the phrase "main provider of education" is to mean what it apparently says, then presumably a private pupil who accumulates more theories from his parents than from his school will be counted as home educated and will therefore be excluded from regulations that apply to private schools. Of course, quite how the state proposed to make such an assessment was utterly baffling and demonstrated very neatly the poor epistemology that underpins much of the legislation on education.

However, for the purposes of this next consultation, the DCSF have changed the phrase from "main provider" to "main organiser" of education, presumably hoping to shift the balance from the need to demonstrate from whence the majority of a child's theories have been acquired, to an apparently more quantifiable task of working out who plans and implements the majority of the education of the child. It doesn't work though, since you still have to answer the impossible question of from whence the child acquires the greater number of his theories since this is the only way to ascertain who (or what) is the real main organiser of his education.

However, it looks as if we will be required to suspend disbelief in this regard since the DCSF

"have concluded that the best approach is to adjust the definition of an independent school so as to specify that an independent school is the main organiser of a programme of education for children of compulsory school age, unless provision is excluded through regulations."

and

"We would propose that regulations exclude:

schools maintained by a local authority;
non-maintained special schools;
temporary provision e.g. summer schools;
any institutions providing
less than 12.5 hours per week tuition (primary) and 15 hours (secondary) for individual children;
further education colleges;
hospital schools;
home tutorial services organised by a local authority;
education supervised or delivered by parents"


Disbelief suspended as above, the confusion here concerns the last point, ie: "education supervised or delivered by parents", since under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act, the education of all children is meant to be supervised by parents which would presumably therefore mean that none of the regulations for independent schools would apply anywhere. On the other hand, home educators will fight tooth and nail to stop this phrase from being changed because it would rule out the use of tutors for more than the stipulated hours (in red).

The problem might be superficially solved (ie: putting aside the outstanding problem of quantification of education) to ask that both individual private tutors teaching on domestic premises and informal co-operatives without a fixed meeting place be excluded from the requirement to register.

Home educators might do well to respond to this further consultation to make these points.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Problems with Truancy Patrols

A truancy officer in Gloucestershire returned a home educated child to her house. Full facts unknown at this point, but the debate in the comments is worth following for an airing of the issues involved. Read from the bottom up.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

TES Scotland

From the Scottish Edition of the Times Educational Supplement, a piece that deserves to be copied in full, for the record:

"Parents deceived about home schooling

Rather than support parents, many local authorities prefer to employ a catalogue of dirty tricks to prevent them from exercising a valid educational choice. While no parent requires permission to home educate per se, consent is required to withdraw a child who is already in a state school, and this legislative anomaly effectively gives councils licence to bully parents.

Too many parents remain unaware of their rights and responsibilities in education, and most councils prefer to keep it that way. When parents discover there is a viable alternative to schooling, usually through independent research, they are, unsurprisingly, angry at having been deceived.

Despite clear guidance, most local authorities remain confused about their role in relation to home education. Their responses to the Government's consultation reveal a widespread oxymoronic belief that home-educated young people are "children missing from education".

Many also believe they may demand direct access to children to hear their views on their home education (while ignoring the views of individual schooled children), when it is parents who have this responsibility in law.

Local authorities are clearly failing to grasp, or are in denial about, the most important aspects of the 1980 Education (Scotland) Act, namely the duty of parents to provide compulsory education and the corresponding duty of councils to provide school places for parents who wish to use them.

They further misunderstand the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000, which does not compromise parental choice, but rather places a legal duty on local authorities to provide school education "directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential".

That last duty might prove pretty tricky for councils, given that they should be meeting the needs of each individual child, so they have probably decided to keep parents in the dark about that too."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Education in the 21st Century - The Home Educators' View?

Returning, (see post below) to the matter of getting the killer message across, ie: that the state must avoid appropriating responsibility for education, perhaps the following would provide a satisfactory opportunity to do a little earwigging with Lord Adonis.

From Events Programme for St. Paul's Cathedral:

"Must try harder?

Education in the 21st Century

30th October 2007
6.30 - 8.00pm
St Paul's Cathedral
Admission free and unticketed.

Who is education for? What role should schools play in shaping a well-balanced childhood? In an increasingly competitive world, is education beihng compromised by an economic agenda? this debate considers how edcuation can help children flourish now an dits long term implication fro both adulthood and society.

Panel: Andrew Adonis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools; Anna Hassan, Headteacher of Millfields Community School; Rebecca Nye, author and consultant on children's spirituality, Gervase Phinn, lecturer and children's writer. "

Any London HEors available?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why Bother?

Probably as a result of the recent DCSF's Day of Debate, and yet more articles from Private Eye on the related subject of citizens' juries, am still - at this late stage left wondering about the wisdom or otherwise of engaging with these phoney processes.

From Private Eye:

"While the government talks of "participative decision making" giving ordinary members of the public the chance to have a say in politics, the sceptics talk of "participative ventriloquism" giving ordinary members of the public the chance to say whatever politicians want them to say. While (the pollsters) call themselves neutral "facilitators", the sceptics call them "facipulators" who manipulate jurors to reach a desired conclusion."

It is almost impossible not to agree with this conclusion on the evidence so far, so can there be any point in bothering to turn up to these events and putting the counter-arguments, as a few members of Education Otherwise did?

Of course, the problem with engaging with this kind of pseudo-consultation is that it is highly likely that the minority voice will not be heard at all - will be written out of all reports of the event, and yet the government will nonetheless be able to claim that they consulted widely. Under such circumstances, could there be any possible reason for being there? My arguments in favour of doing so remain the same. I think it worth doing if there are a combination of conditions:

1. that you have a killer argument. The point here is not that one might hope to persuade the other jurors but that you simply get yet another chance to explain your devastating point. That you will take every opportunity to unnerve the pollsters and their commissioners.

2. that you have some way (campaign groups, MSM, e-mail lists, blogs etc) of publicising the fact that your killer point was made and, if necessary, that it was ignored. That you can make the point that the government knew that you have a killer argument and that if they ignore it, this wasn't simply a naive mistake on their part.

3. that the readership could be mobilized, or indeed that an individual could be sponsored to take the governments to the courts to prove the killer point, should that be necessary.

Then, just then it would be worth going. All of these conditions did apply, both to the Day of Debate and to the Consultation on Guidelines for Elective Home Education.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Failing Schools

From the BBC:

"Nearly a quarter of England's state secondary schools let down their pupils, an education minister has said".

When you consider that Treasury statistics reveal that more than 1 in 6 children leave school each year unable to read, write and add up, an estimated 1 million children truant every year and at least 16 children commit suicide each year as a result of school bullying, it is hard not to agree.

The education minister here was Lord Adonis. Perhaps he should have a word with his department whose spokesmen have claimed that

"Standards (in schools) have never been higher and with record funding in our schools we believe the best place to educate a child is actually in school."

Wonder where they were educated!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Report from the Time to Talk Meeting

...from Six Home Ed in Kent.

Bullying at School Only Solved by Home Educating

Bev at Cruel at School has been doing great work recently: Channel 4, GMTV, and articles in her local press.

Bev decided to home educate her daughter after despairing at solving the problem of bullying in a school which is supposed to have a very progressive policy with regards to listening to children and to maximising their enjoyment.

I find the disconnect between the Ofsted reports and what local children tell me very peculiar. The children frequently report terrible, brutalising experiences in schools, and yet Ofsted gives these schools a lovely shiny report, after supposedly consulting with pupils. What is going on, I wonder? In one of Bev's articles on her front page, we learn that:

"Schools Minister Jim Knight questioned whether it was practicable to ask schools to keep detailed records on bullying. "Feedback from heads indicates that placing a duty on schools to measure and record every incident of bullying would be a huge bureaucratic burden," Knight said" "

Perhaps Ofsted feels the same way.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Problems with Calls for Tougher Home Education Guidelines

Take Cheshire County Council by way of an example. Cheshire CC has issued a press release which comes with the tagline:

"Cheshire Calls For Tougher Guidelines Concerning Home Education"

Stop. Go no further than that just now, for there's already a problem. The thing is, guidelines do have to respect the law and if you go any tougher than the current draft guidelines, the law will have to be changed to reflect this.

OK, that's the first howler, (more on which below). The second one is that members of Cheshire County Council clearly haven't asked themselves whether they really do want such changes in law, for if they had, they wouldn't be asking for tougher guidelines. Doh dum.

They blunder on:

"...chairman and Executive Support Member for Children's Services Shirley Harris said: "Some of the guidelines are ambiguous and some simply do not go far enough. For example all children educated at home should be registered as home educated wit (sic) the authority. "

It rather looks as if the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing in this authority, for with the establishment of the children's database, aka ContactPoint, there will be de facto registration of home educators anyhow. Sadly, we have already conceded this point.

Back to Cheshire's pronouncements:

"Elective home education is the only area of education and child care that is not subject to more rigorous statutory regulation concerned with quality assurance and accountability. "

The "only" area? Cripes, it's worse than I'd hoped. Yup, if this is indeed the case, Cheshire parents had better be making sure those five portions of fruit and veg are consumed or their council will be coming to get them.

Parenting by parents? Forget it in Cheshire. The state will dictate precisely what you do in every area of your lives, or else you will fail in their quality assurance tests. Can parents honestly therefore still be held responsible for child care and education? I don't think so. This simply doesn't work and we will have to change the law in this regard. The tagline should be "Cheshire CC Calls for Powers to Take Over Parenting".

Further, what is it with this idea of accountability? To whom are we meant to be accountable in every area of our lives? Surely it isn't actually ultimately the state for in other areas, the state collects data at least nominally to be answerable to tax payers, parents and children. In a right-minded world, home educating parents need only be answerable to their children and almost all of us can manage that without a stranger equipped with powers, ignorance of the situation, a clip board and probably a dose of prejudice and bias to boot, to tell us what our children are telling us every single day. The chances of that working out are really quite minimal if you factor the bias and prejudice and just how much most HE children don't want to bother with that stranger who could change their lives dramatically for the worse.

"Children should also be involved and consulted if their parents want to elect home education (sic) so that their needs and aspirations are taken into account. "

Yep, they should and are. Home educated parents can manage this, thanks.

Then again, if the state really is going to require HE kids to be consulted and taken seriously by council employers about their needs and aspirations, then surely it is only fair to do it for schooled kids? Yep, if the state does go down this route, then we will demand parity. CC's everywhere will need to introduce a council policy which requires that they take all children's needs and aspirations seriously, (not just HE children.) Councils will, for example, need to ask children who are about to go primary school, age 4, what their needs and aspirations are. Given that a significant number of this population will tell you that they would prefer to stay home and carry on learning and playing there, CCs will at least make huge savings on their education bill. In this situation, councils will also find out that there are almost no children who are HE'd against their will whilst thousands and thousands of schooled children are not happy bunnies and are not having their needs and aspirations met, are threatening suicide because of bullying or are bored rigid by impersonalised learning schemes.

"There is also a need for a standardised system of monitoring visits and reporting to parents which should be applied to all local authorities."

Why? Who does this benefit? Given that almost all HE families, even when they have relatively good relationships with LAs, will tell you that the LA visit is extremely disruptive, anxiety-provoking and provides nothing of value to them at all, what purpose exactly would these visits serve for these families? How would these children benefit?

Plus, where will all this money come from?

Plus, if the state does do this, they must concede that they have taken over responsibility for education, for in the instituation of regular compulsory monitoring, a family is implicitly required to meet standards that are set by the state which are not freely chosen by them. Ho hum. Yes, we would need new legislation to reflect this point. Whilst a parent may remain responsible for provision of education, the state is ultimately responsible for it's form and content and for the monitoring it. There will be plenty of opportunity in such a system to demonstrate that the state fails.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Humane Parenting Petition

I can't pretend that there is any hope of any science to substantiate the idea that attachment parenting is vastly superior to other forms of parenting, but my own experience of trying both leaves me pretty convinced that AP works and works beautifully. I have therefore signed the petition here.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

DSCF's Day of Debate

So here (finally), is the press release re the DSCF's "day of debate to shape our children's future".

Of course if you are a right-minded parent, it is hard not to be alarmed by the possible interpretations of the word "our". Just who exactly do the DSCF think that children actually belong to? This is all the more worrying for the fact that the debate seems to be framed so as to allow the state to muscle in even further on the job of parenting.

It's even worse for the purists amongst us for whom the word "our" in this context is sacrilege. For these antipodeans, it is quite clear that children only belong to themselves. Yeah, stick that item on your agenda, please.

Perhaps this sort of contrariness is the reason for the tardiness of the public announcement. It seems quite likely that the DCSF didn't want to tell the wider public about the debate till the last minute because they were didn't want non-conformist interest groups muscling in on this event. Ho hum - if the government carry on like this, the idea that consultation will inform democracy will start to look even more implausible.

Yet who could blame these interest groups for wanting a say when you read that the consultation:

"will help shape the Government’s ‘Children’s Plan’ - which will set out how, over the next decade, the Government, parents, the voluntary sector and schools can work together to ensure that every child gets the best start in life and the support they need to fulfil their potential and be happy, healthy and safe."

Yep, a decade of doing what the government and 400 probably fairly innocent, randomly selected people say! Yikes that's serious, and the worry is that is very easy for the innocent to be spun along by all the five desired outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda. After all, most of us would want our children to be able to lead satisfactory lives in the way the goverment prescribes and it is therefore very easy to be lulled into the idea that the government could just be so obliging as to help everyone achieve this. But if they are wise, the 400 should pause and ask themselves if they want to achieve these outcomes with the state holding their hand and telling them what to do all the way, for if they don't make a stand against government diktat, there will be no room for taking responsibility for ourselves and for thinking outside the tick boxes that will be set for us. If the 400 fall for it, and they doubtless will, our lives will be scrutinized, inspected, judged and controlled to a degree that we have never known before.

Even worse, we hear that:

"in addition to the public consultation there are three expert groups chaired by Children, Schools and Families Ministers. Jo Davison, Director of Children’s Services in Gloucester co-chairs the group looking at all services for 0-7 year olds with Beverley Hughes."

This is bad news because this Jo is the very one who lobbied government for more powers to intrude upon home educators in what looked like an attempt to deflect criticism of her departments following their failures to act in the Spry case.

Our last remaining hope, (and I do admit that the will to keep fighting has almost left me, save for the fact that I see unfettered, personalised home education working so perfectly for the children here) is that the 400 innocent folk is actually approximately 390 innocent folk, for a few members of Education Otherwise have managed to muscle in on most of the consultation groups.

Shout loudly for freedom, EO and reiterate the killer argument: that if the state does intrude and dictate, they in effect take over responsibility for parenting and education, and we will have nothing better to do than take them to the courts when they fail children.

Oh yes, and if the rest of us still haven't succumbed to utter cynicism about the consultation process and fancy making this point again, you can try to help EO out with this short e-consult here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Home Education On Channel 4 News this Morning

"Channel 4 News Online reveals that the number of children being schooled at home has risen by more than 60% in the past 5 years.

More than 80% of education authorities reported hikes in the number of children being educated at home, according to the Freedom of Information (FoI) probe.

In one area the increase was as big as 800%; with campaigners blaming bullying, special needs provision and too many school tests as reasons for the national hike."

See the webpage here for more information. The story is repeated in the Independent

Also via Channel 4, we learn that all is going well for HEing Bev and Tiah who left a school that is has a policy of respecting pupils, a reputation for being tough on bullying and for having good pastoral care! Ho hum.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Judiciary as a Check on Government?

According to Peter Oborne, it is much less so than of old. He writes in the Spectator this week:

"...the (new) Political Class is deeply hostile to the rule of law. It constantly strives to undermine the judiciary, instinctively preferring to govern through executive fiat, repeatedly showing anger when the judges thwart illegal decisions made by ministers."

I have plenty of quibbles with Mr Oborne's assessment of the old form of the governing classes or "The Establishment" as it is characterised, but on the nature of the current powers-that-be, I suspect he is spot on.

Perhaps hostility to the judiciary is the real reason why all the remarks from lawyers were blacked out in the results of our recent Freedom of Information enquiry to the DCSF. It wasn't that the department spuriously wanted to assert its right to legal privacy, but was instead the result of the dept's desire to ignore the legal angle altogether.

There are at least two other reasons for thinking that this might be the case. First, there was a sentence in the FOI result which appeared to advise a member of the department not to include too many lawyers in the discussions about changes to guidelines on home education. Then it is also the case that some of the proposed changes to home education guidelines could result in significant alterations in education law; the lawyers, if they were worth their salt, should have been reminding dept members of this fact. However, dep't members may well have wanted to ignore all this legal caution in the drive to ensure that "every child matters."

However, we believe the department would be wise to take note of their legal advice since changes to the monitoring and control of HE could result in changes in primary legislation which in turn could impact very negatively upon local authorities and eventually central government itself.

Traveller Home Education

..."100% better" (than school).

From 47 mins into this broadcast, (after the Django Rheinhardt-style music) - a piece from Traveller Radio which makes you want to cry with relief at the sense and humanity of this home ed initiative.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Homeschooling in the US

Via HEOS, Isabel Lynam of Homeschooling Revolution writes about homeschooling for the Ludwig Von Mises Institute

Home Schooling is on the Rise

...in the US, at least. The Belgians seem to be getting the point too.

Again via HE&OS.

The Number of Children who Truant

...is rising, despite the new initiative to identify children missing from education, and despite the effort that goes into picking absconders of the streets with truancy sweeps - which it seems are no longer being evaluated for their effectiveness. Now, there's a surprise.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What Could We Be Doing Now?

Despite the fact that we are actually none the wiser following the recent Freedom of Information result, as to what caused the softening of the DCSF's plans to control home education, it may not be unreasonable to suspect that it might have had something to do with remarks by lawyers and Andrew Adonis which were consistently blacked out. It might also be reasonable to surmise that these people were doing their best to remind the DCSF that they would be wise not to overstep their powers, for fear of dire consequences to themselves.

It might therefore be helpful to remind the DCSF that we are aware of these possible consequences to themselves if they choose to overstep the power line. It occurred to me that a letter such as the one below, perhaps from an organisation such as AHEd, might be a useful hint that we are onto them as regards abuses of power.

Dear DCSF,

We are interested to note that Nottinghamshire Local Authority has already re-written their elective Home Education guidelines which are at least partially based upon the version of EHE guidelines that was subjected to the recent DfES consultation.

We are interested to note that the authority states that it has certain duties and responsibilities and are writing to check with you whether this is indeed the case.

For example, on page 4 of the Notts EHE Guidance:

http://www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/eheguidance.pdf

under the paragraph headed: What is meant by an efficient and suitable education?" it is stated that "It is also the duty of the Local Authority to ensure the safety and well being of the child."

Is this indeed the case?

Yours faithfully,

- - - - - - - -

It probably isn't necessary to append the sentence "because if it is the case, my child fell off a swing yesterday and hurt her back. Can I sue my LA for negligence?"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sunday, September 09, 2007

GCSEs for HEors around the Country

A scheme offering GCSE maths and English for home educated teens, looks to be one of the first useful things that LAs around the country have done for home educators. Of course, Dudley LA did get there first. We can only hope that more LAs follow this constructive example. Sheffield and the Royal College of Dean Colleges looked as if they were trying to be helpful, with an offer of an on-line English course, but costs for under 16 year olds are pretty exorbitant.

Of course there are loads of distance learning packages now available, Edexcel, Oxford Distance Learning College, Oxford Home Schooling, and the NEC to name but a few, but these are often also expensive, and involve the learner sorting out the exam centre and exam fees, which can prove very difficult. LAs could at least usefully sort out exam centre access.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Freedom of Information Result?

So much for transparent government! Following the latest request for information on all internal correspondence within the DCSF on elective home education between Jan 1st 2007 and 28th Feb, 2007, we received some paperwork, viewable via AHEd and HE Consult files, that made it clear that the AHEd Anomaly Campaign had made an impact, as indeed had this petition, but to be honest, we are not much the wiser as to what caused the change of heart within the DCSF. Why did they suddenly decide to move from consulting on the really quite draconian measures which were still being proposed in early Feb, to issuing the relatively benign guidelines and consultation, a response to which can be viewed here?

Below is the covering letter we received from the DCSF, which explains the reasoning behind all the redactions and omissions.

"From Denise Hunter,
Independent Schools and School Access
Denise.Hunter@dcsf.gsi.gov.uk

"Thank you for email of 7 August in which you requested copies of all internal correspondence which the Department holds on elective home education between 1 January 2007 and 28 February 2007. I am writing to confirm that we have now completed our search for the information you requested. A copy of the information which can be disclosed is attached in the format you requested.

You will see that I have redacted the names and other personal details of junior officials, classed as those who are not members of the Senior Civil Service, so that they cannot be identified. I have also redacted some personal data, as it falls within section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act "the Act" and is incidental to the information requested.

Some information is being withheld under the exemption in section 35(1)(a) of the Act - formulation of government policy. In applying section 35(1)(a) we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosing the information. We concluded that the public interest in maintaining the exemption and not disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this instance. I have set out below the particular factors which the Department considered when deciding where the public interest lay.

There is a general public interest in disclosure. Knowledge of the way Government works increases if the information on which decisions have been made is available. This can lead to public contribution to the policy making process becoming more effective. There is a general public interest in being able to see if Ministers are being briefed effectively on the key areas of policy their Department are taking forward.

Conversely, it is in the public interest that the formulation of government policy and government decision making can proceed in the self-contained space needed to ensure that it is done well. Good Government depends on good decision making and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of the options. Without protecting the thinking space and the free and frank advice to Ministers and senior officials there is likely to be a corrosive effect on the conduct of good Government, with a risk that decision making will become poorer and will be recorded inadequately.

It is our view that the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Disclosure of the withheld information would be likely to have a potentially corrosive effect on good Government and lead to less fully-informed decision making. This is not in the public interest. We have concluded that, in this instance, the public interest consideration was greater than the general public interest considerations for disclosure described above.

Some of the information you requested, relating to legal advice received and sought, is being withheld as it falls under the exemption in section 42 of the Act. This exemption provides that information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings is exempt information. In applying this exemption we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosing the information. There is a public interest in public authorities being accountable for the quality of their decision making, and ensuring that decisions have been made on the basis of good quality legal advice is part of that accountability. Transparency in the decision making process and access to the information upon which decisions have been made can enhance accountability.

However, government departments need high quality, comprehensive legal advice for the effective conduct of their business and to take decisions in a fully informed legal context, and the legal adviser needs to be able to set out arguments for and against a particular line, without fear that this might expose weaknesses in the Government's position and open it up unnecessarily to legal challenge, which would waste public resources. Disclosure of legal advice has a high potential to prejudice the Government's ability to defend its legal interests - both directly, by unfairly exposing its legal position to challenge, and indirectly by diminishing the reliance it can place on the advice having been fully considered and presented without fear or favour. Neither of these is in the public interest. We need to protect the vitally important principle that officials must be able to consult lawyers in confidence to obtain effective legal advice in a forum which is conducive to a free exchange of views without fear of intrusion or disclosure.

Some information is being withheld under the exemption in section 21, as the Act provides that information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant otherwise than under section 1 is exempt information. A copy of the parliamentary question which was asked by Mark Todd MP on 1 February 2007 may be found at:
http://tinyurl.com/3at9wr

And a copy of the documents entitled "The Prevalence of Home Education in England: A Feasibility Study" may be found at:
http://www.dfes.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/RRP/u014863/index.shtml

If you are unhappy with the service you have received in relation to your request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, you should write to me. Please quote the reference number 2007/0053194 in any future communications. As you know, your previous request of 4 July was given the reference number 2007/0044465.

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the Information Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted our complaints procedure.

Yours sincerely,

Denise Hunter
Independent Schools and School Access
Denise.Hunter@dcsf.gsi.gov.uk"

- - - - - - - - - -

The best we can do is guess at the reasons for some of the obliterations. Interestingly, all of Andrew Adonis's remarks were taken out, as was all input from lawyers. Indeed at one point, someone in the DfES whose name had been removed, suggested that it was wise not to include too many lawyers in the loop.

Infer from that what you will.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Home Education in the Glos Echo

Pamela Armstrong tells it as it is in the Gloucestershire Echo. She explains that the controls already in place are adequate to deal with the likes of Eunice Spry and, through the example of an HEing family, demonstrates why freedom in education, eg: freedom from age-related norms, is so important.

Think Before You Write Guidance

...for you may not know what you say.

Take, for example, a phrase from Nottinghamshire's Elective Home Education Guidelines - page 4, paragraph 4.

"It is also the duty of the Local Authority to ensure the safety and well-being of the child".

Well, aside from the fact that it looks as if there will be a happy ending afterall for all those poor Notts children who weren't picked up on by the LA, it looks to me as if Notts council haven't a clue about current legislation, because according to most readings of the 2004 Children Act, the LA duty in this regard is to make provision in one way or another, (the setting up the database, creating new posts and boards, the creation of a duty to co-operate with other professionals etc) to ensure the safety and well being of the child, which of course, is not the same thing as having a duty to ensure the safety and well being of the child.

If I am right on this point, I think the authority should be helped to understand that they don't understand the relevant legislation and that by such a statement they are opening themselves up to all manner of serious problems. I would suggest to them that if this information was largely spread about in Notts, the future for the council could look very bleak indeed as children who were not picked up upon will be suing the council for neglect of duty.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Home Education on TV

Home Education will be discussed once again on The Wright Stuff, Channel Five, from about 09.00 hours, today, Monday 3rd Sept. Home Educators in the studio will discuss the subject with HE critic Myra Robinson.

Audience phone-in: 020 7173 5555
email: wrightstuff@five.tv

UPDATE: HEors, as is the rule on these sorts of occasions, did their utmost to combat ignorant prejudice, particularly with regard to (yawn) the socialisation issue. Honestly, what is it with schooled peeps?! - (yet again unable to change their opinions in the face of the evidence that they should). OTOH, I was impressed with the way that several of the HEors said "possibly" when they were unsure of the answer.

Doubts about the problem of studying for the hard subjects from home should have been settled by the last telephone conversation with HEor Cher, who when asked, went on very calmly to explain that her HEd son will be studying physics at university next year.

Vote in their poll here.

"So do you think that home-schooling is bad for kids?"

What's the betting that almost everyone who votes "YES" knows next to nothing about HE?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Home Education: "A Lovely Way to Live"

Barbara (of AHEd) and her family rock in this Radio 4 piece about autonomous HE. (From 36 mins on the Listen Again Tab). Loads of memorable (and accurate) soundbites. Well done, BS!

The Education and Inspections Act Kicks In

From an alert issued by Education Otherwise:

"Home educators should be aware that from 1 September 2007 there is new statutory guidance on pupils who are excluded from school. For the first 5 days excluded pupils are not allowed in public places during school hours "without reasonable justification" and when they are challenged and apprehended, a fixed penalty notice may be issued. This follows sections 103-104 of the Education and Inspection Act 2006.

"When this new duty was first announced, concerns were expressed that home educated young people out and about on their normal business might be mistaken for pupils who had been excluded. Education Otherwise has written to the DCSF requesting that LAs remind police officers that home education is a valid legal option and that home educated young people are emphatically not the subject of this new guidance. This could also usefully be added to the agenda for any forthcoming meetings with local authority officers. "

Thursday, August 30, 2007

HE in the Guardian

which features the Shepherd family once again, is sadly not as insightful as Dave Hill's article in April's Guardian, the best bits of this one seemingly being either being lifted from his piece or taken from Ann Newstead, but hey ho... it isn't too bad.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Best News

...after 26 hours in labour, a beautiful girl, 8lbs 2 oz for DD and MD.

Almost unbelievable. I keep pinching myself. Many, many congratulations from us all.

Petition Opposing ContactPoint

Will be signing up to this one, naturally enough. See Wobbly Moo's post if you need to be reminded of the reasons why we should.

Home Education in the Papers

From the Telegraph, a piece from Cassandra Jardine on the pain of going to school, which is accompanied by a photo of a miserable child, subheaded "School daze: upset children will settle". Into what? seems to be a legitimate question. Longterm depression is a perfectly reasonable answer for some.

She explains why she is pleased she didn't HE.

"Her dramas took me straight back to the days when some of my children were so wretched in those first weeks that I seriously contemplated home education. I'm glad now that I didn't - not just for my own sake, but for theirs. Aside from the nightmare of being my own children's head teacher, they would have missed out on all the friendships that occupy 98 per cent of their time."

Derisive snorting isn't elegant, I suppose, but it is the only sane response.

(Just in case she is still wondering: HE children have infinitely more opportunity to indulge their friendships than any school kid. Mid-week sleep-over midnight feasts aren't a problem for HEks, for example.)

If you need cheering up, go to the Daily Mail for an HE piece with prevailingly positive comments.