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

Again via HE&OS.

The Number of Children who Truant 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:

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

"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:

And a copy of the documents entitled "The Prevalence of Home Education in England: A Feasibility Study" may be found at:

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"

- - - - - - - - - -

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

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. "