I have revised my answer to question 5 of the consultation and this in the light of the admittedly still sketchy information about the meeting between Education Otherwise and Mr Badman who is to lead the review on home education, from which it was all too easy to draw the conclusion that the state is intent upon determining the precise nature of suitability of education, and possibly to deliver this through IT.
I would not be in favour of routine monitoring for suitability of all home education provision and this for a number of reasons.
Firstly, how would the state determine the nature of the suitability of an education? After all, there is no overall agreement upon the right way to achieve suitability according to age, ability and aptitude and as it stands, we know that huge numbers of children fail miserably in the so-called suitable provision that the state seems to prefer in the form of the deliverance of the National Curriculum in schools.
Schooled teens are telling the government what they think:
"Eight out of 10 said they were fed up with school and almost half said there were not enough courses to choose from, which limited their options in later life."
Would the government really contend that the education they offer is indeed suitable when it limits the options of the learners and boredom is the near universal reaction? (Boredom, please note, is not an efficient or suitable way to learn).
The government does not have the answers to the problem of a suitable education and yet it frequently appears to disallow challenges to its educational meme. When a number of experts recently questioned the age at which literacy should be taught:
the DCSF reacted extremely dogmatically to these criticisms, with biased and partial reporting of literacy success which continues to conflict with the evidence of employees, (see link* above) and a statement of determination to plough on with failing strategies come what may.
There are plenty of examples of this sort of governmental dogmatism and lack of openness in the face of evidence that the educational provision by the state is unsuitable for many children.
Another example: two friends of mine, experienced home educators, have recently undertaken a PGCE. They found the epistemology conveyed in this course for secondary school teachers frankly risible in the degree to which it failed to acknowledge it's own contradictions. For example, they accurately perceived that the concept of personalised learning in the classroom was absurd and unmanageable and mainly pushed as window dressing. They sadly also found that if they dared to question the inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the the standard schooling methodology, their lives were made very uncomfortable, and they felt that they would either have to shut up or leave. The system here appeared to be not open to criticism and from this simple point, would appear to be suspect.
Autonomous educators go about things in a very different way. The provision they offer their children is indeed personalised. It is personalised to the interests of the child, it allows them the freedom to become experts in certain fields, it answers the questions they have, it allows the learner to direct their learning, to be responsible for it, to develop at their own pace, to manage all of their lives as they see fit. Autonomously educated children are far more empowered than schooled children and as such they grow up quickly, without the hostility between child and adult that is so frequently seen in schools, since they trust the adults around them to help them when they need it. They cope very well in the work and university environment.
Autonomous education has now come of age and there is now substantial evidence of it's almost outstanding success. We have seen way too many autonomously teens successfully graduate to adult life in one form or another for it to be a matter of chance or good genes. Every single autonomously educated person in all the areas we visit is now doing extremely well in further education. They are highly regarded by their tutors as they manage themselves so well. They are responsible individuals, who know themselves, know what they are interested in doing, know what they should specialise in, and know how to find things out for themselves.
And yet plenty of these children were not reading at all at the age of 7, even up to the age of 12.
One completely autonomously educated girl we know who had never been to school, was not reading a word at 11. By the time she was 12 and a half, she was almost never to be found without an adult-level book in her hands. And yet what would have happened to this kind of child had an EWO pitched up at her door, ignorant of the success of an alternative model? He might well have issued a SAO, or pressurised the family to return the child to school where evidence suggests that it is extremely difficult for such a child to catch up. The school child is labelled or else labels themselves as a non-achiever and it is extremely difficult to overcome these hurdles and not fulfill these labels.
Another autonomously educated boy, whose mother only ever gave him one very miserable formal lesson in maths when he was about 8, (she admits she is still not sure that he knows his times tables), has just been awarded a first, along with three prizes, at Imperial College for Maths and IT and has been offered a PhD off the back of it. He is a wonderful, thoughtful, articulate individual with a wide range of interests and yet had he been subjected to a monitoring regime from an LA official, it is highly likely that he would have been returned to school when he wasn't ready, he almost certainly would not have done nearly so well.
Autonomously educated children think it is normal to learn to read when you feel like it and they know that when it is done like this, you don't fall behind. In the real world outside of school, there are numerous ways of acquiring information other than by reading for yourself. You can talk to people, they can read to you, you can watch the Discovery channel, you can experiment with making a universal indicator out of a red cabbage, or you can find out how to make a scarf, create animations, keep a herb garden or care for a pet. Then you learn to read.
The DCSF must understand that plenty of home educated children are home educated precisely because the current state-determined model has failed them so appallingly, and we worry that should the state decide that it has the right and the duty to determine suitability, it will fall back on it's preferred models, and these children will be failed all over again.
Several girls we know left school at 9 through to 11, completely unable to read and write. When left entirely to their own devices, (none of them were pressurised to read), they learned to read on their own, and once they started, they learnt extremely quickly and then went on to take exams and pursue higher education. Three of these girls were severely depressed when they were taken out of school, and two of them had threatened suicide. If the state is determined to put such children back in school, or even just to label them so that they don't have to back to school, you are highly likely to see a further rise in teenage depression and suicides.
So far we have concentrated upon the problems of efficacy as it relates to the determination of suitability in education, but there are also legal and constitutional problems in the situation that the state decides that it should determine the nature of suitability of education in all cases and on a routine basis. The government MUST consider that this will have huge implications for the relationship between person and state. Parents, in effect, will no longer be responsible for determining whether the education they are providing is suitable for their children. It will now be up to the state to make this ultimate determination and the status of section 7 of the Education Act 1996 would in effect change to mean that parents are now only responsible for provision of what is in fact a state-determined education.
This, of course, would override parental human rights as enshrined in Protocol 2 Article 1 of the ECHRs.
"In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions."
It would also mean that should that state-determined education fail a child, (as it surely will), parents can no longer be held responsible. It is now the state which must be held liable and, given the currently enormously high failure rate of what is still parentally chosen state-determined education, it is not hard to envisage that a change to an entirely state-determined education would result in bankruptcy for the government and local authorities.
All this aside from the fact that we must also consider the practical implications to families of intrusion and loss of privacy, as explained above.
Another almost inevitable result of forcibly absolving parents of the duty to consider for themselves whether they are providing a suitable education is that they will stop asking themselves "am I meeting my duty to provide a suitable education" and instead ask themselves "do we appear to be meeting this duty?" which is not a good question as it is highly likely to result in a less suitable education for the child.The problem of the state having to take on responsibility for determining suitability of education and therefore upon the limits of the form and content of an education would be avoided if LAs only investigated where there is reason to think that a suitable education is not being provided. This may seem like a subtle difference, but it is one. The state then only gets to determine a few cases of suitability, where there is some reason for concern and a good argument could be made for intervention. It does not dictate to the entire population.
The DCSF and schools have much to learn from the personalised learning of autonomous home educators if only they knew it. It is such a shame that more people don't understand how well it works, and how inspections of such children may well ruin this process as families struggle to provide the support the autonomous child needs but also to please the more formal demands of the home education inspector.