Friday, January 19, 2007

On the Wider Significance of Proposed Changes to Home Education Law

(Have reposted this piece from a few days ago with a few alterations, as the old version doesn't appear to be taking corrections. Hope it makes the thought experiment about "statementing" a bit clearer.)

I admit this blog has got even more narrowly focused over these past few months - almost nothing but obsessing about possible future legislative changes to home education in England. But the thing is - any passing reader who isn't HEing, some of the proposed changes to home education law will have major ramifications and implications for the whole of education law in this country.

In the likely case that you didn't know, passing non-HE reader, the state is proposing to up the degree to which home educators are monitored. In order to do this the DfES will undoubtedly have to decide upon and impose a widely applicable set of standards for education, thereby in effect dictating the content of it. The state will therefore be responsible for both the form and the content of the education that all parents must provide to their children.

So how will this affect parents with children in schools? What it will mean is that whilst parents will still be responsible for the "provision" of education, eg: in the act of delegating the responsibility to a school, they will no longer responsible for freely deciding upon the "form and content" of education, since these will have been decided by the state.

What this, in turn, will mean is that if a child in school is failed by the form and content of an education, the parent will be able sue the state for compelling him to provide an inappropriate education.

It seems possible, and I want to run it by some sort of thought experiment, that the DfES may try to avoid the problem of being held responsible for oftentimes inappropriate form and content of education, by creating the following situation and using the following argument: "Well this standard only applies to children without special educational needs. You can get out of jail if you decide to get your child statemented, in our new special way. In other words, you pay for an assessment, and the ed psych will give you a special curriculum to follow....and let's face it, this could exempt most of the schooling population, because most children could be defined as having an SEN if you try hard enough!" But actually going down this new special SEN route doesn't provide the "get of jail free" card that the DfES might suggest since even in the situation that the state does not then prescribe a new curriculum, it will still be deciding the form of education for our children, in that they are deciding that we MUST statement our children if we don't want to apply their educational standards. Yep, they will still be dictating the form of education and they will be doing this in a way that may well be deeply deleterious to many children.

By which I mean that psychiatrists know full well the dangers of applying a label to anyone, in that the label often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. eg: if you tell a child they can't sit still because they have ADHD, what is the point of them trying to do it? They have a perfect excuse not to. Or to take another example, many HE children don't learn to read until they are eight, nine or even older. They are rarely diagnosed dyslexic, and because they are not sitting in a classroom full of children doing other things, they usually catch up within a year of starting to read. No need to apply a label, thereby making it far less likely that the child will ever get there. Just let him learn when he is ready...NO problem. He will be fit to live in the 21st century, but will have got there in his own time and with no negative consequences to himself or anyone else.

Forcing parents to do this new kind of statement their children in order that they do not have to deliver the state-determined education will undoubtedly be deeply abusive for some families. In this regard, the state will again be responsible and probably will be held responsible for the damage it is doing to children in effectively insisting that they must be statemented in this way.

Further on the implications for all families on changes to HE law: forcing HE families to be subject to scrutiny by local authorities when it is not clear that they have done anything wrong, establishes a precedent for all families about the degree to which the state is allowed to invade their privacy. Most HE families will have done nothing to arouse the suspicion of the state and LAs will have no reason whatsoever to believe that these families are not providing an education that is suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of their children. In the situation that there is a reasonable suspicion to think that an appropriate education is not being provided, the LA already have the power to make inquiries of that family. There is no need to change the law here for in insisting that LAs have a right to monitor the education that all HE families provide, the state is in effect over-writing the principle of the right to family privacy, as is enshrined in Article 8, of the ECHR.

It is also the case that many HE children simply do NOT want to see local authority representatives. They don't want a stranger in their homes deciding upon their whole way of life. Not surprising really; you can be sympathetic. For a start, these strangers will know next to nothing about the real educational needs of each child and yet for because an educrat has a clipboard and is supposed to be in the know, they are allowed to make huge decisions about the way a child lives. If, on the other hand, the state is to be as good as it's word and consult children, (as it claims it will in the Every Child Matters agenda, and as ARCH says, "gee thanks!"), they will find that most often they are neither wanted nor needed in the lives of children. If then the state decides to over-ride the wishes of HE children, how are parents everywhere supposed to take the state seriously when it professes to consult with children and take their views seriously?

HE parents also ask "In the case that my child doesn't want to meet with an educrat, how much force am I required to apply?". If the state insists we must produce our children for their inspection, and if this means we must physically and psychologically torment them, how are parents everywhere really to take the supposed spirit behind the government's Every Child Matters agenda seriously?

All in all, home education needs to remain free of the diktats of the state in order that the principle of parental responsibility for the provision of education remains untainted. It needs to remain free because a one-size prescription for education will not fit all. It needs to remain free of the state so that the principle of listening to what children want can be maintained and so that privacy of innocent families can be respected.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been posted about this subject - the implications of gov proposals for all parents on a list I'm on. I'm not sure people who don't home ed realise what an erosion it will potentially lead to in our right to decide on how our children are best educated. sigh

meanwhile DH is becoming increasingly agitated about the ludicrous and unworkable idea of having every child on the database apart from those of celebs and politicians. we kepp coming up with increasingly daft suggestions for exclusions - local councillors, Treorchy Male voice choir, shop keepers etc etc

sarah f