Sunday, April 29, 2007

Victims of School Bullying

Following the tragic news of yet another school-related bullycide,

"Dr Stuart Newton, a retired headteacher and current part-time teacher at Brighton and Hove Sixth Form College (BHASVIC) believes society must react to the lessons to be learned from Ben Vodden's story. He has been increasingly critical of the apparent lack of action among those in a position of authority, including the media, to combat bullying.

He said: "My job, for the last 40 years, has involved disentangling the endless hate trails of bullies in schools. I have listened to the endlessly pathetic excuses of the bullies and their parents about why their behaviour is justified. Of course, the response of the rest of society is complacency. They sit on the sidelines, criticise and do nothing of any use."

"After 40 years of teaching young people in secondary schools, I have learned a number of things about bullies. The bullying Ben endured in Horsham happens in every school in the country. The techniques of some bullies are more refined than others but the aims are the same - to wound, humiliate and scare their victims. Most teachers could give you a list of the children in their school who are out-andout bullies, and so could most of the children. Most teachers could give you a list of those children who are the henchmen, the ones who do the dirty work of the bully. Most teachers know that the vast majority of children would never get involved in bullying but they feel powerless to stop it. My frustration is that there is no obvious serious action that anyone is taking to tackle the issue."

I think Dr. Newton has the measure of the extent of bullying in many school situations, but actually contrary to his assertion that no one is taking obvious serious action to remedy the situation, some parents do know exactly what to. In recent months, we have seen four de-registrations from a local school which happened directly as a result of persistent and apparently unstoppable bullying - this from a school which has a reputation for having a very active anti-bullying policy and for generally being attentive to the needs of pupils. Despite the policies and initiatives there, things were still appallingly bad for these children, and their parents therefore took the appropriate step; they didn't hang about waiting for further institutional change, which anyway so far hasn't made the blindest bit of difference. These parents took their responsibilities seriously and removed their children from a horrific experience which was slowing or completely impeding learning.

Almost anything these families do from now on would be an improvement on what went before, but actually contrary to reports that parents who remove their children from school as a result of bullying are less likely to be able to provide a suitable education for their children, these parents seem to be making a fantastic job of helping their children to enjoy learning once again. (One of them is actually a reformed teacher and another a recovering special needs teaching assistant, ie: they know what is happening in those places!)

Think about Home Education if your child is being bullied. It can and does solve a serious problem, for whilst there may be instances of bullying in the HE community, these are few and far between, probably because the pressure is off - people can walk away, and because of the high number of parents and guardians around to sort it out. Bullying in HE groups is generally trivial compared to the terrifying situation that can be bullying in school.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Black version of Draft Response to DfES Consulation on EHE Guidelines

Below, with many thanks to HEors elsewhere for providing considerable amounts of inspiration for these answers, is an updated draft of a response to the DfES Consultation on Guidelines for Elective Home Education.

Please feel very free to use any answers below as inspiration for your responses: the more responses the DfES receive from HEors the better, whether these be from individual home educators or local groups to national organisations. We cannot let this process be co-opted by the LAs. The DfES need to know just how strongly we feel about the way we are approached by the authorities and that we do demand decent treatment. If we do manage a sufficient number of responses from HEors and the DfES simply choose to ignore us, we will go to the press and complain like fury. We will go back to the Better Regulation Executive and start shouting all over again, but first we must make sure that our voice is heard. Please do put in a response!

Many points in the draft guidelines are not covered in questions in the consultation. Important criticisms of the neglected points are required. When this is the case, these criticisms have been included in the consultation question that most closely covers the section in the guidelines.

Before you look down, and panic at the screeds below, I can summarise by saying that I think there are two main areas that HEors need to tackle in their responses. These are:

1. that the guidelines do not make reference to any possible consequences of the Children Act 2004. We need to make it explicit in the guidelines that the Act should not change the way in which the LAs are best off approaching us. For example, we might do well to say that although people like the Children's Commissioner have been tasked with asking our children for their views, that the views of these children is most often that they want as little interference from the authorities as possible and furthermore, that they don't want to be solicited by the authorities for their views. The guidelines also need to be clear that parents remain principally responsible for meeting the five desired outcomes for children as stipulated in the act. The LA and community only have a role to play when parents fail to try to meet these objectives.

2. We also need to require the guidelines to be explicit and precise about how LAs are best to approach us. At the moment, the guidelines are not clear on the principle and practice. My feeling is that LAs should adopt the principle of minimal proportionate intervention, starting from the point that if, on balance of probabilities, it appears that a suitable education is being provided, that it is completely acceptable for an LA to leave a family completely alone. They can move through the policy of one-off written communications, through to more extended written communications, through to requests for meetings, but all of this should only be done in the situation that it is deemed that there is cause for concern and that further communication is therefore necessary. We do not want to "HAVE" to have a relationship with the LA, a requirement that in itself would seem to preclude the possibility of it being a good one.

= = = = = = = = = =

Consultation Questions

1 Do you agree that it is helpful for the DfES to issue guidelines to local authorities?

Not Sure
No Response

It would rather depend on the final nature of the guidelines. If the guidelines accurately interpret the law and demonstrate an understanding of the nature of home education, they are likely to be helpful.

However, some parts of the guidelines appear to be repetitive and/or to require tightening to reduce ambiguity, this particularly with regard to the best policy for LAs when approaching home educating families, the principle for which should be that of minimal proportionate intervention. The processes involved in this need to be laid out explicitly. For example, it should be clear that an LA does not have a duty to have any contact with a family when it appears on balance of probabilities that an education is taking place. LAs are best to go through a gradual process of establishing contact and that they should only do so on the basis that there appears to be some need to do so. So for example, if there is a need to establish that on balance of probabilites that a suitable education is taking place, then the LA should communicate with the family in writing. Again, there need not necessarily be any need for further action at this point, see below, in response to Question 6.

The guidelines would also require further additions, eg: with regard to the appropriate way to implement the Children Act 2004. The guidelines should be explicit that the Act should not change the way in which the LAs are best off approaching us. For example, although the Children's Commissioner have been tasked with asking our children for their views, that the views of their children often are that they want as little interference from the authorities as is humanely possible and they don't want to be solicited by the authorities for their views. The guidelines also need to be clear that parents remain principally responsible for meeting the five desired outcomes for children as stipulated in the Act. The LA and community only have a role to play when parents fail to try to meet these objectives.

An alternative draft which eliminates these problems could be produced by home educating organisations.

However, even in the situation of achieving a satisfactory set of guidelines, there appears to be no intention on the part of the DfES to enforce these guidelines, so whatever the outcome, we envisage that at least some local authorities are likely to continue to apply heavy-handed and inappropriate measures to home educators, and we would appreciate a standard procedure for addressing complaints raised by home educators.

In Scotland there has been Guidance for three years but home educators still suffer unacceptable treatment from local authorities who have no regard for the Guidance,(see Schoolhouse's response to the Scottish consultation here). This rightfully causes us to question the value of guidelines, given that there are to be no sanctions. How can the English guidelines avoid the same fate?

The current draft does little to reassure local authorities about the limits of their duties and the limts of the expectations upon them. LAs often appear to need clarity about the line between their role and that of Social Services. They are in fear of prosecution and this guidance needs to reassure them about their position in order to prevent the over-zealous aproaches to home educators currently in vogue. If the guidance does not achieve that reassurance, harrassment of home educators will continue and lack of sanctions for ignoring the guidance will mean that home educators remain unprotected.

re: section 1.1. The second use of the word "home" in the first sentence should be replaced with "other than at school."

re: section 1.2. The word "broad" should be replaced by "suitable".

re: section 1.4 "various" should read "any number of different". The sentence "the authority's primary interest should lie in the suitability of parents' educational provision" should be altered to make it clear that the authority does not have a duty to check for suitability, and only need to do so when there is good cause to suspect that a suitable education is not taking place. The list of reasons to home educate is not exhaustive and serves no useful purpose, given that the reason is irrelevant unless a parent is asking for help to stay in/return to school.


2 Do you agree that the description of the law (paragraphs 2.1-2.3) relating to elective home education is accurate and clear?

Not Sure
No Response

The overall tenor of this section is accurate.

re: section 2.4. It might be helpful for LAs if the word "full-time" was appended here with "(see section 3.11)". Also, there is no reason to emphasise "full" financial responsibility, since there is no reason in statute why LAs could not assist home educators financially, and indeed some already do so, through the provision of various services.


3 Do you agree that the description of local authorities’ responsibilities (paragraphs 2.5-2.11) is accurate and helpful?

Not Sure
No Response

At some point in this section, it would be helpful to remind LAs of their responsibilities under the ECHR legislation, with particular regard here to Article 8:

"Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

In other words, LAs do not have the right of access to the home without their being cause for belief that a child is at risk.

re: section 2.5. The second main point in this paragraph does not follow from the first. I would suggest that the sentence starting "Local authorities should recognise that there are many approaches..." contains a point of such significance that it merits a paragraph of it's own.

re: section 2.5. It would be helpful to remove the phrase "all children should make reasonable progress" from a paragraph dealing with local authority responsibilities, since this appears to imply that it is the duty of LAs to monitor for progress. This is not in fact the case, since monitoring of progress is the responsibility of parents. Upon hearing of a HE child, the LEA need to ask themselves only if it is likely on balance that s/he is in receipt of a suitable education. This is not a monitoring or progress-reporting role. It is a snapshot glance and a judgement-call based on that snapshot. If that glance would suggest to a reasonable person that all is likely to be well with the educational provision and the parent appears to be law-abiding and aware of their legal S7 duty, it naturally extends from that the parent is appropriately attentive to the educational needs of their child according to his/her age, ability and aptitude and therefore progress *will* be suitable to that child. It is most certainly not for the LEA to monitor progress and nothing in the guidelines must even hint at that.

re: section 2.6. This could be worded more helpfully, since from the first part of the paragraph which states that LAs have a new duty to identify children missing from education, it would not necessarily be clear to an LA officer how this duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home, as stated in the last sentence. Perhaps the following could be included by way of further elucidation for LAs: "If a child comes to the notice of a local authority as not being registered at a school, the LA may ask the family about educational provision and upon receipt of information that a child is being educated at home, the LEA should assume, in the absense of evidence to the contrary, that this is indeed the case."

re: section 2.7. From the first sentence - "the quality of" and "on a routine basis" need removing. There is no statutory duty at all, routine or otherwise, to "monitor" quality or anything else about EHE.

re: section 2.8. It would be helpful if the order of 2.7 and 2.8 made it clearer that the enquiries mentioned in 2.8 should precede the process in 2.7.

It would also be helpful to make it clear that these enquiries are not bound by a 15 day minimum, and that conversely, there is no requirement for LAs to do as they frequently do, which is to require a response in a 15 day maximum time-span.

It would also be helpful if it were made clear that the enquiries mentioned in 2.8 may well never lead to the formal process in 437(1) of the Education Act 1996.

re: section 2.9. More emphasis could be made of the (b) part of 437(3). The LA should ask themselves whether, in the presence of a failure stated in 437(3)(a), they really believe that the only useful course of action is to put the child into school, ie: (b). Could the child receive a suitable education out of school with some more help, input, resources etc? The DfES should make it clear to the LAs that they have it within their legal and financial scope to assist the parent in their preferred choice of eduacational provision, and that they must use their funds and resources in non-discriminatory ways to benefit all children in their area. EHEers are not to be discriminated against because of their choice any more than persons choosing a particular religious education. After all, every child matters!

It would be helpful to add the information that the LA must notify the parent of their intention to issue an SAO before they actually do so and they must also let the parents know the school to be named in the notice.

re: section 2.11. We are pleased to note that Section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002 does not extend local authorities' functions. It might also be useful to clarify here that the Children Act 2004 also does not confer duties upon LAs to seek out problems (be they educational or other welfare issues) where there is no reason to believe that there are any and that home education, in itself, is not a reason to suspect that child welfare problems exist. There should be sufficient grounds for anxiety whether it be over the issue of educational provision or welfare, before the privacy of families is invaded.


4 Do you agree that the section on contact with the local authority (paragraphs 3.4-3.7) is accurate and helpful?

Not Sure
No Response

There is no room in the consultation to provide critique on sections 3.1 to 3.3. However, we feel that Section 3.1 should say that policy reviews must always be mindful of the law because it is at those times that documents may stray away from legislation and guidance. We also feel that it would be helpful to include HEors (both local and national) in these reviews.

Section 3.4. The first word in this section, ie: "many" should read "some" as this choice of word is unlikely to misrepresent the situation. Rather there is good reason to believe that the many HEors do not welcome contact with LAs, often because they believe that contact rarely benefits them substantially, and contains the possibility that their way of life may be profoundly affected in an non-consensual fashion.

It is inappropriate to single out a specific group of children, ie here: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. All children in England will come under the same legislation and guidelines and whilst it could be helpful when trying to ascertain whether an appropriate education is taking place to contact various organisations such as the Traveller Education Service, I do not feel that it is necessary or desirable to single out target groups in this manner, as it risks creating prejudice and ill-informed judgements.

It would be preferable instead to make it clear that an LA should not act in a prejudicial fashion. Somewhere in paragraphs 3.4 to 3.6, it should be clarified that income, housing, race, religion, sexual orientation, profession and educational qualifications are not in themselves grounds for reasonable concerns about ability to provide a suitable education.

re: section 3.5. The word "judgement" should read "decision on a balance of probabilities".
There is no legislation that allows LAs to directly approach the child so they have to accept that the parent will have respected their child and offered them whatever freedoms the parent sees fit to have with regard to access to the LA. It is necessary to realise that if LAs really do want to take the views of children seriously, that the child may not want to be approached by the LA in order to gather his views on whether or not he wants to meet with them. To insist on a meeting to gain consent for a meeting is to disregard the spirit of the Children Act 2004, which proposed that the views of children be taken seriously. If the LEA has good reason to think a child is not being heard and as a consequence of this, their welfare, educational or otherwise, is at risk, they may take action in the form of SAOs or referral to social services, but direct communication with the child cannot be required routinely.

re: section 3.6. "Ongoing" needs deleting - the "snapshot" is all that is required.

re: section 3.7. Replace the first word "many" with "some" (see explanation above) and remove a comma after "they may, " in second sentence.

This paragraph would need to be re-written in order to make it clear that the manner of presentation of evidence should not prejudice the decision about whether or not an appropriate education is taking place. As it stands, it could read as if parents who permit a home visit are likely to be viewed favorably. For example, the phrase "" if they choose not to meet" implies that they have chosen to present evidence in the way preferred by the LA, when all they have actually done is choose to present evidence in a perfectly legitimate fashion.

There are no consultation questions about sections 3.8 to 3.10.

re section 3.8. Citing this particular deregistration scenario is misleading because it suggests that parents need or should seek "guidance" from the school or LA about deregisration from school, whereas it is equally valid for there to be no first contact between parent and LA. In other words, the parent sends a letter of deregistration to the school, the school deregisters the child and informs LA, the LA assume (in the absence of reason to think otherwise) that the family are providing a suitable education. At the very least, it should be clear here that it is legitimate for the LA to take no further action at this point.

re: section 3.9. This section refers to the outdated regulations. The second sentence "wish" should read "decide" as the former makes it look like they need permission and "intention" may more usefully read "decision". Returns from school to LA must be immediate. The last sentence should not be included, since there is no reason why an HE family will benefit from contact with their LA, and could create a situation where LAs assume that if a parent chooses not to inform them, that there are likely to be problems with educational provision, when it is much more likely that the family feel that they would benefit from being left alone for a while, without the heavy hand of a system that may have already failed them, bearing down on them.

re: section 3.10. This is nothing to do with deregistration so is under the wrong heading - it is about LEAs making initial contact with a parent. "Proposals" is not a useful word as it suggests the parent is putting something forward for approval before going ahead. Parents are not required, even when they are settled, to demonstrate all the characteristics of a suitable education. Parents are only expected (by Donaldson) though are not required by statute, to respond to an LA enquiry with enough information to satisfy them that there is no appearance of a S7 failure. Saying a reasonable timescale should be agreed is risky - agreed with and by whom and what is reasonable?


5 Do you agree that the section on providing a full-time education (paragraphs 3.11-3.14) – and in particular, the characteristics of provision (paragraph 3.13) – is accurate and helpful?

Not Sure
No Response

re section 3.11. It would be preferable to explain that full-time is not defined and that it is for a parent to judge whether the amount of time their child spends in education is sufficient to provide them with an education suitable to age, ability and aptitude. ie full-time is a personal measurement.The idea of so much one-to-one contact risks creating the impression that home educated children must be hot housed/personally tutored (as in the old governess type image) child. On to the list of unrequired stuff - and subsequent sentence - LAs giving advice on these matters *if requested* - needs to be clear that advice should only come from those qualified to give it -- ie not just knowledgeable in those topics but in home education as well. Also, it also should be stated that the LA must, when they establish contact with an HE family, make it clear to the parents that they are not required to do anything on this list. This is an important point as LAs often take advantage of those who are new to HE and, for example, do not let these families know that they are not required to teach the National Curriculum.

re: section 3.12. LAs MUST consider ANY info from parents in ANY format, not just a "wide" range. The last sentence is too limited/prescriptive and needs dumping.

re: section 3.13. It appears here that the LA they are trying to write a definition of "suitable". A list of criteria as can be found at this point is likely to become a requirement which will be cited in case law some time in the future. Therefore any list has a significant potential to alter the legal situation for HEors and raises expectations for certain inclusions that are neither legally required or educationally necessary.

re: section 3.14. The header, for 3.11 to 3.14 is "Providing a full-time education". However it is mostly about the content of that education and 3.14 is about sanctions when their list in 3.13 is not seen to be completely adhered to. It is all about much more scrutiny than is legally required. It assumes that one unfulfilled bullet point is good reason to suspect a section 7 failure, so those bullet points would need to be VERY tight.


6 Do you agree that the section on developing relationships (section 4) is useful?

Not Sure
No Response


Assisting the development of relationships between LAs and HEors should not be the central purpose of the guidelines, since these are by no means necessarily essential to the successful education of a child. The main purpose of the document should be to ensure legal compliance and proper treatment by LAs in the service of the provision of a suitable education to home educated children.

Whilst section 10 of the Children Act 2004 states that each children's services authority must make arrangements to promote co-operation between the authority, each of the authority's relevant partners and such other persons or bodies as the authority consider appropriate, being persons or bodies of any nature who exercise functions or are engaged in activities in relation to children in the authority's area, there is no clear duty that LAs should make arrangements to promote relationships between themselves and HEors, nor is there an equivalent duty placed upon home educators to make arrangements to build effective relationships with LAs, nor could it be stipulated that there is a duty to have these "co-operative" relationships and although this much is stated in section 4.2, section 4.1 could easily be taken to imply the opposite and should therefore be re-written so as to make it clear that HEors and LAs do not have to develop a relationship.

This is important because it is the case that many home educators do not want any relationship with the LA, but would not want to be judged negatively for this. They simply prefer to maintain the privacy of their families in the knowledge that they are sufficiently well-supported without the assistance of the state, they are not doing anything illegal and therefore do not warrant any investigation by authorities. LAs need to realise that they act as public servants and respond only in situations of need. They should not insist upon establishing relationships as to do so (even if very politely), is to destroy the genuine possibility of an equal, co-operative and trusting relationship.

re: section 4.3. I would suggest removing the phrase "especially those who have other children attending school", as it is very likely to lead to false assumptions about the style of education provided. For example, many parents provide a very structured form of education without ever having sent any of their children to school. Other parents with some schooling children provide a more child-centred form of education where the parent responds to the enquiries of the child.

re: section 4.4. It states: "(see paragraphs 3.12 to 3.15)." These section numbers probably refer to 3.12 and 3.13 which contains the list (see critique re: 3.13 above).

re: section 4.6. Given that the header here is "Providing information for parents", only the first sentence is required here. The rest has nothing to do with providing information and should be included in the following section 4.7 which deals with "Contact with parents and children". It would be helpful to make it clear that it is appropriate for LAs either to leave HE families alone or to be in occasional or if needed regular written contact with HE families and that they only need invite HE parents and children to a meeting in the situation that they have due cause to do so, and that this may be a one-off meeting, if that is all that is required.

After "future contact", insert "if any" to highlight the fact that ongoing contact is not a legal requirement. In addition, it needs to be clear that it is the parent's prerogative to offer the child access to the LA if they wish, not the LAs.

re: section 4.7. Singling out home visits and using weighted words like "strong indication" gives undue preference to the HV option. This weighting should be changed to show clearly how the LA can act in appropriate and proportionate fashion. It is actually the case that many children will not respond at all well to the knowledge that a stranger will come into their homes to judge them on their whole way of life, with that stranger having the power to remove in it's entirety. To think that a home visit is necessarily the best way to judge the educational provision is to fail to understand the way in which these visits are often perceived by HEors, who frequently find them traumatic and undermining. In addition, many children who HE have also suffered considerably as a result of over-zealous officials in schools, and intrusion into the home of such children is likely to be more damaging than helpful. LA officials need to be made aware of this problem in these guidelines. It is the case that despite the guidelines, but with no power to enforce them, HEors will still remain on tenterhooks to find out whether or not their LA official will behave appropriately and whether or not their lives are to be altered profoundly, in a way which they are likely to believe is not in the best interests their children. Therefore, as a principle of good practice, it would be preferable if LAs practiced the principle of proportionate minimal intervention or only provided services when they are requested to do so by HEors.

re: section 4.8. Together with section 4.7, this paragraph appears to be approaching the problem of LA contact from the wrong angle. It would be better to state the principle of proportionate minimal intervention at the beginning, stating that LAs do not have a duty to do anything in the situation that it appears on balance of probabilities that an education is being provided and that in order to establish this, written communication is an appropriate measure and that more or ongoing communication is only necessitated should there be concerns of one sort or another, and that meetings with HE parents and children are only necessitated as a last resort, when there is some basis for concern.

There should be clarity about 'audi alteram partem' and no weight or preference allowed. Then there should be a section that says that LEAs MUST NOT state, request or insist upon any preferred method of providing info and that to do so in particular for HVs is a violation of a family's human rights. They should be reassured that in those exceptional circumstances when there is genuine concern that a child is at risk there are already SS procedures available and if there is real warranted concern that the child's education is not suitable, they have section 437 Education Act to call upon.

re: section 4.9. Whilst the welfare and protection of all children is unquestionably paramount, it is not necessarily clear that it is the automatic responsibility of "the whole community". It is only clear that morally it is the parents who have automatic and primary responsibility for the welfare and protection of children. It is only in the situation that a parent fails to meet this responsibility that the wider community assumes some responsibilities in these areas. There should be a clear statement that LEAs should not try and do not need to manipulate education law as a means of addressing welfare concerns, as social services already have adequate tools at their disposal.

re: section 4.9. It would be helpful to make it clear that elective home education is not, of itself, a reason for welfare concerns and that the duties conferred upon LAs in the Children Act 2004 do not extend their rights to intrude upon the privacy of families. Upon receipt of information that a child is educated at home, an LA would be wise to make written enquiries about the nature of that education, and only pursue the matter further if there are other reasons to think that there may be a problem. The Children Act gives much credence to the idea that the views of children should be listened to, taken into account, and as far as possible, acted upon. It is the case that many home educated children (see Hands up 4 Home Ed, by way of an example), expressly do not want to see LA personnel, and this would in all probability include an interview to talk about whether or not they wanted to see such people.) LAs should try to respect the spirit of the Children Act when it comes to taking the point of view of children seriously, and ask themselves at what point they perpetuate rather than solve the problem of abuse.

re: section 4.10. It should not be made to seem as if it is a requirement for HE parents to take up references, although this may be suggested as good practice.

re: section 4.11. "Will wish to" should read "should". Delete "further develop relationships" .

re: section 4.12. Ofsted does not always appear to understand the legislative framework as it relates to LAs and home educators. For example, Ofsted has been known to make suggestions for LA action that is not in accordance with the legal position. It would therefore be helpful to clarify that Ofsted will be required to act in accordance with the guidelines.


7 a) Are the suggested resources in section 5 and appendix 2 useful?

Not Sure
No Response

re: paragraph 5.1. The Home Education leaflet in the Parent Centre link would need to be updated to bring it in line with the proposed guidelines, since there would otherwise be some contradictions between the two documents which could result in confusion for home educating parents who are not familiar with legal requirements and best practice.

re: paragraph 5.5. We would like to suggest that LAs should provide information about Connexions to elective home educators, rather than providing information about EHEors to Connexions, since this would allow the families to choose whether or not to use the service, and would minimise unnecessary waste of public money when Connexions chase up HE teens who would rather not have contact with them.

The information at the Advisory Centre for Education, is inaccurate and needs correcting.


7 b) Should any other contacts be included?

Not Sure
No Response

Open University


8 Please use this space for any other comments you wish to make about the guidelines


re: paragraph 2.4. This accurately describes the current situation in saying that parents "must assume full financial responsibility, including bearing the cost of any public examinations", but it could be helpful if LAs were to consider assisting EHEors with courses and funding for public examinations, as has been happening in some authorities. It would also be helpful if LAs could designate a local school or college as an examination centre that would routinely accept external candidates.

re: paragraph 3.15. (HELP guys...not up to speed at all with this.) I understand that it is not the case that a statement of Special Educational Need must (SEN) must remain in force in the situation that a child is EHE. The statement in this situation may be removed. Also, it should be made clear that a statement of SEN does not override paragraph 3.11. Some items on a statement may only be relevant to meeting the needs of a child in a school situation. An LA should not be able to use it to force a parent to provide a form of education that is inappropriate to EHE.


Teaching and Learning

Just saw this in the Psychologist (thanks SF):

The sad truth is that lecturing is easier than the alternatives, and lecturers can always kid themselves that teaching equals learning. It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw where a dog owner tells his friend that he has taught his dog to whistle. The friend says, "I can't hear him whistling", to which the dog owner replies, "I said I'd taught him to whistle, I didn't say he could whistle!"

Friday, April 27, 2007

First Draft of Proposed Letter to DfES

Comments please...

= = = = = = = =

Dear Elaine Haste,

Further to the prospective consultation on "light touch changes to the monitoring of home education", we have read with interest the information forwarded to home educator Stephen Tarlton, following his Freedom of Information requests on this matter. The details of this have been widely circulated in the home education community.

We are interested to note that you wrote on 24th October 2006:

"I do not know how we can answer the FOI request about EHE parents who abuse their children. To my knowledge we have no specific examples, as we do not get involved in casework. All we have is anecdotal evidence from LAs of concerns about a very small minority of parents."

and that on the matter of

"the number of SAO's issued in England and Wales every year, the Dept does not collect the information...".

Given that evidence on these matters is not forthcoming, and given that with the recent introduction and implementation of the Children Act 2004 which is aimed at ensuring the safety and well-being of children and which requires the sharing of information between
agencies, we would question the need to pursue the matter of monitoring home educators any further, since we believe that the current legislative framework already provides adequate means for local authorities to deal with situations where it appears that a suitable education is not taking place.

However, we do understand that LAs are still making representations to you demanding further powers and that you are therefore feeling under pressure to act to change the legislative framework. For example, we hear that that Gloucestershire Local Authority have recently been asking for further rights to intervene in the lives of home educating families, prompted, we believe, by the fact that that they have recently been shown to have missed a case of abuse in a fostering/adoptive family.

In this particular case of abuse, the family were visited by a number of services over a long period of time, concerns about them had been raised on numerous occasions, and yet the LEA failed to address these concerns. Indeed at sentencing, the judge condemned social services and health workers who failed to spot abuse. Given the amount of contact that the services already had at that time, we suggest that this was a matter of mistaken professional judgement rather than a matter of insufficient powers to see the family.

Further, since the time that the abuse in that case was occurring, we have seen the introduction of the Children Act which is in part aimed at addressing the problem of missing abuse of children. In other words, Glos LA already do have more powers to help them spot this kind of abuse than they had at the time of this particular case. Glos LA do not need and should not be demanding any further powers to intervene in the lives of legitimately home educating families than they already do have, since they have perfectly sufficient powers to deal with this sort of problem and to demand more is to risk destroying the proper relationship between the law-abiding citizen and the state.

Yet we hear that Glos LA are proposing that they should have a legal right to enter homes of HEors and/or have access to children without parents being present apparently on the basis that these families home educate. There is also a strong hint that Glos LA want the right to 'doorstep' HE families, i.e. turn up unannounced. It seems that there does not need to be any reason to suspect that these families are breaking the law in these cases. Further, we hear that if a family refuse entry, they will be flagged as being "at risk", thereby immediately creating a problem out of nothing more than a family's desire to maintain some autonomy and privacy.

We feel that this is an outrageous infringement on the rights of citizens where there is no reason to suppose that they are breaking the law and we will be seeking legal advice on this point if necessary.

Entry to the home is indeed a proportionate measure in the situation that there is good reason to suspect that abuse or educational neglect is occurring. As the law is currently framed, LAs are within their current rights to make inquiries of families in order to establish that on balance of probabilities it appears to a reasonable person that a suitable education is being provided, but these should only rightly take the form of preliminary inquiries, which would not include unannounced access to families and children or insistence upon home visits. We believe we need to be mutually clear that home-based education should NOT be used as a prima facie argument for infringement of the rights of citizens to privacy and freedom from state intervention.

If we were to draw any sort of analogy, or extrapolate as if such a precedent were established, it would be logical to assert that say, OFSTED or some such body should be demanding the right to enter the homes of all teachers on the basis that some of them have been known to have relationships with pupils or have downloaded questionable material onto their computers. In other words, once this precedent is set, there is no hope for any citizen of any privacy, and it effectively establishes the mechanisms of a police state.

Further, we understand that sections of the Children Act 2004 deal with the intention to respect the needs of children. It is the case that many HE children have no desire whatsoever to live with the idea that any moment of the day, a complete stranger could turn up on their doorstep, demanding a right of access to them without their parent present, in order that this stranger may pass judgement on their entire way of life, in all probability with next to no knowledge about it. In other words, in demanding such access to homes and children, LAs will be failing in their duty to respect the needs and desires of children and government employees will be failing to respect the spirit of their own laws. Indeed, authorities need to ask themselves at what point they perpetuate rather than solve the problem of abuse. We feel that if an LA demands such powers, that they will have gone way beyond their remit and children will suffer needlessly because of it.

If the picture we are building is not sufficiently vivid, we would just like to ask you how you would feel in a similar situation. How would you feel if someone in authority had total access to your home and children at any time, without any warning, and without you having done anything wrong and with the power to alter your life in a hugely significant way?

Such a proposal is not proportionate, is not necessary, and sets a dangerous precedent.

To conclude, to increase the powers of the state in such a way as Glos LA seem to be demanding is to risk destroying the balance between the rights of innocent private citizens and the responsibilities of the state. Instead all that need be done is for local authorities to use the powers they currently have in an appropriate fashion and to intervene only when there is good reason to suspect that problems do indeed exist.

We look forward to your reply

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Real inclusion, Real Choice

Look what ARCH found in Children Now.

"The point is that society will only be inclusive if everyone is offered a choice in their education. We argue, not against a disabled child choosing to be educated in a mainstream school, but against the relentless pursuit of the idea that school is the ideal place for all children to be together.

The natural and most powerful environment for young people to become friends, develop an acceptance and understanding of diversity, and to dissolve prejudice is a leisure setting. Leisure is not just a place where young people can be together - it is the best, the most natural, and most effective context for fostering friendship, awareness of diversity and acceptance".

HE Children Denied Health Benefits

PRESS RELEASE from Action for Home Education.

MEDIA INFORMATION FROM ACTION FOR HOME EDUCATION: For immediate release, Tuesday 24th April 2007

For further information please contact, email:


AHEd [] has written to the secretary of state for health, Patricia Hewitt MP, after members complained that their children are being denied health benefits to which they are entitled by virtue of their status as children in full time education.

The law states that children must be educated either by regular attendance at school, or otherwise. Thousands of children are educated at home, outside the school system, and numbers are increasing due to failures of the state system to meet the needs of children. Children in full time education are entitled to free sight tests and help toward the costs of spectacles until they reach 18 years. However, children who are in full time education that is based at home are being told that they cannot have this help once they are sixteen, because the department of health has produced a leaflet that defines education as only that which takes place in an establishment. Each establishment is issued with a registration number by the DfES.

"It is bad enough that some government officials are in the habit of responding to the growing home educating population by stating that the best and right place for children is in one of their schools," said Barbara Stark, chair of AHEd, "but for this prejudice to be so ingrained that it affects policy to the extent that the department discards the health needs of children whose education is home based, quite legally and properly, is a scandal! These are children in full time education, and yet they are the only category of children in full time education who are denied access to health benefits when they visit the optician."

Home based education has equal status in law with school education and is recognized by HM customs and excise, the DfES and the Child Benefit agency. AHEd, therefore, believes that the leaflet, [HC11] which wrongly defines full time education as only that which is received in an establishment, is the result of oversight due to common prejudice, and not an attack on home education or refusal to recognize a legal alternative. However, this has resulted in blatant discrimination against some children that is at odds with the government's "Every Child Matters" agenda to ensure that children are healthy.

Barbara Stark commented, "We don't think this is a sinister move to prevent our children who need glasses from utilising an education provided outside the school system, but either our children matter as much as children educated at state schools or they do not and so we have asked the secretary of state to make sure that the advice is amended to include a definition of full time education in line with the Education Act to ensure that home educated young people are not excluded from health benefits as they currently are."

Action for Home Education (AHEd)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another Home Educator Puts Mr Mooney Right the TES, and this one was published in addition to the missives from Freedom for Children to Grow and Pete.

Well said, the HE community. Hopefully, it will give Mr Mooney a good chance to learn something which would be of use to him in his job as a Home Education Inspector.

It would also be satisfying to think that some of the teacher commentators in the TES thread about Wife Swap could learn something about home education from the above letters, since some of the contributors to the thread clearly not only make the mistake of thinking of a Wife Swap programme as a reliable source of information about home education, but also generally clearly have no idea how home education actually works.

Melissa Escapes

According to a report in a Christian magazine, Melissa Busekros, the German home schooled child who was taken from her family and forcibly held in a mental institution, has escaped from the fosterers with whom she had been placed and returned to home.

Now she is 16 she has certain rights, as she would in the UK, so she left a note and ran home. Her lawyer is supporting her in this position, but they are still enlisting support in order to prevent the Mayor of her town from taking action against her.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Transparent Society, Invisible Government

A recent Freedom of Information request from a home educator to the DfES enquiring about the thinking behind the proposed consultation on increasing the monitoring of home educators elicited next to nothing by way of information on that topic. Apparently the legal advice sought by the DfES from their lawyers is subject to some sort of FOI exclusion clause, which in effect means that we still have no idea about their thinking behind all of this. (Does this sound about right, ARCH or should we talking to the Information Commissioner about this?)

I guess, though, that we shouldn't be surprised, though the unfairness of it all is more than galling, since whilst it is perfectly possible that families can be scrutinized down to the last detail, we are not apparently not even allowed the basic sort of impersonal information that would be an essential requirement for an equal dialogue with the very people we shell out for. No, the DfES play their cards close to their chest, so that we feel at some sort of disadvantage, even when we may not be, for I believe our arguments against any more monitoring of home educators to be water-tight.

Further on the subject of the inequities of transparency, see Deborah Orr in The Independent. Both Ms. Orr and ARCH also deal with the moral implications of a transparent society.

How Does This Work?

Someone is going to have to explain to me how hiring a head from a private company is going to make the slightest bit of difference when everything else everyone does in the institution that is school is dictated by central office? Just exactly how has this new sparkly head not got his hands tied just like any other bog-standard principal?

Perhaps I'm missing something here and he will indeed be let loose to employ a large number of immensely gifted people who see themselves as facilitators rather than teachers, with the aim of achieving a reasonable staff-pupil ratio so that they can all get about doing that personalized learning stuff which the government keep promising. Perhaps he can buck the Nat Curriculum and deliver the information that the pupils actually seek, whilst having the disciplinary skill to *offer* theories rather than to insist upon them, in such a way as to reflect the best possible practice in theories of knowledge, be they scientific or otherwise. Yeah, come on, I don't think so.

Anyhow it's not as if competition doesn't already exist in that particular job market, even if it is with other employees of the state, so how could this niggly teeny-winsy bit of competition make the slightest odds in all this? Hmm? The head will still has a captive market, (well nominally, bar all the exclusions and truants, more on which later), he will still have to attempt to force the national curriculum into all those brains, however inappropriate this may be for their learning needs, and however woeful an epistemological theory this may rest upon. Go here for a better one.

Oh, hang on, perhaps there wasn't any competition for headships after all. Right, so no adult in the right minds, and without a substantial remunerative offer would consider working in these sorts of places, which means that we have to shell out bundles of cash to a private firm, and it seems even these aren't exactly queueing up, since we have to hoick someone in from the States to do it. Paying someone a reasonable inducement to do something is not the same as introducing genuine competition into the market, if no competition steps up to the plate. Really the situation must be quite bad if no-one in this country wants this sort of a job.

And yet we still expect all those swathes of children to go to these places every day their lives, no financial inducements whatsoever.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What You See is Not What You Get

Sigh....oh dear, here we go yet again. As a perpetuation of a number of broadly erroneous myths about home education, you couldn't go far wrong with Channel 4's Wife Swap, as shown at 8 o'clock this evening. But before we get down to that myth busting stuff, it should also be said that we understand that the HE parents in this episode were very unhappy at the way their HE life was portrayed via the editing suite. No surprise there then.

OK, yawn, so home educated children are not cloistered in the home. Many of them, at their choosing, spend most of their days mixing with other people of all ages, in all sorts of different contexts - in visits to venues, at home education meetings, at other clubs of various sorts, in work environments, in classes, sports halls, etc, etc.

HE kids do learn about how to function in group structures, about the possibility of dealing with complex social situations, about how to address bullying, the great difference being that they do have options and adults on hand to help them out with this, so they very rarely become defeated and depressed in the way that schooled children can do.

It is very unusual for a child to be home educated when they don't want to be home educated.

It is perfectly possible to learn without the aid of a workbook.

OK, boredom with seeing myself writing this stuff yet again is starting to overwhelm me, so I would suggest that if there is anyone out there who needs a more reliable source of information about home education than a Wife Swap episode, I suggest you visit either Home Education UK or the Education Otherwise website.

St George's Day at Alton Towers

Late notice, but hey, flexibility is what Home Education is all about:

"Alton Towers has a fiery red hot offer to celebrate England's patron saint on:

Monday 23rd April.

On St George's Day, bring a dragon, be it plastic, metal, soft, Komodo or other and enter Alton Towers free. One dragon required per free entry. If you're not feeling brave enough to bring a dragon, don't worry: there is a Spring Sale until 31st May with adult tickets just £18 when bought in advance online. "

Friday, April 20, 2007

News From Gloucestershire

From The Citizen, we hear with regard to the sentencing of Eunice Spry, that the judge

"condemned social services and health workers who failed to spot the abuse".


"Care services claim changes have already been made to protect children in the future. The Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Board, the body now charged with overseeing various agencies involved with child care, said this could not have happened with systems currently in place. In a detailed statement, it claimed information was now shared between agencies so signs of abuse can be spotted earlier. It said issues raised in the official review into the Spry case are addressed. The review carried out by an independent expert identified key recommendations about changes in practice which include:

Ensuring that children are always seen by themselves if concerns have been raised.

All records should contain a brief up to date chronology of significant events and interventions in order to provide an overview.

Increasing safeguarding for children educated at home

Ensuring that professionals in private practice, such as dentists, are aware of child protection issues and know how to respond."

So how, we wonder, do they intend to increase the safeguarding of children educated at home? We are yet to hear.

It seems to us that we are already required to do all that is necessary - for example, home educators are effectively registered as such as a result of the implementation of the Information Sharing Index (I personally refuse to use the euphemism Contactpoint). LA workers can already share information about all families across any number of different agencies. If there is reason to suspect that there is any sort of problem, social services and education welfare officers already have perfectly adequate powers to intervene. Nothing more need be done.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

No Privacy?

The news that the European Court of Human Rights has awarded an employee £6000 as a result of her employers reading her private e-mails, well let's hope that this puts a stop on LAs monitoring HE lists. This sort of surveillance of HEors is known to have happened in the past, but if anyone has further evidence of this practice, do let us know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Conference on Personalised Learning

Terri from ARCH will be speaking, so it has to be good!

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Monday 25th June 2007

A joint one-day conference at Staffordshire University, Stoke-On-Trent, which will explore choice in a personalised learning system

Personalised learning has the potential to transform our systems of learning. It challenges the shallow version of learning promoted within the present education system and proposes a new approach where learners themselves make both rational and intuitive choices about their learning. ‘Taking choice seriously’ is the key driver in this task. The prize is a cohesive, sustainable and productive society with active and democratically competent citizens.

The conference will be introduced by Peter Humphreys from the Centre for Personalised Education Trust and facilitated by Mark Webster, from Staffordshire University’s Creative Communities Unit.

Keynote speakers will be Tony Jeffs of Durham University, co-author of the influential book, Informal Education, Terri Dowty, from Action on Rights for Children, Professor Ian Cunningham from the Centre for Self-Managed Learning and Dr Tim Rudd from Futurelab.

Keynote speakers will be followed by a break out session where conference delegates will be given the opportunity to have their say about the challenges. Key issues will be fed back to the conference.

In the afternoon, delegates will have a chance to choose from workshops such as:
- 'The Otherwise Club - An invitational learning community',
-‘Personalised Education: A Framework for Evaluation & Educational Reconstruction’,
-‘Democratic Learning Co-operatives’,
-‘The Bridge International Youth Project’,
- ‘Democratic & Individualised Learning’
or an ‘Open Forum’ to discuss further the issues raised at the conference.

Lunch will be provided and there will be plenty of opportunity for networking.

The Conference is aimed at educators, learners, parents from any mainstream sector or stage, free / democratic / alternative institutions and groups, home-based educators, flexi-schoolers, community and youth workers any informal groupings or autonomous learners, policy makers, thought leaders, academics and researchers.

Cost of conference day will be £75 + Vat (£88.13). Includes refreshments & lunch.
A limited number of reduced price places are available for unfunded delegates.

For further information or to book a place please visit our website:
or contact Sarah Bonam at
Telephone 01782 714776

There is a Big Distinction

Not to be confused with elective home education,

"excluded pupils in Brent will be educated by a new virtual school."

"The local authority has bought 25 seats from Accipio - a company that specialises in providing education for children with behavioural problems. And the new scheme means for two days a week they will be home-schooled."

Thanks Annette

Update on Germany and Homeschooling

Blogdial has an update on the homeschooling situation in Germany. He tells us that according to Christian Broadcasting Network,

" A report from the U.S. State Department on human rights abuses to be released next year will include Germany's harsh treatment of homeschoolers, CBN News sources say. "

We will be looking out for it.

What seems to be certain is that the UN Special Rapporteur had this to say about homeschooling in Germany, (page 16, paragraph 62):

"According to reports received, it is possible that, in some Länder, education is understood exclusively to mean school attendance. Even though the Special Rapporteur is a strong advocate of public, free and compulsory education, it should be noted that education, it should be noted that education may not be reduced to mere school attendance and that educational processes should be strengthened to ensure that they always and primarily serve the best interests of the child. Distance learning methods and homeschooling represent valid options which could be developed in certain circumstances, bearing in mind that parents have the right to choose the appropriate type of education for their children, as stipulated in article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The promotion and development of a system of public, government-funded education should not entail the suppression of forms of education that do not require attendance at a school.. In this context, the Special Rapporteur received complaints about threats to withdraw the parental rights of parents who chose home-schooling methods for their children. "

Monday, April 16, 2007

Worcestershire Home Educators Website

How did I miss this, the Worcestershire Home Educators Webpage, which can be accessed via the Worcestershire LA Family Services Directory, here.

Wow, Julie, I just can't keep up! Looking good.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Truancy Continues to Rise Despite Sweeps

Does this story on the ridiculous hopelessness of truancy sweeps sound very familiar? It should do since ARCH have been reporting it since at least autumn 2004.

What do the DfES think will happen if they stop pretending to be doing something, I wonder?

More Telling It as It Is

Talking of good and accurate press, Freedom for Children to Grow carries both the original letter from home educating parents who also happen to be trained teachers, and the TES's published version, as well as the extremely apposite little missive from Pete Darby which also found it's way into the TES, and all of this by way of a response to the outrage that was the Mooney and Robinson representation of Home Education in the TES at the end of March.

Great stuff, Annette and Pete.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Real Story by Dave Hill

It is not often that I find myself crying my eyes out in front of the computer, but this Guardian article on home education has done it and done it for a whole bunch of good reasons. It is one of the first accurate, humane and insightful accounts of what it means to be a home educator that I have read in the mainstream media. For that alone, I am crying with relief.

And Ann's story - I defy anyone not to be moved by it.

Thank you The Newstead Family and thank you Dave. Have got to go find a box of tissues.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Petition On Child Abuse By Social Services

I looks as if the instigator of this petition is the same Charles Pagnell who wrote this history of the Cleveland child abuse scandal, and who describes himself as having been the Head of Research and Management Information Systems with Cleveland Social Services Department in 1987; in other words, he was in post around the actual time that the unwarranted removal of children from their families was taking place.

He writes elsewhere

"According to statistical evidence in 1992 and 1997, over two-thirds of reports of child abuse in the U.K. have NO substantive basis"


"The harm to children and families from false accusations of child abuse was well-documented by American researchers, Wakefield and Underwager who stated in a paper in 1995 that:
"We have built a system that, while intended to protect children, often does more harm an good. From 1979 to the present, every scientist who has investigated the level and type of error committed by the child protection system has concluded there is an unconscionable level of false positives, that is, saying there is abuse when there is not." "Although the damage to a falsely accused person is obvious, it is not fully realised that a child is also damaged by a false allegation and a mistaken decision. If a child is involved in allegations of abuse that are ill-founded and erroneous, it is not an innocuous, neutral, or benign experience. A child involved in a false accusation of abuse is subjected to highly destructive emotional abuse. The harm done to children when adults make a mistake…….is severe and long-lasting.". "

OK, so I don't need much persuading in this case, and calling for a Royal Commission to investigate the current system seems proportionate, I would say, so have therefore signed his petition.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

From Oregon

Looks as if we may be seeing if we can draw some useful lessons from Oregon in the near future.

From one part of their campaign section:

"Regulation does not help home educators. Home educated students' test scores are the same in states with no substantive oversight of home education as in states with high control. "

That's interesting, since in the UK we hear reports of instances where the learning of some home educated children was actively damaged by insensitive state oversight, with children ceasing to learn effectively for extended periods of time as a result of the anxiety that the interference caused.

HEK's to Talk to Beverley Hughes?

Are there any HE kids out there, (aged 12 or under) who are prepared to go take on Children's Minister Beverley Hughes? If so, this, a CBBC's Newsround competion, looks like the perfect opportunity.

"UK Children's Minister Beverley Hughes works in the government where she looks after issues affecting kids, like education, crime and health. Now we're looking for a Press Packer to ask her some tough questions about what she's doing to help young people. Maybe you want to know why schools get closed down? Or perhaps you wish there were more things to do in your area?
So if you're interested in politics and want to know how politicians are helping you, then this a competition you won't want to miss! "

HT: Anne

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Unschooling Voices No. 8

Have been doing some catch up with the April edition of Unschooling Voices. If only I could find his email address, I would forward huge swathes of this to Mr Mooney - perhaps pointing him in the direction of Holly's post by way of an insider's condemnation of his school-tainted view of education.

The Unschooling Voices' prompt question for May also looks interesting:

"How has unschooling changed YOU? Yes, it’s about the kids, but is it ONLY about the kids? I sometimes think unschooling has changed me more than them. What are your thoughts? Also, here another short, just-for-fun question this month; share two photos that show what unschooling currently looks like in your house at this time."

That would a good exercise in precis in my case! Hope you will submit any number of your recent posts, Gill.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It Could be Right

Seems that one of yesterday's hypothesis - that home educating reduces learning difficulties that result from anxiety connected to negative stereotyping, may be right after all.

From the The Pilot, Michael Pakaluk, a professor of philosophy in Cambridge, Mass writes:

"Strikingly, homeschooled children do not show the “black/white” test-score gap that is the bane of public and private schools. Likewise, homeschooled children perform equally well regardless of gender."

He doesn't quote his sources, and I would normally guess that these could well be just so much HSLDA noise, were it not for the fact that this does seem to be the case on the ground here. OK, so we are creating another stereotype here, "HE kids don't stereotype and therefore don't suffer the consequences", but as stereotypes go, it is one of the more constructive ones!

Another thing he says:

"Homeschooled children socialize better. Yes, the truth is actually the opposite of the common criticism, that “homeschooled children do not socialize well.” Homeschooled children learn to deal easily with people of all ages -- babies, parents, friends of parents, and the elderly. They acquire a mature, “adult” mentality from an early age. (I know I’m in a homeschooling household when I sit down to talk with a friend and find that his teenage children actually want to sit with us and listen to our conversation!) In contrast, there is absolutely nothing less well-suited to good “socialization” than placing a child with hundreds of other children who are exactly the same in age. Remember that “homeschooling” has been the norm for nearly all of human history; compulsory education in common schools is a recent phenomenon, dating from about 1850."

which also seems about right in our experience. For example, in very recent history, home educated Ds has twice been chosen as the friend that a schooled child wanted at their birthday celebration. These school children preferred to spend their special time with one HE child, rather than any of all the others with whom they are forced to spend all their time in school. It is tempting to draw conclusions from this.

HT: Blogdial

The Home Education Solution

The problem? Anxiety is strongly linked to reduction in capacity to learn. This anxiety can result in part from negative stereotyping in the minds of learners, ie and eg: women believe that women can't do maths and therefore they can't. From the 13th January edition of the The New Scientist, (sub needed for full article), a team of psychologists have tested a possible solution to the problem of stereotyping. They

"asked a group of African Amercan 12 - 13 year olds to spend a few minutes examinging a list of values, based on things such as friendship and family, and to indicate which they felt were most important. The students than wrote a short paragraph explaining why they felt the values they had chosen were meaningful to them.

This self-affirming exercise took just 15 minute, yet it had a remarkable impact. Compared to their peers, these students showed more resilience in the face of failures and earned higher grades throughout the term. The exercies reduced the achievement gap between them and white students by 40 per cent. "

Great - now I can see the argue for the importance of those self-affirming posts!

Of course it seems to be the case that this kind of stereotyping is much less likely to happen when the pressure to compare that happens all the time in the school system is taken off, so yet again it would appear that HE has a structural advantage. And yes, this does seem to bear out in the effects - it is often the case that it is often quite hard to insist on a stereotyping a long-term HEk in any way, shape or form, since they so often cannot see the point of these sorts of apparent limitations.

Also of course, simply reducing anxiety by not being put in the pressured situation of school can be extremely beneficial to learning. My maths immediately improved when I do am not in a pressurized situation such as school, where I went from the top set in the first year, to the bottom set by the fifth. I now find that I cannot imagine why I thought I had problems with it, (at the level we are talking about, of course) and also that I can gradually build up to doing more and more maths under pressure as I become more and more adept at managing it in the unpressurized space.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bromsgrove Workshop Report

Fiona's report about the Bromsgrove Campaign Workshop can be found here. Pretty much exactly as I remember it. Thanks F.

Have You Signed Up Yet?

Just a reminder that if you haven't signed up for the DfES consultation on light touch changes to home education, it would be worth doing so now, if only to make the point that despite the delay in the start of the consultation, we are still watching, we are still very concerned and that a great number of us will be around to make our points when the time comes.

To keep Home Education as we know and love it,

Write to Elaine Haste of the Elective Home Education Department (DfES) at or at and ask to be included on a list of those who receive information about the consultation.

sample letter/email to DFES :

I understand that there is to be a DFES consultation about light touch changes to the "monitoring" of home educated children. Please keep me informed of any further developments with regard to this consultation. Please therefore include me on a list of those who would like to receive information about the consultation.

Yours sincerely"

= = = = = = = = =

Postal address:

Elective Home Education
Mowden Hall,
DL3 9BG.

= = = = = = = = =

For further details about what to do regarding the consultation, see here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Anti-Social Children?

Via the BBC, we hear of the sort of story that may have informed the recent increase in maternity leave, but which up to that reform, looks to have been flying in the face of the move to get parents back in the work place asap:

"Toddlers who spend three or more days a week in nursery are more likely to become anti-social, worried and upset, government research has found. The evaluation of a £370m scheme to expand children's centres found youngsters were more likely to behave poorly the longer they spent in care. But the report also found 30 hours in care increased children's confidence.

The research comes as teachers warn children are being "institutionalised" by the push to get mothers into work."

Two points here spring to mind here.

First, it would be pretty easy to infer from this that confidence and good behaviour are mutually exclusive, which wouldn't be a particularly nice idea really. Is it the case? Well, it seems that the confidence of the nursery child is of the kind that is achieved through a coercive process. It isn't something that the child freely desired, but something that they gained through a process of being forcibly removed from loved ones. It grows as a defensive reaction to the stress of separation and does not emerge from a genuine sense of rightness and wholeness. When confidence grows from a sense of doing the right thing, from integrity and a sense of congruence as happens when a child can freely choose to separate from his parents, my guess is that it is much less likely to be accompanied by poor behaviour.

Second, so what should we do about enabling the child's attachment figures to get back in the workplace? Options:

Make workplaces more child friendly - more flexi-time and more flexible working hours, and more opportunity to allow and engage children in the work space. (This really may not be nearly as mad as is made out).

We could choose to live less nuclear lives so that infants could develop a number of close attachment figures, so that they don't have to go to unloved childminders or into impersonal nurseries.

Create a culture where it becomes the norm for parents to be out of work following the birth of their children.

Make retirement ages become much more flexible so as to allow parents to work at the other end of their lives.

(more ideas welcome!)

It really would be worth it. The report goes on to say

"The 'tipping point' for daily attendance appears to be relatively low in relation to anti-social behaviour. When compared with children who attended either one or two days per week, children who attended for three days per week or more were significantly more anti-social.

The number of months in day-care also affected behaviour. For the group as a whole, the number of months children had been attending their neighbourhood nursery also had an impact, the study said. The longer they had been attending their neighbourhood nursery, the more anti-social they were.

Further analysis suggested that, when compared with children who had been attending their neighbourhood nursery for less than a year, children who had been attending for 18 months or more were rated as significantly more anti-social. "

The next bit is interesting from a home educators point of view, in that many of our groups are mixed age.

"The study also found young children showed more "worried and upset behaviours" when they attended a mixed-age room with children aged four and over. In mixed groups, they were more likely to frown, shrug, pout or stamp their feet when given an idea for playing or to be worried about not getting enough attention, or access to toys, food or drink. Thus, mixed-aged groups may be better for children in terms of cognitive outcomes, but not in terms of behavioural outcomes."

The thing is, we don't see this as a problem in Home Ed mixed age groups. Perhaps it is the greater freedom to choose with whom one associates. Perhaps it is the greater range of ages involved, with the older ones helping to sort out problems which those with only a small age gap would fail to solve. One way or another, most HEors see the mixed age groups as being a positive boon which does not impact negatively in any way upon behaviour.

One of the next assertions leads one to question the whole basis of the study, even more than one normally would, given the completely pseudo-scientific nature of such things.

"However, the research found the more time children spent each week in day-care, the more confident they were and the more sociable with their peers. "

What could sociability mean in a context where one has already discovered that they are more likely to be "anti-social" - see at least two quoted paragraphs above. Um, well at a guess, it could mean that they are less shy in relation to others, but if this is what they mean, is this necessarily a good thing, given that when they are less shy, they are also then likely to behave badly towards others?

"It also found parents using neighbourhood nurseries were highly satisfied with the quality of care provided. "

Perhaps they should think again.

Helpless No More

As a matter of principle, one could sympathise with teachers' complaints about cyber-bullying, but there is a big difference between meaningless ad hominems or wild exaggeration, and honest criticism, and on the basis that founder Michael Hussey says of the RateMyTeachers website that it

"allows pupils to rate their teachers' ability and to add a comment - but it does not allow references to teachers' personal lives or appearance, or to use sexual language or name calling...
RateMyTeachers has rules - we read everything before we put it on the website, no name calling, no bullying, certainly no threats... "

I think we should certainly give it a plug.

Children have been the hapless victims of a state monopoly in education for over a century now. About time they started to have a voice. If the only way they can do this is by using honest criticism to drive bad teachers out of the system, so be it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Creative Solutions for Educational Neglect

In the glare of the Every Child Matters' spotlight, we increasingly hear of more and more children who are educationally neglected one way or another.

For example, in the inside pages of this week's TES, LA HE inspector Myra Robinson writes of a home educating family:

" Recently I visited a mother and three children in a smoke-filled sitting room strewn with takeaway food packaging. The child concerned was not dressed at 11am although they were expecting me"

We hear of situations were parents are strongly encouraged to take their children out of school to be home educated, the implication being that because the parents are doing it reluctantly, that these children risk being educationally neglected.

We hear of traveller children who miss out on huge chunks of schooling and who are horrendously bullied when they are in it.

And the answer to all this? It seems that LAs imagine that heavier monitoring and greater prescription is the way forward. But is it? After all, even teachers are complaining about the negative effect of Ofsted inspections.

"Teachers fear and loathe Ofsted because of its slash and burn approach - air-lift in the inspector, pore over the school-level data, have a cursory look around, come to a judgement, and then air-lift out, leaving the school to pick up the pieces."

And this is in a public space, where one could quite reasonably expect to be held extensively accountable. Just imagine how this sort of investigation would feel it it were to be translated into a home visit. Imagine if you where you compelled to have a complete stranger decide upon the whole future of your way of life, on the basis of an hour of knowing you.

Only Friday, we hear of a family visited by their health visitor. She asked the mum about how well her two-year old son was doing with his speech. This boy, as a rule, demonstrates precocity in speaking skills, is unusually fluent, with a huge vocabulary for a child of his age. His mum, naturally enough, reported that he was doing OK in this regard. However, the child, very unusually, completely refused to utter a word throughout the whole encounter. Mum sensed the HV simply oozing disbelief.

I too remember taking Ds for his year check. HV asked me if he was walking. " Yep, he's fine. He's been walking for three months now". Would he walk during the time we were there? For some reason, he chose to lay down on his stomach as if he was still at the pre-sitting age. I too sensed the HV beginning to think I was somehow off the wall in a way that would warrant further investigation.

If LA inspectors are to decide our futures on so little evidence, no wonder we are scared. No wonder we have problems with authority figures. See Myra Robinson again:

"All too often, I encounter a family - usually with just a mother - where there is antipathy to authority figures. "

Could there, just could there be a good reason for such antipathy? Perhaps there really is due cause. Given that as Ms. Robinson also goes on to say:

"Typically, the child will have been withdrawn from school following an argument with the headteacher, often about his - usually it is a boy - disruptive behaviour",

is it really sensible to continue to impose an authoritarian, prescriptive school-type model on such a child? Will more of same solve the problem with authority figures or of educational neglect? Why are people who have suffered at the hands of authority figures not rational to have a problem with them? Authority figures, after all, do get it wrong! People should be right to question officials and to worry about the powers they have. I would suggest that Myra go read Karl Popper on the "Open Society and it's Enemies". Any authority figure who assumes they have an automatic right to deference and respect will rightly have a problem with people being antipathetic, in my book.

Why can we not think more imaginatively about how to solve these sorts of problems? Forcing a child who has been failed by the school system to accept school at home seems likely not to work. Forcing a child who learns better in an unstressful environment (as is apparently the case for many dyslexics and those who suffer from dyscalculia) to present their work to an inspector who really could decide their whole way of life on the basis of what they see, is likely to profoundly damage the learning process.

LA inspectors need to search their souls and realise that they may well be inflicting more damage than providing solutions. They should be thinking more creatively about how to offer their services. They need to realise that the best thing they can do for many home educating families is to leave well alone, since inspection for these families will be hugely disruptive, anxiety producing and will distract enormously from the process of learning.

With families who are suffering from educational neglect, they need to think of other creative solutions. They shouldn't be imagining that offering more of same will work.

Yet are they doing this? With regard to traveller children, for example, we have heard from various sources, including The Traveller Education Service, that they are being told to withdraw from supporting children of school age at home, because it is seducing traveller children away from the classroom. This seemed to some working on the ground as patently ridiculous, since what it actually meant was that some traveller children continued to refuse to go to school and yet were now not receiving any education support from workers who could specifically offer these services. The DfES then takes as evidence reports from people such as Prof Ivatts where they say that traveller HEd kids are being educationally neglected. That's right. Create a problem, so that you can meet your pre-prescribed agenda of marshaling all home educators into a system that has already failed so many children. Really, does this make any sense?

Why not give traveller children the £300,000 -worth of laptops to help them with their education, (as also reported in this week's TES)? Why not engage them and other children who are suffering from educational neglect in schemes such as Not Why should a School Attendance Order and calls for more intrusive and prescriptive monitoring be the knee-jerk reactions? We live in an information rich society, after all. We could do it. If you want to spend money on education, close some schools and get the BBC to put out some top-notch software that has a chance of engaging all kinds of learners. Let HEors get on with supporting each other and otherwise leave them alone as far as possible.

That's my prescription for the next decade.