Thursday, May 31, 2007

On the Wisdom of Going to the LA

The argument has arisen in various places now about the benefits or otherwise of going to the LA to try to sort out a friendly relationship.

Some of these arguments have sometimes gone along the lines of: since your LA is responsible for pursuing home visits, issuing SAOs, etc it is better to talk to them than not to talk to them as you stand a better chance of sorting the situation out and therefore not being subject to unwarranted intrusion, threats of SAOs etc. The argument here has also been that since HE inspectors are close to the ground and have face-to-face contact with HEors they are likely to be more approachable and more likely to change their minds.

Also, in choosing not to talk to LAs, you are morally deficient since in neglecting to sort out LAs, you have failed schooled children in other families who may be suffering terribly in school.

Hm. I think this kind of argument suffers from false logic in a number of different ways.

One of these mistakes could be the problem of hasty generalisation, ie: the problem of generalising from an oversmall sample. eg: because the above approach worked with one particular LA, it will necessarily work with all LAs.

Other problems: the first argument also neglects to address all possible it could be the case that you are unknown to the LA, and that your LA is generally pretty good, doesn't intervene unduly with most HE families and even advises parents of schooled children pretty well, and in sacrificing anonymity, your own family is suddenly subject to state scrutiny, which though it may be minimal, is more than it was previously, in addition to which you have put in significant time and effort which could be used for working with your own family and all this for no substantial personal gain whatsoever and a few losses, then it would definitely look as if it were not worth the effort.

(This may seem an unlikely scenario, I agree, particularly since we have a habit of talking about the heavy-handed LAs all the time, but actually I don't think it is far removed from the experience of many HEors, certainly in rural and poor counties).

The first argument also neglects the very real possibility that some LA officers are very unlikely to change their minds about how they treat HEors, eg; Mr Mooney, Mr Iball by way of a few examples which immediately spring to mind. I would say that this is a very big area of neglect in the first argument, as people who have absolutely rigid and firmly entrenched opinions that are almost impossible to shift, even in the situation of talking with someone for years and years, well, these sorts of people are two-a-penny.

From this last, it follows that the first scenario obviously neglects all possible outcomes, the most obvious (according to Doncaster and Scottish experience) being that in approaching the LA you do not manage to improve upon a bad situation, or you many improve the situation temporarily whereupon another LA officer takes over and re-installs an appalling situation. Or you many improve the situation in face-to-face contact, and find that this doesn't bear out in practice, or you may find that some HEors get off very lightly and others are treated appallingly by the same LA. With any of these outcomes, you will have wasted an awful lot of time which you may not have to spare, in the attempt.

In other words, far from berating HEors who in the past have chosen to keep their heads down and just got on with it, I think we should accept that there may have been some considerable wisdom in their choice.

I think the only difference now is that the premise of being unknown to the LA should, in principle at least, be being removed, with the establishment of ContactPoint. I think this could change the situation dramatically, since those people who were likely to have kept their heads down, are actually also the people who are most likely to resist state intervention and are also very likely to be genned up on the law, clear about their rights, and generally likely to give the LAs a run for their money. Given that people are (in principle at least though am still to hear of anyone actually having been directly discovered as a result of the children's database, ) are going to be known to LAs, we are likely to see a far stronger movement to resist heavy-handed LA practices.

The problem at the moment is that unknown HEors are still holding back and perhaps they have good reason. They know that Goverment databases when they are rolled out are likely to be grossly inefficient, and that they may remain unknown. eg: we personally know of several families in our area who weren't even sent a census form, despite the fact that they are on the electoral register. This sort of situation could go on for quite a while, but as more and more HEors experience the de facto registration which will be Contactpoint, the more the LAs had better watch out.

In the meantime, there is plenty that these unknown HEors could be doing. It may well be wrong to assume that everyone in the DfES is immune to reason. We have it on good authority from at least 2 sources now that senior ministers in this department have described the schooling system as a dinosaur. It may be possible for unknown HEors to apply considerable pressure to the DfES to minimise the damage that LAs are allowed to do.


Allie said...

We live in an area that has been doing 'pilot' information sharing through a database of local children. I know of two HE families who have been 'found' through information sharing after admission to hospital. In one of these cases the family had an EWO doorstep them. In the other case the family had been HEing their teen all her life but have now been 'found'.

It seems that being 'unknown' here will disappear fairly soon.

What is encouraging is that one of the HEors here who is involved in dealings with the council is 'unknown' at present, and has had no pressure placed on her to reveal her personal data.

Ruth said...

I can't see the point of making yourself known to the L.A in any area, regardless of how nice they may turn out to be, cos we have no legal requirement to do so and if people start doing so it will set a precedent and become the default.

Allie said...

Yes, that's true. But the fact is that the option to remain unknown IS disappearing here.

I think there is a difference between getting in touch with the LA as an individual in the hope of 'nice' treatment, and challenging them (hopefully as a group) to have decent policies and practices. I wouldn't recommend the former but I think the latter may be our best strategy these days.

Terri said...

It's a very difficult call, and I really don't envy anyone HEing with younger children. I'm so very grateful that our family is (just) out of the target area. Sometimes I get a sense that we're just squeezing through a door that's closing very quickly, both in HE terms and more generally.

'Contactpoint' isn't in force yet and, if the regulations get through parliament, won't be fully operational until mid-2008 at the earliest. If it does get through, remaining unknown won't be an option, unless (possibly) you don't receive CB or any services.

I can see Ruth's point about precedent-setting, and there's certainly a danger that if people usually take the initiative in approaching the LEA, it will gradually come to be seen as a suspicious factor if someone doesn't.

OTOH we've repeatedly seen that some LEAs 'pick off' individuals with the wrong sort of postcode (I remember when an LEA visitor noticed the bulging bookshelves of an HEing friend living on a roughish council estate, and asked "whose are all these books?")in which case some solidarity is a very good idea.

Maybe when/if Contactpoint comes in, it would be better if local HErs immediately went en masse to the LEA and agreed the ground rules (and also insisted that the LEA train its advisers properly) making it clear that the LEA itself would be monitored and co-operation collectively withdrawn if they misused their powers.

Unionised HErs - there's a thought :o)

Carlotta said...

I think those ideas (en-masse registration, and unionised HEors) are very good indeed, and probably easily managed through the networks already in place.

Will keep an eye on ARCH for info about the progress of Contactpoint and will remind people of the en-masse registration, which I think a number of HEors already also regard as a very good idea.

dottyspots said...

I think that this is where a Local Contact or Representative can be useful as it can help preserve the anonymity of those families who are able to choose to remain unknown to the LA. For me there wasn’t a choice when the LA became aware of us, because once they’re aware of you they’re not going to take you off their List unless you inform them that your children are now in school (or your moving area – which has been tempting at times…)

I have little doubt that the current ‘advisor’ can’t budge-won’t budge, which is why we’re refining our approach and looking for alternative ways of changing the LA’s practice with HE families. There will be a chink in the armour somewhere – but then I’m very tenacious when I set my mind to it and well, I stated that I’d do something about it in 2005 and I don’t plan on backing down until I’ve achieved what I have set out to do and I’m quite happy to play the long game if that’s what’s necessary.

I do not see any wisdom in berating those HE-ers who are unknown to the LA, however, I do see the need for *someone* (preferably a small group) working together to approach the LA, if they are already known to the LA – because what is the alternative? One can either do exactly what one is told (regardless of its basis in law) or we challenge the LA individually (which I’m sure the LA would prefer in it’s already apparent, to a certain extent, ‘divide and conquer’ approach).

“I think the only difference now is that the premise of being unknown to the LA should, in principle at least, be being removed, with the establishment of ContactPoint. I think this could change the situation dramatically, since those people who were likely to have kept their heads down, are actually also the people who are most likely to resist state intervention and are also very likely to be genned up on the law, clear about their rights, and generally likely to give the LAs a run for their money. “

Hmmm, not necessarily – some of them are scared. Scared of any intervention from anywhere and that is the motivation to remain ‘hidden’ – which as a term I find very disagreeable, because why should they have to hide what is a right under law? And by that I do not mean that they should go and ‘register’ with the LA, rather I wish the term was less suggestive of fear (because of course there are plenty of very clued-up people also unknown to the LA) – that’s it, perhaps ‘remainining hidden’ should be ‘remaining unknown to the LA’ (sorry, thinking ‘aloud’ whilst typing - I should really think about my responses a bit better, but find the little comment boxes a PITA to type in and read back).

Carlotta said...

Thanks for the info Dottyspots. I was very interested to hear about how you have been dealing with an intractable individual on the ground and will keep an eye out for news on this front.

I think you are right that some HErs who are unknown to the LA are scared and unlikely to turn tigerish, but I suspect that at least some round here will use that fear to assertive effect.

Personally am angry all over again as a result of the news on HE lists that GPs are breaking doctor/patient confidentiality and spreading medical information about without just cause. Am so cross about this that am finding it very hard to resist the temptation to tell all HEors NOT to confide in GPs or medical staff of any kind, unless they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO. These services have to realise what they have done with their information sharing.

Perhaps HEors really should unionise and go on information providing strike.

dottyspots said...

The difficulty is that all HE-ers are not united (sadly) and there are people within the HE community who believe we should be inspected (let alone provide yearly reports).