Sunday, October 28, 2007

Site of the Day

Free Rice. Donate rice and increase your vocabulary. Is sensitive to skill level.

New fav word: "concinnity".

Saturday, October 27, 2007

No Answer to Privacy Problems

Baroness Walmsley in a recent debate in the House of Lords raised a number of pertinent points with regard to the privacy of children and families in the face of the establishment of the Contactpoint and eCAF databases. With regard to Contactpoint, she asked:

"Is the Minister aware that young people are very anxious about this database and believe that their privacy is being interfered with? I was at a meeting of young people yesterday; it is run by the all-party group and BT and is called Seen and Heard. One of the main issues raised was that, although those who know about the database are very concerned about it, many young people have no idea what it is all about. What are the Government going to do about that? One young person also told me that her boyfriend visited a school where the database was live and was shown it. She was concerned that security was very relaxed. It is vital that this system is available only to authorised users."

So much for all those government reassurances about security then and so much for the main stakeholders being happy about all this. Seems as if things are not panning out quite as the government would wish in this regard.

She raises another consequence of the database:

"Experience demonstrates that families seeking to keep under the radar will often not contact specialist services..."

Sadly her implied solution is to ensure that generic services do supply accurate information for ContactPoint , thereby rendering any attempt to maintain family privacy null and void, particularly since it is easy to imagine that families who do try to hide will probably find themselves on the eCAF database with every intimate corner of their lives on record and this simply for making the error of trying to keep below the radar.

She says of the eCAF database:

"I move seamlessly to my third concern—the new electronic common assessment framework. It is extraordinary that throughout the whole debate on the regulations for ContactPoint, the Government did not once mention their intention to create a second, parallel, national electronic database containing sensitive assessments of children seeking services. All our concerns about the security of ContactPoint are amplified in relation to eCAF. It is simply not possible to keep such a large database secure. It will have thousands of users, quite conceivably as many as ContactPoint. While arguments about the potential insecurity of ContactPoint have been countered with assertions from the Government that it will contain only minimal information, the same cannot be said about eCAF. It will contain detailed personal information about children seeking services and clear indications of their vulnerability. The Government have insisted that eCAF is a consent-based process, but my informants, Action on Rights for Children, have been contacted by several practitioners involved in the pilots, who tell them that consent to share eCAFs is not being sought and that families are being told that they will not be able to access services unless they agree to an eCAF. That is disgraceful."

Quite right. And what did Lord Adonis have to say by way of an answer?

This is what ARCH Blog had to say on the subject:

"And now here comes the fog: Lord Adonis replied by talking at length about Contactpoint (the other national database, formerly known as the Infomation Sharing Index, that acts as glorified directory of all children). He talked for so long, answering questions that hadn’t been asked, that - oh, whoops:

"I am almost out of time, so I will have to respond to many of the other points in writing. A number of concerns have been raised about eCAF, to which I will also respond in writing, as I think that some alarmism has been generated.

This tactic of defaulting to Contactpoint whenever awkward questions arise about any of the other databases must have been decided centrally. It’s a straight repeat of our exchange with
Beverley Hughes in the Telegraph letters page shortly after publication of the FIPR report to the ICO on children’s databases. "

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Consultation Results Delayed

As if the nerves weren't frayed enough already, from the DCSF:

"As you know the consultation on home education guidelines closed on 31 July. Although we had aimed to publish a summary of the consultation results and guidelines this week, due to the large number of responses we received, this is now scheduled to take place by the end of next month. (That's end of November presumably). The consultation results will be published on the Department's e-consultation website

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for providing us with valuable feedback on the guidelines. "

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Problems for Legislators with Definition of Education

Further on the 2006 DfES consultation on a proposal to provide further guidance as to what constitutes full time education in independent schools to which many home educators responded, we have a follow-up consultation which, amongst some other sources of contention and alarm, does little to solve the original problem of how one ascertains who is the main provider of an education.

The problem with the first consultation was that if the phrase "main provider of education" is to mean what it apparently says, then presumably a private pupil who accumulates more theories from his parents than from his school will be counted as home educated and will therefore be excluded from regulations that apply to private schools. Of course, quite how the state proposed to make such an assessment was utterly baffling and demonstrated very neatly the poor epistemology that underpins much of the legislation on education.

However, for the purposes of this next consultation, the DCSF have changed the phrase from "main provider" to "main organiser" of education, presumably hoping to shift the balance from the need to demonstrate from whence the majority of a child's theories have been acquired, to an apparently more quantifiable task of working out who plans and implements the majority of the education of the child. It doesn't work though, since you still have to answer the impossible question of from whence the child acquires the greater number of his theories since this is the only way to ascertain who (or what) is the real main organiser of his education.

However, it looks as if we will be required to suspend disbelief in this regard since the DCSF

"have concluded that the best approach is to adjust the definition of an independent school so as to specify that an independent school is the main organiser of a programme of education for children of compulsory school age, unless provision is excluded through regulations."


"We would propose that regulations exclude:

schools maintained by a local authority;
non-maintained special schools;
temporary provision e.g. summer schools;
any institutions providing
less than 12.5 hours per week tuition (primary) and 15 hours (secondary) for individual children;
further education colleges;
hospital schools;
home tutorial services organised by a local authority;
education supervised or delivered by parents"

Disbelief suspended as above, the confusion here concerns the last point, ie: "education supervised or delivered by parents", since under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act, the education of all children is meant to be supervised by parents which would presumably therefore mean that none of the regulations for independent schools would apply anywhere. On the other hand, home educators will fight tooth and nail to stop this phrase from being changed because it would rule out the use of tutors for more than the stipulated hours (in red).

The problem might be superficially solved (ie: putting aside the outstanding problem of quantification of education) to ask that both individual private tutors teaching on domestic premises and informal co-operatives without a fixed meeting place be excluded from the requirement to register.

Home educators might do well to respond to this further consultation to make these points.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Problems with Truancy Patrols

A truancy officer in Gloucestershire returned a home educated child to her house. Full facts unknown at this point, but the debate in the comments is worth following for an airing of the issues involved. Read from the bottom up.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

TES Scotland

From the Scottish Edition of the Times Educational Supplement, a piece that deserves to be copied in full, for the record:

"Parents deceived about home schooling

Rather than support parents, many local authorities prefer to employ a catalogue of dirty tricks to prevent them from exercising a valid educational choice. While no parent requires permission to home educate per se, consent is required to withdraw a child who is already in a state school, and this legislative anomaly effectively gives councils licence to bully parents.

Too many parents remain unaware of their rights and responsibilities in education, and most councils prefer to keep it that way. When parents discover there is a viable alternative to schooling, usually through independent research, they are, unsurprisingly, angry at having been deceived.

Despite clear guidance, most local authorities remain confused about their role in relation to home education. Their responses to the Government's consultation reveal a widespread oxymoronic belief that home-educated young people are "children missing from education".

Many also believe they may demand direct access to children to hear their views on their home education (while ignoring the views of individual schooled children), when it is parents who have this responsibility in law.

Local authorities are clearly failing to grasp, or are in denial about, the most important aspects of the 1980 Education (Scotland) Act, namely the duty of parents to provide compulsory education and the corresponding duty of councils to provide school places for parents who wish to use them.

They further misunderstand the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000, which does not compromise parental choice, but rather places a legal duty on local authorities to provide school education "directed to the development of the personality, talents and mental and physical abilities of the child or young person to their fullest potential".

That last duty might prove pretty tricky for councils, given that they should be meeting the needs of each individual child, so they have probably decided to keep parents in the dark about that too."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Education in the 21st Century - The Home Educators' View?

Returning, (see post below) to the matter of getting the killer message across, ie: that the state must avoid appropriating responsibility for education, perhaps the following would provide a satisfactory opportunity to do a little earwigging with Lord Adonis.

From Events Programme for St. Paul's Cathedral:

"Must try harder?

Education in the 21st Century

30th October 2007
6.30 - 8.00pm
St Paul's Cathedral
Admission free and unticketed.

Who is education for? What role should schools play in shaping a well-balanced childhood? In an increasingly competitive world, is education beihng compromised by an economic agenda? this debate considers how edcuation can help children flourish now an dits long term implication fro both adulthood and society.

Panel: Andrew Adonis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools; Anna Hassan, Headteacher of Millfields Community School; Rebecca Nye, author and consultant on children's spirituality, Gervase Phinn, lecturer and children's writer. "

Any London HEors available?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why Bother?

Probably as a result of the recent DCSF's Day of Debate, and yet more articles from Private Eye on the related subject of citizens' juries, am still - at this late stage left wondering about the wisdom or otherwise of engaging with these phoney processes.

From Private Eye:

"While the government talks of "participative decision making" giving ordinary members of the public the chance to have a say in politics, the sceptics talk of "participative ventriloquism" giving ordinary members of the public the chance to say whatever politicians want them to say. While (the pollsters) call themselves neutral "facilitators", the sceptics call them "facipulators" who manipulate jurors to reach a desired conclusion."

It is almost impossible not to agree with this conclusion on the evidence so far, so can there be any point in bothering to turn up to these events and putting the counter-arguments, as a few members of Education Otherwise did?

Of course, the problem with engaging with this kind of pseudo-consultation is that it is highly likely that the minority voice will not be heard at all - will be written out of all reports of the event, and yet the government will nonetheless be able to claim that they consulted widely. Under such circumstances, could there be any possible reason for being there? My arguments in favour of doing so remain the same. I think it worth doing if there are a combination of conditions:

1. that you have a killer argument. The point here is not that one might hope to persuade the other jurors but that you simply get yet another chance to explain your devastating point. That you will take every opportunity to unnerve the pollsters and their commissioners.

2. that you have some way (campaign groups, MSM, e-mail lists, blogs etc) of publicising the fact that your killer point was made and, if necessary, that it was ignored. That you can make the point that the government knew that you have a killer argument and that if they ignore it, this wasn't simply a naive mistake on their part.

3. that the readership could be mobilized, or indeed that an individual could be sponsored to take the governments to the courts to prove the killer point, should that be necessary.

Then, just then it would be worth going. All of these conditions did apply, both to the Day of Debate and to the Consultation on Guidelines for Elective Home Education.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Failing Schools

From the BBC:

"Nearly a quarter of England's state secondary schools let down their pupils, an education minister has said".

When you consider that Treasury statistics reveal that more than 1 in 6 children leave school each year unable to read, write and add up, an estimated 1 million children truant every year and at least 16 children commit suicide each year as a result of school bullying, it is hard not to agree.

The education minister here was Lord Adonis. Perhaps he should have a word with his department whose spokesmen have claimed that

"Standards (in schools) have never been higher and with record funding in our schools we believe the best place to educate a child is actually in school."

Wonder where they were educated!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Report from the Time to Talk Meeting

...from Six Home Ed in Kent.

Bullying at School Only Solved by Home Educating

Bev at Cruel at School has been doing great work recently: Channel 4, GMTV, and articles in her local press.

Bev decided to home educate her daughter after despairing at solving the problem of bullying in a school which is supposed to have a very progressive policy with regards to listening to children and to maximising their enjoyment.

I find the disconnect between the Ofsted reports and what local children tell me very peculiar. The children frequently report terrible, brutalising experiences in schools, and yet Ofsted gives these schools a lovely shiny report, after supposedly consulting with pupils. What is going on, I wonder? In one of Bev's articles on her front page, we learn that:

"Schools Minister Jim Knight questioned whether it was practicable to ask schools to keep detailed records on bullying. "Feedback from heads indicates that placing a duty on schools to measure and record every incident of bullying would be a huge bureaucratic burden," Knight said" "

Perhaps Ofsted feels the same way.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Problems with Calls for Tougher Home Education Guidelines

Take Cheshire County Council by way of an example. Cheshire CC has issued a press release which comes with the tagline:

"Cheshire Calls For Tougher Guidelines Concerning Home Education"

Stop. Go no further than that just now, for there's already a problem. The thing is, guidelines do have to respect the law and if you go any tougher than the current draft guidelines, the law will have to be changed to reflect this.

OK, that's the first howler, (more on which below). The second one is that members of Cheshire County Council clearly haven't asked themselves whether they really do want such changes in law, for if they had, they wouldn't be asking for tougher guidelines. Doh dum.

They blunder on:

"...chairman and Executive Support Member for Children's Services Shirley Harris said: "Some of the guidelines are ambiguous and some simply do not go far enough. For example all children educated at home should be registered as home educated wit (sic) the authority. "

It rather looks as if the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing in this authority, for with the establishment of the children's database, aka ContactPoint, there will be de facto registration of home educators anyhow. Sadly, we have already conceded this point.

Back to Cheshire's pronouncements:

"Elective home education is the only area of education and child care that is not subject to more rigorous statutory regulation concerned with quality assurance and accountability. "

The "only" area? Cripes, it's worse than I'd hoped. Yup, if this is indeed the case, Cheshire parents had better be making sure those five portions of fruit and veg are consumed or their council will be coming to get them.

Parenting by parents? Forget it in Cheshire. The state will dictate precisely what you do in every area of your lives, or else you will fail in their quality assurance tests. Can parents honestly therefore still be held responsible for child care and education? I don't think so. This simply doesn't work and we will have to change the law in this regard. The tagline should be "Cheshire CC Calls for Powers to Take Over Parenting".

Further, what is it with this idea of accountability? To whom are we meant to be accountable in every area of our lives? Surely it isn't actually ultimately the state for in other areas, the state collects data at least nominally to be answerable to tax payers, parents and children. In a right-minded world, home educating parents need only be answerable to their children and almost all of us can manage that without a stranger equipped with powers, ignorance of the situation, a clip board and probably a dose of prejudice and bias to boot, to tell us what our children are telling us every single day. The chances of that working out are really quite minimal if you factor the bias and prejudice and just how much most HE children don't want to bother with that stranger who could change their lives dramatically for the worse.

"Children should also be involved and consulted if their parents want to elect home education (sic) so that their needs and aspirations are taken into account. "

Yep, they should and are. Home educated parents can manage this, thanks.

Then again, if the state really is going to require HE kids to be consulted and taken seriously by council employers about their needs and aspirations, then surely it is only fair to do it for schooled kids? Yep, if the state does go down this route, then we will demand parity. CC's everywhere will need to introduce a council policy which requires that they take all children's needs and aspirations seriously, (not just HE children.) Councils will, for example, need to ask children who are about to go primary school, age 4, what their needs and aspirations are. Given that a significant number of this population will tell you that they would prefer to stay home and carry on learning and playing there, CCs will at least make huge savings on their education bill. In this situation, councils will also find out that there are almost no children who are HE'd against their will whilst thousands and thousands of schooled children are not happy bunnies and are not having their needs and aspirations met, are threatening suicide because of bullying or are bored rigid by impersonalised learning schemes.

"There is also a need for a standardised system of monitoring visits and reporting to parents which should be applied to all local authorities."

Why? Who does this benefit? Given that almost all HE families, even when they have relatively good relationships with LAs, will tell you that the LA visit is extremely disruptive, anxiety-provoking and provides nothing of value to them at all, what purpose exactly would these visits serve for these families? How would these children benefit?

Plus, where will all this money come from?

Plus, if the state does do this, they must concede that they have taken over responsibility for education, for in the instituation of regular compulsory monitoring, a family is implicitly required to meet standards that are set by the state which are not freely chosen by them. Ho hum. Yes, we would need new legislation to reflect this point. Whilst a parent may remain responsible for provision of education, the state is ultimately responsible for it's form and content and for the monitoring it. There will be plenty of opportunity in such a system to demonstrate that the state fails.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Humane Parenting Petition

I can't pretend that there is any hope of any science to substantiate the idea that attachment parenting is vastly superior to other forms of parenting, but my own experience of trying both leaves me pretty convinced that AP works and works beautifully. I have therefore signed the petition here.