Friday, November 30, 2007

The Guidelines - The Nitty Gritty

After reading what appear to be the finalised Elective Home Education Guidelines for England yesterday afternoon, the children and I went about home education with lighter hearts, for the guidelines appear to be almost as good as we could reasonably expect. They at least make it seem as if we will be able to continue with our chosen form of education, even if they haven't entirely eradicated the fear that some irrational LA bod is lurking out there who will try to take it all away from us. For whilst the guidelines do indeed appear to remain within the law, (for which I think we should thank the hundreds of home educating individuals and groups who responded to the DCSF consultation, since I suspect that this powerful rejoinder compelled the DCSF to listen to their lawyers), they are still only guidelines. Local authority workers may push them to legal limits wherever they find some ambiguity or may even ignore them completely.

On the plus side, there is much to celebrate and much that home educators may use in our dealings with LAs. Bold type seems to be employed as a means of shouting at the LAs, many of whom had so clearly demonstrated that they'd forgotten their statutory and ethical limits in their consultation responses.

"The purpose of these guidelines is to support local authorities in carrying out their statutory responsibilities. "

"The responsibility for a child's education rests with their parents."

"Local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education."

Further on the plus side, it is made quite clear that

"Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis";

"Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made";

Better still, the variety of educational provision is explicitly acknowledged as acceptable.

"2.5.... Local authorities should recognise that there are many approaches to education provision, not just a "school at home" model. What is suitable for one child will not be for another, but all children should be involved in a learning process."


"3.14 It is important to recognise that there are many, equally valid, approaches to educational provision. Local authorities should, therefore, consider a wide range of information from home educating parents, in a range of formats. The information may be in the form of specific examples of learning e.g. pictures/paintings/models, diaries of educational activity, projects, assessments, samples of work, books, educational visits etc".

However, there are some areas which are ambiguous enough to allow abusive Local Authorities to continue with abusive practices. Particularly notably:

"2.15 As outlined above, local authorities have general duties to make arrangments to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (section 175 Education Act 2002 in relation to their function as a LA and for other functions in sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004). These powers allow local authorities to insist on seeing children in order to enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern. (Sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989)."

Hang on a mo there - given that we suspect that the LAs either don't know the law or choose to ignore it, and also appear to hope that home educators don't know it either, it looks as if the guidelines should have clarified that there have to be specific conditions before a local authority has a duty to investigate. Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 states that a child who is worthy of investigation must be:

(i) the subject of an emergency protection order; or
(ii)in police protection;
or that there must be
(b) reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer,
significant harm.

It would have been helpful if this section had been included in the guidelines for it will not be sufficient for LAs simply to have vague concerns about low level problems. There must be reasonable cause to suspect a significant degree of harm. Home Educators everywhere will have to know their law and be reading it back to any doorstepping social workers.

Gill has a further take on the guidelines.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Elective Home Education Consultation Results

...are just in. New guidelines are here.

At first glance, they appear to respect the laws of the land.

From Cruel at School

Perhaps Dr. Tanya (see post below) has been persuaded by items such as this one from Cruel at School.

Respect to Bev and Tiah!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Change of Heart?

Well, blow me down! Psychologist Tanya Byron, with a previous record for rather rigid behaviorist techniques, recommends home education as a possible solution for bullying in school.

"You can take your daughter out of school and give her a break until the school sorts things out (get support from your GP who can also provide letters about your child’s stress), or you can move her to another school. You have the right to educate her at home and you can set the curriculum with the help of organisations such as "

Wonder how that all fits together then.

Delays for the Children's Database.

Feeling optimistic this am. Perhaps this represents the beginning of the end for ContactPoint.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Looking for Clues to how the Elective Home Education consultation results and guidance will pan out, we have this which comes by way of a response to the e-petition:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that all parents are informed of their legal right to home educate their Children."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Children's Database Petition

In the light of the recent database security fiasco and prompted by posts such as this one by ARCH, it might be worth checking that you have indeed signed the petition to abandon plans to create a children's database (aka: Information Sharing Index and ContactPoint). (Deadline to sign: 20th December).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Idiot Policy

Good grief. Have not blogged this story for a number of days, as have been waiting to feel sufficiently calm to comment appropriately. Ahem, breathing deeply....

It seems that whilst the struggle in the Spectator and other arenas continues between the paternalistic and the libertarian strands that present an on-going tension in Conservative politics, it is clear from the news that Mr Cameron thinks that all children should be reading by the time they are six, that education remains firmly within the paternalistic fold.

What are they thinking? Apparently only those children with serious learning difficulties will be exempted from this target. Duhhhhhh...(sorry, be calm....another deep breath.) The Tories need to know that this could well cause an awful lot more children to be labelled with serious learning difficulties when they actually have nothing of the sort. They need to know that many perfectly normal children are simply not neurologically ready to read at six. Phonics will be neither here nor there to these children. Yet give their brains a chance to mature, and they learn to read incredibly quickly - within the space of months. So instead of labouring away for years to get them to a certain standard of reading, as teachers do in schools, you wait till children are reading ready, and they then can do it in a TINY NUMBER OF HOURS.

Over and over again I have actually witnessed this for myself. It is the case that many children in the HE community who have no ostensible learning difficulties of any sort whatsoever, don't learn to read until they are 7, 8 or even much older and yet once they've started, are reading incredibly efficiently within a very short space of time. And just in case you are wondering, since their learning isn't predicated upon reading - yes, it is true - information can arrive in other ways, these children don't fall behind.

The Observer article mentions the fact that there are plenty of highly successful people who didn't learn to read until later than is currently expected:

"it was revealed that Zenna Atkins, now chair of the schools inspection authority Ofsted, was illiterate at the age of 11 and 'couldn't read the back of a cornflake packet's instructions'. "

Again I know this to be perfectly likely. A very successful businessman with accountancy credentials recently told me that he would never have got into grammar school at 11, his reading and writing were so poor. He was only grateful that there used to be a second entry exam at age 13. I wonder how profitable it would have been to have labelled this man a failure at a young age.

Actually, there are so many examples of successful people out there who did not learn to read at the required times, that it could almost make you wonder if there are some problems with early reading. Perhaps it means that one doesn't develop a satisfactory auditory memory, or it could alter one's eyesight for the worse, as is currently thought to be the case in the some Far Eastern countries, where children do close work from a very young age, and up to three quarters of them now need glasses.

Oh well, even if the Conservative party cannot make the leap towards leaving it up to the learner, at least James Bartholomew, (of Spectator fame) has made the connection between home education and educational freedom.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Answering the Local Authority Case

In recent weeks, the HE community has had sight of a number of responses to the consultation on Elective Home Education Guidelines from LAs and Safeguarding Children's Boards which have had the effect of producing a collective exasperated sigh, then a reality-seeking headshake. Eeeeuuuughhhhh, bwbwbwwbbwww.

Yup, guess what: most of these responses set out with the premise that there are some terrible child abuse situations in the HE community that the local authorities know about and that therefore they should be monitoring all HEors to make sure that this isn't happening.

Ho hum...right oh. In a bid to answer the charges laid at the HE door, it looked as if we needed to know just a little bit more about at least some of these cases that the LAs supposedly know about. Interestingly, it has proved very, very difficult to ascertain whether these cases are in many instances genuine. A home educator of admirable tenacity issued a Freedom of Information request to a group of professionals with a safeguarding remit who made a response to the EHE consultation containing some vague allegations, from which it emerged that the person who wrote the response didn't actually have the details of the cases to which it referred. There is worse to come: this same response was offered up and used as a basis for responses from many other LAs. In other words, when LAs made allegations about problem HE families, they may not actually have any direct experience of such cases.

All that aside, the thing is that in all the problem cases where more details were given, it was transparently clear that LAs already do have perfectly sufficient powers to act and should not therefore, be needing to call upon the DCSF for more powers to intervene in HEors lives on this basis alone.

Of course, despite what they may be saying in their responses, the problem cases they know about aren't the real issue for the LAs. The real point of difficulty is when an HE family provides them with a perfectly acceptable philosophy of education and a description of work done: LAs are left wondering about whether it is safe to leave such a family alone. Could this family actually be abusing their children and superficially be managing to disguise it very well?

There are however, perfectly satisfactory answers to this perceived problem. The first, of course, is that HE families do not live in a vacuum. If these families know the HE community and if their problems are severe, almost inevitably the HE community can't deal with it, and one way or another someone refers this family to the services, faux de mieux. If the families aren't known to other HEors, other family members, neighbours, or the school from which they have de-regged, refer them to SS. In fact in many HEors experience, the bar for referral to SS is set ridiculously low: many more HEors get referred to SS than is necessary.

This still leaves the families that somehow have managed to live in a vacuum, hiding their children away under the stairs for years at a time. I think the chances of such a family managing to do this are vanishingly small. The chances of such a family not being known to other family members or neighbours is vanishingly small. The chances of them being able to produce an adequate ed. phil are small. (Most HEors who produce a satisfactory ed. phil are in contact with other HEors, and therefore, if they have serious problems, the HE community is likely to know about it.) Doctors with their new database are likely to get alerts when a child is not being vaccinated and hasn't visited them about this and the new ContactPoint (children's database) should be doing something to detect this sort of a problem.

If we really are going to try to build a properly risk averse society, we should not be spending huge amounts of time, effort and money preventing problems that are very unlikely to happen, we would be far better off putting all our efforts into preparing for something that is actually likely to happen, like building flood defences. We should also be focusing on coping with something that we already know is actually happening, such as dealing with the abused children we already know about. LAs will be wasting an awful lot of public money if they insist on looking through the whole of the HE haystack looking for that needle of a family. It would be far more efficient to let the community continue to work to produce the evidence.

Of course, it isn't all about welfare concerns. We also have to deal with the other myth that seems to be doing the rounds following on from a particular LA HE inspector regularly repeating the same refrain that 25% of HEors are not educating their children properly.

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction - impossible to resist...tu quoque. Since when were 75 % of school children properly educated? But actually the more mature response is that this particular HE inspector is very, very unlikely to have a clue what she is talking about.

Many HEing families don't go down a conventional school route. They don't emulate school at home. They don't sit down with workbooks and force their children through exams they don't want to take and yet, despite all this, their children are educated entirely appropriately, according to their age, ability and aptitude. The HE community has now seen way too many individuals who have been autonomously HEd, go right through and end up with all the life skills and college courses they could possibly need, not to know that this is the case. The repeated failure of many LA HE inspectors to understand this is precisely why the HE community is making this whole stand in the first place.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Home Education Post 16

Education Otherwise have secured the necessary assurances in the face of the raising of the age of compulsory education and training to 18.