Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More from The School Gate

Well I'm impressed. Sarah Ebner (only recently a strong critic of Home Education), gives HEing author Ross Mountney space to explain what it's really like.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Transgenic Flies

Certain things have the capacity to make both me and my daughter apparently disproportionately happy. Making simulated transgenic flies is one of these.

I mean really, why go to school?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Schools Break SEN Laws

Finally, someone telling it as it is.

No wonder so many are turning to home education.

Friday, December 12, 2008

IKEA Now Home Education Friendly

....thanks to Shoshana. We hear that IKEA are even arranging some fun sessions for the HEks. From the Milton Keynes Citizen.

Other companies might think of following suit. This could be a good money-spinner in these hard times. Home educating families can get to you off-peak when your services are idling. Other companies have done it before and we've had a great time eg: Pizza Express have done some great pizza making sessions for HEks in off-peak hours.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What Home Educators Can Add

From Howard Gardner (HT: DD).

"The time has come to broaden our notion of the spectrum of talents. The single most important contribution education can make to a child's development is to help him toward a field where his talents best suit him, where he will be satisfied and competent. We've completely lost sight of that. Instead we subject everyone to an education where, if you succeed, you will be best suited to a college professor. And we evaluate everything along the way according to whether they meet that narrow standard of success. We should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them identify their natural competencies and gifts, and cultivate those. There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to succeed, and many different abilities that will get you there."

Autonomous home educators can add to this. They know that you don't have to HELP SO MUCH. You don't have to peddle stuff all the time. You don't have to run about creating a schoolie curriculum that could appeal to any one of seven intelligences. You just have to lay the world open to your child and listen to what grabs their interest. If the child can't access their area of interest for themselves, you help them get at it somehow. Your work then is usually done and you are only likely to know more about the subject than you child after a couple of months if it happens to be your own area of interest.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lord Brougham and Vaux on Compulsory Education

In 1834 the Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham and Vaux, was asked "Do you consider that a compulsory education would be justified, either on principles of public utility or expediency?" to which he replied "I am decidedly of opinion that it is justifiable on neither; but, above all, I should regard anything of the kind as utterly destructive of the end it has in view. Suppose the people of England were taught to bear it, and to be forced to educate their children by means of penalties, education would be made absolutely hateful in their eyes, and would speedily cease to be endured. They who have argued in favour of such a scheme from the example of a military government like that of Prussia have betrayed, in my opinion, great ignorance of the nature of Englishmen."

(Report of the Parliamentary Committee on the State of Education. 1834)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

100% Positive

Wow...thank you for the link, Ruth! No ifs or buts - an article that's 100% positive for once.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Home Educating Because of Bullying

Actually most home educators we know, including those who withdrew their child from school principally because of bullying, home educate for a large number of reasons, not least because home education works and works well.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nagging about MMR

According to Wikipedia, plenty of US home schoolers are unprotected against measles. I'd reckon the same could be said of UK home educators. The hypothesised link between MMR and autism was the killer blow. Since plenty of families in the HE community contain children with autistic spectrum disorders, many younger siblings would not have been vaccinated. Other home educators just reject vaccination on principle.

In the population as a whole, the number of measles cases has shot up this year. There have already been over a thousand cases and this despite the fact that rate of vaccination in the younger age ranges has slowly risen, though it has apparently recently stalled. Herd immunity is only achieved when 95% of the population are vaccinated or are already immune.

A small percentage of those who have received two doses of the vaccine are still susceptible to measles, though they should have a less severe form of the disease.

Deaths from measles are due largely to an increased susceptibility to secondary bacterial and viral infections. Mortality rates in the developed world are quoted at best as being around 1/5000, (though other sources put it at 1/1000). However, even in the developed world, 30% of the immuno-compromised will die if infected. The mortality rates in undeveloped countries ranges from 5 - 10% and there is currently a huge push to vaccinate those most at risk in these populations, ie: the under fives.

Measles is highly contagious. Once it gets a grip, people will die or be left with permanent complications such as brain damage, however well-nourished they may be.

There is no proven link between autism and MMR. When they stopped using the vaccination in Yokohama, the incidence of autism continued to rise.

The single vaccine for measles result in more cases of life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Go get your MMR!

Best News of the Year

Ocean currents can power the world. Just hoping it really is viable.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Personalised Learning in the Classroom = Nothing but Spin

The lie that personalised learning in the classroom is a serious option looks as if it is finally going to be laid to rest.

Home educators, otoh, manage it all the time, and are increasingly turning out successful adults as a result.

Breastfeeding and Abuse

...are inversely related.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On-line Time is Not a Waste of Time

"Learning today is becoming increasingly peer-based and networked, and this is important to consider as we begin to re-imagine education in the 21st century,"

Clacton Home Schooling Parents Demanding Funding

...via the House of Lords.

One to watch.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Integrated Children's System Database Slammed.

From the Guardian: "The [computer] system regularly takes up 80% of their [social workers'] day."

Sigh. Yep, this echos my experience of a similar system over a decade ago now. Inputting records onto the computer definitely took up more time than paper notes, took one away from patient care, and provided one with less sensitive, tailored information at the end of it all.

Honestly, they should have listened to me all along!

Half Severely Bullied Children Attempt Suicide

A headline which shouldn't be altered in the telling.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

HEors may well need to quote Kitty Ussher on this...

From written answers:

"Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour) | Hansard source

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

(1) whether the provision of additional flexibilities in the Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 for those lone parents who face circumstances that need special consideration will include those who home educate out of necessity rather than choice;

(2) what provision has been made in the Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 for those lone parents who home educate their children out of necessity rather than choice; what estimate he has made of the number of children who are home educated out of (a) necessity and (b) choice; and if he will make a statement.

Kitty Ussher (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions; Burnley, Labour) | Hansard source

The proposed Regulation changes will not apply to lone parents who: are in receipt of Carer's Allowance; have a child for whom they are receiving the middle or higher rate care component of Disability Living Allowance; foster children. These lone parents will be exempt and continue to be eligible for Income Support.

Lone parents in these circumstances who are also home educators are included in this group. Those lone parents who do not qualify for exemption and are capable of work will have to claim Jobseeker's Allowance, where they will be required to actively seek and be available for work of at least 16 hours a week.

However, it is recognised that lone parents who home educate may face unique and varied circumstances. Therefore we are ensuring that Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers will have the appropriate training and guidance to deal with home educators when they make a claim for Jobseeker's Allowance. This will include making use of the proposed additional flexibilities to the Jobseeker's Allowance regime where the individual circumstances of home educators make this necessary. In addition home educators, like all other lone parents, will not be penalised if they have good cause for not taking up a job and the availability and suitability of childcare will be central to such a decision."

More Experienced Social Workers Needed

This seemed to be the conclusion of those on the ground and actually in the know in this edition of Panorama, which once again features the admirable Terri Dowty of ARCH, along with Dr. Eileen Munro.

Wouldn't it have helped not to have spent all that money and wasted all those man hours on all these databases? You have to wonder, particularly when you also factor in all the extra trouble the databases cause with the perpetual data leakage. (See here for another example.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Outstanding Talent = Application

Presumably then, school is an impediment to a world-class degree of success. Interest-driven home education, otoh, would provide plenty of opportunities.

A History of Child Abuse

...makes sickening but ultimately hopeful reading.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Steiner or Home Education?

...a journalist in the Guardian wonders. The answer of course is that it depends on the child although all the adults I know who were Steiner educated either didn't like it much or simply loathed it and got next to nothing out of it.

And he shouldn't kid himself: plenty of the original Steiner theory, the epistemology, the ethics, the ontology are all completely bats, and many Steiner schools perpetuate the foolishness to this day.

He certainly kids himself on the matter of coerciveness of Steiner schools.

"The children are free to play without their natural curiosity or imagination being stifled by numeracy or literacy lessons. "

OK, so Steiner isn't prescriptive in exactly the same way as a state school but it is nonetheless still highly prescriptive, potentially hugely restrictive and stifling to curiously and imagination, eg: a child is not enabled to read before the age of 7, he won't be aren't allowed to watch MythBusters because he won't be allowed a TV at home. He won't be allowed to listen to music in the car on the way home because this stifles what would otherwise apparently be a far more valuable conversation. He'll be compelled to wear a hat on prescribed occasions because otherwise a child's spirit might wiggle out... or something equally batty. He won't be allowed to draw Buzz Lightyear with a fine pen when he should be drawing little angels with chunky crayons.

Ho hum. Why waste your time, I'd say.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lord Kirkwood on JSA

Wow, finally someone understands just how litigious home educators are likely to become:

From Lord Kirkwood, (column GC35)

"In terms of home education, the department is heading straight for a judicial review. Home education used to be a lifestyle choice by people with a kind of hippy way of life. It is not any more. It is worrying that the department does not know how many people this measure will apply to, but I would put money on the fact that the provisions in the regulations will be challenged in the courts by those who home educate. I would support them in doing that because someone needs to test the fairness of the regulations as they currently stand."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Safeguarding Reforms Not Working

...from the Guardian:

"Lynne Featherstone, the local MP, said Baby P had fallen through "safety net after safety net. The Children's Act was borne out of tragedy in Haringey after the death of Victoria ClimbiƩ,'' she said. "Yet eight years after her death the law created to stop this happening again has failed to prevent a similar tragedy in the same borough. We must therefore have a fully independent investigation by the children's commissioner into what went so terribly wrong.""

Isn't it simply the case that with parents as appalling as this, nothing will prevent this terrible situation? 60 + visits from health and social services and they still didn't stop it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Anyone Read Any More...

..of this? The first few pages look intriguingly spot on but am not sure whether the rest will be worth shelling out for.


...on the latest NuLabour spin on ID cards. Phew, that's cathartic.

This story was also rather cheering.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Great Free Maths Site

10 Ticks. You have to register, but it's well worth it.

Proposed Welfare Reforms Challenged

From the Guardian:

'On the one hand the government is saying it wants parents to stop their children becoming vandals, on the other it is saying to lone parents "go out to work". It has got to resolve that,' Rooney said.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It isn't just Home Educators...

who think that the "Every Child Matters" agenda is worthy of serious critique. Dr. David Hoyle expresses many similar concerns, eg:

"A further set of questions surround the extent to which the processes and procedures associated with the Every Child Matters agenda seriously invade and undermine the rights of children to privacy set out under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The concern with 'joined-up services', monitoring the behaviours of children and young people, and to the sharing of information has led to both to the construction of databases that often unknown to them, contain intimate material on a scale that has been deemed disproportionate by the Information Commissioner; and to the ability of a wide range of people to access that information. In addition, it has drawn a range of practitioners (including many informal educators) into the formal surveillance process. There has been a fundamental cost to this. Children and young people are being denied spaces to explore feelings, experiences and worries away from the gaze of the state. A visit by a child or young person to a third sector advice agency, for example, to talk about sexual activity can quickly trigger police intervention. The loss of this space is very significant and the Office of the Information Commissioner has found that children themselves were concerned about invasions of their privacy, and that they would be reluctant to use 'sensitive services' – and may turn away from ‘official’ agencies and rely more heavily on other sources of help and information (Hilton & Mills, 2006)."

Lone Parent Home Educators' Benefits Update

From the second page of the report on the Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee (Thursday 30th October 2008), Kitty Ussher, the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions:

"The Conservative and the Liberal Democrat spokespeople rightly raised the issue of home educators. That gives me an opportunity to clarify our views in that regard, which is important. We completely respect the right of parents to home educate their children; however, we do not pay for them to do so. They carry on receiving income support if they wish to home educate their children. When I say that we accept the right of parents to home educate their children, that is as long as the local authorities consider the education to be suitable. That was tested through the courts; the case was Phillips v. Brown in 1980. If the education is not suitable, the local authority has the power to issue a school attendance order, but none of that is relevant in this case. I am simply clarifying that we are not attempting to make it harder for lone parents to home educate their children if that is what they seek to do and the provision is suitable.
I see no reason why a parent of a child over seven cannot successfully home educate their child and work part time. It is not common sense to presume that just because a child is at home, they are being educated all the time; nor should one presume that just because a child is home educated, they are unable to be cared for or appropriately looked after in child care when they are not in their lessons at home. That is why the provision applies to home educators.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is something of an anomaly, albeit perhaps an understandable one, that individuals can receive income support when they are working—namely, home educating? If they are taking the home education of their children seriously, that is work, yet they are also drawing income support.

Kitty Ussher: Perhaps the logical conclusion to the direction that the hon. Member for Hertsmere is going in is that someone should be paying the parent to home educate their child. We do not think that appropriate, although we recognise the right of people to home educate their children. An important point, however, is that at the moment appropriate child care may not be available for the hours of the day when home educators seek it in order to be able to take the work that is available. We consider that there will be a feedback loop involving Jobcentre Plus, the child care partnership managers and the local authorities to ensure that suitable child care is available for everyone seeking work, including home educators. I hope that that will lead to local authorities considering what atypical hours of child care they might be able to provide.

Jenny Willott: Will the Minister clarify whether Jobcentre Plus advisers will be given the discretion to take into account the fact that a parent is home educating a child? When considering what would be a reasonable job for them to take, will advisers be able to take into account not just child care issues, but the fact that parents are spending time home educating?

Kitty Ussher: Yes, but advisers will also take into account the fact that home educators have more flexibility in the hours in which they educate their children. However, there is no attempt for Jobcentre Plus advisers to say to people that, because they have to work, they cannot home educate. That is absolutely not the intention of what we are doing. None the less, home educators obviously have some flexibility in the hours that they are teaching compared to other hours when the children are at home and that will be taken into account when a Jobcentre Plus adviser considers the jobs that are available and the working hours for those jobs."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Panorama on Databases

...featuring from approximately half way through, Terri Dowty of ARCH, Ross Anderson and Ian Brown.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Integrated Children's System

..aka the database for social work cases has already been dubbed not "fit for purpose". Now it is becoming evident that the judiciary agree.

Presumably this won't stop the DCSF from ploughing on with ContactPoint, which will either be accurate but incredibly costly to maintain with the pernickety data input that it will require, or somewhat cheaper but riddled with misinformation.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Great News for Runners

...in the New Scientist. Unfortunately you have to sub to get the full gist, but the article was based upon research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Apparently men who run at least 4 hours a week consume 54% more fuel at rest than those men who don't run. At rest, runners will be burning extra fuel as heat. And if I'm right to make this link, it seems that wasting energy like this also means you are likely to live longer.

Altogether it was quite enough to get me jumping out of a nice hot bath, and out into the freezing cold to go for a jog. Now I'm off to slob out and eat pizza.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Brains R Us

Neuroscience and education.

Sam Harris

...on the is/ought problem.

HT: Sonnier Tribe Mama

Obama on Homeschooling

"Q. Do you support home schooling?

A. Barack Obama respects the decisions reached by some parents to home school their children, provided those parents are conforming to the laws and regulations set forward by their states governing home-based instruction."

Friday, October 24, 2008

And Relax!

Phew, that's done that. AHEd's response to the consultation on guidance about Children Missing from Education has gone in. There have been well over a 1000 responses, quite a number of which have stated a firm opposition to the proposal implicit in the guidance that the state should act in loco parentis.

I feel as strongly as ever that I neither want or need a busy-body with a clip-board on my doorstep. We are doing just fine without them thank you very much, but the chances are that they won't understand this. For example, how am I easily going to explain that, yes, sometimes my 6 year old does indeed stay up till 04.00am, but she is learning all the time, I promise!

Yep, my children and all the children we know well are doing just fine. I left my two last night for a sleep-over with some of their friends. Dd was younger than all the others by at least 5 years, yet the other children begged her to stay. The girls all hugged her when she agreed, and one of the boys, a wag and sophisticated cynic, grabbed her by the hands and danced her around the room. (I nearly did the same to him, though I don't suspect that wouldn't have gone down so well!)

They then apparently spent the evening scripting, rehearsing and then filming a horror movie and didn't go to bed until some unholy hour. Dd loved it.

I picked them both up this pm, and we hacked on over to waterpolo with low expectations - I thought DS might fall asleep in the pool, but he perked up on seeing another set of his friends, and has decided that he wants to go back every day next week for the half-term waterpolo fiesta.

I love this life, these people, these children. We are so privileged.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spanish Translation

For anyone (ie: me) who is grappling with the idiosyncracies of idiomatic Spanish, there is a pretty direct translation of the NY Times Home Education article here.

Home Education Community Vigilant and Informed

Of particular relevance to home educators right now, (and to all families if only they knew it - given the threat to the principle of parental responsibility that we see neatly tucked away in the proposed guidance for "Identifying Children Missing from Education"), from the Campaign for Liberty:

"An educated public is an essential ingredient of a free society. Ambitious governments would have far greater difficulty implementing schemes that undermine liberty and prosperity were they faced with an informed and vigilant population.

In that spirit, we have assembled these resources to help you learn more about some of the pressing issues of our time. The resources you'll find here include books (many of which we link to in free online versions) and articles, as well as audio and video available online and for free download. We receive many requests from people wondering what they should read to learn more about free societies. These resources, to which we intend to add periodically, will go a long way toward satisfying this demand.

For resources specifically addressing the current economic crisis, we recommend The Bailout Reader, an excellent and informative collection.

With some 600 responses to the Consultation on Identifying Children Missing a Suitable Education, it looks as if the home education community already fits the description of being vigilant and informed, but a little more reading never goes amiss, at least around here!

Of course, we only have until this Friday (October 24th) 17.00 hours to file our responses, so if you haven't done so already, and need a quick way to do it, follow this link.

HT for Campaign for Liberty: Sonnier Tribe Mama

Saturday, October 18, 2008

ContactPoint Not Just a Telephone Directory

Just in case yesterday's piece on Woman's Hour left anyone wondering what all the fuss about ContactPoint is about, (and if you didn't know better, you could wonder given that the Baroness implied that the database would be nothing more than a telephone directory), the most recent post by ARCH will set you right.

Woman's Hour on ContactPoint

Terri Dowty of ARCH was on Woman's Hour yesterday discussing ContactPoint with Baroness Delyth Morgan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families, (from the 2nd minute). I am pretty sure that the Baroness is wrong to think that the child's school will not be recorded on the database, which doesn't do much to make one feel reassured by her protestations that the database will be secure.

Terri's point that the database would have done nothing to protect Victoria Climbie was rather lost by the failure of the interviewer to grasp this central point, so in a tiny attempt to start to put this right...."ContactPoint would not have saved Victoria. " Victoria didn't need a superficial tracking device. She needed experienced workers who were able to make good face to face risk assessments and to take responsibility for their decisions rather than to pass them around the houses to other members of the multi-disciplinary team.

Resources are scarce. The little that is available should be concentrated upon employing experienced workers and upon the children who most need the intervention, not wasted on a vast computer system which will haemorrhage cash and information, make seeking out children in genuine need all the more difficult, (like looking for needles in haystacks), and won't save much time to boot.

Should the link above break, it is worth trying here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Home Schoolers Taking the Flak

I usually assume that criticisms of the more unschooling forms of home education are motivated by a genuine if ignorant belief that the parents are being irresponsible and the children let down. An editor here thinks it can be pure jealousy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Come On, Own Up!

Which group of you home educators are managing to stay well dressed? I thought the one defining feature of home educators was that they didn't give a monkeys that they have to run around covered in baby sick and paint. Tell me otherwise, or I shall have to conclude that Mr. Finn has been dreaming.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


...responses to the "children missing a suitable eductation" consultation so far. If you haven't done replied already, click here for help with completing the forms.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Success Story

Gloucestershire Local Authority have just updated and vastly improved their website. Congratulations to all concerned.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Responses to the Consultation

...about finding children missing from a suitable education are piling in - 419 at the latest count. Let's hope that most of these responses are from home educators who understand the problems.

It seems there are a few HEors who don't. This is not really so surprising as it is complex. Other HEors think it's hopeless, because the proposed guidance could seem to be directly informed by the law, ie: section 436a of the Education Act 1996 (as inserted from the 2006 Education and Inspections Act). However, in this regard, HEors need not despair, for the proposed guidance contains such an extreme interpretation of section 436a that it will result in problems in other areas of the law, ie: Sections 7 and 9 of the very same act. It seems that the bods at the DCSF haven't worked that one out just yet and home educators need to be gently explaining it to them.

And yes, if this seems familiar, it is because it is. We've thrashed out many of these problems only last year with the Elective Home Education guidelines consultation. Unfortunately, there are new people in post in the DCSF and they simply have to be re-educated all over again. This time we hope that they will pass on their received wisdom and prevent this sort of problem from happening all over again.

In brief:

This revised statutory guidance (note: since this is "guidance" it will be legally binding and will take precedence over the EHE "guidelines"), contains major changes to the previous February 2007 guidance on finding children missing from education. The 2007 version was all about finding "children missing education" and the guidelines explicitly said that did NOT include home educated children; ie: from the 2007 Guidelines:

"s3.3.16. If it becomes known that a child identified as not receiving education is being home educated, this should be recorded on the local authority's database and no further action should be taken unless there is cause for concern about the child's safety and welfare. Monitoring arrangements already exist for children being educated at home. Where there are concerns about the child's safety and welfare, Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures must be followed."

However, the 2008 proposed version of guidance is about "children not receiving a suitable education" and INCLUDES home educators. It implies an assessment of suitability of the education, not about a child not being in any educational setting. From 2008:

"Section 6.35 In order to discharge their duties in relation to children not receiving an education, local authorities should make inquiries with parents about whether their HE children are receiving a suitable education. "

This puts the emphasis on a positive duty to assess all educational provision out of schools for suitability, rather than only to assess when there is reason to think that there might be a problem and it seems pretty obvious that those LAs who do not have a good attitude to home educators and do not follow the EHE guidelines, will use THIS statutory guidance to prove once and for all that they have a *duty* to *assess* how *suitable* our educational provision is.

Worse still, the guidance also implies and certainly doesn't rule out that families with children out of school should be assessed for meeting the five ambitions for children in the Children Act 2004.
This will significantly lower the level of risk at which LAs will think they have a right to intervene in family life, will override any rights to privacy for families, (see Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights), and will mean that the state will appropriate the role of parenting, thereby contravening Sections 7 and 9 of the Education Act 1996.

You can read up on all of this it at the Freedom for Children to Grow Walkthrough

If you need a quick way to respond, just fill in the consult form, NO to every question and add a bit to any questions where you could demonstrate how what is being proposed would impact negatively upon your family.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Disgusted of West Midlands...

This is what school socialisation does for you: University of Gloucester initiation ceremonies.

Makes one almost understand why a fifth of teachers want to bring back the cane, but the fact is that if they hadn't created such absurd conditions in the first place (schools), they wouldn't have to introduce immoral methods in an attempt to sort the situation out.

Sigh. It's all so unappealing, really.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Are You a Narcissistic Mum?

This quick test is meant to be used to find out whether your mum is a narcissist or not, but it can be read both ways, and may pull plenty of mums up short, I would think!

Matthew Parris

...on why there is no such thing as a good school teacher.

Monday, September 29, 2008


..has a useful page on the CME Guidance Consultation.

Have just sent in my response. Apparently it was no. 105.

The Tories Would Get Rid of ContactPoint

ARCH has the story.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why and How to Live Well

The Wall Street Journal has a piece about some research that demonstrated that, contrary to what might be expected, atheists tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians. Of course one could quibble that a belief in many evangelical Christian tenets involves a belief in the paranormal and in pseudoscience, but you still get the drift nonetheless.

Prompted by this article, David Friedman suggests that high levels of irrationality amongst atheists may result from the fact that whilst science answers problems to do with explanations of reality, it nonetheless fails to offer any answers as to how to make sense of life or how to answer questions about what we ought to be doing and why.

He wrote:

"People (non-believers) responded, I think, in one of two ways. One was to retain a serious belief in the religion and reject those parts of modern science that they found inconsistent with it—in its more extreme form, the fundamentalist option. The other was to give up serious belief in the religion and adopt some substitute: Environmentalism, Liberal politics, Marxism (as in "liberation theology"), Objectivism, New Age superstitions."

Of course (given the hero status that I normally accord to Dr. Friedman), this posing of two seemingly all-inclusive alternatives left me with a couple of restless nights as I tried to conduct a mental inventory for irrational beliefs, and naturally enough it is often hard to tell which of one's theories are blatantly irrational, (particularly at 3 o'clock in the morning), but I eventually decided (tentatively) that if you (tentatively) think that all ideas are potentially wrong and that you attempt to act only upon your seemingly most appropriate theory at the time, you don't fit either of the Friedman's alternatives precisely.

Yet where does such a position leave one with regard to deciding how to make sense of life, or how to answer questions about what we ought to be doing and why?

Well, I think it wrong to think that science doesn't offer answers to these questions. Morality may be most accurately derived from explanations of reality with the use of reason and logic. For example, as far as science has shown so far, there is no evidence for life after death, and the most consistent explanations tend to point to the idea that "this is it", we have but one chance. But how could one derive answers as to how to live from with such knowledge? Well, either you can say "Ok, no point, I give up" and jump off a bridge asap, or "OK, I'll rattle along, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" or "I will strive to live every moment well." Should one happen to commit to survival, then the last would seem to make the most sense and actually I'm extraordinarily lucky enough to see plenty of examples of human beings who strive to be as rational as possible and who manage this with superb skill.

Yet for those of us who are less adept, how is one to do this?

Actually, I'm not sure if the late Dr. Randy Pausch was a religious believer, but he nonetheless offered plenty of great suggestions as to how to live well for any practicing atheist in his Last Lecture and here.

(eg: he suggests ways of achieving a great attitude towards brick walls, he sensibly suggests "don't let tomorrow wreck today" and "I'm dying and I'm having fun", plus he has an eminently sensible theory that will be familiar to most home educators which he dubs the "head fake".)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Safe in Schools?

...you certainly usen't to be. Sadly, none of this surprises me in the least.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Responses to the CME Consultation

..are reportedly up in the high 80s. Let's hope home educators are getting their fingers out and it isn't just the LAs!

For help with responding to the consultation, see the Useful Links column on the right.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good News

With all this bad news around, (though no, I haven't yet lost my faith in free markets), I have decided to post anything I come across that cheers me up.

news of cheap yet efficient solar panels.

The idea of kite-generated electricity has always seemed very appealing.

From the Oil Drum: "While a goal of 100% of carbon-free electricity is probably unrealistic, (by 2020), it therefore seems possible to get pretty close to that, especially if nuclear and hydro are included in the mix (with wind). A plan that announced a specific goal of 40-50% of wind-generated electricity by 2020 and 10-20% of solar, with the appropriate feed-in mechanisms, demand guarantees for manufacturers and investment in the grid would therefore be realistic, make economic sense, and fulfill two major strategic goals: reduce carbon emissions, and lower fossil fuel demand."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Anna in Top Ten

...trying hard not to be envious: Well done, Anna!

Also noted from the same story: Anna's sister made it to St. Andrew's with the OU.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Riposte

...in the letters in the Independent:

"Home schooling is nothing radical

Johann Hari (Opinion, 11 September) really ought to be a little more careful. Home education in the UK has a long and proud tradition, and there are a huge number of families (at least, where we are in central London) who are actively involved in a thriving home-education community. The kids have a great time and are bright and well adjusted. They can count, too.

We don't deserve tarring with such a mucky brush. These kids are not being "uneducated" or abused. They're just being educated by their parents. Not very radical really. All parents worth their salt do the same; we (saintly as we are) just do a bit more.

As for Hari's call for draconian inspection, well, it's a bit pointless really. Social services already have the right to call on any family (home-educating or not) if they have reasonable suspicion of abuse.

Perhaps it would make a little more sense to direct resources towards a rather more careful inspection of schools. There they would find no end of children who are bored, ostracised, bullied, isolated, and tested-to-death.

And then what, Johann? Close the schools and send the kids home, perhaps? Just an idea.

Edward Hardy

London W2"

The Future for Home Education in England

...is bleak, according to Blogdial, who has a very reasonable take on the ContactPoint story and a tragic portrayal of how it will be for home educators when the authorities start to use the database in conjunction with their duty to find children missing from education.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Putting the Independent Right

Bishop Hill has the inside scoop on the recent story in the Independent.

Just to add that we also hear that the journalist Rob Blackhurst is far from pleased to have his meaning so misrepresented.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lone Parents

Lord Avebury blogged AHEd's letter here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Draft Response to the Consultation on Children Missing from Education Guidance

Please do feel free to use the following freely in any responses to the CME consultation. It is a nuisance to be having to do this all over again, but I would urge all home educators to do so, in order to demonstrate that there will be strong resistance to this further attempt by the government to appropriate parental responsibility for children.

NB: I am constantly improving upon this as and when I can, so it is worth checking back here periodically. (sorry RSS users). I also hope to be writing another possible template in the nearish future which could hopefully make this whole process of responding even simpler. Dani also has a great draft up here.

Consultation Questions

1 Based on your experience of local authorities implementing this duty since it was introduced in 2007, does the guidance make clear the actions which local authorities are expected to take to help them comply with the duty?



Presumably the above question refers to the Feb 2007 CME guidance and if this is the case, it seems from our experience of it on the ground, that in our area at least, LAs have not got to grips with implementing this guidance at all. We suspect that this may not simply be because there are many areas of ambiguity that may lead to confusion in the 2007 guidance, but also because the LAs have not yet got some of the basic tools with which to implement it. For example, it was envisaged that the 2007 guidance would work along with Contactpoint which even now is far from ready to be activated. The 2007 guidance has not yet been given a chance to work properly and it is therefore impossible to judge whether it would have done so.

Even though it has not been implemented in anything other than a piecemeal fashion, we are nonetheless finding that when they do try to do it, LAs struggle with interpreting the 2007 guidance, with understanding their roles and the limits of these roles. For example, they are coming down very hard on families they already know about who are being educated at home. It has, for example, been reported that some LAs would like to perform a Common Assessment Framework on all home educated children whether or not there is any indication for it. Many home educated families are rightly offended by such an implication and would regard the whole process as highly intrusive, effectively obliterating their right to privacy as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, when there is no clear reason why the state should intrude in such a way.

LA officials need to be reminded in guidance that it may be difficult for them to understand the damage that they may do when they intrude upon HE families and the learning process of some children. Many children are being educated at home because they did not receive a suitable education at school. They may need time to recover from terrible experiences in schools, or perhaps because of a particular constitution, for example, they may be highly anxious about achieving, they fail to progress under the fear of being inspected because their anxiety to achieve is so high as to be debilitating. When left to their own devices, these kinds of children often thrive, and when confident in their skills can go on to face big challenges. However, for an LA official to intervene to inspect the education of such a child would be to risk entirely forestalling this process. We know a great number of children in our community for whom inspection would be damaging in this way. In insisting upon intruding or indeed even threatening to intrude and inspect, LA officials, rather than finding children missing from education, will be creating them instead and guidance should help LA officials to consider this factor in their actions.

By way of another example of the damaging uselessness of inspections, some children who failed to receive a suitable education in schools may have almost imperceptible, but nonetheless very important perceptual difficulties. For example, some children have developmental hearing disorders which cause them to hear background noises or certain frequencies very loudly. These types of hearing disability make it almost impossible to learn in a classroom situation and yet they go frequently undetected by the schools and no solution is found for them when the problem is recognised. What is a school to do? Find a place where the child can learn undistracted by the overriding ping of the strip lighting and/or the rumbling of other children moving their feet? Schools simply cannot manage this effectively, whereas a family can adapt to the problems, sometimes deliberately, but frequently often through a process of personalised trial and error, intuitively finding the solution. This process is sometimes helped by the fact that a parent will have had similar difficulties and will have particular insights into how to solve the problem. Yet an LA officer can wade it, unaware of all the history, and see a child learning alone, and think "uh ho, no socialisation, here we go!" Inappropriate, ignorant and insensitive judgements are likely to happen far more frequently if the government insists on upping the inspection rate.

Worse still, and by way of another example of increased heavy-handedness of LAs: in one case, a home educated child has been removed from her family in what appears to be an entirely disproportionate move. The HE community who know the family are at a loss to understand how this could have happened. All accusations that have been levelled at the family appear to be relatively trivial and certainly not of such a high level of concern as to warrant removal of a child with all the terrible consequences that this entails.

LAs need to reminded that there is a high likelihood of trauma and poor outcomes for children who are removed or even who are threatened with intervention and removal from their families. With the increased pressure upon LAs to find children missing from education and to ensure that children are safeguarded, we can expect to see more of such cases. It is therefore very important that guidance such as this contains a reminder to LAs of the damage that intervention by them can do to families and that their actions must always be proportionate and evidence-based.

Whilst there are some obvious areas of difficulty with the 2007 guidance, we feel that introducing a completely new version of guidance which would exacerbate rather than resolve the difficulties of the original, is clearly not a solution. This proposed new guidance would demand yet more of the LAs whilst they still do not have the tools available to them. Furthermore, the proposed guidance continues to confuse, failing to clarify legislation, sometimes conflating separate bits of law, at other times, omitting key concepts in primary legislation, and at other times pushing one piece of legislation to the point where it then demonstrably conflicts with other key areas of legislation.

It is also overlong, inconsistent, and vague in it's instructions.

The DCSF should be aware that this proposed version will have monumental and negative consequences for primary legislation, local authorities, families and government and may well cause LAs to act in an ultra vires fashion with regard to some areas of the law. (See subsequent answers for further explanations).

The purpose of guidance should be to clarify legislation rather than to cause further confusion and it must not cause or give leeway for the authorities to act in an ultra vires fashion as it would appear to do, for example, with regard to S437 of the 1996 Education Act. (see below for explanation.)

- - - - - - - - - -

2 Does the guidance make clear the role that implementation of this duty has in the wider programme of work led by local authorities to improve outcomes for children and young people, including promoting their safety and well-being?



The so-called guidance is written in such a way as to be highly likely to lead to confusion with regard to LA's roles in the wider programme of work. For example, the paragraph 1.1.1.

" There is wide agreement about the outcomes we all want for every child – they should be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic wellbeing."

does nothing to clarify that it remains the responsibility of parents to help a child to achieve these aims. In fact, when you couple the above paragraph with the general thrust of the duty to find children missing education, it could easily lead to the impression that LAs have direct duties with regard to all the above objectives. However, nowhere in primary legislation does it state that the LA should take responsibility for ensuring that a child achieves these aims. The Children's Act 2004 makes it clear that whilst LAs do have duties, these duties are to co-operate to promote these aims, or to make arrangements to meet these aims. This is categorically not the same as taking responsibility for ensuring that a child meets these aims and the above paragraph along with many others in a substantial part of the guidance, eg from 1.1.3:

"The guidance also demonstrates how implementation of this duty can help local authorities make progress towards a number of Government priorities that they have been asked to lead in order to improve outcomes for children and young people. These include:

• the ambitions described in the Children’s Plan;"

by failing to make this distinction clear, are very likely to cause LAs to be led astray and to act in an ultra vires fashion, rather than to be helped by this guidance.

Clarification of the actual duties enshrined in the Children's Act is only given in the Appendices, by which time readers may well have formed the impression that LAs are entirely responsible for ensuring children's safety and well-being. This may well lead to increased heavy-handedness on the part of LAs, as evidenced in the answer to question one.

It is therefore of cardinal importance that the distinctions between the different kinds of responsibilities and who is actually responsible for what are clearly stated, and this also for the reason that if LAs do start to behave as if they have responsibility for meeting the aims for children, as stated in the Children's Act 2004, they will in effect be appropriating parental responsibility for all children in all areas of life and will be liable when these aims are not met.

- - - - - - - - - - -

3 Does the guidance accurately describe the range of circumstances that put children's safety at risk and puts them at risk of not receiving a suitable education?



Of course schooling families are explicitly entirely exempted from assessment for "suitability" of education and one could understand why this would be the case because if suitability of a schooled child's education were to be assessed under the CME initiative, then tens of thousands of parents across the land could be held liable for failing to provide a suitable education under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act, or in the situation that it could be established that the parent had call upon the school to expect that their child should be suitably educated, LAs and/or schools will become liable for a failure to cause a child to receive a suitable education. We hear from the government's own figures, that one sixth of children leave primary school unable to read and write, (one fifth are reading and writing poorly), and that a third of all 14 year old boys have a reading age of 11 or below, and yet because they attend school, they are apparently exempted them from the CME initiative if it is to be about assessing for suitability of education.

Therefore, if the risk we are talking about is the risk of not receiving a "suitable" education, then NO, the range of circumstances that would put a child at risk has not been accurately or realistically described, for clearly "going to school" should in reality be considered a high risk circumstance.

Although school children are exempted from the CME identification initiative, the paragraph in the proposed guidance concerning the schooled population is revealing in that it seems to suggest that the emphasis of the CME initiative is upon "attendance" of children at their place of education, rather than upon whether they are receiving a "suitable" education:

"Schools already have a duty to monitor attendance through the daily attendance register and to make returns to local authorities where the attendance of individual pupils gives cause for concern."

However, the distinction between detecting for attendance or for suitability is far less clearly stated for the targets of the proposed guidance. Are these children to be classified as missing an education if their place of education is unidentified, or if their education is not suitable? This lack of explicit clarification in the guidance and will almost certainly lead to confusion in practice as LAs fail to understand what they are actually meant to be identifying.

The relevant paragraph re home education states:

6.17....Where a local authority is satisfied that a parent is providing their child with a suitable full time education, the child is not the target of this duty.

This would seem to suggest that LAs have a positive duty to assess for suitability in all cases of home education. However, if we are to take the paragraph about schooled children seriously, and apply the same standards of identifying children who are missing from education, we would be talking about whether children outside school "attend" their place of education, not whether the education is "suitable". If this standard is to be applied so as to achieve parity with schooled children, then all that an LA would need to do would be to check that the child resided with the parent who has explained that they are home educating, to make a note of this and to leave the family alone.

However, it isn't simply a matter of demanding parity with the way schooled children and their families are judged under section 437. There are other extremely significant implications for primary legislation if the CME initiative is taken to mean that LAs must assess an education for suitability. If guidance allows LA personnel to infer because of ambiguous writing - and I think that it is likely that it will as a result of other difficulties as well...see *2, that all children out of school must be judged for the suitability of their education, it will create a conflict both with Section 437 of the Education Act 1996 and with Sections 7 and 9 of the same Act.

It will create a problem with s437 because this states that LAs only have a duty to act when there is a reason to believe that a suitable education is NOT being provided. This is framed in the negative because this preserves the principle of parental responsibility for education, as enshrined in Section 7. The state only has a duty to act when parents fail to observe their duties. This is how it should be. For the state to act in every case to assess for suitability of education, (a possible but clearly pushed interpretation of s436A of the Education Act 1996) is to establish that in actual fact, the state is responsible for education of children. Parents, in no longer having a final say so, will have relinquished the right (as protected in section 9, Ed Act 1996) to determine the form and content of a child's education. If the state is to have the final say so in whether a child's education is suitable, it should accept that it is determining the form of education and it must now be held responsible should this chosen form of education fail a child. Home educators, who are now well versed in education law, will almost certainly demand recompense in this situation should the education prove unsuitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child.*

Much of the guidance is written so as to lead an LA to think that they must take the role of establishing that an education is suitable, not of taking action only in the situation that the education appears unsuitable. It would help to clarify matters if the emphasis in the guidance upon suitability should be removed and it should be made clear thatLAs are seeking children who are failing to attend.

Should it prove impossible to rewrite guidance so as to remove the word "suitable", it would be necessary to include regular reminders to the LAs of the legal meaning of a "suitable education". It does not refer to a form of education or a set of standards that an individual LA officer happens to prefer; rather the education must be "suitable to age, ability and aptitude and any other special educational needs the child may have" and that this education may take a number of different forms. They also should be reminded early on that it is parents who are responsible for the provision of a suitable education of children and that children are to be educated in accordance with parents' wishes. (see Section 9 Ed Act 1996). These principles need to be mentioned at an early stage in the guidance and should be regularly reiterated throughout it.

Further, the LAs should also be reminded at an early stage that they do not have to assess for suitability in all cases. They only have a duty to act where it appears that a suitable education is NOT being provided. The consequences of failing to observe this difference should also be included in the guidance.

Further on the problems of the delineation of the range of circumstances that might put a child at risk: the guidance is at times so confusingly written in this regard, that it is difficult to understand the intended messages (*2). For example, in paragraph 3.3, it states in effect that a child may be at risk of not receiving a suitable education if the parent withdraws the child from school in order to home educate but then fails to provide a suitable education. Clearly, if the child is not receiving a suitable education, he is clearly not "at risk" of not receiving one.

This kind of confusion in the writing would lead most people not to read the guidance too closely and to take the general message that all home educating families need to be checked up on to see whether or not they are providing a suitable education. If this were to happen, it would have significantly problematic consequences for legislation, government and families, (see above for an explanation*.)

We understand that pressure for further guidance and increased monitoring has come about at least in part because of there being a perceived danger of forced marriages in the home education community. Aside from the fact that the evidence base for this assertion seems to be both sketchy and speculative, it must be acknowledged that the risk of forced marriage in a huge section of the home education community is actually negligible. Inexplicitly upping the home education community into an "at risk" group on the basis that a very small number of them may be at risk of forced marriage is both disproportionate and inaccurate in that it is not home education which creates the vulnerability to forced marriage; rather it is an entirely seperate culture that permits or encourages it.

It is essential that this inaccuracy is corrected for it will otherwise result in unnecessary and frequently damaging intrusion into the lives of otherwise perfectly well-functioning families and will prove a waste public funds in the process.

- - - - - - - - - - -

4 Does the guidance show effectively what steps local authorities should take when children are living in difficult circumstances that put them at more risk of not receiving a suitable education?



We think the guidance will only confuse the LAs as to what to do. For example, there is the confusing delineation of home educated children. Are they or are they not classed as vulnerable?
LAs are likely to think that the guidance is impenetrable and ambiguous. We had better investigate the lot. " LAs are likely to become interventionist when their help is not needed and may well be positively damaging for families and they will waste public funds in the process.

The first clear indication of what LAs may do as regards the sharp end of the implementation of CME can be found in the list at 2.3 (see below), which is a intended as a brief summary of options:

"• receive information about a child;
• check if place of education already known;
• log details on database;
• locate and contact family;
• determine child’s needs;
• identify and access available provision and places;
• monitor attendance for all provision; and
• track and reconcile movements."

We believe that this list is likely to be very misleading for LAs. They may well read the list as prescriptive, (despite the preceding and subsequent qualifications) or may abuse parts of it, for example in thinking that they can determine every child's needs whether or not it had been established that it is likely that a suitable education is not being provided, as would be required by section 437 of 1996 Education Act. LAs do not have an automatic duty to assess the child's needs and to read such a prescription out of context in such a list is likely to lead to LAs acting outside of other sections of the law which will in turn subvert the relationship between the citizen and the state as mentioned in the answer to question 3 *.

Further, such actions as determining a child's needs would require high levels of intrusion where it is not established that such intrusiveness is a proportionate measure. This action would override any hope of any privacy for families. Home educated families would immediately, and for no clear reason, have to surrender a right to privacy as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It should be noted that Home Educators are now well informed on education law and are likely to prove a litigious group. If their children are forcibly returned to school and if that schooling fails to deliver, (as it surely will since many of these children were withdrawn from schools in the first place because of a failure of education), we can expect to see many more cases such as Phelps v. the Mayor of Hillingdon:


To return the matter of whether the guidance effectively shows what LAs should do with regard to children at risk, when it comes to detail, LAs will often be as much in the dark as they were before. For example, the guidance is unclear about what actually happens when the local authority finds the home education "not suitable." Do they report it to Children Missing Education team and if so, what happens next? Would CME then refer it to Education Welfare? Or Social Services for an assessment ? This guidance fails to make any of this clear.

Of course, until Contactpoint is activated, it seems unlikely that LAs will be able to carry out the guidance and even when Contactpoint does start up, the database is likely to present as many problems as it solves, with inaccuracy of data and high likelihood of data insecurity which could endanger children, so the first issue of identification of children at risk already seems likely to be problematic, whatever the guidance says or fails to say.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5 What are the key challenges local authorities could face to implementing these guidelines effectively?


(Are they guidelines or guidance?)

The key challenges include the fact that the guidance appears to override the rights of parents to educate their children as they see fit and creates a conflict between various parts of primary legislation, setting s436a in conflict with s437 of the 1996 Education Act.

The proposed guidance also creates a conflict with the Guidelines on Elective Home Education, the general thrust of which respected the primacy of parental responsibility for education. These guidelines (which came into effect only last year) would have to be re-written all over again, with all the attendant costs.

- - - - - - - -

6 Does the guidance make clear the duties and powers that local authorities have in relation to home educated children when parents are not providing them with a suitable education?



See reasons stated above ie: the general thrust of the guidance creates conflicts between section 436a (1996) and s437 (1996) and in giving section 436a precedence, it overrides the right of a family to privacy as enshrined in European law.

The guidance generally suggests that LAs should automatically determine a child's needs and whether an education is suitable, eg:

6.35. In order to discharge their duties in relation to children not receiving an education, local authorities should make inquiries with parents about whether their home educated children are receiving a suitable education."

when in fact, there is only reason to do so when there is a suggestion that the educational provision is not suitable. Home Education should not be a prime facie reason for such investigation.

In effect, the state thereby becomes responsible for determining a child's needs and in determining whether the education is suitable it thereby becomes the ultimately responsible for determining the form of education and thus overrides section 9 of the 1996 Education Act. Further, this lays the state open to litigation when its preferred form of education fails a child.

The CME guidelines create a conflict with the Elective Home Education Guidelines on the above points which could only generate further confusion for LAs.

In encouraging LAs to take such a proactive stance with regard to seeking out children, we are likely to find that they become very heavy-handed and make more mistakes with their assessments, thereby damaging children and families.

- - - - - - - - - -

7 Does the guidance contain all the 'signposts' to other relevant guidance; sources of support and advice for local authorities that will enable them to implement this duty effectively?


By conflicting with other relevant guidance and guidelines such as the EHE Guidelines, signposts, even where they are included, can only serve to confuse.

There is no mention of Section 9 of the 1996 Education Act and the qualified nature of "suitability" of education (ie: appropriate to age, ability and aptitude and any SENs) is not sufficiently stressed.

There is insufficient reference to Data Protection legislation concerning proportionate reasons for sharing of information and the need for consent with regard to sharing information.

There is also no mention of home education support groups such as Action for Home Education, or Education Otherwise.

- - - - - - - - - -

8 Beyond the publication of the guidance, what would be the most effective means of communicating the importance of implementing the new duty, and the processes that will help its implementation, to professionals working with children?


Training for LAs in the nature of home education and the importance, not only for home educators but also for the LAs themselves, of the nuances of the legislation that concerns it. This training could be offered by various home education organisations and individuals.

- - - - - - - - - -

9 Have you any details of good practice that would be useful to include in the final version of the 'guidance'?



Given that LAs have not yet been given the chance to implement the 2007 Guidance on CME, it is hard to find evidence of good practice in this regard. Generally, however, LAs who observe the thrust of the Guidelines on Elective Home Education have established good working relationships with their home educators.

These proposed guidelines, should they be implemented, are likely to result in significantly enhanced conflict between HEors and LAs.

- - - - - - - - - -

10 Did you find the draft guidance clear, unambiguous and easy to follow?



Absolutely not, for the multitude of reasons stated above.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

11 a) We have developed standard data definitions at Appendix 1 of the guidance. These were developed in consultation with several local authorities. Do you agree with these definitions?



I disagree with these data definitions because they contain a double standard (which is not reflected in law, ie: Section 437 Ed Act 1996...see below) and they make it clear that the CME should be all about this double standard, for whilst school children are deemed to be not missing from education because their place of education is known, home educators are only so assessed if they not only provide information on the place of education, but also, in effect, that this education is suitable. I say "in effect" because these data definitions will encourage LAs not just to assess home educating families who do not appear to be providing a suitable education but to assess all home educating families for suitability of education, however they at first present.

It is unclear that this form of discrimination against a particular group is at all warranted.

There is also a double standard when it comes to the *consequences* of failing to provide a suitable education. Were a universal standard to be applied, all parents should be answerable should they fail to provide a suitable education, wherever their children are educated. Indeed certain sections of education law seem to suggest that this should be the case. Section 437 (Education Act 1996) states that: "If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance *at school* or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education" and yet the CME fails to observe this duty towards schooling families in any meaningful form.

If the CME assessment is about LAs taking an active role in assessing for suitability, whether or not there is any reason to think that there is a problem, LAs should assess all schooling families for suitability of educational provision and hold them to account when their child is being failed by schools. Parents may then make claims upon the school. There should be no hiding the facts of the matter. Any cases of provision of an unsuitable education shouldn't just be filed away in a poor Ofsted report. Indeed it is actually the case that tens of thousands of children in schools with glowing Ofsted reports are missing a "suitable" education and schooling parents and schools are never held to account in any shape or form.

However, this proposed version of CME and the data definitions make it clear that certain sections of the population (ie: the home education population) will be required to be subjected to a far higher standard of scrutiny simply on the basis of the place of their education. This is a completely undeserved form of discrimination and will bring about strong resistance from the families in the home education community who by a great majority, just want to be left alone to get on with the real task in hand, ie: educating their children and not having to keep responding seemingly endlessly to their LAs and to the state.

Of course, this is putting aside the problem that the data definitions (and the CME guidance in general) does either nothing or next to nothing to address the problem of what is actually meant by a "suitable education". Despite legislative attempts at definitions, the suitability of an education will forever remain a highly subjective assessment, that will nonetheless almost certainly be better made by those who have intimate knowledge of the situation. Yet officials who can barely know a child (if a family is to have any privacy at all), or who may have no expertise in the relevant learning styles of the child, would, under this version of guidance, be expected to assess families for suitability of educational provision as if this highly contentious area may be simply appendended to the argument and will not be potentially hugely damaging for children.

It would be far more sensible if the guidance were to be about finding out which educational establishments children attend, in which case all references to suitability of education, both in the guidance and in the data definitions should be removed. In this situation, the thrust of the guidance should only be about determining the place of education and this should be reflected in the data definitions. When the place of education is known, then these children (including home educated children) should not be included in a list of children missing education.

11 b) If not, what amendments would you suggest and why?

Answer: See last paragraph in answer to 11a. Failing that, I would suggest you stick with the Feb 2007 version, with due regard for the EHE Guidelines and wait to see if this works when LAs have the tools they need at their disposal. To go ahead with this version would cause far more problems than it solves. See arguments above.

However, even with the Feb 2007 version of guidance, various paragraphs should be further clarified, eg: Section 3.3.16:

"If it becomes known that a child identified as not receiving education is being home educated, this should be recorded on the local authority’s database and no further action should be taken unless there is cause for concern about the child’s safety and welfare. Monitoring arrangements already exist for children being educated at home. Where there are concerns about the child’s safety and welfare, Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures must be followed."

It should be clarified here that monitoring of home education is only necessary when there is due cause to suspect that a suitable education (according to AAA and SEN of child and according to parental wishes) is not being provided.

There are also sufficient safeguarding roles written into the EHE guidelines. If an LA has reason to suspect that a home educating family has a problem either with educational provision or with another kind of welfare issue, (such as a risk of forced marriage), they do already have perfectly sufficient legal powers to intervene. There is no need to tinker further with guidance, but rather a need to apply the 2007 CME guidance properly.

The DCSF should not implement the above proposed guidance for many reasons, but perhaps most importantly because in pushing one piece of legislation to it's extreme interpretation, (ie: section 436A 1996 Education Act), the guidance will, in the process, override the principle of parental responsibility for the education (Section 7 1996 Education Act).

You Could Try the Guardian

...for a more sensible and slightly more knowledgeable piece of journalism.

Meanwhile Dani has a very fair response to the Independent article here.

Update...whoops, that should have been Allie.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Yesterday's Independent

...contains a good example of extremely poor journalism.

Ann Newstead of EO does a great job of explaining exactly why it is so bad.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

From the Scottish Evening News

"...the hypocrisy is staggering". Well said, Michelle.

Home Education in the News

Ann Newstead, Prof. Alan Thomas and Janey Lee Grace continue to do stirling work with the media here on the London News (from about 5 mins), and here, along with a number of other HEors, on the Vanessa Feltz show (from 43 mins). You can catch part of the earlier version of the London news here.

Dd (6) watched the NUT's Tim Harrison's contributions with a considerable degree of incredulity and offered precise refutations of his assertions all along the way, eg: "no, home education is entirely my choice. If I didn't want to do it, mum and dad would send me to school". "No, I didn't look forward to going to school. My mum makes sure I see my friends" and "I would miss my real friends if I went to school."

I suppose it's useful for Dd to know that people in positions of power can be utterly uninterested in the truth of the matter, though it would seem to be a terrible indictment of the school system that so many critics of home education seem utterly incapable of changing their minds in the face of the evidence.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Success of Minimally Invasive Education

I had in mind to blog Professor Sugata Mitra's story, but Open Education have done the job just perfectly.

As I write, I can hear a conversation going on in next room between my eldest and his much younger sister and her pal. He's teaching them how to play Guitar Hero..."Ok, I'd like to familiarise you with this...."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

I've said it before, but I'll say it again....

From the School Gate in the Times, by way of a response to James Bartholomew's article about his actual experience of home educating, we have a list of disadvantages as viewed by someone who does not appear to have home educated and who needs to find out a little more about the subject. Let's see if we can lend a helping hand. From the article:

"...disadvantages of homeschooling your child - for them and for you:

1) Social issues

Most people point out that your child might lose out socially by staying at home. Those in favour of homeschooling say there is little evidence of this, and there are now many ways for homeschooled children to meet, and so mix, with each other. However, one of the benefits of a school environment is that children mix with such a wide variety of children, of different ages. It's difficult to see how this can happen if they are homeschooled."

OK, so we have dealt with this particular chestnut any number of times on this blog, but perhaps we haven't been explaining ourselves clearly enough. Actually I have just thought of another way of putting it. The other day, our HE group arranged to use the facilities on a mobile museum bus for a day. The bus came complete with two teachers who gave a number of lessons to the children (ages 2 - 15). Afterwards the teachers revealed that they were in fact both retired head masters. One of the things that impressed them was how well the home educated children interacted across age groups. When there were to be lessons aimed at the younger ones, many of the older children and siblings went in with the younger ones to help them out, and the experience was all the richer for it.

My children have mixed with hundreds of others of all ages, in all situations, social, work related, in this country and in many others. This applies to all the other HE children we know well. It is simply not accurate to suggest that HE children need suffer from any lack of opportunity in this department.

"2) A child's ability to get used to being taught, and to listen, to a variety of other adults

These include those adults they don't get on with. Surely this helps with social skills."

The thing is, our HE children learn from all manner of different sources - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, parents of friends, in extra-curricula classes...teachers, hobbyists, skilled workpeople, businessmen, artists, biologists, linguists, geologists, property developers, IT bods, canoeists, doctors, vets, farmers, film set builders, builders, horse riding teachers, climbers, pot-holerists, people who collect clams as the tide goes out.....Ok, I'm stopping now, but all this in the relatively recent past.

However, I do wonder as to the merit of learning from people one doesn't like. One would hope that in this situation, the likability of the teacher would have no bearing at all on the subject matter being taught, though it is hard to see how this could be so. An inability to present a subject in such a way as to not alienate the learner would suggest a degree of ineptness which would cause one to question whether such a person had a great deal of value to teach anyone.

Besides, in this age of choice, why learn from someone one doesn't get on with? One risks not being able to ask those pressing questions, or have them answered. Or one runs the risk, despite one's best intentions, of drifting off and staring at pigeons if they seem more interesting at the time. It is simply silly and uncreative to persist in such a situation. As an adult, if I don't like my teacher, book or website, I find a new teacher, book or website. Why should children be prevented from using their discerning natures and initiative, I wonder?

3) Demands on your time

This is probably not a disadvantage for your child, but it may well be for you. Home education means making a huge effort. It can easily take over your life, affect you emotionally (when will you have time for yourself?) and, of course financially (it's difficult to have a job if you are at home teaching).

The hard work myth really is overdue for another busting! Talk to most parents who have given home education a good chance and ask them to compare it to their time when their children were in school and you are likely to find that they say that HE is at the very least, no harder than school. For example, you don't have to bustle out of bed in the mornings and iron a gym kit - you can stagger around in your pjs for quite a while if you really want to; you can go on holiday when it's cheaper and to museums etc when it's less frantic, and most importantly, you can pitch the information you provide to the interests and abilities of the learner, which makes everything easy. And don't forget, the HEing adult will probably find that he has plenty of time to himself and whatever home work he can dream up, as his children speed way ahead of him in their various specialities. Yes, home educating does affect you emotionally but it's James Bartholomew who has it when he wrote "For those who can find a way, home-educating is a glorious, liberating, empowering, profoundly fulfilling thing to do."

"4) The cost
All those trips out - to Pompeii and Oplontis, France and China, as James Bartholomew writes - cost money. So do the books, materials and even computer software."

Don't schooling parents provide this sort of thing then? Maybe not, and of course in their defence, it is often much cheaper to travel during the school term time and the HE community is generally good at finding ways of doing things on the cheap. We take Megabuses and do the Travel Lodge cheap stays, we swap and hand on resources, we raise cash in various ways, we give each other free internet tips.

"5) The knowledge you may lack.
If you choose to homeschool you need to make sure you can teach a wide variety of subjects, from science to geography."

When you say "you" of course this needn't be "you, singular". "you singular" can access the wide world and use anyone out there who might be of help and interest to your child.

"6) The constant explanations of why you do it
Not the best disadvantage, I grant you, but if you start homeschooling your child, you will soon have to learn to develop a thick skin."

Yet this can be useful. Indeed, it seems that I have managed to develop such an impenetrable hide that I have got to the point that I'm hardly ever aware of using it nowadays. In truth, I find that I rarely have to explain myself in person any more. As often as not, I find that schooling parents feel they have to justify their choices to me.

"7) Your reasons for continuing if your children don't want to
What happens if they say they want to go to school? You have to know whom you are doing this for."

Easy peesy. No HEK we know is HEd against their will. Their parents would send their child to school if they wanted to go. Indeed this does happen.

"8) Your own teaching skills and patience
While it's true that you love your children, teaching them is completely different from simply looking after them. Are you sure you have the right skills and patience to do this?"

Yes, but a prospective HEor might benefit from finding out about how the whole process works in the real HE world, which is vastly different from the teaching process in school. Simply put, most sensible HEors set out to assist their children to learn whatever it is that their children want to learn. HE parents provide the necessary resources. As David Friedman (another famous HEor) put it " you throw stuff at them to see what sticks." This is a far more successful way of learning than the school model and it makes the whole thing so much easier. In this information age, you will probably find that your children rapidly outstrip you in their various specialisms.

"9) The extra stress and pressure when it comes to your relationship with your child
You are now no longer just your child's parent, but their teacher as well. It may be difficult to get the balance right."

No it isn't. All parents should see themselves as having a role in teaching their children. HE is simply a continuation of this natural process. It's school that is the artificial construct here. By way of some sort of personal testimony, tonight as I sit here, I honestly believe I couldn't be more in love and at ease with my children than I am already. However, this might not be the case if they had to go to a school that they didn't want to go to and where they were not happy. Now that WOULD put extra stress and pressure on my relationship with them.

Should the personal testimony above be insufficiently convincing, it would be worth casting an eye of the research into home education in the UK that has been undertaken by Dr. Paula Rothermel, which can be found here.