Sunday, May 25, 2008

Silly Suggestions in the Times

Janey Lee Grace reports that she isn't quoted accurately in this piece in the Times, but she still comes across well, unlike Mr Smithers who fails to think through the consequences by suggesting that the government should legislate to ensure that HEors teach the National Curriculum and are inspected, presumably by Ofsted.

Ok, Mr Smithers, so tell us this? When the National Curriculum does not suit a child, whether that child is in school or at home, who will be held responsible for failing to educate that child appropriately?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Keeping a Slightly More Open Mind!

It's rare nowadays that my assumptions about how the world works get really shaken up. You know, you take multiverses in your stride, so what else is surprising? Well, yesterday's incident has shaken me from my complacency in this regard. Something peculiar happened.

We were walking down a dried-up river gorge when my son decided to scale straight up the side of a 50 foot cliff...(yep, yep, yep, SS can come and get me now). He looked over the top and then fairly quickly came back down to report in slightly shocked and incredulous tones "I think I've just seen something like a cheetah."

I have in the past given absolutely no credence to reports of big cats in the countryside, so I didn't take him terribly seriously at the time, but I had to eat my words in the next couple of minutes.

We all walked on a little further on to a point where the cliff flattened out into a bank up which we could all climb. All four of us looked over and could see, by now in the far distance, an animal which appeared to be the size and shape of a cheetah, but which looked to be a sort of greyish brown, running at a roiling speed across the top of the field, along the tree-line of very wild woodland.

It was certainly not a deer or a boar...just the wrong shape. I really don't think it could even have been a big greyhound...again just not the right shape. The shape and the running style looked feline.

People we then bumped into to said matter-of- factly..."Oh yes, there are big cats up there". My guess is that we will never find out but it has made me realise that I should keep a more open mind about some surprising things!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lessons from Birmingham?

This terrible news has resulted in some predictable soul-searching on home education mailing lists along the lines of "should home educators accept monthly visits from LAs in order that the authorities may assure themselves that these families are not starving their children to death?".

Whilst it would seem from what we know of this story that such intervention would have been the only way that these children could have been protected from harm, policy-makers would be wise not to insist on monthly checks on all HEors, and not simply for reasons of cost. Intrusion by the authorities can be hugely damaging for children and families. Children who are gradually gaining confidence after leaving abusive situations in school, or who are perhaps struggling with learning differences, yet are finding their own way in their own time, can have all the breath knocked out of them. Such children have been known to lose valuable and hard-won skills after a visit from the LA officer, eg: a child who had just started to overcome severe dyslexia stopped reading for six months after a visit from a hostile and prejudiced LA official.

Then, of course, there's the simple matter of privacy. During a home visit, an LA official stands in judgement over everything that is most private and intimate about family life. This is no way to behave in a free society.

So what should be the lesson from this terrible incident? If there is one, it should be that LA and school employees should be aware of and remain particularly vigilant for the signs of vulnerability. Any concerns should be followed up to the satisfaction of the authorities. On the other hand, when there is no cause for concern, HE families should be left alone.

Another reason for this proportionate response: if home educators were to accept monthly self-and-well checks, the principle of parental responsibility for children will be severely undermined. The state really would have become the final arbiter on the issue of how safely are children are raised. If a child injures himself, it will be the state who is accountable, for it has established that all parents cannot be trusted.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ofsted Not Fit for Purpose?

Oh honestly, will yet more Ofsted inspections really make the difference to failing schools? From an outsider's perspective, the utter uselessness and irrelevance of Ofsted reports seems starkly obvious. For example, our local secondary school receives good to glowing reports, and yet whenever I speak to anyone about what goes on in that place, frankly if you had any sense you would run as hard as you possibly could in the opposite direction.

The latest news on this front: a neighbouring mum recently went to look round the place with a view to sending her 11 year old there next year. As soon as she walked in through the school gates, she was confronted by a huge fight between a large number of 15 year old boys and girls. She described it as a serious fight, proper punches being thrown - horrifyingly violent. She sought out the nearest teacher and asked her about what was happening. The teacher seemed unperturbed, and simply said "Well, boys will be boys".

Once inside the headmaster's office, this by now rather concerned parent looked up from the conversation about the good Ofsted report to see a boy being helped past the window, holding an ice-pack to his head with blood streaming out from under it down the side of his face.

Only a couple of minutes later, her conversation with the headmaster was drowned out by a huge ruckus emanating from the corridor. An adult appeared to be screaming at the top of his lungs at a child.

"That doesn't sound like a good way to deal with the situation" said very concerned parent.

"Well, the teacher will have taken the child out of the classroom in order to speak to him" replied the headmaster.

"But we can still hear it through a closed door, so I suppose the class will also be able to hear it" braved very, very concerned parent, whilst not daring to say "and anyhow, I don't want anyone speaking to anyone anywhere like that. This is not how I want to raise my child."

That family is going to fork out for a small private school, which will probably be a sensible outcome for that particular child, but you pity all the others who have to put up with this horror.

From an outsider's perspective, you wonder at how schools get away with it. We've heard it said that when heads realise that Ofsted are coming, they phone for taxis to come and take the most troublesome pupils away, but even if this is true, the disconnect between the reality and the reports still seems to this outsider to be gobsmackingly huge! If Ofsted are either oblivious to, or refuse to acknowledge the reality of the situation, there is little hope that their inspections will make the slightest bit of difference to troubled schools.

UPDATE: John Bald, an ex-school inspector, sheds some light on this subject.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More from the Idler

This one from the Telegraph:

"This is the spirit we need to bring to education: the less school, the better. We need to explore other options - home schooling, learning groups, home tutors.

That doesn't necessarily mean a lot of hard work or expense. This is where idleness comes in. It is precisely a love of learning and curiosity that schools tend to kill.

So it is the responsibility of the idle parent to implant a love of education. The way to do it is to lead by example and curl up with a good book."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sensible Stuff.... the Times:

"In the QI edition of The Idler, Lloyd and Mitchinson present a five-point manifesto for educational reform.

One: play not work

Schools should be resource centres, not prisons. Teachers should be returned to their original roles as facilitators, not bureaucrats or drillmasters. The more “work” resembles play – telling stories, making things – the more interested kids will become.

Two: follow the chain of curiosity

Ask a kid what he wants to learn, and he’s unlikely to say: “a broad-based curriculum that offers the core skills”. Real learning is obsessive. It happens through watching, listening and practising something that really interests you. Encourage children to follow their own curiosity right to the end of the chain, and they will acquire the skills they need to get there.

Three: you decide

The QI School isn’t compulsory and there are no exams: only projects or goals you set yourself with the teacher acting as a mentor. This could be making a film or building a chair. From age seven onwards, our core subjects might be: philosophy, storytelling, music, technology, nature and games.

Four: no theory without practice

If you’re lost in wonder looking at, say, a lettuce, you will want to have a go at growing it, too.

Five: you never leave

There is no reason why school has to stop dead at 17 or 18. The QI school would be the ultimate “lifelong learning” venue – a mini-university where skills and knowledge would be pooled and young and old could indulge their curiosity."

Monday, May 12, 2008


From a Barbara Ellen column entitled Let Teachers Teach and Leave Parents to Raise Children:

"Make 'home parenting' like 'home schooling', something weird and uncool your children beg you not to get involved in."

Oh honestly, what does she know! This commentator is much more informed:

"...your comment about home education being 'something weird and uncool your children beg you not to get involved in' is slightly misguided.

I've been home educating my sons since 2005 and the only thing they ever beg me to do is never send them back to school.

Like the majority of home educated children they spend a lot of time socialising with other children, many of whom go to school. As soon as my sons mention the fact that they don't go to school, they become the envy of the other children.

Not once has a child ever said that they were 'weird and uncool', in fact I hear a lot of the children telling their parents that they wish they could be home educated like my boys."

Neuroscience Providing Evidence in Favour of Autonomous Education

OK, the actual reported evidence for this in this Guardian article is scant to say the least, and the chances that the overall message will impact on schooling in any meaningful way is practically zilch in the current climate, so the good news probably really boils down to the fact that the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Mick Waters is described as "an enthusiast for active learning" - in which case, he at least should see the sense of what a large majority of home educators get up to.

The OECD study summary.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Good Argument for Increased Conditionality for Home Educating Parents

From Action for Home Education's recent Press Release:

"Former home educator, Karen Best, who was a lone parent reliant entirely on income support until her daughter reached school leaving age, has also spoken out against the government's proposals which she believes will remove an essential lifeline from desperate parents. Describing her own circumstances, she said: "I removed my daughter, who has profound learning difficulties and special needs, from school when she was 10 years old after a prolonged period of bullying which had resulted in her self-harming and threatening suicide. I was a single parent on Income Support and struggling to cope financially as well as with an extremely unhappy child.

Since the school and local authority failed to deal with the problems, home education became the only option for us and we never looked back, although I lost entitlement to free school meals and clothing vouchers as soon as I removed my daughter from school and got no support or resources from the local authority. Now it seems, the Government wants to completely pull the financial rug out from under the most vulnerable parents and children. How on earth can they justify impoverishing children and penalising single parents in this way?""

Yep, if the government in effect forces lone home educating parents to send their children back to school, it is likely to find that this will cost them a lot more than keeping such a family on income support, since many HE children are withdrawn from school precisely because of unmet special needs. These needs will have to be met when the child returns to school with proper, much more widespread statementing and support. However, statementing and learning support are VERY expensive and LAs are usually reluctant to undertake this process.

If the SENs of these children are not met, the government can expect HEors to organise a campaign to demonstrate that it is nigh impossible for such parents to meet their legal obligation to educate their children according to their age, ability and aptitude.

Bullying Causing Surge in Home Education

There's yet more on the link between bullying in schools and home education, this time in the Scotsman.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Setting a Better Example

Despite the relatively benign Elective Home Education Guidelines which came out in Nov 2007, the majority of LA websites continue to make claims for powers which are over and beyond the law, particularly with regard to home visits and the absolute need for the LA both to know about HE provision and to be satisfied that an education is being provided. Darlington LA however is setting a better example. Other LAs would do well to follow it, as it would vastly improve relationships with their home education communities.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Home Educating N. Ireland.

Site of the Day

Switch Zoo, including Where do I Live.

There are two rather satisfactory new BBC games - Questionaut and Viral Vinnie here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

More Bullied School Children Driven To Home Education

Sadly, this tale of a school's incompetence in dealing with bullying is not unique. Only yesterday at a home education meeting, we spoke to parents of a boy who has recently been withdrawn from school after they had been treated extremely shabbily, both by the school and the local authority.

This story should be here, but the site is currently undergoing maintainence. However, it deserves to be heard, if only because of the parents' willingness to look directly at the problems, which is unusual, most parents preferring to turn a blind eye to bullying. In confronting their son's difficulties, these people have helped to expose the dark but far from unusual side (see here) of what is going on in our schools and what's more, have set a great example in finding the best possible solution to the problems.

This particular tale of woe began when the family moved to an new area and tried to enrol their son in the nearest available schools. Since the schools have foundation status, ie: they function more independently of the Local Authority, they are under no compulsion to offer anyone a place and since they were full, the boy simply couldn't go to school. At this point, the parents received a phone call from the LA, during which they were repeatedly threatened with a £1000.00 fine if they didn't send their son to school immediately. Ho hum...where is the LA's bullying policy, one would like to ask!

Anyhoo, the parents did then find their son a place at a school some distance away. They were not happy either with the logistics of getting their son to the place, or with the school's reputation which is frankly appalling. However, their son, an attractive, sensitive, indeed popular child did attend, only to find the parent's worst fears confirmed. Despite being reportedly popular, (the head confirmed this much), the boy was appallingly bullied - in one spell, there were serious incidents on four successive days. The parents asked for help which the school did indeed provide: the boy was given an older mentor who accompanied him to the canteen for three days, but this help was then withdrawn with no subsequent improvement in the situation at all.

In desperation, the parents returned to the see the headmaster. The mother has worked in schools as a special needs teacher, is familiar with school structure and codes of behaviour. Both parents are extremely well-informed, articulate and reasonable, but they felt they were making no headway at all in speaking to the school. A letter that the father had written explaining the problems was rolled into a ball and thrown away by the headmaster whilst the parents were looking on. When the father did eventually become animated and cross, the school called the police under the pretext that feeling verbally threatened constitutes a sufficient reason for involving the police - to which the father quite reasonably responded, "Well, since my son feels both physically and verbally threatened almost all the time in this place, I hope he will be allowed to call the police whenever he feels it is necessary!"

A short while after this, the parents decided to give up on the whole hopeless charade and handed in their letter of deregistration. The home education community is all the richer for it!