Friday, February 13, 2009

The Government to Determine Suitability of Education?

I have revised my answer to question 5 of the consultation and this in the light of the admittedly still sketchy information about the meeting between Education Otherwise and Mr Badman who is to lead the review on home education, from which it was all too easy to draw the conclusion that the state is intent upon determining the precise nature of suitability of education, and possibly to deliver this through IT.

I have now written:

I would not be in favour of routine monitoring for suitability of all home education provision and this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, how would the state determine the nature of the suitability of an education? After all, there is no overall agreement upon the right way to achieve suitability according to age, ability and aptitude and as it stands, we know that huge numbers of children fail miserably in the so-called suitable provision that the state seems to prefer in the form of the deliverance of the National Curriculum in schools.


Schooled teens are telling the government what they think:

"Eight out of 10 said they were fed up with school and almost half said there were not enough courses to choose from, which limited their options in later life."

Would the government really contend that the education they offer is indeed suitable when it limits the options of the learners and boredom is the near universal reaction? (Boredom, please note, is not an efficient or suitable way to learn).

The government does not have the answers to the problem of a suitable education and yet it frequently appears to disallow challenges to its educational meme. When a number of experts recently questioned the age at which literacy should be taught:

the DCSF reacted extremely dogmatically to these criticisms, with biased and partial reporting of literacy success which continues to conflict with the evidence of employees, (see link* above) and a statement of determination to plough on with failing strategies come what may.

There are plenty of examples of this sort of governmental dogmatism and lack of openness in the face of evidence that the educational provision by the state is unsuitable for many children.

Another example: two friends of mine, experienced home educators, have recently undertaken a PGCE. They found the epistemology conveyed in this course for secondary school teachers frankly risible in the degree to which it failed to acknowledge it's own contradictions. For example, they accurately perceived that the concept of personalised learning in the classroom was absurd and unmanageable and mainly pushed as window dressing. They sadly also found that if they dared to question the inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the the standard schooling methodology, their lives were made very uncomfortable, and they felt that they would either have to shut up or leave. The system here appeared to be not open to criticism and from this simple point, would appear to be suspect.

This inability on the part of the DCSF to question it's own methods, its apparent certainty that it knows the right way makes home educators extremely anxious that the state will not be open to giving due weight to the now substantial body of evidence which proves that alternative models of education, for example of autonomous education, work EXTREMELY well for many children.

Autonomous educators go about things in a very different way. The provision they offer their children is indeed personalised. It is personalised to the interests of the child, it allows them the freedom to become experts in certain fields, it answers the questions they have, it allows the learner to direct their learning, to be responsible for it, to develop at their own pace, to manage all of their lives as they see fit. Autonomously educated children are far more empowered than schooled children and as such they grow up quickly, without the hostility between child and adult that is so frequently seen in schools, since they trust the adults around them to help them when they need it. They cope very well in the work and university environment.

Autonomous education has now come of age and there is now substantial evidence of it's almost outstanding success. We have seen way too many autonomously teens successfully graduate to adult life in one form or another for it to be a matter of chance or good genes. Every single autonomously educated person in all the areas we visit is now doing extremely well in further education. They are highly regarded by their tutors as they manage themselves so well. They are responsible individuals, who know themselves, know what they are interested in doing, know what they should specialise in, and know how to find things out for themselves.

And yet plenty of these children were not reading at all at the age of 7, even up to the age of 12.
One completely autonomously educated girl we know who had never been to school, was not reading a word at 11. By the time she was 12 and a half, she was almost never to be found without an adult-level book in her hands. And yet what would have happened to this kind of child had an EWO pitched up at her door, ignorant of the success of an alternative model? He might well have issued a SAO, or pressurised the family to return the child to school where evidence suggests that it is extremely difficult for such a child to catch up. The school child is labelled or else labels themselves as a non-achiever and it is extremely difficult to overcome these hurdles and not fulfill these labels.

Another autonomously educated boy, whose mother only ever gave him one very miserable formal lesson in maths when he was about 8, (she admits she is still not sure that he knows his times tables), has just been awarded a first, along with three prizes, at Imperial College for Maths and IT and has been offered a PhD off the back of it. He is a wonderful, thoughtful, articulate individual with a wide range of interests and yet had he been subjected to a monitoring regime from an LA official, it is highly likely that he would have been returned to school when he wasn't ready, he almost certainly would not have done nearly so well.

Autonomously educated children think it is normal to learn to read when you feel like it and they know that when it is done like this, you don't fall behind. In the real world outside of school, there are numerous ways of acquiring information other than by reading for yourself. You can talk to people, they can read to you, you can watch the Discovery channel, you can experiment with making a universal indicator out of a red cabbage, or you can find out how to make a scarf, create animations, keep a herb garden or care for a pet. Then you learn to read.

The DCSF must understand that plenty of home educated children are home educated precisely because the current state-determined model has failed them so appallingly, and we worry that should the state decide that it has the right and the duty to determine suitability, it will fall back on it's preferred models, and these children will be failed all over again.

Several girls we know left school at 9 through to 11, completely unable to read and write. When left entirely to their own devices, (none of them were pressurised to read), they learned to read on their own, and once they started, they learnt extremely quickly and then went on to take exams and pursue higher education. Three of these girls were severely depressed when they were taken out of school, and two of them had threatened suicide. If the state is determined to put such children back in school, or even just to label them so that they don't have to back to school, you are highly likely to see a further rise in teenage depression and suicides.

So far we have concentrated upon the problems of efficacy as it relates to the determination of suitability in education, but there are also legal and constitutional problems in the situation that the state decides that it should determine the nature of suitability of education in all cases and on a routine basis. The government MUST consider that this will have huge implications for the relationship between person and state. Parents, in effect, will no longer be responsible for determining whether the education they are providing is suitable for their children. It will now be up to the state to make this ultimate determination and the status of section 7 of the Education Act 1996 would in effect change to mean that parents are now only responsible for provision of what is in fact a state-determined education.

This, of course, would override parental human rights as enshrined in Protocol 2 Article 1 of the ECHRs.

"In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions."

It would also mean that should that state-determined education fail a child, (as it surely will), parents can no longer be held responsible. It is now the state which must be held liable and, given the currently enormously high failure rate of what is still parentally chosen state-determined education, it is not hard to envisage that a change to an entirely state-determined education would result in bankruptcy for the government and local authorities.

All this aside from the fact that we must also consider the practical implications to families of intrusion and loss of privacy, as explained above.

Another almost inevitable result of forcibly absolving parents of the duty to consider for themselves whether they are providing a suitable education is that they will stop asking themselves "am I meeting my duty to provide a suitable education" and instead ask themselves "do we appear to be meeting this duty?" which is not a good question as it is highly likely to result in a less suitable education for the child.

The problem of the state having to take on responsibility for determining suitability of education and therefore upon the limits of the form and content of an education would be avoided if LAs only investigated where there is reason to think that a suitable education is not being provided. This may seem like a subtle difference, but it is one. The state then only gets to determine a few cases of suitability, where there is some reason for concern and a good argument could be made for intervention. It does not dictate to the entire population.

The DCSF and schools have much to learn from the personalised learning of autonomous home educators if only they knew it. It is such a shame that more people don't understand how well it works, and how inspections of such children may well ruin this process as families struggle to provide the support the autonomous child needs but also to please the more formal demands of the home education inspector.


Anonymous said...

Great analysis!

What is clearly suspect is that government bodies are happy to focus on a potential minority failure in HE, yet only focus on those who succeed in the school system and ignore a large, genuine percentage of 'failure'. Since they claim to guarantee an outcome, their failure is highly visible. It annoys them that failure can be less easily measured in the HE system. Hence, their desire to make HE conform and become something that makes schools look good.

It might also be that their fear of responsibility for abuse in society at large is causing them to provoke situations where they end up, ironically, with even more responsibility for abuse!

Also, I can imagine that HE interferes with the government policy to get parents back to work. Schools are creches after all to liberate adults to go back to work.


Millionaire Maker said...

It is clear that government bodies are happy to apply potential minority failure. Since they claim to guarantee an outcome, their failure is highly visible. It annoys them that failure can be less easily measured in the HE system.

Anonymous said...

Dammit! I've submitted my consultation now and that is a great answer. Funnily enough, many of our answers were very similar - though seem to put it all so much better than me!

I was submission number 887 2 days ago...

Dani said...

Yes, that is very good, and absolutely what they need to hear. Whether they will listen is another question, of course!

I find it very frustrating that all the public discourse about HE is at the very low level of things like Badman's questionnaire, or those tedious articles about some lovely family or other educating their children at the kitchen table. Not that the familes aren't doing a good job, presenting HE as something that is done by real people you might (gasp) actually know. But it's not really news, is it? People live their lives - read all about it!

Anyway, thank you for expressing all this so clearly. Can I just beg you not to link to the Dissident Congress website when you send it in? I would hate anyone in Government to get the impression that DC are at all representative of the general body of opinion in the HE community. I know you are really linking to Grace Stark's letter, but there's no way of knowing where a few clicks from that page would lead someone.

Carlotta said...

Goodness, really am losing it...had thought I had removed that link. Thanks Dani!

Carlotta said...

I have now!

Carlotta said...

Wow...887...good to hear it is going up! Had been wondering.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the very helpful analysis Carlotta.

A question: where did you get this rather alarming info? (it was all too easy to draw the conclusion that the state is intent upon determining the precise nature of suitability of education, and possibly to deliver this through IT.) I've looked and can't find a published EO report on the meeting yet.


Carlotta said...

Hi Imogen,

I may well be wrong, but various conversations with people who work closely with Ed departments in LAs has led me to think this way.

Then joining the dots as far as Mr Badman's CV is concerned...his current interest in IT access for children outside of school.

Plus the LA and DCSF approval of the Bedford Scheme...the scheme where HEors log on in the mornings and are hooked up to a learning zone where they are monitored and assessed.

As I say, I may be completely wrong, however, though I am almost certain that they are thinking about the problem of the meaning of suitability as LAs have asked about this in the past.

Even if this is what they are planning, I think we still should not despair and should continue to stand by our arguments as they remain sound.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carlotta

Thanks for that. I've since come across the Becta report and drawn a similar conclusion.

Just to correct a slight misconception, though: we're in the Bedford area, and the way that the scheme works is that families have to fill in a register of "attendance" once per week (by either email or post), but no one has to log in on a computer every day. (Although there are various other stipulations, such as a requirement to take 5 GCSEs and SATs, and some pressure to attend classes). I don't think the scheme uses online learning at all: some families we know who are participating don't have regular internet access.

Having read that Becta report, however, I can picture a horrible vision of what you are describing being introduced. I'm kind of glad, now, that they refused to extend the "computers for all children" project to home-ed kids.


Carlotta said...

Thanks for the correction, Imogen. I suddenly realised as I was writing about the Bedford scheme that I wasn't checking my facts, so that is very helpful!

Have you found the Bedford scheme problematic? eg: Do you feel people are pressured to join, or else lose contact with their group?

Anonymous said...

Yes, definitely that is the reason that we joined. A few years back, the original Bedford home-ed group had grant funding through which they'd managed to set up excellent subsidised activities. We joined to access the sports and gymnastics, for which we paid a subsidised rate - I can't remember exactly how much - perhaps £250 per term for my 3 kids; without the grant this would have been getting on for £1000.

Then the grant funding came to a natural end and the group searched but was unable to get further grants. The pilot flexi-schooling scheme eventually emerged as the only alternative that could be found.

At that stage, those who did not wish to sign up were still able to attend the activities if they paid in full. However I'm sure you can imagine that the price hike of £100s per term was beyond the reach of many families - including mine. So the choice was: pay up, sign up, or go your own way. My choice would have been to go our own way and look for some cheaper sports. But from a child's point of view: how can you take them away from an activity they love that their friends are going to continue to do on the grounds of an adult philosophical conviction that probably seems pointlessly abstract to a child relative to the reality of wanting to do sports with their friends? Thus, on the basis of giving my kids the autonomy to choose for themselves, we joined.

Two years on, the committee has recently voted to change the system so as of this term it is no longer an option to continue with the activities unless you sign up, so a number of paying families have now left. A couple of weeks ago I overheard a seemingly rather distressed lady who had been paying and did not want to sign up for her own reasons, but whose daughter was in tears that she would not be able to come anymore; they joined.

However in the last couple of months a new home-ed group has started in Bedford, so families now have a genuine choice again.

I think that the Beds scheme is excellent for those wanting a structured, flexi-schooling type approach; in particular for those who are home-educating not on philosophical grounds but because of problems at school just when they are coming up for GCSEs: the GSCE provision is very good.

The downside is that there is a lack of support or encouragement for autonomous education: although it is permitted, in practice it is discouraged and we are the only family I know who still does it! And then I see new families who might well have found their own way towards a more autonomous approach had they had the support of a traditional home-ed community with a greater diversity of approaches, but who clearly are unlikely to do so within the structure and culture of the scheme.

Sorry for the long comment! I hope that everything I have written here is fair: a mother who was dissatisfied with the scheme and posted about it on an email list was recently publicly pilloried by the headmaster and scheme coordinator, who circulated a long criticism of her email to all the families on the scheme; although I am sure they would say that they were justly defending the scheme against criticism, I cannot now help but feel anxious about publicly expressing a dissenting opinion, which does not seem to be in the spirit of free speech.


Carlotta said...

Hi Imogen,

Thank you very much for your comments which were seemed very well-considered and balanced and which delivered a great number of valuable insights.

We may be calling upon your experiences of the scheme in the near future as an example of what not to do, I feel?

Anonymous said...

Lol. Like anyone would listen to me! Next you'll be telling me we live in a democracy ;-)))


Anonymous said...

I don't think of myself of having a a duty to provide education for my child.

My moral responsibility is to fallibly help my son live his life as he wants until he decides he doesn't need my help anymore.

Anonymous said...

By the way, still on duty, as a Kant fan, you might be interested in this:

Carlotta said...

Thanks, L...just have the feeling that it is one of those problems of definition. When I use the term, I certainly don't mean to imply that it necessarily means deference to a higher authority, and am fairly sure that this is a fairly common use of the word - it doesn't implicitly contain that connotation.

A duty simply means something that one feels one has to do. The source of this sense of compulsion is not implied in the word itself.

Anonymous said...

"A duty simply means something that one FEELS one HAS to do."

Emphasis mine to show you just defined the world with implied irrationality and compulsion.


Carlotta said...

Am curious re your apparent crecent concern with definitions, Leo. I thought as a good Popperian, we all conceded that words could mean pretty much anything anyone wanted them to mean, and one merely tried to use them to strive to understand what they other one really meant!

Believe me, I do not regard what I called "duties" to my children as being done grudgingly or as a result of some sort of inner compulsion.