Thursday, February 26, 2009

More on the BHA's Response to the Home Education Review

One of the main problems for many home educators with the British Humanist Association's answer to the home education review can be found in their answer to point 4 where the BHA stated that they believed that all home educators should be monitored. We took this to mean that they believe that home educators should be monitored for the suitability of education and to ensure that HE children are safe and well.

The problem here is that universal monitoring by the state, ie: monitoring which is not applied solely where it appears that parents are failing in their responsibilities, means in effect that the state becomes the ultimate arbiter of suitability. This represents a huge constitutional change between the individual and the state. There is, in effect, a thought police. I would be genuinely surprised if such a huge constitutional shift were to be endorsed by the BHA or any other humanist body.

Where a child's rights are being infringed, home educators would have no problems with the state intervening, but we object to universal monitoring not simply because we feel it is totally unwarranted, - from our vantage point, we can see very, very clearly that far fewer HE kids suffer from contraventions of their rights than schooled children, who usually suffer from far higher levels of misery and lack of self-determination, but also because home education does not take place in a separate sphere to our most intimate, private lives. No innocent person should be subjected to state interference on this level if they have done nothing to deserve it.

In addition, the BHA would need to know that a huge majority of HE children would far rather not submit to state interference, so the state's duty to listen to the voice of the child is already contravened should it insist upon universal monitoring.

It is also the case that HE families are already frequently referred to services, often spuriously, and have to spend a considerable amount of time clearing their names. Universal monitoring of all home educators would result in more spurious referrals, and a considerable waste of public funds and time. Social services departments across the country are already desperately overstretched and fail to deal with children they already know are at serious risk. They could do without the added burden of having to deal with yet more unnecessary referrals.

The question that naturally arises at this point should be "how could interventions of the sort that would be necessary in the event of children's basic rights being violated be managed without universal monitoring. In other words, how would public authorities determine whether parents are failing in their responsibilities?"

To which I would answer that I believe that it has to be a question of balancing the risks and that very soon, the best possible balance will be achieved.

The Children Act 2004 has determined that the children's database ContactPoint will very soon begin to act as a de facto register of all HE children.

On top of that the recently released Guidance on section 436a of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (Jan 2009) makes it clear that all local authorities will have a duty to identify children not in receipt of a suitable education and recommends that the Elective Home Education Guidelines 2007 be followed in order to manage this. This seems to make it clear that LAs should follow a proportionate approach - they should approach families gradually, in order to try to determine on balance of probabilities if the family is providing a suitable education. LAs would be right to ask first for written evidence, for example. If this proves unsatisfactory, or they have any other reason, (perhaps through cross referencing on the database) to be concerned, then they may communicate with the parents to pursue the matter further.

The fact is that there has never been an HE child who was abused for long periods who was not already known to the authorities in one way or another. HE children are actually highly conspicuous in the community. They frequently get referred for no better reason than somebody assumes they are truanting. Relatives, friends, members of the community refer them left right and centre!

It is also the case that if there are indeed a tiny number of hard cases, (of the kind of a child being completely hidden from view under the stairs), these hard cases would make bad laws. They would make bad laws because in the course of trying to find such children, every HE family in the land would have to waive all rights to privacy and autonomy whatsoever, and this because home education often (though by no means always) occurs in the most private and intimate areas of family life.

(NB in case I just gave the wrong impression there: HE kids are so far from being squirrelled away...they are out and about in the real world usually far more than most schooled kids!).


elaine said...

Home educating families are hardly invisible. We light up like a torch when we choose not to send our children to school. I doubt there's a home educator in the country who hasn't been questioned about why their children are not in school at school time.

From friends and relations to shop keepers, policeman, postal worker, librarians, Girl Guide and Scout leaders, health professionals and lifeguards at swimming pools, everyone wants to know about it. I have even found myself answering questions from a delivery driver who had only called at my home to see if I would take in a parcel for a neighbour!

Our children are also out and about, they are Brownies, Guides, footballer players, baton twirlers and swimmers. They play with friends, go to playgrounds, attend home education groups, go shopping, go to theme parks, museums and art galleries and play with the other children in the street/neighbourhood.

Far far too many home educators are referred unecessarily, by concerned neighbours or similar, to social services simply for no other reason than the children are not in school.

Carlotta said...

Yes...the idea that HEors are invisibile is another of those myths that would be funny if it weren't so annoying. I have had more in depth conversations with total strangers and casual acquaintances on the subject of why the children are not in school than, now I think about, all other topics put together!

I hate the idea that we might have to resort to PR to put this and other myths about HE to rest. I'd far rather everyone who is in the dark about HE would learn from honest explanations on these points.

Perhaps if we just keep shouting loud enough we will prevail and your're doing great work in this regard Elaine!

elaine said...

Yes,I have a dream of one day being able to go to Sainsbury's and NOT having to answer a total strangers questions about why my child isn't in school.

Then follows the whole explaining home ed thing, yada yada yada. It would be funny, but after 15 years of explaining I need a break!

Invisible shmisible!