Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Typical Reply from DCSF and a Typical Response from a Home Educator

DCSF in blue.
Me in blood red. Oh all right. Have toned it down. Now in black.

"Thank you for your email of 28 January regarding the Home Education Review which has been passed to me for reply.

The Review of Home Education is being led by Graham Badman, former Director of Children's Services at Kent County Council. Mr Badman has decided that he wants his review to be informed by material from a wide range of stakeholders, so he decided to offer the opportunity for organisations and individuals to contribute to the review by filling in a questionnaire."

We are very concerned that this review is but nominally independent. Mr Badman, as a local authority employee, is strongly connected with government. We wonder whether there is any hope of the results of this review being genuinely unbiased. Our doubts are further strengthened by the fact that Mr Badman's CV demonstrates that he has plenty of experience as a teacher and headmaster but, as almost all home educators are aware, home education is a completely different kettle of fish: it is NOT school at home. It is not clear that Mr Badman has anything like an equivalent experience of home education. How can this review possibly be properly informed and unbiased?

"The new Code of Practice on Consultation issued by BERR says that:

'...a formal, written, public consultation will not be the most effective or proportionate way of seeking input from interested parties eg when engaging stakeholders very early in policy development (preceding formal consultation) ......In such cases an exercise under this Code would not be appropriate. There is, moreover, a variety of other ways available to seek input from interested parties other than a formal consultation'

What do you think all the previous consultations were about? You garnered exactly the same set of views, on several occasions, such as in 2007 for the consultation on Elective Home Education Guidelines. Why on earth are you doing it again?

To us, there is no difference between this preliminary garnering of views, and a full time consultation except that the department seems to exempt itself from it's own rules. We still have to devote time, energy and thought to answering the same set of questions all over again. This therefore rightly should contravene the BRE Code of Practice on Consultations Criterion 5.

"Once the Review is complete it will be presented to Ministers who will then decide whether or not to take forward any of the recommendations. We anticipate that any Review recommendations that trigger proposals to change the law or guidance would be subject to a full public consultation."

Yes, by which time, we will have undergone 5 or, if you use skewed government stats, 6, yes that's at least 6 closely related consultations in just over 3 years. This is ridiculous. You have conceded to sense, legal advice and the overwhelming force of argument in previous consultations. Don't forget this.

"We are committed to ensuring that systems for keeping children safe, and ensuring that they receive a suitable education, are as robust as possible. We have been progressively strengthening the systems and it is good practice to ensure that they are operating as intended. An independent review of home education is part of this continuing commitment to strengthening the system and* to ensure all children achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes."

As robust as leaving families with no privacy? Of leaving families with NO AUTONOMY AT ALL. You want to take the voice of the child seriously. My children here are saying to the LA and to government "LEAVE ME ALONE." My daughter has a fully prepared speech for any unwitting EWO who pitches up at our door. At the age of 6, she has a fluent lecture on the meaning of personal autonomy, on the sense of actually listening to what children really want and of not just pretending to do this. She will be telling the hapless clipboard numpty that she loves home education and that she has absolutely no intention of going to an institution where she hears that some 80% of teens think their education is boring and irrelevant and that plenty of children are utterly miserable. She will also be telling them to go away please, now. Stop bothering us.

Plus, honestly, PLEASE read your own legislation. You DO NOT HAVE A DUTY TO ENSURE THAT CHILDREN ACHIEVE THE FIVE OUTCOMES. That "and*" gives you away. You have a duty to co-operate to promote the outcomes. Don't shift the goalposts as otherwise you will appropriate parental responsibilities. If my children don't achieve these outcomes, what should I do? Sue you?

"The guidelines on home education that we issued last year have not resolved the concerns of some LAs about their ability to fulfil their responsibilities in relation to home educated children."

That is because they don't understand their responsibilities, imagine that they have more than they have, don't understand how home education works, and don't use the powers they already have with sufficient discrimination. Their jobs are meant to be difficult. That is what they are paid for. It might be easier for them to put CCTVs in every room in our houses, but this is not the country we should seek to be living in.

"The recent public consultation suggested that many people – home educating parents and local authorities included – feel the guidelines and legislation are confusing and sometimes perhaps at odds with each other. We know there is an issue now and it is right that we identify any barriers – perceived or real – to children’s entitlement to achieve the five outcomes. We will take whatever action is necessary to strengthen the arrangements."

Legislation has created a bind for itself. Parts of it want to override parental responsibilities to determine a suitable education for their children. This is contained in the duty to identify children missing a suitable education and is a problem for the state in that if they enact this duty in the positive, ie: if they screen the entire population without there being any reason to suspect that a suitable education is not being provided, they will in effect become the ultimate arbiters of the determination of a suitable education. We must concede that there has hereby been instigated a fully fledged "thought government."

However this problem 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.

Plus, unsurprisingly perhaps, you are fiddling the stats. Home educators often felt that the guidelines were confusing for a number of other often subtle reasons, not because they felt that the law was insufficient to protect the child.

"We are not singling out home educating families. Every child – whether home or school educated, is entitled to the five Every Child Matters outcomes."

What? Where did these entitlements come from exactly? I personally wasn't so foolhardy at the birth of my child to suggest to them that they are entitled to stay safe for the rest of their young lives, or that they are entitled to be healthy. This is just ridiculous. If you say that the Children Act legislates for this entitlement, then OK, but children will be coming for you the next time they catch the flu or fall out of a tree.

"We need to ensure that home educated children are able to achieve the five outcomes, just as children in maintained schools do. "

My argument in the above paragraph applies. You are just being silly.

"The Department has recently announced a review of safeguarding in independent schools, non maintained special schools and boarding schools. The circumstances of a child educated at home are different from those educated at school and we need to be sure that the systems and procedures that are in place to protect these children are fit for purpose."

They are. Procedures at the moment are just about fine. The problem is enacting them properly, and this is ALWAYS going to be a problem of fine judgement and experience of the people on the ground and they are ALWAYS going to make mistakes because human behaviour is not predictable.

"Government has also commissioned reviews of Local Safeguarding Children Boards and Serious Case Reviews. These reviews are part of our ongoing commitment to ensure that all children are safe and well."

You cannot ever ensure such a thing. Please stop suggesting that you could if only, if only, if only...if only what? That you are entitled to wrap people in cotton wool, that you sterilise everything they touch, that you remove all their autonomy?

"Most home educated children are neither abused nor neglected. However, parents who abuse or neglect their children will find it easier to conceal this if they say they are educating their child at home as they will not be seen regularly by a teacher or other professional. This means that LAs do not have the same level of assurance about the welfare of children being educated at home, and there is a greater risk that the warning signs of abuse of a child not in school will not be picked up at an early stage."

ContactPoint will act as a de facto register of home educated children. We will all be known about very shortly, which will mean that the current legislation will then be sufficient to deal with this problem.

The fact that ContactPoint has yet to go live of course begs the question of why instigate a review now when we cannot tell what effects there will be from previous alterations in policy? It really is a waste of everyone's time.

"That is something that the Review will look at. We are aware of allegations and concerns in this area but we want to establish what evidence is available. This is not just about that whether or not home education is currently used to cover child abuse, but also about ensuring that proportionate measures are in place to prevent it being used in future as a cover for neglect, forced marriage, or other forms of child abuse."

Proportionate measures are already in place. We have thrashed this issue out already. You will know about all HEks through ContactPoint. HEks don't live in isolation. They are continually getting referred, often spuriously, to social services by neighbours, friends, relatives. Local Authorities have the right to demand entry should they think there is a problem. They now just have to get on with the task of making good calls, and accepting that there will always be risk, however many CCTV cameras they install.

"Home education is protected through the Human Rights Act. The Review is about ensuring that the right mechanisms are in place to ensure that all home educated children are safe and well and are able to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes. There are no plans to change the right to educate at home."

No, but you could all but destroy that experience as a positive one, as one that has saved SO many children who were failed by the school system, as one that has enhanced the lives of the many who freely chose it.

"I hope this is helpful and goes some way to allay your concerns."

No, it doesn't.


HelenHaricot said...

ahh, you were very angry! I have sent a slightly modified reply off. await answers!!

Carlotta said...

Am still feeling furious, despite the very angry construction of a reasonably sized snowman! What else can I do to calm down???

Am off to look for your response. Perhaps that will help!

Anonymous said...

I actually think your response is very very valid, your reasons and points are soun unlike theirs.

Anonymous said...

"The Department has recently announced a review of safeguarding in independent schools, non maintained special schools and boarding schools..."

That's interesting. In boarding schools in particular, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for a child to feel 'safe and well'! If they identify these risks accurately, as they should, and then don't close the schools down, they will be exhibiting the most appalling hypocrisy.

As you have said, 'a *right* to health, safety etc' is an asinine concept. What they actually mean, perhaps, is a right to be free from the harm caused by supposedly well intentioned carers and parents. But, as you remark, enforcing this is potentially interfering with parents' and children's autonomy. The whole five outcomes and their enforcement needs to be seriously revised in my opinion. Where's the consultation on the this?


Carlotta said...

"That's interesting. In boarding schools in particular, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for a child to feel 'safe and well'! If they identify these risks accurately, as they should, and then don't close the schools down, they will be exhibiting the most appalling hypocrisy."

Couldn't agree more. I dunno though, perhaps it has got better since the old days, when you could be raped by other children and no-one ever spoke of it again.

Anonymous said...

I think it is better, but nevertheless I know young people who have had pretty bad experiences at boarding school, even if they might not be as bad as they were.


Anonymous said...

Why do you home educators witter on about individualism and freedom of thought yet seem unable to write a response to a government department without seeing what others have written and getting guidance from eduction otherwise?

Carlotta said...

Err, haven't you answered your own question, anon?

However, slightly more constructively, could you tell us which bits we've missed. Am quite prepared to think that I have missed something of importance, so do tell.

Anonymous said...

I don't appear to have answered my question, nor have you. What is annoying is that you all appear to think you are superior to those of us who send our children to school. I have read the posts on Facebook and find them insulting and patronisg to those who send their children to school. My childrens school is a place of fun, enjoyment and laughter and they also learn a graet deal. If you all didnt have such a superiority complex then the general public might not have such a tainted view of home education. However you seem to have a dislike of authority. There also seems to be a complete misunderswtandingof what the DCSF are saying. They do not say that home educators are statistically more likely to abuse their children, simply that HE could be a cover for those who do it. If you ahve nothing to hide then why hide?

Carlotta said...

Hi Anon,

I can't speak for other HEors...we are a diverse bunch, with wildly varying views on many things, but I personally have no problem with people who send their children to school who are happy there. Heavens, huge numbers of my friends use schools and most of the children are happyish there.

I am sorry if you have ever read anything here that gave you any other impression.

I do however, have real problems with the idea of leaving miserable children in school where they are bored and find their education irrelevant as huge numbers reportedly do....see

Education under these circumstances is surely less efficient than when you have highly motivated, interested learners, and to that extent it is not a suitable ed.

You are also wrong with regard to me and authority...I do not have a problem with authority per se. I have a problem with authorities when I think they are wrong about something. I also think it is wrong to force someone to do something when they think it is the wrong thing to do.

I don't like our local public school motto..."serve and obey". Must have been dreamt up during some era when they needed cannon fodder in one form or another. I don't want my children to do this; I want them to think for themselves and do what is right.

As to why hide...I am not hiding. I just don't want to have to show my life, in it's entirety, all its intricacies and intimacies to a complete stranger who is likely to know next to nothing about it, or next to nothing how it works and yet who has a complete power of judgement over it.

HE takes place in the intimate sphere of family life and is not separate from it, so inspection amounts to having the state examine your most intimate life. This rightly should only be done when there is due cause, otherwise all parents everywhere will relinquish the right to privacy.

If the state insists that LAs have a duty to ensure that children reach the 5 "outcomes", that your child achieves and makes a positive contribution for example, this will in effect apply to all parents everywhere. Parents will have relinquished what should rightly be their freely chosen parental duties.

Carlotta said...

Oh, and as to answering your question, if we are individualists, we are unlikely to defer to others or to the authority of EO.

However it seems to me that the HE community has been listening to each other remarkably well. We draw ideas from one another all the time, and are getting very good at listening to criticism and taking it on board when it proves good and useful.

I personally have used an awful lot of the ideas of others, eg: in my consult response, and in letters to MPs.

As I said, please do point to the bits I've missed. EO's campaign site refers back to this blog as one example of a consult response, so we can't be too far apart in approach, I would have thought.

Anonymous said...


I am sorry if this appeared to be a personal attack on you, it wasnt. I know the majority of HE parents simply want what is best for thier children as you appear to do. However,within the HE community there are those who see school educated children and to some degree their parents as lesser beings and they do little to advance the cause of HE in general.

I still think that individual responses from HE parents with their own thoughts would have more weight than hundreds of responses containing lines prepared by Education Otherwise.

Anonymous said...


"What is annoying is that you all appear to think you are superior to those of us who send our children to school."

That's because I know I am.
I could care less if I annoy or please people that send their children to school.

"I have read the posts on Facebook and find them insulting and patronisg to those who send their children to school."

Nevermind how the posts make you feel. Are they right or wrong? Do you have a good counter argument?

"If you all didnt have such a superiority complex then the general public might not have such a tainted view of home education."

I have no reason to be humble in this regard. People that send their children to school, against their children's individual will, are morally inferior to me.

Dave S. said...

Anonymous said...
"There also seems to be a complete misunderswtandingof what the DCSF are saying. They do not say that home educators are statistically more likely to abuse their children, simply that HE could be a cover for those who do it."

Of course they are saying that home educators are statistically more likely to abuse their children! Think about it (go, on, try): if there are about 150,000 HE children (an upper limit) and at least 8,000,000 in school, then HE children have to be more than 50 times as likely to be abused for the two groups to have equal numbers of abused. The insinuation is that it's much more.

Now do you see why HE parents are (a) annoyed and (b) superior?

Carlotta said...


Am pretty sure that the DCSF aren't saying that overall we are more likely to abuse our kids, just that the rates of abuse are likely to be higher in the HE community. I don't think they said this directly though. I think they merely implied it by suggesting that some parents think HE would be a good way to hide abuse, which again would suggest that the rate was higher in the HE community.

Plus, Anon, it isn't a "complete" misunderstanding of what the DCSF are saying, because I myself understood what they were saying as you describe it, and have been spending a reasonable amount of time since then, explaining to the DCSF why it is unnecessary to change the laws in order to solve the problem of some parents withdrawing their child from school as a cover for abuse.