Friday, March 20, 2009

Meeting with Mr Badman

Yesterday, a number of home educating families met with Graham Badman who is heading the review of home education and Liz Green of the DCSF at one of our local meeting places near Bromsgrove. It was a beautiful day, and the meeting was congenial throughout. Mr Badman, who was constantly surrounded by HEing parents and HEks, asked many incisive questions, received many incisive answers and provided some clues as to his current thinking.

Several other HEors also spoke along similar lines to Liz Green and reported that they received a sympathetic hearing.

In brief on the matter of clues provided by Mr Badman as to his current thinking: he says he hasn't made up his mind about anything as yet, but that the status quo is not acceptable, and things will have to change. He stressed that he is independent, that he would take on board all comments and his report would reflect his own independently formed view. He also pointed out that he is only there to make recommendations, and that it is ultimately up to government to decide what they do.

Home educators, including myself, talked about how we cannot see how monitoring can possibly be constructive, that standards do not apply to HEks, they are unique in their learning, and that coercive monitoring of autonomous educators makes it impossible for inspectors to monitor what they are meant to be looking at since coercion prevents autonomous learning. Mr Badman was provided with the link with the results of the recent poll about HE children's preference not to see LA personnel. I didn't flesh out the full implications of this, ie: that it would be coercive to monitor these children, and that you therefore won't be able to assess the autonomous education of these children as it will not be in evidence. I imagine that this point would be clear to Mr B though.

We tried to explain why autonomous education is so precious, that it is a matter of being able to liberate creativity and rationality, that children thrive on being trusted, and being able control their lives and pursue their interests.

I talked at some point about how HE was integral to family life, and that to have inspection meant that my most private and precious part of my life would be open for all to see. Mr Badman continuing in what I saw as the spirit of genuine questioning, said that our pictures are
taken by 14 CCTV pretty much as soon as we step out the door, but after challenge quickly appeared to concede that this was not right, and that privacy was an important component in people's lives.

I said that generally speaking we, as a society seem to have little faith that children will be rational, responsible and eager to learn from a young age, and that in my experience, it is astonishing how responsible and self-motivated they can be. He mentioned that he thought that it is possible to be autonomous within the school system, and I did agree, though said that for some children who did not fit the school system, this wasn't an option. Another HEing parent at this point said she thought it would be better if schools became resource centres.

He asked about my personal reasons for HEing and my philosophical inspiration. I told him that my theories were inspired by Karl Popper. Mr Badman, who clearly knows his stuff, knew that Popper had said that children do need to be able to read and write, and that from that point on, children could be helped to pursue whatever interests they have. I think I explained that most HE parents would agree that children need to be literate in this day and age, though they would contest that a child has to do this by a certain age.

On this sort of topic, he slightly later mentioned his liking for Isaiah Berlin, and talked of limits to freedom, ie: that one should not coerce others, and I did add, in favour of not having limits upon
our freedom, that for many, Berlin's apparent qualification was not in fact a genuine limitation as not coercing others is seen as a freely chosen, rational choice.

I mentioned that we see that LAs are pulling funds from all sorts of things, including after-school provision (not specifically aimed at HEors but which are often used very productively by HEors) and that this is annoying when they want to replace this type of useful stuff with monitoring.

I also mentioned that we hear that social services are really stretched, understaffed and underfunded, with dealing with at risk children they already know about. I asked how can they possibly waste all that money inspecting well-functioning families who will only be damaged by inspection?

He asked me how I felt that children could be protected, and I mentioned the fact that ContactPoint will be up and running, they already have the new guidance on identifying Children Missing from Education, we should see how that works before we do anything more. Someone else reports that he appeared to agree with this point at some later stage in the morning.

I explained that the informal network of HEors and the community refer far more HEors to services than actually need to be referred at all, and any family we know of who is in dire straights has definitely already been referred...sometimes on multiple occasions.

I talked briefly about how the ECM agenda was meant to be for LAs and not as a compulsory imposition upon families, and that though of course, most families would want to help their children achieve many if not all of these ambitions, it really must remain with families to decide upon their own ambitions. I reiterated the point that parents must be allowed to parent as the parent of first resort and that the state should only intervene if they fail. He said that the state has duties under the UN charter, and I simply said that these duties MUST come second to parental responsibilities to meet the needs of the child. Frustratingly I didn't get a chance to explain why this is so, but am just hoping that this is obvious. Just as frustratingly, I failed to mention the petition here, and am hoping that others will take this forward.

A home educating ex-child protection social worker then spoke eloquently on the unnecessary alarmism of the review, about how all HEors who have abused seem to be known about, but were missed, and how many rights to intrusion would be necessary for every risk to be eliminated? He again eluded to several cases where abuse has not been detected early enough and the HEor reiterated the point about it being impossible to make life entirely risk free.

An ex HEor was then introduced to Mr Badman. He has recently completed a first class honours in Maths and Computing and had never done a formal maths lesson in his life before school at age 15 and that he had been entirely autonomously educated.

Another HEor mentioned that they had a good relationship with their LA and their inspector. I did qualify this by explaining that what may be deemed good by one family will not be experienced in a similar way by another family, that inspections can change in the blink of an eye, with a change of policy or personnel or with the general subjectivity of such assessments.

Mr Badman then mentioned the Tasmanian model of monitoring of HEors as being something of interest. We didn't know anything about it at the time and therefore could not comment, and research into the subject continues as we write, but we gather that this kind of solution has been used as a model for the monitoring of Home Educators in the Republic of Ireland.

I had to leave to attend to other things at this point and am relying on third party reporting for this bit. From what we hear, Mr Badman is said to have indicated that he knows of one local authority which uses ex-home educators as EHE Advisors rather than ex-head teachers. He is also reported to have said that he is impressed with the Open University, on which point he has my unequivocal agreement.

More controversially perhaps, it is reported that he believes that Local Authorities should pay for exams for HEks. I do not know how this point was received by those present, though clearly we would be worried if strings were attached. The issue of tax rebates came up too and he received the answer "well, in an ideal world, but only if there were no strings. Otherwise, we'll manage." The Dudley model came up several times, as did Milton Keynes, [pdf] which Mr Badman clearly knew about already, but again the emphasis came back over and over - only so long as support is only offered and is not compulsory.

He also asked us if we had seen the curriculum set out by the RSA. We were not familiar with this, but it appears that this too will be another method of controlling the form and content of education, and another way of trying to shoe-horn learning to fit the National Curriculum.

I rejoined the group just at the end to hear one HEK explain that even if Mr Badman had given her a special keyboard to learn to read age seven (as he said he would have done), she would still not have been ready to learn to read until much, much later when she started to use MSN. After her withdrawal from school when she was still completely unable to read, her parents never once harassed her to start to learn to read. It just happened spontaneously when she was ready. She also explained that she had gone from reading her first book: Oscar Wilde's "Portrait of Dorian Gray" to completing an OU course in a very short space of time!

At some stage, Mr Badman had said that the status quo was not an acceptable option, and I am guessing that the Tasmanian model is currently Mr Badman's preferred method of going about this, and that we will need to put our case yet again before it is really understood. I don't think he has really understood how autonomous education can work. Let's face it, this can be difficult! Even some now fully-fledged autonomous home educators started out very coercively and took up to several years to work out that AE works! We just have to keep at it. AE is precious, it does work and it shouldn't be obliterated as an option in this country.


Anonymous said...

Someone link Mr Badman to this

It's an art school online with artists helping one another. A person can post a sketch and have it critiqued. There's also tons of projects one can join and other stuff I had no time to explore yet.

The Internet is the new school and he doesn't need to do anything about it but stand back.

Libraries have Internet if the parents have no computers at home.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and about that meeting. I have a whole new image of Mr Badman:

Seriously now.

Things will not change. Free home education is here to stay and grow. It's the next big thing after mass schooling. Mr Badman will have to understand that the school system can't hold anymore because something better is here.

The only change acceptable is the end of compulsory education.

Anonymous said...

Wow Leo that's a great idea.If criticism is not imposed people will actually chose it, it's a good thing if accepting it is not compulsory.

"On this sort of topic, he slightly later mentioned his liking for Isaiah Berlin, and talked of limits to freedom, ie: that one should not coerce others"

Wonderful!! let's hope he has the guts to put that philosophy into practice. I don't expect it'll be an easy shift for him though.

Roxy you have done a great job in trying to express the essence of Autonomous Education. It is indeed precious and must be protected.


Anonymous said...

I was referring to to concept art idea not the cartoon, I hadn't seen Leo's second post!!

Deb said...

You have the information about Ireland wrong. HEN Ireland is a home-ed organisation for the *Republic of Ireland*, not Northern Ireland. There are currently no legislated or agreed arrangements for monitoring in Northern Ireland.

Carlotta said...

Dear oh dear...still concussed clearly! Thanks Deb. Have tried to correct, but will look again later, when less pushed.

Firebird said...

The Tasmanian model is completely unacceptable! Monitoring AND requiring approval, whatever they promise at the start, will be the death of autonomous HE and parental choice.

Once there is someone outside your family who has the power to stop you HEing because they don't approve of what or how your child is learning, or just doesn't approve of YOU, then it's all over. Every new government social experiment will apply to HE.

It's a nightmare!

Dani said...

Thanks for this report Carlotta.

What are your feelings now about the likely outcome of this process?

I agree that the Tasmanian model is no good for AE.

Also that your final point is the crucial one - we must keep our freedom to choose AE if it is right for our families. There is no reason to restrict everyone's future access to a valuable and effective educational approach.

Maire said...

thanks for this, it is very worrying that the status quo is out of the question. I wonder why?

Lanna said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective--it's so valuable for those of us who weren't there. Information makes things a lot less scary (for the time being anyway!). :)

Elliot said...

> He asked about my personal reasons for HEing and my philosophical inspiration. I told him that my theories were inspired by Karl Popper. Mr Badman, who clearly knows his stuff, knew that Popper had said that children do need to be able to read and write, and that from that point on, children could be helped to pursue whatever interests they have.

Where did Popper say that?

Carlotta said...

Hi Dani,

I do think that autonomous HE is under considerable threat one way or another. Even if a strict curriculum isn't imposed, the emphasis that we find in the new CME guidelines upon LAs assessing for the suitability of ed provision will mean that autonomously educating families will be constantly anxious about whether their chosen form of education will be understood.

I suppose this might not seem vastly different from the problems we have now, but I do envisage that it will get worse in that no families will be just left alone, that checks will happen more frequently and more intensively.

Calls for training of LA personnel are all very well, but I do wonder if they can ever hope to work for AEors. If you take someone who has been buried in the school model for all of their young and then professional lives, and they have no reason to try to attempt to understand other forms of educational provision, why would they really bother?

Even given my own incentives for understanding AE, (my son clearly thrived on it, even when I disapproved of it), I remember my own resistance to the idea that coercion was essentially inimicable to learning. People like Elliot who comments below, had to explain it to me over and over, and I resisted the idea even when I started to realise that my criticisms weren't cogent. What hope will there be for someone who has no real reason to understand?

Ho hum.

I will continue to try to put the argument for AE one way or another though as at this stage, I don't think there is anything else I can do, and well, you don't know, it might work.

Carlotta said...

Hi Maire,

Yes, the fact that Mr B said that the status quo cannot remain seemed to conflict with the idea that he hadn't made up his mind yet, but hey ho.

I guess the clamour that the LAs are making is just too much for the DSCF to bear any longer, but I do think that the DCSF should realise that they must not bend to such calls, for if you were to give every authority the powers they crave, you would have no form of freedom left in this country.

Carlotta said...

Hi Elliot,

Thanks for making me search my memory and check my sources. It is something I have held to be true for some time, but when you asked, I realised I couldn't remember where I had read it. I think this is probably what I was recalling:

"On the subject of learning to read, Popper says: “I shall be for ever grateful to my first teacher, Emma Goldberger, who taught me the three R's. They are, I think, the only essentials a child has to be taught; and some children do not even need to be taught in order to learn these. Everything else is atmosphere, and learning through reading and thinking.”

Elliot said...


In that Popper quote, I think he means most children need to be taught to read (meaning they won't figure it out all by themselves, they'll need some help), rather than that most children need to be forced to read against their will.

One piece of evidence for this interpretation is that Popper is expressing gratitude rather than resentment. And "some children do not even need to be taught in order to learn these" refers to a capability of some children to learn these things on their own; it wouldn't make sense as a statement that some children can want to be taught to read without being forced into it.

The summary "Popper had said that children do need to be able to read and write, and that from that point on, children could be helped to pursue whatever interests they have." refers to the idea that children must be forced to read, whether they hate it or not. It's not an accurate statement of what Popper said.

Not being able to tell the difference between a person who is advocating force, and a person who isn't, is a common feature of Government agents and of socialists.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot here. I need to read it again. I get the feeling GB is almost warning us that decisions HAVE been made; but then is he going to force those through or try and mitigate them in some way?
Taking just literacy-children learning to read; the govt policy on this runs diametrically opposed to the research. The Govt push and force children as young as 3 to start learning to read while the research shows children learn better on the whole if left until they are 7. Okay so my 6yr old is reading very well-that's him. His sister wont be(as far as I can see) and his older brother was so damaged by school he could barely read at 14. So baring in mind all these differences on ONE family-how are they going to impose a system on all EHE families?

I really don't like that "the status quo must change" thing. Why must it change? And how?

Anonymous said...

>I really don't like that "the
>status quo must change" thing.
>Why must it change? And how?

`tis worrying. Did anyone ask why?

Of course it could just be that the LA's need to know the extent of their responsibilities and powers under the law (which they should, but don't always appear to).

dude said...

man that was nice