Thursday, June 18, 2009

Carol Sarler in the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail has an article that could have done with a little more research! Let's see if we can help.

Carol Sarler wrote:

"The county council, in a quiet, rural area of England, couldn't believe its luck. A troubled teenager in care (let us call him John) had just been thrown out of the last of a dozen schools. But just when everyone thought there were no options left, along came the perfect solution: a couple, volunteering to foster him.

Mary and Daniel (not their real names either) had never sent their own daughters to school. Mary was an evangelising home schooler, convinced she could make a better fist of it than state or private schools.

Reading, writing, maths .. . oh yes, and sex. That's right. When John was 15, Mary took him as her lover. "

Let's be clear here. This is, yet again (see the Spry case), not a home education issue: it is a FOSTERING issue. Given that they were fostering, this family should already have been closely scrutinized by social services, John should already have had a nominated social worker who would have talked to him alone to get his views, and yet the SS still failed to pick up on the abuse. Doesn't this just suggest that state intervention is just a woefully inept way of unearthing abuse?

Further, it is highly unlikely that a boy like "John" who was clearly already so disaffected with the school system would have actually revealed his problems to anyone had he still been in school.

"My point, of course, is not to suggest that all home-schoolers are abusers. But it is to say that they could be and, if they are, they stand a better chance than most of getting away with it."

I would again strongly suggest that Carol's supposition could do with a bit more research, since it is my actual experience that all home educating families I've ever met where I have had even the slightest concern that there may have been a hint of abuse in some shape or form, be it mild emotional, moral neglect or physical neglect, (and it is a very small proportion of the number of HEing families I have met over all), have rapidly ended up being referred to social services, often by relatives, by other HEors, or by someone in the community.

Indeed it is also my experience that there are large numbers of utterly spurious referrals of HE families to Social Services often by people who do not understand that HE is legal or that it often looks very different to a school-based education. The reality is that HE families are actually highly conspicuous. Unless they really make huge attempts to isolate themselves, in which case, we really doubt that they will come forward to register themselves, these families are known to their wider families, to their neighbours, and usually to the community at large. There is already a much lower barrier for concern precisely because of the general perception that HE children could be at risk, and therefore there are far more referrals of HE children than school children.

"If only this once, Ed Balls is quite right to propose regular, rigorous checks on everyone who educates children out of school, in exactly the same way that we check on those who educate within them. "

How can this be inferred from the story you tell? Firstly, doesn't it suggest that a higher level of state intervention than is currently being proposed by Ed Balls still doesn't reliably detect abuse? And doesn't it also suggest that we should focus on potentially vulnerable cases, such as fostering situations, instead of wasting money screening thousands of completely healthy families who just want to be left alone by the state?

" - but the adults involved have a tendency to be proselytising zealots. "

Thanks for the ad hominem, Carol. Check the wiki on logical fallacies for reasons why it is a poor way to argue. However, in response to the accusation, let me explain to you why it may be hard not to sound like a proselytising zealot in this situation.

Our local secondary is highly praised by Ofsted, is meant to be a beacon school with a special headmaster, and yet every child we know who goes there has been involved in physical violence of some sort, including having fingers slammed in loo doors, faces smashed against mirrors, being pushed downstairs, and having face pulverised in a free-for-all playground fight.

Another now home educated boy we know had his cheek bone and arm broken and was locked in a wheelie bin for over three hours in another neighbouring secondary school. Great second option!

To return to our local school just for a mo: hard drugs are readily available in it, knives are regularly carried by pupils, and whilst it is not one of the 1 in 2 schools to openly claim it has a problem with gang culture, gangs do form in the school and then roam our town, dealing hard drugs and generally intimidating people, and causing criminal damage.

Further the educational standards in these schools are so unambitious. They almost certainly don't do better than the national average whereby one in six children leave school unable to read, write or add up.

You write:

"We can all see why parents are critical of some of our schools: bullying, knives, drugs and shocking exam results are off-putting. But we can't all see - certainly I can't - how they conclude that the answer is simply to opt out."

What else would you suggest then? Gang culture was identified as a significant problem in schools way back in 2005. Things haven't got any better as far as we can see. Drugs and violence are still readily available in our local school.

One 13 year old child we know, previously a gentle kid from an educated family, but who has fallen in with the wrong crowd in the school, has already been threatened with an ASBO for intimidating an elderly neighbour. He truants and is falling behind in his lessons. His parents are very concerned, fully engaged, trying to improve the situation with regular communication with the school, and yet nothing seems to be changing. The child is simply becoming ever more disenchanted and disengaged. What now would you suggest in this situation? Why, if you don't have to, and do have a better option, would you not take it? Home education isn't a question of opting out. Rather it is actually taking full responsibility for the education and welfare of your child.

Further on how hard it is not to be a proselytizing zealot: I concede that it is hard not to appear angry - very angry that the state can set up such a woeful education system, then routinely lies about it's performance. It's hard not to be angry about the state's claim that they want to decentralise the system and then almost immediately proposes to do precisely the reverse. It is hard to accept that one has to be scrutinized for standards by these very same people.

"For, if the interests of children are paramount, I do not believe those interests can be properly served by home schooling. For a start, unless they are the rarest of polymath, it is hard to credit that one person can adequately teach all subjects. "

Do your homework on this Carole. REALLY. Most parents can do a pretty good job up to GCSE and if they do get stuck, there are thousands of options for filling the information gap. For example, in case you haven't noticed, we do happen to live in the information age, which should in reality make you question the on-going necessity of schools. People can take an on-line course in pretty much anything nowadays. In my own HE experience, we have received advice and information from some top specialists in their subjects in the entire world, and my son is still only 12. Most schooled children will not get such individualised support.

And don't JUST DON'T say my children will be a cloistered, isolated, unsocialised child because I will tell you now that you would be flat WRONG. They spend SOOOOO much time in the company of all sorts of other people it is sometimes hard to find time to do everything else. You should also know that many schooled children FAR prefer to come and see my children than play with their own classmates, and we routinely find that these children need to wind down from their deviant behaviour for 20 minutes when they first arrive here, and my son and daughter gently steer these poor kids towards a more civilised way of relating.

"One parent airily told me that it's only a matter of 'keeping one chapter ahead' in the textbooks, but you still have to be able to understand that chapter yourself. From history to French to chemistry? All the way to A level? "

If the child can't manage it on their own, (and we have seen some children managing maths A level entirely on their own), and a parent can't help, what with on-line support, or simply by reading a textbook and thinking about it, we do have the option of using tutors: HEors share the hire of tutors in everything from Mandarin to higher maths. Yet again, Carole, PLEASE do your research, and Daily Mail, please try to impose stricter editorial controls and a higher standard of fact-checking.

"In an effort to do precisely that, many home schoolers become obsessive. Prodigies are turned out, famously Ruth Lawrence and Sufiah Yusof: both were taught by their fathers and accepted by Oxford at the age of 12, but each had to escape her family before she could get herself a life. "

What? What many? I haven't actually met ANY hot housing HEors in all my time, and I have met hundreds of HEing families. How many have you met Carole? There are some high performers, but they were high performers anyway, and weren't pushed to be high performers.

"One thing that all home schoolers will tell you, smug to get it in before you ask, is that their children aren't isolated. Far from it. They go to great lengths to make sure they interact with other children. I'm sure they do. But, crucially, the playmates are, of necessity, chosen by the parents. "

Wrong again Carol. (Ed, please intervene here!). HE children do mix a great deal with others and neither they, nor their parents necessarily decide who with. They go to open meetings and after-school classes where any Tom, Dick or Harry could and does turn up. This is no different to school children.

"There's no chance for their children - as there is for those who attend the big, wide pool of a school - to pick or choose 'unsuitable' friends and to learn, perhaps the hard way, how to evaluate other people. "

Oh goodness. This is just so woefully wrong and ignorant that I give up. No, stay calm: let me tell you Carol that my children are amongst the best judges of character that I could ever hope to meet. They have a calm objectivity that doesn't have a chance to grow in many schooled children for whom the default position is to assume that someone is going to lie or hurt you. They meet and deal with some extremely tricky characters in the course of their everyday life and they learn to deal with them extremely well. Walking away from bullies is an option for most adults. It should be an option for children too, otherwise you are not preparing them for the real world.

"And if the home-schooled are isolated from other children, it is equally disturbing that they are isolated from other adults and educational professionals."

What? I thought you realised that HE kids, as a general rule, aren't isolated from such people. Sigh, here we go again: most HE children go to after-school classes of one sort or another. My own children attend five classes where the Every Child Matters agenda, with its implications for teachers, hangs on every classroom wall. They DO come across these people.

As for concerns about Molly and her husband, I think these too have been overplayed, since had this couple remained in this country, it is highly likely, given the husband's criminal record, that they would already be known to the authorities. Should they choose to have children, the system would already work to safeguard them, whether in school or home educated.


Anonymous said...

These articles are just slander. Can't we sue 'em? Class action? Would black people take it? Gay people?

Let's dance (Johnny Case in Mortal Combat)


globeonmytable said...

There is a press complaints website:

That paragraph about bullying and knives is laughable, imagine if I told my husband he had to continue to go to a workplace like that, just put up with it. I'd support him to move on asap.

Anonymous said...

Have a look at the other articles this woman has written in the Mail - one of them where she says she wants to slap Paul Gascoine's ex-wife.

The Daily Mail are just as bad though - I left a comment criticising her article and they didn't publish it. What are they afraid of?

Bollocks to them! (sorry - I don't normally swear online but it had to be said!)

Jeremy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The "troubled teenager" has moved house. A few years ago he lived in Wales. His age has changed as well.

Anonymous said...

Articles like this would not be appearing had a professional PR company been in place to counter them.

PR companies get advance warning of articles that are to be published. PR companies can then tilt the balance of bad articles, or where that is not possible, arrange for countering articles that make the bad ones look ridiculous to be printed simultaneously.

Home Educators are now 'sitting ducks' waiting for the next blast from the shotgun of some pig ignorant 'journalist' with a totalitarian streak.

Not to worry. We will soon have our revenge. The question is, when someone comes to ask you for a donation to counter these slanderous pieces, will you dip your hand into your pocket?

I hope so.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I had a conversation with a classroom assistant and a playground assistant. I asked them whether they ever had reason to suspect abuse in any children in school, or had a child ever disclosed abuse to them, in their role as trusted adults. They said yes, and gave examples.
I asked them what their duties were in regards to this.
They said they would report it to more senior staff, but USUALLY NOTHING WOULD BE DONE.
So, what is the point of that exactly?