Sunday, June 14, 2009

You May Think You Have Nothing to Hide...

...but nonetheless, you should be fearful.

Maire has a great post up critiquing the meme - "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear"; this, of course, as a result of the Review recommendations that all home educators be visited, inspected, vetted and monitored.

Over the past week, I too have been collecting examples of why, quite apart from the fact that, as Maire points out, it is a false dichotomy, this meme isn't true.

The ever present issue of privacy has languished at the back of my mind throughout this time. Most of us can do with a space which feels like a sanctuary, where one is free from the eyes of the world, where you can be completely relaxed; where you can make mistakes, correct them in your own time, piddle about, not be answerable to anyone, make your own time-tables, think when you feel like thinking, relax when you feel like relaxing. This, for most people, is their home.

And yet for autonomous educators whose educational provision is integral to their everyday lives, all this will be subject to state inspection as, under Badman's recommendations, the LA inspector will want to know all about this space. Couple that with the ever present knowledge that an LA bod will be asking you such questions, will a home educator's home life ever be the same? I doubt it.

But my main anxieties with regard to LA intrusion into the home are really to do with the problems of professional prejudice and ignorance, of misuse of power and of mission creep.

I have changed the details on the following story, but the message remains the same:

An 11 year old boy who has recently deregistered from school, has had regular appointments with a cardiologist for many years now. Throughout his time in school, he was so miserable that he gave up talking to professional adults and never once spoke to the cardiologist directly.

Three months after he started home educating, the boy had another appointment with the consultant. His mother was pleased to see that he chatted away spontaneously and happily. The consultant realised that they were now HEing and must also have clocked the child's changed demeanor, but the only question she asked him was "Is there anything wrong with home education?" To which the boy replied, "Well, I do miss my school friends." The boy does actually still get to see these friends after school, though the consultant didn't think to ask about this. She also didn't think to ask about where he preferred to be educated or whether he was lonely or not because if she had, she would have heard that he is extremely happy with his current situation, and isn't lonely at all, having made a lot of new, mostly HEing friends.

The consultant however, drew her own conclusions, (that the child is isolated and unhappy), called social services and asked them to hold a case conference about the child. Forget the fact that her evidence is extremely partial, and apparently based on some sort of ignorant, prejudicial whim. She is the professional here so whose evidence do you think will be taken seriously?

It just goes to show how easy it is to misconstrue a child's evidence. By way of another example of how easy it would be to twist a child's testimony, yesterday I tried (as gently as I could) to explain the consequences of the review to a 10 year old autonomously educated child. She is bright, knowledgeable and accomplished in many fields but she said "well, we just have fun; we don't actually learn anything!" by which she meant that she rarely sits down with a work book and does anything that looks like structured work. However, it doesn't take much imagination to see how a LA inspector could use her testimony to bang a School Attendance Order on her parents.

In our time, we have had relatively little contact with various services, but actually almost EVERY single time I've had such contact, I've felt it has been very easy for the professional involved to draw a completely false conclusion about me or my family. I remember taking my son to see the health visitor (I was naive in those days) when he was about 14 months old. He had been walking for five whole months by this time. Did he walk during the interview? Did he heck. He lay flat out as if he had never twitched an abdominal muscle in his life. Barely lifted his head. Frick, the HV could easily have thought I was completely deluded with my claims that he could climb over our garden wall with worrying ease.

An even more terrifying example. One weekend, I took my then four year old son to A&E because he had a vivid red weal across his face which neither of us could explain. I told him that the doctor might ask him if he had been hit, as it did look like a possibility, though we had ruled this out. The doctor saw him and said she thought it was a cow parsley reaction, but as she closed the curtains on us and well within the doctor's hearing, my son turned to me and said, having clearly misunderstood my message to him earlier, "Oh, so you don't have to hit me then mum!" Cripes, I really was TERRIFIED. Luckily this doctor was sensible enough to understand my grovelling explanation, but really, it is awful to have to contemplate subjecting oneself to this sort of judgement which can so often turn out to be pretty random or based on ignorance or prejudice.

Badman wants LA inspectors to use the Common Assessment Form which has all sorts of highly intrusive questions about all aspects of a family's behaviour and mental and physical health and which require the inspector to complete it using their own subjective judgment.

We hear that training that the CAF compilers usually receive is entirely inadequate for the sensitivity of the task. On a more practical level, those skilled in social work complain that the questions confuse welfare and safeguarding and as a result are likely to lead the compiler away from discovering any abuse rather than towards it.

Cleary what is proposed is a lot more than a quick visit in which children can be invited to show a complete stranger all they know.

I will be saying NO to visits for this reason alone, quite apart from the fact that my children don't want them either, don't believe they will derive anything of benefit from it, and it would be wrong of me not to listen to them and uphold their right to privacy and freedom of association.

Go here for details about how to contact the DCSF/MPs re the review recommendations.


Lindsay said...

My 5 year old tells all and sundry that he's home educated and when they ask what he learns he says "Nothing". And that's because he's already managed to absorb society's view that learning happens sat down at a desk with an adult lecturing at the front. And yet he actually knows lots and lots of things.

Anonymous said...

When did learning "nothing" become a crime?

Sometimes you don't want to learn, you're just too tired or hot or bored or need the toilet.

It's all so tiring, overheated and boring, and should be flushed down the toilet.

Have blogged about an inspector speaking to a child a few blogs back.

Anonymous said...

My two reguarly answer nothing when asked what they do all day. My older son also used to say the same when asked what he had done at school all day.

moley said...

LOL Denise.

Mine used to say the same after a day at school - although then it was probably true.

I wonder why it is that Ofsted don't interview the children during school inspections?

Possibly because they have no respect for 'children's rights' but it could also be that a lot of kids, when put on the spot by strangers, are unable to articulate their thoughts very well.

Anonymous said...

my kids who are in school by choice (most of the time!)aren't made to speak to inspectors alone. Our eldest did meet them as a group once and really enjoyed pointing out hypocrisy of a healthy eating policy and staff
sending out for chips, eating chocolate and never eating school dinners with the kids, 'If it's not good enough for them why is it good enough for us?'

I do hope the review recommendations will be successfully challenged in the courts. Home edding again is always an option for us but it'll look much less of a true alternative to school if these recommendations are adopted which is perhaps the plan. very depressing

Joy said...

Never mind the bureaucrats, I get this sort of crapola from my own sister who firmly believes that the only way to prove any learning has been done is to have written evidence/test scores so of course I'm failing my boys big-time by autonomously educating them!!! Why is it so difficult for people to see that learning REALLY does happen all the time?!!?