Thursday, September 20, 2012

What's Wrong with S7?

OK, so what is wrong with the s7 of the 1996 Education Act?  It has long been held, not least by plenty of home educators, that there is nothing that can be done to improve upon it, but what with the Welsh Consultation and all its questions about the nature of suitability, well it set me wondering - perhaps it is the perfect moment to point out that there are, despite received wisdoms to the contrary, some problems with the ambiguous way in which s7 is written.

The thing is,  "causing a child to receive a suitable eduation " is very easily misunderstood by local authorities (amongst others) to mean that the child must have grown knowledge and not simply that a parent has offered a suitable education.  Since the 2006 Education and Inspections Act which gives LAs a duty to identify children not in receipt of an education , LAs have got all moithered and have often assumed that s7 , 437  and 436a mean that they must check up to see that a child has grown knowledge.

Anecdotally, my impression is that more and more LAs have been asking to see the child's work in order to satisfy themselves that the child has grown knowledge and that the parent has therefore, in the eyes of a mistaken LA, fulfilled the parental duty to cause a child to receive a suitable education.

eg:  Stoke, whose policy explicitly states:

"During this visit the Education at home monitoring officer will make every effort to ensure that the child is seen. It is not required that the National Curriculum is followed but during the visit parents will be asked to allow  the Education at home monitoring officer access to the child’s work ...."

LAs round this way already often ask to see evidence of a child's work, and indeed mostly prefer to do so and if they are given a remit to register and de facto (as they threaten in Wales) to monitor and licence HEors, the likelihood of this behaviour only looks set to increase.

What''s the problem with that, you might well ask? 

Well, one of the problems is that this interpretation of the law doesn't reflect reality.   Since parents cannot pour knowledge into the heads of their children as you would pour water into a bucket,  LAs are asking parents to fulfill a duty over which they have no control.  A parent may offer theories, but the child is responsible for his own growth of knowledge.  So if LAs interpret "causing a child to receive an education" as meaning that the child must grow knowledge, parents are being held to account for a duty that they do not have the power to fulfill.

So what should be done?  We could try to ask for s7 to be re-written, not least so that LAs are off the hook somewhat, since if HE parents are to be held to a higher account than other parents under the law, we could rightfully have some sort of grievance against them for discriminatory application of the law.  We would ask for it to be made explicit that s7 is only about the parental duty to offer a suitable education and not about whether the child grew knowledge or not.

Ok so this is unlikely so what else could be done? Since that Leighton Andrews is obviously unhappy with the current definitions of a suitable education, it might be easier to correct the epistemology by defining the nature of "suitable".  If Leighton Andrews wants to do this in any meaningful and non-tyrannical way, the best he can do is reflect the reality of the growth of knowledge, ie: he should explain that a suitable education means that a parent has "offered theories" to their child.   

There.  That should be it.  To define suitability any further would be to have education by state diktat and come on, we are BRITISH.  We have refused to be told what to do by the ptb since the Peasants' Revolt and we should not let go of such a habit since it has made Britain one of the freest, most successful countries in the world.  Being able to critique, have a new perspective, be rational and creative, these things can only happen when people can think for themselves and we should welcome and encourage such diversity. 

Let's sock it to them, home educators.  It is important since we appear to be some of the very few people in the land who actually understand the true nature of the growth of knowledge and the value inherent in non-coercion (ie: being free to enact the active theories in the mind).  Fill in the Welsh consultation form and explain that the law should very clearly and explicitly reflect reality, in other words, that autonomous education must be written in law, for people ONLY EVER LEARN when they are able to enact the theories that are active in their minds.  One way to do this would be to define suitable ie: that parents offer theories to their children.  It would be right for parents to have such a duty for they should offer their best, tentative theories to their children, since to neglect their child would be to cause coercion. 


Allie said...

I have been wondering recently if LAs are actually primarily concerned with a child's development of skills, rather than knowledge. This would explain their desire to 'see work' since, as we all know, 'written work' doesn't necessarily display actual knowledge. What it does (or can) show is competence in a skill - probably writing. Sometimes I feel that there's an awful lot of tip-toeing around between home edders and LAs. If they'd say what they were really bothered about it might be easier to have a real discussion.

Fiona Nicholson said...

Sorry but I simply don't understand the stuff about "growing knowledge."

The law does not require parents to demonstrate that the child has made progress.

"Growing" implies to me that something has...increased...which would require a comparison between size at points A and B.

Suitable is defined in law as suitable to age ability aptitude and special needs.

This does NOT need to change.

The Welsh Assembly Government has said it wishes to consult separately on what is meant by "suitable education" for home educators. I am utterly and implacably opposed to this undermining of section 7, and think that way madness lies.

Perhaps I don't understand what is meant by "defining the nature of "suitable" but it appears to endorse revisiting section 7.

I have been to Wales a couple of times this week and have put information about the Welsh situation on my website

Carlotta said...

Hi F,

I think s7 as it stands is deliberately ambiguous, and that "cause a child to receive a suitable ed" is frequently taken (by LAs) to mean that the child must demonstrate the growth of knowledge.

It is the ambiguity which I would somehow like cleared as I think this does cause an awful lot of problems. Whether this is done by rewriting s7 along the lines of "parents have a duty to offer their children an education that is suited to their age, ability and aptitude" which I think would be the most sensible (if unlikely) thing, or whether we could just jump on the Welsh urge to define suitable so as to make this whole thing less ambiguous, I just don't know.

Carlotta said...

Hi Allie,

Skills, knowledge, I don't think LAs should be asking for evidence of anything by way of outcomes for the child. If parents must be held accountable in law, it should only be for having offered a suitable ed, but increasingly I seem to be hearing that this is not the case.

Fiona Nicholson said...

Hi C

I am very surprised and somewhat alarmed to read your views.

I don't think that there is an ambiguity in section 7 and categorically don't think we should meddle with section 7.

Nor do I think anyone should have any truck whatsoever with the Welsh Government attempts to define suitable education.

Barrister Ian Dowty has said that section 7 cannot be bettered. I agree with him.

The fact that some people don't understand a law is not a reason to change that law.

Carlotta said...

I tend to think it would be a shame to tinker with suitability too, actually F...only really started to consider this on account of the fact that WAG seem determined to consider it and wondered if we could correct the mistakes in interpretation of the law by LAs through clarifying the suitability bit to make it clearer...but actually it would be better I really do think to change the "cause to receive " as this is not a good phrase as it can be so easily misinterpreted by LAs for their own nefarious purposes and it could so easily be put right with absolutely no negative consequences as far as I can (so far) imagine. It would I envisage, result in far fewer abuses of the law by LAs.