Towards the end of 2014, members of the West Midlands Elective Home Education Forum which was headed up by Jenny Dodd of Staffordshire LA, put together a critique of the 2007 Elective Home Education Legal Guidelines (EHELG) which they forwarded to Stephen Bishop, the contact for Home Education within the Department for Education.
This has been ably fisked by Rambling Violets, and thank goodness for that as there are plenty of problems with the West Midland Forum's take. There is little point rehashing Rambling Violet's arguments in full, but I would just like to pick out what seem to me to be a few of the most salient points and elaborate a little.
With regard to the voice of the home educated child, WMF complained that:
"the voice of the child is not implicit in the guidelines".
Rambling Violet rightly suggests that this complaint is the height of hypocrisy, given that the voice of the schooled child is routinely ignored whilst the voice of the home educated child is widely respected and acted upon to a high degree and this DESPITE the existence of government guidance that dictates that schooled children do have a right to be engaged as "active participants in their education", and that there must be ways of listening to the views of pupils and/or involving them in decision-making.
It strongly suggests that it doesn't really matter what guidance and guidelines say on the matter of the voice of the child, the authorities will use it for their own purposes, and ignore it when it doesn't suit them. The authorities haven't any genuine interest in turning children into "active participants in their education". If they had, they might find that huge swathes of children prefer not be educated in schools, and would far rather pursue an entirely different path outside of school.
But HEors should not be gulled into thinking that it doesn't much matter if the voice of the child does get included in the EHELG. HEors might even think it a good idea since it might, for example, protect an HE child from being forced into school against their will. However, on balance it is far better to avoid this and for all concerned.
For HEors it is best avoided because of course the real reason why the WMF asked to hear the voice of the child is not because they are remotely interested in what the child says, let alone actually acting upon what he says. They only want it added to the guidelines so that it becomes clear that they have a remit to insist that they inspect the child. It has nothing to do with genuine well-being of the child, and everything to do with protecting their backs.
For the state it would be far better not to include this, since if the authorities are to become the ultimate arbiters of whether the voice of the child is being respected or not, they in effect appropriate a responsibility that had previously belonged to parents. The reason why it is possible to write guidance which allows for a schooling authority to respect a pupil voice is because parents have passed certain responsibilities regarding the education of their children to schooling authorities. Schooling parents therefore have, in effect, retained the role of primary responsibility in the act of passing on that responsibility. Home educating parents, on the other hand, have made no such a delegation of responsibility. In choosing to educate their own child according to age, ability and aptitude, they have not conferred any duties upon any one else with regard to the education of their children, and this would include considering the voice of the child.
IF the state really does want to take on the duty of final arbiter in the matter of listening to the voice of the child, they must accept that this is the role that they have and all the consequences that might flow from this. A parent really cannot be said to be responsible for something over which the state does not let him have the final say. So if, for example, the LA doesn't listen to the voice of the child, forces him child into school against his will perhaps, it is the state who should be held responsible and the child could rightfully sue them. The state has appropriated what was a parental responsibility and they should stand accused for any failure that resulted from not acting according to the duties they appropriated.
A very similar argument should be applied to the WMF's complaints about Part 2 of the guidelines, where they appear to become exasperated at the lack of definition of a suitable education. They say quite categorically:
"Efficient education SHOULD include a systematic approach to learning the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy."
Wow, pretty explicit, pretty dogmatic and yep, pretty darn stupid and ignorant!!
Firstly let me just tell you a little bit about our experience. My son never learnt to read in any systematic sort of a way. I had initially tried to teach him using a systematic phonics programme when he was very young but it hadn't worked at all, he retained absolutely nothing of it as far as anyone could see and he became dispirited and unhappy whenever we tried to do it, so on the advice of quite a number of autonomous home educators who had already been there and done that, I gave up with that and instead provided him with the things that actually did interest him, (mostly video games, computers, musical instruments, trampolines, climbing walls and friends). And that was all we did. Nothing even remotely resembling a systematic approach to literacy.
Aged 9, he still wasn't reading a word. By age 10, he was an adult level reader. He learnt to read by wanting to work out how to do the quests on Runescape. He did this almost entirely on his own, with only minimal help from the readers in his life. He then went on to get a 100% in his GCSE English coursework and an A grade at a sixth form college. He is also now predicted an A in his English A level. ie: there really are more than one way to manage these sorts of things. Had the local authority pitched up at our door insisting we use a systematic approach to learning the basic skills, I have little doubt it would have ruined his love of reading and writing. He did it when he was ready, to his time-table, and when it really was suited to his age, ability and aptitude.
So really, the education that the WMF would like to insist on seeing would actually cause many parents (who often have withdrawn their children from schools precisely because a systematic approach to education was NOT suited to their child's age, ability and aptitude), to fail in their duty to provide a suitable education.
But just as with the argument about the voice of the child, it should be transparent that in deciding upon the nature of a suitable education, the state would in effect be appropriating parental responsibility for the causing a child to receive such an education. Parents cannot, after all, be held responsible for something over which they are not the final arbiter.
The situation is analogous to that of a person driving a car. He is driving along happily, fully aware of his legal responsibilities as a road user, when along comes a hijacker, who jumps into the passenger seat, grabs the wheel and steers the car into a lamp-post. Who would any high court judge hold responsible for this disaster? Clearly it would be none other than the hijacker.
And so it would be in the case of the state becoming the final arbiter of the nature of a suitable education and the state will be held responsible when their chosen form of education fails a child. Parents could no longer be held responsible because they simply weren't. Children will sue the state.
As I say, there is much more of this sort of thing where this comes from, but if Jenny Dodd or anyone else in or advising the newly formed Association for Elective Home Education "Professionals" , including the NSPCC and Daniel Monk has any sense, they will need to think a little bit more carefully before they get so cavalier with the asking for various powers.
Oh and home educators everywhere, don't forget to explain to your MP what a pretty pickle LAs are hoping to create!