15 Jun 2009

Home Education Under Threat

All of us who home educate our children in the UK will already know about the Badman review of home education in the UK (PDF link).

I am shocked and very concerned by the review and the recommendations (summarised here). It is low on evidence and high on speculation. There is so much in this document to object to. I can only mention a few of the problem areas in this post.

These recommendations seem to be designed to end the right of children to receive the personally optimised education that their parents can deliver at home. Duncan's learning style will not be accommodated if this becomes law as I will have to drastically change the way he and his siblings are educated to bring it into line with the government's particular preferred method.

Nor can I be sure that I will even be considered eligible to keep on teaching my children at home as Recommendation 23 states:
"That local authority adult services and other agencies be required to inform those charged with the monitoring and support of home education of any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents’ or carers’ ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether or not they are known to children’s social care,
on such grounds as:
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • incidents of domestic violence
  • previous offences against children
And in addition:
  • anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education."
(my emphasis)

What the heck does "anything else" mean? If an inspector doesn't like your choice of books, or how tidy your house looks (neat=repressed family, children not allowed to be creative, messy=not enough structure, children probably neglected?!)

Could the presence of an autistic child who shouts a bit be construed as too disruptive to my "normals"? Nothing would surprise me.

Like other concerned parents, I am extremely dismayed about Recommendation 7:
"The DCSF should bring forward proposals to change the current regulatory and statutory basis to ensure that in monitoring the efficiency and suitability of elective home education:
  • That designated local authority officers should:
have the right of access to the home;
have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer."
(my emphasis)

I do NOT want to allow local authority officers more rights than the police-to enter my home when there is no reason to suspect any crime or wrong doing is occurring. I will NOT allow any of these people more rights than the police-to speak to my children without myself or their father present. I do NOT trust them to speak to my typically developing children alone, never mind my autistic son. They claim that children like Duncan would have a "trusted person" with them, but it's not explained whether this is someone he and I trust, or someone they trust.

I utterly reject the calls among some commentators in the media, to accept the draconian measures of registration, inspection and alteration of educational philosophy because they claim, if you have nothing to hide, you have noting to fear.

This is not so. I do not invite the police to inspect my house and garage to assure them that I am not storing stolen goods or growing illegal drugs, I do not hand over my emails and phone records to prove I am not a terrorist or hacker, nor do I submit my children's meal plans to a state nutritionist to prove they are getting a balanced diet. There is a presumption of compliance with the law and my parental duties. Like all citizens, I expect that it unless the organisations charged with the important duty of providing justice and protection have good reason to suspect that I am up to no good, then I am entitled to privacy and a presumption of being law abiding.

Although one of the reasons the review had been ordered by the Secretary of State for Children, was to "investigate suggestions that home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse," Badman had to admit in his findings that:
"8.14 With regard to other specific groups within the remit of this inquiry I can find no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriage, servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities."
Several newspapers have utterly inaccurately produced headlines proclaiming that children like mine and those of my many home-educating friends, are more at risk of abuse! They seem to reckon that because the review claims that "the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population" that this correlates to more home educated children suffering abuse or neglect. In reality, as the report also admits, they do not have accurate figures for what percentage of home educated children are in touch with social services. But in any case, there appear to be more cases of Special Educational Needs among the home educating population than average and many of these people are, like my own family, known to social services because of a child's disability. There are many entirely innocent reasons why families may be known to the social services (disabled parent, malicious reporting of children "making noise in the garden when they're supposed to be at school" etc.) and it is a shocking slur to imply that this implies some wrong doing among such families.

What is dangerous to all those children in the UK who are harmed by their carers, whether they are at school or not, is the divergence of scarce resources into looking for non existent problems among a subset of the country's population. It is well known that there are not enough resources to properly meet the needs of all the children who really do need help to deal with threatening situations. As a poster on an email list expressed it, putting all home educators under suspicion merely because they make the legitimate choice to have their children learn without school does not help those charged with ensuring child protection. It only increases the size of the haystack.

Finally (for now) I draw attention to Recommendation 18:
"That the DCSF should reinforce in guidance to local authorities the requirement to exercise their statutory duty to assure themselves that education is suitable and meets the child’s special educational needs. They should regard the move to home education as a trigger to conduct a review and satisfy themselves that the potentially changed complexity of education provided at home, still constitutes a suitable education. The statement should then be revised accordingly to set out that the parent has made their own arrangements under section 7 of the Education Act 1996."
I may not be interpreting this correctly, but it seems to me to say that the Statement that was until now, only enforceable in the school setting, must now be enforced at home also. Therefore, whatever recommendations the education authorities employees make, must be adopted by the parents no matter whether they tie in with their own priorities and preferences and what they think is best for their child. This is a just another worrying development.

I can only hope that despite our many differences in approach and ideology, we home educating families will be able to pull together to stop these awful recommendations becoming law. It will not be easy.


Jax said...

hear hear. There's a lot going on already to mobilise ppl against the review, am hoping that we're going to see plenty of publicity continuing as we fight against this review/ consultation.

Sharon McDaid said...

I'm grateful to all those who have been slogging away at this for ages already. But the rest of us (like me) need to step up now and see what we can do too.

bullet said...

This concerns me as well and I don't home educate. And as others have pointed out, if you're going to talk about suspected abuse cases with home education, then what about for under five year olds? Why not demand that all children who don't attend nursery or playgroup register, just to make sure they're not being abused? Which I will stress I would strongly disagree with.
Those who undertake home education in a similar style to most schools (eg structured lessons and tests) will probably find it easier to gain the authorities' acceptance than those who undertake autonomous education.

Heike Fabig said...

You know, we've had one very sad case recently in Australia here of a father who used home education as an excuse not to let his kids out while he abused them. One case. The majority of child abuse cases involve kids going to school. Sounds like a load of cow dust to me! Sure you'll fight the good fight (yet again!) and won't swallow this nonsense. Strengh and best wishes from the antipodies!

Sharon McDaid said...

@bullet, exactly! Are they going to start to check on younger children and even children who do go to school in the long summer holidays? It's stupid.

Agree too about autonomous education. Duncan learns best at home implicitly through his surroundings. His preferred learning style would not be supported if these plans are made law.

It's a concern for parents who choose school now but are reassured by having the option of home education available if it ever seems to be needed.

@Heike, this review is supposed to be about child protection and education standards. But there are already measures in place to look after both of these. I also think it is very wrong to mix the 2 up.
Thanks for your good wishes.

Gonzo said...

Um, I'm so not getting this:
"* alcohol or drug abuse
* incidents of domestic violence
* previous offences against children"
This amounts to an inappropriate learning environment for children, but it's okay for kids to live under such conditions, as long as they go to a school in the daytime?

Sharon McDaid said...

@Gonzo, you're quite right. They are saying that so long as a child spends a few hours at school, it's OK if there are some problems in the home. Amazingly the review points out the German law from the 30's banning home education. I didn't think they'd really want to compare themselves to Nazis.