For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Is Cumbria LA showing BadManners?

Cumbria has for a long time been a county with a well functioning EHE (Elective Home Education) department within the LA, headed by Marie Barnes, who is both approachable and knowledgeable about EHE and alternative education. Thanks to her positive attitude and the hard work of local home educators in years gone by, the EHE department was well informed about both the legal and educational aspects of home education. Their website and leaflets held adequate legal information and referred to existing home educating networks and contact details.
It wasn't quite paradise, with still the odd occasion of door-stepping and intimidating behaviour by SS, EWO's or other insufficiently informed civil servants, but once people found their way to the EHE Department or a well informed fellow home educator, matters could be addressed and redressed.

However, things are changing. Rapidly. For all Balls' CSF Bill got drowned in the wash-up and Badman's Review made its way into history deservedly labelled as 'rushed, badly researched, disproportionate and offering little in the way of evidence to justify his recommendations', a substantial amount of damage was caused. And while we were kept busy with Badman, DCSF managed to sneak CME Guidance 2009 in - more or less creating the hole in the wall for the back door to registration. The consequences are now noticeable all through the country. Even in our beautiful and reputedly laid-back Cumbria.

Jayne Richardson, local contact for home education in Cumbria remarked: 'In the last four months I've had more complaints from home educators about ultra vires behaviour by Education Welfare Officers and CME (Children Missing Education) officers, than in the four years previous.'

And it's not going to get less. A few days ago we were informed that, following the recent spending review, Cumbria County Council have terminated the contracts of all external consultants, which means that the three well trained, experienced and mostly well liked Home Visitors of the EHE Team are out of a job. To our relief Marie Barnes is still in post, and the EHE Department remains under the remit of the School Improvement Team, rather than Education Welfare. Marie is now facing the task of quickly putting a new team together, recruiting from people currently working as School Improvement Officers. We trust she will try and choose open minded people, but we know for a fact that it takes more than a day's training to acquire a good understanding of EHE, and to appreciate the huge difference with the school system.

I have been attempting to help Jayne with the increasing amount of work coming her way as a consequence of the changing attitude, and the picture I'm getting about the current situation is rather worrying.
Here are some examples of what I've witnessed in the past five or six months:

* Home educators have been door-stepped by EWO's, in some cases accompanied by police, after a visit to A&E and/or other health care providers, where they were asked which school the child went to and had answered to be home educators. We are very concerned that the question is asked in the first place, and that it might lead to people hesitating to seek help when they need it.

* We were told that visits to new home educators are being increased, because the LA have reason to believe that schools are advising 'badly performing' students and students with attendance issues to deregister and home educate, to avoid legal procedures. Apparently some schools even assist in drawing up deregistration letters. The LA feel this issue needs to be addressed under CME Guidance. Am I the only one who thinks this problem has nothing whatsoever to do with home education, but lies entirely with the school system and should be addressed there?

* The above behaviour has a negative effect, not only on existing home educators, but especially on people who deregister to home educate because for various reasons they have decided it will provide their child(ren) with a more suitable education. In one particular case I think the decision to deregister may have saved the child's health, if not its life.

* Newly deregistering people are being told that the LA 'has to offer a visit within 14 days'. This may be their policy, but it certainly isn't required by law. It is completely ignoring the often traumatising experiences and the processes that people have gone through to come to the conclusion that deregistering and home educating is the best possible choice to make in their situation. The official excuse is that they want to offer these people the 'Home Education Package'[opens PDF] as soon as possible, to make them aware of the existing networks and contacts. I see absolutely no reason why they can't send these packages in the post.

* This 'Home Education Package' that the EWO presents newly deregistered home educators with, contains a form called 'Notification of Elective Home Education (Form HE2)' [opens PDF], which they kindly ask you to return. You have to read the enclosed leaflet to know that you are not legally required to do anything, but that it would help [the LA] considerably if you were to complete the form, or write to the Director of Children's Services instead. Everything is geared towards getting people on the books.

* We have found that in spite of an official deregistration letter, children are kept on the school roll. When asked, we were told that this was done because they didn't want people to lose their place, when after a 'cooling off' period they decided they'd made the wrong choice and wanted the child to go back to school. How patronising is that?

* The travellers' community is often brought in as a reason for employing CME Guidance. Surely we must understand that those children are missing education? I have not enough insight into the travellers' community, nor into that of Hasidic Jews or others who have ways and beliefs different to mine, to pass any judgment on them at all. But generally I'd say that they have as much right to raise and educate their children according to their own customs and values as you and I have. Or are supposed to have, anyway.

Time and again I am shocked that, rather than recognising there is something structurally wrong with the school system and considering that maybe schools are not providing suitable education, these civil servants choose to doubt the ability of parents to decide on the best suitable education for their children. And what makes them the expert on OUR children?

The biggest shock to my system, however, came when Jayne and I were invited to talk about home education at a training session for Local Authority's Children's Services Staff - most of them were EWO's, who also 'did' CME. I was taken aback by their limited knowledge about the daily practise and reality of home education. I had expected to discuss EHE legislation, but instead we were answering basic - and prejudiced - questions about socialisation, qualifications, covering the curriculum, suitability of parents as teachers, etcetera. Yes, they knew that home education was a legal option and it was the parents' responsibility to provide a suitable education, but it took some talking to convince them - if we managed at all - that home educated children were by definition NOT missing education.
Having said that, I do appreciate that we were given the chance to explain our way of life and education from our point of view. And I hope we will be able to keep the lines of communications open, because I sincerely believe that the only hope we have of solving the lack of insight and knowledge, and breaking through the barriers of prejudice, is to educate, educate and educate.

We happened to be there on the day the budget cuts were announced and the woman who ran the session explained that everybody was tense, because they weren't sure how safe their jobs were. When we were leaving she gave us some brochures and a draft document of the Council's Policy on Children Missing Education. (A document, by the way, that the previous government asked them to draw up. I haven't yet read through it thoroughly, but up to now I don't see the change in attitude towards civil liberties and freedom that we were promised under the coalition, reflected.) Apart from announcing that we were probably not going to like what we read in there, she also commented: 'At least CME keeps us in work.'

That last statement brought home the reality of the situation home educators are facing, not only in Cumbria, but throughout the whole of England. The Civil Service, expanded to monstrous proportions under NuLabour, is undergoing huge cuts and trim-backs from the current government. So are quango's, such as NSPCC and other institutions who, horribly, exist because of cruelty and abuse of children. If they want to survive, they will have to prove their right to existence. For that, they will have to achieve, produce numbers, be seen to act.

At a meeting with the EHE department and the Strategic Development Officer CME last June, we were presented with statistics showing a huge increase in numbers of Cumbrian home educated children 'known to Social Services'. To this day we haven't received the requested clarification and specification of the numbers, but I hazard a guess that these were very 'Badmannered' stats. They'll have included, for instance, children with special (educational) needs, who've applied for certain services, or families who've been involved with Social Services for other reasons than child welfare issues. Also, if in a family with four children one is known because of special needs, there will automatically be four ticks in boxes.
'Known to Social Services' most definitely does not equal 'At Risk'.

I'm sure quite a few people in Children's Services are personally nice people, and some of them even have the best intentions. Or think they have the best of intentions. Because how very badly informed are they to justify the existence of CME by saying, as one of them did (echoing the likes of Graham Badman): 'You must agree that as long as it saves one child, it is worth it, isn't it?'

No, I don't agree. Not at all. Because I know for a fact that while you're out trying to save your job and looking for that one child to save, you're damaging and possibly destroying the life of many, many others - and their families.

And do you, professionals, really need me to point out that as a matter of fact there are sufficient mechanisms in, for example, the Children Act, for Social Services to get involved if there are grounds for concern.
And while we're pointing fingers, I'm assuming you know that the inquiries into high profile cases such as Climbie, Ishaq and Spry found that there definitely were plenty of grounds for concern – as well as full access given to the children for any professional who asked for it. So much for the theory that 'official visits prevent abuse'. In all cases it was found that the officers in question had enough information to take sufficient preventative action under the law as it stood then, but chose not to take it.

So excuse me, while I dive into the mess that is English legislation surrounding education - and specifically home education. Excuse me, while I talk to my MP and other politicians to point out that in exercising the current legislation not only money, but quality of life and possibly life itself is being wasted. Excuse me, if I don't sit around waiting for others to try and secure themselves a living, whatever side of the fence they're on. Excuse me if I don't read or listen to endless ramblings that distract from the main issue, which is:

The urgent need to secure the freedom to home educate.

And as long as we provide our children with an education suitable to age, ability and aptitude and all special educational needs they may have - and as long as there is an 'absence of due concern' - we want to get on with it, without state interference.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

About passion and politics - an answer to Graham Stuart's comment

Graham Stuart commented on my previous post:
Really good piece and thank you for your kind words. In my defence I didn't criticise emotion I just suggested that Neil's letter had more emotion than insight. It was passionate and angry, which is fine, but seemed (to me) to allow that to obscure the need to fight off the immediate threat from Balls' plans.

Perhaps on a separate note I think we do have a functioning democracy which we should treasure and appreciate especially as so many others are subject to oppression and lack what we should hold dear. Of course it's not perfect but non-participation starves our democracy of what it most needs which is more good, honest people who will ensure that we remain a humane and decent society that can respect minorities including home educators.
My response to that comment was so long, that I thought I'd better blog it as a separate post:

Graham, I realise you weren't directly criticising emotions, the mentioning of them just triggered something in me. "Being emotional" has been used against home educators by e.g. Badman, Baroness Deech, Coaker, and others.
Good that you mention passion. That's what I recognise in you. Passion is what drives me and it's the reason why a lot of home educators can do what they do, in spite of all attempts to stop us.
Passion and good old fashioned raw anger are a healthy breeding ground for creativity, for constructive development. I recognise the passion with which you want to make sure Balls et al don't return to office, and I applaud it and would not want to obscure or stand in the way of that. I think you do what you do - being a politician - with a passion and I wouldn't dream of telling you to stop doing it, or even to do it differently.

I didn't sign the petition at the time. My signature - much the same as my vote - represents me, and me is all I've got to give. So I don't give it easily, and certainly not thoughtlessly. I very much believe in living in the moment and I try as much as possible to stay away from "what if" discussions. At the time of the petition I was left with too many questions and doubts. Also, I was - and I still am - of the opinion that politics is not the only answer to problems. So my decision at the time was to not sign. I still think that was the right decision to make, at the time. But I also think the petition was a massive success and raised a lot of awareness about EHE amongst politicians. I can live with the fact that I am not always (*wink*) contributing to the good and successful things in society, in life.

At this moment I do - contrary to you - not see a functioning democracy. I of course base this on my own, limited, knowledge and observations. And it has everything to do with what I hold dear, such as mutual respect for people's uniqueness and autonomy, equality, compassionate care for each other and the world we live in, freedom of choice, freedom of education, freedom of religion, etcetera.
This to my mind incredible process of the "wash up" denies and ridicules all principles of democracy. It would of course be wonderful if the CSF Bill disappears in the wash up, but it will have disappeared for the wrong reasons, not as the result of a fair democratic process. And who knows, maybe it goes through, or partly goes through. I have my suspicions there. At the same time things might go through that shouldn't go through.
And can you explain to me what is democratic about "whipping"? Or about MP's who have their party membership suspended, but are still expected to show up for whipped votes? What about a review or a consultation of which the results are either ignored or purposefully twisted and used for a predetermined outcome?
These are just a few things and I could go on for a while. But even on the basis of what I've experienced in this whole EHE affair alone in the past year, my conclusion is that democracy is a farce in this country, at this time.

Yes, I agree. There are countries where people are oppressed and have no rights at all. But at least the regimes in those countries don't pretend to be democratic. And whereas I would like for everyone to have those basic rights and freedoms I was talking about before, I would never see the fact that other people don't have them as a reason not to stand up for my own.

Also, I do not consider what I do - and what Neil does - as non-participation. On the contrary. Wouldn't Balls et all be delighted if we would really non-participate? I would consider myself to non-participate if I would do what others tell me to do, without questioning why, without awareness of their or my own motives, without consulting my own conscience.

The Dutch Prince Royal, Willem Alexander, recently said in an interview that he raises his children to not only ask questions, but to always be mindful and critical of the answers and never stop asking questions until the answer truly satisfies you. I like that. I have tried to raise my own children in a similar manner. And I am trying to live in that way.

My biggest question to politicians in this country at the moment is:
Give me one reason why I should trust you to make decisions about me, my family and all the people and principles I hold dear.

I have not yet had a satisfactory answer.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So, what's wrong with emotions?

I was genuinely surprised by the starting lines of Graham Stuart's initial response to Neil Taylor-Moore's open letter, where he said "it may contain more emotion than insight".

Watching him argue the EHE case in both the SC and the House of Commons, I've often thought how he stood out from many of his fellow MP's, and especially the likes of Ed Balls, Diana Johnson etcetera. I have my own private little conspiracy theory about the latter ones, as I am convinced they are not born from human parents, but produced in a secret robot factory, where they were fitted with a rather limited text programme and NLP-based software to direct their body language and facial expressions. Their manufacturers have made sure these replica human beings know how to manipulate human emotions - specifically fear - but lack any ability to feel or process them. Ears obviously had to be installed, but can only be made to listen with very specific plug-ins - not available to the general public.

But I digress.

Watching and listening to Graham, I felt he had actually listened to the people who were subjected to this whole terrible Badman and CSF-Bill exercise, and it seemed to have touched not only his common sense, but also his heart - yes, his emotions.

What is this issue with emotions, anyway? Why is it that whenever people respond against a political or strategic decision, it is dismissed as emotive, emotional - and immediately associated with hysterical, unreasonable and therefore invalid. Emotions are what make us human, aren't they? What is wrong with emotions being part of the equation when making choices or decisions? Or when responding to measures and legislations forced upon us?

It's not as if politicians and their strategists are not aware of the importance of emotions. After all, fear is a very powerful emotion and it is often appealed to in order to get certain policies implied. Need I explain how people are being persuaded to surrender their liberties and personal freedom out of fear for "terrorism" or "global warming", both apparently threatening to destroy our society and our planet?

Recently, I have been reading about what happens when people are being trained to overcome and/or ignore their emotions and their intuition. Their primal human nature. When I expressed my shock and horror about a documentary on French television someone pointed me towards the Stanford Prison Experiment. It is appalling to think what kind of a world we would live in if we did not carefully balance fact based rationalism with emotion and intuition.

I personally think Neil's letter is well balanced, and as a whole provides a healthy balance to the de-humanized and target-driven scenario played out by the government and, I'm sorry to say, the majority of parliament. The way I see it, politicians - for all their undoubtedly honourable initial intentions - are caught up in the Westminster Experiment and have lost, or are at risk of losing touch with reality and real living human beings, complete with feelings, emotions and intuitions.

Depending on what you want the eventual outcome to be, one has to make a choice of conscience, I think. To acknowledge emotions as an essential part of every individual human being and to engage with that would probably require a more intense and probably difficult investment of time and energy. But in my humble opinion it would be constructive and creative, and would - in the long run - lead to a more humane society, with room for individuality and personal freedom.

To ignore and deny emotions would necessitate a de-humanized system to control and suppress basic human nature, with no room for individuality, let alone personal freedom. It would - even in the short term - lead to an utterly regulated society. But by its very nature it would lack creativity, a main ingredient for constructive development, and therefore such a society would - in the long run - be self-destructive.

I am no scientist and I have no other foundation for the above than my personal views and observations, my own life experience and that of the many people I've met, shared and exchanged views with in my life, the many books and articles I've read. I am not very good at reproducing facts, but that doesn't mean they haven't influenced my thinking. I do know who I am, though. And I do know what I value in life, and what I would like to share with my children. True emotions are a large part of that, love the major and most sustaining one.

I will not be tempted into devaluing or excusing my emotions. They are as much part of me as the remainder of my functioning rational brain, and I trust both equally. I will continue to endeavour to keep the two healthily sustained and balanced.

I truly appreciate Graham Stuart's efforts to keep communications going with people within the EHE community. From what I've seen up to now he is willing and able to process feedback and integrate it in his work as an MP and a member of the SC and the APPG. Based on what he has said in public so far, I have no reason to doubt his sincerity.

How and if I would vote if I could (I can't, because even though I live and pay taxes in this country, and my life and family are directly subjected to and affected by its laws and regulations, I am still a Dutch citizen and as such not allowed to vote in the UK) I really don't know. I wouldn't vote Labour, that's for sure. I couldn't vote LibDem, because of their insistence on compulsory registration for home educators. I suppose if Graham Stuart was my MP, I might vote for him, but it would be a purely emotional vote. So Graham might reconsider the value of emotional arguments ;).

Rationally and tactically, I might be inclined to vote Conservative, because I do believe that they will ditch the CSF Bill and I also believe they would not want to spend budget on regulating EHE.

Emotionally and out of principle, I would spoil my vote, and if that would mean another Labour government and their dreaded totalitarian regime, I would welcome, support and participate in revolution and civil disobedience.

But adding it all up, and in all rational and emotional fairness, my trust and belief in British democracy as a whole is non-existent. By voting for any of the existing political parties I would condone and lend support to a system that has been utterly corrupted and has lost all resemblance to democracy.

In the Netherlands, I wasn't prepared to go for the "would you like one leg broken or two" option, and I fought my own small scale revolution by taking on the authorities in a court case. I won, and we moved to the UK, where the law already recognized home education as an expression of basic civil liberties, of which the freedom for parents to choose how to educate their children is a very important one.

The fact that my children are now at an age where they could not possibly be forced into any kind of education not of their choice, does not mean that I will quietly stand by and let our basic freedoms be squashed. I will not quietly stand by when I see humanity taken out of society. For myself, my children and theirs, I will speak up, stand up and - if needed - fight. Again and again.

Because we're worth it :).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The ET Syndrome and Neil TM

I wonder if other home educators on occasion also get the feeling that we are some kind of interesting phenomenon, observed and discussed by all and sundry and Lords and Ladies and politicians, who'd preferably keep us in zoo-like places, to be monitored, researched and - of course - controlled.

When I read this announcement from the University of Birmingham I suddenly understood how poor ET must have felt.
Only, home educators are NOT aliens and we are NOT some rare species on the brink of extinction, however disappointing that may be to Ed Fabian Balls and brethren. We are proper human beings, alive and thriving - in spite of all the efforts the abovementioned liberty and free-thought hating elements are making to try and get rid of us. And they are pulling out all the whips and plugs, throwing overboard every last bit of common decency and scruples, in order to achieve their evil goals.
Rather than wait what the University of Birmingham would conclude from their research into the "suitability" and "efficiency" of our lives, Neil Taylor-Moore wrote to them, offering them his opinion and a chance to actually include the knowledge of real life and still relatively free home educators into their review.
Here's his letter:


I don't know you, and you don't know me, but you have decided to make me and what I do your subject for discussion. I am a home educator.
I and my children are sovereign beings, and not someone else's "human resources" to be managed, or for that matter discussed, unless we present some problem to the rest of society, which we do not. We have no interest whatsoever in your opinions of that which in all probability you have no experience, and even less in your debating the meaning of suitable and efficient, with which there has been little problem in this context for the past 61 years.
Case law has established the meaning of those terms that originated in the 1944 Education Act, and there is no problem with that requiring any debate by academics or anybody else. In fact it is hard to see that this exercise is anything other than a Badman, so called "review" inspired determination to interfere with the established common law meanings of those terms, generalisations which, precisely by avoiding being rigidly specified by inevitably bogus criteria, preserve essential liberty, as indeed does the 1996 Education Act, s437, which alone enshrines the LEA duty towards those electing to educate their children otherwise than in school.
Frederic Bastiat, in "The Law", recognised that the business of the law is to prevent injustice, not to ensure justice. Law, he said, should therefore be negative. That is what s437 of the 1996 Education Act is.
It tasks the LEA, not with "ensuring" "suitable" education, it gives it a duty towards the home educated, *only* "if it appears that a child..... is *not* receiving... suitable" education. This distinction is crucial because upon it hinges the preservation or destruction of essential liberty. In this negative context of only acting if there is an appearance of neglect or failure of s7 duty, discussions about the meaning to be applied to suitable and efficient, are necessarily irrelevant. It only makes sense to define them further than their common usage meaning if the LEA duty is an ensuring one, through some regime of inspection. But it is not, and there is no statutory provision for such.
That it is not, is part of the content of the meaning of a "free country" that my parents' generation were sacrificing their lives to defend in the penultimate year of WW2, when these words were first drafted into statute.
It is as it should be, preserving the presumption of innocence, and empowering the authorities to interfere in private family life only if "it appears" that something is wrong, and there maybe default of a parent's s7 duty. It does not prescribe.
It really is that simple, and that right, if you are prepared to forgive the 1870 transgression and insult to human nature of making education compulsory, and compounding the insult by pretending school, not just education is compulsory ever since, in order to hide the law. Why was school not made legally compulsory? - force of public opposition to such a measure prevented the government from getting its way, so it lied about it ever since, coining the phrase "compulsory school age", instead of "compulsory education age", which would have been the truth. This was the same opposition which can neither tolerate education "otherwise" from being defined, controlled, inspected, licensed and denied by a state hostile to our precious liberty, no less now than then.
Not until this past year have I ever in my life felt so colonised, nor the lives of my prospective grandchildren so threatened as I do now by a seemingly endless stream of rent seekers recognising a fresh feast when they see one. It's a horrible feeling. It is the experience of tyranny, where once there was freedom. This year has been open season on home educators, and everyone has an opinion as to what should be done with us.
Teachers unions, academics, government, children's charities and social engineers of all descriptions, and all with one thing in common, a complete lack of experience and total ignorance of what we do, but bristling with their own prejudices which have been invariably grossly misinformed by the education establishment, which has a natural tendency to feel entitled to own anything and everything that comes under the umbrella of "education".
I realise that this communication might seem offensive to some, but I would ask you to have the humility and decency to recognise the scale of the threat currently facing the family and everyone's historic liberty to raise our children as we see fit, within the existing constraints whereby the state may be called upon as parent of last resort only, in cases of irremediable parental default, or worse.
There is no "problem of home education". No problem has been demonstrated, but much slander and invention by a hostile state education establishment with clear totalitarian ambitions has been heaped on us.
Why discuss the meaning of suitable and efficient, as opposed to discussing, say, "Freedom in education"? But really, why discuss that which has nothing to do with you whatsoever, at all? You are talking about us behind our backs, and that's not nice. Is your discussion without reference to us intended to inform policy making, which is also made relentlessly without reference to us, except in so far as it is to make a pretence of consultation, and then adopt the prior plan A in its entirety anyway?
This is what we have already been subjected to, but despotism has always needed intellectual mercenaries to dress up its tyranny in order to make it appear respectable. I am sorry, but that really is the only word to accurately describe what is going on here, whether you are aware of it or not.
Please don't fall for this abuse of your talents by power. Think instead how you might help us defend pluralism and liberty for everyone, and roll back this slide into totalitarianism that we are already embarked upon. Leave suitable and efficient, and those who are lawfully entitled to reject the state's model of education, alone.


Neil Taylor,
home educator to three no longer so called school age children, and someone who has been privileged to see the difference that can make, and which explains why I said earlier that I have never felt so colonised in my life before. That is part of the hidden curriculum of compulsion schooling, to prevent you from noticing your own colonisation by its very ubiquity. Nobody is intended to escape it, and that is how any other possible perspective is prevented. Home educators disturb state compulsion schooling's absolutism, and the system needs absolutism in order to prevent the truth about who we really are - and what we are capable of, if unmolested - falling into too many hands, and giving the lie to so many underpinning wrong beliefs of the system.
And that is really what all this Children Schools and Families Bill and the bad man "review" is about, and why Birmingham University has been co-opted into this scam to dress it up in respectable academic garb.
Please have more respect for yourselves as well as us, than this.
I would be pleased for this short plea to be read out at the start of this conference, and if it is I would be pleased to hear from anyone involved.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Child Abuse, WMD, football coaches and butchers

The Select Committee of Children, Schools and Families have published the submissions made to them as memoranda here

Below is mine (no. 122)


SUBJECT: Elective Home Education Inquiry

1. Introduction of yet another home educator

2. The scope of the terms of reference for the Review; child abuse and WMD

3. The constitution of the Review Team, football coaches and butchers

4. Tampering with, and manipulative changes to questions and text, invalidating the whole review
4.1 The 6 questions
4.2 The 60 questions
4.3 Question number 6 / a.k.a. number 7

5. More spinning and twisting...
5.1 Recommendation 7, What Badman says and what Balls wants
5.2 Submission from the Church of England, the whole story

6. Independent and unbiased, out of the question

7. Conclusions

Dear Members of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee,

Thank you for your invitation to submit evidence regarding the Review of Elective Home Education and the resulting Report and Recommendations.

1- Introduction of yet another home educator

I am a home educating parent, not a lawyer, not a politician and English isn't my first language, so writing a submission to your Committee is quite a challenge. Of my three - home educated - children, two are already over 18 (both in employment and continued education) and the youngest is making her way to university, so at first sight there is no personal necessity for me to testify. But the reality is that I live in this country and it is most likely that my future grandchildren will live here, too. Therefore I feel it's my duty to speak out and provide what evidence I can about the way the Review was conducted and the Report was put together, and about the possible impact of the Recommendations and the licensing scheme that would result from it.

I hope you will excuse me for mistakes in language, and for not being all scientific and providing you with the results of in-depth research; I do not have the means, nor the time, nor the knowledge for that.

2- The scope of the terms of reference for the Review; child abuse and WMD

I have never had a problem with openly discussing the prejudices people quite often hold about our elected way of learning. But Baroness Morgan gave the prejudice a whole new angle when she commissioned the Review to Graham Badman and explained in the media that one of Mr Badman's tasks would be to identify what evidence there was that home education was possibly used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. Established within our own community as we are, the statement and review have raised quite a few unbelieving eyebrows and critical questions with people who know us, but beyond our own community we - and home educators in general - are often subjected to the 'no smoke without fire' attitude. It is a known fact that this kind of information, when coming from a figure of authority through the national media, is often perceived as truthful by the general public. It is also a fact that Mr Badman found as little evidence of child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect amongst home educators as Lord Butler found of WMD in Iraq. I won't go as far as comparing the consequences of these two Reviews, but I will state that our family and a huge number of home educators feel that they are being attacked on false allegations.

Under the pretext of welfare issues this is yet another attempt to get a government controlled grip on the completely legal educational choice of a minority group.

3- The constitution of the Review Team, football coaches and butchers

A majority of home educators have inside knowledge and experience of the school system and for quite a few of us that is actually the reason to home educate. Others choose to home educate because there are no schools that provide the kind of education they prefer. Whatever the reason to home educate, it is safe to assume that knowledge about the school system was part of the equation.

Elective home education is a form of education suitable to age, aptitude and ability and to any special needs (a) child(ren) might have, provided otherwise than by a school. It covers a rainbow of diversity in methods, from very structured and curriculum following school at home to child led and autonomous education.

Of the twelve members of the Review Team only one showed insight in the nature of Elective Home Education, none of the others had any actual experience of it, nor have they displayed any knowledge of the nature or workings of current legislation regarding EHE.

The leader of the review himself has knowledge and experience only of education within the school system and is the former Managing Director of Children, Families and Education in Kent, a county with a history of ultra vires practices towards and bad relations with home educators.

Although he's an extremely capable sportsman, nobody would ask Sir Alex Ferguson to judge the finals of the Olympic Figure Skating and nobody would expect a butcher to advice a vegetarian on what to eat.

Mr Badman and the members of the Review Team may all be experts in their own field, but none of them has the qualifications or background to (help) produce an expert report on Elective Home Education and the remit of the Review doesn't allow enough time to gather the required background information, research results and statistics. This has been made even more obvious by Mr Badman himself, who at the very last moment has asked Local Authorities for more information to back up his already written and accepted Recommendations.

4- Tampering with, and manipulative changes to questions and text, invalidating the whole review

4.1 The 6 questions put to home educators and private people were leading, if not manipulative. In spite of that 1600 home educating parents and children (and not 2000 as Mr Balls suggests in his letter of acceptance) managed to put their views across, which resulted in 80% of the in total 2000 respondents stating they were happy with the status quo . Although this outcome was mentioned in the report, it was most certainly not reflected in the recommendations or in the current consultation.

4.2 In sharp contrast to the above, the Local Authorities had 60 questions to answer, although there seemed to be another questionnaire going around, too. Although anybody could answer the 6 questions in the public consultation, the 60 questions were reserved for LA's only. One would expect an independent reviewer to listen equally to both sides and give both sides equal opportunities for input.

4.3 A most disturbing thing happened to the last question of the short consultation. When it was presented to the public as question number 6, it read: Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not happen? (my emphasis). The official analysis of the consultation questions shows a similar phrasing ;

However: In the Report to the Secretary of State, Annex C , question 6 of the consultation, now referred to as question 7 of the public call for evidence, reads:

Some people have expressed concern that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect. What do you think Government should do to ensure this cannot happen again? (my emphasis).

Two important changes:

1) The 'consultation questions' became a 'public call for evidence', and

2) The different phrasing changes the meaning of the question about possible preventive policy change to policy that would deal with existing abuse.

In my opinion this alone renders not only the consultation and the conclusions drawn from it, but also the whole review, invalid. As I, here below, and undoubtedly others in their submissions, will point out to you there are many more reasons to suspect that the outcome of this review was pre-determined and the recommendations drafted beforehand.

5- More spinning and twisting...

5.1 In Recommendation 7 Mr Badman wants LA personnel to 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.

Apparently, to Mr Balls this utterly disgusting form of intrusion on the life of innocent (as in: not suspected of any crime) children and their family does not go quite far enough. In the letter he wrote on the same day the Report was presented to him, he says: We agree that home educated children must be seen regularly in their education setting, on their own, or with an independent person present as appropriate [...].

So where even Mr Badman leaves room for the fact that there could be instances where it might not be appropriate to demand to speak to a child alone, Mr Balls states that all home educated children must be seen on their own, as a rule. And the 'trusted' person that Mr Badman suggests should accompany the child if deemed appropriate, has become merely an 'independent' person in Mr Balls view.

5.2 In Chapter 4 - Elective Home Education in Context; the Views of Home Educators and Others - Mr Badman writes:

And the Education Division of the Church of England states its concern:
“that children and young people not in formal education are missing the benefits and challenges of learning in community with their peers. Children who do not go to school may not experience the social and cultural diversity encountered there; they will not learn how to deal with the rough and tumble of everyday life; they may never meet people with different faith and value systems. All such encounters, even the difficult or painful ones are enriching. We are concerned not only with the five Every Child Matters outcomes, but also with the spiritual well-being of all children and young people. Spiritual well-being arises not only from being cared for in a loving family and/or faith community, but also in encounters with people of different opinions and backgrounds; in learning to listen to a variety of opinions; to encounter diversity and the riches and life-enhancement it can bring. Spiritual well-being depends on living and taking a full part in community life. Children and young people in schools learn about and from the five major religions. This may be a difficult part of the curriculum for home educators to provide, yet it is vital for the Government’s community cohesion agenda that all children learn in a balanced way about the variety of religious values and practices, and to be encouraged to question their own beliefs and practices.”

As there is no reference to a context, to the unsuspecting reader it seems as if this is what the Church of England has to say about EHE. But the above is one out of ten points. Most other points show at least sympathy for people's choice to home educate and the concluding tenth point states:

We have seen no evidence to show that the majority of home educated children do not achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes, and are therefore not convinced of the need to change the current system of monitoring the standard of home education. Where there are particular concerns about the children in a home-educating this should be a matter for Children’s Services.

By only using point 7 Mr Badman has, in my opinion, taken part of the Submission out of its well balanced context, to give readers the impression that the Church of England is against Elective Home Education. In my opinion that can only be described as manipulative and misleading .

The fact that Mr Badman had to resort to these measures to discredit the value of EHE is more indication that he failed to find evidence to support his negative assumptions.

6- Independent and unbiased, out of the question

The Terms of Reference state: "Seek evidence on how the systems operate in practice from stakeholders, including home education groups, home educating families, local authorities and children's organisations." Yet, Mr Badman has failed to properly investigate numerous complaints by home educators about ultra vires practices of LA's, nor has notice has been taken of the more than 80% of respondents to the public questionnaire who thought current legislations was adequate and sufficient.

He has failed to properly research existing legislation and how it is being implemented by the different LA's. He has not properly researched the local authorities with good practice. I know that my own local authority, which has a very positive relationship with home educators in the county, has offered to provide examples of good practice and information about establishing a good working relationship with home educators, but that offer was not taken up by Mr Badman.

7- Conclusions

7.1 What Badman and Balls are proposing is effectively a licensing scheme for a minority of parents /carers. For these recommendations to become law without being discriminatory would require major changes to primary legislation, which would see all parents/carers requiring a license to provide the education of their choice.

7.2 There is a total disregard for the negative effects these recommendations are going to have on children and there is no mention whatsoever of a possibility to appeal to what could easily be the personal and or prejudiced opinion of an LA officer.

7.3 The way facts and figures have been manipulated, the way words and quotes have been twisted and misused, the lack of research into for instance the Scottish or the North American situation, the total lack of impartiality and the apparently immovable prejudices, all these factors together and more that I am unable to mention here as I have not had enough time to research it and not enough space to word it, make this report unreliable and untrustworthy and therefore invalid.

7.4 As there is no evidence that there are welfare issues that cannot be dealt with under current legislation, and as there is no evidence that the law does not provide enough possibilities to determine whether a sufficient education is being provided, there is no reason to implement any of the recommendations.

7.5 This is a last minute submission and I am aware of many more things that I could and maybe should have said. But the reality of the situation is that I am a practicing home educating mother and foster carer, self employed, with a very busy and intense life. I hazard a guess that the time I have invested on reading up on the Review, filling in the questionnaire, discussing matters with both fellow home educators and non-home educators as a result of false rumours, informing MP's and other interested parties about EHE and gathering evidence for this submission, by far exceeds the time Mr Badman and his Review Team together have spent on it. The fact that they got paid for it and I - and all these other home educators who are doing the same and more - am doing this on a voluntary basis, should be an indication how much we care and how much we want to protect our children and families.

Home Education is not a choice lightly made and home educating a family is not without sacrifices. I sincerely hope that the Select Committee will honour this and recognize that it is time to let home educators get on with what we do best and with more love, dedication and commitment than any system could ever offer: Providing our children with an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude and any special needs they might have.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

22 September 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Home Education - A Cover for Abuse - If Recommendation 7 Goes Through

I must be going stark raving mad. Or is there an other reason for my hallucinations? Or was it a nightmare? I must admit, I was working on my submission for the Select Committee when it happened. I had just read the initial press release again, the one where Baroness Morgan says that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse. And I was re-reading Recommendation number 7, where Mr Badman explains he feels the local authorities should have access to the home of home educators, as well as the right to speak with each child alone. No parents present.

I closed my eyes - just for a brief moment. My head was spinning and I saw and heard all these words, first separately, then blending together:
Child abuse - access to child - home education - stranger - child abuse - cover - safety - no parents...

And then, all the sudden, I had this image of myself, sitting behind a table, with home educating friends on either side of me. The sign in front of me said: Special Minister of Elective Home Education. On the other side of the table a room full of people with camera's, microphones and notebooks. I was obviously giving a press conference! A lady pointed a microphone at me and asked: "Minister, could you tell us what this review is for? Isn't this an infringement of the right of civil servants to do whatever they want?"

And I read out a prepared statement:

"There are concerns that some civil servants are not performing the tasks the tax payers pay them to do. And that in some extreme cases being a civil servant could be used as a cover for paedophilia or other forms of child abuse.

Quite a few people in government and civil services are undoubtedly doing a fantastic job and I want to ensure that they get the continued support of the people who voted for them and are paying them. But we can't afford to let any paedophile slip through the net - for the sake of our children's safety and our families' wellbeing.

Several thousands of paedophiles are registered, but a much larger number of them are invisible to the authorities. We have to balance the rights of privacy of civil servants' against the pre-eminent rights of children to a safe and loving life, preferably with their own families."

Again a lot of noise. The same words, not only buzzing around in my head, but also in that room full of reporters and journalists. It was just too much for me and I closed my eyes again.

Next thing I knew, I was sitting in my own safe and familiar living room, papers all around me, on the floor, on the settee next to me. In my hand a page of the Badman Report, the one with Recommendation 7. I looked around. No reporters. No camera's. I listened carefully, but I didn't hear those words anymore, only my daughter upstairs, singing and playing the guitar.

Strange games the supposedly logical mind combined with tiredness can play on people. Mixing up things that just don't go together, that don't add up. Well, they shouldn't. No, they can't. Can they? No, a Minister of Elective Home Education, that's just unthinkable.
That will never ever happen.