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 -

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The last bit of the press note

I'll attempt to conclude my scrutiny of the NCSF press note about the Review into Elective Home Education.

After summing up the aims of the Elective Home Education Review the press note again cleverly connects "children missing education" and "home education".
It would have been really easy to construe a sentence with both the popular phrase "right to balanced education" and "home education" in it, but obviously that might have veered the minds of readers in a different direction. It's all about suggestion. Very clever.
And it works, as you can see in this scary example of misinformation (Thanks, Debs!).

The press note ends quoting Graham Badman, who will be leading the review. At this moment I'll give Mr Badman the benefit of the doubt. I've read quite a bit about the work he is and has been involved with, but I do not know enough about these cases to have an opinion about the quality of Mr Badman's work. I know enough of the workings of the media not to form an opinion based on the so-called 'public opinion'. To me Mr Badman is a kind of a judge in a court of justice, and without profound knowledge of the cases concerned, I couldn't possibly form an opinion about the quality of his work, purely based on his verdicts.

Mr Badman, too, acknowledges the right of parents to choose to home educate, and he promises to "discuss all the issues with home educating families, local authorities and other key stakeholders" - who would they be? - "[and] investigate whether the current system adequately supports these rights and responsibilities" - see, that's hopeful, he mentions both rights and responsibilities - "and if not, I will make recommendations for improvements."

So there it is. This to me sounds like an open invitation to elective home educators to provide Mr Badman not only with information about how seriously we take our responsibilities, but also about whether we feel the "current system adequately supports these rights and responsibilities".
The very fact that this review is necessary because (a lot of, not all!) local authorities and other agencies have not enough knowledge and/or understanding of the existing legislation and guidance to adequately remove the bee from the Baroness' bonnet should lead to a recommendation for improvement of the training and work methods of local authorities and agencies.

I know I am lucky to live in Cumbria, where we have some excellent LA people, who are positively supportive of EHE and who make an effort to communicate with our representatives. I have only had brief dealings with them when I was having problems trying to get my eldest into mainstream education - LOL to the irony of that! - and thanks to the interference of the - then - LEA my daughter got the place she wanted. I know many examples of positive cooperation between home educators and LA's in this county. It is possible. And all within the existing law and guidance.

The Editor's Notes of the press release again indicate that there is no intention to provide well-balanced information. There is no mention of Section 7 of the Education Act 1996. There is no mention of the organisations representing home educators in this country. And of course there is no mention of conclusive evidence or even probable grounds for the vile accusations about child abuse.

Of course not. Because there aren't any.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Going back to the beginning of the EHE Review

In an attempt to fully understand what has actually instigated this whole review I was re-reading not only the invaluable amount of information on Gill's blog, but also a lot of other articles on this subject.
And this time I made a point of reading that very first press notice word by word. I cannot but have great admiration for the person (spin doctor, I think you Brits call them) who wrote this. It's a clever bit of suggestive writing and I'd guess the author got paid extra for every time he managed to get the words "safe(ty), health(y) and education" in the same sentence. With an bonus for welfare.

Apart from all these clever little tricks - another one is mentioning "children missing education" and "home education" in the same, first sentence - I was amazed to read on what arguments the Baroness Delyth Morgan managed to get funding for this review, involving many - undoubtedly highly paid - experts.

First she confirms the parents' right to choose to home educate their children. She immediately adds that "a very small number do". Of this very small number, she says, "the vast majority do a good job". So, we may conclude that the vast majority of a very small number of people do a good job, in the eyes of the Baroness.
Then we come to the crux of the matter: "There are concerns" - unspecified and therefore subjective - "that some children are not receiving the education they need. And in some extreme cases, home education could be" - note: COULD BE - "used as a cover for abuse."

Well, I'll be the first to agree that we cannot allow this to happen and I will do everything I can to help ensure children are safe, wherever they are educated. Because I totally agree with the first sentence in the second paragraph, that "everything possible should be done to guarantee all children their right to a balanced education in a safe, healthy environment."

As a dedicated elective home educator (EHE) with enough experience within the school system I do not even need to see the statistics to know that the amount of children within the school system who do NOT enjoy a "balanced education in a safe, healthy environment" vastly exceeds the "very small number of children in elective home education", of whom the vast majority is without a doubt receiving "balanced education in a safe, healthy environment", let alone the number of children the Baroness has - up to now unfounded - concerns about.

I wish I was given the job to "look at whether the right systems are in place that allow local authorities and other agencies to ensure that any concerns about the safety [and] welfare of home educated children are addressed quickly and effectively". In the six years I've now lived in this country I've personally met at least ten people, in my county alone, who'd be able to answer that adequately. I think I'd need a day or two - including long tea and lunch breaks - to gather enough information to write a nice and absolutely solid report. And I could without too much trouble put together a team of people who are not only experts on elective home education and the laws and legislation that relate to it, but who could also train local authorities and other agencies to know what they need to know on EHE, as well as on the existing and efficient legal tools to make sure the mentioned concerns are addressed quickly and effectively.

But never for all the money in the world would I want to have to do a similar job when it wasn't only about home educated children. Not only would I just not know where to start, I think it would break my heart. I can just about manage to deal with my own memories and the stories of people around me about unhappy children, unfulfilled needs, abuse, bullying and inadequate education in schools.
Hmm, maybe that's why the Baroness chose to go for home educators...

Back to the DCSF's press note, now.
At the end of the third paragraph it says: "There are no plans to change parents' well established rights to educate their children at home."
Yet, two paragraphs further along DCSF finds it necessary to include a comment of Diana Sutton, Head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC:
".... We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children's Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents' right to home educate their children, the local authorities' duty to safeguard children and the child's right to protection."
Why include this comment if "there are no plans to change parents' well established rights to educate their children at home"?

I will not go deeply into the Five Outcomes of the ECM here, apart from saying that I find that whole document an appalling bit of propaganda, that aims to appeal to people's good intentions. Who in their right mind would want to say they do NOT want these five outcomes for their children? Shockingly missing from the whole ECM programme is the word "happiness".

Upon reading the task set for the EHE Review I become slightly more optimistic. If the Reviewer takes this literally there might be hope for EHE after all. And maybe even for children in a school age in general.

The first thing to be investigated is:

"Whether local authorities and other public agencies are able to effectively discharge their duties and responsibilities for safeguarding and ensuring a suitable education for ALL CHILDREN."

Ah! Not only children in EHE! But... but... but... Why is the consultation not aimed at parents of all children then? Why is EHE singled out? Do I misread what it says there, or are they really going to investigate all children?

The second:

"Whether home educating parents are receiving the support and advice they want to ensure they provide a good, balanced education for their children."

Well, that might be good news for us! We can either just say: No thank you, we're doing fine! Or maybe we can ask them to suggest making EHE parents exempt from this new everybody has to have a paid job-mania. Or exams and educational material available at no cost. Or... or... Well, my panel of experts could undoubtedly come up with a good long list of suggestions!

As to the third one:
"Consider what evidence there is to support claims that home education could be used as a 'cover' for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude"

The Reviewing Committee would be wise to first find out where these claims come from and what they are based on. But how on earth can you find hard evidence for something that COULD happen? Uh? Or is that my lack of understanding of the English language?

Anyway, I'll leave the rest of the press note for what it is, for now, as it is way past my bedtime and I must admit that this whole ruddy business has taken away a lot of energy that I usually apply to ensure that my children enjoy a balanced education in a safe, healthy environment.
So may the most important recommendation of the Reviewing Committee be that to ensure that children in EHE receive a balanced education in a safe, healthy environment, their parents should be allowed to get on with it instead of being bothered and bullied by yet another consultation.