Sunday, July 01, 2012

OK, I did my bit

1. the duties of local authorities with regard to home education

2. what support (financial and otherwise) is currently available for home educators, including from local authorities and other bodies

3. the quality and accessibility of that support

4. whether current arrangements for financial support are adequate

5. the support available for home-educated students’ transition to further education and higher education

6. what improvements have been made to support for home educators since the December 2009 recommendations of the Children, Schools and Families Committee

7. what guidance is available for local authorities concerning their duties in regard to home education, and the quality of that guidance

8. whether the Government needs to alter existing policy or arrangements concerning the support available for home educators

Edited because Maire read the rules more carefully than me, and we aren't supposed to publish our answers till the end of the consultation!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Thinking about the extremes

There are as many different ways of Home Edding as there are families who do it. I was just thinking about the extremes: Some families get a whole curriculum as a package. Every day they sit down in what even looks like a little school room with desks in their house, and they work their way through today's bit of the curriculum for each bit of the age range that's in the family, with the parent really having the teacherly role, keeping everyone on task, answering questions. Even in such a top-down environment, it's terrifically efficient to teach the material to a small number of children, so it rarely takes more than 2-3 hours to get through the day's work. Those families would almost certainly do "end-of-term" exams within the curriculum package they follow (there are lots of American ones, from ones aimed both at Christian families who prefer a bible-centred education all the way to ones aimed at US diplomat's families (the Sunlight curriculum is a famous one of those)). So for those children, the parents get a clear measure on a regular basis, right through the education, of how the child compares to others of a similar age. Of course, these children sit GCSEs and A levels when they get to the relevant point (although often they do a couple of GCSEs a year when they are ready, from about 12 onwards, rather than doing 9 all in one go).

The other extreme would be families who are what is often called "radical unschoolers". Here there is NO formal learning. The family life basically looks, every day, like one of those long family days in the middle of the summer holidays. They go on all sorts of trips, visit all sorts of fun places (the zoo, museums, petting farms, the library, the park), they have lazy pyjama days, they play imaginative games, they do baking, they play on the computer. The parent divides their time between keeping the house running like everyone does, and answering their children's questions as they arise, and making sure their children have the resources they need to do what they are wanting to do. Months can pass without any sort of formal educational product emerging from that family. Those who live this way believe that their children drink in knowledge through the purposive conversations they have, and through the activities they undertake. They believe it's educationally best for their children to make the decisions about what to learn and how to learn it. In these families, there almost always comes a moment when the child has a very clear plan for what they want to do next - and they get the necessary work experience to do it, or they realise that to go to university they'll need a couple of GCSEs (probably maths and english), and some A levels, so they go to college to do those, or they do them privately with tutors, or they do some of the OU foundation level courses, which universities often accept as an alternative to A levels. On this path, sometimes also called "autonomous HE", there are almost always outcomes that everyone recognises as "educational"; the difference is that the person having the education makes the decision about what those things should be.

The first extreme is the one that wider society can accept, kinda, except that of course people often get worried when it's a Christian family and worry about whether the children are being taught to uncritically accept creationism or whatever. [and of course there are easy rebuttals to that... in brief, that you can't control a child's use of reason for ever, and you can't control a child's exposure to outside ideas for ever and ever, so in the end they get to make their own minds up. It doesn't seem to me to make a huge difference whether the ideology they come to weigh up in the end is the one of their parents or the one of the people who invent the national curriculum ]

The second extreme is the one that wider society finds really repellent, usually. I think this is mostly because it seems like cheating. Most of us spend 13 years in school, and work hard during that time, and undergo boredom and stress and probably times which are socially suboptimal, and we are sometimes sleep deprived because we stayed up last night watching something interesting on TV. And we have to wear clothes that are maybe in colours and styles and materials that we hate and don't suit us. And now comes along yet another smug home-educating bastard to tell us that, actually, we could all have got to exactly the same place by being on a 13 year-long summer holiday, going on fun trips and baking with our mothers, and talking about anything and everything with whoever we meet. I mean, WTAF? And then we get into crazy conversations in which we hear that actually children somehow need to learn to be bored and to expend most of their daily energy on someone else's agenda and to get used to spending much of their time in a large group of people, and on an externally determined and rigid timetable, because that will prepare them for adult life. Me, if I am going to have to (let's pretend) have a finger cut off once a year from the age of 22, I really don't see the point of getting in practice for that by cutting a toe off once a year from 4 and a half onwards.

Of course, most home edders are somewhere in between the extremes. And of course, most non-home edders are nothing like as violent in their disapprobation as the straw men I set up here - it's all just for rhetorical effect, to help me delineate the middle ground where most home educators probably sit.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Some random food thoughts

Personally, I tend to eat in blocks. So for months and months, I'll have exactly the same breakfast every day and then, suddenly, I shift to something else. Or I'll eat exactly the same lunch every day for a week, and then shift.

There's a lot to be said for eating what we feel like eating (isn't that what you do? It's what I do) and learning to listen to what our bodies are suggesting we eat. A child keen to eat sausages may be in need of a protein fix, not the response that "lunch today is pasta and tomato sauce".

Also - we have completely de-coupled puddings from mealtimes in my house. At some times of day, everyone is tucking into bananas or apples; at other times of day we are mainlining sausages or beefburgers or roast chicken. Sometimes it's a vegetable meal, with a plate of peas or sweetcorn or lots of carrots or whatever. Or sometimes it is a whole bowl of pasta or rice or oven chips, or a mound of bread and butter. We eat very simply - a roast chicken, with optional gravy for anyone who wants it and a veg on the side might well translate either into just chicken or just veg for somebody. We eat a lot of eggs (takes only moments to fry one up), smoked salmon (even if it's in the freezer it takes no time to defrost enough to eat), cheese...

I am a big fan of having lots of food types available that will be attractive to the intended clientele, and am also NOT a fan of big set piece cookery when noone but me actually wants to eat the results. (My mother tends to do the set piece cookery and fill my freezer with individual portions for me when she visits, which is glorious - it means I get whatever sophisticated stews she's been making, without anyone else having it imposed on them, and with almost no effort on my part)

Worth thinking in terms of your children having a balanced diet over a week or a month, but certainly not within every single day.

the result of this sort of free-for-all fooding is NOT that I am cooking multiple different meals all the time. I cook what I want to eat, and other people are very welcome to join in. If they don't want to join in, I have lots of good and nutritious food that takes little or no preparation. (anyone can have a carrot at any point, or a bowl of grated cheese, yk?)

the result of this sort of lifestyle is NOT that no-one eats meals, or is capable of sitting down for a meal. Those who are capable of social meal times tend to join in with social mealtimes. Those who are not at this point in their life, for whatever reasons, would just be suffering hellishly if mealtimes were imposed on them every day. Time enough to learn about the value of a fixed social mealtime when that becomes a necessary part of their social repertoire.

the result of this sort of free-for-all is NOT that my children eat nothing but chips and icecream. They are perfectly capable of looking at the chocolate we just bought, and tucking into a satsuma instead. They get really good at listening to their bodies and following their nutritional needs which, after all, is what we are hoping our offspring will get good at by the time they are leaving home. If you are a talky talky sort of house you can talk about how eating too much chocolate makes you feel sick. If not, then it only takes a day or two of eating nothing but chocolate buttons for a child to work out what's happening. Blech. (btdt)

Monday, January 17, 2011

"My Child Just Wants to Play Little Blue Planet All Day Long And It Is Driving Me Crazy"

...said the home educating lady on the messageboard.

I'd be going in two directions

1. Have some absolutely FAB activities on offer. Swimming, season ticket at local petting farm, season ticket at local soft play, all that stuff that other people do at the weekends. Offer something FAB every single morning, but not even really as an offer, but matter of fact. "we have to eat breakfast, put on our shoes, and then go to THE MOON!!!!" (or whatever slightly less amazing activity you have on offer).

That is your learning time. None of it is likely to happen through writing or reading, but your child will be out there, in the community, interacting with a really exciting environment and (with luck) with various people in that environment. It's quite likely that she will love doing the same thing day after day for quite a long while, so be ready to go with that. I do know a family who went to one local attraction every single day for 3 months. They certainly got their money's worth out of the season ticket that year...

2. When you get home, it's Little Big Planet time. Give her some time alone, and some time where you are watching with her. If she's receptive, it's an opportunity for conversation, for story telling. If she likes, she could freeze the screen and you sellotape a piece of paper over the screen and trace through the picture for her to colour in. Is there any way of having subtitles on while she is playing? And let the Little Big Planet obsession run its course. In a few months, she'll be ready to move on - perhaps to another computer game, or perhaps to something else entirely.

Are there Little Big Planet videos on Youtube (for lots of games people put them playing the game up as a video), or are there spin off cartoons or comics or anything? Just go with it, wholeheartedly

If she is telling you a long boring narrative about Little Big Planet, write it down in clear handwriting and then when she pauses, READ IT BACK TO HER. that is such a good game!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A message for Ed

'You - will - never - touch - our - children - again'

(as Mrs Weasley said to Bellatrix L'Estrange)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Local Authority muscle flexing

I have come across several examples recently where local authorities are jumping ahead of their actual role and responsibility with respect to Elective Home Education. They were hoping that, by now, the new powers of the heinous Children, Schools and Families bill would be theirs. But instead, of course, the CSF bill ran out of time and Is Not And Will Never Be Law. [pause for loud cheers]

There is another reason, of course, why the EHE teams are busily sending out letters demanding visits and information that they have no right to demand. In a week or two, the conservatives will get their hands on the account books and (shock) will be announcing that the UK is pretty much bankrupt and they will be cutting back massively on all public spending. Cue EHE running around frantically visiting people they have no business visiting. "You can't make us redundant. Look how buuuuuuuuuuuuuusy we are monitoring the chiiiiiiiildren".

This month, more than any other month in history, is the month to be sending, or advising people to send, letters like this:

Dear subcontracted agency busybody,

We deregistered Child from school on DATE, and since then have been providing her with an education suitable to her age, ability and aptitude. I provided you with written information about our educational provision on DATE at the request of your colleague X. We have had no response from the LA about the education we are providing.

Please explain, in writing:

1) In what way the educational provision as communicated to the LA on DATE was deemed to be unsuitable if, indeed, it was considered unsuitable

2) Why we were not informed in a timely manner of this judgement (if it took place) and why no dialogue with us was entered into in order to support us in developing the educational provision to meet legal requirements

3) why, if the education was judged suitable on DATE, you have sent the letter of DATE, requiring more information/ a visit.

If, indeed, the information we sent you on DATE has raised concerns, please let me know what those concerns are, and I will be happy to write to you again in order to allay them; since I am awaiting information from you about the nature of your concern with the educational provision as it was communicated to you on DATE, and information about what evidence you now need, it is not, of course, possible for me to provide the evidence within 14 days as you asked. I expect you to provide me with the information I require, or to write a letter of apology for mistakenly sending your form letter of DATE, within 7 days of receiving this letter.

I am copying this letter, together with your letter of DATE and the information I provided on DATE 2009 to the Head of Childrens Services at XXXXX Council in the hope that action will be taken to prevent this sort of communications failure on the part of the EHE team in future.

Yours sincerely,

Or even a letter like this:

Dear Mrs LA Numpty,

Thank you for your letter of DATE.

You wrote to me claiming that your "department has a duty to monitor arrangements where parents have decided to educate children 'other than at school'". Please would you tell me which part of the law you are referring to? In the 2007 elective Home Education Guidelines for LAs, available here: it clearly states (paragraph 2.7) that "Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis." Has this been superceded? If not, please would you explain why you have made the statement quoted above?

We received a visit from you/your colleague X on DATE. We have never received your report from that visit. Please explain, in writing:

1) why the LA staff member's opinion of our educational provision on that occasion has not yet been communicated to us
2) Why, if the education was judged suitable at the visit on DATE, you wish to evaluate it again.

If, indeed, the visit of DATE raised concerns, please let me know what those concerns are, and I will be happy to write to you again in order to allay them.

We will not be available to meet you on the date you requested, and would prefer to keep all future contact in writing, as per paragraph 3.6 of the 2007 EHE guidelines.

Yours sincerely

Enough is enough.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Classic schoolboy error, Ed.

Imagine this.

January 2009. The DSCF announces a splendid new support package for home educators. £400 a year per child for parents to spend on exams, ballet lessons, the educational financial outgoings of our choice. Craft materials, broadband internet, you name it.

Obviously, the government needs to know how the taxpayers' money is being spent, so in return, HEers subscribing to the scheme agree to go through an annual process of licensing and monitoring. It's all completely voluntary. Witness the undignified scramble, with lone voices - Techla, Grit, Lisa, Carlotta, Firebird, Maire - drowned out in the glad cries of home educators being given some of the money they feel entitled to. Maybe 85 or 90% of HEers sign up.

January 2010, the government announces that ALL HEers are now required to register and be monitored. In return they will get their money. Grit, Maire, Carlotta and co look a bit, well, _paranoid_ as they start trying to protest against the loss of civil liberties. Autonomous HE is stamped out within 2 years.

I just don't understand why, of all the minority groups in the country, Ed chose the ONE LOT who were least likely to respond in the time honoured way to the tactics of a bully. Smear us, cast aspersions, lie to the other kids and teachers about our activities and motivations - why was this ever going to be the winning strategy?

We are the parents for whom zero tolerance DOES mean zero tolerance - our children have freedom of association, we do not expect them to submit to bullies, to stand up to bullies, to engage with bullies. We expect our children to treat bullies with the contempt they deserve, and not to have anything to do with them if they don't want to. Why would Ed think we would be cowed by him? What kind of an example would that have set for our children?

I am, in an odd way, delighted that we have been dealing with Ed this last year rather than with a Dan level Go player.