Sunday, January 25, 2009

The latest government consultation - draft response

I am probably too angry to have made much sense here. Criticism very gratefully received.





1
Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know why you think that.

Yes


By "system" I am assuming that you are referring to the law, rather than the organisational State apparatus which seeks to enforce it. The law is certainly adequate; the workings of the State apparatus are not (see below).

By "safeguarding" I assume that you are referring to the welfare of children educated at home. They are safeguarded by the same laws as every other child in the country.

If there are concerns about the welfare of a child, then members of the community are expected to raise those concerns with social services, who are legally obliged to investigate and act if necessary.

The law as it stands is perfectly robust enough. The implementation of that law is not. There are too many cases where the "system" (i.e. Childrens Services) has failed - that is, not that the law was not sufficiently robust to safeguard children, but that children known to be at risk of harm, children about whom many concerns had been raised were NOT protected by the State. Just to cite the very most obvious and high profile cases: Victoria Climbie, Baby P, the Doncaster case and the Eunice Spry case spring to mind. Not a failure of the law, but a failure of those charged with implementing it.

It is also vital to note that we are here talking about WELFARE not EDUCATION. There have been several attempts by the DCSF in recent years to conflate the question of welfare with the question of education. With respect, these two areas are separately provided for by law and, whatever the bureaucratic conveniences of LA Childrens Services, they either need to be dealt with separately, or the primary legislation needs to be changed, after proper consultation.

The defining feature of children educated at home, for the purpose of this somewhat loaded question is, I believe, that these are children who, at least in theory, might never be seen by anyone outside their immediate family and for whom, therefore, the layers of protection offered by teachers within schools (who might notice abuse) are not present. If you are going to go down this route, you must, in order to avoid being discriminatory, also include all children who are cared for entirely by their families rather than in state registered childcare - not only those who are not in the state registered childcare of schools (because of being home educated), but also those of pre-school age who are not in childcare at all. All children must be protected equally, and any proposal to increase the remit of Childrens Services with regard to routine inspection of Home Educated children must also be extended to all families who choose not to use nurseries or childminders for their pre=schoolers. And this would also have to go through a proper consultation process.


2. Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

2 a) Be healthy
2 b) Stay safe
2 c) Enjoy and achieve
2 d) Make a positive contribution
2 e) achieve economic well-being


I answer all of these questions together.

There is no reason why a home educated child would be any less able to achieve these Every Child Matters outcomes than any child who spends six hours a day in school. On the contrary, there are thousands of cases where children have a greatly increased chance of achieving those outcomes at home than at school. Let's turn the questions around: how likely is it that those five outcomes will be met by a child who is being severely bullied in school, or one whose SEN are not being adequately met within the State school system, or one who has fallen behind academically, or one whose interests and abilities are beyond the skills of their teachers to integrate into the classroom situations? These are precisely the categories of children whose parents are increasing voting with their feet, out of the schools which are failing to meet their needs and into Home Education. The potential of these children is not being met in schools, but it is at home.

The Every Child Matters agenda is a lovely aspiration. You should be grateful that so many parents are prepared to pick up the pieces within their private family lives when the State Agencies so signally fail to meet their self-imposed aspirations in this regard.

3
Do you think that Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?.


NO

Do you need to be reminded of the legal status of the ECM five outcomes? You might want to return to the 2004 Childrens Act. The five outcomes are, as I said above, aspirations to which State Agencies should be working in their interactions with each other. They are not, and were not, ever intended to be a check list to be applied to individual children, or to the actions of either individual children or of a group of children within private life.

This, from the point of view of the State Agencies is a good thing since, if individual children were to be measured against the outcomes, a large number of children who spend either some or all of their time in the care of schools or other State agencies would be found to be failing in one or more of them and the State would then be vulnerable to prosection for its failure to provide the circumstances in which a particular child could be happy, healthy etc.

How, precisely, do you think the government is going to ensure that every child in the country is healthy? And if the government takes that responsibility upon itself, how will it defend itself against prosecution by the families of children with cancer, say, or leukemia? How will the government defend itself against prosecution by the families of severely disabled children who will never achieve independent economic well being?

4
Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for supporting home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?


NO

Once again, I take "system" to refer to the current legal position, rather than to the implementation of those laws by State Agencies. The current legal position is perfectly adequate to support home education, although launching this consultation so soon after the 2007 Guidance for LAs and before many people have even had a chance to read the 2008 ECM Guidelines does mean that neither LAs nor private individuals have had much chance to see how the current legislation works in practice.

Should there be changes to the actions of the State Agencies? Undoubtedly, yes. Those interacting with Home Educators should be properly trained in the laws relating to Home Education, and should abide by them. They should be properly trained in the varied and equally valid styles of home education, from School-at-home models to entirely autonomous and child-led education. They should be properly trained in understanding the forms of evidence which families may provide to show that an education is taking place, and should make families aware of those forms of evidence rather than attempting to insist on home visits, curricula, samples of work etc (and the 2007 Guidance would be a good place for them to start). They should be sympathetic to Home Education and, indeed, local stakeholders - Home Educators of varying hues, from school-at-home to autonomous, should ALWAYS be involved in the training, appointment and annual review processes of LA staff with responsibilities relating to Home Education. It is time that they became accountable to those of us for whom they ostensibly work.

State Agencies should be finding ways of making life easier for home educators rather than harder. They should stop throwing time consuming consultations at us every few months and instead accept that they do not have the same control over the way we educate our children as they do over the way that children are educated in State schools. They should stop spreading slanderous and unsubstantiated slurs about the likelihood that children who are home educated are less likely to receive an adequate education and are more likely to be at risk of abuse than those in schools. They should make it much easier for children to access whatever parts of the State education system they choose, rather than the norm being 100% immersion. If children want to attend school part time, then this should be strongly supported by the State agencies. If HE children want to use a school as an exam centre then they should be able to do so without charge, just as any State educated child can.

5
Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families? If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no, why do you think that?


No. The legal position with regard to monitoring home educating families was the subject of two recent extensive consultations.

Once again, there is no clear distinction in the question between educational monitoring and welfare monitoring, a distinction which needs to be carefully maintained.

EDUCATIONAL MONITORING

The present (and historical) position is that parents are legally responsible for ensuring that their children are educated AT SCHOOL OR OTHERWISE. The State is responsible for acting if there are good grounds for supposing that this education is not taking place.

When the existence of a home educating family comes to the attention of the State there are well established ways in which the family can respond to provide evidence that an education suitable to the age, aptitude, ability and any SEN of the child is taking place. But LAs currently have NO responsibility for routine monitoring of Home Educators.

There is a need to routinely monitor the education which takes place in schools because the State needs to be accountable to the tax payer for how it is spending tax payers money. But there is no need for the State to routinely monitor privately provided educational provision. If you intend to change the law in this regard you must also, in order to avoid being discriminatory, introduce routine State monitoring of all privately provided education, including that provided by independent schools.

WELFARE MONITORING
For the implied welfare agenda, see my answer to question 6, below.

IMPACT OF ROUTINE MONITORING
It is also important that the impact of routine monitoring be properly and compassionately considered before it is implemented. There are thousands of children who suffered various forms of abuse, bullying and destruction of their self-confidence within State schools. For those children, a visit by a State inspector with the power to send them back to the place in which they suffered so much can be enough to retrigger the trauma or at least interfere with their recovery. For children who have suffered from being academic failures, either with or without SEN, the prospect of a State inspector visiting can be enough to freeze their learning potential in fear once again. For various children on the Autistic Spectrum or with Aspergers syndrome or other SN, the presence of strangers in the home can be intensely distressing, with long term consequences. The government needs to consider carefully how much damage it would do to these vulnerable children - the very children whose experience of school was so traumatic that their families finally took the step of removing them from school (not something people undergo lightly - it is, to put it mildly, a counterculteral action) - if it insisted on them being routinely monitored, either for educational or welfare purposes.

6
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?


Firstly, I think that the Government should ensure that such people are held to careful account for what they say. What precisely are the grounds for such concerns? Are there figures to back them up? Or is this simply people indulging in scaremongering conspiracy theory scenarios, designed to further different agendas?

What should the government do to ensure that Home Education is not used as a cover for abuse? They should use their existing legal powers to investigate when grounds for concern are brought to their attention. The failure in the Eunice Spry case (to name only the most obvious one) lay not with the existing law but in the State employees' failure to meet their professional and legal obligations. To minimise the likelihood of abused children falling through the cracks, the government should train more social workers, pay social workers better, make sure that Social Services is transparent and open so that their work is more widely respected and appreciated, and review policy and procedure within Social Services.

The government should also acknowledge, distressing as this is, that they are no more going to be able to eradicate potential abuse of all kinds within the Home Education community than within the wider community. Plenty of children attend school five days a week and are seen every day by State employed adults trained in spotting abuse but their abuse goes unnoticed. The State would be better spending its energy introducing fail safe procedures for child protection for (in order of priority) 1) "looked after" children 2) children within State custody or other State institutions 3) children in State schools. The constant stream of newspaper reports about child abuse perpetrated by State employees in foster care, schools and elsewhere does not inspire confidence in the ability of the State to clean up the parts of society for which it has direct responsibility, and suggests that this should be the policy priority rather than an attempt to extend the remit of the State into routine surveillance of the private lives of innocent families.

The government should also realise that, again, distressing as this is, evil people will find ways to work evil. If you introduce routine and regular welfare checks on home educated children in the hope of preventing cases where you fear that children may be forced into poverty, domestic servitude, prostitution or forced marriage, then those who wish to prey upon those children will simply find alternative ways to achieve their goals. They will send the child(ren) to live with a childless conspirator and report the child(ren) missing. They will set things up to look like school at home and start the domestic servitude after the inspector has left. They will simply book a plane ticket to Pakistan and take the child to be married without going through the motion of deregistering her from school first.

If you really want to prevent forced marriages then you need to deny passports to all girls of the relevant ethnic origin, religion and age. This would be discriminatory, and would result in an outcry. It would be just as discriminatory, offensive and outrageous as suggesting that all Home Educated children should be subjected to routine state surveillance in case their parents are abusive, although it would probably be considerably more effective.


This whole consultation document betrays a lack of appreciation for the law, a knee-jerk reaction to headline-grabbing scaremongering, a lack of appreciation for and understanding of the motivations, aspirations and culture of the minority community under attack (home educators), a covert attempt by LAs to increase their powers over the private lives of that minority group, and a shocking waste of public funds.

5 comments:

Carlotta said...

Wow...impressive. I'd hate to meet you when you're cross, as you clearly don't lose it!

Raquel said...

Thankyou for this, it will really help me with my own response. Yours is inspiring! :)

Gill said...

"..or the primary legislation needs to be changed, after proper consultation."

This apparently is what the NSPCC is asking for - a change in legislation. And there's a rumour that this consult is the preliminary to something bigger.

"..but also those of pre-school age who are not in childcare at all."

I think there are vested interests who would love to do this, and of whose plan it's all part of.

I like the turning around of question 2 ;-)

And your answer to question 3 is absolutely inspired - I love it!

I like that you pull them up on their terminology every time (the "system").

You make a good point about the timescale in question 4. One month is no time at all for all this stuff, is it?

And yes, so few LA officers are properly versed in methodology. Just asking some of them whether they've read John Holt is enough to bear that out: I've never met one who has.

"They should stop spreading slanderous and unsubstantiated slurs about the likelihood that children who are home educated are less likely to receive an adequate education and are more likely to be at risk of abuse than those in schools." - Indeed!

"The State is responsible for acting if there are good grounds for supposing that this education is not taking place."

Well, local authorities are. I think legally that's a separate thing to 'state'.

"But LAs currently have NO responsibility for routine monitoring of Home Educators." Yep, very important to restate this.

" If you intend to change the law in this regard you must also, in order to avoid being discriminatory, introduce routine State monitoring of all privately provided education, including that provided by independent schools."

Ditto my first two points here. Certain influential people/bodies would quite cheerfully take you up on that suggestion :-(

I really like the way you've talked about welfare monitoring here.

"Firstly, I think that the Government should ensure that such people are held to careful account for what they say. What precisely are the grounds for such concerns? Are there figures to back them up? Or is this simply people indulging in scaremongering conspiracy theory scenarios, designed to further different agendas?"

- *very* well said. Bravo! :-)

Same goes for your final paragraph. I like it.

HelenHaricot said...

i think it looks v impressive. i don't think i am quite up to the same. but every response in is at least something [i hope!]

Gill said...

LOL, just to clarify: Emma requested my feedback.