Wednesday, October 07, 2009

the consultation questions

Draft answers. Feel free to extract bits you like for your own response. Criticism welcome.

Question 1 Do you agree that these proposals strike the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?

No. This rhetoric of balancing parents’ rights to home educate with children’s rights to be safe and to receive an education is false. There are no opposing rights to be balanced. Parents have no right to cause their children to receive an education – they have a legal duty to ensure their children receive an education, and the State has the duty to provide facilities such as schools where invited, and to intervene where there is reason to suppose that parents are failing in their duty.

The recommendations involve a fundamental shift in the relationship between the State and the family, together with routine intrusive surveillance of innocent families in order to attempt to address a statistically undefined problem. There is no guarantee (or even likelihood) that the recommendations will prevent or detect harm, but certainty that they will cause harm through the monitoring process and through the inevitable false positive identifications of abuse.

Under the recommendations, LA staffers will have right of entry to home educating families’ homes, together with the right to detain (forcibly interview) parents and children separately without probable cause. Even the police do not have these powers!

LAs already have the powers to intervene where there are education or welfare concerns; too often, they fail to use them with proper judgment. Indeed, as regards HE, LAs seem almost universally incapable of following the existing 2007 Elective Home Education guidelines. These are not safe hands in which to put increased powers.

Home Educated children OVERWHELMINGLY reject the proposals:

Question 2 Do you agree that a register should be kept?

The proposed requirement annually to seek permission from the LA to home educate by 'registering' (NB it is not a register but a licence that you are proposing) removes responsibility for providing children with an education ‘at school or otherwise’ from the parents, instead placing that duty in the hands of LA staff, who will delegate it to parents who they deem suitable (Recommendation 23).

Question 3 Do you agree with the information to be provided for registration?

No. There should be no register.

The proposals make home educators vulnerable to LA prejudice about different educational and lifestyle philosophies.

The requirement that parents complete plans and submit to visits within weeks of beginning to home educate will be an intimidating and discriminatory barrier to entry; many families take some time to establish the educational philosophy and style which will suit them. Further, the well-documented necessity for a ‘deschooling’ period after removing a child from school is not accommodated.

The requirement to provide detailed plans of what our children will be learning in the next year, plans against which our children’s attainment will be measured at the end of the year, is inimical to the well established and effective practice among home educators of child-centred, personalised, responsive, informal learning. Since Autonomous home education – a venerable and effective educational style – follows the interests of the children, long term planning (as required by the registration proposals) is either counter productive or impossible.

Home educators whose patterns are more formal, following curricula and regularly producing ‘educational product’, are also unhappy at the lack of flexibility and responsiveness permitted by such a requirement.

Question 4 Do you agree that home educating parents should be required to keep the register up to date?

No. THere should be no register.

Question 5 Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?

No. There should be no register.

(hint: when designing questionnaires, it is best to avoid asking questions which assume a particular answer was given to a preceding question)

Question 6a Do you agree that home educated children should stay on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify that they intend to home educate?

No. Schools are provided with taxpayers' money as a resource for parents to use if this is the most convenient and appropriate way to cause their children to receive an education. If parents choose not to avail themselves of the state-provided service, that is their business.

The 20-day notice period would provide school staff and LA staffers with the opportunity to place undue pressure on parents to keep their children on the school roll, pressure which they have no business placing on the parents. The current arrangements for deregistration recognise the responsibility of the parent in causing the child to receive an education at school or otherwise; this proposal changes the balance of power so that the approved and default setting is school and parents must apply for permission to educate their children themselves.

It is unclear whether a child deeply unhappy at school would be forced to endure a further 20 days of it, or whether caring parents removing their children from a traumatic situation would be vulnerable to truancy prosecution. Either of these is a completely unnecessary punitive measure.

The 20-day notice period would also be a discriminatory barrier to entry.

Question 6b Do you agree that the school should provide the local authority with achievement and future attainment data?

No. The school should provide the PARENTS, who are now going to be providing the education, with the data. Quite apart from the potential for schools to provide false or misleading information (a common complaint among those beginning to home educate children with SEN), it is the parents, meeting their duty to educate their child, who should be provided with all school records, not the State.

Question 7 Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education?

No. The current laws are adequate if LAs act within them. The DCSF should instead transform the 2007 Guidelines into statutory guidance.

Question 8 Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?

No. I think that children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns should be in close contact with Children's Services, where social workers are properly trained to deal with such concerns, and there is an established legal framework within which they should act.

The place of education is irrelevant. If there is reason to believe that a child is not safe at home with their parents then they should not be left in the unsupervised care of their parents for any hours a day - the place of education is a complete red herring.

Question 9 Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks notice is given?

No. State employees should not have right of entry to private homes without probable cause. This proposal fundamentally shifts the relationship between the State and the home, and between the State and the family.

Educational provision can be ascertained through written correspondence; the explicit purpose of these compulsory visits would be to check for abuse. Proposed annual safe-and-well checks for all home educated children is disproportionate to the perceived problem and will be ineffective.

The danger of false positives is large, particularly in families with unconventional lifestyles (for example, Attachment Parenting, living according to Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting method, or Unschooling and similar philosophies of consensual family living), and in families where children have additional needs of various kinds (families with a selectively mute child, or one on the autistic spectrum, say, may have chosen not to seek diagnosis; to a hostile stranger their behaviour may well appear suspicious).

An abused child is highly unlikely to confide in a complete stranger on a short annual visit. For many abused children, their suffering goes unnoticed at school for years, despite familiar adults seeing them regularly. Before moving towards legislation which treats a minority group as particularly dangerous to children and which infringes their civil liberties in a fundamental way, it would behove the DCSF to produce evidence that their proposed regime of surveillance would uncover such abuse. Someone who has been horribly abusing their child since birth is hardly going to pause to register them as home educated. Someone who deregisters their child from school under suspicious circumstances should be referred to Social Services by the school.

Question 10 Do you agree that the local authority should have the power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate, or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?

No. If there are safeguarding concerns about a child, then social workers should be involved.

The Badman recommendations threaten to work AGAINST rather than FOR safeguarding. They will massively divert limited resources from where they are needed – the resources to finance the costly registration and monitoring procedures would have to come from LA Children’s Services budgets, which are often already struggling to cope with the at risk children in their areas. The proposed annual safe-and-well visits would be highly unlikely to detect abuse, but would certainly risk throwing up false positives, with the attendant trauma for the families affected. The visits would also cause stress and anxiety for families, by the intrusion of an authority figure searching for abuse into their safe haven (this would be particularly acute for children who have been taken out of school because of bullying – especially bullying by teachers – and also for those with special needs or school phobia, but has been raised as a concern by other home educated children as well).

Police do not have the right to detain (forcibly interview) without probable cause, and the power should not be given to LA staffers. This proposal fundamentally shifts the relationship between the State and the home, and between the State and the family.

Children learning informally would have their learning restricted (and thus damaged) by being forced to ‘exhibit’ to LA staffers (who, at present, are almost all ex-teachers or ex-OFSTED inspectors, and thus are heavily invested in school-style learning). Production of educational artefacts and the child ‘exhibiting’ to LA staffers would also depend on the interests and activities of the child, and their willingness to share their achievements with judgemental and potentially hostile strangers. Producing material for assessment always interferes with learning, as every trained teacher has learned in their training!

The plan to interview individual children to measure their attainment is inconsistent with the treatment of children in the population at large: in school settings, the provision is inspected rather than the attainment of individual children. Neither are schooled children taken aside by state officials and asked if they wouldn't rather be home educated.

The proposed compulsory visits will themselves be damaging to children – not only those with special needs, but any children who would prefer not to be scrutinised alone by strangers with the power to force them to attend school. It is often easy for those in the child protection industry to forget how much harm they do simply by investigating and invading the lives of innocent families.

These invasive powers will not be applied to the families of schooled children or to pre-schoolers, despite abuse being statistically much more common in these groups. The proposals are thus discriminatory.

Question 11 Do you agree that the local authority should visit the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual basis? This would not preclude more frequent monitoring if the local authority thought that was necessary.

No. Police do not have the right to detain (forcibly interview) without probable cause, and the power should not be given to LA staffers. This proposal fundamentally shifts the relationship between the State and the home, and between the State and the family.

It is also inconsistent and disproportionate: state schools do not endure annual inspections, despite being answerable to the taxpayer.

1 comment:

Carlotta said...

Goodness, that's good!