Saturday, 26 September 2009

DCSF Disappears EHE Guidelines down the memory hole

Well, well, well. It seems that, just before the Select Committee Inquiry into the Home Education review, DCSF disappears their guidelines from their website. How very Orwellian. Thankfully, home educators are not so daft as to rely on the DCSF to retain these things, having experienced other guidelines disappearing in much the same way.

You can still read the full government guidelines online here and here and here. I suggest that we make noise about this - twitter it, facebook it, blog about it, write to your MP about it, and the Select Committee need making aware too.

ETA: HE Forums have blogged about government data loss here.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Isn't it Amazing?

Have you seen these photos of the incredible find? I'm loving this comment on the BBC article:

"It will take years, or decades, to get answers, and we still won't get all of them.

We can't just ask questions about this hoard, either - we need to ask questions about how this hoard fits in with everything else we know.

Have we made assumptions elsewhere that aren't right?"

We've just come back from a wonderful holiday in Pembrokeshire, the second year running we've gone back to the same place. This year we spent a lot of time visiting some of the amazing neolithic monuments that the area is so incredibly rich in. Each one we visited filled us with awe - how on earth did the ancient people manage to create these incredible structures without all our *wonderful modern technology*?

We don't really know what these structures were used for, how they were built, what they originally looked like. With all our wonderful modern technology, our great modern intelligence, we just don't know. I do so wish we could all remember this, I wish it would filter into the minds of those who think they have all the answers.

Finds like the one that is chronicled in the BBC article teach us that, no matter what we think we know, there is always something new just around the corner, waiting to turn everything we think we know on it's head.

Education has always been a natural, lifelong pursuit. The ability to question, to look afresh at problems, to try out new theories and disguard them when they don't work, has stood the human race in good stead for thousands of years.

When you explore monuments such as Pentre Ifan, when you see such intricate metal work as that above, you can't help wonder (well I can't anyway) just what legacy we will leave the future. Will we have any ounce of creativity left in us to leave behind such treasure troves as the ancients did, when we have been confined to narrow definitions of what a human being should learn; when we have had the joy and natural zest for live squeezed out of us by a tick box system?

According to a recent DCSF FOI release, the government are not going to allow certain information to be released because some home educators are attempting to harass and vilify Mr Badman. You would think there must be some truly awful things being put about on the internet to cause such concern. Prepare to be horrified.

exhibit 1: photoshopped picture showing Mr Badman reading Mein Kampf
exhibit 2: a 12 second animation created by a home educated child

Creativity and gentle satire are now threats to the establishment? I'm old enough to remember Spitting Image - every week the government had to endure the most shocking leg pulling from those puppets.

I don't imagine Mrs Thatcher spent much time worrying though, do you? Satire has always been a Great British Tradition, and looking at the photos I've posted, so has creativity. And yet, we are in danger of losing both. I shall leave you with a Ken Robinson quote:

"We don't grow into creativity, we get educated out of it."

ETA: and now it looks like Darwin was wrong!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Celebrate International Freedom In Education

Happy International Freedom In Education Day! Pop along here and enjoy the carnival - but finish reading this post first ;)

I hope that the posts to date have shown how important such freedom is, and why it absolutely must be protected from the grinding state machinery with it's tick box, one size fits all, measurable outcomes, mind set.

We love our life and wouldn't change it for the world. We hope that more and more people will come to see how important it is to maintain freedom in education, not just in this country, but all around the globe. The more restrictive and prescriptive education becomes, the smaller our chances of the world becoming a better place for our children and their children. It really is THAT important.

Even if you don't currently see yourself home educating, you never know what the future might hold, and if a time comes when you find yourself needing to pull your child out of school, I hope the option is still available to you, and you don't regret thinking *it's nothing to do with me*.

Finally, my family and I (ooh get her sounding like the Queen ;) ) would just like to send a heartfelt thank you to Baroness Morgan, The NSPCC, Ed Balls and The Bad Man. You will have taken almost a year from us by the time the Select Committee Report and consultation are done and dusted. You have slandered us in the national press, you have caused us stress beyond measure, you have made us cry, you have made us seriously look at leaving the home and country we love. But, in doing all of this you have made us as a family stronger, you have cemented friendships with home educators around the country, people we would never have met were it not because we wanted to reunite in condemnation of your treatment of us. You may think you can break us, but we are stronger than you will ever know, and that in part is due to your treatment of us.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Why Should I Be Worried About The Badman Recommendations?

If you haven't already, I would ask you to go to the beginning of this blog and read through all the posts.

When you have done that, and once I have explained just what the Badman Recommendations entail, I think you will understand why you, me and every other person in the country should be worried.

AHEd have produced an incredibly thorough briefing paper which I can highly recommend reading. Gill has also done a painstaking pulling apart of the report which you can read here. I shan't attempt to cover it in nearly as much depth, I shall just offer my personal opinions, and try to explain how our family will be affected.

There are 28 recommendations in the report; some of them could, potentially, be helpful for home educators were they implemented, but of course these are the ones that the government is ignoring.

The main ideas being pushed forward, hurriedly, by government are:

  • compulsory registration
  • the parent providing a statement of educational approach against which the child's "performance" will be assessed
  • annual inspections, with right of access to the home and right of access (alone if necessary) to the child
All of which might sound reasonable, if you are just looking at them superficially. As with everything though, it is always best to read the small print.

Let's take them one by one.

1. Compulsory Registration

Suggests, on the surface, that you just have to tell someone official that you are home educating your child. Sounds reasonable enough, I suppose.

However, what the recommendation actually suggests is a licensing scheme. Parents will have to have their home education assessed and approved, and there after apply annually for approval to renew their licence.

Now just hang on a minute - as we have already seen, section 7 of the education act clearly states that educational provision is the duty of the parent. It is up to the parent to choose whether or not to delegate that responsibility. It is not up to the local authority, or government, to grant permission. To alter the balance in this way will require primary legislation, and it will open the floodgates for children failed by the education system to seek compensation. Remember those statistics we saw in an earlier post: 1 in 6 children leave school unable to read, write or add up. At a time when the country is on the verge of bankruptcy, is this a wise move on the part of government?

All that aside, as I explained in earlier posts, it takes time to find your feet when you start home educating. There is the need for a proper period of deschooling if the child is being withdrawn from school. This needs to be a time with as little external pressure as possible. Having to present yourself and your plans for home education, for official scrutiny BEFORE you are granted permission to home educate, will completely wipe out this very important time for families.

Talking of deregistration, the registration recommendation also plans to tinker with deregistration on demand, something we discussed the importance of in the previous post entitled "A Life Line".

Here is that particular part of the recommendation:

"When parents are thinking of deregistering their child/children from school to home educate, schools should retain such pupils on roll for a period of 20 school days so that should there be a change in circumstances, the child could be readmitted to the school. This period would also allow for the resolution of such difficulties that may have prompted the decision to remove the child from school."

Bye bye dereg on demand, bye bye life line. Especially when you take into account recommendation 15:

"That the DCSF take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with educational or behavioural issues."

So perpetuate "The Big Lie" even though to do so may cost a child it's life. As I said in a previous post, these people must accept that they will have children's blood on their hands. This is so tragically twisted when you think that the whole review supposedly came about because of *safeguarding* concerns.

2. The parent providing a statement of educational approach against which the child's performance will be assessed.

Might sound reasonable, possibly, if you don't know anything at all about home education.

The idea with this one is basically that at your annual licensing meeting, sorry, registration, you present your educational plan for the coming year. The following year at your licensing meeting your child is tested and the results measured against the previous year's plan. If the child fails to have reached the targets set for the year, no licence renewal for you.

Why is this a problem? Well, firstly because if you are following a child led approach, you just don't plan a year ahead. You'd be lucky to plan a week or two ahead to be honest. This doesn't mean that following such an approach is slack, it just means that you can follow your child's interests which alter thick and fast - such is the nature of the child.

The other problem is testing. It has been shown that testing children induces stress. That teaching to the test kills their natural love of learning, we have seen this with SATs tests. They are going to scrap SATs tests for school children, and not before time. Many home educators, myself included, are fundamentally opposed to testing, and it is one of the many reasons why we home educate. When you are with your child on a daily basis as we are, you KNOW how they are doing, you KNOW what areas of weakness they have. You do not need a test to tell you these things. Besides which, the law states that a parent has to provide an education, the child is not legally bound to take it up. Can you imagine if they were? For goodness sake, it would be complete bedlam. How do you force anyone to learn anything? You can't, it is impossible. You cannot force feed knowledge in the way you can force feed food. If all children who went to school were to be subject to such penalties for failing their SATs what would we do with them all? Certainly a case of double standards at work here.

Moving on to the piece de resistance ...

3. Annual inspections, with right of access to the home and right of access (alone if necessary) to the child.

This recommendation is just utterly horrific. It flies in the face of human and child rights (don't you love how they separate the child from other humans as though they were a totally different species? Reminds me of the way the government department responsible for this rubbish separates the child from it's family by the use of school - Department of Children, Schools and Families).

Let's get one thing clear; where there are concerns about the safety of a child, there are already laws in place which grant access to the home and to the child. This is as it should be, and is completely fair and reasonable. I doubt anyone would argue with that.

What the Badman recommendations are saying is that just because a family home educates - and let's remember that this is actually the default position because it is the parent's duty to decide how and where their child is educated - that they automatically become suspects. Let's try out an analogy again:

Imagine there is a drug dealer living a few doors away from you. The police have reason to suspect that there are drugs on the premises, and so organise a raid. Perfectly reasonable so far. Now, imagine that just because you happen to live in the same street as the drug dealer; even though you have no previous convictions for drug related crime, there aren't even any suspicions about your good character; the police decide that you could be hiding drugs in your house so they raid you too. Still sound reasonable?

What the Badman recommendations propose will mean that home educated children have fewer rights than juvenile offenders who, under the Beijing Rules, are entitled to have a parent or guardian present when interviewed.

Article 9.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

    States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child's place of residence.
Remember, we are talking here about children being interviewed, without their parent/s present where there is NO suspicion of any wrong doing.

My own children are horrified at the idea of a stranger coming into their home, taking them off to another room and interrogating them. I can't say that I blame them. It makes me exceptionally angry that even though the government has said time and again that home education is not a welfare issue, here they are saying that actually it is. That our children are to be granted less human dignity and respect than young offenders. No, this is morally corrupt. Apart from anything else, it will leave those doing the interrogating wide open to allegations of abuse. We have a collapsing social care system. Social workers are over burdened as it is, is it really wise,will it really protect children, if we increase their workload by the tens of thousands when there is NO EVIDENCE to suggest that these children are anything but loved and well cared for by their parents?

These are just a few of the 28 recommendations. As I said, taken at face value you might wonder why many home educators are so concerned that they are considering leaving the country.

What these recommendations will do, IF they become law, is kill home education as we know it. We have been home educating perfectly well, perfectly legally, perfectly happily for 9 years. Over night that will end. We will become the subject of unwarranted, microscopic scrutiny because we choose to take the responsibility for our children's education seriously, and do not delegate it to someone else. How can this be right or just?

Perhaps, if you don't see a problem with it, you would like to come and explain to my children why they will have to be assessed and interrogated by strangers who will determine whether they can continue with the education that has served them well these 9 years.

Perhaps you would like to come back in a few years and explain to my younger children why they are not allowed the benefits of the type of education their older sisters had.

Perhaps you would like to explain it to me and my husband whilst you're at it.

Perhaps, if you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or neighbour whose life might have been saved by home education, you would like to explain to them why there is no alternative, why they have to continue going to the place where they are so miserable that they are considering suicide.

Perhaps you might like to consider how the complete removal of freedom in education will affect the country as a whole.

Perhaps, if none of these things concern you, you might like to consider what the world will be like when parents are no longer allowed to be responsible for their own children. We are already seeing the start of so many social problems that stem from over prescriptive, state interference in family life. These will only get worse if we allow our parental duties to be over ridden by a one size fits all, iron fisted, state machine.

These people do not care about our children, when they say that it is concern for children that is behind this they are lying, and their lie shines through in those report recommendations.

I'll leave the final word to a social worker:

"These changes would effectively put the local authority and home educating parents in opposition to each other and create a great deal of unnecessary stress for home educators. All this would be done for the sake of improved child protection. In reality, the proposed new arrangements would not result in better child protection and may actually cause more harm than good."

Sunday, 13 September 2009

A Life Line

Lots of children become home educated as a last resort, often due to special needs not being met properly, school phobia, stress and bullying.

Many children's lives have been saved because their parents discovered that school is not compulsory. Many others have been lost because they didn't. What is worse, is that often there is a conspiracy of silence among schools and local authorities. Time after time we hear of parents fighting for years with their child's school, desperately asking for help. Hardly any of these parents are told that there is another option. This despicable behaviour continues, even now when home education has a much higher profile than it did a number of years ago. Only the other week there was an example of this on national TV. There is no excuse for it, and the people who refuse to tell parents that there is another way, must accept that they have children's blood on their hands. If you think I'm being overly dramatic have a look at this.

As I said earlier, in the post about the legality of home education, it is the parent who is responsible for ensuring their child receives an education, and it is EDUCATION that is compulsory, not school. Why is this not something that every parent is told when they have a child, or at least when they are being offered places at nurseries and schools? Many home educators refer to this as "The Big Lie" and whilst we are starting to make in roads into it's demolition, it's a painfully slow process, which is a crying shame because whilst parents remain unaware, children will continue to die.

Deregistration on demand is a legal right that parents MUST retain. The Badman recommendations threaten to remove this lifeline, and we must not allow it to happen. The government have tried before to remove it, and failed. We must continue to demand that this life line remains. With children set to stay in compulsory education until they are 18, it is crucially important that there is a safety net for those it does not work for. Parents should not have to jump through hoops imposed by local authorities, especially when these local authorities are failing their child, to enable them to carry out their legally binding parental duties.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Education Theories

Some people suggest that home educating your child is nothing more than a dangerous experiment.

I was in the first school year to take GCSEs and I can tell you, we felt like guinea pigs. Since then children across the country have been subjected to educational experimentation in the form of the national curriculum, SATs, literacy and numeracy hours, and goodness knows what else. SATs are going to be scrapped, maybe GCSEs will be next, who knows. Governments have always tinkered with education, and if the current one is anything to go by, they will continue to do so until they have completely ruined it for everyone.

I was lucky enough not to have to suffer the national curriculum, and I'm very glad. I had a lot of different teachers; some were good, some were absolutely awful. The ones that stick in my mind, were the ones who had a passion for their subject, who made lessons their own. I was fortunate enough to experience the same subject addressed differently by many different people - my father was in the forces, school changes and different teachers were a part of life.

Had the national curriculum been in place during my childhood I would have been guaranteed never to miss a thing in my school changes, because the tabling of subjects would not have been left to the individual teachers. The content of the lessons would have been very similar where ever I was. Would that have been a good thing? Personally, I don't think so. I'm trying to think where I read the analogy that springs to mind. It went something like this:

The national curriculum is like a fast food *restaurant* - you get the same food, delivered in the same way, for the same price, at every one of the company's establishments. Where ever you go in the world, if you go along to one of these establishments you know exactly what you are going to get.

Now compare it to a restaurant in the Michelin Guide; you never know what you're going to get, but you know it's going to be good.

IMO education should endeavour to belong to the Michelin Guide rather than the fast food chain.

The human race has been getting along OK for thousands of years. We've seen the rise and fall of civilisations. We've seen incredible creations and feats of human ingenuity all around the world. And all without a national curriculum in sight! There are so many differing theories about what constitutes a good education, it's something people have debated for millenia. If great philosophers can disagree, what on earth makes us think that suddenly, at the tail end of the 20th century, a group of politicians and civil servants had an epiphany?

Apparently teacher training used to include learning about different educational theories. These days it's all about classroom management. I brought this up with Ian McGimpsey of the RSA at a recent conference I spoke at. He agreed that it is a problem newly qualified teachers face when taking up posts. The government talks about personalised learning, and other buzz words, but when we have teachers who have themselves known nothing but the national curriculum, and who have never heard of the many and varied theories of education, how on earth can we get back to an education system that is more on a par with Michelin than MacDonalds?

The national curriculum has been the biggest, mass educational experiment since the introduction of compulsory education back in 1870, and it has failed (IMO they both have but that's another issue). Independent education, of which home education is one facet, has steadfastly stayed away from the national curriculum, thank goodness!

I'm not a teacher, yet I would wager I have more education theory books on my bookshelves than most teachers. Home educators are keeping these theories alive because they work, they have been proven to work, often over thousands of years! No, we're not the ones conducting a dangerous experiment.

If the current government gets it's way we are doomed to follow along this failing path; that would be criminal, and it must not happen. Freedom in education is so important, please help us to stop it from going the way of the dinosaurs.

Friday, 11 September 2009

But How Will They Get A Job?

Another cultural meme seems to be that you will only get a job if you go to school and get x number of GCSEs, if you fail to do that your life is doomed. How very tragic, and no wonder that our young people are among the unhappiest in Europe.

Most of the people I know have altered their career plans many times since leaving school/college/university. There is such a thing as retraining, life long learning - all these buzz words the government like to throw at us adults, apply equally to our young people.

Home Educated children are quite able to take GCSEs if they so wish, they are also free not to. They can go to college or university, if they so wish, they are also free not to. Many home educated children go on to become self employed, and find that they don't necessarily need qualifications. They have no less opportunities than those who go to school.

My eldest two have recently mentioned the possibility of going to college at some point, so that is something we will explore in the coming years. Their options are wide open, just the same as any other child their age. They just have more freedom to choose what those options will be.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

But Aren't You All Hippies, Weirdos and Religious Nutcases?

No more than the rest of society!

The diversity within the HE Community is quite something. I remember being at a Home Ed group the other year, after it had finished we were standing with some HE friends waving goodbye to some other HE friends. As we stood waving, one friend turned and said:

"Well, I never thought the day would come that I would be waving and smiling at a car that had a BASC sticker in it's window!"

This friend was a vegan, and had previously been a hunt saboteur. The friends in the car were meat eating, hunting, shooting, fishing fans.

I think that summed it up for me more than anything has before or since.

We know teachers, doctors, scientists, computer programmers, engineers, drivers, shop assistants, yoga teachers, self employed business people, unemployed people, postal workers, single parents, married parents, cohabiting parents, straight parents, gay parents, vegetarians, vegans, meat eaters, non vaxers, pro vaxers, homeopathy users, alleopathic medicine users, big families, small families, only ones, people with disabilities, people with learning difficulties, step families, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, Buddhists etc etc etc.

It can be challenging when you meet people who have completely different values to your own, when the only thing you have in common is the fact that you home educate your children, but it makes for a very interesting life, and it certainly exposes the children to a very diverse group of people, people they probably wouldn't have had the chance to know so well were it not for home education.

We are a diverse bunch of people, and long may that continue. You might not agree with the way some people live their lives or the beliefs they hold, but they are as entitled to their beliefs and opinions as you are. We are all within our rights to educate our children according to our conscience, beliefs and personal philosophies - indeed this is a strong sign of a truly free society. The alternative does not bare thinking about.

I recently conducted a survey about religious diversity within the HE community. It was very interesting, notably because many of the families who responded were from multi faith families, which suggests to me a high level of tolerance of differing beliefs. This something that many from outside the community may be surprised by. Once more, it's a case of incorrect cultural memes needing to be dismantled.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

But They Need To Learn How To Cope In The Real World

Now this is one that really does make me cross. Particularly when it's used in relation to bullying.

Let's define what the real world is.

Now this is interesting! I typed "real world definition" into google, and the first definition that came up was this one:

"the practical world as opposed to the academic world"

The practical world. That would be the one in which we all live our daily lives, go about our business. The one where the shops, banks, doctors, dentists, hospitals, libraries, hair dressers, butchers, post offices, market stalls, opticians, fire, police and ambulance stations etc etc are.

The academic world. That would be school, college, university.

So home educators, by being out in the practical world every day aren't enabling their children to cope *in the real world*.... Can you see my point?

Bullying apparently teaches children how to cope in the real world. Now tell me, if you were going into the office every day and one of your work colleagues was thumping you, what would you do? If you had a lecherous colleague with wandering palm disease, what would you do? If a colleague discriminated against you on the grounds of your colour, religion, gender, size, age, what would you do? I'm hoping that you wouldn't put up with it, that you would take steps to stop it happening, and if it didn't that you would walk away and seek help.

Why shouldn't children have the same options in similar circumstances? How does being beaten, abused, threatened, made to feel worthless help anyone? If you can, please do explain the logic of that one to me, because I've yet to find a single adult who was bullied as a child who wasn't damaged by it, who doesn't still hear the words ringing in their ears from time to time. It's well documented that those who have been bullied often go on to bully. If we all want to live in a world where bullying is seen as an acceptable thing to do, then this kind of attitude must be allowed to persist, but most people find bullying abhorrent, so how does it make any kind of sense to say that children need to experience it to cope with it *in the real world*?

It's another of those crazy cultural memes, and we need to make a concerted effort to stop them spreading.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

But You Could Be Hiding Your Children And Teaching Them The Wrong Things!

"Oh but you could all be child abusers, you need checking up on." "Schools have to have inspections, why shouldn't you?" "Who's to know if you're teaching your children the right things?"

Well thanks government and national press for casting home educators as child abusers, and social deviants! We appreciate the slur, it's really helped us and our children feel good for exercising a perfectly reasonable, and lets remember LEGAL, choice.

So, our children are *hidden*. OK, let's break this down, sensibly. If you've read the other posts you'll have realised that home education doesn't mean chaining your child to a desk, never letting them see the light of day. It involves being out and about in the real world - something I want to come back to in another post.

Home Education makes you MORE visible in the community.
"Sorry? MORE visible, but you're all hidden away aren't you?"
No, when you home educate the world and his wife wants to know your business. If we had a pound for every time we've been asked the question "No school today then?" we would be able to afford to pay the fees for Eton by now!

Your neighbours will question you, they will gossip about you, the local children will whisper to their friends about these children they know who don't go to school. Relatives will ask questions, shopkeepers, bus drivers, doctors, dentists, nurses, the milkman, posty, parcel delivery driver, librarian, will all suddenly take a great interest in your life. Yes, being hidden would be a nice option on the days when you really don't want to have to explain your life to A N Other, on the number 52 bus, for the umpteenth time!

Our family had been happily getting on with life for several years when one day a letter dropped through the door:

"We have been informed that your children are being home educated."

How nice, some kind person thought that the local authority needed to know our business. We didn't do a very good job of staying hidden did we? Not that we had ever tried to.

We have friends who have been reported to social services because their children aren't in school, or because the doctor or health visitor didn't like the idea of home education. It's very common for people to think it's their business to inform "someone in authority" about home educated children, so that really blows this hidden lie that the government has propagated out of the water doesn't it? OK, there might be someone somewhere who has totally dropped out of society, isn't seen by anyone at all, ever. I'm struggling to see how in this day and age this is likely though. We have CCTV cameras on practically every street corner. We have databases left right and centre tracking us. Our phone calls and emails are logged. It's becoming ever harder to live without credit/debit cards and bank accounts. Seriously, just think about it for a minute and you will see through the spin.

Now just think for another minute about all the high profile child abuse/murder cases you know of. How many of them were completely unknown?

For the record, AHEd have a piece of research which shows that Home Educated children are actually half as likely to be abused as the general, school going population. Which is hardly surprising when you consider these statistics:

Each week: 450,000 children are bullied in school

Each year: more than 360,000 children injured in schools
Each year: at least 16 children commit suicide as a result of school bullying
Each year: an estimated 1 million children truant
Each year: more than 1 in 6 children leave school unable to read, write or add up
Every Child Matters?

Moving on to the question of inspections. Do you know why schools have to have inspections? To make sure they are doing their job properly. Who needs to know they are doing their job properly? Parents. Why? Because parents are delegating their own section 7 duty to schools - ie they are employing someone to provide their children with a service. Home educating parents are not delegating their section 7 duty, they are not employing a third party to carry out their duties on their behalf.

How much sense does this scenario make?

I decide to paint my front room myself instead of employing the local painter and decorator. When I've finished I write a report to the local decorator, informing them that I have decided to paint my front room myself, that I have used Crown Emulsion in Perky Peach for the walls, and Crown Gloss in Dull as Ditchwater for the woodwork. That I had to use 2 coats to cover the walls, and that I sanded and primed the woodwork before applying 1 coat of gloss.

This is exactly what parents who home educate are doing when they are asked to report on their child's education to the local authority.

"But who's to know if you are teaching your child the right things?"

Who gets to decide what the *right* things are? Well, currently Ed Balls if your child goes to school. Ed Balls.... the same Ed Balls who was caught fraudulently claiming expenses. Ed Balls, married to Yvette Cooper who, in a national newspaper, admitted to putting a telephone call to a radio station above her own toddlers health and safety.

" I was frantically looking for the number of the studio, and I got through just in time. Then I heard a thump. It was my daughter, who had fallen out of bed, and was coming howling down the corridor. I had to leap up and slam the door in her face, and then put the duvet over my head so the listeners couldn't hear her."

Oh yes, these are the kind of people I want to decide what the *right* education for my children is!
In an earlier post you might remember me saying that no one knows everything, so how can anyone decree what is important to learn and what isn't? Surely the only person who ultimately knows what is *right* is the learner? Obviously there are certain things that are standard - the three Rs for instance, but when we are all wired differently, have different interests and skills, how can a one size fits all education system like the national curriculum possibly expect to help parents fulfil their section 7 duties?

In my opinion it can't, and by the seems of things, employers from right across the board are finding that it's not equipping people for the world of work either.

Monday, 7 September 2009

But What About Friends?

The age old socialisation question!

Are you friends with a group of 30 people born within the same 12 months? No? Thought not.

If adults aren't expected to mix only with people of the same age group why should children? Isn't it more interesting to have a variety of friends from varying age and social groups? Isn't it presumptuous to assume that everyone wants to have lots of friends? Some people are naturally inclined towards having just one or two friends, just as others like having lots. Many children go to school and mix with hundreds of other children everyday, and yet they still have few if any friends, and feel as isolated as if they were on a remote island!

If you live in an area where there are other children, your child, if so inclined, will naturally make friends. If your child attends groups like brownies, scouts etc, they will, if so inclined, make friends. Home Education groups are another option for making friends where the children will have this educational choice in common.

My own children have friends who go to school; home educated friends; younger friends; older friends. They get on well with a wide variety of people which feels like a healthy situation to me. They don't see adults as *the enemy* because they are (mainly) used to adults interacting with them on an equal, respectful footing.

One thing that frustrates me about the socialisation issue is when people who really have no idea come out with statements like "Well I want my child to mix with a wide variety of people from different cultures and socio-economic groups, and they wouldn't get that if they didn't go to school." Hmm, well ok, that might be the case in an inner city school, although having spoken to professional educators who work in these types of settings, about this particular issue, I'm told that whilst they might be in a room together, the different groups tend to stick together and don't generally mix with other groups. That aside though, we live in the Yorkshire Dales. You don't get an awful lot of cultural diversity up here, so school wouldn't provide that opportunity for my children. Home Education on the other hand does, because we go to groups and events where people from all walks of life gather. We mix with people of different religions, people from different countries, people from wide ranging socio-economic groups. So that argument really backfires in our particular case.

Once again it's just a case of thinking outside the box a little bit, and not falling for false cultural memes.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Is It Legal?

"Is it legal?"

Absolutely. Did you know that parents are legally responsible for ensuring their child receives a suitable education? Did you perhaps think that was the responsibility of schools? Nope, it's down to you, which is why you can be jailed if your child truants.

Now in theory, if you send you child to a failing school, or your child is not receiving a suitable education in school, you should be found guilty of failing in your section 7 duty. That doesn't seem to happen though, I wonder why?

Here's the relevant section of the law for you, taken from the Underhill's website which is well worth further investigation.

The fundamental piece of legislation regarding education in England and Wales is the Education Act 1996 (a consolidating act which incorporates the 1944 Education Act and later legislation).

The only relevant sections are: (emphasis added)

Parental Duties: Section 7
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable ;
a) to his age, ability, and aptitude, and
b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school
or otherwise."

LEA (LA) Duties:

The LEA's duties and powers in relation to home-educated children are contained in the Education Acts, 1944 to 1996. These are fully set out in sections 437 to 443 of the 1996 Act and (except in relation to special educational needs) are limited to the provisions of those sections.

"437. - (1) If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education."
Clear and straight forward isn't it?

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Are You A Teacher?

"Don't you have to have a degree?" "Are you a teacher?"

No, no, no!

You might be surprised by how many teachers home educate, but it's certainly not a requirement. Enthusiasm and commitment are far more important qualifications than a degree and PGCE.

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with a newly HEing dad who was fretting that he couldn't get his 15 year old son through his physics GCSE. He had just been pulled out of school and as he was in the midst of his exam year, they didn't feel they had the opportunity to relax and find their way. Dad felt that he had to be at least 2 steps ahead of son in the syllabus in order to teach him. When I suggested that it might make it a more pleasureable experience all round if they learnt together, his eyes lit up. He had never considered that he didn't need to know everything, that he could show his son that it was ok that he didn't. You could see the liberation right there in his eyes.

We were at a fantastic science workshop a little while ago that we were sharing with a couple of school groups. It was great stuff, exploding custard it was called which of course captured our imaginations. Apart from the great content of the workshop, it was a fascinating experience watching the reactions of some of the teachers. The chap who was running the workshop explained that science was all about messing about (experimenting) and that not knowing things was what pushed scientists to make new discoveries. He then came out with a classic line: "Remember children, no one knows everything, not even your teacher. If they say they do, they're lying." Well, I'm sure you can imagine some of the reactions! Personally I found it incredibly refreshing because he was spot on, but it's not something many people will admit to. No one knows everything, and if they pretend they do then they are not to be trusted!

Home education has taught me so much more than I could ever have imagined. It's not just something that the children do, it's truly intergeneration, life long learning. It's great!

Friday, 4 September 2009

But It Would Drive Me Mad To Spend That Much Time With My Children!

I'm hoping that this is just another cultural meme that people pick up and bandy about without really meaning it. If it's not, what a terribly sad indictment on our society. The UK has always been infamous for not really liking children, but can't we do something about this? If we would just stop to think about what we're saying before we repeat these things. Can you imagine how your child must feel hearing their parent say things like this? Imagine if it were your partner speaking about you in that manner.

With many children going back to school this week there have been plenty of stories that repeat this meme, notably this one from the BBC:

"Back to school also means back to work for many parents but it can also spell freedom for the full-time mothers and fathers out there.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of online forum Mumsnet, said at this time of year, many parents are "jumping for joy"."


Home Education means spending time, lots of time, with your children. It is not always easy, and the moments you get to yourself are fairly rare, but it's not as hard as you think. The rewards of spending time with your children, and really getting to know them are priceless, and let's face it, our children are children for such a short time that we need to treasure the time we do have whilst it lasts.

So how do you manage to retain your sanity when you spend so much time with your children?

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I think it's actually easier to be around my children so much because I have been. Let me explain what I mean: when the longest period of time you spend with your child is the school summer holidays, it's bound to be problematic. Your child is used to having much of it's waking hours micro-mangaged by school, after school clubs etc. Along come the school holidays and suddenly the micro-management has gone. The child isn't used to finding things to do to occupy itself, so the position of entertainer becomes the parent's. Having to continually find entertainment for your child is wearing, stressful and undoubtedly expensive. So I suppose it's fairly understandable that by the end of the holidays parents are overjoyed to be free from that burden.

We don't have to face these issues, because our children are well used to managing their time. I have a zero tolerance policy in my house for the words *I'm bored*. Always have had, even when they were going to be going to school. I am not their entertainer. Yes, I am here to facilitate their learning, yes I will provide things for them to try out, learning materials, outings, art supplies, games, help and support as needed, but boredom I will not cure. I am of the opinion that boredom is very important, particularly for children, and it seems I'm not alone in this. Boredom encourages children towards self reliance, and that is an incredibly important personal skill/quality as far as I'm concerned. Far too many people these days expect to be entertained by others, and then are completely lost when they find themselves in a situation where they have only themselves to rely on. The micro-managed children I know (and some of them are home educated, so it's by no means something that is only there in schooled children) are whingey, attention seeking, very high maintenance and in constant need of entertainment. I can completely understand why their parents would relish time to themselves in these instances.

If you pull your child out of school to home educate them, it is generally accepted that they will need a period of de-schooling. I would imagine (though having had no experience myself I am only speculating) that this would be quite a difficult time for a family, partly because of the sudden leap from a micro-managed day to a looser one. The adjustment will take time, and I would imagine a great deal of patience and understanding, but the rewards will definitely be worth it.

If we are to see a return to children and adults who are more self reliant than many currently are, parents need to stop seeing themselves as entertainers, and encourage a healthy level of boredom. Perhaps when that happens, we won't hear so many stories of stressed out parents longing for the end of the school holidays, and those who send their children to school might not be so staggered to find that home educators actually enjoy spending time with their children.

How Much?

"It must be really expensive, how do you manage?"

Well, it all depends really. You can make it as expensive or as cheap as you like. There are so many free opportunities these days that it really needn't cost the earth. Of course if you decide that you really must have the lastest items from the educational supply catalogues; this year's must have gadget; the very best artist supplies etc etc it could end up costing you more than it would to send your child to Eton. It doesn't have to though, and doing it cost effectively doesn't mean skimping and giving your child a second rate education.

Home educators tend to be a rather canny bunch, and asking for ideas or helpful links on one of the free to access email groups will give you more than enough food for thought! You don't even have to pay money to join an organisation. There are plenty of free ones that will give you just as much (if not more) help and support and the freely available Home Ed Blog rings are also an incredible source of ideas. Of course if you're reading this you've got access to one of the greatest sources of information and ideas going - the internet. Google is a mighty tool if used well.

Of course another great saving you can make when you home educate is on holidays. Many home edders become seasoned campers. Even if camping isn't your thing, holidaying out of the school holidays is a much more economical option. Before we had children we always went on holiday in September, and we've been able to carry on doing that thanks to home education. It's quieter, cheaper and touch wood we've always been very fortunate with the weather!

Necessity is the mother of invention or so they say, and I'd say that it's certainly a great educational driving force.

Interestingly, research shows that home educated children from poorer backgrounds - ie the working classes, do better than the children of the more affluent - ie middle classes and up. Interesting that isn't it?

Thursday, 3 September 2009


"Do you have a special room where you do all your schooling?"

First of all, we don't do schooling. We home educate.

The problem with the term "Home Education" is that it does give people this idea that it all happens at home. Of course this isn't the case. As I said in yesterday's post it can happen in the car, on a bus, walking along the street. So no, we don't have a special room, it takes over the entire house and extends out into the rest of the world!

We've found that our children get an awful lot out of what would, in school terms I suppose, be termed *field trips*. The other week, somehow or other, we had a conversation about the Brontes. We're lucky enough to live quite near to the Parsonage so we decided to pay it a visit whilst the interest was still fresh in their minds.

A few months ago we took part in a couple of stop pic animation workshops. This really sparked their imagination and the interest was brought back home, where they kept on creating short animations, culminating in The Bad Man - more than two weeks worth of blood, sweat and tears, but so worth it.

I've lost count of how many times we've been to the theatre this year - we often go with other home educators and get the schools concession, which makes it much more affordable.

We take part in the Film Education Week along with schools, which means we get to go and see several films for free, which is always good!

We go to museums - often they are happy to run free, or at least cheap, workshops for home educators. Most of them have free entry and generally really good, hands on displays, although we also really enjoy the dusty old places that haven't made it into the 21st century yet. One of the greatest museum experiences we had was when we were taken into the stores of the Leeds Museum. It was incredible - we learnt so much about how the various artifacts are kept in tip top condition; what sorts of things were considered collectable through the ages; how customs and excise confiscate animal trophies; and then there was the story of the Yak - the taxidermists of the day had no idea what it was supposed to look like, so just did their own thing, and created a rather interesting looking creature!

We go geocaching - that in itself is an education, indeed there are books which help teachers relate many of their school subjects to geocaching, so if these are things that concern you, it's considered a valid educational pursuit.

Archery, fencing, living history events, brownies, swimming, walks in the countryside, forest school, going shopping, playing out with friends, going to the library, visiting elderly relatives, chatting to the neighbours, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, holidays, train rides, tradesfolk, firestations, magistrates courts, ambulance stations, police stations, the list really is endless.

Educational opportunities are all around you, sometimes you have to hunt them out, sometimes they just happen by chance, some can be planned for, some just... happen by chance. Education is not something that just happens in one room or indeed a few rooms, it is something alive that happens everywhere at anytime, if you are willing to look - isn't that a truly exciting thought?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


"When does all this educating take place?" " Surely you don't make them work in the school holidays?" "Do you have a timetable?"

The "When?" question is something of a home education cliche, but things become cliches for a reason, and that reason is that they tend to contain a universal truth. So the answer to "when?" has to be: "all the time". No, that doesn't mean that the children are chained to a desk 24/7. Desks very rarely come into the equation, if at all, but we'll talk about the "where?" tomorrow.

Children, and adults for that matter, really are learning all the time. Even when they look as though absolutely nothing is going on, they are still processing information. These *fallow periods* can be very disconcerting to a parent, but I've come to the conclusion that they are incredibly important. You will often find that, just as you are starting to internally panic that your child is doing absolutely nothing that could be considered educational, suddenly they have made a huge leap forward in some area or other. I've seen this happen enough times now to know that it's not just a fluke or a one off, it is all just part and parcel of how the human brain works.

When you think about it, it's actually not so surprising. If we were to expect our digestive system to work in the way we expect a child's brain to work, we'd soon end up with a nasty mess. Imagine for a minute what would happen if we were continually emptying food into our mouths, whether we were hungry or not, with no time for our digestive system to process it properly. Then ask yourself why our brains should be any different.

An awful lot of education, in our family, takes place through what has become know by academics as purposive conversation. This sounds ever so dry and theoretical, but actually, it's just living really. If you were to conduct an experiment for a day or two, and jot down all the many and varied things you talk about, the little offshoots that these conversations develop, the curiosity that comes from not knowing the answer to a particular question, I think you'd be surprised just how many different areas you covered.

The other day we were watching the TV programme Coast. The particular episode we were watching was asking the question "how long is the British coast line?" You'd think that would be a relatively easy question to answer in this day and age, but actually no, it isn't, and the answer you will receive depends on many variables one of which is the length of the item you use to measure with. Mandlebrot's fractional dimension was explained to us and we were all fascinated. It sparked off an in depth conversation about measurement, the coast, history, cartography etc etc. We couldn't be considered mathematical nerds by any stretch of the imagination, and had I tried to present such a theory in a dry lesson, we would all have been pulling our hair out in seconds, but presented in a real life situation it was made more accessible and we were able to see the real value of what would otherwise have been boring theory. This was on a Sunday afternoon.

Other such conversations can happen in the morning, afternoon, evening, late at night, any day of the week. It can be wearing, but it can be very, very exciting, and these conversations don't just happen whilst watching TV programmes. These conversations are famously held whilst in the car, on a bus, walking along the street. If you are awake to the world around you you can't fail to be learning every single minute of the day.

Of course not all learning takes place through conversation, but this post is just trying to show how, regardless of any other methods you might use to learn, conversation is so incredibly important and happens at any time of the day or night. This type of learning doesn't understand timetables, or schedules, it just happens on the hoof, but don't be fooled into thinking that it's not incredibly important, or valid, just because you can't see it happening, or have no physical evidence to show it took place. It's probably one of, if not the, greatest educational experiences you and your child will have.