Sorry guys, I have been so out of action for er so long. No excuses.
Anyway, I'm now reeling from the publication of the Badman report of the review into elective home education:
I am too sickened to comment. Too gutted. Too...can't find the words. Recommendation 7 and parts of 23 are particularly chilling.
However, at least one person has spoken up for us home educators (Mark Field, conservative)
"...I became interested, involved and engaged in home education some months back when I met two articulate and passionate local mothers in the Pimlico area of my constituency who had decided to educate their children themselves. One made that decision as a result of her son’s unhappy and unproductive first 18 months in the state school sector. The other had seen home education work brilliantly for family friends, and made the positive decision to take on that task for her daughters. The matter is a Cinderella area, and I approached my meeting with those two mothers with some standard misconceptions that a home education might produce an unsocialised, precocious child who is unable to interact with their peers and perhaps shielded from all negative experiences. However, the more I listened to the two mothers, the
9 Jun 2009 : Column 217WHmore impressed and excited I was by their passion and enthusiasm for home education. Each was able to provide an individualised learning experience tailored to the child’s abilities and interests. Far from having an isolated and insulated existence, the children of those two mothers frequently attended classes with other home schoolers, interacted with children of different ages and abilities, and experienced a wide range of activities from practising judo and learning Japanese to visiting galleries and museums during quieter times of day.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): My hon. Friend’s experience is replicated in my constituency where there are 60 home schoolers. That has come to the forefront in my constituency because some parents are deeply unhappy about the school that they have been allocated and are investigating home schooling. It is a resourceful way of proceeding with a valuable education that is tailored to their child’s needs. I echo what my hon. Friend is saying. When one looks into the matter, one sees that it is a heartening way forward and can be complementary to the state system.
Mr. Field: I thank my hon. Friend for her observations. I stress that the notion of a homogenous group of home educators with a single mind could not be further from the truth. Diversity is one of the most important aspects of the home education ideal and the education that is provided for those children who have the great benefit of it. A home-educated child will naturally have a close relationship with their parents, whose lives are often enriched by learning new skills and knowledge alongside their children.
I have discovered that in my constituency, in the heart of the biggest city in our nation, there is an active community of home educators who share classes and co-ordinate their knowledge base. A nationwide lively online community shares best practice and experience, and I have learned about that from the inundation of information to my private office during the past three or four days since it became known that I was having this debate today. I apologise that I will not be able to make all the points that were made to me by interested parents. Many home educators choose not to engage with other families, and the appeal of home education is that individual educational experience can be tailored to best suit the child and the family.
All that comes at no cost to taxpayers because the vast majority of home educators shoulder not only the teaching burden, but the financial one. Despite that, the choice for many home educators is often not the ability to afford such a route—many probably struggle to some extent—but stems from lack of faith in what the state sector provides, particularly when the basis of that provision is “take it or leave it”. That is a problem not so much in my constituency, but in other parts of London where many parents are dissatisfied when only their third, fourth or fifth choice of school is available for their children. Home educators come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many find that home schooling is the most workable or perhaps the only alternative to expensive school fees or an unattractive local state school.
Unfortunately, both the mothers to whomI spoke at length were deeply concerned about the future of home education. There is long-standing suspicion that the Government, both local and national, are uncomfortable about parents providing education that cannot be monitored, tested or accounted for. There is a real fear that the Government, under the banner of child protection, will try to interfere with the freedom of choice of home educators. I represent a big flagship Conservative borough, but the same probably applies to the local education authority, which is equally to blame. I am not making a partisan party political point. The freedom that is so fiercely guarded by the majority of home educators and their choice to pursue that path is due to a fundamental rejection of the state’s values, and lack of faith in the state’s ability to provide a suitable education for their child.
Home education has been under constant scrutiny since the Children Act 2004, which enshrined the Government’s Every Child Matters agenda in legislation. Draft guidelines clarifying the rights and responsibilities for home educators and local authorities were drafted and debated in early 2005, shelved for two years, and finally published in autumn 2007. That consultation caused great anxiety among home educators because it was feared that the Government would try to introduce inspections and to control the curricula. Eventually, guidelines issued after the review maintained the previous position, and most families were incredibly relieved.
Meanwhile the Education and Inspections Act 2006 introduced new duties for identifying children who were missing education. Yet there was another consultation in autumn last year on children missing education, and all home educators will eventually be tracked down as a result of the ContactPoint database. Local authorities will be required to determine“as far as they are able”whether a child is receiving what a local education bureaucrat deems is a suitable education. Before that, local authorities were required only to make a note of any families whom they found home educating.
All this casts doubt on the Government’s motives with the Badman review, particularly as the consultation response time has been cut from 12 weeks to four. Why have they not given the latest guidance a chance to work through? Could it be that the consultation is a knee-jerk reaction from a Government who are fearful of any further culpability in the face of some quite deep failings in the care system?
Home educators with whom I have engaged conclude that either the Government have no faith in the previous reviews or this is a superficial exercise to try to allay public concern—a bid to make good other failures with frenetic activity—which will result in few or no changes.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is making a very strong case. He says that there may be public concern about this sector, but having visited a group of home educators in Penzance in my constituency, it was clear to me that in many cases these people have chosen this option precisely because they want to escape abuse and bullying in schools. Some choose it for other reasons. In a letter dated 19 June 2007 that I received from the then Under-Secretary in the Department, Lord Adonis, he made it clear that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 the powers already exist to intervene in cases in which the state believes that a child may suffer harm. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The state already has the powers to intervene where it suspects that harm may be going on.
[edited 4 aug 2009 to correct labels for the post]