muddy bare feet

It appears that the DCSF can see any old thing as a “campaign of harrassment and vilification” if it gives them an excuse to refuse inconvenient Freedom of Information requests.

…the Department had initially been drafting a response that included the release of invoices with only personal data redacted. But before the draft was complete it was apparent that there was a campaign of harassment and vilification against Graham Badman and other individuals/organisations that had contributed to the Report. In the light of this, at the weekly review meeting of FOI cases, it was considered that the balance of public interest might have shifted towards withholding…

…a letter had been written from the Department to the ICO, dated 17 July 2009, about the campaign of harassment and vilification and advised the Department’s views/reasons for possibly not releasing information under section 38 which the Department considered might intensify the campaign…

…The panel discussed whether release of invoices was still likely to provoke harassment. It concluded that this was, sadly, in the light of the campaign, still the case…

…The panel noted that the response had made clear that should circumstances change, and the prospect of harm, harassment or distress to individuals no longer be a factor, the Department would be prepared to reconsider its use of section 38…

Sorry to disabuse the DCSF, Badman etc of their romantic notions, but a video and couple of blogs does not quite constitute a “campaign”, by any stretch of the imagination. This spoof blog, which provides some much needed light relief for the persecuted home educators of England, is satire, not “vilification and harassment”. This video is an expression of more than understandable anger at the proposals in Badman’s report from a home educated child, not “vilification and harassment”. This blog post calls Badman a “liar by omission”, a fairly mild accusation which surely even Badders himself would find hard to refute. He wrote the report. He knows he used a self-selecting sample of LAs and almost completely ignored the home educators. He knows that he picked and chose the “evidence” to back his argument and utterly disregarded the evidence to refute it. He decided to cut the quote from the Church of England at the point where they started saying there was no change necessary to the current system. Is satire not allowed anymore? Anger? Seeking the truth? Well, yes they are but we’ll take away your sweeties and keep our information to ourselves if you indulge in them, say the DCSF, the very embodiment of the playground bully.

The letter referred to in the above quote warns of “difficulties in complying with FOI requests”:

I am writing to let you know in advance of a campaign by some supporters of home education which is threatening to inundate the Department with FOI requests. This issue may at some stage reach your office in the form of complaints about our responses. I am aware that a few requesters wrote to the ICO a few months ago about delays, which we dealt with.

The matter has over the last few months taken an unpleasant turn in terms of harassment and a display of hostility towards Mr Graham Badman (a former director of children’s services at Kent County Council) who recently completed a review of elective home education on behalf of the Department, and also others who have been involved in the review.

So it seems a campaign of sending in lots of Freedom of Information requests, which I would argue is not actually a campaign but simply home educators fighting for their freedom by trying to get to the truth, has been conflated by the DCSF into a “campaign of vilification and harassment” of Graham Badman and others. This is nonsense. The Freedom of Information Act exists, and there would surely be no point to its existence if people did not use it. If the powers that be were being straight with us in the first place, and using actual evidence to back up the ridiculous claims they make, there would be no need for all the FOI requests we are making. As it is, it is our right to make them, and make them we will.

“The matter has over the last few months taken an unpleasant turn…” No, “the matter” took an unpleasant turn on the day the Government of this country decided to launch an attack on home educators, and it is here the DCSF and their cronies must look to see what “vilification and harassment” really looks like. Although they don’t need to because of course, they’re the ones doing the vilifying and harassing. It’s this:

Parents who educate their children at home could be using it to cover up abuse, neglect and forced marriage, the Children’s Minister has claimed.

Baroness Delyth Morgan said home schooling could be masking a range of evils including sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

And this:

Thousands of children supposedly educated at home by their parents are at risk of abuse, neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude, the Government said yesterday.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, the Children’s Minister, has ordered a review of the rules covering the estimated 20,000 home-educated children in England and the 20,000 or so labelled as “missing from education”, who have dropped out of school before the age of 16.

The review follows mounting concern from local authorities that their overarching duty to promote and protect child welfare is undermined by the present rules, under which responsibility for a child’s education rests squarely with the parents. The role of local authorities is to compile a list of children not attending school and to take appropriate action if a child is not getting a “suitable” education.

And this:

Some parents claim they are educating their children at home to hide the fact they are abusing them, welfare officers say.

The Association for Education Welfare Management has asked the Children’s Minister, Margaret Hodge, for the power to check up on home educators.

And this:

Ms Gilbert was one of three children abused by her foster mother, Eunice Spry, over 19 years. The abuse went unnoticed – in part because Spry chose to educate the children at home.

Last spring, Spry was imprisoned for 14 years by Bristol Crown Court. And this month, the Government has announced it will conduct a review into the rules governing home-schooling. It will examine whether local authorities should be entitled to monitor all home-educated children to ensure they are properly taught and treated.

And this:

A public consultation gathered a wide range of views – including many on home education. Some local authorities and children’s organisations expressed concerns about the current system’s ability to adequately support and monitor the education, safety and wellbeing of home educated children.

And this:

Vijay Patel, policy adviser for the NSPCC children’s charity, also sees the need for a review. “Some people use home education to hide. Look at the Victoria Climbié case. No one asked where she was at school. We have no view about home education, but we do know that to find out about abuse someone has to know about the child.

Lies. Unfounded accusations. Misleading conflations. Misinformation. And not just on a few private blogs, but in the national press; on the news; on the radio. “Harassment and vilification” is 3 consultations in 4 years and the promise of another one next year, this time into what constitutes full-time education, all aimed at grinding down and eventually wiping out home education.

I wonder if, as a result of the supposed “harassment and vilification” Mr Badman is suffering from us home educators, he is planning to leave permanently the country where he was born and raised, to become a refugee, taking his family with him, to escape the persecution of a Government that chooses to see something that is his legal duty as an “anomaly” to be got rid of? No, I didn’t think so, but many home educators are doing just that. Because they have been harassed and vilified, you see, and persecuted and libelled against, by the Government and media of their home country.

It is hinted that if this “campaign” (WHAT CAMPAIGN?) stops, then the information may be released. Is it within home educators’ power to stop a campaign that doesn’t exist? No. It is within the power, however, of the DCSF, to stop seeing a video and a couple of blogs as a “campaign” and to just provide the information that has been asked of it. Since the DCSF is the one here who thinks it can redefine the words “campaign” and “harassment” and indeed “vilification”, it is they who have the power to revert to the proper usage of those words, and stop hiding behind these pathetic excuses for not complying with Freedom on Information requests.

Can Education Otherwise get any more ridiculous? Well, let’s see. First we have the Message to Lapsed Members that was sent out to former members of the organisation who had, for whatever reason, not bothered to renew their subscription. It warns that

THE LAW ON HOME EDUCATION IS ABOUT TO CHANGE
UNLESS WE CAN PREVENT IT.

Which may well lead readers to wonder How? How can we prevent it? Well, how you can prevent it, in the strange self-interested world of EO, is apparently by sending EO money and renewing your membership (oh, and writing to your MP, which is mentioned a couple of times as well.)

A couple of lines down from this dire proclamation, which as we know is only too true, is an invitation to donate to Education Otherwise.

I feel like I could just leave it at that, and say no more. This message to lapsed members amounts to nothing more than a begging letter. They are begging you to send them money, and begging you to renew your membership, which also happens to involve sending them money and has the bonus of bolstering their ever-dwindling membership numbers. And it is also perilously close to using the blackmailing “you will only have yourselves to blame” argument at the same time. They don’t quite say it, but some of the statements certainly seem to hold that sentiment – send us your money or you will only have yourself to blame when home education is outlawed! It’s actually quite hard to write about without wanting to puke.

Directly under the invitation to send EO some money, as though that is going to save us, is a request that you “rejoin EO today”.

Home education law changing if we do nothing about it (and possibly even if we do), and EO desperately scrabbling around trying to claim back members and asking people for money, are two entirely unrelated things. The only way they could be related is by the fact that EO seem to have no qualms at all about using the Badman review to get money out of people. EO membership has dwindled in recent times, because of the way EO conducts itself. It is an appalling organisation, with little or no regard for its actual members, but which nonetheless claims to represent those members and people in the wider home educating community who are not members. They may say they don’t represent non-members, but when the common mistake is made by people outside the HE community of assuming that they do, EO do not correct them. We are currently under threat of having HE as we know it in this country changed for good, and certain types of it (autonomous education, specifically) outlawed. Sending money to EO, or renewing your membership, or even doing both, with do nothing to preserve the rights and freedoms of home educators, but it may give EO some financial clout with which to further their own agenda. I really believe that EO are not fighting against the recommendations in the Badman report but are actually looking to enable their implementation, or at least the implementation of an Education Otherwise approved version of the recommendations.

The content of the message then moves onto more general information about the review and the contents of Badman’s report, followed my one more reminder to renew your EO membership, and no less than three further invitations to donate to the charity, making four altogether. They really want your money people! Don’t give it to them.

Help protect our rights and freedoms by renewing.

…says the message. There’s that you’ll-only-have-yourselves-to-blame vibe, did you spot it? As already stated, renewing your membership of EO will do nothing whatsoever to protect HE-ers rights and freedoms. Nothing. In fact it may be damaging to them – it was EO, after all, who came up with this beauty, and in so doing sold out its entire membership, and the rest of the home educating community too. Still think they’re on our side? Well, just have a look at Exhibit B.

Just when we have picked ourselves up off the floor from laughing at EO’s begging letter (really, what else can you do?  Have a breakdown?) we find that Fiona Nicholson, Chair of the Education Otherwise Government Policy Group and Trustee of EO, will not only be attending, but actually fucking speaking at the Capita Children Missing Education Conference (opens PDF) in October. The aims of this conference are laid out thus

Capita’s 5th National Children Missing Education Conference (CME) brings together key stakeholders to address practical challenges in delivering education provision for the children and young people who are missing from the education system. Through a series of focused sessions, our expert speakers will cover key issues including:
• Putting pupils at the centre of the process of re-engagement
• Closing the gap in achievement for disadvantaged children
• Supporting local authorities to ensure adequate provision for children educated at home
• Early intervention through effective information sharing and use of ContactPoint
• Effective policy and protocols for children missing education
• Engaging highly mobile, hard-to-reach children and vulnerable groups
• Establishing multi-agency partnerships
The agenda explores the need to manage the issue of safeguarding children who are missing education and balancing this with improving educational achievement and life chances for vulnerable young people. Attend this timely conference to engage with speakers who will examine how to put the latest policy into practice and share best practice from leading professionals in the field.

Let’s just let that sink in a moment. Elective Home Education, or rather “adequate provision for children educated at home”, whatever that means, on the agenda at a Children Missing Education conference, and a trustee of a home education charity is one of the speakers.

Okay. It should be obvious. It shouldn’t need saying, but evidently it does. Home educated children are not children missing education. The clue is in the title. Capita have even shot themselves in the foot in their own conference leaflet by saying “children educated at home.” Well, if they’re “educated at home” they’re not “children missing education” are they, and should not be taking up space on the schedule of this busy-looking conference. The fact that Elective Home Education is on the agenda at all for a Children Missing Education conference is a pure insult to every home educating family in the country. But that’s down to the ignorance (and political agenda) of the organisers, not Fiona Nicholson. Why, then, is she going to be there? Well, it gets worse. She is going to be there to talk for half an hour about, and then take questions on

Overcoming the Challenges of Elective Home Education
• Maintaining safeguarding standards
• Clear policies and procedures and providing guidance to parents
• Implementing the recommendations of the Badman Review

That’ll be the Badman Review that is still under consultation until October, and closes just a few days after the date of this conference (coincidence?), and which has yet to hear from a select committee short inquiry, prompted by the shabby and underhand way in which the review was conducted and reported on. Not law yet. Nothing’s changed yet. But that’s not going to stop a woman from the most well-known home education organisation in the country, which claims to need your money so much to fight the Badman review, from talking about how to implement the recommendations.

I don’t know how much more plainly I can put it – Education Otherwise are a liability to home educators. They do not seem to have the slightest interest in actually helping to “protect our rights and freedoms” as they promise to do, somehow, with your money, but give every impression of being an organisation that is only out for itself. They say they want to use your money to fight the Badman review, but then they condone it, and the sorts of attitudes that went into its creation, by conjuring up proposals whereby EO aims to make itself some sort of branch of Government, and attending conferences about children who are missing out on an education, talking under the heading “Overcoming the Challenges of Elective Home Education”. There are no challenges. The only challenge at the moment is for home educators to see off Badman, Balls and others higher up who are pulling their strings, and still at the end of the day have home education intact in this country in all its wonderful diversity. I don’t trust Education Otherwise with that job. Do you?

Well, I’ve been seeing this around the place for a little while now, and more noticeably since Badman, Balls and the DCSF declared war on English home educators, and have even personally been on the receiving end of it from a very high profile blogger who shall remain nameless (my crime? Objecting to being referred to has a “homeschooler”).  What is it?  It’s the “if you don’t do x, y & z, and something awful happens, you will only have yourself to blame” line.  Or, to give it it’s proper title, Blaming the Victim.

There are commenters over on Lisa’s blog, particularly, who I have replied to twice in this context, feeling like a lone voice against all the victim blaming (and the related victim judging, even when the judgement is that actions taken were the “correct” ones) that seems to be going on at the moment.

On this post, where a woman called Colleen told her story of persecution at the hands of Social Services, one commenter said this:

“This is the only way to deal with these people. Vultures do not go after the strongest animal; they hover around waiting to pick off the weakest prey. If you present any weakness, lack of self assuredness or ignorance of your rights, they will pounce on you. You must never let them into your house. Period. You have nothing to prove, no need to prove to anyone that “only want[s] to see that the education is ok and see what plans you have for child”. As soon as you open the door to them, you have compromised the safety of your family. How you choose to educate is YOUR BUSINESS, you do not have to persuade anyone, or take into account anyone else’s ideas about what you should or should not be doing, and you should never feel that you have to explain yourself.

This script may or may not be applicable in different situations; certainly, if it is your first encounter with these people, you could do it. No one has the right to ambush you in your own home.

If you get a letter from them, the first place you should send it is to a solicitor who should answer on your behalf in the most withering terms possible. You should not answer these letters yourself, if you are going to send an answer at all.

For all those who cannot afford a good solicitor, you should get together and form a legal defense fund. One thing is for sure; you need to understand what your rights are, and have a procedure in place to follow whenever people come to your house. Depending on what they are, you should have a script to follow. These people must obey the law. Never litigate your case on the doorstep. Do not enter into conversation with them. That is what solicitors are for.

If you do not do this, and you let them into your house, start to talk to them, treat them like human beings and listen to their ill conceived opinions and perspectives, you will have only yourself to blame when the outcome turns bad.”

To which I replied:

“I agree with Alexander and thank him for posting, but I do have to take exception to the idea that if we do not do these things we only have ourselves to blame when things go bad. I understand what he means, but think it is equally important to remember that *none* of the blame for the way social services or other agencies behave should lie with the people who are victimised or persecuted by them. As Alexander says, they will go for the weakest people, but those people do not deserve to be harassed any more than strong people.

We should all definitely know our rights, get everything in writing, do not answer the door to people we don’t know etc, but if someone does *not* do those things, if someone is less politicised or otherwise just less inclined to think like that, they still have a right to raise their children without interference, and are still in no way to blame for the heavy-handed tactics of the state. This sort of thing must be bad enough to have to go through, without the extra burden of blaming yourself. But, yes, it is a war and we must arm ourselves.”

Someone else then said:

“The blame the victim is how the system works when it wants to attempt to force an idea though it does not care about the victim or how bad the victim will feel.  It is a dirty business when the DCSF attempt to change the law.The DCSF will use every trick in the book to get new law though if that means blaming the victim it will do it!”

I did not reply but I will now, because it’s the main point I want to make with this post.  Yes, the DCSF, and generally all Government departments and agencies do blame the victim, of course they do because it absolves them of responsibility, and the commenter (who seemed to completely miss my point) is right, that is how they work.  That is precisely why we should not be engaging in any kind of “blaming the victim” talk ourselves. Can’t you see it plays right into their hands?  If we are going to go around blaming each other, it saves them the trouble of doing it.  And then they can say, well you were warned, and look, these other home educators knew it, and this commenter here knew it, so why didn’t you realise that if you didn’t do x,y & z, you would “only have yourself to blame when the outcome turns bad”.  Now look at you!  We wish we could help but, frankly, you got yourself into this mess. The fact that the DCSF use this tactic is not an argument for us to use it also, but for us to flatly refuse to engage in any victim blaming and to continually make sure, loud and clear, that the blame lies squarely on the perpetrator’s shoulders and nowhere else.

Just to take Lisa’s latest post as a perfect example, she writes about a Daily Mail report about PCSO’s who, as part of a “burglary crackdown” have been jumping through people’s open windows to scare the living daylights out of them and demonstrate how easy it would be for a burglar to do the same.  It is absolutely typical of these kinds of initiatives, especially ones that use such meaningless terms as “crackdown”, to blame the victim for the crime, whilst doing nothing whatsoever about the perpetrator.  You got burgled?  Well you left your window open, what did you expect?  Are you some kind of dimwit? Look at initiatives and strategies against rape and domestic violence, as by far the most prevalent example.  Always the question is, “What can women do to prevent rape or domestic violence?” instead of the far more obvious and pertinent “What can men do to stop themselves raping and killing women?”

Ridiculous as the Mail’s story is, it demonstrates my point beautifully.  In the context of the Badman report and the eventuality of the recommendations in it going through, blaming the victim is exactly what the DCSF want us to do, because it takes the responsibility for the invasions of privacy, the traumas to children, the destruction of autonomous education, away from them.  We can’t very easily put the blame on the Government department responsible if we’re all sitting around thinking, “Well, I didn’t do x,y & z, so I only have myself to blame.”  It is perfect for them – they get us to convince ourselves we are to blame and they get to pretend they are acting in our best interests, the ever-benevolent Government, saving us from ourselves.

If  Social Services come knocking and you answer the door and let them in and speak to them, and then “the outcome turns bad” it is Social Services’ fault, not yours.

If you are raped, it is the rapists fault, not yours.

If your husband beats you, it is his fault, not yours.

If the Government introduce all the recommendations in the Badman report, spelling the end of home education as we know it, and a completely unacceptable invasion into private family life, it is the Government’s fault, not yours.

Blaming the victim; looking at things that other people did and saying, “You did that right,” or “You did that wrong,” will not get us anywhere except where the Government wants us; surveilled, monitored, measured, tested, all for our own good because we are to blame for everything that happens to us.

[*Title stolen from an article by Andrea Dworkin about OJ Simpson.]

And lo…

Posted on: July 1, 2009

…the Lord did ignore everything the home educators said unto him, and did what he wanted anyway. And verily the home educators did employ much sarcasm in saying, “Gosh, what a surprise.” And thusly, the home educators did vow not to waste any more time on Lords or other persons with an interest that is vested, and the questions of those persons, no matter how reasonable they did sound.

…misses the point. He asked on his blog for our opinions regarding the review, which at first seems like a good thing – he’s asking, apparently with an open mind and with a view to fighting our corner. It’s possible that this man (as opposed to Badman) might actually listen to us and take on board what we have to say. He might even be on our side. So, many of us dutifully trot over to his blog to express ourselves, to lay bare our thoughts, our personal stories, the strength of our feelings about the review and the shameful, underhanded way it was conducted and the paranoid, back-stabbing nature of the recommendations. I was a little tempted to comment on the thread myself, but didn’t because I have worn out my patience for the subject for the moment on my letters to my MP and David Cameron, so my comment would have consisted of nothing more than a link to them, but I have to say I did love, and completely agree with this anonymous commenter:

“Lord Lucas,

I have no idea what having “… an amendment on the subject down for the Apprenticeships bill” means, but I can safely say this about it; whatever amendment you table, whatever legislation is voted on, we will not, under any circumstances, obey anything that results from the Graham Badman review of Home Education.

I understand from comments here that you are friendly towards Home Education, thank you for that, but it is frankly outrageous that we have to rely on the good will of members of both houses to retain and exercise our God given rights.

Bloggers and commenters have thoroughly explained why this review is absurd on its face, so I will not repeat their views here. I advise you to use Google and find them for yourself, instead of waiting for people to deliver the facts to you. You will find a population of very angry people who have had enough.

This review should never have happened. Its conclusions are flawed, and HMG has no moral right to implement them, any more than it has the moral right to arbitrarily kidnap children or kill people on a whim.

None of us are relying on the political process to protect our rights and safeguard our families. It is clear that whatever consultation is made, the results will be ignored. It is also abundantly clear that this sham government is hostile to every family in Britain, and that it does not care in any way about the opinions or rights of the individual.

I assure you that these proposals are going to fail spectacularly; you may convey to your evil colleagues in both houses who oppose us and desire that we deliver up our children to be abused by them that they should consider themselves put on notice. We will not allow ourselves and our way of life to be arbitrarily destroyed by the extension into the law the prejudices of two corrupt men.”

It appears, on visiting Lord Lucas’s blog again today, that this commenter was right to be less than keen to rush into the arms of this knight in shining armour. The next post on the blog is asking us (because, as ‘anonymous’ points out, Lucas seems unwilling to doing his own research) how we would like to be assessed and whether we would like Education Otherwise to train LA staff. So, I have finally had to comment, just to point out what should be obvious; that parents are responsible for their children’s education, and that is why schools are assessed, and that it does not and should not work the other way around. I also said he should be wary of referring to EO as though they somehow represent all home educators, or are a body whom all home educators trust, because they are not – not by a long way. Anyway, here are the questions Lord Lucas wants us to spend yet more time answering, because we’re not busy raising and educating our children or anything:

“So, for instance, how should Local Authorities assess home education?

Require inspectors to go on an EO training scheme?

Allow parents to have supporters (an organisation, or church, or just a friend who has been through it) during the assessment process?

Have an appeals system?”

*Headdesk* Once more, for clarity, and for pity’s sake, NO ASSESSMENT BY ANY OUTSIDE AGENCY IS NECESSARY THANK YOU. I think if anybody can be as misguided as to ask these sorts of questions, which essentially boil down to, “How would you like to be oppressed?”, they are probably not going to be a huge help in defending our human right to raise and educate our children in accordance with our religious and philosophical convictions, and without routine interference from the state “just in case” we are getting it all wrong or abusing our children.

So, Prof Heppell, what was the point of all that exactly? You would have to be living under a rock not to have noticed that a member of the review panel, Professor Stephen Heppell, for reasons best known to himself, recently decided to lower himself to speak to some home edders on their blogs. Dare to Know, Sometimes it’s Peaceful, and Renegade Parent were gracious in accepting him, far more gracious than I would have been I think, and hosted some pretty good debate between them.

Well, when I say debate, I mean what actually happened was everyone except Heppell made some very good points, very clearly and with infinite patience, even while they must have felt like they were bashing their heads against a brick wall, and lovely cuddly “Call me Stephen” Heppell picked and chose who was worthy of his attention, and evaded all the questions that really needed answering, such as: Why are you on the review panel? (Sorry pal, “because I was asked” doesn’t quite cut it) and Why can the status quo not stay the same? for example.

I have stayed out of the debate on purpose, not because I have nothing to say, or because I have no questions to ask Heppell, but because as soon as I saw him pop up on Gill’s blog, my immediate gut reaction was, “What the hell’s he doing here? He shouldn’t be here! What’s he up to?” and I had an overwhelming mistrust of him. I was suspicious of his motivations for engaging in this way right from the get-go, and I’m afraid those suspicions seems to have been validated. I admire greatly the many other home edders who did engage with him, some of them making brilliant and insightful points along the way, but I’m afraid personally I want nothing whatsoever to do with him or any of the other people on the review panel. I don’t want to be on the same blog as them, or speak to them, or even acknowledge their existence, if I can help it.

And this isn’t because of any kind of “lala I’m not listening” head-in-the-sand attitude on my part. I don’t want anything to do with them for the same reasons I don’t want anything to do with the bullies I had to contend with at school. Because they have insulted me, and threatened my very existence and way of life, and for that I would like them all to right royally Fuck Off. It seems incredible to me that a member of the review panel should come into our blogs, our space, and attempt to sell us his idea of home education, sell us his opinion that there is some undefined “problem” with home education that needs solving, and then repeatedly refuse to name exactly what that problem is. And no, I’m not using the phrase “sell us” by mistake – Heppell possibly stands to make a hell of a lot of money from the results of this review if it goes his way, and of course would doubtless have acted all astounded if anyone on those blogs had openly accused him of such profiteering.

So then, having thoroughly annoyed everybody (and perhaps having said too much and given away some of his motivations?) he conveniently bows out of the discussion, leaving many important questions still unanswered, and wishing us all a “Happy Easter”. Well, chappy, we don’t really do Easter in this house, you know, what with being a bunch of heathens and all, but if we did, it would be a hell of a lot happier if we didn’t have the spectre of this fucking unnecessary waste-of-everybody’s-time-and-money review hanging over our heads constantly day and night. It would be a really rather jolly Easter if we weren’t being accused of potential child abuse one minute, and then being told Oh ha ha don’t worry that was just a big red herring, the next. What a lovely time we could have over Easter with our children, if we didn’t have to worry about the prospect of being legally required to register with the LA and having home visits forced upon us, and “Monitoring Advisors” speaking to our children without us present.

No. Heppell – take your “Happy Easter” and your “red herring” and your strange “sad”ness that more and more people are turning to home education (oh the horror!) and shove it. And, to anything at all anyone else on the review panel may say or do, or has already said and done, you can shove that, too. The review is unnecessary, the panel is unnecessary, and Prof Stephen Heppell should be ashamed of himself for wasting so many busy home educators’ time with his pretend listening and engaging on their blogs in a debate where he clearly had his own agenda.

It seems pretty obvious to me that Lincolnshire LA’s response to the current review of home education by the Government is nothing more than them asking for the power to monitor home educating families, and further asking for the money to make this monitoring possible. They mention several times in their response that they would like to receive funding from the Government for HE provision, and I was never under any illusion that home educating families would see any of that money (and indeed, most would probably not want it, my own family included), and as far as I can gather no local home educating families have ever come across these “Monitoring Advisors” Lincs LA mention several times. They appear to have made up the post, which apparently nobody has filled yet, for the purpose of the review. The money they are asking for would presumably be used to employ these “Monitoring Advisors” who do not yet exist. Let’s be clear about this; Lincs LA have no interest in offering any kind of funding or other “support” to home educating families. They are asking for money from the Government to monitor us. They are looking after their own interests, not ours.

Anyway, I put together a group response from Lincolnshire Home Education Group to the LA’s answers to the review, and I’m pleased to say a few members were willing to have their name put on it. I sent one letter to Christina Shades, the woman at the LA responsible for the their response to the review, and another to Graham Badman. The letters are pretty much identical, except for changes needed as a result of them being addressed to different people with different roles in the review.

Dear Christina Shades

We are writing to you regarding the response sent by Lincolnshire Local Authority to the Government’s current review of home education. One of our members made a Freedom of Information request to see the response, and we are very concerned by what you have written. There seem to be several misunderstandings of the law and ultra vires responsibilities indicated by your response, which we have asked Graham Badman to take into consideration when conducting the review.

First, we would like to point out a contradiction in your response, when answering this question: “Do you think the current system for safeguarding children who are educated at home is adequate?” Your response was:

“No – Parents are not required to receive a visit or have anyone enter their home. Sometimes this means the child is not seen and although as an Authority we do everything we can, the process is too lengthy. We feel there should be a requirement of parents that they meet with an LA Officer with the child, so that the child can be asked how they feel about being home educated. At this point EHE is entirely a parent’s decision and we do not have any way of making sure this is also the child’s preference.”

This response is in conflict with your answer to the previous question: “Thinking about your local area, in the last 5 years, how many cases have you come across that use the premise of home education as a ‘cover’ for abuse, forced marriage or other aspects of child neglect?” where you demonstrate very clearly how the systems currently in place are adequate:

“There are no serious case reviews which have a home education element. We have not had any cases where EHE is used as a ‘cover’ however there have been cases where parents facing prosecution for non-attendance have opted to home educate. It has been possible to identify these through usual procedures and when necessary they have been referred back for LA provision – these cases amount to no more than 5 per year.”

On one hand, you can easily give examples of how the systems currently in place are adequate, and yet on the other hand you are asking for more powers. This contradiction gives the impression that the LA is confused on this issue, and as such we have advised Graham Badman to treat any requests or recommendations from you about this issue with caution.

Also, you voice a concern that the child be involved in the decision to home educate, as we’re sure the vast majority if not all home educated children are. Commendable though it is, this sentiment is irrelevant in law, which clearly states that the parents are responsible for ensuring that their children receive an education. We also wonder whether you would request a similar power to ask school attending children whether it is their preference to attend school? Of course you wouldn’t, as you know very well what response you would get from most of them.

We are also extremely concerned that Lincolnshire LA appear to be ignorant of the law on education. Your answer to this question: “Do you think there should be any changes made to the current system for monitoring home educating families and ensuring that home educated children are able to achieve the five outcomes?” belies this ignorance. You say:

“Yes – There should be a legal requirement of parents to present evidence and meet with a Monitoring Advisor. Teachers in schools are held accountable for children’s education. If parents take this important decision they must also understand that they take on the responsibility of being their child’s teacher and therefore will be held accountable. “

We would advise you to familiarise yourself with Section 7 of the Education Act (1996), which states:

“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.”

Thus, what you have written in your response is erroneous and misguided. It is, by law, the parents who are responsible for a child’s education, regardless of whether the child attends school, is educated at home, or receives their education in some other way. We are of the opinion that Lincolnshire LA’s lack of knowledge of the law on this matter is of grave concern, and that the ignorance displayed by you in answer to this question should mean that your response to it is discounted altogether.

Also regarding your apparent ignorance of the law on home education, we find it odd that many mentions are made in your response of the post title “Monitoring Advisor”. Representing the education department of the Local Authority, you should know that it is outside the remit of Local Authorities to monitor home educating families, and you have no legal right to conduct such monitoring. As such, it is hard to see the need for such a position within the LA of “Monitoring Advisor”. All that is required of the LA by law is that they satisfy themselves that the child is receiving a full-time suitable education pertaining to their age, ability and aptitude, and taking into account any special educational needs they may have. It is quite possible to do this without intruding into private family life, or forcing home visits on law abiding parents and children. The fact that Lincolnshire LA seem to have granted themselves ultra vires responsibilities, in first assuming the right to monitor, and then in creating the job of “Monitoring Advisor”, merely proves that you have no understanding of the law and, it appears, no respect for home educating families either.

We have written to Graham Badman asking him to take these concerns into account when conducting the review into home education.

Yours sincerely
Lincolnshire Home Education Group

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