Thursday, June 25, 2009

Buying Supplies

So if I want to buy A2 size scrapbooks or portfolio things, cheap, for storing children's artwork by name and year -

- and some for-adult-use pens of various sorts, including fine point dry-wipe markers -

- and sticks of glue for the children -

- and heavy coloured card (recycled?) for mounting artwork for domestic display -

- and I want it all delivered in an exciting parcel, so that I don't have to do actual shopping in a real shop with cranky, overheated children -

- where would you recommend? Bonus points for small, non-massive-international-chain style sources.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two pictures

A photo taken by Linnea:

The red light on the washing machine.

A photo taken by Ailbhe:

Linnea's waiting-for-supper drawing of a fairytale castle on a hill, with three turrets, a prison underneath which is very dark and bad, and an underground tunnel. The slightly alarming fairy has butterfly wings.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No, thank you

The other day, as Linnea was eating her supper, I said "Your friends who are in school - they are all five, like you."


"The other children who are five are all learning to read and write, at school."

"I don't want to do that."

"OK. Let me know if you want to."

Her cousin in Sweden is also learning to read and write, because she is seven.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DCSF Review: And now for something completely different

I tried hard to be reasonable and calm, going through the Recommendations one by one. But I don't feel in the least little bit reasonable or calm. My most strongly felt objections, on an emotional level, are in two parts.


The entire document is based on an assumption that education happens basically one way, though there's some variation on detail. It's based on teacher-led school-style pre-planned education. It's based on the assumption that goals and targets and developmental norms are useful to everyone, and that plans and set goals are reasonable things to ask all parents and all children to create, believe in, and work with.

If I thought school-style education would be good for my children, I would send them to school They are both perfectly happy without me. They thrive in large groups of children and demand vast amounts of social interaction from their peers (though we have a broader definition of peers then the school system does, since we don't restrict as narrowly by age as they do). I have no reason to believe that they would be bullied much or be unable to handle complicated social situations. They already do, often.

The document, and its recommendations, and the LA systems and the School Attendance Orders and the criminal prosecutions which may follow, all ignore the concept of Autonomous Education entirely.

And I read on the BBC News website that Mr Badman (Mummy, make the bad man go away) claims that

But he said parents would be judged against their education plans.

"This is not some woolly statement," he said.

"They will be judged on their plans. These statements should contain some milestones for children to achieve," he went on.

"For example by the age of eight, I think they should be autonomous learners, able to read.

"I'm calling for further work to be done, but also setting some parameters."

What is so magical about the age of eight? I know several people who could read early who went on to be extremely bright, or perfectly average, or so uninterested in the education on offer at school that they dropped out completely. I also know several people who read much later - including some who were as old as 9 or 10 before they could read with any fluency at all - who grew up into perfectly normal people with entirely functional lives and, in some cases, well-paid secure jobs which are oddly not disappearing into the waters of the recession.

Why is reading the same as learning autonomously, to this man? They are so clearly not the same to me, who loves reading and has lived on the inside of books for most of the past 25 years since I was one of those early fluent readers, that it seems entirely absurd. Why isn't it more important that an eight-year-old be able to plan a meal, go to the shops with twenty quid, buy groceries based on brand-recognition or single-word recognition, and prepare and cook a meal? Or knit a jumper, or plant, tend, and harvest a plot of vegetables? Eventually either it will become obvious that reading isn't necessary to the things this person wants to do, or they will put the effort in to becoming fluent readers, or they will figure out some other way around the problem.

That goal is just an easier way to measure from outside whether parents are providing the opportunity to learn to read, and that's not good enough. It doesn't measure the actual availability of the opportunity to learn autonomously from their reading, and it certainly doesn't measure whether the education provided for the child is "suitable to his age ability and aptitude and to any special needs he may have". It's perfectly possible to teach a child to read and not to question authority at the same time.

Child protection and rescue

I am absolutely in favour of children being protected, by the state, from abuse, and when protection fails, I am in favour of their being rescued. And that's one reason I am incensed by the idea of a register and an annual visit in the name of "Safeguarding." The numbers of adults I know who grew up in abusive homes - including barely-adults, aged 17 or 18, through the system very recently - and escaped, sometimes taking their younger siblings into their charge, without once having aroused the suspicion of their teachers or neighbours, is terrifying and tragic. It is abundantly obvious to me that relying on daily interaction with teachers to detect abuse is hugely inadequate, and annual visits can only be more so.

But given that they are already reducing the Health Visitor service for the under-fives, the most at-risk group, seriously injured and killed by their parents more than any other age group, I see no hope at all that they will increase the services available to children older than that. I heard somewhere that Education Officers (the title was from someone's memory so may be inaccurate) used to visit children of school age, taking over from Health Visitors, visiting more often when the child is younger and less and less as they grow older, tapering off gradually. They visited homes whether or not children were at school, offering advice on education and development stuff. I think it wasn't available everywhere, perhaps only in London, but it seems obvious to me that this service could help so many children, if adequately funded...

And as for a register, well, it will be lovely to find it on a bus or in a taxi somewhere, like the Child Benefit data, with everyone's names, parents' names, birthdays, and addresses. That will be great.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

DCSF Review - what the authorities should do next (Rec. 26, 27 & 28)

Recommendation 26
This comes at the very end of section 8, "Safeguarding."
DCSF should explore the potential for Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services (C4EO) and other organisations, to identify and disseminate good practice regarding support for home education.
We should work out how to work out how to tell what we're doing and whether it's any good. And if it is we should make sure we're all doing it. Quite.

Recommendation 27
This also comes at the very end of section 8.
It is recommended that the Children’s Workforce Development Council and the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit include the needs of this group of officers in their consideration of national training needs.
We have to train these people, and in any other situation youse guys would be the ones to find it in your budgets and resource management plans, so here you go.

If it happens, someone has to make it happen.

Recommendation 28
This comes at the end of section 9, "Resources."
That the DCSF and the Local Government Association determine within three months how to provide to local authorities sufficient resources to secure the recommendations in this report.
The taxpayer, including home educating families, pays for all this stuff for schooled children, and therefore should pay it for home educated children, too, so we need to sort that out! I approve of this, at least. Perhaps they can take the money from, er...


Well, there's bound to be some somewhere.

DCSF Review - safeguarding children (Rec. 21, 22, 23, 24 & 25)

Recommendation 21
This comes in section 8, "Safeguarding," after 8.11 - in 8.3 and 8.4 he says " The view was also expressed that attendance at school was no guarantee of a child’s safety, as other tragic cases have indicated. 8.4 I understand the argument but do not accept it in its entirety in that attendance at school brings other eyes to bear, and does provide opportunity for the child to disclose to a trusted adult."
That the Children’s Trust Board ensures that the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) reports to them on an annual basis with regard to the safeguarding provision and actions taken in relation to home educated children. This report shall also be sent to the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit. Such information should be categorised thereby avoiding current speculation with regard to the prevalence of child protection concerns amongst home educated children which may well be exaggerated. This information should contribute to and be contained within the National Annual Report.
In other words, he knows that school does not keep children safe from abuse at home, but feels that it ought to because there are other people seeing the child, even though it has been repeatedly shown that it doesn't, but common sense says it must. Surely.

But just in case, perhaps we ought to monitor things in case we're wrong about Home Educated children being more vulnerable.

I actually approve of that last bit, where he acknowledges that the value of your shares may go up as well as down actually home educated children may be no more abused than any other section of the underage population.

Recommendation 22
This comes after 8.12, where he says "First, on the basis of local authority evidence and case studies presented, even acknowledging the variation between authorities, the number of children known to children’s social care in some local authorities is disproportionately high relative to the size of their home educating population." and " So saying is not to suggest that there is a causal or determining relationship, but simply an indication of the need for appropriately trained and knowledgeable personnel."
That those responsible for monitoring and supporting home education, or commissioned so to do, are suitably qualified and experienced to discharge their duties and responsibilities set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children to refer to social care services children who they believe to be in need of services or where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
I have no idea what he means by the "disproportionate" mentioned, because he doesn't say that there's a correlation at all (which might be quite clever of him, if there isn't one, but is pretty stupid if there is) but I definitely agree that anyone involved needs to be very seriously trained. Rather better than most social workers, in fact, who at least are visiting families more often than annually, when trying to spot and help prevent abuse.

Recommendation 23
This follows directly from Recommendation 22 and is mentioned in the Conclusion - "To that end, I urge the DCSF to respond to recommendations 1, 7, 23 and 24 as summarised in the next chapter, at the next available opportunity.".
That local authority adult services and other agencies be required to inform those charged with the monitoring and support of home education of any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents’ or carers’ ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether or not they are known to children’s social care, on such grounds as
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • incidents of domestic violence
  • previous offences against children

  • And in addition:
  • anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education

  • This requirement should be considered in the Government’s revision of Working Together to Safeguard Children Guidance.
    If they think a child is at risk, they should report it, whether or not the parents are among Those People, defined as alcohol or drug abusers, victims or perpetrators of domestic violence, child abusers, or loads of other people who aren't fit to educate children, use your own judgment, but possibly including gay, poly, on medication for mental or emotional illnesses (even if those illnesses are currently controlled), too poor, or speaking something other than English as a first language. I am not at all sure that children in bilingual homes will be treated any better by home education monitoring than they are by teachers in schools, either.

    Recommendation 24
    This comes after 8.13 and is also mentioned in the Conclusion (see above).
    That the DCSF make such change as is necessary to the legislative framework to enable local authorities to refuse registration on safeguarding grounds. In addition local authorities should have the right to revoke registration should safeguarding concerns become apparent.
    We need to be able to deny parents the right to home educate if we suspect they are abusing their children... because children who are not safe in their own homes will be safer if 30 of their 168 hours a week are spent in a school, because schools make children safe, QED. But there's no mention of doing anything else to keep these children safe, in the 138 hours a week they are not in school, nor why those measures would be inadequate to cover the 30 hours.

    Recommendation 25
    This comes after 8.14, in which he says "I can find no evidence that elective home education is a particular factor in the removal of children to forced marriage,
    servitude or trafficking or for inappropriate abusive activities. Based on the limited evidence available, this view is supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers."
    and 8.15, where he says "had there been different regulations in place as proposed, they may well have had a mitigating effect without necessarily guaranteeing prevention. However, any regulation is only as effective as its transaction. To that end I believe it is important to hold local authorities to account".
    That the DCSF, in its revision of the National Indicator Set indicated in its response to the recent Laming Review, should incorporate an appropriate target relating to the safeguarding of children in elective home education.
    Part one: There isn't any evidence that we can see, so we're safe to say that more regulation might well have reduced abuse from a number we can't see to a smaller number we can't see. Part two: Local Authorities need to be monitored too, so let's have some targets.

    What kind of targets? A reduction in numbers of abused home educated children, from a number we don't know to a smaller number? Or an increase, from a number we don't know to a much larger number? A target for a percentage of home educated children on the lists to achieve certain things by certain times? A cross-referencing system against the child's medical records to see if they're on antidepressants or getting antibiotics too often? What???

    I'd have an opinion on this if I had any idea what kind of targets he's talking about. It might be obvious to someone who shares his biases or assumptions, but I don't seem to, and it's really not clear to me.

    DCSF Review - SEN (Rec. 17, 18, 19 & 20)

    These all come in section 7, "Special Educational Needs."
    Recommendation 17
    That the Ofsted review of SEN provision give due consideration to home educated children with special educational needs and make specific reference to the support of those children.
    If the LA are going to have a duty of care of some sort towards home educated children, then children with Special Educational Needs certainly shouldn't be left out! This is consistent, at least. I don't know whether it would be useful to families with SEN children.

    Recommendation 18
    That the DCSF should reinforce in guidance to local authorities the requirement to exercise their statutory duty to assure themselves that education is suitable and meets the child’s special educational needs. They should regard the move to home education as a trigger to conduct a review and satisfy themselves that the potentially changed complexity of education provided at home, still constitutes a suitable education. The statement should then be revised accordingly to set out that the parent has made their own arrangements under section 7 of the Education Act 1996.

    In the wake of the Ofsted review, changes to the SEN framework and legislation may be required.
    I'd like to read this as anything other than "They should assume that parents who believe school has been shown to be inadequate for their children's needs are actually incompetents (at best) who don't know their own children and need to be checked up on." But that reading leaps out at me.

    Recommendation 19
    That the statutory review of statements of SEN in accord with Recommendation 18 above be considered as fulfilling the function of mandatory annual review of elective home education recommended previously.
    OK, so they don't want SEN home educators to jump through both sets of hoops; that seems reasonable enough.

    Recommendation 20
    When a child or young person without a statement of special educational needs has been in receipt of School Action Plus support, local authorities and other agencies should give due consideration to whether that support should continue once the child is educated at home – irrespective of whether or not such consideration requires a new commissioning of service.
    I don't know enough about the School Action Plus scheme - it's a school thing, but I don't know whether it's something likely to be useful or intrusive. If this bit is about the LA continuing to support families with access to resources and guidance after they find school inadequate or damaging and remove their children, that might be quite good. But that's a very charitable interpretation and not actually backed up by the stories I've heard.

    DCSF Review - LA accountability (Rec. 13, 14, 15 & 16)

    Recommendation 13
    This comes in section 5, "The Current and Future Role of Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts," after 5.9
    That local authority provision in regard to elective home education is brought into the scope of Ofsted’s assessment of children’s services within the Comprehensive Area Assessment through information included in the National Indicator Set (Recommendation 25), the annual LSCB report (Recommendation 21) and any other relevant information available to inspectors.
    If the LAs are supposed to be providing services, then yes, they need to be held accountable for it, like every other service they are supposed to provide.

    (See my post on Recommendations 21 & 25)

    Recommendation 14
    This comes in section 6, "The Number of Electively Home Educated Children," after 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3, in which he says "Our own data concurred with the DfES (2007) report, that there are around 20,000 children and young people currently registered with local authorities. We know that to be an underestimate and agree it is likely to be double that figure, if not more, possibly up to 80,000 children."
    That the DCSF require all local authorities to make an annual return to the Children’s Trust Board regarding the number of electively home educated children and young people and the number of School Attendance Orders and Education Supervision Orders as defined in the 1996 Education Act, issued to home educated children and young people.
    I'd have thought that at least one year's worth of this data - preferably more - would be necessary to conduct this review in the first place. I assume School Attendance Orders are recorded and the reason for issuing them is part of the data somewhere. Why isn't this already in the report? Surely the change between pre-registration-and-support and post-registration-and-support by the state is what's important? Unless the goal is to show how abusive and useless home education is, rather than how valuable the state's assistance is and how much better things are with local authority services?

    Recommendation 15
    This comes after 6.4
    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.
    Well, quite. "We can't cope, so you'll have to home educate" is a bit... handwashy. And it didn't oughter be allowed. Good.

    Recommendation 16
    This comes after 6.5
    That the DCSF bring forward proposals to give local authorities power of direction with regard to school places for children and young people returning to school from home education above planned admission limits in circumstances where it is quite clear that the needs of the child or young person could not be met without this direction.
    If a child needs a school place they ought to get one, regardless of what parental error led to the need being inconvenient for the authorities. Good. Though some schools are already more overcrowded than others, so this might be a real hardship in some places.

    DCSF Review - ICT and exams (Rec. 12)

    Recommendation 12
    This comes in section 5, "The Current and Future Role of Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts," after 5.8
  • BECTA considers the needs of the home educating community in the national roll out of the home access initiative
  • Becta is "the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning." It used to stand for British Educational Communications and Technology Agency but so many people knew who they were that they dropped the acronym and use the name independently of it. Hm. They say "Our work cuts across a wide range of priority areas and key themes. These include enabling people to have equal opportunity and access to learning resources, creating links between schools and the home, ensuring the safety of all learners, personalising learning to enable learners and practitioners to interact and inspire each other, helping providers to plan effective investment in technology in building or refurbishment work, and using technology to ensure efficiency and value for money."

    I don't know what "considers the needs" means.
  • That local authorities consider what support and access to ICT facilities could be given to home educating children and young people through the existing school networks and the use of school based materials
  • Does this go beyond people using the internet access in their local library? Perhaps home educators will have access to super sekrit educationalists web resources? That would be good - the easily accessible free public resources are so extensive I can't imagine what might be beyond them, but we haven't really felt the need to look yet.
  • That the QCA should consider the use of ICT in the testing and exam process with regard to its impact on home educated children and young
  • Young what? I assume it means young people; another proofreading error, or something. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should consider (not sure what is meant by consider) that ICT could make things more accessible? Less so, because of homes without computer access? Not sure. In the review itself he says "This could be a report in itself but suffice it to say that the importance of ICT in learning, access to knowledge and information, communication and employment is self evident." which leaves me assuming that the people he's talking to already agree with him, so he doesn't need to provide any real information. Irritating. I can't form an opinion on this because the position stated is too vague to hold an informed opinion on!

    DCSF Review - what the LA offers Home Ed (Rec. 9, 10 & 11)

    Recommendation 9
    Comes after 5.6
    That all local authority officers and others engaged in the monitoring and support of elective home education must be suitably trained. This training must include awareness of safeguarding issues and a full understanding of the essential difference, variation and diversity in home education practice, as compared to schools. Wherever possible and appropriate, representatives of the home educating community should be involved in the development and/or provision of such training. It is recommended that all officers be trained in the use of the Common Assessment Framework.
    The Common Assessment Framework appears to be a fairly recent thing, too, but for all I know it's very good. At least they want people trained - at the moment the people interacting with home educators on behalf of the local authority might be experts or complete novices, almost at random, it seems.

    I like the sound of "a full understanding of the essential difference, variation and diversity in home education practice, as compared to schools" except that a lot of the base assumptions evident throughout the document make it clear that autonomous education is not considered at all. I wouldn't be in the least surprised if academic achievement was the main consideration, in fact.

    Recommendation 10
    This comes after 5.7, which says, among other things, "it seems to me perverse to articulate concern about thousands of young people yet cut them off from services that would be rightfully theirs if they attended school."
    That all local authorities should offer a menu of support to home educating families in accord with the requirements placed upon them by the power of wellbeing, extended schools and community engagement and other legislation. To that end local authorities must provide support for home educating children and young people to find appropriate examination centres and provide entries free to all home educated candidates who have demonstrated sufficiently their preparedness through routine monitoring, for aII DCSF funded qualifications.
    That all sounds fine - provide and access and menu are not the same as enforce and uptake and instructions.

    (I kind of wish they'd used lower case l for the word "all" instead of aII, unless aII is some educational jargon with which neither I nor Google are familiar - am I being ignorant or pedantic here?)

    Recommendation 11
    This comes immediately after Recommendation 10 in section 5.
    That in addition to Recommendation 10 above, local authorities should, in collaboration with schools and colleges:
  • Extend and make available the opportunities of flexi-schooling.

  • Extend access to school libraries, sports facilities, school visits, specialist facilities and key stage assessment.

  • Provide access to specialist music tuition on the same cost basis.

  • Provide access to work experience.

  • Provide access to post 14 vocational opportunities.

  • Signpost to third sector support where they have specialist experience and knowledge, for example, provision for bullied children.
  • All of 11 sounds lovely. If all that stuff was available (not compulsory) it would really benefit children and their families. If it wasn't for some of the other stuff in the recommendations, I'd probably be sitting here clapping my hands in glee. Though I can't see us actually availing of any of it except perhaps the music and post-14 vocational opportunities if the children turn out so inclined. Perhaps labs would be involved? I can see access to labs being helpful for some things.

    DCSF Review - authorities' access to the home and child (Rec. 7 & 8)

    Recommendation 7
    This comes in section 5, "The Current and Future Role of Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts," after 5.4, and is mentioned in the Conclusion - "To that end, I urge the DCSF to respond to recommendations 1, 7, 23 and 24 as summarised in the next chapter, at the next available opportunity."
    The DCSF should bring forward proposals to change the current regulatory and statutory basis to ensure that in monitoring the efficiency and suitability of elective home education:
  • That designated local authority officers should:
    – have the right of access to the home;
    – have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.
  • On what planet will a child tell the truth to strangers introduced to them by their abusers, even if they're left alone with the strangers? Maybe if the child is suicidal. But often not even then. How will they get abused children to speak up under such circumstances? What will they do if they do? I'm reminded of my school medical in fifth class. Hah. Or the custody case. How can a child tell the truth when they know the adults are listening?

    And then, there are all the people who have happy, cheerful, viciously untidy homes, who may or may not have the confidence to have their children assessed for signs of abuse without stressing for days cleaning up and so on.
    In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.
    I hope to goodness vulnerable children are being dealt with by more specialist experts than any of this implies. And let's not go into the idea that "well" implies "safe" or vice versa.
  • That a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the effectiveness of elective home education as determined in Recommendation 1.
  • This seems sensible, again. If the whole thing happens, the LAs have to be required to do it, and to do it properly.
  • That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.
  • Setting aside what I think of the statement at the time of registration, I have no idea how anyone can set guidelines for this. My children may or may not choose, at any given time, to demonstrate kindness, emotional maturity, a thorough and inventive knowledge of the various forms of "sudden pinch with the fingernails," some or all of the alphabet, and a dislike of being tested.

    Or they might want to show off.

    Recommendation 8
    This comes in section 5, after 5.5, which says "Such new powers will still depend upon, and be more effective, where there are good relationships and mutual trust, respect and open communication between the home educating family and the local authority. The home may well become the place of education but it is first and foremost a home [...]"
    That reasonable warning of intended visit and invitation to exhibit should be given to home educators, parents and carers, not less than two weeks in advance. A written report of each visit must be filed within 21 days and copied to the home educating parent and child. A suitable process for factual correction and challenge to the content must be in place and made known to all parties.
    That part is sound. If they have to come to the educating home at all (and I don't see why they do, honestly) then it's in the child's best interests for no-one to be completely surprised by it.

    But I do not believe that this will protect children who are at risk. I don't see how. Abusers and abused children alike are very skilled, very early on, at hiding abuse. Annual visits from relative strangers won't help.

    DCSF Review - Quis custodiet custodiens? (Rec. 3, 4, 5 & 6)

    Recommendation 3
    This comes in the middle of section 4, "Elective Home Education in Context – the Views of Home Educators and Others."
    That all local authorities analyse the reasons why parents or carers chose elective home education and report those findings to the Children’s Trust Board, ensuring that this analysis contributes to the debate that determines the Children and Young People’s Plan.
    I think this could be really good and might significantly improve schools if it's done by people with open minds and moderate intelligence. Which it might well be.

    Recommendation 4
    This comes at the end of section 4.
    That the local authority should establish a Consultative Forum for home educating parents to secure their views and representative opinion. Such a body could be constituted as a sub-group of the Children’s Trust with a role in supporting the development of the Children’s Trust, and the intentions of the local authority with regard to elective home education.
    If any of this - the broader "The Review" recommendations - is going to happen, this part is completely essential.

    Recommendation 5
    This comes in section 5, "The Current and Future Role of Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts," after 5.2
    That the DCSF should bring forward proposals requiring all local authorities to report to the Children’s Trust Board making clear how it intends to monitor and support children and young people being educated at home, in accord with Recommendation 1.
    Wait, what have the Children's Trust Board got to do with this? (Not to be confused with The Children's Trust - the CTB was announced as An Initiative (see this BBC article with photos of Baby P) though many local councils seem to have had their own branches or versions of it since 2006 or earlier, according to the results of a quick google).

    The part before this, in the main body of the review, had some examples of Lovely Things Certain LAs Do To Make Friends With Home Educators, including offering support, making advice available, facilitating meeting other home educators, all of which incidentally makes it easy to keep an unintrusive eye on the families and the children. I rather approve. I mean, I might not go to such groups, because we have a lot on, but if I lived in an area with less going on all the time, they might be brilliant.

    But what the Children's Trust Board are doing in here I do not know.

    Recommendation 6
    This comes in section 5, after 5.3
    That local authorities should where appropriate commission the monitoring and support of home education through the local Children’s Trust Board, thereby securing a multidisciplinary approach and the likely use of expertise from other agencies and organisations including the voluntary sector.
    ... ah, money. Voluntary Sector. Yay. OK, that makes a certain amount of sense. I can't find a clear and consistent explanation of what a CTB is or does, anywhere, but since they were only announced in a few months ago that's not surprising; the wheels grind exceeding slow, after all. They seem to involve an awful lot of branches, so I do hope they've got their interdepartmental communications sorted out.

    DCSF Review - defining education (Rec. 2)

    Recommendation 2
    This also comes at the end of section 3, "Current Legislation and Regulation."
    That the DCSF review the current statutory definition of what constitutes a “suitable” and “efficient” education in the light of the Rose review of the primary curriculum, and other changes to curriculum assessment and definition throughout statutory school age.
    Well, if they're going to demand plans and curricula and specific goals and targets, re-evaluating what constitutes suitable and efficient education is something they really, really need to do - and they also need to make sure they're not asking parents to do better than they ask schools to do. But if they're going to demand curricula they are ignoring the educational and emotional needs and philosophical principles of lots of people anyway. People he claims to have taken into account, if you read the body of the review as well as the summary of recommendations.
    Such a review should take account of the five Every Child Matters outcomes determined by the 2004 Children Act, should not be overly prescriptive but be sufficiently defined to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum that would allow children and young people educated at home to have sufficient information to enable them to expand their talents and make choices about likely careers.
    I can't even tell whether they are talking about the needs of three-year-olds or sixteen-year-olds. They're talking about people who have a likely expectation of a career, though, rather than people who just do jobs to earn a living and change what they do to suit themselves. The current economic climate seems to be an odd place to talk about careers, to me.

    Though it does perhaps mean that [an eleven-year-old I know] can cease educating himself forthwith since he has sufficient qualifications to teach in his area of expertise, without further training, in several countries. He could be earning his living now but it seems to be illegal for him to do so where he lives.
    The outcome of this review should further inform guidance on registration.

    Home educators should be engaged in this process.
    No kidding.

    DCSF Review - registration (Rec. 1)

    Recommendation 1

    This comes at the end of section 3, "Current Legislation and Regulation," and is mentioned in the Conclusion - "To that end, I urge the DCSF to respond to recommendations 1, 7, 23 and 24 as summarised in the next chapter, at the next available opportunity."
  • That the DCSF establishes a compulsory national registration scheme, locally administered, for all children of statutory school age, who are, or become, electively home educated.
  • That sounds fine so far.
  • This scheme should be common to all local authorities.
  • That makes sense and would do away with the "it's ok in Anytown but constant authoritarian hassle in Otherplace" thing that happens now, if properly administered.
  • Registration should be renewed annually.
  • I have no idea why but presumably this would be automated somehow.
  • Those who are registering for the first time should be visited by the appropriate local authority officer within one month of registration.
  • To prove what? that the child is still alive? The reason for and format of this visit needs to be made explicit (must try to read main document again). I'm thinking of a family with young children who were repeatedly hassled in the fortnight after the mother died of cancer, here - it turned out to be a bureaucratic mistake and the authorities were very sorry, but it doesn't do much to give one faith in their ability to do these things sensitively and carefully.
  • Local authorities should ensure that all home educated children and young people already known to them are registered on the new scheme within one month of its inception and visited over the following twelve months, following the commencement of any new legislation.
  • Register within a month of its inception, and then visit within a month as per previous line or within twelve months, presumably because of staffing issues. I wonder how they'll decide whom to visit when?
  • Provision should be made to allow registration at a local school, children’s centre or other public building as determined by the local authority.
  • Allow? Or require? Will families be required to traipse along to some central building and queue up to register? It's later made clear that the information about registration should be available online as well as at specific venues but not whether registration itself can be done otherwise.
  • 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.
  • When parents, having considered the matter and decided to deregister their child/children from school, actually formally do so, the school should disregard this for twenty days, making the children legally truant and the parents criminals, in case the parents change their mind. I am not loving this idea.
  • This period would also allow for the resolution of such difficulties that may have prompted the decision to remove the child from school.
  • Then there needs to be another list - like "The Not on the roll, but on the Definitely Got A Place Until Such-A-Date List." I mean, the period of reflection is not a bad idea, but if the child is on the roll and is not at school and is not ill and has not been granted special leave of absence by the head teacher, the parents are criminals.
  • National guidance should be issued on the requirements of registration and be made available online and at appropriate public buildings. Such guidance must include a clear statement of the statutory basis of elective home education and the rights and responsibilities of parents.
  • This guidance (information) should be available online or by post, surely? I understand that this might mean a print-and-postage cost but parents could be required to pay it. I can phone up and ask for information about my child benefits to be posted to me for nothing, and that's often a fairly hefty booklet.
  • At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.
  • This is ridiculous. It's not possible for anyone practicing autonomous education, for a start, and it's also inappropriate for a huge number of traumatised, bullied children who are being taken out of school for their emotional and mental wellbeing as well as because of the educational deficiency of the school. Lots of families need six to twelve months to get over the laziness and coasting, self-doubt and refusal, or other manifestations of trauma which even bright children develop. They've ignored deschooling and de-institutionalising entirely, here.
  • Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.
  • Ridiculous. Meeting, fine - or phonecalls; it would be good to get something like "Hi, this is Alex from the LA again, just checking you and little Sam are still ok - have you thought of any questions or anything you need from us since we last spoke?". Plans and structures, no, wholly inappropriate to vast numbers of children and should not be a legal requirement, especially in the very early stages.
  • As well as written guidance, support should encompass advice from a range of advisers and organisations, including schools. Schools should regard this support as a part of their commitment to extended schooling.
  • It would be nice to be able to get advice and support from lots of people, yes.
  • Where a child is removed from a school roll to be home educated, the school must provide to the appropriate officer of the local authority a record of the child’s achievement to date and expected achievement, within 20 school days of the registration, together with any other school records.
  • Presumably copies of this will go to the parents, too. I don't see how it helps anyone, though, since people removing children from the school system aren't usually doing it because the school system has worked so well for them that they believe the basic assumptions behind it to be invaluable.
  • Local authorities must ensure that there are mechanisms/systems in place to record and review registrations annually.
  • That makes sense, if it's going to happen at all.

    DCSF Review on Home Education (Prequel)

    The Department for Children, Schools and Families recently published a Review containing 28 Recommendations. The full thing in PDF form is available for download from their website; I'm going to go through the recommendations and jot down my thoughts on them. The quotes I'm responding to are taken from Section 12, Summary of Recommendations.

    My response is broken into ten posts, but they refer to each other a little, which is why I'm posting them all at once.

    In general, I found the review internally consistent (the points followed each other logically, without direct internal contradictions), but vague and full of unsupported assumptions - some of which I agreed with, but that's not the point. In particular, I don't see how even one child would be made safer by the proposed registration and monitoring. I can think of several ways which might work better, though I don't see why they are necessary.
    It is a cause of concern that although approximately 20,000 home educated children and young people are known to local authorities, estimates vary as to the real number which could be in excess of 80,000. [Section 1.3]

    Our own data concurred with the DfES (2007) report, that there
    are around 20,000 children and young people currently registered with local authorities. We know that to be an underestimate and agree it is likely to be double that figure, if not more, possibly up to 80,000 children.[Section 6.1]
    That is, in a country of about 60 million people, there might be 60 thousand children wholly unknown to the authorities. Hidden. Given that these children are not registered for child benefit, NHS services, family tax credit, passports, or anything else, how on earth will a register of home educators help? And how did the authorities lose track of 60,000 children between their birth and their reaching age 5 (school age)? This seems to me like tabloid scaremongering.
    6.2 ContactPoint will record the place where a child is being educated, where that is known, including where a child is being educated at home.

    6.3 Registration proposed within this report should complete the picture and offer further evidence of their wellbeing and educational progress.
    Why is Contact Point so inadequate? Can't they cross-reference anything? and if they can't, why are they proposing so many different committees, departments, boards and bodies to deal with this? Either inter-departmental communication is something they are good at, in which case most of this new stuff isn't necessary, or it isn't, in which case most of this new stuff will have the same problems the old stuff has.

    I find it very hard to believe that the most effective way of spending whatever money is allocated to education, or ensuring children are not being abused at home, or both, is to create an entirely new system based on unavailable evidence, assumptions, unsupported conclusions, and carefully making sure to link home educators and child abusers together in the minds of the general public.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Badman's Review

    I'm working on a series of posts about it - mainly just what I think of the recommendations - but it looks like it's going to be eleven posts, so it will be a while.

    I'm also really worried about the feedback I'm likely to get on my posts, but I suppose that's something one has to deal with. Anyone I actually know in person will be polite, at least, and assume I am not personally advocating child abuse.

    Le sigh.

    (The children continue charming).

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