Dr Richard House: English Home Educators Under Threat: Time for a Stand of ‘Principled Non-compliance’?

The Home Education (Badman) Review has been published and we’ve already blogged posts about it below. It’s a timely reminder that like all alternatives differences are conceived as threats. The inability to see the true outcomes of education and the capable, contributory active citizens they produce is astonishing. If only the state controlled sectors were half as successful. Home-educators are actually pathfinders not problems and currently they do not place a burden on the state. So where is the bad news?!

The following extracts are from an article entitled

English Home Educators Under Threat: Time for a Stand of ‘Principled Non-compliance’? By Dr Richard House

The full article will be published in The Mother magazine (TM36) September / October 2009 edition. We thank both Richard House (author) and Veronika Robinson for permissions to blog extracts here.

Richard’s piece is yet another timely treatise of the madness and folly of the proposals. They are unfounded and illogical.

Richard reminds us the review proposals put in place a compulsory registration scheme for all home-based educators. A statement of intent would have to outline educational approach, intent and desired outcomes for the following twelve months

One could hardly imagine a more effective way of dissuading parents from even starting out on the challenging task of home educating, with the prospect of being inserted into the state’s “audit and surveillance culture” … one could also be forgiven for the cynical conclusion that this is indeed one of the government’s intentions.

Moreover (and it gets worse), “They will be judged on their plans. These statements should contain some milestones for children to achieve” … “At the age of eight they should be reasonably autonomous learners, competent in handling numbers, with rudimentary ICT levels and able to read. … Whilst Mr Badman is reported not to wish to be overly prescriptive regarding what constituted a suitable education, he has asked the government to review a statutory definition, and said parents would be judged against their education plans! … as one poster on the Guardian website poignantly remarked, “This kind of target and assessment may be required if you teach a school full of kids, but for HEers would make autonomous learning difficult, if not impossible”.

The government’s mixed motives and their sheer lack of understanding are clearly evident. Richard points out:

The Children’s Minister Delyth Morgan is also quoted as saying: “Most home educators do a fantastic job and I want to ensure they get more support from Local Authorities. But we can’t afford to let any child slip through the net – in terms of their education, or safety.” … it doesn’t seem to have even crossed the minister’s mind that it might be precisely because home educators have extricated themselves from the state’s educational embrace that they are doing such a “fantastic” job! (her term).

… But just one massive irony of all this is that it is commonly precisely those families who strongly feel that the state has made a veritable “pig’s ear” of their children’s schooling system that have opted out of institutional schooling to escape from the toxicity of mainstream schooling….
The lack of representation from home-education researchers is an obvious omission from the review Expert Reference Group.

It seems quite clear that the state should only intervene to fix something if there is clear, unambiguous evidence that something needs fixing.

… this group had no effective expertise on home education, and seems to have been populated for the most part by the heads of the child protection industry).

… research has shown that children in home-educated families often have far better educational outcomes than the norm …

Why, the researchers ask, do we as a society assume that formal learning needs to take over beyond the age of five? “There is no developmental or educational logic behind the radical change in pedagogy from informal to formal when children start school”, Thomas and Pattison argue. Moreover, and contrary to expectations, the surveyed home-educated children had no difficulty entering formal education. The informal curriculum is “as good a preparation as any” for college, university or academic correspondence courses, they argue. “The young people had the personal skills to make the transition with apparent ease.”

Richard draws his own conclusions. The review has little to do with child abuse and a lot to do with centralized control. He believes a stand against these proposals should be made.

…it was wild claims about possible levels of child abuse in home educating families that precipitated this review in the first place.

… The report found “a small number of cases” that caused concern. What evidence is adduced to suggest that such abuse that did occur would not have also occurred in an alternative regime? – none. What clear statistically reliable evidence is adduced to show that any abuse that has been identified in home educating families has a greater likelihood of occurring compared with the general population? – again, none. And what attempt is made to show that the negative unintended side-effects of a new stringent surveillance regime for home educators won’t do far more net harm to the overall quality of the field than any reductions in abuse that ensue? – again, none. As one poster on the Guardian website put it, “The business about ‘abuse’ is a smokescreen. What Mr Balls is trying to do is institute a regime whereby the curriculum of home education is dictated by central government.”

Just what are the “standards” that the state will impose on home-educating families? It is almost inevitable that they will be the kinds of “modernist”, utilitarian “standards” from which home-educating families have sought to escape! …
 …home-educating families are commonly rejecting conventional ideologies (competitiveness, consumerism, materialism etc.), and working towards making a different kind of world for their children. It is in this sense that home education is part of the counter-culture, and one thing that the state just can’t abide is counter-cultural activity…

This is why these proposals are such a matter of concern, and a place where a strong, principled stand of non-compliance surely needs to be taken. There are many many thousands of home educators in this country. If they can stand together, and simply refuse to comply with this further example of state colonization of the private sphere, then it won’t have a hope of succeeding.

Dr Richard House is a counsellor-psychotherapist who lectures at Roehampton University; a trained Steiner teacher; and a writer and campaigner. He is a founding member of the ‘Open EYE’ Campaign for open early-years learning. In 2008, Richard was voted one of London’s ‘Top 1,000 most influential people’ (by the London Evening Standard newspaper).

The full article will be published in The Mother magazine (TM36) September / October 2009 edition.
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