Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Freedom or Death

Tech, Freedom In Education blogger, recently made a comment on her Facebook status:
"Capitulation? No thanks. I'll go down fighting for what is right, not what is the best of a bad job!"
I may be wrong, but this may be in response to Kelly's post on her blog, suggesting (opening for debate, not advocating) that home educators in the UK might consider working for a change in law that may be beneficial rather than rejecting any change out of hand.

The following was my initial reaction. I will probably tidy this up and repost it at some point, time, work and poorly baby permitting.

The thing is we've been put in a position where capitulation, or compromise of any sort is now impossible. Fourteen months ago, when I was a young, silly optimist, I'd have said that fair negotiation towards mutual preference were the secret of civilised life. However now the government have shown they are anything but civilised or fair (and I've no reason to believe the other parties would be any better) it's become impossible to do anything but go for a hard line defence of what are basic human truths: the parent has first and only say in the upbringing of their child and the state should be severely limited in it's powers so that it acts as a safety net to catch those for whom there is evidence of need, not as a watchdog, seeking out bad things to pounce on.

This would go a long way towards sorting out the problems that led to the deaths of Khyra Ishaq, Baby Peter, etc as it would mean SS were available and resourced to deal with real problem cases and not spending all their time and energy running around doing 'just in case' checks on hundreds of people who are doing very well on their own.

Also if LA powers were thus limited, and the staff properly trained and motivated, people who
do want help and guidance might be more willing to call on them voluntarily as a service. After all, a public service is what they are supposed to be.

Finally, if LAs no longer had statutory duties to invade the privacy of anyone they fancy, they would not have the grave responsibilities which lead to all and sundry desperately trying to cover their backs, pass the buck and avoid potentially litigious issues. Perhaps then some more kids might actually get help they need.

But we live in the real world and the vast, creaking machinery of control and supervision that has been constructed in the name of the god of safeguarding is unlikely to be dismantled quickly. It has been built over decades and would take decades more to deconstruct, even if there was a popular will to do so, which there certainly isn't. Despite recent movements like the Convention on Modern Liberty, there is an underlying feeling among the majority of the population of the UK (and of Europe, and probably most of the Western world) that the state
should monitor and adjust and look after its people. Safeguarding (the paranoid and precipitate idea that "it shouldn't be allowed" and "someone should do something" that kills any kind of personal responsibility) is the cry of a lazy public who want everything done for them. There can be no victory for freedom until the vast majority of people are made to see what passive, docile suckers they've become. Given the effort that has been put in over the last century to turn human beings into consumers (passive, isolated, receptive, selfish), I'm not sure how likely this is.

Freedom or death was the Suffragette cry. As a people we are no nearer true freedom than we were a century ago. In the absence of an escape route, it seems all we can choose is to slide further towards death, kicking and spitting as we go. If anyone has evidence for the contrary, reason for hope, please let me know cos it's looking pretty bleak from here.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Response to my complaint to the BBC

My complaint to the BBC can be found here: http://every-child-matters.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-complaint-to-bbc.html

The following is their (standard) reply.

Thank you for your e-mail about the article regarding the case of Khyra Ishaq and please accept our apologies for the delay in replying.

We are sorry that you feel unhappy about the coverage of this complex case. The article you have highlighted looked at whether there could have been interventions that might have prevented the young girl's death. It reflected widespread public interest in the case.

Part of this story was that Khyra had not been in school - and in reporting this we reflected the views of Birmingham City Council about difficulties gaining access to see the child. They put this in the context of the wider debate about children being educated outside of school. This included Graham Badman's report commissioned by the government.

The article reflects these arguments; it does not take sides. It also includes the strongly expressed views of home educators who clearly rejected the council's linking of this case with the wider question of children being withdrawn from school. It also reflects the argument that Graham Badman's proposals on home education would not have affected the

These are sensitive subjects - about a very sad individual case and about an issue on which there are strongly held and very sincere differences of opinion.

We do our best to reflect these ranges of opinion. We have written many stories about parents' opposition to some of the proposals regarding home education. Last summer we ran a series of features showing why families had opted to educate their children at home.

Reflecting the views of home educators, the findings of the Badman report and the opinion of Birmingham City Council was an honest and thoughtful attempt to explore a set of particular circumstances, within the limits of a news story about the death of a young girl.

There would never be any intention to offend any part of the audience, including home educators.

Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch with us.

Best wishes,
BBC News website

A few notes about this response:

The quotes from home educators which were included in the piece are frankly tokenistic. Two sentences from a single home educator were quoted, compared to nearly 300 words, the introduction to the piece in bold, and a boxed out pull quote on the government line.

The views of Birmingham City Council even at that point were widely seen to be flawed and self-serving. They have since been recognised far and wide as the attempts of a desperate public servant to point the finger of blame at laws and systems which currently protect families from the abuses of state, as well as (when understood and followed) protecting children as far as possible from harm.

Graham Badman's proposals on Home Education were very probably dreamed up in advance by the DCSF in partnership with a group including Graham Badman and Tony Howell. The "Independent" Review of Elective Home Education was created as a smokescreen at least partly in response to the Khyra Ishaq case, as has been shown here. This blog, incidentally, does all the work which I would expect a respected institution like the BBC to do in researching and piecing together information from here and there to form a picture of what has really been going on behind the government spin. It is an excellent example of investigative writing which the BBC could learn from. The journalist who put the BBC's own piece together was in possession of many of these facts, as they were passed to him by the home educators he interviewed. He chose instead to regurgitate the national and local government line, placing heavy emphasis on an irrelevant side-issue (education) at the expense of the real story: the failure of social services to follow procedure, the subsequent desperate passing of the buck, and the scurrilous use once again of the death of a child to prop up anti-family, anti-freedom, anti-child legislation.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

My Complaint to the BBC

The following is the text of my complaint to the BBC over their online piece, Could Khyra Ishaq have been saved? I will be making further complaints about other BBC reportage as I come across it. I urge everyone to do the same.

I am complaining about the way in which the death of Khyra Ishaq is reported on the BBC News website. The BBC has a responsibility to follow the Broadcasting Code on impartial and accurate information in its news reporting. There are some factual inaccuracies in the article, but the main thrust of my complaint is that the article's text and layout severely bias the reader to accept a negative view of home education, and to accept the government's current political agenda, strongly rejected by the other two main parties and many independents, that home education in England should be regulated.

There are two views on Khyra Ishaq's absence from school. The almost exclusive promotion of the government's view, especially at this time, is politically biased. There is also much to say about her time whilst in school and the extent to which she was failed by children's services in that period; a children's services which were found not fit for purpose. Surely that is the story which should have been reported here: that a schoolchild was failed, and that when she was taken away from school this failure continued.

The article repeats several times in highlighted text the government line that Khyra Ishaq was home educated, when in fact she was just taken out of school by her mother. Her home education is reported as fact, when it is actually an interpretation which the government and Birmingham City Council have promulgated. It is inaccurate to say that a child who has never been de-registered from school is home educated. The truth is that she was truant. Just because Birmingham City Council and Ed Balls say she was home educated doesn't make it so.

Social Services were aware of concerns for Khyra expressed by the school several times, well in advance of her being withdrawn in December 2007. That this is not mentioned in the article gives undue emphasis on her time out of school which is politically expedient for the government's proposed plan to regulate home education.

The BBC journalist researching this story was certainly aware of these facts but has chosen to ignore them. The effect is that the way the story is reported ties Khyra Ishaq to the current Children Schools and Families Bill going through Parliament in a way that is beneficial to the government, just at a crucial time when it is about to enter debate in the House of Lords.

The erroneous idea that Khyra was home educated gives the journalist an excuse to give copious space to the views of the ex-chairman of several government reviews, Graham Badman. The amount of text given to what Mr Badman says , including the pull quote on the top right hand side of the article, is disproportionate. Whilst the government maintain that Mr Badman's views are accurate, there has been enormous controversy over the issue which should not and must not be ignored in a balanced article. That these views have been given space without a similar space being given to those many home educators and Members of Parliament who have repeatedly contested them, gives the article a political bias.

As an example, take this quote:

"He said while the number of serious cases involving people who were home educated was "very very small" studies also showed you were twice as likely to be the subject of a child protection plan if you were electively home educated than if you were part of the general population."

"Studies" do not show this at all. Mr Badman conducted a survey of Local Authorities which produced a small, self selected set of replies, some of which showed a high proportion of home educated children on CPPs. The conclusion he drew from this, which is unquestioningly repeated in the article, has been discredited by many people including most recently by Graham Stuart MP in the CSF Select Committee enquiry into the Badman Review, and in debate over the CSF Bill in the House. Statisticians have trounced Mr Badman's misuse of figures, and the canvassing of a much larger set of Local Authorities through Freedom of Information Act requests has revealed that home educated children are actually far less likely to be at risk of abuse. Again, the BBC should be well aware of the volume of evidence against Mr Badman's figures, but has chosen to ignore it.

It could be argued that the BBC is merely reporting the controversial views of Mr Badman, however, the disproportionate amount of space given to these views without any counter argument lends a political bias to the piece in favour of the government's regulation agenda, and the very controversy over his views makes it essential that a balanced piece would either provide equal weight to opposing views, or omit Mr Badman's views altogether.

Oh a personal note, I find it sickeningly predictable that the government is once again using the death of a child to further its political agenda. However, I find it incredible that the BBC uncritically supports them in this political aim through articles like this one and the similar inaccurate and biased reportage I hear today through other media.

The Myth of Democracy

It is now nearly 14 months since Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, asked Graham Badman to conduct a review into Elective Home Education. I have obviously followed this story of democracy in action through the ensuing review process, the publication of it's report, the CSF Select Committee enquiry, the drafting of legislation as a result of the report, the Consultation on the proposed changes to statutory law, the introduction to the CSF Bill and its procession through the House of Commons. Next week we will see it move on to the House of Lords where it will be scrutinised and debated through three more readings until it passes back to our elected representatives either for final amendments and enaction, or dismissal in part or in full, or (as we hope) - to be lost in the pre-election bargaining process known as 'the wash up'.

The process by which the legislation we choose to live under is formed is something that, to my shame, I have hitherto known nothing much about. I believe I am in a very large majority in this. Some people may make it their business to keep an eye on the doings of ministers, but I think for most of us we never find out about how laws are made until we find ourselves or our families directly threatened by them. The progress of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, and in particular those sections of it pertaining to home education, from Review to Statute has been an education for many.

One commentator in The Times says, "Home educators have no faith in government after being treated so badly by Labour. How can this be rectified?"

My feeling is that it can't. Our initiation has been into a world of lies, half truths and new speak where an "independent reviewer" is one with a vested interest (but we hope nobody notices), and "vulnerable people" are those not under the state's direct control. The phrase "children's rights" is often laid solemnly before us as final proof that they have young people's best interests at heart. Meanwhile they are shushing and kicking away the very children whose rights they claim to be protecting. In New Labour's minds it seems that children's rights are whatever the government thinks is good for them, and have nothing to do with what the children themselves, or God forbid their parents, think.

It has been said that democracy is the rule of the mob, and the New Labour government has proved this in exemplary fashion. The presence of a comfortable majority in the House of Commons has meant that this mob, through use of the handy whip system, can get any piece of spurious ideology passed off as law without the inconvenience of having to persuade anyone it is necessary or even practicable. The ethos of the Blair/Brown administration is that all they need is a sheen of believability to fool the casual observer. Those who take the time to dig beneath to find the truth will be outnumbered and in some cases bullied and discredited. Whether it's 45 minutes to Mass Destruction, or home educated children being particularly vulnerable to abuse, New Labour will peddle lies as truths and twist facts to fit a different agenda, secure in the knowledge that not too many people will notice. And those that do? Well they're home educators aren't they? And we all know what they're like!

Monday, 15 February 2010

A Reply to Baroness Deech

This is a reply to the Baroness Deech's blog post on the House of Lords blog site.

"If home education is as good as is claimed, then there is nothing to fear from some inspection."

The inadequacy of the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" position as an argument for anything is so self-evident as to be laughable. The Baroness obviously is rather lacking in her history education. There are a wealth of examples throughout history of people or groups who were doing nothing wrong, yet still fell foul of Ill-judged laws or malevolent bodies. Indeed, given her family history one would think she would be the last person to say this ("Deech is the daughter of the late historian and journalist, Josef Fraenkel, who fled Vienna and then Prague from the Nazis in 1939. Several other members of her family were murdered in German concentration camps in Poland during World War II." - Wikipedia).

The need for fear is entirely dependent upon the motives and the competence of those whose actions one fears. These are both in serious question in relation to the architects and executioners of the proposed legislation.

"If a child is frightened when a stranger comes into the home, the child needs help, not continued protection from seeing any strangers."

This shows an amazing lack of knowledge of, and an astounding lack of sympathy for children with special needs - autism has been mentioned by other people here, for example.

Apart from which, it is not necessarily the fact of a stranger in the home which would distress a child, but rather who that stranger is and what they represent. The Baroness seems ignorant of the inspectors already in place in some areas who will often lie, bully and cheat to try to get a child or parent to give them cause to serve a SAO. After such treatment, this is a healthy fear of a real threat. If the Baroness wanted to actually help home educated children, she could start by improving the regulation of such inspectors and suggesting a mechanism for some sort of professional standards of conduct and accountability.

"Other European countries seem to be running a lightly regulated system of home education and the UK is somewhat out of step."

Just because something is done in other EU countries it doesn't mean it is right. You still ignore the largest EHE community in the world, North America, which indeed is regulated in some places, but for which the trend (like New Zealand) has recently been to loosen their regulatory grip.

"There should be information on (a) the numbers and results of home schooled children taking science A-levels, and (b) their entry to the top universities."

More schools- and systems-based assumptions here. Science A Levels and Oxbridge places are not a useful measure of outcomes, especially for a community with a high proportion of special needs children. Nor are they the be-all and end-all of success any more than material wealth or salary. Some things in life are more important to some people, children included. Absence from the consumer culture and performance pressure that exists in school may lead children to find happy, fulfilled and useful lives outside these narrow parameters.

I also see your inference that science is superior to the arts or social sciences as another reason why the biases of the state school system
you reflect mean that it is an unrealistic and unhealthy social and academic model, both for children and the state.

"There should be some safeguard against home educated Muslim girls, or any others, not receiving the equality of opportunity that would be offered at school, or should be; and reassurance that children who are not English speakers are learning the language."

Sweeping and uninformed prejudice has no place in serious debate. I suggest you meet more Muslims as well as some home educators.

"The whole of society has an interest in how each child is educated."

And as I have pointed out before, just because society has an interest does not mean its interest should be fulfilled. Human beings (and that includes children) have a God-given right to privacy and the quiet enjoyment of their lives, and to maintain their own principles, beliefs and philosophies. State must prove that there is a necessity for it to interfere in the private lives of its citizens - again, children included - and that it is competent to do so. In casually throwing around insults, the Baroness has not demonstrated necessity, and gives a fairly damning case for her lack of competence.

Friday, 15 January 2010

In Whose Interest?

This is a comment I made on the Guardian website in response to others' comments after Graham Stuart's excellent piece, Home Education: a snooper's charter.

It seemed to be accepted by some people that, as the state has an interest in the education of children, it therefore followed that it should monitor the education of home educated children. Now, I have a certain interest in Jennifer Aniston, but I would be the last person to suggest that I be allowed to monitor her several times a year to make sure she is living up to my expectations!


Anyway, I thought my comment might be of interest, and frankly I stayed up way too late tonight writing it to waste it on a newspaper column amidst a hundred others, so I'm putting it here. Let me know what you think!

The Interests of the State: are they in our children's interest?

It is accepted that the state has an interest in our children. After all, these children grow up to be adults who will be a boon to, or a drain on society. The question really though is whether, just because there is a reason for state to want to monitor or control children (educationally or otherwise), it should have a right to do so. Rather than balancing children's rights against parents' rights, which is a government line which I find rather divisive and sinister, what this is really about is balancing the family's right to act autonomously against the state's right to have influence.

Now, to assess this we first need to agree on what we would expect to be a 'good' outcome for the education of a child. Of course, we cannot know what qualities will be beneficial to the state in 10 or 15 years' time, once a child has passed through the system from beginning to end. We have no real idea what the world will be like, or what specific skills will be needed in order to help the UK economy grow (if that is still desirable) and the country be competitive and successful within the global free market (should a global free market still exist). So we have to instead consider what would be beneficial from the child's point of view.

It would be fair then to presume that a good education would be one which enabled literacy and numeracy. It would provide skills and tools to enable the child to direct their own learning through their teens and on through adulthood, and foster a desire to learn. It would promote creativity, emotional literacy, security, curiosity, adaptability and independent thought. It would develop social skills and an awareness and compassion towards others and a knowledge and understanding of the world in general. It would help develop a facility for critical thinking. It would lead to a certain level of self-knowledge and self-understanding which would take the child forward into adulthood knowing to a large extent their strengths and weaknesses, passions and talents and what they want to do with their lives from that point on. It would develop and enhance those most sought-after properties of a successful life: happiness and contentment.

Notice that I am looking at outcomes here, not methods of achieving those outcomes as these are many and diverse and fashions in pedagogical practice and theory seem to change with every new piece of research that appears. Happily, these outcomes are of benefit of all parts of this triangular relationship between child, parent and state.

Now to the acid test. Whether you believe in this depends on whom you consider to have primary responsibility for a child: the parent or the state. With a few notable exceptions (Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong…) most of the human race has concurred that the parent is the prime party with responsibility for their children and this has been enshrined in English law for centuries. As such one has to see the parent-child relationship as the natural situation and test any intervention by the state to see whether it should be allowed. This is incidentally the fundamental thing which defenders of state-interference in the raising of children misunderstand: state must prove it is necessary that it interferes, and that it is competent to do so.

To see whether the state should have a leading role in saying, through monitoring and subsequent adjustment, how home educated children are able to reach the above outcomes, it is useful to look at the 98% of children of this country for which it is directly responsible and has complete control of their educational provision. This is where the argument for allowing the state to exercise its interest in our children falters. Given that this and previous governments have spent billions of pounds over many decades in various, often conflicting initiatives to improve the way they themselves educate children, the fact that a high proportion of children leave schools seriously deficient in many of these areas throws into doubt the competence of the state to judge whether a particular educational method has merit. Indeed, many of these outcomes don't even appear to be a part of their planning for the education of the children they have been trusted with. To be concise: if state schools were a glowing success it would be hard for home educators to argue against their progenitors having a hand in the education of their children.

Now, that so many children are failed by the state school system says to me that one of two things is true: either the state is incompetent, and despite all the money and the advice of experts and learned institutions over many many years, it has somehow still managed to make a mess of things. Or the state is actually messing things up on purpose for some reason. In either case, it seems foolish to say that the managers of an educational system with such a high failure rate should be allowed anywhere near the children of parents who have opted out of it.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The impact of the impact assessment

The impact assessment [opens PDF] for the Children Schools and Families Bill has been released. The CSF Bill section 26 relates to the proposals for licensing and monitoring home education in England.

Page 87:
"Children in the first year will all receive 2 * 4 hour meetings with LA officer
50% of children in the first year will receive an additional 2 * 4 hour sessions.
All children receive 1 x 8 hour visit at the end of the year.
50% will receive an additional 1 x 8 hour visit."


Remember: I have done nothing wrong. No one has any evidence to say I have done anything wrong. The same is true of nearly every other home educator in England. We are ordinary, honourable, law-abiding people doing the best for our children that we can. There is no evidence anywhere that says otherwise. The very few kids who have a bad time of it at home are caught by Children's Services or Education Welfare. Whether these services act to help those children depends on how well they understand their duties and the legislation that supports them in the pursuit of those duties. That is beside the point. Even by Badman's figures, 0.4% of the 20,000 children (about 80 kids) have been found and put on protection plans and the other 19,920 are not a problem. There is no suspicion that they may be a problem. There is no evidence of anything amiss, and without evidence there is no case for intervention.

What of the other 20-60,000 children who are not known to LAs, my own included; children that, a few LAs say (despite not knowing them, and having no objective definition of the term 'adequate'), are receiving an inadequate education? There is no evidence of a problem with them either. Not a sniff, not a hint, not a concerned note from a neighbour or doctor or an offhand comment from a friend or relative. Children not in school do not live in a vacuum. If there were a problem, someone would have noticed.

And yet the state will waste precious resources, which could be used to help children who actually are in need, on sending an inspector to my house for two four hour sessions and an eight hour session every year? And to do the same for every one of up to 80,000 other children who have also never given the slightest indication of a problem? All based on some unidentified person's "concerns" and another man's made up statistics? Statistics that are at best debatable, at worst conclusively proven to be wrong?

What the hell are these people on? Are they trying to drain Local Authorities of resources to help those actually in need? Do they want more Baby P's to happen? Or do they realise they are going out after the next election, and want to leave a big stinking mess on the desk of their successors?

It has been pointed out that registered childminders are inspected once every 3 or 4 years by Ofsted, despite the fact that they look after other people's children, often very young, and sometimes including those with special needs. I spend the daylight hours with my children and so I have to be inspected for a total of two working days every year. And they dare to call this proportionate?

Every good person should be outraged and amazed at this insideous Bill, and this attendant impact assessment, and should be writing to their MP right now. Every good person should be declaring their intent to oppose these massive and expensive intrusions on the privacy of families across the country for the sake of their own children, the children of all other home educators of England, and the children whose welfare is being put at risk because attention and resources are being diverted to hound the innocent, purely due to ideology, ignorance and fear rather than any evidence of need.

And their estimated cost of this unbelievable crime against children and the family? £20.5m to start up, £10m p.a. thereafter. Are they out of their tiny little minds? How can any reasonable person believe this?

This is not acceptable, it is a huge waste of time and money, and it will cost children their lives. I will not participate with this process. To hell with them all. If any of this goes through I will lose any tiny scrap of belief in this country that I still have. I will know for certain that the English Law is not just an ass, it's a corpse, and that England itself is heartless, soulless and dead.