Through the looking glass

If you look through the wrong end of a telescope you can get an entirely different perspective on what you are seeing. When you do this everything around you is much more important that those things that are now even further away, and diminished.

I’ve had some interesting discussions today. Some have been less than satisfactory because my perspective started so far away from the person I was trying to converse with. And, I’ll admit, that perhaps my approach wasn’t as conciliatory as it could have been. That’s largely because I don’t like people making assumptions about what I think, but I’ll take that and try and be better in future. It also didn’t help that the client I was using restricted me to 140 characters, though that’s no excuse, really. But mainly it’s because this is as important to me as it is for the people I was talking to. For entirely different reasons.

I was conversing largely with people who home school their kids. That was my first mistake, of course. The preferred term is Home Educate. So that didn’t help, and that’s my fault. The conversations stemmed from this tweet:-

If I can try and distill the reaction (and this is genuine attempt) most of the replies were from parents who were home educating because their children had already been let down by the system. Their schools had failed them by being unable (or unwilling) to meet the needs of their children. This was compounded by either LA indifference or by LA bullying. These were people who in trying circumstances were trying to protect their children and having to battle against the odds to do that.

So when some know-it-all pops up and explains that they have to register their home education and allow the LA into their house to inspect what they are doing their reaction was understandable.

I do get it. I get that schools fail (often through no fault of their own, but they do fail). I get that LAs can seem to be, and be, overbearing and officious. I get that the fight for what your child needs can seem uphill and lonely. So I get that from that end of the telescope I could possibly have come over as a bit of a prick.

So I want to just say a little about the view from my end of the telescope.

Avid readers of this blog (and yes, I think I’m justified in using the plural there) will know that my children are adopted. Aside from all the various sessions you have to go through to adopt which talk about why children are placed from adoption, before you actually adopt you have to what is possibly the worst thing I have ever had to do. And I did it twice.

Once you have discussed the characteristics of the children you are prepared to adopt (and this is time and a place where you learn a lot about yourself) you then get “offered” children to adopt. What you actually get is various forms about them and the family they come from. Sometimes you get pictures. If you get to a certain stage, you get a video. The forms are not great reading. When you understand that behind every form is a real child it takes you to a dark place. The worse part? That you have to turn down many before you find the right child for you. I can still see the face of every child we rejected. I can play the videos in my head frame by frame. I know it was right that we did so. But still. I hope they’re safe. I hope they’re happy.

Many of these children have lived in hell. They have been ignored. They have been lost to the system (even when the families are known to it). They have had no voice. They have had no one to protect them. And then you realise that for the 3,000 children that are adopted each year there are ten times that who are taken into, and stay in, care. And then, if you are really into truth, there are probably ten times that number who aren’t living quite in enough hell to be rescued and the system can’t cope with that many so they are just left where they are. Teetering on the edge.

The point here is that they are not small in number.

So from my end of the telescope local authorities, social workers and referring schools aren’t the enemy. They’re not the bad guys. They’re the heroes that go into these hell houses and rescue children. And the idea that we should know where every child is, and that they are being properly educated is not an infringement of parental rights but an affirmation of the rights of the child.

The view from where I am is not right and the home educators wrong. Or vice versa. They’re both an accurate view of the reality from our end of the telescope. Both viewpoints are true, for different parents, children, local authorities, social workers and schools. I’m not suggesting in any way that home education is bad for children. Or that home educators care less for their children than any other parent. Or that all schools are great. Or that all local authorities always get it right all the time.

All I’m saying is that the rights of the child are paramount. I’ll die fighting in that ditch. And that sometimes defending them looks like trampling over the rights of parents. And that most of the time schools, local authorities and social workers get it right and deserve our support in upholding the rights of children.

My original tweet came from a position of being unhappy with the level of school off-rolling, nothing to do with home educating. Without a proper register we have no national picture of why this is happening and therefore little hope of reducing it.

When I say there should be a register its not in ignorance of the likelihood that it won’t solve all problems (or that in a number of cases it might actually make things worse for a small number of children) but in the belief that it is the best response overall. Of course the effects of any registration should be mitigated, and it would be best that instead of being a private members bill this was a government initiative with a proper consultation.

If someone has a better way of doing this, I’m all ears.


21 thoughts on “Through the looking glass

  1. The trouble here seems to be that you don’t know how the current law works. First, home educated children are registered as such whenever they withdraw from school – there is a duty imposed on the school to inform the local authority, which then keeps a record of the child as being home educated and usually gets in touch with the family to enquire further. The only children who are not registered are those who have never attended school, and local authorities could register such children if they put a little effort in, since they send out offers of school places to all children approaching 5 years, and can easily deduct the children who are subsequently enrolled in school from this cohort to find all the children who have not chosen to attend school. However, LAs claim not to be able to manage that task, and thus claim such children are ‘invisible’. If it is such a herculean feat that they are unable to achieve it, how then are they expecting to find those children in the event this bill becomes law?

    The problem home educating parents have with registration is not that there is a record of their educational choices in existence. It is with the obligation to keep the LA up-to-date being imposed on them with legal force. A parent who is providing a perfectly good education should not have that education disrupted for failing to keep their paperwork in order, it’s not in the best interests of anybody.

    Also, a register in itself does nothing to protect children, in theory or practice. The meat of the bill is the annual monitoring, which would see families under no suspicion of wrongdoing inspected in their homes. We don’t do this to any other group in society, including (as the closest comparison) children below compulsory education age. If a three-year-old is considered safe at home in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, why should anything change a few years later? Current law allows LAs to investigate if concerns are raised about the education provided to home ed children, and for social services to investigate if there are welfare concerns. As it happens, home educated children are disproportionately referred to social services, rendering them uniquely visible to the child protective services…but at the same time, are less likely to end up subject to a child protection plan. Home educated children are actually safer than schooled children or the under-5s according to the available data, and increasing the referral rate from 10% to an effective 100% will simply stretch child welfare services thinner over a population which is at less risk.

    Lastly, you acknowledge that this may make things worse for some children. That is, sadly, an understatement. This bill would infringe upon the rights of home educated children to privacy (they have no option to refuse inspection in their home), and a family life (since in home education the family life is interwoven with the educational provision). It would also weaken the case for these for all children, by setting a new precedent of intervention without cause for concern. Given the current attitude of most LAs to home education – which is hostile and intrusive, on the whole – the passing of this bill would also likely result in many many children being forced back into unsafe and mentally damaging situations at school, because the education that suits them doesn’t match the expectations of the inspectors. And this isn’t a remote possibility, the bill itself specifies ” home education must include provision of supervised instruction in reading, writing and numeracy” which, while it probably sounds fine to people who have only experienced school, goes completely against the educational approach of many families, including that of children like me who now provide proof that ‘instruction’ is not necessary to produce well educated adults.
    (P.S. I notice this is still ‘awaiting moderation’, yet other people’s comments have gone up. A mistake?)

    1. It’s awaiting moderation because I gave a life outside the Internet. It comes first.

      The problem I have with all the points made by yourself and by others is the implied assumption that everyone is like you. What I sought to point out in my post is that not every parent has the best interests of their children at heart. This is a truth that many seem unwilling to acknowledge. Through all the responses I have had run the thread “parents home educate their children because others have let them down and they live their kids”. I’m sorry, but whilst I’m a sure for the vast majority it is true, for many it isn’t.

      There is always a balance of rights to be maintained. The right to privacy is just one right. I find the argument that having someone visit me once a year would be a gross infringement of my right to privacy a difficult one to swallow given what I know about how that right could impact on the life of s child. I accept all sorts of form filling for my children because I understand the intention is to keep them and others safe. I accept other impositions, for example, vaccinations because I know that their purpose is not just about my child but all children. It would be selfish for me to refuse.

      1. I don’t see where I’ve assumed that everybody is like me (or where I’ve said what I’m like, except that I did not require formal instruction in literacy and numeracy). My position is that either the authorities can already find home educated children without changing the law, or else that they can’t, in which case any child whose parents don’t have their best interests at heart can simply not register. If you were keeping your kid chained up in the basement and nobody knew about it, would the introduction of a register make you go and sign up to be inspected? Or would you simply stay hidden? This is about practicality, not assuming all parents are angels.

        There’s nothing in my post about home education being solely because schools have let children down. That’s a valid reason, to be sure, but there’s no need for any reason in particular. Education is legally the responsibility of parents, there’s no reason they should delegate that duty to a state provider, though many choose to.

        You speak of having to fill in forms for your children, but that’s because you adopted – when parents die or are unable to care for their offspring, the children become wards of the state, who then have a duty to make sure that guardianship is passed on responsibly. But children do not initially belong to the state, they belong to their parents, and the state should not be in a position of deciding ‘on balance’ whether it thinks it or the parents would be better at the job. We leave that to the courts, and only when there is evidence that the child is at risk of significant harm, because otherwise we risk heading straight into Pol Pot territory. Parents may not always have the best interests of their child at heart, but the state never does, because it deals with too many at once. You only have to look at the outcomes for children who spend their entire lives in care to see that.

        Lastly, you mention vaccinations. I hope you vaccinate because you think it works for your child, not just for the sake of others. But whatever your reasons, other people are not forced to do the same – neither vaccination nor any other form of medical treatment is mandatory. Again, the state cannot simply decide to force citizens to accept treatment, and it’s not because any one treatment isn’t a good idea, it’s a matter of principle. If we let the state forcibly medicate people with one treatment, we open the door to forcible medication with others, not all of which may be good. There have been several historical cases of vaccine batches being contaminated, and if people had not been able to refuse in those cases the injury/death toll would have been worse than it was.

        The same principle applies here. It is better for the state to intervene only when concerns are raised, even if that means a few children do ‘slip under the radar’ and suffer abuse, than for all children to lose their rights and a few to suffer abuse thanks to state intervention. Yes, it’s very sad when someone like Joseph Fritzl comes along. It’s also very sad when a child is forced into school and subsequently commits suicide. If this bill passes, the former can still happen, just as it did in Austria, just as similar things do with school children, but the latter will actively increase. That’s not an improvement. Sacrificing children who are currently happy and healthy to a sense that we’re ‘doing something’ about those who aren’t is unethical in the extreme.

        Lastly, you haven’t addressed the point I made about home educated children actually being at lower risk than the general public according to the data we have. You may not believe me, so this time I’m including a source for my claim:

  2. Teacher fired for reporting fellow teacher sexually abusing pupils, this is the norm apparent , and it must be true it’s in the Guardian

    Children suffering as mental health services fail, ooh I wonder if that has anything to do with NHS being dismantled

    Oh look here’s a more recent one

    Ooh look. It’s like The Guardian has been writing about this for years……

    Ooh look. Teeny little children who see more of their teachers than they do of their families. And yet the more hours they have to attend school, the more their mental health deteriorates. It’s like there’s a phantom link somewhere…. gah!, there it is. It’s the mothers….. Obviously the stupid woman shouldn’t be trying to address the sibling suddenly disappearing, because children are tooooo dumb to notice these things, and the sibling dying of course wouldn’t upset the child because it’s not like they have any feelings or anything so it has to be the mothers fault. And the stupid woman only has a few hours with her child. She should be dressing it and cleaning it like the little doll it is the same way she should be dressing and cleaning her home for other people to look at, not TALKING to it!!!

      1. I don’t argue petal, I educate, and you were too impotent to address my argument further down too. I guess your ickle whittle head can’t take that much information, even when all you have to do is click on the links. Bless.

  3. Ask yourself this: Why is Lord Soley, with no background in education, suddenly so concerned about the welfare of a (relatively) small group of children? Especially when there is no evidence to suggest that they are at any risk of harm – how many child abuse cases have involved home educating families?

    You estimate there to be 30,000 children who will remain in care, and 10 times that number who should be ‘rescued’ but won’t be. Why then does a member of the HoL, with power to effect change, and a voice, not devote his time and resources to help these children to have a future? Or the many thousands of children who are living in poverty in this country? Or even the many thousands of children who are suffering at school – from bullying, from mental health issues brought on by the ever-increasing pressures, from a lack of resources for SEN provisions – why not tackle the very real problems within our education system?

    There are already systems in place to monitor home educators. What Lord Soley is proposing asks us to assume that all home educated children are at risk of abuse and/or radicalisation – guilty unless proven innocent. He himself has admitted that he has done no research into this – it would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

    Not all people come to HE in desperation – I feel sympathy for children who are failed by the school system, but many of us choose life without school. We believe that our children have a right to childhood; that they have a right to discover the world at their own pace, to follow their own interests, and to be free of the pressure of endless testing. The world needs innovators and problem-solvers.

    I agree – the rights of children *are* paramount – maybe we should begin by asking *all* children whether they would like to be home educated or in school? Our children are self-harming, they are committing suicide, they are being injured, abused, and even murdered despite – and even due to – being in school; this is the true scandal, which is deliberately being ignored, while we allow ourselves to be diverted by smoke screens and non-stories.

    1. So your argument is that we should avoid doing anything to help any child because we can’t help all of them. And that everyone involved in home ed is lovely so none of those kids are at risk.

      1. You don’t seem to be arguing in good faith here. Seren clearly thinks we should be helping some children – those that we already know are at risk. You say there aren’t the resources to take some children who are currently known to be in dangerous or abusive situations into care. Why not put the money that monitoring home education would use towards those children instead?
        That isn’t a suggestion to do nothing, it’s a suggesting to use limited resources responsibly, by focusing on the children we know are in need rather than a group that is mostly doing just fine.

      2. I fail to see how you reach that conclusion based on what I actually said?

        My ‘argument’ is that, if there are limited resources available then wouldn’t it be a better use of those resources to help children who we already know to be in desperate need, rather than to squander them in creating a haystack in order to find a needle? Or ask why so many children are being removed from schools, and then do something to fix that?

        Your disingenuous response and failure to address my comments is somewhat telling – you are happy to support this Bill, but when faced with arguments against it you don’t want to engage.

  4. 1. How could a list solve anything?
    I am coming from a country where state has lists. Several lists. I have never met a list about people that was fair. If social workers or other people do not have to meet the kids (and luckily they can’t if the parents don’t want to), how could they know any hidden truth, any hidden agression or abuse???
    Even if kids met these workers, helpers, they would be strangers for them and abused children are more like to be silent than other children.
    So how could a list help them???

    2. One of our neighbours tried to kill himself some time ago. It was the 8-year-old grandson who found him hanging from the towel dryer.
    This family was well-known in the town, parents were hitting their kids, kids hitting their parents, alcohol, of course. Social services didn’t do anything and hasn’t done anything except for giving them some charity clothes and shoes.
    But that child had to cut that rope. He was there alone.
    All kids attend school.

    What I am trying to say is, lists are harmful, you can find proof in history, and lists are the first step towards something, that is the reason homeeducators don’t want it.
    There are huge problems in some families and the ‘system’ cannot solve these. The cause of failure is not that they don’t know the families.

    1. “…lists are the first step towards something, that is the reason homeeducators don’t want it…” That’s fantastic if the home educator is a wonderful person and a great educator. Problem is that not everyone is.

  5. Yes there are children treated horrendously by their families. They end up in the care system and in most cases the families, including the children are known to the state from the start. Yes, birth. But how many children who are abused are from home educating families? So why pick on home educators? Why not say that all children, all families should have someone from the LA come in to chat to a child about their whole life once a year? Surely that would be better. If they are coming in to talk about education then the talk should be just about that (and yes I have issues on that as how can anyone judge a child on a brief meeting once a year, for some children they do not talk to unknown adults and would they be judged against?) If the issue is more about abuse, safety etc then all children should have a meeting at least once a year, at home or at another place of safety with 2 adults (of course, one adult could abuse or give a different story afterwards than the child and possibly the meeting recorded so the parents can be assured that the child was not interrogated inappropriately) and the child given the chance to air any grievances they may have regarding home, school, life in general.
    Don’t pick on home educators about an issue that is to do with safety and abuse.

    1. Children in school already have many trusted adults they can speak to. They have around them many adults who have as one of their responsibilities being aware of the possibility of safeguarding issues with children. When Ofsted visit schools the inspection team will speak to students about their education and also any safeguarding issues they are aware of. So I’m not picking on home educators as I’m not suggesting anything for home educated children that does not already apply to all children.

      1. Yes you are. Countless school children are abused and murdered. So if you want to protect children, you want to be checking up on all children, everywhere, in every home. Unless of course you’re happy for school children to continue being abused. Or unless what you actually mean is, we’re quite happy for men to abuse children, but we must use every means at our disposal to dominate and control women, and their children – so they remain at our disposal for our abuse. Below is copied and pasted from elsewhere.

        How about first a register of dangerous serial domestic abuse perpetrators – those who are known to pose a high threat to women and children in particular? The truth is (honestly) that these perpetrators are free to move from home to home. Relationship to relationship. Even though we have academic research to prove that almost every intimate terrorist (the name given to a control motivated abuser) poses a direct threat to children, we, as professionals, have no means to track them (unless they are subject to a Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangement – which is VERY rare for domestic abuse).
        Ultimately they are ‘missing’.
        In 2017, The Clough Family, in memory of their late daughter Jane Clough, presented a petition to 10 Downing Street with 130,000 signatures requesting a national register for convicted serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators. As yet, nothing has happened despite two women being killed every day and 140+ children killed every year in the UK at the hands of these known abusers.

      2. “Unless of course you’re happy for school children to continue being abused”. Seriously, what makes you suggest that? What words have I written that make you think that about me?

      3. Exactly! EXACTLY!!! ‘Children in school already have many trusted adults they can speak to’, no, the decent teachers have been driven out the remainder have no time but that’s another matter, NSPCC child abuse statistics show that simply isn’t happening, disabled children are 3 times more likely to be abused, 1 in 3 sexual assaults are committed by other children. Those ‘other children’ are in school. Our response, to protect them, clothe them, feed them, against your response, to rape them, murder them, mark them out of 10, is met with well make them available to yet more predators. And you? What do you yourself say when faced with a real solution to children being harmed and murdered? You literally say ‘me, me, me’ and that is your ONLY response. Therein lies exemplified the entire situation.

  6. If the rights of the child are paramount, listen to the children saying that they don’t want strangers in their homes, metaphorically poking and prodding at them, demanding to know how they’re “developing.” They have a right to privacy – as we all do. Maybe the parents aren’t trying to impose their rights above their kid’s rights – maybe they’re defending their kid’s rights precisely because those rights are being trampled on?

    1. Maybe they are. Probably they are. But maybe, just maybe they’re hiding something else.

      Your childs right to privacy may well be some other childs sentence to a living hell. Personally, and this is just me, I think that sentencing some other kid to a living hell just so i can protect my childs privacy and protect them from being asked about how they are being educated would be the wrong thing for me to to. You see, my kids would never forgive me if I did that. But, as I say, that’s just me. Other people can, if they prefer, think differently.

      1. Ah, but that’s the thing! I’m trying to protect my children from being sentenced to a living hell – one of my children has OCD, so her idea of a living hell is the constant knowing that someone is going to appear sporadically to judge her. In fact, it’s quite likely that it would cause her to have a complete breakdown. She needs – really NEEDS – that privacy. Sadly, I know numerous others that are in the same situation. So, by trying to protect “just one child” (as is often touted in the media), this would cause untold and serious damage to many. That would be the wrong thing thing for me, and the hundreds like me, to do. You want to protect the one child, I want to protect hundreds (if not thousands.)

      2. And your child should have that privacy. All children should have what they need. However, there are eight million school age children in the country so the idea that only one is at risk is specious.

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