Monday, March 01, 2010

Please think about this...

Petition - Please Sign.
You may not be aware of the controversial Children Schools and Families Bill currently going through Lords (having already passed through Parliament) at the moment. There is no doubt that this Bill will have a severe negative impact on the lives of thousands of home-educators in England, and there is little doubt that it will create repercussions for home-educators elsewhere, not only in the UK, but around the world.

Before you bury your head in the sand and think that it doesn't concern you as your children go to school, I will tell you that you are wrong. If this Bill gets passed and becomes law, the aftermath will no doubt effect every single family with children in the future.

If you don't need convincing of this (and are a British Citizen) then you get a gold star, and can merrily go and toddle off to sign your name to this petition here if you haven't already done so:

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/#detail - (Please remember to confirm the email or else your signature won't count. Thank you x)

Not convinced? Think I'm over-reacting? Please get yourself comfy and read on...

Living in England we expect to have freedom of choice. We expect to live within a democratic society where our voices are heard. We expect nothing less than being able to bring up our own children as we see fit. We decide on whether we breast feed or bottle feed. It is up to us, as parents, as to whether we choose to use cloth nappies or disposables. We decide when our little ones should be introduced to solid food, and when they are ready to start toilet training. We decide if we want to go to mums and tots groups or not. We choose when our child is ready to move from the cot to the big bed. As parents, the list of our choices and responsibities goes on and on. We also choose when (or if) to return to work, and what child-care arrangements we use to suit ourselves and our child (financial restraints accepted). We can choose when our little ones should start Nursery, if at all, and then our choices move on to schooling. We can (usually, placement numbers permitting) decide on what school our child will attend, or we can choose to provide our own form of education, at home.

Now, let's take a look at this for a moment.

The new legislation bulldozing it's way through the parliamentary system at the moment, is nothing short of a threat to family rights and choices. Why, when our child reaches that magical age of 5, is it ok for the State to step in and take over from the parents? How long will it take for the State to decide that they want to gain more control over the lives of our families? How long will it be before our choices as parents become irrelevent, and we are all forced to sing from the same hymn sheet? I for one don't want to be fitted neatly into a convenient box and have my life and that of my children controlled by complete strangers. Strangers who know nothing about me, my children, or our lives. Strangers who know nothing about our beliefs, values, or individual needs.

The Government are trying to change the law on home-education in England. Having listened to the completely flawed Badman review, in which statistics on home-education were worse than incorrect, the Government has decided that changes need to be made to "protect the children." Therefore, a licensing scheme will be introduced. Home-educators will have to apply each year for permission to home-educate. There will also be compulsory interviews with all home-educated children. I know that some of you will be reading this and wondering what the problem is, but let's talk about just some of those children.

Some of those children have been let down badly by the schooling system. Some will have been bullied (by their peers or their teachers), and will have lost faith in those that should have been there to help them. Why would they be ok about talking to somebody who they know has the power to force them back into the same system that previously destroyed their lives? Some children, like one of my daughters, will be nervous when talking to strangers. This isn't because there is anything wrong with her (she happily skips off to Brownies with no separation anxiety, and will go off with friends and neighbours with ease), but because she is naturally shy, especially around people she doesn't know. She wants to please people and make them happy. She wants to give the right answers when questioned. What will such children be like when under pressure? How will they feel when they know that this person has the power to force them into school if they answer the questions "wrong". Who will they try to please - the stranger? Or their parents in the next room? Who knows what sort of answers will be given under such duress and stressful circumstances. What happens when answers aren't given (when pressured, my daughter shrugs her shoulders a lot, preferring that action to not giving the expected *correct* answer) - will this be cause for suspicion? I know my daughter would be worrying for days/weeks/months if she knew that she was expected to go alone into an interview, with someone she didn't know or trust as the Government are proposing. Already she is asking questions about it. "What should I say mum?" "What do they want me to say mummy?" "What do you want me to say mummy?" It's clearly preying on her mind, I can't bear to think of how much it's affecting her already when she knows it isn't yet compulsory. Her worrying isn't strange or wrong. There are adults out there that don't like talking on the telephone and do all they can to avoid doing so, some don't like attending interviews, or get stressed over exams and fail because of it. I don't want to put my daughter through such a stressful situation unnecessarily. I am not abusing my child - why should I be under scrutiny as if I am? Under such proposals, children on the Autistic spectrum will no doubt be particularly affected, can you begin to imagine the damage that this will cause such children?

I know that those believers in the Bill will say that the interviews will only be held with the full agreement of the parent and child. Ok, so I say no - I don't want you to talk to my children. What then? I must have something to hide? And my children - they say they don't want to partake in an interview. What assumption shall be jumped to? At best, that they are ignorant and unsocialised? Unable to handle social situations? At worst, that I am an abuser that have forced them into silence? I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but the truth is, we just don't know how such reactions will be construed. Afterall, if we have nothing to hide...

The said interviews will take place in "the place where education is provided to the child." Obviously, it is presumed that home-educators primarily provide education in the home. The one place regarded as the safe haven for our children. Presumably this means that home-educators will be required to open up their homes to inspectors. Can we gain reassurance that our homes will not be judged and used against us if the standards do not pass the inspectors expectations? Already the fact that a home-educating family had incense burning during a recent LA inspection was mentioned negatively in a report about them. I fail to see the connection. What happens if the house is in need of re-decoration, or is a little untidy? Will such factors be reported as cause for concern? I think it is also worth mentioning that the Government has avoided using the actual word "home" as it was bound to be controversial and provoke reactions from those concerned with Civil Liberties. Theoretically, meetings could be held in libraries, museums or parks - as all of these places and more, are where "education takes place," but I wonder if these will be deemed as suitable, or if a black question mark will be hung over that family that chooses to meet elsewhere rather than home. Afterall, what do they say? If you have nothing to hide....

The report also suggests that home-educators will be required to produce an education plan for the year. These plans will then have to be approved by the local authority. If this education plan is departed from, then the licence to home-educate can be revoked. At the end of every year there will be an obligatory inspection to pass judgement upon whether the education provided is suitable. And who should be deciding on what a suitable education is for MY children. Indeed, is it even possible to define "suitable" and ensure that there is across the board agreement. People all have different views and opinions about what education is, how can we ensure that inspectors won't be swayed by their own expectations? This part of the Bill affects my family and the way we home-educate hugely. .

I'll try to explain why.

To those of you unfamiliar with autonomous education or unschooling, I'll give a brief outline as to how we personally do things. Basically, we are child-led. The children take on responsibility for their own learning, and we as the parents, facilitate this education. Please don't read this as "Child does what he likes and parents don't care." Nothing could be further from the truth. Say for example, one of my children sees something that interests them on the news or in a documentary, or reads an article in the newspaper that intrigues them. We will talk about it, and research it together. We will look on the internet, and find relevant books in the library. We will encompass many subjects into the project based on this topic. We don't separate our learning into the usual Maths, History, Geography etc. We will incorporate reading, writing, numeracy (perhaps by comparing populations of countries, working out currency values or measuring distances), art and craft activities, maybe cooking a related recipe if possible, arranging a relevant day out somewhere, visiting a museum, or contacting a society speaker to ask questions - do you get the idea? Sometimes we may write alot, other times we will write very little. As a family and not a school, we don't use written work as a way of identifying that learning and understanding is taking place. This means that hard evidence of education may be lacking sometimes. Much of what my children learn is done through discussions, watching documentaries, listening to people talking about it, going on trips and outings. I don't need them to log details of such visits on paper - I was there, I answered their questions, I talked to them. I know what they learnt. This way of learning works for us. It works because the children want to learn. It works because they are interested in the topic they themselves have chosen. It works because they have a natural curiousity that hasn't yet being extinguished due to being spoon-fed information, much of which is irrelevent to their current lives or future. If I was forced to devise and adhere to a plan for the coming year, to show what I was going to teach and how I was going to teach it, I couldn't. It would go against everything I believe in. It would go against everything that my children love about learning. It would take their choices away from them. Any spark or desire that was ignited about something could not be followed because we have to stick to the plan and don't have the time to waiver from it. I would have to say sorry guys, I know you are really interested in the earthquake that just occured, or the new planet discovery, or the reason that the iceburgs are melting, but we can't look into that right now. We have the inspector coming in a few weeks and we still haven't finished our human body study I'd promised him we'd do. Natural curiosity is stifled and suffocated.

So why does this Bill effect non-home-educators?

Because bit by bit they are chipping away at the rights of parents. Inch by inch they are taking over our day to day lives. Piece by piece we are seeing our freedom of choice edging away from us. They have already forced many single parents into work - denying many the choice of being able to raise their children as they wish to do so. Home-educators are next on the list. Who will follow? Parents of the under 5's? Will they be scrutinised and assessed to see if their home is an adequate environment and their parenting skills pass the test? After all, if we have to protect the children, surely the under 5's are a vulnerable age group. Why not make it compulsory for all children to be in childcare by the age of 1 - oh, but that leaves a year of vulnerability - I guess we will have to be subject to checks and assessments during that year "just in case". Why not go the whole hog and demand that people apply for a licence before giving birth...

Overreacting? Possibly. Worried? Definitely.

Nobody wants a child to suffer unnecessarily. Nobody wants a child to be abused or to suffer horrendous acts in the name of discipline, faith, or belief. If I believed for one moment, as a loving parent, that children in abusive situations could be saved by such a Bill being introduced, as I have described here, then I would be the first to push for it.

But it won't help them.

If a parent is going to abuse their child, they will find a way to do so. Ask yourself, if a parent intended to abuse their children and use home-education as a cover for doing so (as Ed Balls would have you believe with media scaremongering and clearly biased reporting) will they bother to register / apply for a licence to home-educate, knowing that that act in itself opens them up for further checks and investigations?

Those cases that have been banded around in the media (namely the cases of Spry and Ishaq), cannot be used as evidence against home-educators and thus prove the failure of the current legislation, although the media propaganda would like you to believe otherwise. In both cases the children were already known to be at risk before taken out of school. Suspicions had already been raised. In the Spry case, the teachers raised concerns about the children and the children were removed from school almost immediately - shouldn't alarm bells ring at that instance? The children were seen by inspectors, and work was falsified and provided as evidence of education. Horrific abuse continued. Abuse that could have been stopped. We won't even mention that this was in a Foster Carer environment...

In the Ishaq case, the schools where Khyra and her siblings attended had concerns before Khyra was removed to be supposedly home-educated. Social services were involved, staff at the school were involved, the Education Authority were involved. Still the abuse went on and a dear child lost her life, a life that could so easily have been saved if current procedures were followed correctly. There are already adequate provisions in place for child protection. The problem in these cases and in many others such as the Baby P case, is overworked social workers, agencies not sharing information, nobody following law-given procedures properly, and people being too scared or just not wanting to intervene. In some cases it appears that agencies don't know their legal powers and seem to presume it is up to others to do something. Why will spending millions on tracking, assessing, coercing, and generally meddling in the lives of such a minority that are home-educators, help this situation and protect vulnerable children? There are thousands of school-attending children being abused, despite being seen by teachers, dinner ladies, classroom assistants, and their peers on a daily basis - how can this be? Such a fact blows any suggestion that closer monitoring of home-educators would solve the problem as children would be seen right out of the water don't you think? Why is nobody suggesting that powers are given to intrude into schoolchildrens lives? After all, abuse can occur at any time of day, at weekends, during the school holidays, etc - nobody is saying we need to check all homes of children "just in case..."

The current legislation is enough to protect children if followed through correctly. Please don't allow the Government, supposedly servants of the people, to take an almighty sledgehammer of interference and smash apart the lives of innocent families, who are just trying to do what is best for their own children - undoubtedly - just as you are.

This is a fight we cannot lose. If we do, the slippery slope has been prepared for unjustified and unwanted future State interference into ordinary peoples lives.

Now, if you have changed your opinion and can see the link between fighting for home-education and fighting for freedom of choice and the right to bring up your own children with limited State interference, then I'd appreciate it greatly if you could sign here:

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Home-ed-families/#detail (please remember to confirm the email or your name won't count. Thank you x)


*Disclaimer*


These are my own personal thoughts and opinions. My own experiences, my own (admittedly hot-headed) rants and distresses. I will not apologise for voicing my opinion here on my own personal blog - but I do apologise if any distress or offence is caused to those that don't share my views. If you don't like what I'm writing - don't read it, but I'd prefer it if you do :o)

4 comments:

  1. Wow, that was a late one ;) and a long one!

    phew....

    Of course I've signed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You lay out the arguments really well. Anyone with half a brain can see why Home Ed is advantageous to those who choose it.
    The problem "out there" is that there are lots of brainless people, who've gone through the state system, and don't know or realise there is a better way. I know, because I used to be one of them!
    We have to keep chipping away at them.
    Again, it's like my previous comment, we have to offer them the red pill, and keep offering it to them.
    In Christian circles, there is the concept of "Ladder evangelism". I think this applies to Home Ed too.
    Ladder evangelism is where non-believers get told the gospel. They may not believe straight away, and it may take them many years, of hearing the gospel to believe.
    But each time they hear it, they effectively climb up another rung of the ladder until they reach the top and become believers. Some people go straight to the top on the first hearing, others have a slow, long journey up.
    If we view "non-believers" for Home Ed like that, it can help see why they don't get it straight away.
    My parents still struggle with my decision to home Ed. Particularly my father, who just can't see how any child can learn anything if the are not in school. My mother is tolerant, but still doesn't fully get it. She did take another step up the ladder when a friend of a friend told her of her daughter who home ed's successfully. It all adds up.
    Rambling now, and that's why I'd never have my own Home Ed blog - no one would get what I'm trying to say! (I blame my dodgy comprehensive state schooling hee hee)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I already signed too.
    Sarah

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Julia. That's just what I needed. Been feeling very demoralised.Signed a long time ago:-)

    ReplyDelete