I make no apology for writing a blog about the real world once again. The government is currently considering the recommendations of the Badman report on home education. I expect the 99% of you who don't home educate are planning to surf to another page at this point. But hold on! This affects you too!
For the whole of recorded history, there has been an assumption that the local authority will not break in and enter your property unless they have evidence that you are up to something illegal or are in danger of harming another person. Basically, if you adhere to the law of the land, an Englishman's - or Scotsman's, or Welshman's, or Irishman's - home has been his castle. They have no automatic right of entry without information or evidence that compels entry.
In relation to home education, that rule is proposed to change: the government is proposing that the LEA should have automatic right of entry, in order to see and interview the children, in the case of home-educated children. This is a BIG change to the law. Can it only be applied to home educators? I don't think, in all conscience, not that I think they have one, the government would be able to apply this rule to home educators alone without an immediate challenge on the grounds of discrimination. Thus, I think that if they go along with this recommendation, it will apply to all parents.
Now... we've all looked on, horrified, as tales of children being beaten and killed have surfaced in the press. The child who was starved to death by her mother and her boyfriend - how horrifically awful is that? The authorities present their case for access as though they had no right at all to gain entry to the child's house, and *that* was the reason they loitered around outside and didn't get to see her before she died.
Hold on a moment though. Concerns had already been raised by neighbours and others about the state of the children. The local authority has for a long time had the right to enter the home and seize the children if they believe that they are at risk of harm. They could have done so in this case, had they chosen to. The fact that they got it wrong and didn't is not anybody's fault but their own.
What they appear to be saying is that in order to fulfil their responsibilities towards children who are being harmed, they need the right to enter *anyone's* home, in order to talk to and ascertain that the children in our homes are OK. Does that seem right to you? Would you be ok about being frisked every time you left a shop in case you'd shoplifted? Or having a forensic accountant look over your bank accounts when you put in your tax return in case you hadn't declared some income? Of course you wouldn't. The whole of our system of law is based upon people being innocent until someone has the evidence to prove them guilty. Are we really wanting to change that?
I am appalled by how dishonest the whole system appears to be. Since the amalgamation of social services departments with education departments in LEAs, they don't seem able to decide how to monitor welfare and education and have begun to mix them up in a horrible concoction which means that parents will have no power and no means of satisfying authorities if the authorities choose not to be satisfied.
For most parents, losing their children is the very worst punishment they can imagine. For home educating parents, doubly so, as they actually enjoy the company of their children. Is the government really proposing to oppress parents in this draconian way, and can anything but bad come from it?
Bear in mind they want access to homes even if they are totally satisfied that the children are being educated suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, and even if they have no suspicions or concerns about the welfare of the children. I have just one question, why?
I believe that the authorities see parents who are home educating their children as a dangerous anti-social fringe of society. They read reports every day which link non-attendance at school with anti-social behaviour and the likelihood of getting into trouble with the police, and they appear to make no distinction between an electively home-educated child and a child who has been expelled or is truanting, even though they are very different.
I cannot agree that it is in the best interest of families or children to increase the powers to intervene without evidence, and I hope the MPs trusted to examine the Badman report feel that way too.
I think that some LEAs have been unhappy about their powerlessness in law to compel parents to comply with their rules on education. Many of them are completely ignorant about the efficacy of alternative methods of education, and there is a big education lobby of people who make money from education, who spend a lot of money trying to convince the government that this or that system works better or will work for children who are not achieving. I think there are a lot of vested interested in education from academics, institutions, companies, who don't want anyone to know that actually, doing nothing that looks like school is MORE effective in educating your children than school.
The authorities reject this idea without even trying to examine the very good evidence that exists that a loving parent who will talk to their children and support them in their endeavours, whatever they may be, will achieve more than schools. They look at an unschooling parent and make assumptions that unschooling means unparenting and uneducating and those things do not necessarily follow at all. They have until now been powerless to act if an articulate parent who knows their rights refuses them access to their homes, and they don't like it.
From my point of view, it seems highly unlikely that if a social worker can go into Baby P's home and leave him in the care of the people that tortured him to death, they could go into an average home educator's home and conclude that the children are at risk from a lack of curriculum, but this is precisely what I fear may happen: they may assume that they know what they are talking about in the realm of education because so many of the people who work in LAs in education are failed teachers and think that they know what education looks like.
It seems that hardly a week goes by without some injustice or other in the field of child welfare, and it invariably seems to me that the authorities are idle and do nothing in cases that require action, like Baby P, like the child who starved to death in Birmingham, Khyra Ishaq, like hundreds of others who have been beaten and abused... and then they take action when no action is required, such as the family who have lost their children do to obesity problems in the family, including a newborn who *may* have been returned, the child who was seized after a police raid on her family, the child whose mother went on the run because the authorities threatened to take her child into care because her ex-husband had moved near to her locally... the list goes on and on.
What shocked me when I read reports about cases which have ended in children being taken into care, is that more cases of emotional abuse have been brought than physical abuse. From the description of the case where the mother went on the run around Europe to avoid having her child taken into care, the authorities had already seized her son for some weeks because they accused her of allowing her alcoholic husband to shout at her in the presence of their son.
Show me a family who says that they have never raised their voices to each other in front of their children! I wonder what planet those social workers have been living on if they believe that a functional family never loses their tempers or raises their voices. If that's being dysfunctional, it's pretty amazing that most children aren't in the care of the local authority.
Of course, you are free to ignore this post, may already have surfed off into the sunset. But if you have children and don't want the local authority to be able to march into your home at the drop of a hat, I'd suggest that you support home educators now.
Edited 10 November to remove comment about parents needing a lie down after spending time with their children, which I accept may have been offensive to some.
Watching the Fire in Friedsee [Flickr]
4 weeks ago