Alt Ed

Reflections on Badman

On Jeltzrap, (24th Nov 2009) those of you who follow such things will recall that I wrote:

At its heart, the alternative education collective’s lack of confidence is the greatest challenge to its survival. The introduction of an expensive, bureaucrat led, logistically questionable and probably unenforceable, law is largely academic for the foreseeable future.

In light of the recent parliamentary discussion, I see no reason to alter my position.

Ever since university I have been a great admirer of Francis Bacon, not the artist you understand but, the great Sixteenth Century Natural Philosopher, he who coined the phrase ‘Knowledge is Power’. Over the past weeks, however, I have come to realise that I would be a terrible disappointment to him.

Another of the many and various observations that Bacon made was that ‘Silence is the virtue of fools’ and whilst, privately, I have not exactly been silent on the subject of Graham Badman’s Review of Elective Home Education and the subsequent Children, Schools and Families Bill, I have not made my feelings upon the subject public.

Silence, Bacon observed, creates a fundamental dichotomy between what others think we believe and we actually believe. It also creates an atmosphere within which only the loudest voices flourish, regardless of the veracity of their argument. In this atmosphere those who disagree become unwilling, or even afraid, to express their own opinions for fear of vilification.

Over the past weeks I have read an enormous amount about the threat that the proposed Children, Schools and Families Bill 2009-10 poses to our way of life. Some of the material has been informed, reasoned, and cogent. Much of it, however, has not.

There is little doubt that parents are extremely worried about how changes in the law will affect them and their ability educate their children in the way they choose. Parents have real and justifiable fears about this Bill. These concerns range from cultural and religious issues to political concerns about the power of the State.

However, amid the furore caused by this ham-fisted attempt to push through another piece of overly prescriptive legislation, an opportunity has been missed. Some politicians and (I am afraid) some home educators have made ill informed and inflammatory remarks for reasons that this observer simply cannot fathom. This can do only harm to the one thing that both sides of the debate claim they want to protect namely, the child.

In a thorough examination of the Badman Review and the amendments, with regard to home education, contained in the CFS Bill, it is not difficult to identify the genesis of these fears and concerns. Both documents contend that the local authorities (and therefore, by default, the government) should have a responsibility to ensure that all children have a ‘suitable’ full time education. These documents also propose that the authorities should have access to the child without the primary educator being present.

On the face of it these proposals seem to fly in the face of reason and common sense. After all, who are the government to tell us how to educate our children? How dare they assume that they can send uninformed and/or untrained individuals into our homes to talk to our children unsupervised? Are these proposals not a contravention of our human and civil rights?

The proposals contained within The Badman Review are seen by many as Draconian (a hackneyed and over used expression at the best of times) and it is true to say that they have less to do with education and more to do with population control and ‘bean counting’. Some of the proposals, it should be noted, do address issues of child safety and the ‘suitability’ of education that should be of concern to all parents regardless of the educational choices they make for their children.

Without a doubt, home educating parents are neglected and alienated by local authorities (and, incidentally, vice versa). But this will not be solved by either side ‘digging in’ and refusing to co-operate with one another. Accessing a wealth of educational experience and resources is an opportunity that HE parents should embrace. To fixate upon the definition of what is ‘suitable’ is folly. After all, if an individual is capable of providing an education for their children, they should be capable of demonstrating the suitability of that education to others.

It has been suggested that new law would give LAs a right of unfettered access to the child. To be fair, neither the Review nor the Bill actually proposes this. It does propose that wherever possible the child’s feelings regarding their own education be taken into account. This is only right and proper. This being said, It is conceivable that an over zealous, or even malicious, Local Authority (or its representative) might abuse the power given to them should the Bill become law.

There is an issue that needs to be looked at in much greater depth and that is the ‘safeguarding’ of our children. Unpleasant as it may be, even the most trenchant opponents of registration should be prepared to accept the possibility that home education ‘could’ be used as a cover for child abuse and/or neglect.

Before I go any further, I reiterate,

I am not suggesting that this routinely happens, merely that it could.

The concept that home educating parents ‘self police’ the HE community in this regard, is patent nonsense. The reason that it is nonsense is that the ‘community’ does not exist in any tangible form. What is spoken of as a ‘community’ is merely a group of contrasting individuals who have chosen to educate their children outside the school system for an equally contrasting number of reasons. Looking at the current campaign, it would be easy to assume that the extremely effective defense being mounted by home educating parents is coming from a cohesive union of like-minded people. The truth is, as always, so much more complicated than this.

During these observations I have tried to remain as dispassionate as possible. In the final analysis, however, as home educators we are already on the fringes of society but, we have to think very carefully about what it provides us as well as what it denies us. Personally, I am in favour of registration for reasons of child safety and protection. I am content to work closely with local authorities because of what they have to offer and, frankly, I have nothing to hide from them[*]

I also believe that our children’s education should be ‘suitable’ and even share aspects from the mainstream. Many in this debate have voiced concern over the possible contravention of their human or civil rights and there’s the rub. If we do not give our children the skills to re-enter a society that we may well consider inappropriate for ourselves, we are denying them their most fundamental right, the right of choice.

Primary Sources:

Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England – Graham Badman

The Advance of Learning – Francis Bacon

Children, Schools and Families Bill (sections 19A – 19I) – The Government 2009

Second Reading CFS Bill – House of Commons

[*] I realise that many regard the, ‘If you have nothing to hide…’ argument as a dangerous cliché. However, a cliché has, by its very nature, an element of truth to it. Sorry!


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