A Home Educating Mum Writes to Her MP

Posted 17/01/2018 by randalluk
Categories: Home Education UK

Lord Soley’s Private Member’s Bill has reminded many in the home educating community what is at stake as in various ways big government seeks to assume responsibility for every child, over and above the responsibilities which rightfully rest upon their parents. In turn this has motivated many home educators to engage with politicians once again, as wholeheartedly as we did at the time of Balls and Badman.

A few days ago one of my contacts sent me a copy of a letter she had given to her MP the previous day. I thought it covered several points extremely well and it needed to be shared more widely, so that others might be informed and encouraged by it to also build up contact with their own MPs and other local politicians. Seeing it was not available on the web, I asked her permission to post it here. I am pleased to say she was very willing for me to share it with you.

If you find her letter as helpful as I did, please pass the link on to others.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear D,

Safeguarding is once again in the news and over the last few weeks the preoccupation with it in the media seems almost to have reached fever-pitch. With my background in mainstream schools and in special Education it is a topic very close to my heart but the coverage has been as misguided and biased as it has been increasingly hysterical.

The latest wave of articles started in October with a program on the BBC on children missing education. It chose a case of a young man from an ethnic and religious minority who had been failed by his school and tried erroneously to present this as the failure of the family, as typical of home education and to conflate a child being educated otherwise than at school with neglect and exposure to radicalisation.

Lord Soley has made several grievous and unsubstantiated slurs on parents, alleging erroneously that inspectors need powers for compulsory and routine investigation of families because there is a presumption to rebut that parents will not be fulfilling their legal duties and that children will be suffering neglect and abuse. Lord Soley suggests that it is parents who radicalise children and that school provides a protection against this yet all cases of extremist activity to date have involved people who had attended school. This does not of course indicate that schools are responsible for radicalisation.. social media seem to be the real channel.. but it does show that it is wrong to assert that parents are the problem and cannot be trusted.

The message increasingly is that children are at risk and that the danger from which they need protecting is their parents. The reality is starkly at odds with this assertion. As a former teacher and form tutor I know just how hard staff work in schools to try and keep children safe and with what devotion and yet also how increasingly unsafe the school environment has become. As a former Special Needs teacher at a psychiatric unit for adolescents I know how keenly both medical and educational staff care about meeting the particular needs of children and yet there is a crisis in school and general institutional support for children with Special Needs.

Budget cuts are a problem yet the worst aspect is not under-funding. It is policies and attitudes which try to turn teachers into enforcers of policies which often run counter to their better judgement and which fail to engage with parents and to listen to them. As Liberty has recently pointed out via its “place of birth, planet earth” campaign, teachers do not want to be turned into border guards. Neither do we want to be or have the time or knowledge or training or inclination to be psychologists, psychiatric nurses or social workers. As a teacher I am a highly trained subject specialist with a keen interest in supporting the education of each and every student. I may be the “expert” when it comes to a range of techniques for learning a language but I can’t do my job effectively unless I engage with and listen to those who are experts at understanding the particular child and these, in the absence of evidence to the contrary can safely be assumed to be his or her parents.

When I was a child the first Latin phrase I remember learning was “in loco parentis” and I was aware that I needed to do what the teachers told me to do because they were acting under delegated authority from my parents. This is still the case in law but staff in schools now are generally expected to behave as though the position were reversed; as though the parents were merely agents of the school. We were all clear about the vital nature of parental guardianship. Decades later, starting back in school this time as a teacher, I was perturbed that often I was being expected to supplant parental guidance. Now I regularly meet parents who express deep concern about how they are being routinely overruled in their judgements concerning their own children.

Parents are a child’s best advocates but those who have concerns about the curriculum are not listened to. Parents with children with Special Needs regularly battle in vain to have those needs met in school; often the school will not even acknowledge the need. Parents who tell the school about bullying are often simply told that their child is being “over sensitive”. Parents who decide their child needs time off for illness or for an educational trip are sent threatening letters. A mother I know, who is by nature a very truthful person, recently perturbed me greatly by explaining that she now routinely and without compunction lies to her child’s school because it is the only way that she can do what she knows to be in her child’s best interests without being either persecuted or having to withdraw the child. Others parents spent the weekend in A & E with their child and when he subsequently needed time at home to recover, received a threatening letter from the school alleging unauthorised absence. No parents should find themselves in these situations. A child may even be penalised for illness, as in the recent case of the little boy denied access to the Christmas party because he had had a day off due to asthma.

This issue is wide-ranging; it is as relevant to parents with children at State school as to those with children at private school or who are educated otherwise, to those from ethnic minorities as the general population, to those of all faiths and none. It also goes very deep; it calls into question the whole contract between the State and the citizen; the fact that elected representatives and employees of the State are accountable to citizens and not the other way about, the burden of proof on those who allege wrong-doing, the fundamental right to family life and to bring up your children safely and in accordance with your conscience.

A well-regarded and eloquent lawyer observed to me that when his son had particular needs in school he was not listened to; in his professional capacity he was taken seriously but when he was “simply dad” he was ignored. Yet when it comes to understanding a child his or her parents are the real experts. Officials, family and friends may set out a range of options but it is the parent who has the responsibility and the capacity to decide. Decisions with regard to a child need to be taken by those who know and love that child best and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the best way to educate and to safeguard a child is to assume that these people are his or her parents.

Yet it is becoming normalised to expect conformity by both teachers and parents with a nebulous set of dangerously ill-defined “British values” imposed from a distance and in a high-handed manner by and on institutions by often faceless bureaucrats which ignore the discretion of educators or indeed anyone who is outside of the system and not “on message”. Former children’s mental health Czar Natasha Devon has spoken of how government ministers consistently refused to engage with her. She said in an interview with the Guardian; “”If the government really wants to solve children’s mental health crisis,.. it needs to acknowledge the causes..”, cites the lack of quality family time and highlights the crucial role of parents in reducing stress and providing guidance.

The chief inspector of OFSTED by way of contrast is calling for completely unmerited and deeply undemocratic coercion and a top-down imposition of her views on parents and on teachers; calling for “compulsory education to make sure children acquire a deep understanding of and respect for the British values”, whatever she holds these to be. She has forgotten herself and her remit; her organisation was set up to provide a service to parents so that they could take well informed decisions regarding their child’s education not so that it would tell parents and indeed the rest of us what to do.

Chaya Spitz OBE chief executive of Haredi charity, the Interlink Foundation was recently quoted in the TES in response to the head of OFSTED’s view that all educators must conform to “mainstream thinking” as saying; “The chilling words of Ofsted chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, have a ring of Soviet-era policy. How was this allowed to happen? What has happened to …..parental choice?.”

OFSTED already has the power and duty to identify, inspect and close illegal and unregistered schools. Schools already have the responsibility to ensure children are only de-registered with parental consent. Social workers already have the power and duty to investigate families suspected of neglect. None need additional powers to address neglect, off-rolling or unregistered schools; all simply need to be held to account to ensure that they use the existing powers consistently and effectively and that they show respect for the judgement of a child’s primary educators; his or her mother and father. There are very serious issues with safeguarding but these have to do not with parents but with institutional failure; Social services failing to follow up and investigate even where there is clear evidence of neglect or abuse, schools off-rolling pupils they do not want without parental consent, inspectors forgetting what they were appointed to inspect..

Lord Soley and others in the public eye have been doing a grievous injustice in scape-goating parents for institutional failures and in so doing threaten to undermine our whole social contract, together with the safety and happiness of children. I urge you to hold Social Services, schools and OFSTED to account and to speak up for parents as the best champions of their own children, for the crucial importance and recognition of and respect for parental discretion and for the primary, irreplaceable role of family in education and safeguarding.

warmest regards,

KR

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Are Parental Rights in Conflict with Children’s Rights?

Posted 17/12/2017 by randalluk
Categories: Home Education UK

When Lord Soley opened the Second Reading Debate on his Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill in the House of Lords on Friday 24th November (2017), he began with this claim:

“My Lords, there is a difficult balance to be struck between the rights of parents to have the education for their child that they choose and the rights of the child. That is what I have tried to do in this Bill. We need to get that balance right.”

Notes:
  • You can watch the whole debate on Parliamentlive.tv
    use the list on the right to go to the start of the
    debate (@ 12:46:07) or to listen to individual speeches.
  • Any emphasis in quotations is mine unless otherwise stated.
    

I ask below whether he and others are right to assert that there is a balance to be found between the rights of children and those of parents. This was a theme recurring not only in the speeches of those noble Lords who participated in this debate – they mentioned children’s rights 13 times in all – but it is an argument used frequently by those who are contending in the various corridors of power that home education [HE] in England needs to be inspected by Local Authorities [LA]. What became apparent in this debate is that these educational activists are following in the wake of Graham Badman and his 2009 review of HE. In fact three peers referred to that review, with Lord Soley stating that he had met with Badman a few days before the debate.

Winds of Change

It is worthwhile considering first what were the prominent recurring themes in the debate. The rights of children were only marginally squeezed out as the most mentioned topic by the safeguarding or protection of children, with 14 references. Third most popular was “registration needed” (12) with “recent increase in numbers” (10) and “don’t know how many children are EHE / need to know” (9) being placed fourth and fifth respectively.

I mention these repetitions because whilst most prominent supporters of HE think this bill is unlikely to make it into law, this debate was an excellent opportunity for the HE community to observe which way the wind is blowing amongst politicians. First let us note that of the thirteen peers who participated in the debate, only one, Lord Lucas (Con), spoke strongly in support of changing very little. Even the Liberal Democrats spokesperson, Baroness Garden of Frognal, emphasised “areas of concern” – in 2009/10,  their Commons Education spokesperson David Laws was far more emphatic in expressing his party’s support for the HE community.

One does not need to hold a wet finger aloft for long to recognise that what was a breeze in favour of state control of HE under Balls and Badman, has strengthened in the intervening eight years perhaps not yet to a force 10 gale, but it is moving in that direction. Should the HE community be concerned at reports of a possible Storm Ed approaching these islands? Is there anything we can do to prevent a potential Hurricane Graham ripping our community to pieces? Or are those of us with fears of these gathering storms spreading fear unnecessarily?

The Good News

It is important that as the HE community we do not overlook the good news which came out of this debate, the first item of which was the statement by Lord Agnew of Oulton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, and in particular these sentences from his penultimate paragraph:

On the other hand, I appreciate very much the concerns that have led the noble Baronesses, Lady Cavendish and Lady Morgan, to support the Bill today. As already outlined, we also acknowledge that by no means all children being educated at home are ​being educated well. Local authorities need to be able to act in such cases. We think they already have the tools for the job, but we want to hear the view of key participants in this debate. Accordingly, I can confirm to noble Lords today that we intend to publish a draft of revised guidance documents on elective home education for local authorities and for parents, and consult on them. It will be an opportunity for all stakeholders to put forward their views. We will carefully consider all responses and then publish the two guidance documents in their final form.

Most have taken the phrase I have highlighted as signalling that the present Government does not intend to change the law on HE. There is much to be relieved about in that assurance, even though part of me would prefer that if the law on HE is to be revised in the future, it should be done by a Conservative Government rather than a Labour one. Both the Badman Review and the current Bill were initiated by members of the Labour Party. That said, this signal allows the HE community to consider carefully the long term issues which have been raised through this debate. I personally hope that we will all engage in the promised consultations, even if the questions asked irritate us immensely.

Secondly, I should emphasise the very supportive stance of Lord Lucas. You can read it here or listen to it here starting at 13:51:29. Not only did he speak about no need for change in the law, but also about parents making better decisions than the State:

I would not like to see this Bill leave the House without radical and extensive amendment, because I think it is set the wrong way round. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, said several times that we ought to be helping and doing better. So we ought. If we did that and lived up to our obligations to these parents and children under existing legislation, I do not think we would have a fraction of the worry and problem that we have.

As a Conservative, I am perfectly comfortable with the idea that parents should be responsible for their children’s education. I believe that, by and large, the state does not make better decisions than parents about children. Even if the state knew everything, it still would not make better decisions. I do not much like the Bill as drafted, but there are better ways of doing these things.

He pointed out that Clive Soley was wrong to cite the case of Dylan Seabridge in Wales, as the local authority had been notified that there was a problem a year before this child’s death. He also rebuked Baroness Deech for using a recent case about school absences during term time as an argument against HE:

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said quite wrongly that the parents who took their kid out of school for a week – I agree that that does not work with the school system – demonstrated that there was a problem with home education

Thirdly, many will probably find Clive Soley’s promise to amend his own Bill helpful, even though it still leaves in place the threat to elevate the State’s role in children’s lives above that of their parents:

As I say, the Bill tries to strike a delicate balance between the rights of parents and the rights of the child. I want to say straightaway that I will table certain amendments. Those who have read the Bill carefully will know that two phrases that will trouble people are the requirements to check on a child’s physical and emotional development. I put them in in the first instance precisely because of my worry about the minority of abuse cases. However, having thought about it for a week or so, it is clear that that is unrealistic. I will seek to amend the Bill to take those words out of the Long Title and subsections (1) and (4) of the proposed new section in Clause 1(2).

There was one other high point from my perspective. In her statement of strong support for the Bill, Baroness Morris of Yardley – previously Estelle Morris, Labour Education Secretary – acknowledged:

In truth, though, while the state is very good at inspecting within a very regulated framework, it is less good at exercising judgement and discretion where people are not absolutely following that framework and regulation but are nevertheless doing a decent job. Most of us have talked to teachers and head teachers who have complained about the present inspection framework, and I can well imagine how nervous some parents are that they are going to have that conversation with some sort of regulator.

I say to my noble friend Lord Soley, the proposer of the Bill, that he was absolutely right to acknowledge that that is an issue, but it is not one that we should ​not take on. It is just one where we have to be sensitive, and I hope that in considering the implementation of the Bill we will talk to those parents who are doing a good job of educating their children and do not want to have to change too much. We should make sure we can accommodate their needs. To ask a state regulation system to accommodate innovation and quirkiness almost does not go together as a request, but somehow we have to get this right.

Many HE families have had encounters with representatives of the State who are unskilled at engaging with those outside the State’s system. In fact the reason why many of these parents and children have walked away from that system is because it was serving their family very badly indeed. She also rightly observed that a State regulation system will seriously struggle to accommodate individuality (I dislike her use of “quirkiness”), and I think the HE community will need to emphasise this total mismatch in the future. We will probably also need to argue that there is no constructive way for the State to understand HE if they seek to do so, to quote Lord Lucas, with punitive measures.

The Bad News

Now we must turn to the bad news emerging from the debate. As I have already noted, only Lord Lucas spoke in complete support of HE. This means that eleven peers spoke about the need for increased regulation by LAs, some of them aggressively so. Baroness Deech for example opened with this assertion:

My Lords, this Bill is the mildest possible remedy for what has long been recognised as a risk—a situation that is not good for children or society. I have supported the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on this before and I am very happy to do so again. If I had my way, school education would be compulsory unless parents could prove that they had good reason to avoid it. Then there would be compulsory inspection and assessment of the home-schooled child’s results in national exams. I am aware that there is an almost hysterical reaction from home educators to any proposal that might be seen as protecting their children. That reaction is in itself good reason to want to keep an eye on the situation.

This is a significant change when compared to the views of the peers who commented on HE in the Second Reading debate of the CSF Bill in House of Lords on 8 March in 2010. There were eleven such speakers on that occasion, and the split between those in favour of Badman’s proposals and those against was as near 50/50 as possible. Surely the HE community must ask itself why this change has happened?

When Badman’s proposals were taken out of the CSF Bill in the pre-election “wash up”, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. We were all very glad that this battle had been won and many were pleased to get back to concentrating on the important thing for them, raising their own children. A few, myself included, felt that we should not take our eye off the ball (no pun intended). Sadly, I think this debate has demonstrated that too many of us have done exactly that. I can understand why this was the case. HE makes big demands on parents’ energy, emotions and time, and very few have much left in reserve to stand against those who want to see change. It is also true that those who argue that change is needed are well-funded, well-positioned and well-connected – not only has Lord Soley been talking to Graham Badman, I would not be surprised if Sir Michael Wilshaw has also been in contact with him concerning HE.

These people have been very effective in seeking to obtain their objectives. Let me quote Clive Soley again, from the second paragraph of his opening speech:

Some years ago, when I first raised this in a blog on the House of Lords, I was inundated with opposition. I am delighted to tell the House that, on this occasion, the majority of letters, emails and phone calls I get are in favour of the Bill. There is recognition now that registration is important. Part of the reason for that, which I will expand on in a moment, is because children are now known to have disappeared and been abused, radicalised or put into extremist situations. We have to deal with that. We cannot ignore it, for the sake of both the child and society as a whole.

You bet he was delighted! Whilst I suspect that many of these contacts were education professionals rather than HE families, they enabled Soley to claim public support for his attempt to impose state control on all children. When Ed Balls commissioned Badman’s report, he did so under the pretext that Khyra Ishaq had been abused because she was educated at home. (As the care proceedings for her siblings and the Serious Case Review established, this was not true.) The list of reasons to monitor has now been expanded – children have not only been abused but have also “disappeared”, been “radicalised” and “put into extremist situations” all because they were home educated! Really? Consequently the HE community is in danger of losing the propaganda war and therefore our freedom to bring up our children according to our personal philosophies.

I do not want to go through those pieces of misinformation individually – look around this blog to find some of my relevant observations. However I do want to cite one piece of information which should be widely known, from the excellent “Briefing on Home Education Regarding the House of Lords Bill H11 2017” prepared by Mike Wood of Home Education UK with help from many others. (Well worth the effort of reading this.) In it Wood reports that “An FOI request undertaken in 2016 shows that not one LA in England has any knowledge of any child who has been withdrawn to home educate and subsequently been radicalised“. Altogether 151 LAs replied, out of which 6 (North Lincolnshire, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Sheffield & West Sussex) declined to answer the question. Now it is possible that some of the LAs which declined could be places where Islamic radicalisation is taking place in schools. Perhaps unregistered, and therefore illegal, schools which rely on “home educated” children for their students are only located in those 6 LA areas. However, it should be noted that many other places with high levels of Muslim residents replied that they knew of no such cases. These included Birmingham and Tower Hamlets where OFSTED has in the past closed Muslim schools because pupils were at “serious risk of extremist influences and radicalisation” according to Sir Michael Wilshaw.

What should thinking people make of this mismatch between the headlines and the facts? I suggest exactly the same as what we know about the way in which Ed Balls, and others subsequently, abused the memory of Khyra Ishaq by using her tragic death as a pawn to further their political ambitions. I suggest these claims which have been put forward in the years since Badman are known to lack substance. Here follows a prime example of Michael Wilshaw, whilst he was the Chief Inspector at OFSTED, using an opportunity to switch from a real concern to an attack on HE.

On 8 Nov. 2016, Today (BBC Radio 4) carried a report on centres run either by charities or businesses, where children excluded from school (or at risk of exclusion) had been placed. A corresponding report on their website states there were 32 of these centres which were not registered with OFSTED, even though they should have been. However in both the radio segment and on the website, the matter of unregistered religious schools is mentioned and the link between these and HE is forcefully suggested in a diatribe by Wilshaw. There is a short (1 min.) extract from the interview on the page linked to above which includes his anti HE rhetoric, or you can listen to the full segment here (6 min. 18 sec.)

I suggest that the HE community needs to encourage equally strong voices in the media and corridors of power, making known the benefits and successes of ‘grow your own families’. I believe that to do this successfully, we also need to understand the reasoning behind the ongoing campaign to bring HE, and therefore our families, under State control.

Do Parents Have Rights?

The title of this post reflects Clive Soley’s opening demand to balance parental rights with the rights of children. Is this a reasonable argument? It is certainly one which politicians and public servants of all types have embraced on the whole.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has just one reference to parents:

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

I will refrain from discussing the content of clauses 1 & 2, but 3 makes clear that parents have the prime authority to choose the kind of education their children receive. In a similar vein the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, in Protocol 1, (1952) states:

Article 2

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

Now it may seem quite clear to most thinking people that both these touchstones of human rights affirm that parents have the lead responsibility to decide the kind of education their children receive, and the world-view upon which that education should be based. It is also plainly stated that “the State shall respect the right of parents” in deciding the philosophical basis of the education their children receive. Whilst my own world-view motivates me to be concerned about responsibilities rather than rights, we live in a “rights culture” and because much is being made by politicians about this perceived clash of rights, then we have to look at them too.

Now despite clear statements in both foundational documents that the right to an education and the type of education a child receives, are the responsibility of parents, there is a clear move in the corridors of power to take that responsibility away from parents and invest it in the State. What we see in Westminster and in town halls around the country is a lack of respect for the rights and responsibilities of parents with regard to parents’ choices concerning the type and content of education their children receive. At the time of the CSF Bill I commented on Baroness Deech’s twisting of these clauses – but let me say here that she is not alone in believing the following:

Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights also grants the right to education while respecting the rights of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their views. The European Court has held that this, of necessity, implies state regulation of the education that the child receives. The court held that Germany was entitled to ban home education. It is the duty of home-educating parents to secure for their children the education pledged in international treaties; the parents do not have stand-alone rights to determine that education in any way that they wish without state regulation.

Now I find her appeal to German law very surprising given her family history. Her father, Josef Fraenkel, had to escape from Vienna and later (1939) Prague because he was a Jew. Several other members of her family were murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. I find it remarkable that she appears not to appreciate the roots of Germany’s ban on HE. Home education was outlawed under Adolf Hitler’s leadership. Perhaps this quotation from 1 May 1937 explains why he wanted to prevent it:

The youth of today is ever the people of tomorrow. For this reason we have set before ourselves the task of inoculating our youth with the spirit of this community of the people at a very early age, at an age when human beings are still unperverted and therefore unspoiled. This Reich stands, and it is building itself up for the future upon its youth. And this new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will it take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing. (Source: The Nizkor Project, 2009 cited here.)

It has been a hallmark of over-dominant regimes throughout history to seek to squeeze children out of the likeness of their parents, especially free-thinking ones, and into a mould shaped by the dictates of State and its power-brokers. Is this what is happening in Britain today? If so, should all parents, not just those who HE, be concerned?

Parents Cannot be Trusted

It is not only HE families who are being told today that the State cannot trust the parents. Yes, we seem to be at the pointed end of that stick not just in England, but in Wales, the Isle of Man and elsewhere. As far as I am aware there has been no move to change the law on HE in Scotland, but a far more pervasive scheme has been put forward under the agenda known as Getting it right for every child“. Like the “Every Child Matters” initiative introduced in England & Wales by the Labour Children’s Act (2004), GIRFEC seems to be targeted at agencies providing services for children. In England however the thinking behind ECM has now influenced the way in which the majority of LA staff relate to parents, assuming that whether or not they are receiving services from the State, their children are primarily the responsibility of the State. Before saying more about GIRFEC and the Scottish “Named Person” scheme, let me introduce you to the thinking of a leading English “specialist” in children’s work.

Prior to becoming Children’s Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson was the Director of Children’s Services for Gateshead Council. She was also the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. On Apr 27, 2009 she was the keynote speaker at a public debate to launch the first report of the Culture and Learning Consortium. The event was organised by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and the Learning Consortium. I think most families should be alarmed by her view of her own job description as a DCS. Please listen to the first 2min. 15sec. of this video:

 

Here are three sections of what she said:

What does a DCS do then?

In a nutshell, people aged pre-birth to nineteen, who live, work and study in my place, are my responsibility.

If they’re registered with a Gateshead GP, if they use our children’s centres play or parenting services, schools or the local college…

~

If they want to engage with us and if they don’t…

~

If they’re ill or disabled, if they died aged under eighteen from whatever cause, if they’re in danger of being taken into are already in or have recently left care.

Put simply, they are mine, and so are their families, their schools, the other settings their use. And everybody in their communities.

With this thinking behind it, Scotland’s GIRFEC initiative has been used to try and bring in what is called the Named Person scheme. If you have not heard about this, you can find out more from this Scottish Government leaflet published in 2014. Schoolhouse, a Scottish HE support group, have successfully worked with other interested parties in the NO2NP coalition, to work against the implications of this scheme which is based on the same world-view as Atkinson subscribes to, namely, that children belong to the State and its employees, and not to their parents. (N.B. At the time of writing, the SNP is still trying to revive the scheme after it was declared illegal by the UK Supreme Court in July 2016.)

This is the mindset in which many LA staff have been and are being trained. One other area where this thinking is driving policy is that of parental freedom to discipline their children with a smack. Whether you think such discipline is helpful or unhelpful, can I encourage you to look behind the subject to the principle on which repeated attempts to criminalise parents who smack their children have been made. Research is conflicting on the long-term damage/benefits of smacking; here are two very different reports from the same newspaper, The Telegraph. Smacking makes children naughtier: research (2008) & Smacking does children no harm if they feel loved, study claims (2013). Conclusions are probably shaped more by the researchers’ pre-existing views than by real data, but that is not my point here. Removing the freedom for parents to discipline their children in a considered and controlled way is yet another example of the State assuming parental responsibilities for every child. Whilst several attempts to introduce such a law in England have failed, the matter is ongoing in both Wales & Scotland.

The Social Agenda

I said above that Hitler was not alone in his view that the youth were the future of any state, and therefore it was the responsibility of the state to indoctrinate them. It is not only infamous dictators who hold to this view. John Dewey (1859-1952) is considered by some to be the most influential thinker on education in the twentieth century. In his book, My Pedagogic Creed, written in 1897, he said,

I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.

I believe that education is the regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.

I believe that this conception has due regard for both individualistic and socialistic ideals. It is duly individualistic because it recognizes that this right character is not to be formed by merely individual precept, example, or exhortation, but rather by the influence of a certain form of institutional or community life upon the individual.

I believe that it is the business of every one interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most effective instrument of social progress and reform in order that society may be awakened to realize what the school stands for …” (source)

Could this be why Baroness Deech believes that every child should be forced to attend a school? Perhaps, or she may be influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). His book, Emile, or On Education, (1762) is said to be the first complete philosophy of education in the Western tradition. In it he argued:

“From the first moment of life, men ought to begin learning to deserve to live; and, as at the instant of birth we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for infancy, teaching obedience to others: and as the reason of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education of their children, as that education is of still greater importance to the State than to the fathers: for, according to the course of nature, the death of the father often deprives him of the final fruits of education; but his country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families dissolve but the State remains.” (source)

Of course it is possible that Soley and Deech have never researched historical educationalists such as Dewey and Rousseau, but it is likely that they have been influenced by their present day disciples. It is a fact of life these days that it is often easier to find American educationalists to cite, but in today’s increasingly global society there is a growing international consensus on matters such as education, and their words are as relevant on this side of the Atlantic as they are on their own. Chester Middlebrook Pierce (1927-2016) was Emeritus Professor of Education and Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is quoted as saying:

Every child in America entering school at the age of 5 is mentally ill because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you as teachers to make all these sick children well — by creating the international child of the future. (source)

In a similar tone, Martha Albertson Fineman (b.1943) is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law and a well-known critic of HE. In an article entitled, Taking children’s interests seriously (2009), she stated:

Perhaps the more appropriate suggestion for our current educational dilemma is that public education should be mandatory and universal. Parental expressive interest could supplement but never supplant the public institutions where the basic and fundamental lesson would be taught and experienced by all American children: we must struggle together to define ourselves both as a collective and as individuals. (source)

You may not have heard of these two academics, but the name Ban Ki-moon (1944) should be familiar to you. He was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2007 to 2016. In July 2013 Malala Yousafzai (b.1997), a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, spoke at the UN on her 16th birthday. She came to the world’s attention when she was shot in the head by the Taliban last year for demanding education for girls. In her speech she said:

Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.

In September that year, Ban Ki-moon quoted her words and commented:

When Malala Yousafzai came to the United Nations in July, she said: “One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”

These are our most powerful weapons.

That is why I launched the Global Education First Initiative last year.

Every girl and every boy deserves to receive a quality education and learn the values that will help them to grow up to be global citizens in tolerant communities that respect diversity.

Governments and development partners are working hard to meet this goal.

But we must do more – much more. (source)

Until tracking down his words, I had not heard of the Global Education First Initiative and I wonder what percentage of British parents are aware of this. On their Priorities page they describe the following 3 objectives:

  • Priority 1: Put Every Child in School
  • Priority 2: Improve the Quality of Learning
  • Priority 3: Foster Global Citizenship

Could this be the song sheet Baroness Deech is singing from? Does she want them to learn to be global citizens? There is insufficient space here to explore all that this involves, but at first sight the objective seems commendable. Here is one sentence from the final point above: “Education must fully assume its central role in helping people to forge more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies.” However, we must also bear in mind that these objectives appear to cut across the UN’s own charter of human rights. Remember that Deech believes these international treaties grant governments the upper hand in deciding how and what children should be taught. You may think that these objectives have not reached our shores yet – after all, who hears them being discussed by politicians and educationalists?

Another initiative under the UN banner is UNESCO’s Global Citizenship Education programme. You will find its approach summarised here under four points:

UNESCO’s approach to GCED is

  • Holistic: addressing learning content and outcomes, pedagogy and the learning environment in formal, non-formal and informal learning settings
  • Transformative: enabling learners to transform themselves and society
  • Value based: promoting universally shared values such as non-discrimination, equality, respect and dialogue
  • Part of a larger commitment to support the quality and relevance of education

Again, they appear commendable on the surface. Again, something I had not come across until searching for more information on what Ban Ki-moon had said. When I read them however, there was something familiar about that third item. When Prime Minister David Cameron launched his “British Values” in June 2014, he described them in this way:

Our freedom doesn’t come from thin air. It is rooted in our parliamentary democracy and free press. Our sense of responsibility and the rule of law is attached to our courts and independent judiciary. Our belief in tolerance was won through struggle and is linked to the various churches and faith groups that have come to call Britain home.

Since then these have been summarised as “the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs.” What struck me is that the third GCED point is very similar to Cameron’s fourth, but somehow I cannot seem to match his words with OFSTED’s application of them. Cameron, rather gratuitously to my mind, linked tolerance with churches and other faith groups, as does the DoE’s Guidance on promoting British values, quoted above. Yet since they were introduced, OFSTED has been anything but tolerant of parents from several different faith groups wanting independent faith schools to teach children “in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions”, to quote the European Convention on Human Rights. The latest OFSTED Annual Report was published on 13 December, and a press release accompanying it lists a number of concerns, the first of which is:

An increasing number of conservative religious schools deliberately flouting British values and equalities law. Illegal ‘schools’ are also being created in order to avoid teaching fundamental values of democracy, mutual tolerance and respect.

I thought “British Values” included “mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs.” Do I spot Orwellian doublespeak in action here? Why should this concern the HE community? Well, a good number of HE families do want to teach their children according to their own religious convictions. The plight of these small, often parent-led, independent schools should also concern those in the HE community who do not have any religious convictions for the following reasons. First, I think most of us are aware that OFSTED has been actively trying to associate HE with unregistered schools, but thus far has published no data to substantiate the connection. Secondly, all parents have “philosophical convictions”, even where they are not fully thought through. History tells us that movements which seek to impose their own ideologies upon others are not satisfied until they extinguish all forms of dissent.

Above I quoted Adolf Hitler’s views on education. Amongst his German opponents was Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran Pastor and theologian. He was imprisoned for his views, but towards the end of the war, along with other high profile prisoners, he was rescued from execution by the SS when regular German soldiers took the group into protective custody. After the war he regularly spoke in this way:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

(source)

The question I will pose before I conclude is a simple one. Are those who are seeking to remove the responsibilities of parents to raise their children according to their own convictions (people like Graham Badman, Ed Balls, Michael Wilshaw, Amanda Spielman, Clive Solely, Ruth Deech, and Hilary Cavendish) doing so because they want the best for children or because they want your children to conform to global values which will make them unquestioning, compliant citizens who will never challenge political dogma? You may find this question more difficult to answer that it was for me to ask. If so, can I suggest that you take a long, hard look at the way education has changed in recent decades. Are schooled children in Britain today taught to think or to repeat set answers? Are they taught to challenge the prevailing view, or to comply with it? Are they encouraged to investigate things thoroughly for themselves, or to accept what the National Curriculum says?

In his play Man and Superman (1903) George Bernard Shaw wrote:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. (source)

I suggest that the real problem with home education in Britain and around the world is that, unlike state-controlled education, it teaches too many children to grow into adults who question, who investigate, who will refuse to be conformed to any system which seeks to impose its views and values on men and women. Home education is very close to being the only remaining choice for parents who want to teach their children to stand out from the crowd. I believe it is important for us to stand up and be counted in defending that freedom, not just for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, but for every future parent and child in this country and elsewhere.

We have had a rest for far too long after Badman; we have rested in a false sense of security, but those who want to drain away our freedom have been busy. I want to encourage all who read this post to stand up and defend our responsibilities as parents to train up our children as we see fit. Our responsibilities and rights as parents are not in conflict with our children’s rights to an education, but they are in direct conflict with the desire of those who have been swayed by Rousseau’s and Dewey’s belief that state-controlled education is the prime tool of social reconstruction.