Archive for April 2010

A Future Fair for Whom?

09/04/2010

I have never been a Party Political person. To be honest I see flaws in all of the views of the Parties and if involved in full-time politics I would have to fulfill the role of the Biblical prophets who repeatedly reminded rulers of the need for righteousness in public life. These days journalists partly are cast in that role, but too often they do so with an agenda of their own. Take for example this pathetic excuse for an article from this week’s Times Online. However taking Nicola Woolcock’s comments on HE to pieces, whilst a relatively easy task, is not the point of this post.

Their is a very old joke which asks how do you know when a politician is lying? The answer being, “When their lips are moving.” Over the next few weeks here in the UK we will be bombarded with claims from all the Parties that they will provide the best hope for the future and anyone who is motivated to go to a polling station on 6th May, will have to make some sort of decision on whom they think will be best at providing oversight in Great Britain over next half-decade or so. The purpose of this post is not to encourage you who to vote for, but to test out the claim of the present Government that they will ensure a “Future Fair for All”.

It is pragmatic not to look in a Party’s manifesto to see how they will act in office especially when they have been in power for over a decade. It is far safer ask what they have and haven’t achieved in that time. Again, my declared purpose in this place is to address the important topic of HE and I am not about to look through all of Labour’s portfolio of recent Bills.

I cannot however resist commenting on their election slogan in the light of their attitude to HE. In fact on the day Gordon Brown launched this thin veneer of a headline, I was motivated to write to our  regional newspaper to comment on it. I really did not expect it to get published as it was far too long for the letters page – you may have noticed that brevity is not one of my skills!

Not wishing though for my time spent then to be wasted now that the election battle-buses are on the road, I thought posting it here may be helpful to some.

21 Feb, 2010

Sir,

A future fair for all –
except home educated children

Your readers may remember that over the last six months you have printed several reports where families have expressed concern about the present Government’s plans for changing the law concerning parents’ freedom to elect to home educate their children.

Initially our concerns were provoked by the publication of a review by Graham Badman. This had been commissioned by the DfCSF because they feared that home education could be used as a cover for child abuse. Even though Badman could find no evidence of this, he recommended far-reaching changes in the law which if implemented would require families to seek approval to home educate. Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire, presenting a petition in the Commons from “a large number” of his constituents, described Badman’s recommendations as “iniquitous”.

These recommendations now form part of the present Children, Schools and Families Bill and have been criticized by MPs of all parties including, Kate Hoey , David Anderson and Caroline Flint from the Government’s own benches. Why have so many MP’s taken up the concerns of their constituents as clearly as they have? Because from having very little knowledge of home education a year ago, they have now met children and parents from home educating families and are clearly impressed by the character and skills of the young people as well as the commitment of their parents.

There is one small but important group of MPs who have not joined in these parliamentary tributes. This group are Ministers in the DfCSF, led by Secretary of State Ed Balls, one of Gordon Brown’s closest allies. Before Badman, they had already carried out three consultations about home education, and immediately after those, they launched yet another one – dealing only with the registration and monitoring aspects of his review with no mention of the support which Badman recommended that local authorities provide for home educating families. They received over 5,000 responses to this consultation, and to each of the 11 proposals an average of approximately 82% replied negatively, yet on 11th January the DfCSF published a response which basically said they were ignoring the concerns expressed in the responses they received. In the same way they have ignored a report by a Commons Select Committee and the record breaking number of petitions presented to Parliament (around 300), claiming they only want a light touch regime. It was pointed out to one Minister when she appeared before the Select Committee that ‘light touch’ was the phrase used twelve years ago to describe the national curriculum!

The DfCSF continues to protest that it wants to support home educators, but as one MP pointed out during the recent Committee stage of the CSF Bill, the Department does not practise what it preaches. Again, on 11th January Gordon Brown and Ed Balls announced “Home Access Grants” which would “give 270,000 low income families a free computer and free broadband access”. However, on the DfCSF web site, and subsequently confirmed by two Ministers, it is stated that home educated children do not qualify for these grants. Is this what they and their party mean by “A future fair for all”?

Yours etc…

The question then, which any rational person would ask, is if this promise of a fair future – a just tomorrow – a sign of repentance on behalf of Gordon Brown and his crew or are they nice words to pull the wool over the electorates eyes?

Labour’s tenure at the DfCSF has included repeated ‘consultations’ into HE of which Graham Badman’s was seemingly a final attempt to get the answers they wanted. The suspicion that many of us have is that his ‘findings’ were in effect drawn up before his ‘review’ was announced. No doubt the fight that Ed Balls found himself in once Badman’s work was published surprised the Secretary of State. Badman’s incompetence was perhaps best illustrated by his inability to do basic maths even when Graham Stuart MP corrected his figures twice! (The first in a Select Committee session and later at a meeting of the Commons Public Bill Committee.)

Now the electorate would hope that when a minister has been shown clearly to be rushing badly researched legislation on to the statute books, that the same minister would welcome the opportunity think again and commission more reliable research before rushing on stage with a sticking plaster. Not Ed Balls. On Wednesday (7th Apr.) he quickly wrote a letter to Michael Gove blasting him and the Conservative Party for blocking a number of clauses in his precious Bill during the wash-up. He then published it on his own (not Labour’s) web site here. On the topic of HE he wrote:

Finally, you and your colleagues have been clear about your opposition to the proposed registration scheme for home educators. I do believe this is profoundly misguided and will put children at risk in the future. We have always been clear that the vast majority of home educators do a good job and that they have nothing to fear from the proposals we brought forward. However, without our reforms the small minority of children at risk will remain so. By opposing these provisions you have removed a potentially valuable tool for local authorities in their work to safeguard all children.

His letter concluded:

It is a great pity that you have put at risk improvements in our schools, support for pupils and the well-being of our young people. I will be campaigning to ensure that this Government is returned and that these measures do make it on the statute book in the first session of the new Parliament.

Are those words expressed on his authority or do they have his boss’s (be that Brown or Mandelson) support? In a last ditch attempt to justify their mischievous objectives, seemingly driven by ideology rather than what is best for children, Vernon Coaker clinging to the white flag of surrender, made this promise (see here for more details):

We hope that we can bring these matters back before Parliament in the near future, along with other measures that we have had to remove from the Bill, such as toughening home-school agreements, home education and the ability to collect data for the new school report card.

We don’t yet know what will be in the Labour manifesto about HE, but we are in no doubt what is in their hearts and mind. Clause 26 and Schedule 1 we were told at various times was about education, or about safeguarding or supporting HE families or, according to Mr Coaker, “merely suggesting that there should be a better understanding of what was going on.” With so much confusion amongst ministers who can criticise HE parents for thinking that there are unspoken objectives buried under their protestations.

I don’t care who you vote for as long as HE families are aware that the Socialists in Labour do not believe that your children are your responsibility. They believe that all children are the responsibility of the State and that the State can prescribe where, how and what they are taught. It is from this ideology that the modern Thought Police have emerged. HE parents and children do not conform to their dictates – free-thinkers are a danger to their vision of a Socialist world. They think they are backed by the whole issue of the ‘Rights of Children’, but as where other issues are concerned they pick and choose which ‘Right’ dismisses all other conflicting ‘rights’. Badman made that clear in his headline quote:

“The need to choose, to sacrifice some ultimate values to others, turns out to be a permanent characteristic of the human predicament”
ISAIAH BERLIN, Four Essays on Liberty London: Oxford University (1969)
[Page 1, Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England, Graham Badman, June 2009]

Will the Future be Fair for All under a returned Labour government? I am convinced that it will not be for HE families and I am convinced that they will not be the only people who are not tolerated as totalitarianism masquerades as tolerance. On one point therefore I can agree with David Cameron, its Time for a Change. And whilst his party and the Lib Dems both responded to the pleas from HE families for help, I am not saying that this means that either (or both) of them have the right answers to all the important questions. Who you vote for is your choice if you wish to vote – and you still have the freedom to chose not to vote.

Just one final note. I had hoped to make this my final post until after the election. However, yesterday BBC West Midlands was saying that the Khyra Ishaq Serious Case Review was due to be published “soon”. They did not give a time-scale, but if it is published in the next four weeks, I trust that it will provide us all with the opportunity to call Ed Balls to account for the opportunism he has resorted to by using her memory for political gain.

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Victory for now

08/04/2010

Most people in the UK are aware that we are at present in the final days of the present Parliament.

On Tuesday Gordon Brown finally plucked up the courage to “see the Queen” and ask her permission to call an election. That not only officially launched the election campaign, but it also triggered the start of the Parliamentary process strangely nicknamed ‘the wash-up”. I have never been interested in such things before, but now thanks to Messrs Brown and Balls I have been following it as closely as possible as one Bill after another is ‘debated’ at breakneck speed. Amongst those being swirled around in this human dishwasher is of course the Childrens, Schools and Families Bill which contained the offensive clauses about home education.

Yesterday (Wed. 7 Apr) the CSF Bill, joined the queue to get rushed through the House of Lord. It was clear from their previous comments that both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would not allow Clause 26 & Schedule 1 to remain in the Bill. I am pleased to say that they kept their word!

Round 1 therefore goes to the many home educating families who have lobbied MPs and Lords, developing skills which they had rarely called on before.

Balls and Badman have to now retreat to lick their wounds. However, as could have been very easily predicted, Ed Balls sounding something like a spoilt child who has had his favourite toy taken from him, has already promised to reintroduce all the deleted clauses. Of course his best pal Brown has first to convince the people of Britain that Labour is the best option for the next Government. Many people think that that is unlikely but not impossible and whilst HE families can now enjoy a small break from political activity, we cannot afford ourselves the luxury of thinking the big bad wolf has gone away. He would love to have another go!

If the Conservatives or/and the Liberal Democrats have influence after May 6th then whilst they have said they will not seek a licensing scheme, they have both said that there will have to be a change to HE laws in the future. Whilst we don’t want to rush HE to the top of the agenda, HE families will need to engage with local politicians and front bench teams at some point. I trust we will not leave this until the last minute next time.

Having said that I want to congratulate and encourage all the families who have risen to the task in the last fifteen months. It has often been said that the HE community has a weakness because it cannot easily gather together under a single organisation. Can I say here that I believe that it’s our independence which has proved a valuable asset. MPs and peers have commented many times on the amount of correspondence they have received and several have said how they have been impressed by the HE children they have met. What they have discovered is that the HE community does not consist of one or two groups of self-appointed representatives but hundreds of responsible parents who are so committed to their childrens’ futures that the education provided by the State to the majority is just not good enough for them!

Enjoy the break but keep your eyes on the ball (and Balls)!

Further Reading:

DfCSF Statement on the Children, Schools and Families Bill

Conservative wash-up announcement

I cannot find anything from the Lib Dems at present

Ed Balls bolshy (or should that be sulky) letter to Michael Gove

Relevant article in the Daily Telegraph