Thank You BBC

In my previous post I outlined the back-story behind the Independent’s article “Nicky Morgan orders review on home schooling amid fears children having minds ‘poisoned’ by radicalised parents” (19 Dec. 2015). In that article I said that I first became aware that something was afoot with regard to home education [HE] when I noticed a series of BBC News24 reports on illegal unregistered schools which repeatedly mentioned HE. I recorded this news item later that evening.

Unregistered Schools, BBC News24, 11 Dec. 2015

An Interesting Title

The reporter in the above piece is Branwen Jeffreys, the BBC’s Education Editor. That same day (11 Dec. 2015) she also published two articles on the BBC’s website. These are “Ofsted steps into debate over parents’ right to choose education” and “Illegal unregistered schools face prosecution”. On the face of it both are about the unregistered schools, which are mainly Muslim, but in hindsight there is something interesting about the title of the first one – it accuses OFSTED of interfering with parents’ rights to decide on the type of education their children receive!

In England it is not mandatory for children to attend State-run schools, and parents are free to choose where they wish their children to be educated. Parents however are legally responsible for ensuring that their own children are receiving a “suitable education”. (That of course raises the question of whether parents should be prosecuted for not ensuring such an education is being supplied when they send their children to a school which OFSTED deems to be failing in its provisions).

Here are the opening paragraphs from the first of Jeffreys’ articles:

The chief inspector of schools has never been afraid of controversy, and with this latest intervention against unregistered schools he is firmly stepping into the debate about how and where people can choose to educate their children.

It is perfectly legal to choose to educate your children at home, and if you do make that choice there is no obligation to follow a particular curriculum.

It is also perfectly legal to run a part-time tuition centre to offer additional teaching and support to children who are home-educated.

And if your part-time education centre teaches children for fewer than 20 hours a week there are remarkably few obligations.

There is no further mention of HE in this article which focusses on these unregistered schools. Towards the end Jeffreys raised this question:

So where does this debate leave the right to educate your child as you see fit?

Sir Michael Wilshaw [OFSTED’s Chief Inspector] told me that “of course” parents have got a right to bring up a child with a different view and a focus on their religion, “but they’ve got to bring up their child with awareness of other faiths and beliefs, other ways of living”.

Make of his words what you will, but be thankful that at least one national reporter has asked him the question and in so doing, highlighted his Office’s agenda. That is an agenda which has been in place since it published a report on Local Authorities and HE back in June 2010. At the time I commented on the report here. I also noted that the freshly elected coalition Government of the day had dismissed OFSTED’s call for registration and monitoring of HE families. Perhaps Michael Wilshaw sees the situation with unregistered schools as an opportunity for his own Trojan Horse to further his ambitions.

Home Education Gets Further Attention.

The Monday after the Independent’s weekend claim that Nicky Morgan had agreed to a review of HE law, the words “home education” leaped out of the airwaves once again, whilst we were listening to Radio 4’s PM programme. We feared the worst, as a follow-up to the weekend’s headlines. We were therefore very relieved to hear this report on the 6 o’clock news:

Home Education in England, BBC Radio 4 6.00pm News, Mon. 21 Dec. 2015

The emphasis in this item was on the estimated growth in the number of HE children in England. There was no mention of unregistered schools, just a passing comment at the end where Jeffreys stated:

“Home education by its nature exists outside the system, and every few years there are calls for it to be better recorded.”

Later that evening the following item was broadcast on BBC News 24:

Home Education in England, BBC News24, 21 Dec. 2015

Again a very positive report on how many children benefit from HE. It includes a remarkable comment from the headmaster of a primary school which accepts pupils on a flexi-school basis: i.e. educated part time at home and part time in school.

These two articles prompted me to look through the BBC’s ‘Education’ web pages for any new posts on HE. I was not surprised to find a report entitled, “Home education rises by 65% in UK in last six years”. It is not really an article, just a page to hold the video segment which was prepared for television news. Here is all the text which appears below the clip:

There has been a 65% increase in children recorded as home educated in the UK over six years.

Parents gave reasons including their lifestyle, dissatisfaction or disagreements with local schools, special needs, bullying and religion.

The government says it will continue to “respect the rights of parents to home educate their children”.

Branwen Jeffreys reports

One of the most remarkable things in my mind is that recent years, not just the last six, have seen a steady growth in the number of parents choosing HE for their families. It is not an easy option, but one which costs parents a lot in time, effort and emotion. It is far easier to let the State make all the effort, but it seems that increasing numbers of parents realise that passing over their responsibilities in that way is not proving helpful to their children. Three of the five reasons listed by Jeffreys highlight problems with the State’s provision – dissatisfaction, special needs and bullying. Could it be that the seeming rise in HE is because more parents are realising that schools are not the best place for children to learn the skills they need for life?

The last sentence would be encouraging if it was the words of a named minister spoken after the Independent’s article was published. I fear however that it is simply a quotation from the call for evidence to a consultation on Out-of-school education settings. This was launched on 26 Nov. 2015 and closed on 11 Jan. 2016. In the call for evidence, s2.4 states:

This proposal is not about regulating the education that parents provide their children in their homes. The government continues to respect the rights of parents to home educate their children, whether at home or in a combination of other settings, provided a suitable full-time education is being arranged. It is also not about regulating religion or infringing people’s freedom to follow a particular faith or hold particular beliefs. [Highlighting mine]

It seems to me that Branwen Jeffreys has quoted from this document rather than actually questioned an Education minister in person. The danger is that this statement is primarily about the out-of-school education settings consultation, and not a policy statement in general. Secondly, it was made before Sir Michael Wilshaw’s OFSTED began to publicly lobby for a review of HE. Has he been successful? Or could it be precisely because s2.4 committed the Government to continue to respect the rights of parents to home educate their children, that OFSTED has been trying since mid December to pressurise the DfE to bow to its desires to police parents as well as teachers?

My default position these days is normally one of scepticism when it comes to the motives of the British media, and the BBC in particular. However, although we still do not know what really lies behind recent rumours of a review into HE, I for one would like to thank the BBC and Branwen Jeffreys in particular for some positive reporting about HE. It makes a real change from the scaremongering of bureaucrats like Badman and Wilshaw.

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