Sunday, April 01, 2007

Highly Offended of Orpington

Most of you by now, I'm sure, have heard of - and read - both the BBC article and the TES articles from this week.

I decided I had to blog about them, but please - can I just make clear to those of you who know me through EO - these are my own personal views about the coverage and cannot be taken to be reflective of anything "official" from EO. Ok?!

right, got that sorted then!

First the TES: I'd been called by them a few days before the article appeared, when they told me that they had been approached by "a number of home education inspectors" who had "shared their concerns" over the their belief that some quarter of the children that they saw were not be educated properly at home.

I spent more than 20 minutes on the phone with the reporter (who assured me it was just "research"...) going into considerable detail about the points that she said these inspectors had raised.

I questionned the basis for these opinions, went into depth about numbers of HEers (not know, and why these figures can't be known - and why it is questionnable whether it matters or not), we discussed how my children have learnt through their time at home, etc etc. I also mentioned that I personally knew of several authorities where schools were known to encourage "difficult" families to deregister; I went on to say that I condonned that practice, as it did not help the childre in those families, did not help the families, nor the home education community. In fact, the only people seeming to benefit from such a practice would be the school, who could improve their attendance figures. Even then, I said that with the pressure on schools today and the linking between funding and attendance figures, it was no wonder that some schoools felt that it was an attractive option. One more indication that the government's current policies on education, and on schools, are not working.

She said that, interestingly enough, she had heard that from other sources too. I refused to name names, saying that was a political step and EO was NOT political in that sense. However, I did say that EO were instead working both with local authorities, and working behind the scenes on this issue and trying to gather what evidence we could.

You can imagine my horror on Friday morning when I was phoned by the BBC to say did I know I was front page of the TES, and what did I think about the story? The reporter said that it appeared to be a very anti-HE article (her words). She also commented that she believed that one of the inspectors quoted, Mr Mooney, was well known to be anti-HE (just try googling his name). I pointed out that I had not been told he was one of the inspectors quoted and that, if TES had told me that just two inspectors were involved, and given me the names, they would have had a very different 20 minute conversation with me.

The BBC were naturally very interested in this issue of schools encouraging pupils to deregister. I repeated the points I'd made to the TES about this. Unfortunately, the way that the BBC then chose to run with the story, made it sound as if EO was saying there was a "scam" going on; not only did I not use those words, or anything like them, but also this issue had been relatively common knowledge for some time - this was just the first time that the mainstream press had got hold of it. It was also, naturally, newsworthy in terms of coming just after the latest truancy figures were released.

All in all though, I'm glad that the issue has been raised publicly - now maybe there will be a greater pressure on LAs to ensure that schools in their area stop this practice, and maybe some recognition that it is NOT a problem of the home education community, but is between the LAs and the schools.

As for the TES piece.. I'm almost lost for words (not something that happens often!). Both articles are so inaccurate, so biased, so inflammatory, that it is extremely difficult to know how to react to them - every line needs challenging.

“35,000 lost to schooling: One in four parents who home-educate children provides little or no teaching“ - not only is this based on a flawed understanding of the number of HE children (even their own sidebar on the second article admits that the range could be anywhere between 45,000 and 150,000 - but again, this is taking top figures, from a variety of sources, many of which have no factual basis), but it is also based on the personal opinion of two inspectors - both of whom obviously have no respect, understanding, nor comprehension of what HE is and how it works.

My personal understanding is that Tony Mooney is actually a freelance inspector, with a known and open hostility towards home education and the heavy reliance on his personal opinion makes this report both unbalanced and biased. The quotes used from him are highly emotive, as well as being inaccurate. Repeatedly, the phraseology of the article gives the impression that a larger number of inspectors were being referred to, than simply two. This magnifies the overwhelming negative opinion of home education provided by the article.

The fact that the abuse case was even referred to in the article, is astounding. Again, if TES had made it clear that there was an article to be published, and that it would refer to the case, I could easily have sent the reporter a copy of the EO press release on the subject.

Is this a true reflection on the TES? This kind of biased, flawed, journalism?

The sentence “Local authority inspectors fear some families are using home education as an excuse to evade problems with bullying, poor attendance or disruptive behaviour “ is highly offensive and distressing for hundreds of families - including me. Removing a child from school when they have been bullied to the point of serious mental and emotional trauma, and in one of my sons' case, leading to self-abuse, is the most appalling experience for any parent to go through.

To suggest that it is an “excuse” is derogatory in the extreme. Again, “disruptive behaviour” is a very vague term that could bring distress to parents of children with special needs such as ADHD, or ASD, whose children struggle to fit into the institutionalised setting of school, but who thrive once in the security and familiarity of their home. This could easily have been applied to Samuel, with his ADHD/Aspergers, and to read such comments made me feel literally quite sick.
“Although many home-educators are committed individuals who see home-schooling as a way of developing their child’s interests, inspectors estimate about a quarter of parents provide nothing.” Once again, this is a very misleading and worrying statement: to say "inspectors" rather than highlighting it is talking about TWO people. I personally work closely with several local HE inspectors, none of whom I can confidently assert would support or agree with those claims.

“But who is going to stand up for the rights of the child?”
“But home-schooling organisations are keen to protect parents’ freedoms”

Ask any home educator, and you will discover that we believe 100% in personalised learning - its one of the fundamentals underlying the ethos of home education. The Law states that the education must be suitable to the child, and home educating parents see this as a fundamental freedom of the child. Indeed, the EO Campaign Website is called Freedom for Children to Grow. The intimation – which is not qualified – that home educators are placing their needs before those of the child, is offensive.

“Recent cases include a boy with learning difficulties who was unable to speak coherently by the age of five, or write his name by 10, and received no visible support. “

As a parent of two SEN children, this quote is yet another inflammatory, offensive remark. A child with learning difficulties could very well not be able to speak by the age of 5 because of those difficulties – not because of any failing on the part of the parent. Home educating parents receive little or no support for SEN children, being frequently denied access to basic support for their children, on the grounds that they are “outside of the system”. Speech and Language therapy, physiotherapy, and other services are often unavailable to them.

What is even more ironic is that those parents who have had SEN children IN SCHOOL will be some of the first to tell you that SCHOOL provides little or no VISIBLE SUPPORT to them. Joshua would have had to wait nearly a year for the equipment he needed to be able to cope with the classroom method of teaching. Samuel has been told by speech and language that if he was in SCHOOL he would NEED extra help to keep up; but at home, one to one, he doesn't need it - professional vindication and acknowledgement that one on one at home is the best ways to meet his SEN.

“Laws on home-schooling are relaxed and parents are under no obligation to follow the national curriculum, set a timetable or agree to a local authority inspection. Inspectors would like the Government to tighten the law.”

On the contrary, the Law as it stands is more than sufficient and is in no way “relaxed”. It focuses both on the needs of the child, and on the rights of the parent to raise their child according to the community in which they live.

I'm proud to know many home educators up and down the country - inside and outside of EO - who work tirelessly with local authorities, helping to inform and educate, and to develop a practical working relationship between the community and their authority.

We like to be able to hold up as examples LAs who work within the guidelines laid down for them. These successful working partnerships prove that there is no need to change the existing regulations and guidelines; simply for them to be enforced and followed correctly.

And that's just the lead article! If you have the stomach to read it all, and you can't purchase a copy any more, you can see the full article here. Interesting update: the lady quoted in the inside piece, Myra Robinson, apparently retired from Newcastle "a few years ago" we were told today. This means, presumably, that she is either now a freelance inspector such as Mr Mooney or, even worse, that her comments are taken from her experiences "several years ago"...

The inside piece is even more offensive that the front page piece, and - again by quoting the personal views of one person (see above) manages to "flame" parents of SEN children, and single parents amongst others. I am astounded at the TES for printing it.

I know many parents, as well as organisations such as EO, AIM, AhED etc, are writing to the TES to complain in the strongest possible terms. I would like to this that, in the interests of journalistic balance if nothing else, that the TES would publish at the very LEAST articles on home education, sourced and provided by the community, in a future article.


IndigoShirl said...

I'm afraid I can only assume that Mr Mooney (or is it Mr Money lol!) is obviously being paid rather a lot of cash to blacken the name of home education.

This has got to be the bad press before the release of the consultation.

I'm absolutely astounded by TES myself; but it will be interesting to see what other articles will be written now the cat is out of the bag about the schools and their ready typed de-reg letters!

All I can say is "batten down the hatches there's a storm a brewing". In the meantime, chin up old girl, you are doing a great job despite the goal posts constantly being moved.....:0)

We'll see you Wednesday with luck and a fair wind.

BWs, Shirl

IndigoShirl said...

Sorry, I mean Tuesday lol!

Gill said...

Hi Ann, thanks for the explanation. There are still some things that I don't understand, which I've blogged about here.

I'd appreciate your input :-)

Merry said...

Thanks for writing this Ann; i'm deeply relieved to find that my initial reaction to your reported words was pretty much correct and that you were indeed coming from exactly where i thought you were :)

You are right - we need to start writing LOUDLY about all this.

Gill said...

OK I'm off to reread what you wrote here again Merry, because I'm still obviously not getting the point.