On Saturday I was one of 11 home educators who, courtesy of some vigorous complaining by EO, received a last minute invitation to one of the four "Time to Talk" workshops being held by the Government as part of their Children's Plan Consultation.
Quite frankly, I don't believe for one moment that, as they state publicly, the results and feedback from these events will "feed into the [Children's] Plan". My view, reinforced on the day, is that the "outcomes" from these events will somehow, gloriously, marvellously (please note I am being sarcastic) go to show that the policies ALREADY DRAWN UP by the Department are supported by the "majority".
So, why did I go?
Firstly, the principle. If the Government is going to consult "the people" about what is "best" for children, I have no intention of leaving it to the teachers, social works, and parents of schooled children, to provide them with the answers. I don't mean any disrespect there; put simply, I think that home educators have a completely different take on things and one that it is essential gets heard. We are no longer blinkered by the status quo, the state way, this Victorian education system that stumbles on blindly in a world which bears no relationship to the one for which it was created. It is essential that our unfettered view (in my opinion) is listened to.
Ironically, considering what I've just written, I was amazed and encouraged to find so many around the two tables I sat at, saying so many things that a lot of home educators could agree with (however, that was not the experience of all of the 11 attendees, I am aware). For example: raising the compulsory "school" age to 7 - teachers and parents alike saying that kids were being stopped from being kids by being forced into formal schooling; the most important, influential people in the life of a child is - and should be - their parents; parents should be supported in being parents, not policed by the state; ContactPoint and CAF should be scrapped; people are missing out on vital services and support because they cannot trust a system that shares their information with all and sundry, and leads to unwanted intrusion...
Secondly (bet you thought I'd forgotten I was making a numbered list!), I personally believe I can acheive more sitting face to face with the "enemy" than standing outside the door with a placard.
In my career, I worked for two membership based organisations. One dealt with the SME market, one with BIG business (FTSE 100 and some of the biggest PLCs in the UK) members. If a member was unhappy with our service, unhappy with something we'd done, or not done, they might write and complain. Each letter would get answered - not *always* just a standard "thank you for your letter..." - especially if there were specific complaints - but it was still just a letter. And it was usually me, not the Boss, that wrote them.
However, the members that came to see us, demanded a meeting, KEPT coming in, always got their way. It didn't matter whether they were the biggest or most influential member. Just that they were the most PRESENT, in our faces, members. We learnt to answer them quickly!
I don't think that the DCSF *quite* view the HE community like one of those "in your face" stakeholders. But I think we are a lot more noticeable now than we used to be.
I refuse to roll over. I refuse to give up what I believe is my fundamental right (indeed, responsibility) as a parent, to raise and educate MY child, MY way. I refuse to accept that the State has any right - let alone the ability - to judge whether or not the education I am providing for my children is suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, taking into account any special educational needs. After all, as their primary carer, as the person who is present in their life day in day out, who sees them in every circumstance, I know and understand those abilities, aptitudes and special needs far more than anyone at the LA, or central government can.
When I meet with a local authority, or go to a workshop, or a meeting with some government official, I'm not selling out home education, nor being an apparatchik. I am taking the fight into the lion's den.
I believed it was worth going to, worth getting in front of the 4 most important (in their eyes) politicians in this fight, worth getting the subject of home education mentioned at the table, worth getting things written down that we had said, if only to be able to hold them accountable for what they have said later.
I will continue to work to do everything I can to get infront of the so-called influential people in this fight. I will continue to do what little I can to try and get open, interesting, unbiased media reporting of the whole issue of home education (note please that I didn't say I'd managed it, just that I'm continuing to try).
If autonomously educating my boys has shown me anything, its shown me that all too often as adults we compromise on what we think, what we want, what we are aiming for. I don't intend to do that anymore.
I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but I do expect them to respect my right to carry on the fight in my way. Just as I respect THEIR right to do it differently.
What matters is that we fight them, not each other.