Sunday, March 09, 2008

Time for More Talk

Yesterday I attended "Time to Talk 2" - the follow up to the Consultation with "the people" in September which was allegedly going to inform the Children's Plan being drawn up by the Government.

This sets out their Plan for the next 10 years, in which they aim to make the UK "the best place in the world for our children and young people to grow up". You can download copies here.

The even yesterday was to ask whether or not we felt that the Plan addressed our concerns, reflected our priorities, and delivered solutions, as raised by those attending the four events last time.


According to the Government, five principles underpin the Children’s Plan:

● government does not bring up children – parents do – so government needs to do more to back parents and families;
● all children have the potential to succeed and should go as far as their talents can take them;
● children and young people need to enjoy their childhood as well as grow up prepared for adult life;
● services need to be shaped by and responsive to children, young people and families, not designed around professional boundaries; and
● it is always better to prevent failure than tackle a crisis later.

Now, I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds some of this concerning. Mind you, I was definately the cynic at the tables I sat on - everyone seemed quite taken in by it all.

We had David Bell (Permanent Secretary at the DCSF), Tom Jeffery (Director General of the DCSF), Lord Adonis (one of the two Ministers with responsibility for home education) and Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for health services, in particular children's health, and maternity services) at the event in London.

Some of the quotes that I noted down were that all children had to "acheive their full potential" (a phrase I know a lot of home educators take issue with, as it suggests some kind of yardstick, or measuring, that says whether or not they have "acheived" or defines what that potential is - which a lot of us, not just autonomous educators, do not accept).

Another one was that children had to be given the "opportunity to be the people they want to be". As long is it IS about who THEY want to be - and again, not someone else's yardstick, then that's ok.

"you have to feel valued to play your part" - well I don't think many of our kids felt valued in school, do you?

"part of being a child or young person is about thinking of the future and what you want to be" - no it isn't! Being a child is about enjoying life, exploring, learning, growing, playing, having fun, testing boundaries, testing theories, gaining feedback, falling over, falling out, making up, making a mess, getting dirty, making friends, realising your imagination is infinite, just like the universe, feeling invincible.... I don't think its about thinking of the future! Not in the sense that THEY mean. I think when our kids think of the future, its more likely to be how they can save the planet, than what job they want...

The Children's Plan also says that all children are to be encouraged to make better progress at school.

Yet again, this suggests benchmarks, testing, focusing on "success" as some overall, generalised, "goal" - instead of something 100% individual and personal. What right do any of us, adult or child, to tell someone whether they are a success or a failure?

I'm not being deliberately pedantic - of course I know what they think they mean by these phrases. But sadly, experience shows, that it is the pedantic carrying out of the letter of the law/plan - with no appreciation of the spirit of it - that leds to so much of the mess that we find ourselves in.

I had the chance to directly challenge Ann Keen on the issue of access: with schools being designated the "heart of the community" and other children's services being located there, would home educators end up with a second class system? I shall be following this up with her for the EO GPG.

I also stated, in front of Lord Adonis when he was at our table, that whilst the first stated aim of the Plan was that government should support parents, and that WE raise them, I saw nothing in the detail of the Plan that reflected that. I remain unconvinced that they can walk the fine line between offering support, and policing. I asked him whether parents who chose not to access services, would be treated with suspicion. Whether "support" would be forced upon them. Things like linking attending parenting classes to receiving child benefit - that kind of thing.

Finally, the DG of DCSF spent over an hour at our table, as the discussions got very detailed and quite deep. I said I was unhappy with the wording of the questions that we got to "vote" on as they were loaded. If you couldn't answer agree or disagree, then you had to put "neither" - which was taken as you having no opinion. That's not true! I just couldn't answer yes or no the question as worded. So in the end I started putting no for everything.

I complained after the first event too.

Afterwards, the DG asked myself and a gentleman next to me if we were going to sign up for the Parents' Panel, as he felt our contributions had been "interesting" and "challenging". Needless to say, I had already signed up!

All in all, it was in my view largely a publicity stunt. However, I wasn't there because I felt it was a valuable way to influence government (ha bloody ha) but because I wanted the chance again to get in front of these influential politicians and civil servants, and mention home education - as did, I know, the other three people representing EO and the Government Policy Group at the other three locations yesterday.

We need to have home education included. We need recognition as a minority community. We need to be taken seriously in consultations.

Maybe, and only maybe, these events gave some of us the chance to make a tiny step forward in that aim.

I'm cynical, but I'll keep going nevertheless.

On a similar note, Roarke became a coopted Trustee of EO this week. We thought maybe we all had too much spare time on our hands....

1 comment:

Carlotta said...

Thanks for that Ann. I agree that it is helpful to raise awareness of HE at these sorts of events.

It is interesting that HEors consistently seem to be the only creative thinkers on these occasions, as witnessed by the fact that they often cannot answer the ridiculously closed questions that the ptb keep asking.

Did Lord Adonis address your question re support v. policing?

And outrageous window dressing, by which I mean the flourishing of the aim of wanting to support parents and yet not actually replicating this aim in the plan. It's very frustrating when others cannot see this.