On Friday night I went to see a band. Whilst in the toilets I overheard two local authority employees talking about elective home education and children with special educational needs. Two things they said immediately caught my attention:
1. What do parents know about special educational needs [SEN] anyway?
2. They [the children with SEN] should be in a Pupil Referral Unit where they belong.
Now, I am not an expert in SEN at all. However, I understand the usefulness of diagnoses at certain times, as well as the potential problems. In our family, we've chosen not to send our children to school and we're expecting that they will continue to learn autonomously as they grow. We both have a healthy scepticism of professionals who pathologise people or appropriate natural processes for a living. Unless a diagnosis is going to be of greater benefit than harm to our child, then we will not be seeking one, should the question arise. We're just going to live, and our children are going to learn, at whatever pace is appopriate to them.
This is a good job really, because these toilet women - drunken and shouty - apparently have an unassailable expertise that parents - especially those jumped up and mollycoddling parents who choose to electively home educate their children with SEN - can never hope to achieve. An expertise they cannot wait to inflict on anyone who dares to pass judgement on their SEN provision by refusing it - if of course it's ever been offered in the first place.
And my, how lucky those children will be when their fate is finally controlled by the toilet women! Experts who think that the children they know and understand better than their own parents belong in a Pupil Referral Unit rather than at home and in their communities. Now I've done work in Pupil Referral Units in the past and if my childen were going to be taught anywhere I'd prefer it to be somewhere other than one of those places. But in the interests of fairness, teachernet.gov.uk website is quick to point out:
PRUs are often thought of as a place where badly behaved children are sent, but they can actually cater for a wide range of pupils — those who cannot attend school because of medical problems, teenage mothers and pregnant schoolgirls, pupils who have been assessed as being school phobic, and pupils awaiting a school place. They do also provide education for pupils who have been excluded and they can be used to provide short placements for those who are at risk of exclusion.
Some PRUs cater for particular kinds of pupils (units for teenage mothers and pregnant schoolgirls, for example), while others will have a mix of different kinds. But usually, pupils who are in PRUs because of behavioural problems are not taught alongside pupils who are in PRUs for other reasons. For most pupils, the main focus of PRUs should be on getting them back into a school.
We can of course debate whether children with SEN are best served by mainstream schools or alternative education provision and whether the state can ever adequately accommodate the requirements of those children through a tax-funded system alone. My own belief is that every single child has some sort of of need that is probably not met by a typical mainstream school environment; but there are clearly degrees of severity
requiring prioritisation (thanks for that link, Maire
). However, that is not the issue at stake here.
The issue at stake is this: For those electively home educating parents who were dissatisfied with state provision - wherever and whatever it was - there are professionals getting very drunk in club toilets in Crewe and publicly voicing their doubts about your ability to meet your child's unique requirements without their expert assistance. Forget elective home education - these people would rather remove your child from his or her home and place them in a PRU every day. The only remaining hope will be that your child is not also defined as having "behavioural problems".
It's a sick merry-go-round: Child with SEN is failed by state education system >>Family elect to home educate to fully accommodate child's special needs >> Family no longer battle with system; child has needs met and develops uniquely >> Family inspected by state education system >> Child's unique development seen as problematic and blamed on family's decision to opt out of education system >> Family allocated an educational or welfare "red flag" >> Child forced back into state education system that cannot accommodate him >> Child defined as having behavioural problems >> Child treated as problem child.
I think that this quote hits the nail on the head:
The backlash against homeschoolers is often caused by petty dictators who don't feel their regulation-based authority is respected by the homeschooling parents. So, they make a lot of noise and hurt a lot of people-especially the children who are finally making progress with the use of an alternative education. The parents are just trying to do what they need to do to help their children move forward, but they're branded overprotective child-coddling nuts and this leads to harassment.
I can tell you the people who will be most affected by this new British restriction are the many, many families with mildly special needs homeschoolers who weren't being well handled in public school. The untrained agents they will be forced to allow into their homes (who do not know the child and will apply much stricter standards than an evaluation of a public schooled child) will insist the child is "behind" due to homeschooling instead of by nature.
When will the government and its drunken local authority officers finally realise that they are not wanted in other people's lives unless expressly invited?
Because this post isn't just about the risk to children with SEN as per a specific definition. This is about the risk to every electively home educated child who is given the very real opportunity to have their uniquely special needs met. Here are several examples of those endless needs that do not have to be eradicated by the toilet women but are more easily met through home education:
- the ability to go outside and run about every hour
- solitary time free from forced interaction with others
- the choice to pursue a single course of study without interruption for as long as the interest lasts
- time and space to think or meditate
- the option of wearing comfortable clothes with no irritating tags, seams, tight necks or cuffs.
Home education offers a fantastic way to accommodate or work around those needs. It should not be assumed to be the cause of them - and just because behaviours or activities might not be boring-beige-normal, it does not mean that they constitute educational or welfare concerns. Families do not want toilet women knocking on their doors or assessing their lifestyles. Being something other than boring-beige-normal should be championed, not obliterated. That's what real equality and diversity is all about.
So. Where are we?
The Impact Assessment was a paper exercise conducted in the time-honoured way of uncertain civil servants - densely packed with ramble masquerading as considered calculation and professional reflection. This tactic normally works when such documents are presented to other uncertain civil servants or clueless elected representatives. But people who know they can make sense of whatever is put in front of them? Not so much.
The Select Committee Report might have included some small succour for the battle weary home educator but it also contained spectacularly unhelpful commentary. Still, what teeth does a Select Committee have, anyway? (Thanks for reminding me about this link, Jax).
And to amend or not to amend - the debate continues - I confess to being not a little perplexed by some of the suggestions posited by Lord Lucas, who puts me in mind of a Shakespearian "fool" at times. Pitfalls aplenty, Ralph! And that from a "libertarian corner" of the House of Lords, indeed.
In the midst of this current drama, let us not for one minute lose sight of the proposed review into better defining what constitutes a "suitable and efficient" education. Anybody who supports this shows their complete disregard for the concept of personal sovereignty in learning. In my opinion they must be stopped in their tracks. This attempt by the Government to hijack what children think and how they should learn is something that needs to be vocalised and challenged now, as it is not going away and it will undoubtedly bring mandatory curricula, inspection and/or testing in its wake, regardless of what happens with the Bill.