I've just been asked whether I really think there will be no inspections.
I really think there will be no universal home visit inspection programme, the suggestion of which has enraged people who ordinarily have no interest in home education.
There simply aren't the resources for it, and it would achieve precisely nothing. The authorities know that the proposed inspections won't detect child abuse, and once they have clearly defined what a "suitable and efficient education" is there are easier ways of ticking the boxes to say your child has been caused to receive it.
You'll easily be able to buy your way out of the inspections by opting for something along the lines of Notschool. Perhaps you'll do it - perhaps you'll do anything - if the alternative is to send your child back to the school that failed dismally to accommodate their needs or protect them from bullying. The DCSF response to the review mentions the following product available for purchase:
"The Becta approved Home Access Package... which includes... safety features that will help benefit electively home educated children"
- an altogether more covert manner of monitoring. No doubt there will be checks in place (mandatory examinations, for example) to ensure it's your child doing the work and not you or someone else. Oh look:
"We will be writing to QCDA and Ofqual encouraging them to take account of the specific needs of home educated children and young people as they develop and design qualification. We will consider the regulatory and practical implications of the the use of ICT in testing, in conjuction with QDCA and Ofqual."
But for everyone else - the autonomous learners and unschoolers, others who are philosophically or religiously opposed to state intervention and those who simply refuse to have to do with a Notschool-type solution or technology of any kind - that is where the proposed enhanced inspection powers will come in.
These people - the stubborn, the unconventional, the independent thinkers, the deeply religious, the technological refuseniks - one way or another they are all of grave concern to the powers that be. On a good day, your child will be sent back to school. On a bad day they will be removed from your family because of safeguarding concerns regarding your lifestyle. Recommendation 23 should help out with that nicely [my emphases]:
"That local authority adult services and agencies be required to inform those charged with monitoring and support of home education of any properly evidenced concerns that they have of parents' or carers' ability to provide a suitable education irrespective of whether or not they are known to children's social care, on such grounds as:
alcohol or drug abuse, incidences of domestic violence, previous offences against children,
And in addition: anything else which might affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education."
So really, the home inspection aspect of the debate is largely irrelevant. Yes, the notion of inspecting children in their own homes to protect them from their parents is attention-grabbing and disturbing. It's worthy of consideration but it's unlikely to be a widespread reality. Of far more concern is the fact that the government wants to control what children learn and how they learn it, regardless of what parents deem best for their child. This - the unequivocal protection of independent learning - is the area in which we really need to garner and retain support.
Surveillance is surveillance whether it takes the form of a local authority inspector in your living room, or a friendly Becta-and-NSPCC-approved-education-and-welfare-facilitator at the end of an internet connection. As I said in my last post, I suspect there's even more at stake here than the keeping in check of wayward parents - state provision of technological solutions and the centralised control of online activity is a ripening agenda for politicians, consultants and fake charities.
Unless there is a radical re-think regarding education, I can see many schools replaced with online learning programmes in the future. As well as a dream come true for the likes of Mr Heppell, it will be billed, as I said, as the government's Next Big Idea - regardless of the fact that home-based education has existed in one form or another for as long as humans have. The irony of it all is that home educators will actually be the guinea pigs for such an initiative before it goes mainstream.
We will be seduced with talk of personalised learning, and student-led study - but all of this will be on somebody else's terms, and bounded by that person's assumptions about what is a suitable and efficient education. The internet - the main source of knowledge for learning will also be strictly controlled and regulated for safety's sake. Autonomous learning and unschooling will be stamped out completely and replaced by what is essentially a new version of the teacher/taught relationship - only this time it will be completely invisible, to the taught at least. Dangerous indeed.
There are two questions I have. The first is - why is Ed Balls still doggedly pushing ahead with all of this now, given that he must know we are heading towards a Tory government? Is it because there is some tacit agreement between parties? Is it because he is actually paving the way for the next Labour government, when he could conceivably be leader?
The second question is this. With nowhere left to run to, is there really any option other than just saying NO?