On 23rd March 2021 we took part in an evidence session with members of the Education Select Committee. The committee is examining home education and the way forward.
Education Otherwise believes that members of the committee are uniquely placed to initiate the reframing of the current divisive public body narrative in respect of home education and lead us toward a new narrative that develops engagement based in mutual understanding.
The existing narrative
Committee members’ existing narrative is one of seeking to introduce inspection and testing of children with close monitoring and registration, but we should ask ourselves three questions: ‘what is the basis for that position?’, ‘would it benefit children?’ and ‘would it work’?
We know from the Education Committee’s own published evidence that testing children stresses many children.
We know from published research that British children are the unhappiest in Europe and that much of that unhappiness stems from pressure of testing and school.
We know that you can not apply school based norms to children educated outside of school. At Education Otherwise, we know from those who contact us, that SAT testing of home educated children would damage the very value of home education for many children.
The basis for the committee narrative is explained by reference to a naïve and baseless view that school is protective, that home educated children are not ‘visible’ and that they therefore need ‘oversight’.
Is school protective?
The committee heard discussion of increasing reports of rape and abuse in schools. At Education Otherwise we know about this from those who contact us for help. We hear from parents whose child has been abused in school, let down by being one of the 200,000 children who OFSTED report to be in schools which have been failing for more than 13 years and from enormous numbers whose child’s special needs are not met. Others tell us that school is simply not helping their child to reach their unique potential.
A great many parents remove their children from school in order to promote and support the child’s wellbeing and in fact to safeguard their child.
Of course, school can be protective for some children, but we know that for a great many children it is not.
Would registration and monitoring benefit children?
The committee simply does not know the answer to this question, as it does not have independent research to identify what any possible benefits and negative effects could be, of introducing such a system.
At Education Otherwise we know that some local authorities have welcomed the views of the committee Chair that ‘registration is needed’, stated ahead of the consultation completion, and taken that to mean that this view will prevail.
We know that those local authorities are already treating such registration as in place and using this to work to change the law by the back door. We know that some authorities are telling those coming to home education that they require ‘consent’ to do so.
Home educating families tell us that they are aggrieved by this conduct and that a register is a means of covertly introducing a strict and unwarranted monitoring system.
Would it work?
Since Education Otherwise first fledged over four decades ago to now, we have witnessed repeated Government moves to seek to impose registration and monitoring upon home educating families. We have witnessed increasingly aggressive conduct toward those families by local authorities and we have been increasingly concerned by the widening divide and break down in positive relationships to which this leads.
If we keep on doing the same thing and it does not achieve what any party wants it to achieve, we should accept that doing it again will be futile.
For four decades successive attempts to introduce registration and monitoring have damaged already fragile relationships and polarised views on both sides. In short, efforts to impose such registration and monitoring have not worked and will not work.
Forging new narratives
We cannot close the clear and unwanted divide between stakeholder groups unless we listen to all of those groups. To date, priority has been given to the views of public bodies, and home educating stakeholders and their NGOs have been marginalised. This breeds further resentment and children do not benefit.
We cannot make good legislation or good decisions that are not based on good quality evidence.
We must have a needs assessment:
- Is a register needed?
- Do home educating families need support?
- Do local authorities need support?
We must have a needs analysis:
- If a register is needed, what form should it take?
- If home educating families need support, what form of support would they welcome?
- If local authorities need support, what form of support would they welcome?
The narrative can change if the committee takes this opportunity to take a step back to allow for high quality, objective and independent research to provide the needs assessment and analysis.
Once the committee has this high quality evidence then and only then can it follow the route to repairing the divide along the roadway that research highlights.
The cost of taking this simple step would be vastly outweighed by the cost of not doing so, both in terms of financial cost and cost to our children.
The full transcript is now available to download here.