Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Why I will sit down and be homogeneous!

It's seemed for a few months that there's something in the pipeline for home edders. Local Authorities implementing Badmanesque policies despite the whole lot being thrown out by government. Local Authorities that had been liaising with home educators on policy suddenly going very quiet en masse. Government silence on what was happening with Elective Home Education guidelines.

Then this appeared and things seemed to become clearer.

I'll look at the inquiry another day.  Today I want to think about action, what we can do, and whether it can backfire.

There's no doubt we home educators can come together as a group in a powerful way to protect our freedom to do what we are doing for our children, just as we did against Badman and Balls, and just as people did before I'd heard of home education (or even had kids!). But are there different levels of action that are more or less beneficial depending on the situation?

The recent national cessation of LAs' discussion with home educators as soon as there's a sniff of new guidance says to me that they have no intention of making it palatable to us (unsurprising to most), and it's important to look at why they want the powers that they usually just take ultra vires: The unfortunate conflation of welfare with education since Every Child Matters (despite figures showing clearly that home educated children are less at risk of abuse than schooled children); EHE departments genuinely believing they're doing the right thing; Job preservation. These points aren't paranoia or conspiracy theory. They're fact. The way many local authorities behave, doorstepping families, harassing them, insisting on home visits outside of the law, these are all symptoms of these facts. 

Underneath all of this though, the fact remains that the law, although not perfect, is definitely favourable.

So what action can be taken?

Making Complaints

There is a standard complaints procedure for local authorities, which has the advantage that everything is kept in writing and there is a clear record of everything that transpires. It also has the advantage that you are using their own system to get them to stop overstepping the law, nothing more. A current complaint in Lincolnshire to watch can be read about here.

Meeting with the LA

History shows us that this can go either way. Home edders in Lancashire seem to have made progress after a long fight. Yet home educators in Staffordshire that attended an LA meeting in 2006 found their objections to ultra vires policy ignored but their names published as consultants even as recently as this year on an updated draft policy that they had never seen.

To stand up for what you believe in is admirable, but because of the nature of discussions with LAs, and the fact that any change in policy for better or worse is going to affect all local home edders and their children, and possibly pave the way for affecting home edders nationally, other people will have a vested interest in your actions and will have questions. If you don't want to be legally obliged to register, if you don't believe in la mission creep, if you don't want a whole industry based on whether or not you're monitored in your own home, it's not paranoia to ask questions when people are liaising with LAs. It's not conspiracy theory to ask people whether there is anything else that they want out of the discussions. Its not ungrateful to want to be absolutely sure that other people's actions aren't going to make things worse for a whole community. It's just good sense.

And finally, it's important to be able to see the difference between mistrust and disagreement. There is a lack of trust in some areas, most frequently in those who have a financial stake in what happens, who have chosen to act less than transparently in the past. However, this is a far different thing from simple disagreement or even just uncertainty that someone is doing something benign however good their intentions. With a starting point of disagreement, but with a policy in all corners of openness and transparency, there is the potential for discussion, learning and progress.

Working on the ground

This can be done in conjunction with either of the above, and is arguably the most fundamental and ongoing action that we can take. Band together to support each other locally. Make factual information available to new home edders. Let people know the law and help them fight when LAs push beyond that. Offer to be there as moral support for any LA visits they do choose to have. Let people know about all the local groups. Build a community.

So, there is a time for being noisy, for kicking up a fuss, for shouting, "No, we won't!". And a time when this may not be the best course of action, a time for building community, supporting other home educators, and using other channels to push for change. I am not going to 'stand up and be counted' to the LA right now, because this isn't about me. It's about us all. Instead I will sit down and be homogeneous, while working for change, because I want to be as sure as I can that my actions will be of benefit, and in no way to the detriment of even one other home educator.


  1. Very refreshing to read. I hate some of the activities of the representatives of the LA. But I also hate some of the angry and paranoid stuff I have read in reaction to the activities of LAs. And although it isn't hard to understand why people feel that way sometimes, I don't think it gets us anywhere. And it divides home educating families (I have left so many forums and groups recently!), who, as you say, would be so much stronger working together as a community.

  2. Very well put. I totally agree with you.