Monday, 1 October 2012

Knowledge of the law is not compulsory...to be a magistrate

What do you think of when you picture a magistrate who also dabbles in ultra vires monitoring of home education? A qualified legal mind? An experienced home educator? The reality can be very different.

Everyone has the right to apply to be an elective home education inspector. (Even though this role is not recognised in law, as councils have no duty to monitor.) Currently at least 433 people with no experience of home education, but probably more than twice this number (I'm just following suit and making numbers up) are employed in this way. In most areas, the list of people attempting to monitor that which they have no right or duty to monitor will cover mostly just one end of the spectrum: those with no personal experience of home education.

Why do people choose this job? In some cases, they're failed headteachers, looking for a role in which adherence to statutory guidelines just isn't cared about.

Some people take these jobs on philosophical grounds, believing that all children should have a school-style education, regardless of what they, their parents or the law say.

All these people strive to do their best to stay true to their ignorant beliefs by encroaching on people's private and law-abiding business, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

One school a few years ago was failing children so badly that they were actively suggesting that the parents took on their Section 7 duties themselves. This practice of pressuring parents into this course of action once the school has already failed the child colossally, (rather than making them fully aware of their options when the child is approaching compulsory education age, which would be preferable, but is rarer than hummingbird teeth), isn't widespread any more, but it still happens from time to time.

All too often, home educators encounter an 'elective home education officer', who has mistaken herself for an authority figure. Typically she (or he, both genders seem to be equally ignorant of the law) gets her pants in a twist when parents exercise their freedom to take active responsibility for their own children's education.

"I'm going to send you a threatening letter with no basis in law!" is the usual reaction.

The family is then free to educate their children without the constraints of school routines or curricula. Most EHE officers in such situations do try to continue to use ultra vires methods to intrude on these families, but many are simply not capable of understanding the relevant legislation (not having read it), yet feel they have the right to try and choose a school-style 'education' for these children and deprive them of valuable learning opportunities in the real world which could extend their life opportunities.

Consider these recent examples:


  • A mother and three children in a smoke-filled sitting room (worthy of any schooled-child's home). They'd got so distracted with a volcano experiment in the kitchen they'd completely forgotten about tidying away the tubs from the Chinese takeaway they'd treated themselves to the night before. The son had sensory issues so wore his soft pyjamas whenever possible round the house. Rather than being grateful that this family had allowed her into their home against advice from other local home educators, the EHE officer viewed them and their home through prejudiced, ignorant eyes and drew false conclusions from what she saw, none of which related to the education being provided anyway.
  • A father, exhausted from doing extra overtime to pay for annual passes to the science museum for the children, and extra tired from the energetic bike ride he'd taken his daughter on that morning, was sitting and chilling out in front of his favourite programme while his wife and daughter chatted to the EHE officer. Rather than being grateful that this family had allowed her into their home despite not being required to by law, the EHE officer viewed them and their home through prejudiced, ignorant eyes and drew false conclusions from what she saw.
  • A mother, a pleasant woman, who has been through a painful divorce. Her 9 year old is taught at home - rather well - and is getting as much benefit emotionally as educationally by being so close to her mother during this time of upheaval. She's an introvert, and her mother supports her by arranging visits with close friends and smaller groups, ensuring that she is not forced into situations that would be comfortable only for an extrovert, and hence preventing a build up of anxiety for the girl and allowing her natural personality to flourish. Rather than being grateful that this family had allowed her into their home despite everything, the EHE officer viewed them and their home through prejudiced, ignorant eyes and drew false conclusions from what she saw, none of which related to the education being provided anyway.
  • A family that has a fantastic network of friends, community, and other home educating families. They have so much going on that they're rarely home, preferring to be at park meets, libraries, museums, beaches, theatres, presentations and galleries. The EHE officer repeatedly tries to doorstep them in 'school' hours, without any success (thankfully for the family), and the Education Welfare Officer apparently stalks the girl and her long term boyfriend (who is very close to the family). The mother knows that the EHE officer is acting way, way outside her legal remit, and has also had it confirmed by other home edders locally that the officer has no clue about home ed, so no longer responds to their repeated harassment by phone and letter. The EHE officer viewed this perfectly legal behaviour through prejudiced, ignorant eyes and drew false conclusions from what she saw, none of which related to the education being provided anyway.
  • A family who had escaped from an abusive situation, now living happily under witness protection and educating their children in their new home. The EHE officer from their old council viewed this situation, that had absolutely nothing to do with her, through prejudiced, ignorant eyes and drew false conclusions from what she saw, none of which related to the education being provided anyway.
  • A girl with a statement of Special Educational Needs. School had completely failed to provide appropriate support for her despite the statement, so her parents deregistered her three years ago, and wished they'd done it a long time sooner. They knew the statement had to be reviewed by the council yearly (bureaucracy), but the council no longer had any duty to implement it, and the family had no duty to come along to the reviews. They realised they could request that the statement be ceased, but to be honest life was so full and busy they never did. The girl was much happier in her life and education now, and aside from living in an area where rumours flew between neighbours like carrier pigeons, and where even people who should know better (like the council EHE officer) seemed to treat them as fact, life was good. The EHE officer continued to turn up unannounced for years, but they knew she was acting way, way outside her remit, so they just ignored the door and chucked out the presumptuous notes she pushed through the letterbox. They couldn't wait for their mortgage fixed period to be up so they could move! The EHE officer viewed this perfectly legal behaviour through prejudiced, ignorant eyes and drew false conclusions from what she saw, none of which related to the education being provided anyway.
  • A family who make a very good living, and are able to give their son a lot, including international holidays. He's loved and cared for, and has dyslexia and dysgraphia. They went through the heartbreaking ordeal of their home being demolished, and moved to a new city. One of the people they didn't give a forwarding address to was the EHE officer. (They'd always found her visits intrusive, but didn't want to rock the boat by declining them.) Rather than being grateful that this family had allowed her into their home for so long, the EHE officer viewed their perfectly legal behaviour through prejudiced, ignorant eyes and drew false conclusions from what she saw, none of which related to the education being provided anyway.
Being an EHE officer is so easy. All one has to do is get experience in an entirely unrelated field (i.e. school), and fill in an application form. Once in the position, the council then give you a list of children known to be, quite legally, home educated, plus any who they're not sure about, and then you just proceed willy nilly, completely oblivious to the law. The families don't have to meet you, or follow the National Curriculum, and you have no legal right to visit the home. But you have a damn good try anyway (got to fill those forty hours a week or you'll be out of a job!). It's much easier, of course, when the families don't know their legal rights, as the EHE officer feels it makes good job-preservation work to maintain a database, and be in contact twice yearly. There's absolutely zero basis in law for this, but if you didn't... no ultra vires monitoring, no job!

Perhaps a most problematic case of an EHE officer sticking her nose in where it was none of their lawful business, was a boy who had always been home educated. He had speech delays compared to the average, but when the mother took him to be assessed privately she was advised that it was developmental, so the types of muscle exercise that are undertaken for other types of speech delay would not be beneficial. Not wanting him to be bullied at school, she felt confident in her decision to continue to home educate him. The other children at all the home ed groups were really understanding, and he had lots of friends with whom he enjoyed tearing round the park at what sometimes seemed the speed of light - his mother didn't know where he got his boundless energy, but he certainly worked off the big dinners he ate and was naturally slim just like she was. There was the suggestion that, had she had him assessed, he would have had multiple diagnoses and was likely on the autistic spectrum, but after exhaustive reading on the subject and many, many conversations in support groups with parents of similar children, she decided that a label would do more harm than good, and continued to educate and support her son in the specific ways that he needed, and in the event enabling him to develop and learn in the optimum way that he ever could have. His favourite shows were Mythbusters and  Spiderman, and he would watch them repeatedly; his mother was more delighted than she could ever express that as the years went by his best speech development came from these, his passions. She was a bit sad that he still couldn't learn his address and some similar bits of information, and knew she'd be caring for him for a long time to come; she'd already made arrangements for if, god forbid, anything was to happen to her. But she had long ago decided that she loved her son for who he was, differences and all. He shone. The one niggle throughout the years (since their supposedly trustworthy family doctor told the EHE department about them, because the son was so slim and because the mother had previously suffered postnatal depression - nothing at all to do with education), had been the EHE officer. She would come round every six months without fail, presume to know their circumstances and lives, and patronisingly try to persuade the mother to send the son to school. The mother, each time, would try to calmly explain things to her, but the EHE officer's prejudices and idea of what education should look and progress like, regardless of the child, were so ingrained, that her level of understanding never increased. Every time, she left a completely inappropriate list of things that they should be doing, which went promptly in the bin as soon as she walked out of the door. The mother wished she had the courage to say no to more visits, but the officer had already made it clear she'd try and force the son back into school, and the mother didn't have the time, money or energy for a legal fight.

Having a job is a good option for many people. What worries me is jobs monitoring home education (jobs which should not even, lawfully, exist) being given to, and carried out by, these council employees who really have no understanding of the law, resulting in the undue emphasis on ultra vires practices. (It's lucky, I think, that in the case of any of these people who may be also be a magistrate that a legal advisor in court will help them with any questions about the law.) Every parent has the duty to educate their child appropriately for their age, aptitude, ability and any special needs. Parents have the freedom to do this in school, or otherwise. School fails in this remit a lot. And a school model is most certainly not what is going to be effective for many, many children. The emphasis is wrong. It shouldn't be that council workers take upon themselves the right to force their ignorance and prejudices on families that don't take up council services, and try to insist that education should look like school, but just that children always have the right to be educated.

Oh hold on, that is the case after all. So butt out.


Note: The case studies above are fictional, and based on an alternate possibility for what one council worker saw (in people's private homes into which she had wiled her way/been invited) through her School Perception GogglesTM and then shared with the world as a bitter and poisonous argument against parents having the freedom to educate their children in any other way except for the single one that she understands. Children should not have to pay for her wilful ignorance.



5 comments:

  1. Such a great blog here. I've added it to my list - hope that was okay! Best wishes.

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  2. I can't believe I missed this blog entry. Certainly NOT blog standard.

    ReplyDelete