Tuesday, 2 October 2012

No! Why on earth???

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. 

Mr Teaching Union, when requested to produce the (non-existent) evidence that he claimed existed when he slurred home educators on ITV news, appears to have swallowed an encyclopaedia of council education department prejudice and spewed it back out on his union's Facebook page. Urgent fisking required I think! A brisk fisk, if you will.

A number of our members have commented over the years

So, erm, right off the bat we've got an open admission that the 'evidence' of which he so confidently speaks, is actually hearsay. Anecdotes. Gossip. 

on the difficulties and challenges that home educated children face when they are placed back into a school setting or find themselves at college.

Well firstly, if we're talking hearsay and anecdotes, I've heard the exact opposite. A lot. Secondly I would guess an awful lot depends on why they're in school now. They're people, after all, these children. Not programmable robots. If they've made the choice to go to school, I'm pretty sure, from the home ed kids that I know, their confidence and love of learning would set them in damn good stead. If they've *had* to go back into school, due to a change in family circumstances or perhaps a similarly school-minded council rep making life difficult for them, well... the transition from living and learning in the real world, to being on someone else's schedule and having marshmallows thrown at their heads against their will... I wouldn't be terribly happy in that situation either, would you?

Inter alia we have had reports of some children having arrived in school or college without the requisite skills to mix with their peers,

Hmmm. So, on the one hand, children who have spent their whole lives living in the real world, talking as equals with adults, mixing with who they please regardless of age or situation, are then thrown into a completely unnatural situation where they have to raise their hand to talk to an adult, and can only mix with children within twelve months range of their age. I can see how that would be difficult. *I* found it difficult and I was schooled from the age of four. Which brings me to the other hand: Huge numbers of children who have been schooled all their lives still don't have the skills to mix with their (school-allocated) peers. So what does that tell you? School-style socialising isn't a fit for lots of kids. End of story.

some who have little or no understanding of almost universally accepted theories such as evolution,

Some of what age? What else do they know? What are their interests? Did anyone bother to ask them? Just because a theory is universally accepted, doesn't mean that a child will, or should, know it by an arbitrary age. I think that Mr Teaching Union should have had knowledge about home education approaches and the nature of parental responsibility by the age at which he stood in front of a news camera and smeared home educators, but life's not like that, is it? Many schoolchildren don't know the difference between astronomy and astrology. 250,000 of them think cancer is catching. A third of them have never heard of Shakespeare. 135,000 primary school-leavers annually don't even know the basics. Doesn't look good for school being the magic cure-all, does it?

and some who have not been able to access the internet,

The internet is indeed useful, I find. But so are books, museums, libraries, galleries, people, films, documentaries, parks, toys, games, puzzles, and a million other things in the world. It is entirely possible to have an education suited to an individual child without the internet.

or in one case switch on a television.

Surely not. So when they'd shown him that - look - you press this button, did he need further classes to catch up? Some sort of special one-on-one training with a teaching assistant? Perhaps an interactive educational program on the internet? Or was that it? The first time he needed to turn on a TV, voila, he was shown and then knew from then on.

We do not claim that all such children face these difficulties but a sufficient number do to justify our concerns.

Again, how many? Who? Evidence? And what is this compared to schooled children? In all fairness, a sufficient number of schoolchildren face all sorts of difficulties (bullying by pupils and teachers, illiteracy, lack of a suitable education, to name but a few) to justify my concerns, but I'm not going to be pushing for Mr Teaching Union's life to be monitored in case he's breaking the law in some way and is the root of all this failure. 

If you listen to my comments carefully I made no claim about the quality of education such children receive – you are putting words into my mouth if you say that these children are taught badly.

People watching the news who know nothing of home education would be forgiven for not making the distinction between the two things.

I did outline our concern about them not receiving a ‘broad and balanced education’. Part of this problem

I most certainly do not agree that this is a problem. I don't want 'broad and balanced' for my children. We can do way better than that.

may stem from the fact that, as you know, home educating parents are not required to: 
• follow the National Curriculum

Nope. Neither are private schools. The National Curriculum exists as a way of offering the millions of children that attend state schools a broad and balanced education. It exists to give them all the same education (regardless of the law requiring all parents to cause their children to receive an education tailored to their individual, specific, aptitudes and abilities). It exists to provide a basis for league tables and give the impression of enabling parental choice when selecting schools. 

• provide a broad and balanced education

Nope. And I'm glad of that, for my individual children's sakes (see link above).

• have a timetable

Why on earth would we? Schools have timetables to fit in each part of their one-size-fits-all offering in the set amount of time that the children are with them, before they have to shunt them on to the next part. No dwelling, no do-overs, no personalisation. Just timetables. Our children, they have their whole lives to do their learning, so no timetables required, thank you.

• set hours during which education will take place

Again, why on earth would we? What could we possibly gain from restricting the hours in which they can learn? Anyone who actually thinks this is a beneficial exercise, rather than just a practicality of schools, is so irretrievably infected with schoolitis that I don't think there's any hope for them.

• make detailed plans in advance

Again, "No!", and "Why on earth???" Teachers have to do this for a very good reason: they have this broad and balanced National Curriculum to try and squeeze into multiple brains all at once at timetabled intervals. Our children have the freedom to learn what interests them, when it interests them, which is the most efficient way to actually learn. I'm not sure whether it's occurred to Mr Teaching Union, but just because teachers are teaching something, doesn't mean anyone is learning it. Even when they score well in tests, it just means they've retained the information long enough to do well in the test. Not that they've actually learnt it, or even understood it. (As an excellent test-passer, I can vouch for this.)

• give formal lessons

This might be getting repetitive now, but, "No!!!", and "Why...on...earth???" There's no evidence that children learn best from formal lessons. Some might. I can tell you mine don't. Thy learn from doing what interests them. End of story. Home education gives parents to scope to help their unique children learn in whatever unique way they learn best. Why would we spoil this with formal lessons for all?

• mark work done by their child

All together now...No!!!!!...Why on earth???????? Some parents do formal work with their children and mark it. Some don't. Whatever works for that child. Teachers have to mark work because it's all formal work, and they are employed by the parents and so need a method not only of giving them information on how their child is doing in the school setting, but also for giving their bosses information on how they're fulfilling their paid teaching duties. Their job.

• formally assess progress or set development objectives.

Oh for the love of...No! Firstly, no matter what people such as Mr Teaching Union might think, you can't ever know what someone else has learnt. Not ever. You have to have the appearance of doing so in schools, or the whole system would collapse (*sigh*), but it's just not possible. Likewise, you can't plan what they're going to learn, only what you're going to tell them. 

Teaching is a highly professional activity that requires years of training and preparation. Enthusiasm and zeal are simply not enough, teachers have to master and put into practice complex pedagogy.

Ah so here we get to the crux of it I think. Someone's a bit sniffy that these pesky home educators are coming along and doing, usually without any teacher training or belief in his precious pedagogy, what he takes pride in. It's a bit sad, really, like a Michelin chef getting his boxers in a bunch because some people are making flambés at home. Well you can relax, Mr Teaching Union. We're not in competition with you. We're not claiming to do what you do. What we do is so much better.

We also believe that education is more than formal lessons and young people, in our multi-racial and multi faith society need to have exposure to cultures other than they’re own .

Are ya kidding? My children live in the world. The actual world. They're not in preparation. They're already living in our multi-racial, multi-faith society. Exposing them to cultures other than their own would be like exposing a swimming man to a glass of water.

That would hold true for other aspects of the equalities agenda such as sexual orientation and disability. 

More glasses of water for the swimming man.
I went to school for fifteen years, and university for four after that. I walk with a limp due to congenital problems and extensive surgeries. I can tell you from bitter experience that school does not produce tolerant and accepting people. It produces Lords of the Flies, shouters of 'gimp', 'freak', and 'spaz'. And I'm not just talking about kids.

We are also concerned that parents are not forced to turn to home education by the veiled threat of permanent exclusion of their child, for which there is some anecdotal evidence.

Indeed. As a balance to this it would be nice if *all* parents were made aware, as their children approach nursery/school age, of the option to home educate, and it's equality in law to that of school. And if I'm not mistaken, the people making these 'veiled threats' are teachers, not home educators. Am I right?

One of the problems of evaluating the effectiveness or otherwise of home education is the lack of basic data

And one of the problems of evaluating the effectiveness or otherwise of school is that no matter how often and how unequivocally it's shown not to be working, schooly people such as Mr Teaching Union just will not consider the possibility that there are better options.

 – we do not know, for instance, exactly how many children are being home educated.

Yawn. Really? We also don't know how many children are vegetarian, how many eat cornflakes for breakfast, how many wear red shoes, how many prefer an early night, how many like Harry Potter or how many prefer Meccano to Lego. So. Flipping. What. What difference does it make? These are areas of parental responsibility, *not* government responsibility, and unless we're going to end up in a state where council reps are checking all our fridges to assess the healthiness of their contents, they should stay that way.

This is why the Minister’s very modest proposals are most welcome.

They're not modest. They're intrusive. They reverse the burden of proof. They licence an area of parental responsibility. They make the state the parent of the first instance.

Once we have basic data and basic monitoring in place then we will be able to evaluate home education effectively.

Who's we? Why are you interested? Is it job preservation? Do you want all these home ed children in schools to swell the membership of your union? Or are you just genuinely sticking your nose in the private family lives of Welsh citizens? Plus you can't evaluate something that you don't even try to understand, something you'd only ever see through your School Perception GogglesTM. Everything you've said has screamed that if education doesn't look *exactly* like school, right down to the timetables and the formal lessons, YOU DON'T GET IT.

If you are confident of the quality of home education then I am sure you will welcome these proposals.

And there it is. The mating call of intrusive busybodies everywhere. "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear." Except it's just isn't true. I've got everything to fear, because I've got everything to protect. Government intrusion into my children's lives is just not acceptable. It would destroy the joyous lives of learning that they live. And what's more, the likelihood is that whatever council flunky would come to monitor us, just wouldn't get it. Like you, they wouldn't see the learning, because it doesn't look like school.

Kind regards,


Don't sugar coat it, Robert. Your regards aren't kind. Be assured of one thing: Whatever your motives for pushing for these changes, whatever your prejudices, whatever the scale of your wilful ignorance, we will win. Because we have something far more precious to fight for. Not a job, nor belief in complex pedagogy. But our children, their education, and their happiness.

For our children, we will win. 


  1. " exposure to cultures other than they’re own ."

    Oh dear. Back to school (or not?) for Robert.....

    1. I know. I decided not to mention the typo but it shows schooling doesn't preclude them hey?

  2. Actually, it doesn't take years of training. From my own and countless others' experience you get a year's training (after any kind of degree) then you get virtually thrown into the classroom... whereas we have known our children from the moment they were born and have a vested interest in their happiness

  3. I grimaced at the their/they're error too. Well said. Well said indeed.

    1. Yes, I included it originally to make the point that there are all sorts of mistakes/errors/omissions even for a schooled person. But I didn't want to sound as though I was making one of the same mistakes he has ie focusing on the minutiae.
      And thanks :)

  4. I LOVE this blog post! extremely well said. I wish we could publish it in a broad-sheet paper somewhere...

  5. ooooh! that gave me shivers reading that last bit!!!
    I love it!!!

    Helen xx

  6. They deleted my comments and blocked me from the conversation. Ha. I'm a rebel after all these years.

    1. Oops! Whatever way you look at that, it's frustrating that they can go on TV and make completely false allegations with no evidence or understanding of what they're talking about, and then understandably people get irked and it's them in the wrong :/

  7. I absolutely bloody love you! So wonderfully wonderfully expressed!

    1. Mwah :)
      I was just reading your Bosworth Jumbles post at the weekend, they're now on our list to do in the next few days, so thanks :)

  8. Love it! Love it! Love it! Thanks for making me smile (and laugh) :o) Thanks for saying it so well... Yes, we WILL win!

  9. I gave a particularly violent eye-roll at the line about "...other aspects of the equalities agenda such as sexual orientation". Yeah, because homophobic bullying has never been a problem in schools, has it?

    Mr Teaching Union is a sanctimonious git and you fisked him good and proper!

    1. I know, that bit bothered me *a lot*. Sanctimonious indeed.

  10. Well said as always! Love reading your blog :o)
    I went to school and so did both my younger brothers but they managed to fail in helping two of us! I was bullied all through primary secondary and college this was verbal not physical but in my opinion more harmful. This was not just the children it was also teachers. Just thinking about it when I was in about year 3 so about 7 my teacher took me outside and smacked me round the backside and why had she done this?! It was because I had only written about two lines as I had been daydreaming! Unfortunately I never told my parents about it until I was an adult so they never knew and I really wish I had as that teacher ended up being my brothers teacher for four years and did him no good. This was back in about 1985/6. My bother is also dyslexic but our primary school wouldn't recognise dyslexia they said it didn't exist so my brother was labelled as a problem child and not helped at all my parents took him to have a test to see if he was dyslexic which they paid for and I remember he used to go to a ladies house to help him with it all at my patents own cost. This was in Oxfordshire my cousin who is a year older than me she is also dyslexic but because she went to school in Chelmsford they recognised it there and she had the extra help needed. My brother is two years younger than me.
    When I was at secondary the boys in my class would verbally bully me but also my English teacher. She would pick on me for an answer to one of her questions if I didn't have my hand up but never picked me if I did have my hand up. When I didn't have an answer then she would basically say I was thick and laugh with the rest of the class.
    When people look at the grades you got from school GCSE wise they look at grade C and above and when doing statistics this is also what they look at so according to that I left school with none and so did my bother but we both had grades D and below for all subjects. School failed us both when we are taken as a statistic.
    I did engineering at college and when I had done the intermediate course I went onto the advanced one the following year but ended up dropping out partly because of one tutor who would really help me or acknowledge me as I was a girl doing a predominantly male course!
    Right I will finish there as I have written an essay and have now forgotten what else I was going to write lol!
    Kate x :o)

    1. :( Really feel for you. That's it isn't it, so many people dismiss verbal bullying (and sometimes even physical) as being character building and good preparation for the 'real world'. It's not, it leaves scars. IMO the best way of preparing children for the real world is enabling them to have childhoods free from that, so that they're secure and confident.
      I remember getting in trouble for 'day dreaming' once too, I dared to look out of the window while my ogre of a maths teacher was talking. I now firmly believe in the value of day dreaming and will make sure my kids can do it freely as much as possible :)

  11. All I can say is excellent, spot on, brilliant. In all seriousness, what about sending this to the Guardian?

    1. Thanks :) Erm, not sure I'm quite there yet! But thanks for the vote of confidence :)