At the weekend I saw a link to Catherine Bennett’s Modern Tribes: The homeschooling parent article. Actually, that’s not quite true. I saw it multiple times. On home education support groups. Friends’ facebook feeds. And on twitter.
The article, if you can’t be bothered to click through and read, is one of a series of supposedly humorous articles about, yes, modern tribes. Who apparently include disaffected Archers fans, bearded evangelists and mansion tax protesters. I’m saying supposedly because I’m not finding any of them funny, but then again, as I’ve no connection with the Archers, hipsters, or mansions, perhaps it’s just that I don’t understand the references.
For the home-schooler though, I very much understand what is going on. Basically, because a high profile person has pulled their child out of school, everyone feels like they’ve a right to express an opinion or have a pop again. I happen to think that what Emma Thompson and her family gets up to is up to her, unless it appears there’s no suitable education taking place, in which case presumably her local authority will intervene. (Somehow I doubt that’s going to happen, what with the whole classroom in the garden and private tutors and so on.)
However, local authorities are usually all too happy to intervene all over the place generally speaking. I’m on a number of home education support groups, and there’s at least one post a day from people struggling to get schools and local authorities to stay within the law, instead of harassing, threatening, and misinforming new home educators. (That’s the term I prefer, as home education is how we tend to refer to it here in the UK. It covers all flavours of educational approach, from radical unschooling, through to the full on school at home. Or the bottom of the garden.) That can include sending school staff out to the house on the first day the child doesn’t come in after deregistration, or sending social services or the police round.
Seriously. Schools have done this. This week.
Still laughing at the back there?
When a parent puts in a deregistration letter, the school should remove the child’s name from the register and inform the local authority. In a mainstream school in England (the legislation is slightly different in different parts of the UK) that’s it. You’re done. The school does *not* have to ask permission from the local authority, and shouldn’t require the parents to come in to a meeting, or really, do anything than acknowledge the letter. And after that, it’s up to the parents to provide an education suitable to age, ability and aptitude.
Home education also came under attack from the last government and some very high profile charities. And sure enough, in the comment thread under the satirical article, someone refers to home education as a child protection risk, according to the NSPCC.
It’s not. There is absolutely no evidence that home educated children are at higher risk of child abuse than children in school. And social services have exactly the same powers of child protection that they do for school children, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that wasn’t the case if you’d read various articles from the NSPCC and so on.
So yes, by all means, poke fun at home educators, Catherine Bennett. How many home educators have you met, in order to write up this timetable of our activities? Have you perhaps researched via social media or blogs? Or do you just know everything, by virtue of your position as a journalist? Was a cheap laugh at the expense of a celebrity worth giving everyone with a prejudice against home education a platform to trot out their pet theories?
From my point of view being a member of a minority just trying, like the vast majority of parents out there, to do our best for our children, often having to fight for our legal rights against our civil servants really is just a laugh a minute. Thanks for cheering us on, Catherine.