Call me suspicious, but I am of the view that home educators in England are once again being ‘played’ by politicians and their pets.

On Kelly’s latest blog post, Children missing education and the burden of proof, Graham Stuart MP comments:

I’m hoping new guidance from central government to local authorities might be sufficient to tackle this issue without any change in primary legislation. I’d be interested to know what others think.

Now that sounds scarily like the need for new guidance has already been decided in principle without reference to those who will be affected, and it isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that person or persons unknown may already have been tasked with drafting it. Meanwhile, some of us who have been there before and got a variety of T shirts to prove it, have already made our own mental shortlist of the usual suspects, some of whom have created mayhem in the past by making overblown claims as to their alleged experience and competence.

Kelly, writing from across the Pond, appears to give the prospect some credibility:

I am interested in how this works in the U.K. In Ontario, the process was that the home ed groups (there were only two big provincial ones) met with Ministry officials to talk about what would and wouldn’t work in guidance–what the law allowed or didn’t allow the Ministry to demand, and what were reasonable things for home educators to cooperate with. Then Ministry officials came back with a document that they negotiated and refined together a bit further. In the end, the homeschoolers felt reasonably happy with the policy memorandum they got, which, as I have said, isn’t perfect, in my opinion, but is certainly an improvement on what they had before.

This has previously been hotly debated in home education circles, of course, and the reaction to EO’s ridiculous rent seeking prospectus and proposal for a home education council (presumably run by them for a not very small fee) summed up the antipathy felt by many experienced home educators towards a discredited ‘patsy’ organisation and its lacklustre lackeys. In short, it is an enormous can of very wiggly worms.

Elaine goes on to make the following point, which has yet to sink in in political and civil servant circles, it seems:

Lets put it in a nutshell, parents are responsible for feeding their children,
LA’s/NHS have no duty or power to demand menus
Parents are responsible for keeping their children healthy
LA’s/NHS have no duty or power to demand health reports/assessments
etc etc etc
Parents are responsible for their children’s education
End of story!

When Scotland did the guidance ‘dance’, it was by accident rather than judgment (but that’s a story for another time) and it was a painful process which left the home education community jaded. It took several years and some serious ‘Just Say No’-ing from Schoolhouse and a critical mass of home educators, along with the opposition parties combined, to get the first draconian draft thrown out in its entirety.  Meanwhile, EO had been diligently tweaking a few sentences here and there, helping to give credibility to an entirely unacceptable ‘guidance’ document for reasons best known to themselves (but we can all hazard an educated guess or two).  Other opportunists were falling over themselves to enjoy cosy little chats under Chatham House rules (a premise which was rejected by Schoolhouse throughout the process) so that we might be forgiven for thinking that open discussion of home education issues were of critical importance to national security!

Ultimately,  an acceptable document was  produced,  informed by joint research conducted by the Scottish Consumer Council and Schoolhouse, and independent specialist legal advice which was in keeping with the primary legislation it was designed to interpret. With a few notable and sensible exceptions (Falkirk, come on down!), the Scottish LAs did not like it and still don’t, but the law is the law and the Scottish education minister has just reaffirmed that, under his watch, the guidance is here to stay as it is and LAs had better get over it (I paraphrase).

Back on Kelly’s blog, Pendlewitch astutely observes:

That’s all well and good, but we all know how secretive certain little huddles like to be over here in England. I have heard a rumour that one individual has been tasked with rewriting the guidance, and if that is true then I know an awful lot of HEers are going to be VERY angry. We have had consultation on guidance a couple of times already. AHEd have articles up about the guidance, and of course we have Scotland as an example which for some very bizarre reason never gets mentioned by those *in power*. I wonder why that is?

The reason, dear Pendlewitch, will be that pesky three letter acronym: SNP. The Westminster lot like to pretend the Scottish Government doesn’t exist, probably because education secretary Mike Russell could knock spots off any politician south of the border and could easily have hung Badman out to dry. Balls wouldn’t have fared any better when up against a superior intellect with a firm grasp of the issues surrounding elective home education (and that is not a partisan comment, simply a matter of fact).

As home educators have been at pains to point out (and Elaine has tried her level best to keep it simple!) there is nothing wrong with the existing primary legislation, which makes it clear where the responsibility for the provision of compulsory education lies: with the parent. There may, however, be a case for making LAs responsible for providing an appropriate school education for each individual child if parents choose delegate their responsibility (as is already the case in Scotland).  All this bleating about children’s rights means absolutely nothing if there is no effective redress when children are failed by the state.

Home educators in England need to watch their backs as the biggest threat is not necessarily coming from LAs, who are merely sabre rattling for change as they know they do not have the statutory powers they claim in respect of ‘monitoring’, i.e. controlling, elective home education. Beware Greeks bearing gifts and all that, and most especially watch out for those who claim to be ‘helping’.

We need to keep reminding the rent seekers that home educators’ heads don’t button up the back and that we will adopt a Just Say No approach to those who have a vested financial and/or other interest in writing guidance/guidelines to suit their own self serving agenda. We know who you are and we’re watching you!