Wednesday, 5 September 2012

EHE Select Committee Session Thoughts

Having been living in a motorhome, with relatively limited internet access for the past six months, I have been a little bit out of the loop with all things political HE wise. Thankfully though I have a network of friends who have been keeping me up to date, so I have been aware of the recent goings on, though haven't had the time, access, or inclination to be honest, to get involved.

This morning I was relying on texts from friends and twitter hashtags to keep me up to date with the goings on at the select committee hearing. This evening the internets (well, the mobile networks but hey) have been kind enough to grant me 3G access and so I have been able to sit and watch for myself, though this was not without its particular "living in a motorhome" difficulties (think noise levels). 

These are my initial thoughts about the hearing and the general climate in which it took place.

I have to say that when I was told who would be appearing on the first panel I was frustrated. There were two people who I did not want there representing home educators. Those with an understanding of recent HE history and my own particular point of view on that, will be able to draw their own conclusions as to who those people were!  

In all fairness however, I have to say that I did not hear anything said that I could disagree with. It would appear that, on a public level at least, lessons have been learned. I did find it interesting that LAs are not taking up training to the degree that they did a few years ago. Obviously this impacts on the income opportunities for those people who give themselves the title of education/home education consultant. This confirmed for me that my concerns with regard the arrogant way in which certain individuals were attempting to push through new guidelines/guidance, allegedly at the behest of Graham Stuart, were well founded. New guidelines/guidance would require updated training, ergo lots of lovely new business opportunities.  (I was pleased to note that there seemed to be a clear consensus that the guidelines we have currently are perfectly adequate and do not need replacing, they just need to be adhered to; an excellent step forward in my opinion!)

I found the way Graham Stuart smoothly slid in bit of promotion for an upcoming flexi schooling conference irritating, and his brief explanation of what flexi schooling is misleading. I was fairly certain that others had already covered the problems which arise when flexi schooling is misrepresented as a form of home education, but at this moment I'm not able to find those blog posts to link to here. If anyone reading has any links, please feel free to drop them in the comments box, or if there aren't any such posts anywhere I will write one myself at some point.

The resounding feeling I got from watching the committee hearing was that, once again, we have a raft of MPs who just don't understand what home education is and how it works. If you follow that through to its conclusion what that actually means is that we have a bunch of MPs sitting on a committee about education who don't understand the education act. That disturbs me. 

I think that as a result of this lack of knowledge, what Graham Stuart perhaps hoped would come out of the hearing was derailed to a great extent, and this is again something that disturbs me. Why? Because the task of the committee is to make recommendations to government, and, as far as I am aware (please do tell me if I’m wrong), there has to be a certain degree of consensus in the committee’s report.

The impression I got from watching the hearing was that, once again, HE was being conflated with safeguarding issues for most of the committee members. Graham Stuart has an excellent understanding of why HE shouldn’t be conflated with welfare/safeguarding, and yes, he is the chair of the committee so has much more influence than he had when he sat on the last education select committee, but I think he is facing an uphill struggle to get his committee members to really understand the intricacies of the problems home educators face with local authorities.

Surely those committee members should have had a Home Ed 101 briefing before coming into that hearing? The closing date for submissions to the enquiry was, I believe, July 19th. That’s getting on for two months ago. These people have presumably been reading the submissions and yet they still had to ask the most basic questions? The committee is due to release its report in October, (again, please correct me if I’m wrong, I have been out of the loop as I’ve already said) not long at all to get their collective heads around home education!

Perhaps I’m imbuing our elected members with rather more credit than they deserve when I say that they don’t exist in a vacuum, and will surely know what is currently happening in Wales (Badman II by any other name).

Perhaps I am worrying unnecessarily (I really do hope so) but I am very concerned as to the direction that this latest interest in English home education will take. I have very good reason to be concerned, as do all the home educators who lived through the Badman days. If you have no understanding of the history you might say that that sounds terribly melodramatic; to that I just say I hope you never have to experience what we went through in those 16 months. Only today I was talking to a fellow home educator for whom the mention of Home Education and a Government Committee brought her out in a cold sweat. That’s more than two years after the Badman recommendations were abandoned in the wash up. That is how frightening a time it was. That is why so many of us are so suspicious of government and local authority interest.

I am a fairly ancient, long in the tooth, battle weary home educator who has lost the limited faith she once had in the process of engaging. I (and others) spent a lot of time over the years working with the local authority in North Yorkshire, which culminated in that authority being presented to Badman as “best practice”. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a hell of a lot better than what we started with, but a change of staff and all of that hard work has gone flying out of the window to be replaced with pretty bloody awful practice. I can’t say I’m sorry that I don’t live in North Yorkshire any more. I offer that as a word of warning to all those who currently have a good working relationship with their local authority. It really can all change overnight.

Overall I thought that the home educators did “us” proud; what the MPs will do with it all remains to be seen. Exam access, across the board adherence to the law and respect instead of suspicion from LAs would be excellent outcomes for this process, but I’m not going to be holding my breath, especially given what is going on across the Welsh border.