Right to Reply
- 1 Introduction to the Document Right to Reply
- 2 7. A Suitable Education
- 3 Footnotes
Introduction to the Document Right to Reply
Right to Reply was a document created by home educators in response to the Badman Review of Elective Home Education in England. It was written for MPs and presented to them at a mass lobby of the UK Parliament on 13 October 2009. What you see here is NOT the original document but an updated version including new material.
1.1 We have reached a pivotal moment in English history. Never before has a Government fought so hard to intrude into family life and never before have so many parents and children risen up to defend themselves.
1.2 This report is ostensibly about planned changes to the law that will strip home educators of their rights but it is about far more than that. The Government would like local authorities to be given the legal right to enter the homes of innocent families, and the right to interview their children alone. If these rights are enshrined in law it won’t just affect home educators, it will affect all families. Once the door to one group of family homes is prised open, it will only be a matter of time before the door of every home in England is wide open to a stream of local authority officers telling us they know what is best for our children and our families.
1.3 The Review of Elective Home Education in England has triggered widespread opposition among those who know most about home education – the practitioners. The picture painted of home education by Graham Badman is unrecognisable to the thousands of families in this country who exercise their legal right to educate their children without sending them to school. His view is unrecognisable to the thousands of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who share the lives of home educated children. It is unrecognisable to the children themselves.
1.4 The review has brought welcome support for home educators from many MPs, including the 43 who have signed Mark Field’s Early Day Motion 1785: “That this House acknowledges and celebrates the hard work of the many home educators in Britain who teach their children to an exceptionally high standard; recognises the excellent value they represent to the Government; notes with concern the conflation of welfare concerns with education issues in Government statements on home education; further notes with concern the recommendations of the Badman Review which suggest closer monitoring of home educators, including a compulsory annual registration scheme and right of access to people's homes for local authority officials; and calls on the Government to focus on its own ability to fulfil the Every Child Matters objectives rather than undermine the independence and integrity of home educators by enforcing the Badman recommendations.”
1.5 In addition to MPs, other notable people have been willing to join the public debate about home education. Among those who contributed to this report are:
• Home education researcher Dr Paula Rothermel of the University of Durham
• Dr Robert Leese, a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, where he teaches mathematics (including statistics)
• Child protection expert Ben Grey
• Retired Ofsted Inspector Derry Hannam
• Author and Director of the Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford Dr John Ballam
1.6 It is clear that the Government is uneasy about home education - over the last 4 years it has addressed the matter in numerous ways:
We have seen:
• Consultation: Home Education Guidelines for LEAs (2005) – this consultation specifically excluded home educating families
• DfES: Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities in July 2007
• DCSF Statutory Guidance on Children at Risk of Not Receiving Suitable Education October in 2008
• Review of Elective Home Education in England in 2009
In addition, other consultations such as ‘Children Missing Education’ (2007), and ‘In Work, Better Off ’(2007) have also had impact on home educating families.
1.7 The Government is also planning two further home education consultations in 2010 on the definitions of “full-time education” and of “suitable and efficient education”.
1.8 However, It is the legislation planned for this autumn that constitutes the most immediate threat to home educators and it is this legislation that is the subject of today’s mass lobby. The Government intends to use the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Bill to:
• force home educating families to register every year with their local authority
• give local authorities carte blanche to refuse registration
• give local authority officers the right of access to their homes and the right to speak to their children alone
1.9 Home educators are renowned for their strong opinions and independent spirit. They come from all faiths and none. They have as many approaches to education as there are children. They rarely agree on anything. And yet they are remarkably united in their opposition to these proposals. There is great concern that their way of life will be legislated out of existence.
Purpose of the report
The Case for Home Education - put by the parents
The Case for Home Education – put by the young people
The Case for Home Education - put by the academics
7. A Suitable Education
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that: “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” This begs the question: What is a suitable education? The Education Act does not attempt to define these words. In 1981 the parents of a home educated child appealed successfully at Worcester Crown Court against their convictions for failure to comply with school attendance orders (Harrison & Harrison v Stevenson). A “suitable education” was defined by the court as one which would:
prepare the child for life in modern civilised society, and enable the child to achieve his full potential. enabled the children to achieve their full potential and was such as to prepare the children for life in modern civilised society
In the case of R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (1985) Mr Justice Woolf held that :
"education is „suitable‟ if it primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child‟s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so."
Because Section 437 to 443 of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on the Local Authority to take action if it appears that a child / young person is not receiving a “suitable education”, the Badman review calls for further definition of a suitable education. The question remains whether this is possible in a general sense. For what is suitable to a child's ability and aptitude and any special needs they might have is very, very specific and can only be determined by someone who knows the child well.
Some think that a suitable education is defined by the National Curriculum. Thus it remains of ongoing concern to them that home educators are not required to follow the National Curriculum, and they feel that children who are not following the NC are in some way educationally disadvantaged and/or neglected. But a curriculum expresses a particular perspective on what is important, and that point of view is not universally the same – as evidenced by the plethora of curriculae available, and also by the constant changes and adjustments being made to our National Curriculum. So rather than attempting to define a suitable education as an all-embracing curriculum to which all learners should conform, a suitable education is better defined as that particular education which suits the particular child. Home educators have long made use of the freedom to tailor the education to meet the specific needs and goals of the children in their care.
Jonathan, aged 14, Hampshire: I have been home educated all my life so I can say my life is my education - it is what I do; when I wake up it‟s what I‟m thinking and what I am...
Children develop at different rates and in different ways. What works for one child does not necessarily work for another. We know so much now about different learning styles, different ways of receiving and interpreting sensory input, different personal intelligences and gifting. A suitable education is one that fits; one that suits the person embracing it.
Thus there is a very real sense in which the person himself defines the suitability of his education. This is certainly evidenced in Higher Education, where students select their own career pathways; although they may receive career guidance and advice from others, the final selection of study is their own.
Clearly, this interpretation of a “suitable education” is difficult to implement in the context of compulsory education in a school. However, one of the key strengths of home education is that it is ideally suited for the facilitation of an education that is relevant, specific and accurately pitched at the age, aptitude and ability of the individual child. A personalised, flexible, creative curriculum allows for shifts in focus, interest and motivation on the part of the learner.
Jaki Parsons, Hampshire: I enjoy the opportunity of allowing my seven-year-old daughter to follow her interests. She reads because she wants to and enjoys choosing stories that follow her passion - ponies. Although she didn't learn to read until she was seven, her first books were Famous Five and Secret Seven adventure stories, bypassing the early books her schooled friends had to endure before they got onto "proper" story books. She goes horse riding, does gymnastics, football, ice skating and had a brief fling with ballet. We do drama, art, history, poetry and basket weaving. We are on first name terms with the staff in the Willis Museum, Milestones Museum, Andover Iron Age Museum, SEARCH museum - although to be fair, some staff work at all of the museums! I love the fact that we learn together, although funds do not allow us to follow all of her interests (for example, she did want to open a petting zoo in the back garden!) We have visited Oxford University, the British Museum, Mayflower Theatre, Portsmouth Dockyards, New Forest parks, Southampton Civic Centre, INTECH Discovery Centre and many other places. She has an avid enquiring mind and no two days are ever the same. In the next couple of weeks she will have learnt a poem and recited in front of a local infant school, visited the Royal Albert Hall and listened to the Primary Proms, gone to London for a Children‟s Jazz concert and watched an assortment of films via the Film Foundation. None of this would be possible if she went to school and followed a prescriptive curriculum. She is a free range chick, not a battery hen learning facts and SAT‟s in a gilded cage. I am confident that, like her much older siblings, in due time she will take her place in the world of work doing whatever job that lights her fire.
The most well-known context in which the concept (that a “suitable education” can only be defined by the learner) has been explored is Summerhill School. Founded by A.S. Neill in 1921, Summerhill is run on the principles of democracy, equality and freedom. Summerhill functions with the precept that school should fit the child, not the other way around. Children at Summerhill have no prescribed curriculum, and are free to attend or not attend classes as they see fit. Thus self-government is a core ethos at the school. This does not lead to anarchy, as the freedom to choose is balanced by another core ethos, namely that one is free to do as one wishes so long as one‟s choice does not harm (ie interfere with the freedoms of) others, thus „Freedom, not License‟ (A.S. Neill wrote a book with the same name). In many ways the structure of Summerhill looks like a healthy family on a large scale.
Not surprisingly, in its unique approach, Summerhill has generated a lot of interest over the years, not all of it dispassionate and favourable. It has been one of the most inspected schools in the country. Following a major inspection from OFSTED in March 1999, the then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, issued the school with a notice of complaint, taking issue with the school's policy of non-compulsory lessons. Rather than conform to OFSTED requirements, Summerhill chose to contest the notice in court with the assistance of human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC. In March 2000 a settlement was agreed according to which provision was made for the special educational philosophy of Summerhill to be taken into account in future inspections. In 2007 a full inspection was carried out within the framework set out by the court settlement – with very positive results.19
Ofsted Inspection Report on Summerhill School, 2007 „The school adopts an alternative philosophy to education based on the work of its founder, A.S. Neill. It is based on the notion that children should be free to decide for themselves how to spend their time in school. The proprietor, who is the daughter of A.S. Neill, continues to uphold these principles. The daily life of the school is governed by the school meetings, held three times a week, in which everybody has an equal vote. School meetings are used to create, confirm and amend all the school laws which form the structure of expectations for the community of staff and pupils, in which the adults and children have complete parity of status. The school's philosophy is to allow freedom for the individual, each child being able to take their own path in life and find, through experience, the things that they want to do and the person they want to be. The school proposes that this leads to an inner self confidence and real acceptance of themselves as people. All of this is done within the structures of the school, through the meetings, self-government and the clear distinctions between freedom and licence, all elements which are at the very core of the school's philosophy and the day-to-day experiences of the pupils and staff.‟
Reflecting back on the case, Derry Hannam, who was the Ofsted inspector adviser to the Summerhill defence team, said the following:
Derry Hannam My own feeling is that if a family resisted the inspectorial visit or challenged its findings to the point where they were put before a court and at that point expert evidence in support of autonomous education was given by authorities like Roland Meighan or Alan Thomas, then the poor quality of understanding of learning and education theory by the LA staff would be exposed just as the poor quality of the Ofsted inspection of Summerhill and the highly unimpressive court performance of the DFEE 'Registrar of Inependent Schools' on day 1 and 2 of the hearing fatally undermined the unsuccessful attempt by the DFEE/OFSTED to close Summerhill in 1999.
One of the concerns raised in the Badman report is to do with autonomous learning 20 (also known as unschooling). Although he draws no conclusions, Mr Badman questions whether it “presents a more serious concern for a quality of education that lacks pace, rigour and direction”. Autonomous educators fear that concerns such as these, along with a concomitant lack of understanding of autonomous education in philosophy and practise will bring bias and heavy handedness to any attempts on the part of LAs to monitor the “efficiency and suitability of elective home education”.
Alison Tindale, East Yorkshire: Autonomous education seems to lie outside the prevailing educational paradigm of the time, a paradigm that dictates that all education has to be planned, carried out and then assessed. This paradigm is so all-prevailing that we have very little faith that local authority officials will receive suitable training to help them understand autonomous learning and respect it as a legitimate educational method. We fear that, in consequence, (a) officials will judge the provided education as inadequate and take steps towards School Attendance Orders for our children or (b) be tempted to raise false safeguarding concerns in order to refuse re-registration.
It is so necessary to distinguish between education and schooling. All children should be educated, but not all children should be schooled. And if children are not schooled, they are not necessarily uneducated.
Many of the recommendations of the Review are intrusive and interruptive of the process of autonomous education. For example, requiring the child to demonstrate attainment and progress alongside the threat of a possible loss of the right to continue home education is likely to engender fear and anxiety – thus detracting in a very real sense from the philosophy and methodology of autonomous education, which has been defined as the freedom to learn what one likes, when one likes, how one likes, and for one‟s own reasons.
Maire Stafford, Leicestershire: I strongly believe that with education (learning living life), what you don't do is as important as what you do. For some children pressure is tantamount to criticism, criticism can be disabling if it is not perceived as positive. It is important not to diminish, or coerce, or undermine. Often I think „oh I could do that with ___, then I look at what she is doing and it is more useful and enjoyable than what I was about to suggest. Without great sensitivity we can interrupt the autonomous process which depends on the child's curiosity confidence and belief in their ability to succeed where they wish to challenge themselves.
Raquel Toney, Essex: My autonomously educated daughter found that the impending inspections changed the way she approached her learning. She was no longer learning because she had a love of it or was interested but instead to please the inspector. Once I presented what we were doing via a report, things changed and my daughter was able to relax and work at her own pace. She has decided to take GCSE's two years earlier than her peers. She already has an A grade in English Language. I am in no doubt that had she been made to continually exhibit her knowledge in front of an inspector her enthusiasm would have been extinguished and learning would have become a chore.
Interestingly, the pioneer of autonomous education as an educational philosophy was himself a teacher. Initially John Caldwell Holt sought to reform schools, but with time he came to feel that education could happen better outside of school structures: 21
John Holt I believe that we learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to try to learn, and when, and how, and for what reasons or purposes; when we, not others, are in the end choosing the people, materials and experiences from which and with which we will be learning; when we, not others, are judging how easily or quickly or well we are learning, and when we have learned enough; and above all, when we feel the wholeness and openness of the world around us, and our own freedom and power and competence in it. 22
I would be against trying to cram knowledge into the heads of children even if we could agree on what knowledge to cram and could be sure that it would not go out of date, even if we could be sure that, once crammed in, it would stay in. Even then, I would trust the child to direct his own learning. For it seems to me a fact that, in our struggle to make sense out of life, the things we most need to learn are the things we most want to learn. To put it another way, curiosity is hardly ever idle. What we want to know, we want to know for a reason. The reason is that there is a hole, a gap, an empty space in our understanding of things, our mental model of the world. We feel that gap like a hole in a tooth and want to fill it up. It makes us ask How? When? Why? While the gap is there, we are in tension, in suspense. Listen to the anxiety in a person‟s voice when he says, “This doesn‟t make sense!” When the gap in our understanding is filled, we feel pleasure, satisfaction, relief. Things make sense again – or at any rate, they make more sense than they did. When we learn in this way, for these reasons, we learn both rapidly and permanently. 23
John Holt wrote 10 books on education, most of which are still in print. In 1964 „Teach Your Own‟ was published, a book in which Holt encouraged parents to offer their children a different – and he believed better – kind of education by teaching them at home. However, he continued till the end of his life to speak to teachers and at schools, hoping that some of his thoughts about respecting children would have influence.
John Holt The human mind is a mystery. To a very large extent it will probably always be so we will never get very far in education until we realise this and give up the delusion that we can know, measure, and control what goes on in children‟s minds. To know one‟s own mind is difficult enough. 24
It is important to note that he was not the only educationalist expressing these views. In writing about them he joined the ranks of A.S.Neill, George Dennison, Ivan Illich and others. There are many thinkers who have questioned – and are questioning - the structure of our schools and curricula, including John Taylor Gatto25, Sandra Dodd26, and Roland Meighan27. Roland Meighan has a string of credentials, and is nobody‟s fool: D.Soc.Sc., Ph.D., B.Sc.(Soc)., L.C.P., Cert.Ed., and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, formerly Special Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham. Writing about John Holt‟s work, he said: 28
There is a terrible irony in re-reading John Holt‟s message. Most of the bad strategies that he identified... are those which raise children‟s fears, and produce learning which is fragmented, distorted and short-lived. They have become the basic building blocks of the UK National Curriculum.
So when home educating parents choose an autonomous approach as the educational philosophy and approach for their children‟s learning, they are not ignorant or careless or neglectful. And contrary to popular opinion, autonomous education does not mean leaving children to their own devices. Although the children determine their curriculum, the parents are facilitators and supporters of that curriculum.
Joy Baker was a home educating parent who, in the late 1950‟s, fell foul of her education authority‟s perception of a “suitable” education when they deemed her provision to be lacking and issued school attendance orders on her children. In court, Mrs Baker said the following words 29:
Joy Baker: You may say that these children have not had a conventional education or that you do not personally agree with or approve of their education. But that is a matter of opinion, not of law. You may say that they are not being educated in accordance with school methods; but can you say that this education has not been efficient or is not producing a favourable result? Because these children‟s absorption of knowledge follows a different pattern to school methods of teaching, and many school subjects are being held back, spread over a different period of time, or approached in a different way for a considered purpose, does this make their education inefficient?
After many court appearances – and the waste of a great deal of time and money it should be said – in 1962 it was finally agreed that Mrs Baker‟s children could be educated at home, in peace.
In attempting to define the term “suitable” in the context of education, one is left with the uncomfortable understanding that if the learning must suit the learner in terms of age, aptitude and ability, there cannot possibly be just one approach, one curriculum and one context that will suit every child being educated in this country. Rather, there must be freedom to select what is best for each child, and as the major stakeholders in education, families - and the children in those families - need to have the final say as to the content and delivery of a suitable education for them.
Reflecting on the case later, Joy Baker wrote:30
After all the smoke of the High Court battle had cleared and the sounds of the firing had died away, I surveyed the battlefield behind me, where, I was told, I had made legal history; and where I had won my ten-year fight for the right of a mother to care for her own children – the most fundamental right on earth. People had often said to me, „Doesn‟t all this make you feel very important?‟ but in fact what impressed me most was the absurdity of its ever having been necessary; the incredible fuss the Education Authorities had made, over just one mother who would not agree with sending her children to school... ...my natural duty as a mother is to do what is best for my children, without regard for any other consideration whatever. No Act of Parliament is capable of deciding the upbringing and destiny of any individual child, and any Act which restricts the natural right of the parent to care for the child is in breach of a higher law than that of Parliament.
David Gribble wrote a useful book called „Worlds Apart‟31 in which he compares and contrasts the fundamental beliefs of traditional teacher led learning and democratic learner directed learning. One thing becomes clear – namely that beliefs about education affect process and practise, as well as the evaluation of the efficacy of that education. Will the LA honestly be able to say that the evaluation of autonomously educated children is fair and without bias? Who is best qualified to determine the suitability of an education? Autonomous educators are fully persuaded that the learners in their care are the best judges of the suitability of their education, and thus they support and respect their choices – and ask their government to do the same.
Alison Tindale We know we have a duty to make sure that our children receive a suitable, full-time and efficient education either by attending school or otherwise. We accept that it is reasonable for educational authority officials to make enquiries to reassure themselves that we are fulfilling this duty if they have information that causes them to doubt this, and we would be willing to respond appropriately to such enquiries. We also understand that they have a legal right to intervene if it then appears that we are not doing so. We believe they should otherwise trust that we are doing so, especially as we believe unnecessary monitoring will interfere with the very education it is trying to monitor.
19 Ofsted Inspection Report: Summerhill School, Number 124870
20 Review of Elective Home Education pg 36 (Point 10.1)
21 Susannah Sheffer (ed): A Life worth Living: Selected Letters of John Holt, pg 274 . Ohio State University Press, 1990
22 John Holt, What Do I Do Monday, Ch 14: The Wholeness of Learning, pg 95, American Book-Stratford Press Inc, (1970)
23 John Holt, How Children Learn, pg 291-2, Pitman Publishing Company, (1967 & 1983)
28 Roland Meighan: John Holt:Personalised Learning instead of Uninvited Teaching, pg 2, Educational Heretics Press, 2002
29 Joy Baker: Children in Chancery, pg 131, Hutchinson & Co, 1964
30 Ibid, pg 222
31 David Gribble: Worlds Apart (Libertarian Education, 2006)