The Baroness and the Badman – why all British parents should care about “The Review”

Many readers of this blog will not be aware that my wife and I home-educate our four children – we believe that it is part of our right and our responsibility to our children to give them the best and most appropriate education we can.  As the Education Act 1996 states:

Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

For many parents and children that responsibility will be best fulfilled in the local state school or a private fee-paying school, but for others, the “otherwise” option is the right one – to choose to educate ones own children outside the school environment through a variety of home-based learning methods, activities and styles.  Though you may not personally be aware of parents taking this route, it is becoming increasingly popular in the UK (as it is in the US and many other countries), and there is a significant community of home educators forming, supporting each other and working together to give our children the best education we can.  It is sometimes hard to work outside the accepted social norm of institutional education – many people we meet have no understanding that such an option even exists, others question ones ability to teach our own children, whilst many worry about home-educated kids getting enough “socialisation” (honestly, nothing could be further from reality!) – but we believe that this is an option that all parents should have… to choose to exercise our own responsibility to educate our children ourselves.

So why do I bring this up?

As with many other areas of life in the UK, we are under attack by this “Nanny-state” government. Back in January 2009, Baroness Morgan of the Department for Children, Schools and Families launched a review into home-education in the UK:

Baroness Morgan Announcement: Independent Review of Home Education

The review aims to examine if and how far children who are educated at home are able to achieve the five outcomes; assess the effectiveness of current arrangements for ensuring their safety, welfare and education; highlight good practice; and, if necessary, make recommendations for improvements.

Led by Graham Badman, this wide-ranging and costly review sets out to test home-educators abilities to meet some very rigid criteria imposed by the Government – criteria that were written for the very formal, prescriptive environment of schools tasked with delivering the National Curriculum.  It is fair to say that we in the H-E community feel that this is an unfair review for a number of reasons, not least that at no stage does it consider whether school-based education is doing a good job for this nation’s children at present.

This terrific article written by Lisa Amphlett covers the review in a far more thorough and entertaining style than I could ever attempt:

The Baroness and the Badman – a fairy tale

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Once upon a time, there was a Baroness. When surveying her kingdom of schools and teachers, she came across a small community of parents who had legally opted to retain their independence.

She recognised that the people in question were but a minuscule community within her kingdom, and she paid lip service to their efforts thus far.  

    “Parents are able, quite rightly, to choose whether they want to educate children at home, and a very small number do. I’m sure, the vast majority do a good job,” said she.

But the Baroness did not quite trust them. She could not guarantee their protection from The Unknowable Dangers, and she was concerned that, without her superior knowledge and wisdom, they would never be able to rise to the elevated status of People of The Five Outcomes.

    “However, there are concerns that some children are not receiving the education they need. And in some extreme cases, home education could be used as a cover for abuse,” she maintained.

Moments later, there was a quiet knock at the door. A fourth messenger walked quietly over, head bowed.

    “Baroness, Baroness, I bring you some news from Sir Badman. He has completed the first part of his quest and wishes you to know the following:

    “The community places a high premium on the quality of human interaction. They believe that parents understand and love their own children better than anyone else. Their children roam the fields and forests, breathing in the sweet air, adventuring and exploring. Unencumbered by the demands of school, these children have more hours in the day to pursue diverse areas of learning. Parents are as engaged in the learning process as their children. The ratio of adults to children is remarkably low at all times. Children are able to learn at a developmentally appropriate place, which varies dramatically from child to child. There appears to be plenty of opportunity afforded for play, creative activity and self-directed learning.

    But, Baroness, the value of such things cannot be measured. A tangible outcome is often not provided. Many of our boxes remain unticked. There is no consistency of approach. We cannot be sure of equality for every single child. We cannot guarantee that they will be safe. We cannot control everything from top to bottom. The status quo will not remain.”

and so on… It is well worth a read.

So why do I think that “all British parents should care” about this review?

I believe that whether or not you feel that your children are receiving a good education from their schools, or whether you feel you could offer them an education at home, it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that our kids get the best education they can possibility receive in all areas of their lives (not just in terms of academic results) – that may mean state school, private school, school plus some home tutoring, home-education or even “unschooling“.  It is our responsibility to care and our right to choose.

Secondly, I believe that it is not the Government’s role to intrude on every area of our lives and try to make decisions that attempt to do our jobs as parents and members of community.  No one knows children as well as their parents, no one loves them as much, and no one can make better decisions about the important factors that influence their growth and development.

If you care about your rights as parents, then I encourage you to keep an eye on this review and on the Government’s other initiatives in this area. This year it’s home-education under attack, who knows what might come next?

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!