More random thoughts on the Welsh HE proposals

  1. It’s not registration, it’s a licensing scheme.

They call the proposals “Registering and monitoring home education in Wales” , but with one small change, it goes beyond that.

26.      The LA would only be able to refuse a new application or revoke an existing
registration in a very limited set of circumstances:

Hang on, a register is a record of information. That’s it. If you hold a register of home educating families in your area, then the only time you remove someone from that register is when they are no longer home educating in your area.

You, as a home educating family, don’t apply for registration: you register.

You, as a local authority, can’t refuse an “application to register”, as you would be refusing to record a given fact.

What do we call something that’s applied for, then granted, refused or revoked by the local authority? That would either be permission or license.

So, it’s a licensing scheme, not a registration scheme.

A license to discharge your legal duties to your children in the manner you see fit.

Which is odd, isn’t it?

I’m sure I’ll get corrected, but I can’t think of any other legal duty which is subject to licensing. I’ve got a driving license, but no legal obligation to travel. I could get a gun license, but I have no legal obligation to shoot. I’ve got planning permission for a polytunnel, but no legal obligation to grow veg.

On the other hand, I’ve got a legal obligation to pay tax, but I don’t need a license to earn money.

More, no doubt, will be said on the “register home cooking” blog…

2. It does the opposite of what it’s supposed to do

 2.        Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on LAs which consists
of two parts. The first part requires a LA to identify (so far as it is possible to do so)
all learners of compulsory school age in their area who are not on a school roll. The
second part requires a LA to establish if such learners are receiving a suitable
education. In the remainder of this document we describe this duty as ‘the section
436A duty’

 So the reason for compulsory licensing of HE families is to allow LA’s to discharge their 436A duty.

And given infinite resources for education departments, it will do just that.

Oh hang on! Just remembered! Education departments have finite budgets!

Which means that diverting resources away from investigating reports of educational neglect towards compulsory licensing schemes means that fewer resources are available to investigate and support struggling families.

This is especially true of a county like, for example, Powys:  population density of twenty five people per square kilometre, less than half that of Northumberland, the least densely populated English County. No wonder it’s hard to get a board game group together. It’s going to take a long time for a team to cover that area for a handful of families.

The fact is, identifying families in trouble has never been a problem for Local Authorities. Knowing their legal obligations and powers is a constant struggle, and one which another legislative layer is not going to help.

3. Practicalities: How are people going to know? And what happens if they don’t?

The proposal is curiously blank on these two questions.

How is someone entering Wales supposed to know about this? There’s no formal legal system of application to move from England to Wales, but on moving, a home educating family will have a new legal responsibility that they did not have before.

For that matter, anyone in Wales whose child reaches compulsory school age (I know, it’s the legally accurate but semantically inaccurate term) could find themselves breaking a law without knowing it.

In trying to make families enforce a local authority duty, they are putting families in a paradoxical position.

But from then on, what happens if the local authority find a family that has been home educating without a license, sorry, registration, for years? Will the family be prosecuted? What happens if they continue to home educate after a license (oh sod it, let’s call a spade a spade) has been refused? Is this in any way different from refusing a Statutory Attendance Order?

In other words, beyond a big scary licensing scheme, a new statutory monitoring function for already over stretched Welsh education departments and a few big brotherly terms, would this proposed legislation offer any advantages to LA’s in pursuing their statutory obligations? No.

Would it make it more likely that failing HE families would receive support? No.

Would it provide any new tools beyond those already in the legislative toolbox? No.

At a time when education departments in Wales are in crisis, it seems incredible that time and money is being spent on an area that is giving no cause for concern.


On Enthusiasm

Whenever anyone patronizes or belittles you for liking something, whether it’s something out of the mainstream like table top games or obscure SF shows, or something more in the mainstream like wrestling, or TV talent shows or soaps, you should feel sorry for them.

Because while they think they’re proving their superiority, what they’re really doing is shouting “STOP FINDING JOY WHERE YOU FOUND IT!”

They’re jealous of your enthusiasm. Poor dears.

Whenever you come across someone liking something you don’t care for, I’d recommend cultivating these responses:

“Hey, that’s not my bag, but don’t let me stop you! Tell me what’s cool about it!”

“Mind if I geek out about why I like this other thing for a while?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I am utterly failing to get what’s great about it. And that’s not your problem at all.”

Yeah, all of these can come across as passive aggressive bullsh*t (PABS, for those keeping score at home), so grace and acceptance, at all times.

Enthusiasm and joy are commodities in very short supply. Let’s try to keep as much of them alive as possible.

History lesssons: part one, the rise and fall of the Badman report

Just speaking personally now, about how I understood the Badman affair, and what I learnt from it.

It looks like the story of the Badman review starts in January 2009, with the announcement of a review to investigate current practice, and whether HE was being used as a cover for child abuse, neglect, forced marriage and weapons of mass destruction that could be launched against the UK within 45 minutes.

Of course, it doesn’t start there, as Ed Balls did not wake up one day and think “today I will commission a hugely prejudicial review into home education.” Because, as we all know, he wakes up every day and thinks “I WANNA BE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER!” but that is neither here nor there.

It could have been said to have started in 2007, when Lord Adonis said that HE without government oversight was “an anomaly which we intend to rectify.” But that was just hot air.

It really started in May 2008, with the death of Khyra Ishaq. She was starved to death, at the age of seven, while in the care of her mother (Angela Gordon) and her mother’s partner. She was not, at the time, attending school.

However, the authorities had first been alerted to Gordon’s deliberate neglect of children in her care in 2000. There were a steady stream of reports about Ishaq’s welfare, not only from her teachers before she stopped being sent to school, but medical staff and members of the public. Failures within Birmingham social services meant that they were not properly followed up.

The Ishaq case, rapidly approaching court in late 2008, was the main catalyst for the Badman review, and in my opinion, the course of the court case and the progress of the review and subsequent proposed legislation cannot be considered separately.

I believe that if the court case had gone according to Ed Balls’ predictions, then England would now have compulsory registration for home educators.

For now, let’s return to the home education review.

No-one is selected at random to head a government enquiry. In a perfect world, where policy is decided by level headed and rational assessment of impartial evidence, they would be conducted either by a well respected, neutral figure from outside the field in question prepared to weigh carefully the expert opinions offered them, or the best qualified expert inside the field.

In this world, a policy is decided upon, and an “expert” who agrees with it is found to head an “enquiry” to find evidence to support the policy.

Ed Balls found Graham Badman. Badman is a former teacher and headteacher who then moved upwards into senior circles of local authority education departments. By another of these accidents of history, education and children’s social services were merged to form children’s services departments, and thus did a man with a great and good history in education, but with no qualifications or experience in social work or safeguarding, become responsible first in Oxfordshire, then in Kent, for child welfare and protection.

One small note: immediately prior to being asked to conduct the HE review, Badman was parachuted into Haringey Local Children’s Safeguarding Board (hereafter HLCSB) to replace Sharon Shoesmith after her mishandling of the death of “Baby P”. HLCSB, it should be noted, were previously heavily censured for failing to save the life of Victoria Climbie in 2000. Climbie was, like Ishaq, not attending school at the time of her death. While not directly related to the Badman review, the Climbie case was referred to by the NSPCC as being a case of a child dying while being home educated, and thus of the need to monitor HE families, during the media coverage of the Badman review.

Personally, I cannot see how Badman, having been dropped into Haringey to oversee a review of a fatal child neglect case, could not have been influenced by this earlier case.

Incidentally, in the criminal case regarding Climbie’s death and the subsequent serious case reviews, “home education” as such was not found to be a contributing factor. Local authority (and, ironically, NSPCC) incompetence was.

So, back to the Badman enquiry: for the progress of Badman’s relationships with actual frontline home educators, I can do no better than to refer you to a contemporary eyewitness account:

For the TL:DR crowd, some quotes…

His main themes included:
– Why aren’t we arguing for our “share” of our tax money?
– What do we want from the LAs – and “to leave us alone” was not accepted as an answer. He was pushing for what we wanted in terms of support.
– Did we want access to internet schools
– He looked for structure and didn’t seem to “get” autonomous home education or just even freedom to chose
– Would we be happy with a health visitor, rather than an EWO or Social Worker coming to visit (if we are talking about welfare, safeguarding etc)
– If we didn’t accept the Government monitoring us, would we accept “other home educators” monitoring us!! Eg, local groups, national organisations etc
– How can “society” protect the vulnerable amongst us

The feeling/feedback from the families was:
– they weren’t sure that he listened
– felt they could see the points *he* was making
– felt that he didn’t understand/listen to the points *they* were making
– that he didn’t GET home education
– that he certainly didn’t GET autonomous home education
– many felt somewhat insulted by the end of the debate
– they were glad to have the chance to have met him for themselves and got a “feel” for what we are up against
My 13 year old said at the end that “talking to the Badman left a bad taste in my mouth”

This, however, is merely the prologue.

Upon meeting with Paula Rothermel, who has done arguably the best academic work on HE and outcomes in the UK, he first asked her if HE mothers suffer from Munchausen’s by proxy, and shortly thereafter proceeded to rubbish her research to her face.

Other academics whose work was shown to demonstrate improved outcomes for HE children were similarly rubbished.

Meanwhile, Badman’s approach to rigorous research, well… not too good

As I ranted at the time:

*(And to those who doubt that, I say that any man who has spent a good portion of his life teaching science who then takes an unrepresentative sample, extracts the median value and then multiplies it unweighted across the whole class to obtain an aggregate figure, is not being merely disingenuous but actively misleading. Either he is too mendacious to be trusted with the review or incompetent. You see, unlike Mr Badman, I tend to vilify and defame people solely on the basis of clear evidence of their actions.)

Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, a funny thing happened.

In June 2009, Badman produced his report. This was not unnoticed, nor funny. There was a media frenzy. The government responded with undetailed plans to implement the recommendations.

What did go unnoticed was that, almost simultaneously, the first trial of Khrya Ishaq’s killers was abandoned.

For those playing at home, yes, the first trial “should” have ended pretty much on the day the Badman report was released. In the middle of a media shitstorm about “hidden children” at risk.

Personally, I believe Ed Balls planned to ride the wave of public outrage to pass HE monitoring legislation. Sadly for him, two (in some reports three) jurors became ill, and for want of a nail…

From this point on, the story essentially becomes one of party politics: the HE community latches onto some Tory politicians looking to make a name for themselves in the education lobby, an inquiry into the Badman review is held (and is pretty scathing), shadow education minister Michael Gove somehow makes statements supporting autonomous HE while calling for more discipline and structure in schools, time passes, leaves fall from the calendar…

Oh wait one more thing.

On 25th February 2010, the Khrya Ishaq trial ends. The Ministry for Children, Schools and Families puts out a press release welcoming the judgement, particularly the highlighting of the need for greater control of home educators…

Except the judgement says no such thing. It’s very scathing about Birmingham social services though.

Oh, notice I linked to blog above? It’s because within hours, the original statement has been taken down and replaced with one that mutters and mumbles about trying harder, tragic case, etc etc. No formal retraction, nothing.

Almost as if the DCSF had written it before the judgement, eh? Maybe months before. Maybe in June.

Back to politics. 2010 crashes onwards towards the national embarassment that was the election that year, parliament is suspended and in the shameful process that is the wash up, Labour decide the HE legislation isn’t as important as the rest of the education bill and ditch it.

And that, in my view, is the potted history of why we don’t have registration in England.

You will notice that HE families, campaigners, and organisations, do not feature greatly in this version of events. Politicians, cronies, dead children and two twists of fate (ill jurors and a general election) feature heavily.

Fast forward to 2012. A child not in school dies in North Wales. A child known to the local authority, for whom alarms have been raised, but intervention was not deemed necessary.

Epilogue: Where are they now?

Ed Balls is shadow chancellor. I think this may be his ideal job, as it allows him to imagine that his policies really would save the country without actually having to see them fail in real life.

Michael Gove is Secretary of State for Education

Graham Badman is… well, one thing he isn’t, despite the repeated statements of Ed Balls, is Sir Graham Badman. Yet.

What he is doing… some will find distasteful.

Graham Badman is currently available for speaking engagements. His current topic? The lessons learnt from the death of Baby P. Sometimes, Victoria Climbie is also referenced.

To be absolutely fair, it seems that the thrust of the talks is that social workers who know their powers, the law and are absolutely dedicated to the welfare of children are what is needed to save vulnerable children.

I wholeheartedly agree.

What isn’t, and has never been, needed is new legislation that forces those social workers into households where no concerns have been raised.

The Badman legislation failed because of happenstance.

AAAaaaand we’re back on the air…

Yes, hello, welcome to my own contribution to the diaspora of opinion on Home Education, since that’s what I mostly ranted about last time I was active.

Now last time I was active here, it was because the then Labour government in London decided to “consult” (and I use the term in the loosest possible fashion) on proposed legislation to make home education subject to compulsory registration.

Due to somewhat complicated and, I believe, serendipitous conditions, this legislation did not come to pass.

Guess what?

Someone in Cardiff has had an idea. Yup, meat’s back on the menu boys, there is a proposal to make it compulsory to register in order to home educate.

They’re playing my song again. Let’s dance.

Poem: The Fourth Age

The Fourth Age

At the end of the Third Age.

When the Dark Lord was cast down

We had a problem to solve.

What could we do with the minions,
The Orcs, the Goblins, the Trolls.

They were created by dark forces.
It was inherent in them.

Surely they couldn’t be trusted to rule themselves?
An Orc King would inevitably become another Dark Lord.

Hotter heads called for a slaughter of the dark races,
But the wisest of us held sway saying,

“Our cities are in ruins.
“Our fields lay unploughed,
“So many of our young men lay dead on the battlefields.

“Even in the hearts of the mountains,
“Veins of precious metals and gemstones
“Lie unclaimed for want of hard-working hands.

“Properly supervised,
“Orc hands can dig,
“Can plough,
“Can haul stone,
“Can build.

“Were not the dark towers,
“So lately brought low,
“Built by the labour of Orc,
“And Goblin,
“And Troll?”

And so the labour trails were organized,
From the ruined dark lands of the East
To the barely less ruined lands of the West.

And our fields were ploughed,
And sown,
And harvested.

And our cities were not only fixed,
But grew and flourished.

And the goblin returned to the dark of the mountain,
Not for iron for dark swords,
But for ploughshares,
And bright silver,
And lucent gems,
For delicate wrought gifts
From Dwarven Kings
To Elven Ladies.

But all through this,
They would sing their guttural songs,
In dark rhythms.

We had to scour their huts
To clear the primitive altars
To the Dark Lord
(In hope of his return?)

So the wise went amongst them
And taught them the songs of the Creator of the Light,
Which now they sing,
(In guttural voice
With dark rhythm),
As they plough,
And build,
And dig.

Are they happy?
Who knows?
They’re Orcs,
And Goblins
And Trolls.

And they were not made like us.

Will there ever be an Orc nation among the free people of the West?

Some of us shudder at the thought
(For their governmental record is not good).

But I say
“They are not ready now,
But who knows?

“Perhaps in the Fifth Age.”

– Peter Darby
Creative Commons, non-commercial, Attribute, Share alike license, 2011

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Ancient Blood: getting into Slaughterman’s Creed up to the elbows…

 So, on coming home from a very mundane day at a very mundane job, I am confronted by a slim package, bearing the return address of those fine people at Markosia.

Very excited, I hide myself away with the contents. My son asks "What’s that?"

"My friends new graphic novel"

"Ooh, can I read it."

I look across to him. He’s 12. The golden age for comics, yes?

He’s not going to read Slaughterman’s Creed yet.

And not just because of the swearing, the blood, the bodily parts on display.

Because it’s a proper grown up story.

In a lot of the buzz for this book, you may come across references to The Long Good Friday, Get Carter, Mona Lisa…

I think that’s missing the mark.

I’d prefer to refer to older stories. Like Macbeth (and it’s bastard child Throne of Blood), or King Lear, or Julius Caesar.

Am I comparing Cy to Shakespeare? As a jobbing writer in a disreputable medium turning out gripping stories that carry more weight than the audience might expect, I think young Billy S can live up to that. 

But that’s not important. What’s important is that Cy gets story. Stories, the really good ones, are about what fundamentally matter. 

Slaughterman’s Creed is about power, blood and family. It stands in a tradition that stretches through Chinatown, The Big Sleep, Sweeney Todd, The Threepenny Opera, The Beggars Opera, bloody Shakespeare and back to Oedipus and Elektra.*
It’s a gutsy story. It’s a bleak story. It’s a powerful story.
I thought I caught notes of other recent stories here and there. No Country for Old Men deployed a piece of set dressing that makes a lot more sense here. Alan Moore’s V brought death to a penitent villain too. Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog was a button man for honourless gangsters.
But they’re notes. Like you can’t compose a blues song that doesn’t sound like other blues songs, otherwise how would you know they’re the blues? The notes work because that’s the kind of tune it is.
This isn’t as much as an assault on the mental capacity, like Cancertown was. That was a tricksy number, a product of Cy’s conjurer sensibilites. I felt like I could pretty much see where the story was moving, but that’s good. No-one goes to see Macbeth hoping for surprises (or hugs and learning at the end). Slaughterman’s Creed is much more direct,  and perhaps more compelling on a visceral level for that.
Oh, and one more thing. Proper Green Man character. Most hippies and fluffy pagans will hate him, because he’s ultimately a self-aggrandizing little prick with a schtick. Let him serve as a warning to them. By all the gods, some of them need warning.
*Everyone who thought about anything that even remotely looked like Jennifer Garner when I said "Elektra", get out and see a damn play once in a while.