Problems arise when the governments
try to micromanage a child's best interests as governments necessarily
balance the best interests of the child within a context of what
society needs a child to be. Economics, national security, social
cohesion and other issues all jostle for a voice in the debate
and the true needs of the individual children are lost. They
also have to base their judgements on the average child, what
children on average need ‘in their best interests’ to live a
fulfilling life. However, the governments idea of ‘the child’
does not really exist.
Back in the 1940’s the US air force famously decided they would measure all their
pilots’ physiques and came up with an “average pilot”, so tall, so broad, with
legs and arm so long etc. In fact, they measured 40 variables for over 4,000
pilots. They used this data to come up with a cockpit ideally suited to the average
pilot, they could even prove what that was, they had done their research well.
Unfortunately, only about 10% of pilots fitted the new “average”
cockpit. Either the legs or the arms or the height of actual
real pilots were, literally outside the “acceptable” tolerances
allowing the pilot, who was expected to spend many stressful
combat hours in his workplace, to do his job without adding
to his woes.
One size never fits all, especially when dealing with multiple
data points. Someone with average legs may well not have average
arms, or height for example. It was Lt. Gilbert S. Daniels who
found and systematically proved where the problem lay “there
is no average pilot.” The solution of course was to fit the cockpit
to the pilot by making them adjustable. This is now how all military
cockpits are now designed and indeed why car seats are adjustable
Anyone who has seen a Standard Normal distribution curve could
easily have predicted this outcome.
A little while ago a parent was castigated by
his local authority because he had chosen Italian as the foreign
language his child would study at home. French, he was told had
far more speakers and this was why schools taught French. The
father pointed out that while French was an admirable language
and was indeed spoken by more people than Italian, for a child
who was an elite musician, almost certainly with a future in
professional music and art, Italian was certainly the way to
go, his child, he pointed out was not an average child in that
respect. Indeed, looking at all children, almost no children
fit a government model of an average child.
Schools have come up with a somewhat different solution to dealing
with the problem of aggregating needs and abilities into a concept
of average. It’s known as “A broad and balanced curriculum.”
In this approach the plan is to offer all students a wide range
of subjects in the hope that children will find among them, some
specialism which will match them with their ‘ability, aptitude
and special needs.’
It’s a little like firing a selection of sweets
out of a shotgun in the hope that each child is able to catch
at least one with the flavour s/he prefers. It goes without saying
that not all flavours are included since it would be impractical,
there are only so many hours in a day and days in a school year.
And children can only be expected to take in so much, especially
when the school and OFSTED expects them to excel at everything
offered, chew through every flavour regardless of preference
and regardless of ability, aptitude or Special need.
A question I’m repeatedly asked as a home education advocate
by reporters, researchers and those I meet day to day is “How
can an untrained parent hope to offer their child a comparable
experience to that of school?” To home educators, the answer
seems plainly obvious. They cannot and it is not their intention
to even attempt to. In fact, the way the law is written it would
even be illegal for a parent to attempt this approach.
Parents must by law fit their provision to the needs of their
individual children. This means that if little Sam is an ace
chess player, it could be argued from law that should the parents
decide to ignore that, they are failing in their child’s educational
provision. If Francis shows an aptitude for languages then not
to offer multiple language tuition over a period of time may
also be seen, in law, as failing and if Kerry is a natural at
higher maths, then not perusing that could well be regarded as
a form of parental neglect. Similarly if a child has an SEN his
or her education should, by law, be tailored to suit that individual
child. Ask most parents of SEN children how their schools manage
and what effect it’s having on their children and you will soon
be appraised of the difference between home and school. It’s
also how education should be fitted to all children. All children
are different in a myriad of different ways leading most people
to the conclusion that everyone is different. They learn differently,
they express themselves differently, their lives are different
and, in this context their interests, abilities and their aptitudes
add up to unique educational needs.
There are currently several attempts being made by the state
to regulate home education. These are variously based on the
idea that parents cannot offer an education equivalent to school.
The Children’s Commissioner has even gone so far as to say that
however bad school is, home education is not the answer (I’ll
come back to this specific theme later.) While of course, as
I have explained, this was never the intention. The current dialogue
from the state (DfE, Children’s Commissioner and Lord Soley)
is that all children should be in school, seen by a professional
and an assessment made of their education in the same way as
school children are assessed. This will inevitably lead to SAT’s
being forced upon children at home.
SAT’s, of course were originally devised to assess the school
not the child, but there’s been mission creep to the extent that
even the original author of standardised testing, Frederick J.
Kelly, said "These tests are too crude to be used and should
be abandoned.” SATs
have become high stake tests for the child in school which add
to the already toxic experience of many children in school and
is likely a significant factor adding to the stress and poor
mental health of our youth. One of the worst in the developed
Imagine then the super-high stakes involved when the child being
tested is home educated. Parent and child will be clear that
the outcome of the test will determine the LA’s view of their
future right to home educate, not based upon a statistical analysis
of many hundreds of children as is the case in school, but from
the outcome of just this one child’s results. All this regardless
of how s/he feels that day, regardless of whether the (untrained)
parent has experience and training sufficient to predict and
prepare (cram) their one candidate in the way schools do for
whole classes. Inevitably the pressure to pass would be overwhelming.
This in itself, would seriously and detrimentally affect the
outcome. Consider for a moment how the child would feel should
the expected, hoped for, outcome not be met, knowing how this
was going to affect their lives. There can be no fair test.
The stakes would indeed be huge for the whole family, overwhelming
for the child and clearly detrimental to his or her wellbeing.
This would be even more true where the child was removed due
to serious failings in the school the child previously attended.
Consider the child who has been bullied, assaulted, perhaps even
raped in school. Or the SEN child who’s needs the school has
consistently, over a period of years, failed perhaps even in
the end been off rolled as a ‘too challenging case’.
Even were SAT’s not the instrument used to determine suitability,
whatever measure adopted would have a similar outcome, traumatising
the child and damaging family cohesion (equally damaging to the
child) overwhelming family relationships so badly that it’s hard
to think how they might recover. Family divorces are not uncommon
when families are put under this level of extreme stress.
Even were the family to pass the test, their normal flexible
studies (chess, languages or maths perhaps) would have to be
abandoned for months, perhaps permanently, so the children can
be coached and crammed to pass whatever test is applied. Educationalists
call this ‘teaching to the test’. It’s the process, common in
the school system, where the curriculum is warped and twisted
so that only or largely what is necessary to passing the test
is taught. The intention behind the process of testing, to determine
whether the child has understood the curriculum in its totality,
is lost. Never has the truth of the Observer Effect been
It is proposed that
home educated children whose traumatic experiences in school
led them to be home educated in the first place, some so badly
they are now symptomatic of PTSD, are to be visited by the very
institutions which created their problems in the first place
with the intention of assessing their parent’s ability to educate
them. The irony of this has not escaped the home education community.
It is this fact, as much as any other, that has led so many home
educating families to reject the very idea outright. In essence,
there is an extremely low degree of trust of local authorities
by home educators. Especially among those who feel most deeply
And none of this takes account of those many home educated children
who have SEN’s, many undiagnosed. Some local authorities have
waiting lists of up to three years. Children with SEN’s, often
waiting for diagnosis, are unfairly targeted by school’s disciplinary
regimes, schools unwilling to recognise a child’s special needs
will haply note the fact that there is no diagnosis and expel
the ‘challenging’ allegedly misbehaving child while they can
without being accused of discriminating against sick or disabled
children saving the school many thousands in support costs.
Home educators rarely blame the head teachers themselves for
making these decisions as they are themselves operating in
a very hostile environment, but the unfairness, brutality and
cruelty, is without doubt contrary to this very real child’s
Families with children suffering
from Asperger Syndrome, school refusal, social anxiety disorder
or ADHD, who find school close to or actual torture, and refuse
to go, are threatened with fines, often forcing them into the
impossible position of giving up work and careers to educate
their traumatised children at home. It is these families who
are then the target of the authorities as families failing to
educate. Rather than offer support and help, they are then too
often threatened with fines by the very authorities who have
already failed them. They feel hunted and trapped, no surprise
then that they are reluctant to re-engage.
A common phrase you hear home educators, particularly
mothers say, after their first few months of home educating,
is that they have their child back. Flexible home education where
the child takes responsibility for herself in concert with the
support and facilitation of a loving family, often recover from
school and go on to highly successful futures.
Education is primarily a function of parenting.
This is the meaning of s7 of the Education Act 1996. It is this
section that fundamentally defines the relationship between state
and families in the field of education. Parents it says are always
responsible, not the state. Even where a child is sent to school,
should that school fail the child, it’s unlikely to be the school
who could be prosecuted, but the way s7 is written, it’s the
parents who could be prosecuted for their failure of duty, regardless
of the fact the child was in school. Where courts make the most
draconian rulings, that the parents are incapable of carrying
out their educational obligations to the child, the order that
takes over this role is known as an Educational Supervision Order.
Such orders give the decision-making powers of
the parents, regarding education to a named individual within
the local authority, without this order being approved by the
courts an LA may not even register a child in school as normally
only a parent may do this. So when a family is prosecuted for
failing to educate the legal instrument called a School Attendance
Order is made which forces the parents to enrol their child in
school. Even then, notice, the LA may not do it themselves, only
the parents have that power to perform their duty. The parents
are always in charge of the education of their children, regardless
of setting. The state often couches Home education as a parental
right, but it is only a parental right because it is a parental
duty. It would be impossible for parents to have a duty to perform
without also having the power and right to exercise that duty.
Currently there are those, like Lords Soley and Storey who want
to ‘rebalance’ the powers of parents and children by removing
or inhibiting the power of parents. What they really mean is
remove the parental right to perform their duty to determine
the education of their children. Should this happen it seems
clear that it would not be the children who would decide (can
you imagine the state telling school children they can decide
what, how and where they would be educated regardless of what
their parents want?) it would be the state. This is nothing less
than a state power grab of parental rights, all parent’s rights.
Article 1 protocol 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights
has two parts. The first part says that No one can be denied an
education but the second part states that the form that education
takes is the prerogative of the parents with the provisos that
it does not cause unreasonable expense for the state and is suitable
within the context of a Liberal democracy. English case law rightly
goes a little further saying that education must also fit the child’s
needs within the context in which s/he is living, provided it also
allows the child to adapt to other circumstances should s/he so
The role of the state in parenting, and subsequently
education, has always been that of last resort. If this is lost,
we fundamentally change the relationship between parents, their
children and the state. Parents will by necessity need to beware
of the state second guessing each and every decision they make.
Very much like a mother estranged from her controlling partner
who has been so far content to leave it up to her but reappears
every six months or so to challenge every small decision she
makes. A register, followed up by regular inspections of education,
tips the balance towards the state such that it would so badly
weaken the parent’s role in determining 'best interests', that
our children would effectively be state drones receiving an ‘average’
Regardless of assurances, mission creep would
expand the states interference (as some already believe it has)
and parents right to decide how, what and where to teach would
be gradually eroded as the state agenda takes control and ever
more codified standards based on what their idea of best interests
might be are applied.
Rather than parents determining their children's
educational needs, education would be mandated by government.
Bureaucrats and experts would set the agenda. They, not parents
who know their child’s individual interests, aptitudes and needs
best, living with them as they do in their own homes. Experts
it must be remembered who will never meet our particular children
will set the agenda for home education inspectors to enforce,
without even an interest in their personal circumstances or the
context in which they live.
The Children’s commissioner’s pronouncement that
school is always better than home has clearly not read through
my inbox of desperate parents begging for help. Children being
un-mercilessly bullied to the point of threatening suicide, Parents
whose child has been raped by a another pupil, or parents whose
children are so stressed they are self-harming or the desperate
parents of children with SEN’s begging for a diagnosis in local
authorities with a three year waiting list who can no longer
drag their offspring into school and are being threatened with
fines by an uncaring bureaucrat following a procedure. Read these
messages and tell me school is always best!
This is not just about home education. Home educators are at
the forefront of the struggle to retain the fundamental parental
duty to care for our children in the way we believe is right.
That is why fighting this is so important.
Earliest found quote found in the Washington Post September
23, 2011, but appears to be widely accepted in official and
The Observer Effect is a theory which states that the very
act of observation affects that which is observed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics)