A Miscellany of Lighter Reading

What’s been said?

At times one needs to take a break from perusing government documents and look again at the wider picture. To that end, this Byte links to three recent items, rather different from our usual fare.

No learning at home for 100K under-5s, DfE research finds” appeared in the Tes on 8 April. Opening with the statement, “About 100,000 children under the age of 5 have never practised learning at home with their parents, a survey has suggested,” it goes on to bewail the fact that many parents from disadvantaged families are not reading, counting or learning nursery rhymes with their children. The piece features a partnership between the DfE and the National Literacy Trust to provide early learning apps for such families.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi is quoted as saying “We want to create a generation of confident learners – and parents are a child’s first and best teacher, helping to get them talking and communicating before they reach the classroom.” [Emphasis added] Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, adds: “Changing the course of a child’s life story doesn’t begin on their first day of school but on their first day of life… Every seemingly small interaction between a parent and a child is a great opportunity to fill that child’s world with words.”

I couldn’t handle going to mainstream school” is the title of a short video featured on the BBC news website on 4 April, in which Emma and Rohan tell their stories as young people who have self-excluded themselves from school education and are now being helped by the Cambridge-based charity Red Balloon.

And finally, the Basildon, Canvey & Southend Echo published this on 12 April: “Home-schooled children are ‘at risk because of lack of checks on their livs’.”[sic] Southend’s Head of Children’s Services John O’Loughlin takes a distinctly anti-HE position due to his preoccupation with this “huge safeguarding area of concern up and down the country and parents are not obliged to inform us if they are educating children at home. It is a bit of an invisible population. It is a significant issue. Nowhere else are children as invisible as children that are electively educated at home and we do try where possible to encourage parents to take up options at their local schools.”

Why does it matter?

It’s the comments in the first article which say it all really – why is this understanding about the value of relationship and parental input discarded at the age of five? What is it about “reaching the classroom” that brings about this fundamental shift in perception? Why does the DfE now want to encourage parental involvement in learning pre-school, whilst seemingly undervaluing it for school-aged children?

We have featured the work of the Red Balloon previously, and it is doing excellent work with young people traumatised by bullying or other stresses in schools to regain their self-esteem and get back on track academically. It would be good to see the government supporting more schemes like this, thereby giving a genuine solution to the many families and children “forced” into HE by their circumstances.

Besides the familiar concerns about safeguarding and what he saw as invisibility, O’Loughlin indicated that his department actually discouraged HE by urging parents to “take up options at their local schools.” His views were later countered somewhat by comments from former teacher, Carly Lawrence, who noted that many parents are home schooling due to “pressure placed on children to perform in exams,” adding that, “Children are treated more as a statistic than a child.” She could also understand HE parents’ apprehension about mandatory registration, saying, “I think some will be worried they will be monitored as they are in a school. Their child could become another statistic on a different register.

What can I do?

Comments such as Nadhim Zahawi’s, which recognise that confident learning begins at home because “parents are a child’s first and best teacher” are worth keeping on record. They can be used when talking to friends and family, or when writing to your MP to stress the point that much of the anti-HE rhetoric undermines this truth. A growing belief amongst the wider population that education is best left to “the professionals” seems to have resulted in some parents doing little more than entertaining their children in their early years.

There is, however, more recognition now that schools are not a good place for every child, though educationalists seem reluctant to face up to the implications which follow from this. Instead of distinguishing between good Alternative Provision (AP) and money-making opportunism, at present the trend is to confuse AP with unregistered schools. A recent Ofsted report New data shows illegal schools are a huge nationwide problem and the subsequent reporting on it focussed on poor AP settings, which no doubt left the uninformed with the impression that all AP is bad – much like EHE. Initiatives like Red Balloon should be commended for helping children recover from their unhelpful educational experiences – do not be afraid to speak up for them as a home educator.

Finally, many teachers are all too aware of the problems being caused by SATs and other exams. Lawrence’s concerns that HE children could easily become just another statistic seems to be confirmed by the response of many LAs to last year’s English consultation. Ask yourself if there may be a place for HE families to stand with teachers in reminding Whitehall that children are people, not data sets.