Leading academic urges Halfon not to squander the opportunity to make England a world leader in flexible, individualised education
What’s been said?
Dr Harriet Pattison is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood at Liverpool Hope University. She has worked in home education research for over twenty years, with her PhD thesis featuring an international study on literacy learning amongst home educated children.
On 31 March, a week after the second Select Committee Oral Evidence session, Pattison wrote to Chair Robert Halfon to respond to specific points raised on that occasion about literacy learning and the testing of basic skills for HE children. The letter was acknowledged by the Committee’s office, and the HE Byte has been provided with a copy by Dr. Pattison. The letter opens with her concerns that:
“turning home education into school at home through the imposition of blanket testing will curtail our understanding of educational possibilities and do an enormous disservice to families and children…”
Pattison goes on to affirm the value of diversity in education. To her, this offers “a rich and promising field in which to further our collective understanding of how children learn and how we can… encourage and support this.”
So-called ‘late’ reading, she asserts, is a difficulty only in a system which relies heavily on literacy as its teaching medium, as school does. By contrast, in a relational setting such as family-based learning and at their own pace, children can learn by a variety of means such as “the verbal, the visual and the hands on” even if they are not independent readers. In actual fact, pursuing their own interests often becomes the driver to master reading.
After citing a variety of trajectories by which individuals may become enthusiastic and competent readers, Pattison rounds off her letter with a remarkable case study to illustrate how in some situations, “home education offers opportunities beyond that which can be achieved in school.”
The letter concludes with an offer to discuss her research and disseminate publications to interested parties, but Dr Pattison’s offer was not pursued by the Committee.
Why does it matter?
Pattison’s personal submission to the Inquiry was lodged on 5 November. This, too, featured well-referenced and clearly reasoned points, along with some memorable one-liners such as: “No one should inspect anything until they have a well-grounded idea of what it is they are inspecting,” concerning the role that inspection should play in regard to the future regulation of home education. On the subject of safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education, she states, “These two issues need to be kept apart. It is misleading and unhelpful to conflate them.”
One would surely expect a committee so focused on the importance of data to appreciate relevant and solidly-researched material of this calibre.
On 30 July, four days after the publication of the Report, Dr Pattison received notification that her submission had been accepted and published on the Committee’s website – though it remains unlisted in the Report.
Pattison, however, is more than an expert in how children learn to read. She is passionate about preserving parental freedom to make responsible choices about their children’s education, not allowing this to be steamrollered by the state. So she used her initiative and found other avenues to make her views known.
On 13 July the Daily Mail carried a report entitled, “Forcing homeschooling parents to sign up to a mandatory register risks treating them like sex offenders.” Here Pattison hammered home her point about the importance of evidence; this time not evidence that home educators were doing a suitable job, but evidence that registration is justifiable: “If you have a registration system, you have to have a reason for that registration system to be in place, based on scientific evidence.”
She also made some excellent points about the inevitability of assessment and standardisation following in the wake of registration, and the poor standard of training received by Local Authority home education liaison staff. She asserted the claim that HE children are somehow vulnerable or invisible is “groundless,” and also accused the Inquiry of not engaging with the research into home education.
Two further articles appeared after the publication of the Report. On 27 July, FE News headlined theirs, “New Home Education report is ‘narrow minded’ and could ‘damage children’, says academic.”
Here Pattison was cited as being “incredibly disappointed but not surprised by the Select Committee’s recommendations. These are the same tired old ideas which were suggested and then dismissed over a decade ago as unworkable and inappropriate.” She went on to speak about how the Committee had failed to engage with stakeholders, with research and with opportunities to encourage co-operation between children, families, schools and LAs.
Finally, 28 July saw Nursery World reporting, “Home education: ‘MPs failed to listen to families’ views’ – The findings of the Education Select Committee’s new report are narrow-minded and outdated, says Dr Harriet Pattison.”
What can I do?
Read the letter, the articles and Pattison’s submission. Note any information you might find useful for future conversations of your own, and think carefully about the points she makes.
If you are already engaging with your MP about the Report or plan to do so, use this material as exemplars of your concern that quality evidence such as this may have been sidelined or overlooked, not because it was of a poor standard but because it did not match up to the pre-determined outcome of this Inquiry.
Emphasise that Inquiries should be just that – an opportunity to pose questions, listen, consider evidence then make recommendations based on all they have been told. The Education Select Committee’s brief is to scrutinise the work of the Department for Education. If the overwhelming weight of evidence heard by any Committee suggests that the Department is about to implement policy that runs counter to this, their Report should say so in no uncertain terms.
Footnote: Readers may find this House of Commons video about the work of Select Committees enlightening in the light of the conduct of the recent Education Committee’s Inquiry into Home Education.
If the video does not display, please click here to watch it on Parliament's website.