What’s been said?
It doesn’t seem long since we criticised the Tes for an ill-advised podcast in which some of their staff demonstrated a lack of understanding of the issues behind parents choosing to educate their own children. Ann Mroz, the Editor, has apparently heeded the concerns of those who felt this item was an unfair caricature of the EHE community. Since then, several articles have been published which demonstrate a greater understanding of the corner HE families have been backed into by those with an ideological objection to parents rather than professionals educating children.
One of the latest is, Don’t tarnish all home educators with the same brush by Bernard Trafford. It is not the first time he has tried to explain the benefits of HE to any who are willing to listen. In one of his weekly Tes posts in 2016, Trafford argued against “forcing home-educated children into schools for child protection.” (This was one of the first articles featured on the HE Byte almost a year ago.) He wrote it the week the findings of the unpublished official report into the tragic death of Dylan Seabridge were leaked. At the time he commented, “Unfortunately, whenever it is suggested that home education is involved in such tragic stories, a witch-hunt against it ensues.” Three years later, it appears that the Children’s Commissioner for England completely ignored the wisdom of this well-respected school headmaster with twenty-eight years of experience.
Trafford was also the first to respond in the Tes to the infamous podcast. Now, a week after Longfield’s attempt to prejudice the opinion of politicians and the public against HE families, he has argued that the claims in her Dispatches programme dangerously lumped together all children not in conventional formal schooling, “too readily implying their parents are somehow neglectful, sinister or abusive.” He also distinguished between genuine EHE and those parents who are “forced into that alternative route (with varying degrees of success) after bad experiences in school,” and further highlighted the plight of children often labelled as “school refusers” because schools cannot accommodate their needs. His article concludes by describing such arguments as “over-simplistic and risks tarring all the families of children not in school with the same brush of implied neglect and abdication of parental responsibility.”
Why does it matter?
When those in positions where they are specifically charged with caring for children, resort to repeating already discredited claims in the public arena in an attempt to demonise parents, any who come to the defence of their victims should be thanked. In this instance both the Tes, and particularly Bernard Trafford, have brought some counterbalancing reason to bear in this hostile environment.
Tes is widely read by teachers and other educationalists. It is therefore an important space for the wider education profession to hear sensible comment on home education, rather than the spin and rhetoric coming from public figures who apparently have an ideological axe to grind.
Helping professionals to see the real issues behind the headlines is important, so it is very helpful when well-known publications report the present debate via articles supportive of HE – especially when HE parents are able to make substantial contributions. Another recent example appeared on the Disability News Service website on 14 February and is entitled “Parents who home educate disabled children ‘scapegoated’ by commissioner.” Written by site owner and editor John Pring, it contains extensive comments from “disabled activist Dennis Queen, who home educates her 14-year-old twins.”
What can I do?
HE parents should take heart when they see national media outlets providing well-argued responses to the now familiar misrepresentation of EHE. Even if you don’t have time to contribute your own experiences, consider a short email to the Editor thanking them for bringing an alternative perspective to the attention of their readers.
Remember too that articles like Bernard Trafford’s and the one on the DNS website can be usefully shared with family, friends, MPs and HE critics. Most Tes articles can be accessed by registering with the website (free of charge). The account settings section allows you to opt out of receiving emails. (N.B. The Tes Magazine is not included in the free to read area.) Bernard Trafford also keeps an archive of all his Tes articles on his own website.