What’s been said?
When Martin George wrote a report for the Tes (31 October) on Amanda Spielman’s letter to the Public Accounts Committee, he chose the type of sensational headline with which home educators have become familiar. Her nine page letter covered a wide range of important topics, most of which concern every family with children in state-funded schools. Choosing to ignore all of these, George focussed on the two paragraphs through which Spielman sought to influence the outcome of the recent HE consultation.
Two days later he introduced the weekly Tes Podcast (listen on-line or download from here) which discussed several topics, including Spielman’s letter. This section starts around 5½ minutes into the recording. At approximately 8 minutes, George discusses her comments on HE with fellow reporters Ed Dorrell and Will Hazell. It was probably Dorrell (speakers did not identify themselves) who initiated the conversation with the claim that in her letter Spielman had “formally thrown Ofsted’s weight behind the idea of creating a sort of compulsory register for home schooled children.” One wonders where he has been for the last three years! It was in November 2015 that Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, initiated his campaign for a register of HE children by linking it with illegal (unregistered) schools and fears of radicalisation. Since her appointment, his successor has taken every opportunity to advance that agenda.
The discussion which followed was not simply uninformed, but soon turned into an excuse for belittling home educating families. Dorrell continued, “And parents of home schooled children are quite a vocal group… so she could get some flak from them as well.” Hazell added, “It’s like the gun lobby in the States isn’t it, go absolutely mental when you start going near…” To which George interjected, “It hits a raw nerve, doesn’t it?” Hazell responded, “Even touching upon the idea you might do something about it, they go apeshit – you forgive the French.”
When the conversation returned to HE (30 seconds later), they all agreed that there has been a change of climate since Ed Balls tried to introduce a register. They concurred that the debate around radicalisation, unregistered schools and off-rolling means that should the DfE want to introduce registration, “they’ve got a better chance of succeeding now than before.” Hazell responded with another unsubstantiated assertion, “Yeah, I think they have although you know never ever underestimate the power of the home education lobby and the hold it has over, and I would say there’s a huge overlap over the kind of right of the Tory party and the Brexiteers, you know the hard core Brexiteers are almost all head cases for home education.”
The discussion about HE concluded with Dorrell expressing confidence that a register will happen, which triggered much glee from his colleagues. George added, “Well, I hope you’re right.” Hazell however had the last word, with the prediction, “But it’ll be a big, big fight if it happens.”
A transcript of the section of the podcast referred to above is available here.
Why does it matter?
The ten years since Balls and Badman first tried to usurp parental responsibility through introducing a HE register and inspections have seen significant changes in the politics of education. Wilshaw and Spielman have contributed to that change by widening the debate from abuse to radicalisation and off-rolling. Whilst all these have been talked up by the lobbyists, it has to be recognised that the issues have gained significant ground in the minds of many people, as is clearly illustrated by the conversation reported above.
In this instance the reporters strayed well beyond the boundaries of reasonable debate and crossed into mockery. Whilst they knew they were speaking on the record, the level of arrogance they exhibited should be only found – if ever – in late night bar room conversation.
Being likened to the red-necked gun lobby and equated with right-wing Brexiteers will be deeply offensive to most members of the HE community. Anyone who is familiar with home educators in Britain will know that we are an incredibly diverse community, drawn from right across the political as well as the social spectrum. Too often these days people are resorting to ridicule in public debate in order to put down those whom they do not understand. Home educators can be rightly aggrieved to be treated in that way.
What can I do?
It is most important for home educators to recognise that there has indeed been an intentional change in the nature of debate concerning EHE in the last decade. We need to be informing ourselves about today’s issues, not those of the past. In particular, we need to give serious thought to protecting fundamental freedoms when set against fears of terrorism.
We also need to know how to raise our collective voice in ways which do not match the stereotype described above. A good place to practise doing so would be by writing to the Editor of Tes, Ann Mroz, at the address below or by email, and sharing with her your reaction to the lack of professionalism shown by her staff.
The Editor Tes,
26 Red Lion Square
Update: The Tes Editor responded to home educators’ concerns by asking Bernard Trafford to write an article for them. See our response A Voice of Reason.