More Spin than Fact

What’s been said?

Hull Daily Mail reporter Angus Young’s 29 November article, “Schools are encouraging parents to home-educate kids to improve their performance” was no more HE-friendly than his previous one on 19 November.

His earlier offering, “More Hull parents are home-schooling their children – this is the reason why” had contributed nothing to readers’ perception of HE as a viable and positive alternative to mainstream education.

Rather than speaking well of HE parents exercising their educational responsibilities, Young’s sympathies appear to lie with council education officials who “have no powers to check on the quality of education being delivered at home.” He does recognise that councils have “no statutory duty to monitor the quality of the education being provided,” but fails to point out that the quality of said education is not the concern of state officials because the parents in question have chosen not to avail themselves of the state’s provision. He also cites negative views from two councillors about children who became home educated due to bullying.

Opening his latest piece with a sound-byte about “the dramatic increase in the numbers of home-schooled children in Hull” attributed to MP Emma Hardy (Lab, Hull West and Hessle), Young also links to Hardy’s contribution to a House of Commons Debate on Improving Education Standards from 28 November, giving the impression that home education featured much more prominently than it did. Hardy actually mentioned home educated children once in the course of her 15 minute impassioned challenge to the government assertion that standards in education had risen on their watch. Her opening salvo set the tone for a spirited defence of those children who for whatever reason need more input, more resource but boost the overall scores rather less.

“In this brave new world of the educational system that the Government are creating, what happens to the children no school wants? The combination of a high-stakes accountability system and reduced school funding has created a perverse incentive for schools to off-roll and discourage certain children from attending mainstream schools. Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities are in despair…”

She helpfully cites Ofsted’s definition of off-rolling and asks a question very pertinent to any parent of a child with SEND: “What about all the children with special educational needs and disabilities whose parents do not know how to fight the system? What happens to them? How much support do they get? They are failed, excluded or encouraged to leave – that is what happens to them.”

It’s in her closing words that electively home-educated children get a passing mention:

“When I am told that education standards are improving… my challenge is: include all the children – add them all in… How good does our system look if we include all the children who have been excluded, all the children who have been off-rolled, all the children in alternative provision and all the children who have been electively home-educated? Let us put them all in the mix – now tell me the coalition Government have done a good job.”

Why does it matter?

Emma Hardy’s input to the Education Standards debate should cheer the hearts of any parent, home educating or otherwise, who has battled for provision of SEND funding or support. Here is an MP who recognises their struggles and is bringing them to the government’s attention.

The amount of spin in Angus Young’s reports about home education is less encouraging. Why sensationalise the increasing number of HE children without looking into some of the reasons behind it? Hardy mentioned HE children once as one component amongst those being missed out of the whole picture. By colouring her reference to home education with his own views, Young left readers with an unnecessarily negative impression. He could more helpfully have explored other issues raised in her speech, putting the onus back on government to fund adequate provision or schools to be more inclusive.

What can I do?

If you are interested to better understand real issues being faced by schools which have a knock-on effect on home education, you can read Emma Hardy’s input to the Commons debate in Hansard.  If she is your MP and you have personal experience of off-rolling or SEND funding issues, consider thanking her for her concerns.

One reader has already defended home educated children’s socialising abilities in the Hull Daily Mail’s comments section for 19 Nov. More comments on either report could be helpful.

Or you could write to the Editor requesting more balanced reporting on EHE along with more factual exploration of the reasons it is on the increase nationally as well as in Hull.