What’s been said?
Just before Christmas, Ofsted’s National Director, Social Care, Eleanor Schooling gave a speech which shared her views on provision for children who were being educated otherwise than at school. Schooling asserts that school is a protective factor in children’s lives and that schools play a vital role in developing children’s skills to participate fully and constructively in society. The tacit assumption is that the State is better at both safeguarding and education than parents.
The worst aspect of this article is how seamlessly it incorporates false assertions and invites the reader to make erroneous inferences. Schooling jumps from the fact that “General dissatisfaction with school was the most common reason for families choosing to educate their child at home.” straight to a quotation alleging that parents are being forced to withdraw children, inviting readers to infer, erroneously, that 80% of home educated children are not electively home educated but rather being foisted on unwilling parents who are ill-prepared for the task of educating them. In the same way, Schooling invites readers to conclude that because there are more children with additional needs now being educated at home, that this cannot the best option for them. In actual fact, most parents opt to home educate because they see it is the best option for their child; this is often especially the case where there are special needs, and they are committed and invested in the task of educating him or her.
Schooling implies that parents on their own will not be equipped, motivated or able to safeguard. She cites the case of a good dialogue between one LA and local HE parents and asserts that as a result these parents now understand that some children are at risk. In actual fact parents do not need LAs to educate them on safeguarding.
Schooling expresses concern that children do not have a voice about whether they wish to be educated at home, yet home educated children almost universally have more of a say in their education than children in school. She asserts that the police are concerned that home educated children need protecting from terrorism; but given that there is not a single case of a non-schooled person who has committed a terrorist attack, this seems hard to justify.
Schooling concludes that children should have the best education for them but does not define best or examine who has and should have the authority to define what is best. Speaking in the name of an undefined “we”, she does not make clear if she is speaking in the name of OFSTED only or of society in general. Schooling erroneously claims that parental rights conflict with children’s rights, whereas parental authority is in fact the best safeguard of children. Schooling exhorts LAs and others to take speedy action to ensure that all children are safeguarded against risk from their parents.
Why does it matter?
Bureaucrats are undergoing mission creep, forgetting that they are there to serve citizens and convincing themselves that their role is as crusaders protecting all children. The message increasingly is that children are at risk and that the danger from which they need protecting is their parents. The reality is starkly at odds with this assertion. Budget cuts for schools are a problem, yet the worst aspect is not under-funding. It is policies and attitudes which try to turn teachers into enforcers of policies which often run counter to their better judgement and which fail to engage with parents and to listen to them. Yet mothers and fathers know their children better than anyone else and are the most keenly motivated to protect their son or daughter’s interests. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, parents can safely be assumed to be experts at understanding their child. However they choose to educate their offspring, parents are best placed to safeguard a child’s interests and are his or her best advocates.
What can I do?
It is crucial to raise safeguarding and parenting with our MPs. It is vital that they are made aware of the slippery slope towards State guardianship of all children. We also need to ask them to advocate for the fact that it is institutional failure, not parents, which should be identified as the safeguarding problem. It needs to be addressed by reminding Ofsted that its role lies in providing information to parents; schools that a child may only be de-registered at the initiative of the parent, and social workers that their role is to investigate where there is evidence of neglect. For the benefit of our children and of society as a whole, we as parents urgently need to advocate for and protect the current legal status which parental authority has in law.