Parents Hit Back at Children’s Commissioner’s Criticism

What’s been said?

In the wake of the Children’s Commissioner’s full-frontal attack on home educators, parents have been making their views known through local media. Four days after Anne Longfield’s report was published, the Manchester Evening News [MEN] featured Julie and Alan Riddles, whose five children have all been home educated.

The report contrasts Longfield’s concerns over children who don’t “fit in” to schools and end up home educated (which in her opinion, “often means no friendship either,”) with Julie’s experience of HE groups where parents share their skills. Through previously working as a nanny, Julie had realised that child-care arrangements led to “a separation of children and adults worlds.” By contrast, their own children have used conversation to “explore different ideas”, especially with adults “who have lots of different opinions.”

Four of them are now adults, with the most academic having obtained an MSc in Public Policy. The others are variously a session musician, an events manager and a hairdresser. At fourteen, one of them elected to go to a newly opened studio school, but that “was a horrendous experience,” and the school has since closed.

The article also notes, “Under the Manchester Council Elective Home Education guidelines, the Local Authority officer can refer the family to social services if the family refuses to maintain contact with the officer on a regular basis.” Julie’s response is, “They are making demands from parents, things that are not required by statute.”

Mike Wood of HE-UK told the MEN, “It is home education that allows the child to flourish. It allows education to be designed for a specific child. My eldest boy has a PhD in literature and I do not know if he would have got that in the local school.”

Why does it matter?

Even though this is not an especially comprehensive article, it is a valuable one. Raising the profile of home education by sharing our experiences with a wider audience is an important way in which the HE community can combat the misinformation being put out by those who are opposed to parents taking full responsibility for their children’s education.

There are, of course, risks associated with volunteering to become involved with the media. Reporters do not always quote their interviewees accurately. They have a tendency to use the things we wish our children hadn’t said. TV companies are particularly good at including such moments – who can forget the moment when ITV News squeezed in an innocent child’s comment that she didn’t have to “do” maths any more!

Recently, we have had the example of the families filmed by the Dispatches programme with Anne Longfield. This would have been an ideal opportunity for the production company – and the part-time presenter – to look at the plight of the three families and stand with them against schools and a system which had treated them badly. Not surprisingly given Longfield’s agenda, they didn’t. Instead they focussed their conclusions on a call for more regulation of home educators rather than a more constructive response from the school system. One of the mums featured in the show, Louise Engels, has subsequently fought back by going to her local newspaper in order to get her voice heard – “‘Devastated’ mum explains why she is educating her 3 children at home.”

The MEN article also highlights the fact that Manchester is a Council which oversteps its authority. Riddles told the paper, “They are making demands from parents, things that are not required by statute.” This is stated in S5.4 of the council’s Elective Home Education Policy, September 2017. S4.1 also erroneously claims, “The LA has a duty to maintain a register of all children known to be home educated.” It is important for HE families to continue pointing out wrong assumptions such as these.

What can I do?

If you can cope with potentially being misrepresented by the media and are unlikely to be intimidated by their approach, then taking (or making) an opportunity to tell others the benefits of HE is worthwhile. Such items help to raise awareness that the default position is not HE children being hidden from view by malevolent parents. They are therefore important aspects of resisting the long propaganda war being waged against home educators.

Speaking to local media, as exemplified here, also provides opportunities to bring to light instances where LAs are over-reaching their authority. If you are concerned about your LA’s EHE policy, we encourage you to speak to your local councillor too. In many cases they may have very little personal knowledge about HE and the relevant legislation, usually relying on their staff to develop policy. Approaching them may not result in immediate changes therefore, but perseverance can bring its rewards.