Recognising Media Rhetoric – a Must Read

What’s been said?

Personalised Education Now published a new piece of research by Wendy Charles-Warner on 1 April, Home Education and Child Abuse: How Media Rhetoric Drives the Myth. The full document can be downloaded from their website. Unfortunately, the following day’s publication of the government response to last year’s consultation almost certainly distracted from the significance of this piece of work.

Charles-Warner is well-respected in the HE community for her long years of experience and carefully researched work. Her 2015 paper Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric has already proved helpful in distinguishing between fact and fake news. For further biographical information, see this page.

The Introduction to her new research paper provides a useful overview of the political background to the present situation, then comments on a “recent prodigious increase in media articles about home education, mostly led by the assumption that home educated children are ‘invisible’ and consequently ‘at risk’.”

The study investigates “the basis for those calls for monitoring, by examining empirical evidence of relative safeguarding risk between home educated children, children under 5 years of age and children aged 5 to 16 years.”

The Discussion section of the document is very perceptive, as evidenced by the following example:

“In fact, the ability to spot a lie is no greater than chance, regardless of professional competence and our predisposed opinions frame our view of whether statement is truthful or not. Consequently, the greater the media propounding of the narrative of home education as a safeguarding risk, the greater the predisposition of individuals and organisations, toward accepting the narrative as being factual. It follows that belief in that narrative becomes self-perpetuating and the cycle is difficult to break.”

Real-life examples of the effect of media distortion are cited to illustrate the problem:

“In what amounts to ‘Chinese whispers’ which had a demonstrable causal effect on public perception, the media had taken a letter about unregulated schools and presented it as a need for regulation of home educated children, who were described as at risk of radicalisation, abuse and having their minds filled with poison.”

There is comment too on the attempted introduction in Scotland of what is known as the “named person scheme”, together with important quotations from Lady Hale’s ruling about its unwarranted intrusion into family life.

Charles-Warner also cites anecdotal evidence of non-consensual data sharing, writing of health visitors “routinely reporting any child who is home educated”. She speaks of higher than necessary referral rates of HE children to social services “creating an unnecessary and burdensome additional workload” for already overloaded social workers.

Her conclusions are robust: “Home educated children clearly do not require greater oversight. If anything, they require less oversight in order to ensure that they are properly safeguarded from breach of their legal rights.” Charles-Warner forcefully rebuts the notion that a state can expect to “breach the privacy of families by proactively monitoring children, unless a clear need to take such steps is identified.” [Emphasis added]

She had asserted in her Abstract that it was media rhetoric that was fuelling calls for strict monitoring of HE children as well as perpetuating concerns about safeguarding. Her final words bring the piece full circle, as she calls for social workers to “play their part, by loudly and clearly resisting the clarion call of universal referral for home educated children, thereby stopping the march of media influence before it is too late.”

Why does it matter?

This piece of research:

  • is timely and up to date;
  • is highly relevant to the present call for registration;
  • deals specifically with the English HE scene;
  • is academically credible, well reasoned and definitely not in the vein of the emotive media rhetoric which it seeks to debunk;
  • clearly expresses important cause and effect.

What can I do?

Make time to read as much of this item as you can, taking note of the main points. (If you struggle with the Stats section, move from the Introduction to p.11, Discussion, and continue from there.)

Make use of its findings wherever you can – in your consultation response, in your conversations with local councillors, MPs, media and in one-to-one encounters.

Encourage others to read it.