What’s been said?
A recent Byte covered the 1st May 2018 Education Committee’s Oral Evidence session on Alternative Provision (AP). Home education has received high profile negative press recently in the context of being suggested as a possible “solution” for parents seeking means of avoiding their child’s direct exclusion from school.
In response to Q490 about mainstream education off-rolling or failing SEN children “despite best efforts”, Nick Gibb’s response was categorical, “Off-rolling is unlawful.” From his comments here and later (Q528), we learn that the DfE are conducting research into AP and exclusions in addition to their Call for Evidence and Consultation on EHE, with a view to gaining a clearer overview and determining future action.
However, this material also provides us with a useful perspective on the difficulties of trying to meet the needs of all children in a standardised or institutional setting. With no criticism of hard-working teachers implied or intended, EHE has to be in an advantageous position when it comes to individual needs simply because it is not institutional in nature. Have a look at Q417 for the fuller context of Kevin Courtney’s words, “We should not be saying that children have to fit the schools. We should be saying schools should fit the children… I think children in AP are saying it is better provision because they feel it is more geared to them as a human being.”
Why does it matter?
Where young people end up in home education as a result of schools’ unofficial off-rolling strategies, schools or LAs should take responsibility for either helping those parents to do a good job of it or suggesting a workable alternative, rather than allowing unwarranted criticism due to it not being fit for purpose to fall upon the wider truly elective HE community.
Secondly, the individuality and flexibility of AP is what stands out when read from a home educating perspective. In response to Lucy Powell’s question about young people finding AP “a fantastic outlet” (Q465) because “they were not fitting the straitjacket that was expected of them” in terms of outcomes, Nick Gibb said, “There are some children who need a smaller environment…. When I meet young people in alternative provision settings, you can see that they do enjoy the small classes… and the very low pupil teacher ratios… It is right for those children.” In the context of rising numbers outside mainstream Lucy Powell said later (Q468), “identikit schools everywhere do not fit every child”, and Trudy Harrison’s exchange with Nick Gibb about the influence of the “home learning environment” makes interesting reading (Q502).
Finally, you might spot some irony in Nick Gibb’s closing remarks (Q543) in response to Emma Hardy’s desire to see the AP pipeline decreased. “The number you have cited, 48,000, is a tiny proportion of the overall school population.” Funny how that number is perceived as very small when referring to those pupils in AP, but when it represents the approximate total of those presumed to be in HE, it causes national panic!
What can I do?
Make use of this material as you prepare to respond to the consultations or speak to your MP. Though it all pertained to AP in its original context, much of it has relevance to HE. Note down quotable quotes (with their source), and point out that HE is the archetypal alternative provision, delivered by those who have the interests of their own children at heart, alongside the motivation to make that long term investment of themselves and their time into the project.
In comparison with a representative of the state, a parent is almost always going to persevere longer and know more intuitively what is best for their child, simply by virtue of being their parent.
Emphasise in any context that a more positive approach by the state towards the commitment and dedication of elective HE parents might go some way to dismantling the barrier of mistrust which has grown up in places, especially if exoneration of such parents were accompanied by evidence of better support for those parents coerced into HE through failures in the system.