Thoughts on Measuring what You Value

What’s been said?

Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem MP for Bath, tabled this written question on 11 July 2018: ‘To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of whether home-schooled children receive the same level of social and academic education as children attending school’. It contains a great many assumptions – that social outcomes can be measured, that measurements of academic outcome are the only ones that matter and that any kind of comparison can be made. It is a question which stems from either essential ignorance about home education or wilful determination to prove that EHE is failing.

Why does it matter?

‘Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted’ – this saying, often attributed to Albert Einstein, seems to have originated with William Bruce Cameron. It is sometimes used in discussion about the current culture of measurement that dominates the lives of children who attend school. The issue is this – do we value what we measure? Or do we measure what we value? They may seem like simple questions, but the answers have profound outcomes for our children and young people.

It’s easy for politicians to measure exam results and judge themselves successful, particularly when they are in charge of the benchmarks. That is the premise of this written question – measure outcomes and we can proclaim ourselves to be a successful government. But what of those things that can’t be measured – curiosity, creativity, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, empathy? You will have other values to add to that list. Those are the things that you value in your child. They cannot be measured or fitted into a hierarchy of success criteria. For a government obsessed with control and the creation of global success (or a perception of this, at least), that makes you awkward. It means you need to be regulated.

But there is another, much more arrogant assumption in this question – that school is some kind of gold standard against which everything else must be measured. The facts say otherwise. Just over a third of 11-year-olds have just ‘failed’ SATs, falling below the government’s expectation of performance in English and Maths at the end of primary school. Leaving aside the argument of whether this expectation is realistic, or even relevant, the fact remains that by the government’s own measure, one third of children in this country are inadequately educated in basic skills. Some gold standard against which to be measured! There are also many thousands of children struggling to get any kind of suitable education in failing schools.

There are pupils being off rolled and expelled with no suitable place to go. There are SEND pupils being failed up and down the country. So why does Ms Hobhouse assume that schools are the benchmark against which home ed should be measured?

What can I do?

When talking about home education, discuss what you value about the opportunity – that education isn’t simply about passing exams and getting qualifications. Challenge politicians about the assumption that schools are better places to be than at home.