Tag Archive | politics

The right to educational freedom

I thought I’d respond to Jax’s call for posts about educational freedoms.

The freedom to educate our children outside of the school system is a topic dear to my heart, having had two children who were failing to thrive both educationally and personally within it.

I’m thoroughly suspicious of politicians who try to control our home education, pretending they do so for the good of the child. What do they know about it?! And I’ve seen too many children in schools when I worked there who were not having any good done to them at all for me to believe that.

I also see that, although ministers cite ‘safe guarding’ as an excuse to do so, there are as many safe-guarding issues already existing with children known to schools and other services and they can’t seem to get it ‘safe’ for them, so that reason doesn’t ring true. What it does do is deflect attention away from the impingement of our rights by their ‘concern’.

I believe it is more the case that politicians are simply using that as a strategy to control and mask the rising dissatisfaction so many parents now have with the school system.

Calling home education ‘elective’ is the best mask of all. For I would say that in most cases parents do not ‘elect’ to home educate, they are driven to it in desperation by the failure of schools to provide children with exactly what home educators are by law supposed to provide; an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude. Consider this; if there was a place where our children could go to be stimulated and inspired, with adults who respected and encouraged, supported and nurtured our children’s individuality and education, where they had real choice and the experiences were such that the kids were gagging to go, how many parents would opt to home educate then?

Home education is growing because politicians are failing to provide what children need. Any attempt to limit the educational freedom it offers is in my view a corrupt strategy to deflect attention away from that failing.

Educational freedom is not really freedom in the real sense of the word, although home educators are freed from the inhibiting structures of a school system, which is a good thing as most impair learning rather than aid it (testing and Ofsted are good examples). However, none of us are truly free in that we want to fit into the social world that surrounds us, we want to earn and work, eat and survive, enjoy life and have friends, and all those things come with responsibility which we choose to take on.

Nearly all the home educating parents I know take on that responsibility extremely conscientiously by demonstrating that to their children though encouraging learning – in fact most of the kids do it for themselves. It’s just they choose to use other approaches. And that’s where we really need the freedom. Freedom to choose approaches which suit our individual children better than the system does. Freedom to work to the needs of the child, rather than make the child fit the needs of the establishment as schooling does.

As home educated children grow up and begin working as generations are doing now they are proof that other approaches work, that educational freedom and independence works, that we don’t need a government to do it for us. Proof that we don’t need registering, testing, watching, examining, controlling of our approaches, or telling how to do it for it to work. It’s working fine already!

In fact, when I think about it, I can’t help feeling that it is in breach of basic human rights to be told what you must know, how you must know it, where, when and at what age you must know it, that you must not question what is done to you in the name of knowing it, that you have no choice in the matter and if you don’t comply you’ll be a failure. Is that not totally bizarre? Where else in life are those freedoms for choice and preference taken away from us – except in prison of course?

It’s almost as if the powers that be would control our minds by controlling our education. Not forgetting that if politicians can control our minds they can control our votes.

But maybe that’s just me being extra cynical!

Is school really educating?

When you’ve been through school yourself and it was a successful experience you’d probably never think about it?002

And some people prefer to be silently led and feel part of an institution without challenging traditions, or ‘being difficult’ as it’s sometimes labelled!

I think I must be one of the ‘difficult’ ones. Because I’ve suspected from the outset that school doesn’t really educate as we need it too. In fact it inhibits the kind of thinking required for us to develop and progress.

Thankfully I’m no longer alone in those thoughts. And it’s really wonderful to find others who think, like I and other home educating parents do, that school is beginning to look more and more like a farming process for the benefit of the institution – and politics – than it is about the education of individuals.

Ken Robinson is another of those who also challenges this cloning of our children and their diverse talents, increasingly neglected in the laboratory of controlled experiences for a narrow set of outcomes, as schooling has become. (Find him here)

He talks about schooling in his book ‘The Element How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ and how he feels it is outdated. He raises three key issues.

Firstly, he says that schools are preoccupied with specific academic ability rather than the broader intelligences that each human being is capable of. So school can become a narrowing experience rather than an developmental one.

Secondly, he says that the hierarchy of subjects, with maths, sciences and language skills at the top, humanities in the middle and arts at the bottom, neglects the fact that it is diverse thinking developed through creative practises which help the world progress and which are at the forefront of human progress (like the Net for example). So we desperately need the creative subjects that are becoming squeezed out along with the more physical and practical.

And thirdly, the obsession with particular types of assessment, via a narrow range of standardised tests, negates the developmental progress of an individual and essential creativity of thinking.

The result is a narrowing of intelligence, capacity and talent, rather than a broadening of it, and a complete dismissal of all the more human elements like relationships, character, emotions and expression, which are an essential part of our intelligent growth.

He goes on to explain how ‘getting back to basis’ is far from a good thing because we need new ‘basics’ for our new world.

We basically need new thinking, both educational and personal, for our new world. But schools are not supporting that need as their goals and targets become narrow and political.

It makes for fascinating reading. And I applaud his ideas; it’s so comforting to find others thinking the same.

So if you’ve never looked at schooling like this before his book will ignite some exciting thinking! Excited thinking being exactly what we need to help the world progress.

Letters to move the mind….

The Sunday papers are great for lighting the fire. There’s plenty of it, although the magazines aren’t that flammable with their shiny perspectives and shiny paper; they’re better for lining the dustbins.

It’s rare we buy them as I generally don’t read them; far too much ego stroking claptrap to make the good bits worthwhile. But The Sunday Times found its way into the house this last weekend and I had a flick through it.

I stopped at the Editor’s letter in one of the shiny bits, not sure why. It must have been the word ‘creative’ on the first line. Her piece was a good little take on being creative which, as anyone who visits here regularly knows, is one of my mini obsessions in education: that it is not education without it!

Tiffanie asks what we do to be creative?

And there’s a lovely bit where she even describes shopping as creative; it’s a ‘way of curating your life’ she says. Fabulous phrase – I’m sure my eldest will be glad to read that!

But she also goes on to quote Richard Wurman of TED fame who says that most of us don’t know how to question and that the foundation of the word question is quest and so few have a quest in life. He says that creativity comes from a quest.

I would add that creativity also comes from questioning. And that questioning is not only the foundation of creativity, it is the foundation of scientific progress and discovery and the foundation of education.

Education is surely a creative and scientific quest to fulfil our innate curiosity and thirst to know about life and create the best lives we can.

I also believe that school is increasingly disabling youngsters from doing that.

I’m backed up in thinking that by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. An old friend who popped up on The Culture show like a blast from disconnected pasts. Our connections are linked to childhoods, and although not well maintained, do sometimes cross the tangle of life and ignite shared values. And I rediscovered his fantastic piece of work directed at Michael Gove, a man who understands children’s educational needs as much as I understand infant heart surgery. Bob explains why creativity is important and says that it is beaten out of children by the stagnant system, even by taking away their control of their own art.

Their insatiable curiosity, inherent from being born, also disappears along with their desire to question and discover. It takes away control of their own life too and their own quests. Without a quest they have no motivation, or direction when finally spewed out of institutionalisation with little understanding of the world outside.

This is what results from lack of creativity, lack of questioning, lack of life-lust. No education should result in that.

So we should perhaps all be writing our own letters to papers, to ministers, online, to try and get them to see there is another approach to life and education through creative, questioning thinking. The approach most home educators tend to use.

One that creates ideas that do more than just line dustbins.

Treasure at the library

library 004Have you ever taken your child to the library? Have you ever listened to the absorbed silence as little ones suddenly find themselves surrounded by hundreds of picture books to open and investigate and drool over?

It’s enthralling! Far better than bookshops; it’s less embarrassing when they drool!

We had a wonderful service when we home educating. We had a visiting library van trundling down our rural road every two weeks. Don’t know how it managed it, mounting the bank that the lane weaves over and turning round in a farm yard.

This fabulous service meant that we didn’t always have to make the twenty mile round trip for the children to enjoy the revelation of being among loads of books. And it was almost like a special delivery service for me as I could order my books online from the catalogue, books that probably wouldn’t be in our local library anyway, and have them brought out on the van. So both me and the children were in heaven.

Of course that disappeared with all the other cuts to public spending. And I’m not surprised – it was rather lavish. But it will be utterly tragic if our smaller libraries get closed. Or funding to get the library van out the remote villages is stopped.

Because however small we sometimes find these local libraries, they are a lifeline to worlds not otherwise available. Worlds that are seen through encounters with books and computers that some can only access through libraries.

The trouble is with the politicians who make the decisions about cuts is that they have little experience of what it’s like to be poor. Most come from a position of having everything they need to be able to go where they want and the money to pay for it. Most of the rest of us don’t. Many people will never know the world beyond their own lane end or city street. Except for the unrealistic junk on television and the gross idolisation of celebrity, often breeding envy and idleness and even the hopelessness of ever attaining those riches.

So libraries promote another culture. A culture of access and worldliness, knowledge and wordiness, for those without other means.

For despite the middle classes all clustered together in their exclusive enclaves we have other clusters of cultural poverty where people may never get the flavour of aspiration that can change their lives.

Maybe it suits the politicians to keep us down that way, for it fuels their luxurious lifestyles. And closing down these small but vital public services is a way of also closing down those aspirations.

We mustn’t let them get away with it.

But I didn’t mean to get political. I just meant to say that it is an important part of our parenting to take our kids to libraries, to show them what a worth of both opportunity and immense pleasure there can be in books and stories and technological tales from a wider world than the one they inhabit. We need to fight for them.

For the most irreplaceable impact of regular library visits is that when children are surrounded by beautiful books they are inevitably inspired to read.

Catching up with what Home Educators already know…

Goodness gracious me! Are schools going to finally catch up with the thinking of home educators?

Here’s a report on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26118581 making statements about children’s education and schooling which are amazingly similar to the beliefs of many home educating parents that; ‘there’s more to good education than exam results’.

Yay! At last – people are beginning to catch on to an idea that many home schooling parents have known for years!

The main point of the report suggests that educational focus should move away from concentration purely on academic results and include ‘personal development’.

Surely, this was always what education was about anyway!

The snag is that they want to build ‘character and resilience’ into the educational system which sounds decidedly worrying. What are they going to do? Start testing character? Will there then be a GCSE in character building?

Goodness gracious me!

That worry aside it looks like thinking is going in the right direction. Christine Blower, secretary of the National Union of Teachers also quoted in the article says that; education was “about skills and knowledge transmission, but also about personal development all round”.

“It remains the case, however, that the present curriculum and high-stakes testing are far too rigid,” she said.

“The personal development of pupils is very important. This will not be achieved unless the obsession with testing and targets ends.”

I think if there’s one overall reason why increasing numbers of parents are turning to home education it’s because they are concerned for personal development and worried about the destructive obsession with tests and silly objectives.

Because the most important point is that if you take care of the personal development of a child, high achievement is often what follows – naturally.

It works like this; if a person is taken care of, if they feel they matter, if they are given the respect of choice, if they are encouraged, stimulated and inspired, if they have the chance to explore and investigate life, to learn about and experiment in life, then they begin to see how achievement has value and begin to take it on for themselves.

Most children want to be grown up, want the skills grown ups have, want to follow their grown up mentors out into the world of work and pay and play and achievement. That’s all the motivation they need to develop and achieve. Just give them a good example and they’ll normally follow. As long as they are developed enough personally, in character, socially, intellectually (and that doesn’t have to mean academically).

It’s the personal bit that comes first.

Home educating parents pay attention to that personal development through the care, respect, stimulation and interaction they have with their children. That’s all it takes really. And they are breaking new ground in approaching the education of their young through this personalised approach and creating educational successes.

I wonder if one day the schools (or rather the politicians) will turn to them to understand better just how this is achieved!

Imagine mums running the country!

What would you do if you ran the country?

This is the premise of the novel ‘The Mummyfesto’ written by Linda Green. It’s a story about three mums who, despite challenging family dramas, decide to form their own new political party based around what mums think and need.

Couldn’t we just do with that!

It’s a great story and one that certainly gets you thinking – those books are the best!

They propose policies that are in the best interests of mums and children. Our politicians think that they do that now, but they are men, they are out of touch with real family lives lived at minimum wage level and as far removed from the needs of young people as I am from living in Number Ten.

These ladies propose a government not based in Westminster, where ministers’ elite existence is cushioned from reality, but spread out around the country and living in places the rest of us live in on a daily basis.

They propose prioritising those who are most vulnerable like children, the elderly, disabled, ill and invisible and taking better care of them.

And they want to create a fairer distribution of wealth. Is there anyone (apart from rich politicians) who wouldn’t want that?

Mums are really such a powerful force, we have incredible insight and intelligence, we work far harder than someone who just has a normal job all day, yet we are also some of the most invisible and unheard because we are also vulnerable in our mumhood, often financially, emotionally and circumstantially.

For example, it often happens that mums daren’t exercise their right to respect because they are dependent. They daren’t speak up about abuse in case it gets worse. They daren’t challenge school for fear of reciprocation on the child – we are vulnerable through our children as much as for ourselves. And mums often daren’t speak up about injustice because some would use it as an opportunity to call them weak or accuse them of nagging.

Yet mums are absolutely vital.

We are the ones who are in charge of raising the next member of society who could contribute something magnificent, maybe the next prime minister, maybe the next scientist who finds the cure for cancer or answer to climate change. Because it is mostly mums who do the raising!

Yet in our vulnerability we have to take what’s dealt us because men can manipulate us through that vulnerability and through a lack of women in power.

If I ran the country I would make sure there were as many women in power, making political decisions, as men.

If I ran the country I would make policies that respected mums’ work, instead of demeaning it, you only have to consider the attitude to breast feeding in public to see how little it’s respected.

I would make sure women were catered for in the workplace if they have children.

And I would see that mums are financially independent, with fiercer rules about fathers contributing to the keep of their own children. There are so many absent fathers and single mums struggling to feed their kids.

But what would you do if you ran the country?

(Look out for more writing on the value of ‘Mumhood’ in my new book coming soon)

Weeping for change…

Back in 2010, when I first wrote about this, I thought things would improve. But with the constant education shambles I’m still weeping.

Weeping for the young people who have been let down. Weeping for the kids who started life as bright, motivated, interested children, who become disengaged and apathetic because of schooling.

That’s what I see happen to so many youngsters after spending their youth shut up in institutions.

That’s what I see happen to so many youngsters in areas where you cannot buy the kind of stimulating education you get in fabulous private schools and where the large proportion of kids who disrupt learning, probably because they’re bored, taints the experience of the rest. Where the enthusiastic teachers leave or become sullied by the challenges of pupil behaviour. Where the problem of building the right educational experience for these young people still has not been overcome.

When we started home educating right back in 1999 we doubted we were doing the right thing – course we did. And many of the parents around us did too suggesting that our kids needed to be in school where they would get decent teaching, revel in the relationships there, gain the grades. We lost friends over it.

Now, some of those parents see it differently as they see the damage to their bright young sparks school has made. They see that our kids didn’t need to be in school to learn. They see that the relationships in schools are not always good ones.  They see a system that doesn’t work for many of them, that fails to accommodate the needs of many and makes them into failures. And even in some cases treats them like criminals.

If there is anything criminal here it lies at the door of system that fails to do what they are supposed to do; support young people’s educational development.

I know teenagers are not without their blemishes. Children are not angels or perfect. And other circumstances play a major part. But given all that, given that circumstances are as they are, I would have thought that the first duty of any school was to provide what a kid needed to successfully learn. To provide for the child’s learning, whatever the circumstances or difficulties may be.

But the ethos of schooling seems to be to manipulate the child into acceptance regardless of what’s been offered. To make kids learn what adults want them to learn however dull. To make them learn it in a systematic way that suits the institution however deadly boring that is or what children’s needs require. And it doesn’t matter how disrespectfully staff behave, some humiliating learners who don’t ‘fit’, the kids are supposed to take it passively.


All these years later the comments made to us about kids needing schools for an education are being retracted by those parents who used to have unquestioning faith in the system and the professionals in it. That faith has now been dashed.

All those years ago these parents had bright eager and motivated kids. That changed as they struggled to just exist in the system, let alone be motivated by it.

And these families no longer believe that schools do the best for the child. They know that schools do the best for the politics; they have to, to survive. I hear damning examples of that scenario from both parents and professionals.

Some of these parents now believe something different after their children have experienced schooling. They believe many schools have no interest in kids who won’t get them the good grades that improve their league table position. They believe politicians make policies that will win votes, not enhance a child’s educational experience. And like me, they see masses of disenchanted teenagers who have no interest in learning because the learning on offer is as far removed from their lives as eating cow poo is from mine.

You may think this is a cynical picture. Perhaps unbelievable to those of you for whom the system works well, whose kids achieve well because they happen to tick the right boxes. But whilst we home educated, and our children and the other home educated children around us have retained their lust for learning whilst some of those other families went through schools who failed their kids miserably, we see how it is more truth than imaginary.

It is a true picture for thousands of families in less well off areas, tucked away out of sight as far removed from Westminster as the afore mentioned cow poo is from politicians shoes!

It’s not only youngsters who are disengaged; it is the politicians from reality.