The government has recently published new draft guidance for local authorities concerning Elective Home Education. Much of it is a total reinterpretation of current guidance and law regarding home education. Before I fill in the consultation at the end of June, I want to take the time to dissect and understand all of the issues properly.
The introductory paragraph of the draft guidance is as follows:
The government’s aim is to ensure all young people receive a world-class education which allows them to realise their full potential, regardless of background, in a safe environment.
Now to be honest I find this entire paragraph very troubling, almost every word bugs me. It starts by asserting the government’s aims for our children’s education. The law actually states that education is the responsibility of the parent, not the government.
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
It then goes on to say that the government wants to ensure all young people receive a world-class education (bit pushy I think…..provide access to a world-class education would be better wording). How they will do this with home educated children makes up the rest of the guidance, or at least sets the tone, which is why I think a careful scrutiny of the wording and the meaning behind it is important.
I wanted to find out exactly what they mean by ‘world-class‘ and in reading through the DfE’s Strategy 2015-2020 the picture became predictably clear.
Here are the headlines:
‘Supporting all children to reach their potential brings economic prosperity for individuals and the whole country. Those with five or more good GCSEs (including English and maths) or a Level 3 apprenticeship earn more than their counterparts with lower level qualifications. And, the better-educated a society, the more productive, dynamic and innovative it can be.’
‘As well as mastering the fundamentals – literacy and numeracy – and studying an academic core, all young people also need the skills and character to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society.’
‘There will always be core knowledge and skills our young people need to have mastered to get on in life. But the workplaces they are entering continue to change rapidly. Whilst globalisation offers vast opportunity for those positioned to grasp it, it’s threatening for those without the education to compete effectively in an ever-hungrier global market. Automation and consequent shifts in the labour market mean the number of routine, middle-skilled jobs is likely to decline. Every young Briton unable to compete with their international peers represents a huge waste of potential, on both a personal and national level.’
‘Education should prepare children for adult life, giving them the skills and character traits they need to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society. There is a strong correlation between character traits like self-control and social skills, and a wide range of positive life outcomes, including higher wages.’
Very clearly what the government means by ‘world-class education which allows (children) to reach their full potential’, is primarily education which is academic in nature and which considers the potential usefulness of the future adult in supporting British economic growth.
Of course I understand that money is what makes the world go round, and we all need a portion of it to live happy and free lives. I also passionately believe in making contributions to the communities in which we live. No man is an island after all and supporting our fellow humans to make all of our lives better is a positive way to live.
However I don’t subscribe to equating a child’s full potential with their academic success. If of course they want to strive for academic excellence then that should be possible, and their social-economic background should never preclude them from reaching their personal ambitions. But to me, full potential has to do with so much more than academia and a bunch of GCSE’s or even a degree. Reaching one’s full potential is about humanity itself. Reaching the heights of creativity. Striving for healthy emotional and mental health. And what about spiritual full potential? Very few of us ever reach a spiritual nirvana……….but of course, sitting around meditating isn’t going to support Britain’s economic growth; it’s not going to make you or your country rich.
I know exactly which children get left out of the governments ambitions for world-class education though. The neuro-diverse children. The one’s who most likely make up the percentage of every classroom who suffer with mental illness due to a system which does not accommodate their needs, nor play to their strengths.
Ironically it’s likely that these children will have the kind of creative problem solving skills that Britain will need in the future, so let’s not allow the government to tarnish home education with these narrow views of what a child’s full potential is.
Unschooling, which would be particularly threatened by this new government guidance, is the kind of education most suited to neuro-diverse children, who through delving deep into their interests can find their niche in the world and thus make the positive contribution that the DfE keeps talking about in its strategy.