DCSF Review: And now for something completely different
I tried hard to be reasonable and calm, going through the Recommendations one by one. But I don’t feel in the least little bit reasonable or calm. My most strongly felt objections, on an emotional level, are in two parts.
The entire document is based on an assumption that education happens basically one way, though there’s some variation on detail. It’s based on teacher-led school-style pre-planned education. It’s based on the assumption that goals and targets and developmental norms are useful to everyone, and that plans and set goals are reasonable things to ask all parents and all children to create, believe in, and work with.
If I thought school-style education would be good for my children, I would send them to school They are both perfectly happy without me. They thrive in large groups of children and demand vast amounts of social interaction from their peers (though we have a broader definition of peers then the school system does, since we don’t restrict as narrowly by age as they do). I have no reason to believe that they would be bullied much or be unable to handle complicated social situations. They already do, often.
The document, and its recommendations, and the LA systems and the School Attendance Orders and the criminal prosecutions which may follow, all ignore the concept of Autonomous Education entirely.
And I read on the BBC News website that Mr Badman (Mummy, make the bad man go away) claims that
But he said parents would be judged against their education plans.
“This is not some woolly statement,” he said.
“They will be judged on their plans. These statements should contain some milestones for children to achieve,” he went on.
“For example by the age of eight, I think they should be autonomous learners, able to read.
“I’m calling for further work to be done, but also setting some parameters.”
What is so magical about the age of eight? I know several people who could read early who went on to be extremely bright, or perfectly average, or so uninterested in the education on offer at school that they dropped out completely. I also know several people who read much later – including some who were as old as 9 or 10 before they could read with any fluency at all – who grew up into perfectly normal people with entirely functional lives and, in some cases, well-paid secure jobs which are oddly not disappearing into the waters of the recession.
Why is reading the same as learning autonomously, to this man? They are so clearly not the same to me, who loves reading and has lived on the inside of books for most of the past 25 years since I was one of those early fluent readers, that it seems entirely absurd. Why isn’t it more important that an eight-year-old be able to plan a meal, go to the shops with twenty quid, buy groceries based on brand-recognition or single-word recognition, and prepare and cook a meal? Or knit a jumper, or plant, tend, and harvest a plot of vegetables? Eventually either it will become obvious that reading isn’t necessary to the things this person wants to do, or they will put the effort in to becoming fluent readers, or they will figure out some other way around the problem.
That goal is just an easier way to measure from outside whether parents are providing the opportunity to learn to read, and that’s not good enough. It doesn’t measure the actual availability of the opportunity to learn autonomously from their reading, and it certainly doesn’t measure whether the education provided for the child is “suitable to his age ability and aptitude and to any special needs he may have”. It’s perfectly possible to teach a child to read and not to question authority at the same time.
Child protection and rescue
I am absolutely in favour of children being protected, by the state, from abuse, and when protection fails, I am in favour of their being rescued. And that’s one reason I am incensed by the idea of a register and an annual visit in the name of “Safeguarding.” The numbers of adults I know who grew up in abusive homes – including barely-adults, aged 17 or 18, through the system very recently – and escaped, sometimes taking their younger siblings into their charge, without once having aroused the suspicion of their teachers or neighbours, is terrifying and tragic. It is abundantly obvious to me that relying on daily interaction with teachers to detect abuse is hugely inadequate, and annual visits can only be more so.
But given that they are already reducing the Health Visitor service for the under-fives, the most at-risk group, seriously injured and killed by their parents more than any other age group, I see no hope at all that they will increase the services available to children older than that. I heard somewhere that Education Officers (the title was from someone’s memory so may be inaccurate) used to visit children of school age, taking over from Health Visitors, visiting more often when the child is younger and less and less as they grow older, tapering off gradually. They visited homes whether or not children were at school, offering advice on education and development stuff. I think it wasn’t available everywhere, perhaps only in London, but it seems obvious to me that this service could help so many children, if adequately funded…
And as for a register, well, it will be lovely to find it on a bus or in a taxi somewhere, like the Child Benefit data, with everyone’s names, parents’ names, birthdays, and addresses. That will be great.