Tuesday, 2 October 2012

LA Wars

We were all really tired this morning, due to Eldest having trouble sleeping, Youngest (who has decided he doesn't want to wear pull-ups to bed any more) waking with wet sheets several times, and Middle just waking very early.  Of course, all of them felt the need to come and wake me up every time they were awake, so I was feeling pretty rough & sleep-deprived when I got up this morning too!  I'm so grateful I didn't have to try to get them out to school: that we can just adjust our days around how we're feeling - and being realistic, I wasn't expecting any of them to have much energy for anything much today).  Middle was quite jolly and spent a good amount of time on MathsWhizz, followed immediately by Reading Eggs.  Youngest had a go on Reading Eggs with me, but is still discouraged by the game he has got to where even if he gets the questions right, if he doesn't do it fast enough he has to repeat the exercise - and he finds that instantly discouraging.  He did enjoy watching Middle though - and he built a lovely train-track in the lounge while we bent our 'no TV before lunch' rule for Eldest, who just wanted to flop on the sofa, watching back-to-back wildlife documentaries - and I was happy to be part of the couch-potato zone!  So, not much to report today.

However, that doesn't mean no blog (obviously) - there's something I've been mulling over for a while, and with the appearance of two very different blogs yesterday, it made me think some more.  I don't have answers, just musings - but as always, you are welcome to join me in my pontificating...

I first blogged about this issue in May (Who's Afraid of the LEA).  We had only been Home Educating for a month and I could already see that LA involvement is an enormous issue in the HE community.  It is still the single issue that makes me feel the need to steel myself every time I see a post about it, as I know that feelings run so high, there may be a row any minute.  I have even been witness more than once to what in my opinion constituted online bullying, when individuals mentioned that they were having an LA visit, and were then ganged up on by those who refused to accept that anybody should ever let the LEA into their houses.

Now, my personal attitude remains the same as stated in the aforementioned post: "I think that there is no more need to invite the LEA to be involved in my children's education than there is to invite the Social Services to be involved in my children's upbringing. If they NEED to come round, I have nothing to hide, and would hope to be courteous (unless they got hostile) - but why would I invite them?" 
That said, because I detest bullying and greatly dislike being told what we "should" do, I have even been known to stand up for those who have no problem with being monitored by the LA.  And let's be honest, those of us who believe that Home Educators should be left alone to fulfil what is in fact OUR parental responsibility to educate our children would be horrified if that way of thinking then led to a child being abused because nobody knew what was going on!  Not that that is reason enough for LA monitoring - I don't believe it is at all - I'm just saying, let's not pooh-pooh the idea that it could happen.  It is nowhere near as high a risk as the powers-that-be seem to suggest - but we need to be part of the answer, and actually consider the issue.  The fact is, schools usually are the primary point of contact outside of the home for children - and they do have a duty of care.  It is not as simple as an education system operating separately to a welfare system.  Anyone who has worked in school will have been on Child Protection/ Safeguarding training, which has nothing to do with educating them (or very little) - but it is acknowledging that as a society, we all have a part to play in looking out for the vulnerable.

I guess what I'm saying is, why do we need to make enemies of the LA?  I have come across those who are ambivalent towards them (usually like me, they are quite new to HE and are sometimes fairly ignorant of the whole 'Badman' furore of a few years ago whch caused so much bad feeling), and I have come across those who are vehemently opposed to LA involvement, and will not tolerate any alternative opinion (including this blog post I guess - oops.  I have a feeling I'm going to tread on some toes however hard I try not to); I have even heard it said that ALL LAs and their representatives are evil!!!    Now my husband says that I am a very black-and-white kind of person, but I have to say that even though I also disagree with monitoring, I don't see it as 'baddies' and 'goodies'.  I have yet to meet a parent who is home educating for any reason other than to give their child(ren) the best start to life that is possible - but that doesn't mean they're not out there. To be honest, if someone were abusing/ neglecting their child, they wouldn't be as likely to be out meeting with others, so it's highly improbable that I'll meet any.  BUT it would be naive of me to suggest that there are no people out there keeping their children off school because of neglect rather than the more noble motives of the majority of us.  Happily, I also haven't yet met an LA official whose sole purpose in life is to persecute those with an alternative lifestyle - although it is true I have heard many more accounts than I would like of petty officials acting beyond their remit and placing ultra vires demands on innocent people just trying to bring their children up.  The difference for me is that while others may see those officials as the 'baddies', I see them most likely as people who believe they are doing what's right, but are unfortunately really ignorant of not only the law, but also the positivity of Home Education.  And even if they were 'baddies' persecuting innocent people, which would be terrible and rightly need addressing - there is still no need to project that onto every LA employee on the country.  Yes, quite a few of them do seem to have control issues (officialdom doesn't like things that can't be neatly labelled and kept in a box), but more often than not, they are suspicious because they just don't understand.

A clear example of this to me, was the first of two blog posts that I read yesterday, here - by a retired 'official' who obviously has an axe to grind against certain Home Educators.  You may think that she has a valid point, given the cases that she shares (although I was sad that she chose not to balance her article with some positive HE cases) - but then I read this excellent 'reply' here which just showed to me the danger of putting someone (especially if unqualified) in a position of judging someone else.  None of us can know the actual stories behind the cases mentioned, but we can clearly see the importance of understanding the full picture.

Not having experienced our LEA for myself yet, I can only go by what my HE friends have told me - and apparently here in Hertfordshire we have a good LA - that is to say, the letters that they send out are unnecessarily officious and reflect little understanding of the law, demanding visits as a legal requirement etc (when they are not) - BUT the actual people who come out to visit are really helpful, encouraging and positive, enthusiastic about HE.  I am sure that if I met them I would find them the same, although I don't plan on meeting them for a good while, because I believe the system needs to change.  And this is the issue: how is it ever going to change if we draw up battle lines, assume the defensive position - or offensive for that matter  - and slug it out?  Surely somebody somewhere needs to start talking sense.  If people are operating out of ignorance, isn't the best way to deal with it not by labelling them as ignorant and therefore justifying our antipathy towards them, but to actually help them to understand what they don't yet understand.  We are not victims - we have a choice.  If they send an officious letter (or worse, door-step us) we can choose our response.  We can send them a snotty reply (or be rude to their faces), using the law as a weapon to get rid of them; we can choose to let them in (which regardless of whether or not it is a positive experience, does send the message that it is acceptable to make ultra-vires demands, in my opinion), or we can reject the interference but in a more polite/ positive way.  I actually heard of some HE mums whose offspring had grown-up and who were looking into taking on positions within the LEA so they could help other Home Edders - but (and I find this utterly self-defeating and short-sighted) they were pressurised out of it by those who judged that by doing so they would be 'siding with the enemy', thus removing a great opportunity for some of us to actually get involved with the LA and start to turn the system round. 

Fighting achieves so little - I always was a bit of a pacifist, although I don't think I'm backwards in coming forwards when I believe in a cause.  If they pick a fight, by all means fight back - but let's not delude ourselves that by being stubborn & just refusing to comply because the law happens to be currently on our side, that that is winning the battle (actually that is more likely to annoy them into trying to change the law).  Whether it's an officious letter from the LEA or a full-on change in law such as the one currently being attempted in Wales, the best way to fight is by doing what we know best: by educating!  We know from experience how to provide an environment where learning is unhindered... we don't ram it down out kids' throats against their wishes.  We are nurturing and helpful.  If their behaviour gets out of hand, we maintain the boundaries that exist for their or our good, but we remain positive.  We explain what needs to be understood, and we remain involved, because we care.   Is it just me, or are there some genuine parallels here...?


  1. Hmm, lots of home-edders do seem to be very anti-LA don't they? I have heard that ours is fairly HE friendly, but I haven't made contact with them and am quite happy to keep it that way for the time being - we're doing ok so why rock the boat? Those two posts were very interesting but something definitely needs to change.

    1. Yes, I agree. I know I don't see the full picture at all, and don't pretend to, but every now and then (usually when someone gets bullied for talking to the LA) I just wonder how much it's helping us to fan the flames of enmity... :(