Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Why my daughter is awesome. Again.

So, driving back from her judo lesson last night, I was talking my my daughter. Specifically, we were talking about a recent thing on tumblr from this blog by the always excellent Laurie Penny.

And, being brilliant, my daughter made some great points.

Mostly, was that she really doesn't care what people think about her looks. She's already had to deal, at age 12, with people saying she looks / dresses "weird", and she's doing really well with that. So I asked her what she thought about being judged on how she looks and dresses, and what sort of things does she like being complemented on.

And she completely hit me sideways when she said "Well, when I'm in a comic shop or at a games day and people say they're glad that there's a girl there who's there because she's into that stuff. You know, when people recognise that I'm kinda of a geek and they like me for that."

And that's the geek dream, isn't it? To be accepted and lauded for exhibiting your enthusiasm. Not for your looks or having the right clothes or looking down on another part of culture.

She also said "You know, I know there's some girls who wear clothes with geek stuff on just because they like the look of it. And that's great! But I wear it because it's about stuff I like as well, and I love it when people talk to me about it because I'm wearing it."

So yeah, my daughter. Super-awesome nerd fighter. Brilliant. And, incidentally, beautiful. But I'm biased about all that.

PS: Goddamn it, and this is why my daughter being proud of being a geek is also a source of anxiety to me: http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/this-right-here-is-the-problem/

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The parable of the farmers, or vanity publishing explained.

Once upon a time there were three wheat farmers. Each had produced a bumper crop of grain.

The first farmer showed his grain to a merchant[1], who was so impressed with the grain that he bought the rights from the farmer to winnow, mill and bake the grain into bread and then sold the bread to shops, in return for a small amount of the sale of each loaf. The merchant made more money than the farmer, but had risked a great deal of his own money paying for winnowing, milling, baking and promoting the bread, while the farmers job essentially stopped after harvest[2]

The second farmer, who had heard that merchants and grain  agents were very picky about grain these days, really just wanted people to eat his wheat. He sometimes paid others to winnow mill or bake the grain into bread, sometimes did it himself, and negotiated himself with the shop owners. While he spent a lot of his own money and time, he kept all the money that the shopkeepers gave him, and all the money from the bread he sold himself. One year, his grain made fantastic bread which was so popular a merchant approached him for rights to his grain (see first farmer).[3]

The third farmer was approached by a man who called himself a merchant, who praised his grain to the skies. He said it was just the grain he was looking for, and would be happy to pay the farmer for the rights to his grain. Only, wasn’t it fair that the farmer should contribute to the costs of winnowing, milling, baking and selling to the shops? The farmer, somewhat impressed that anyone would want to buy his grain in the depressed bread market, paid the merchant (who had many stories of how successful people had been making their own grain into bread). The merchant then promised the farmer that he would get a substantial proportion of the sales of the bread, and an even bigger proportion of the money he made from any he sold himself.

And when the other farmers heard about this they said “Dude, seriously, you’ve already paid them to winnow, mill and bake the bread that you’re selling yourself, why give them one red cent extra?”

The third farmer then found that the winnowing, milling and baking wasn’t much good. And, to be honest, his loaves were just plumped onto the shelves of big bread stores without any promotion, getting lost in the proliferation of loaves. In fact, if he tried selling any of that grain by himself, the merchant would tell him he couldn’t, he could only sell grain through the merchant (who was beginning to look a lot like Robert Carlyle in Once Upon a Time).

His “merchant” wasn’t bothered, as he’d already been paid, and actually made most of his money from charging farmers for processing their own grain.

And there were always more farmers desperate to get their grain made into bread.

[1] Actually, he first showed it to a grain agent, who was so impressed he agreed to negotiate the contract with the merchant for a consideration of the revenue, but that’s by the by.

[2] The merchant also paid for options on next years crop, and first refusal on any oats, barley, etc the farmer may produce, but that’s by the by

[3] He also paid for the rights to make and sell bread from previous years grain harvests. YOU SEE, THIS IS ALL A METAPHOR.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Yet Another Consultation Response

Consultation response by Peter Darby, Home educating parent, former Welsh Correspondent of Action on Home Education, Drama Group Facilitator, Welsh resident.

Executive Summary:  The compulsory licensing proposals are unnecessary, expensive, detrimental to the relationship between Local Authorities and home educators, and predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of the statutory duties of LA’s.

  1. The entire basis of the proposals is that in order to discharge their duties under Section 436a of the Education Act (1996), Local authorities must register and monitor the education of children electively home educated. However, the All Wales Attendance Framework of 2011 makes it explicit that Section 436a duties do not apply to children who are being educated at home.
Put simply, with regards to Section 436a of the Education act, Local Authorities have NO special duties towards home educated children.
The intent of Section 436a was to confirm that Local Authorities have responsibilities to ensure that children not attending school but not being electively home educated are receiving a suitable education from the Local Authority, under Education Other Than At School provision (EOTAS).
If legislation is passed on this basis, it will seriously extend the duties of the LA’s into a realm previously covered by parental responsibility, far beyond that intended by Section 436a.

  1. The proposals are not for a registration programme, but a licensing program. Properly formed, a register is the recording of information, and as such does not require permission or approval.
By restricting the ability to be entered onto a register of home educated children to make it by the approval of the Local Authority, this makes the register a licensing scheme, far beyond the intent of a simple register of information.
This is an unnecessary and extreme intrusion of arbitrary authority into parental responsibility.
Furthermore, the suggestion that license to home educate be restricted on the judgement of an education officer that there are welfare concerns confuses education and welfare issues. Educational and general welfare issues are separate issues, and should be addressed by separate LA officers with appropriate training in each.
The introduction of such language into educational legislation seems to hint that the intent is that only the “right sort of people” will be “permitted” to educate their children outside of the school system, a class based assumption that is countered by research showing that it is the most “deprived” families that benefit most from education outside of school.

  1. While there is some debate in the Home Education community about the conduct of the Bridgend pilot scheme, the participants, both Local Authority and Home Educator, seemed to agree that where the relationship was based on respect, trust and integrity, LA’s were better able to discharge their (actual) statutory duties and also engage positively with the home educating community.
Where LA’s are demanding, forceful, and inflexible, the relationship suffers, as home educators exercise their right to withdraw co-operation from an LA they perceive as acting in an adversarial role.
Compulsory registration and licensing by LA fiat forces LA’s into an adversarial role. Already I’ve had feedback from LA workers that the proposed legislation will damage what can be a fragile relationship with families who have often felt let down and stigmatised by the education system.

  1. In informal talks about the proposed legislation, it has been expressed that compulsory registration will decrease the number of home educating families that are not known to the authorities.
I would ask how.
Proclaiming that “registration is now compulsory” will not automatically make people register. How will the authorities find families that have decided not to register? Will they further make it an offence not to inform the authorities of a known home educating family? Are we to be set as informers on each other?
Would it not be true that the adversarial nature of stating that, if we find you have not registered, we will force your children into school and possibly prosecute you, will make families less likely to engage with the local authority? What have they to lose by staying hidden? What have they to gain by coming forward and saying “yes, been home educating without registration for ten years now, please send my children to school until you’ve come to a decision as to whether I’m fit to teach my own.”
Compulsory registration with legal consequences is not a “find home educators” spell. It’s an invite to go into hiding.

  1. Not consulted upon are the intractable problems of implementation.
What are the penalties for non-registration going to be? Fines? Imprisonment? Making something a legal requirement means that legal consequences must be brought to bear for infringement. What would be proportionate for an offence which is only an offence because non-compliance makes the LA’s job more difficult?
Where is the money coming from? Do education departments have inspectors standing idle at the moment? At a time when those very departments are struggling to fulfil their current, actual duties, inventing new ones, with commensurate increased demands on scant resources, seems perverse.
As stated above, how are the LA’s going to find families that have not registered? If they think they can find them, why do they need compulsory registration? If not, how will making registration compulsory help them?
Will families be “permitted” to home educate during the six (or possibly twelve, it varies in the documents) weeks it takes to prepare the report? If they are refused permission after twelve weeks, will they be subject to the legal consequences of home educating without license during those weeks?

  1. The introduction of a licensing system fundamentally alters the balance of education law. It makes the responsibility of the parent to provide an education to their children subject to the approval of the local authority. This means that the LA assumes ultimate responsibility for the education of the child, which is a thought that should stop any LA legal representative in their tracks.
Currently, the buck for inadequate education stops with parents. By licensing home educators, that buck gets passed to the LA’s, and in principle this applies to all parents in Wales, including those with children in state schools. The shift from the current “we will step in if there are demonstrable, serious concerns” to “we will permit you to educate if we choose to” is a vast one, and should only be taken if the WAG believes that there is a problem serious enough to expose itself to the greatest increase in state educational liability in British history.
  1. It is perhaps unfortunate that this consultation period ends in the week when the minister has suggested that responsibility for schools could be taken out of Local Authority control. Two LA’s in Wales are already under special measures, with perhaps more to follow. It would not be unfair to say that state provision of education in Wales is in crisis, has been for some years, and is unlikely to resolve that crisis any time soon, whatever the best wishes and efforts from the LA’s, the WAG, the teachers and their unions, etc.
But it does lead one to ask: If the education departments cannot oversee schools to a standard which is acceptable to either Estyn, the Minister or the people of Wales, why are they expected to license the education of those children who have chosen not to participate in their failing system?

  1. I have not answered the prepared consultation questions, as they are almost entirely framed by the assumption that compulsory licensing will go ahead and it is only the minor details of where the assessments are to be made and how long home educators will have to wait for the license to be debated. The fact that the whole thing is based on a faulty reading of the education act renders the questions posed as virtually meaningless.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What the I don't even

From a job description:

The UK has progressed a sector based policy approach over the last decade with a view to improving its’ skills position. The Sector Priorities Fund Pilot Programme (herein referred to as the SPFP Programme) is designed to take forward strategic sector project activity led by Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) in order to realise the sector related policy recommendations outlined in “Skills that Work for Wales: A Skills and Employment Strategy and Action Plan. This policy promotes a sector based response to identifying and addressing skills and employment needs within sectors of the Welsh economy.
Skills That Work for Wales outlined the need for a Sector Priorities Fund from 2011 in Wales to align provision to the needs of key sectors of the economy. SPFP is aimed at piloting sector based solutions activity which has been identified by SSCs and evidenced as a need through their employer engagement strategies and backed by robust labour market intelligence. There is also an underlying aim to build the capacity in the skills system by brokering relationships between SSCs, FE and HE Institutions.
This will enable sector solutions to be delivered with strong partnership arrangements with providers and strategic sector bodies (SSCs) who act as the voice of employers in identifying skills gaps and shortages, as well as reforming qualifications to ensure they meet the needs of industry. The overarching aim of the SPFP Programme is to provide the evidence base on which to inform and influence policy and delivery systems in Wales to enable mainstream training programmes supported by the Welsh Assembly Government to become more demand-responsive. That is, policy and delivery systems are more reflective of the training and skills needs articulated by employers across sectors of the Welsh economy. Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) will be at the core to directing and managing project activity and submit project proposals to be supported via the SPFP Programme funding. SSC strategic projects will be underpinned by evidence of employer-demand gained primarily through their Sector Skills Agreements (SSAs) and Sector Qualifications Strategies (SQSs), and will pilot activity aimed at feeding intelligence to inform the Sector Priorities Fund identified in “Skills that Work for Wales”.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

More random thoughts on the Welsh HE proposals

  1. It's not registration, it's a licensing scheme.
They call the proposals "Registering and monitoring home education in Wales" , but with one small change, it goes beyond that.

26.      The LA would only be able to refuse a new application or revoke an existing
registration in a very limited set of circumstances:
Hang on, a register is a record of information. That's it. If you hold a register of home educating families in your area, then the only time you remove someone from that register is when they are no longer home educating in your area.

You, as a home educating family, don't apply for registration: you register.

You, as a local authority, can't refuse an "application to register", as you would be refusing to record a given fact.

What do we call something that's applied for, then granted, refused or revoked by the local authority? That would either be permission or license.

So, it's a licensing scheme, not a registration scheme.

A license to discharge your legal duties to your children in the manner you see fit.

Which is odd, isn't it?

I'm sure I'll get corrected, but I can't think of any other legal duty which is subject to licensing. I've got a driving license, but no legal obligation to travel. I could get a gun license, but I have no legal obligation to shoot. I've got planning permission for a polytunnel, but no legal obligation to grow veg.

On the other hand, I've got a legal obligation to pay tax, but I don't need a license to earn money.

More, no doubt, will be said on the "register home cooking" blog...

2. It does the opposite of what it's supposed to do
 2.        Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on LAs which consists
of two parts. The first part requires a LA to identify (so far as it is possible to do so)
all learners of compulsory school age in their area who are not on a school roll. The
second part requires a LA to establish if such learners are receiving a suitable
education. In the remainder of this document we describe this duty as ‘the section
436A duty’
 So the reason for compulsory licensing of HE families is to allow LA's to discharge their 436A duty.

And given infinite resources for education departments, it will do just that.

Oh hang on! Just remembered! Education departments have finite budgets!

Which means that diverting resources away from investigating reports of educational neglect towards compulsory licensing schemes means that fewer resources are available to investigate and support struggling families.

This is especially true of a county like, for example, Powys:  population density of twenty five people per square kilometre, less than half that of Northumberland, the least densely populated English County. No wonder it's hard to get a board game group together. It's going to take a long time for a team to cover that area for a handful of families.

The fact is, identifying families in trouble has never been a problem for Local Authorities. Knowing their legal obligations and powers is a constant struggle, and one which another legislative layer is not going to help.

3. Practicalities: How are people going to know? And what happens if they don't?
The proposal is curiously blank on these two questions.

How is someone entering Wales supposed to know about this? There's no formal legal system of application to move from England to Wales, but on moving, a home educating family will have a new legal responsibility that they did not have before.

For that matter, anyone in Wales whose child reaches compulsory school age (I know, it's the legally accurate but semantically inaccurate term) could find themselves breaking a law without knowing it.

In trying to make families enforce a local authority duty, they are putting families in a paradoxical position.

But from then on, what happens if the local authority find a family that has been home educating without a license, sorry, registration, for years? Will the family be prosecuted? What happens if they continue to home educate after a license (oh sod it, let's call a spade a spade) has been refused? Is this in any way different from refusing a Statutory Attendance Order?

In other words, beyond a big scary licensing scheme, a new statutory monitoring function for already over stretched Welsh education departments and a few big brotherly terms, would this proposed legislation offer any advantages to LA's in pursuing their statutory obligations? No.

Would it make it more likely that failing HE families would receive support? No.

Would it provide any new tools beyond those already in the legislative toolbox? No.

At a time when education departments in Wales are in crisis, it seems incredible that time and money is being spent on an area that is giving no cause for concern.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

On Enthusiasm

Whenever anyone patronizes or belittles you for liking something, whether it's something out of the mainstream like table top games or obscure SF shows, or something more in the mainstream like wrestling, or TV talent shows or soaps, you should feel sorry for them.

Because while they think they're proving their superiority, what they're really doing is shouting "STOP FINDING JOY WHERE YOU FOUND IT!"

They're jealous of your enthusiasm. Poor dears.

Whenever you come across someone liking something you don't care for, I'd recommend cultivating these responses:

"Hey, that's not my bag, but don't let me stop you! Tell me what's cool about it!"

"Mind if I geek out about why I like this other thing for a while?"

"Don't take this the wrong way, but I am utterly failing to get what's great about it. And that's not your problem at all."

Yeah, all of these can come across as passive aggressive bullsh*t (PABS, for those keeping score at home), so grace and acceptance, at all times.

Enthusiasm and joy are commodities in very short supply. Let's try to keep as much of them alive as possible.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

History lesssons: part one, the rise and fall of the Badman report

Just speaking personally now, about how I understood the Badman affair, and what I learnt from it.

It looks like the story of the Badman review starts in January 2009, with the announcement of a review to investigate current practice, and whether HE was being used as a cover for child abuse, neglect, forced marriage and weapons of mass destruction that could be launched against the UK within 45 minutes.

Of course, it doesn't start there, as Ed Balls did not wake up one day and think "today I will commission a hugely prejudicial review into home education." Because, as we all know, he wakes up every day and thinks "I WANNA BE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER!" but that is neither here nor there.

It could have been said to have started in 2007, when Lord Adonis said that HE without government oversight was "an anomaly which we intend to rectify." But that was just hot air.

It really started in May 2008, with the death of Khyra Ishaq. She was starved to death, at the age of seven, while in the care of her mother (Angela Gordon) and her mother's partner. She was not, at the time, attending school.

However, the authorities had first been alerted to Gordon's deliberate neglect of children in her care in 2000. There were a steady stream of reports about Ishaq's welfare, not only from her teachers before she stopped being sent to school, but medical staff and members of the public. Failures within Birmingham social services meant that they were not properly followed up.

The Ishaq case, rapidly approaching court in late 2008, was the main catalyst for the Badman review, and in my opinion, the course of the court case and the progress of the review and subsequent proposed legislation cannot be considered separately.

I believe that if the court case had gone according to Ed Balls' predictions, then England would now have compulsory registration for home educators.

For now, let's return to the home education review.

No-one is selected at random to head a government enquiry. In a perfect world, where policy is decided by level headed and rational assessment of impartial evidence, they would be conducted either by a well respected, neutral figure from outside the field in question prepared to weigh carefully the expert opinions offered them, or the best qualified expert inside the field.

In this world, a policy is decided upon, and an "expert" who agrees with it is found to head an "enquiry" to find evidence to support the policy.

Ed Balls found Graham Badman. Badman is a former teacher and headteacher who then moved upwards into senior circles of local authority education departments. By another of these accidents of history, education and children's social services were merged to form children's services departments, and thus did a man with a great and good history in education, but with no qualifications or experience in social work or safeguarding, become responsible first in Oxfordshire, then in Kent, for child welfare and protection.

One small note: immediately prior to being asked to conduct the HE review, Badman was parachuted into Haringey Local Children's Safeguarding Board (hereafter HLCSB) to replace Sharon Shoesmith after her mishandling of the death of "Baby P". HLCSB, it should be noted, were previously heavily censured for failing to save the life of Victoria Climbie in 2000. Climbie was, like Ishaq, not attending school at the time of her death. While not directly related to the Badman review, the Climbie case was referred to by the NSPCC as being a case of a child dying while being home educated, and thus of the need to monitor HE families, during the media coverage of the Badman review.

Personally, I cannot see how Badman, having been dropped into Haringey to oversee a review of a fatal child neglect case, could not have been influenced by this earlier case.

Incidentally, in the criminal case regarding Climbie's death and the subsequent serious case reviews, "home education" as such was not found to be a contributing factor. Local authority (and, ironically, NSPCC) incompetence was.

So, back to the Badman enquiry: for the progress of Badman's relationships with actual frontline home educators, I can do no better than to refer you to a contemporary eyewitness account:


For the TL:DR crowd, some quotes...
His main themes included:
- Why aren’t we arguing for our “share” of our tax money?
- What do we want from the LAs – and “to leave us alone” was not accepted as an answer. He was pushing for what we wanted in terms of support.
- Did we want access to internet schools
- He looked for structure and didn’t seem to “get” autonomous home education or just even freedom to chose
- Would we be happy with a health visitor, rather than an EWO or Social Worker coming to visit (if we are talking about welfare, safeguarding etc)
- If we didn’t accept the Government monitoring us, would we accept “other home educators” monitoring us!! Eg, local groups, national organisations etc
- How can “society” protect the vulnerable amongst us

The feeling/feedback from the families was:
- they weren’t sure that he listened
- felt they could see the points *he* was making
- felt that he didn’t understand/listen to the points *they* were making
- that he didn’t GET home education
- that he certainly didn’t GET autonomous home education
- many felt somewhat insulted by the end of the debate
- they were glad to have the chance to have met him for themselves and got a “feel” for what we are up against
My 13 year old said at the end that “talking to the Badman left a bad taste in my mouth”

This, however, is merely the prologue.

Upon meeting with Paula Rothermel, who has done arguably the best academic work on HE and outcomes in the UK, he first asked her if HE mothers suffer from Munchausen's by proxy, and shortly thereafter proceeded to rubbish her research to her face.

Other academics whose work was shown to demonstrate improved outcomes for HE children were similarly rubbished.

Meanwhile, Badman's approach to rigorous research, well... not too good

As I ranted at the time:
*(And to those who doubt that, I say that any man who has spent a good portion of his life teaching science who then takes an unrepresentative sample, extracts the median value and then multiplies it unweighted across the whole class to obtain an aggregate figure, is not being merely disingenuous but actively misleading. Either he is too mendacious to be trusted with the review or incompetent. You see, unlike Mr Badman, I tend to vilify and defame people solely on the basis of clear evidence of their actions.)
Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, a funny thing happened.

In June 2009, Badman produced his report. This was not unnoticed, nor funny. There was a media frenzy. The government responded with undetailed plans to implement the recommendations.

What did go unnoticed was that, almost simultaneously, the first trial of Khrya Ishaq's killers was abandoned.

For those playing at home, yes, the first trial "should" have ended pretty much on the day the Badman report was released. In the middle of a media shitstorm about "hidden children" at risk.

Personally, I believe Ed Balls planned to ride the wave of public outrage to pass HE monitoring legislation. Sadly for him, two (in some reports three) jurors became ill, and for want of a nail...

From this point on, the story essentially becomes one of party politics: the HE community latches onto some Tory politicians looking to make a name for themselves in the education lobby, an inquiry into the Badman review is held (and is pretty scathing), shadow education minister Michael Gove somehow makes statements supporting autonomous HE while calling for more discipline and structure in schools, time passes, leaves fall from the calendar...

Oh wait one more thing.

On 25th February 2010, the Khrya Ishaq trial ends. The Ministry for Children, Schools and Families puts out a press release welcoming the judgement, particularly the highlighting of the need for greater control of home educators...

Except the judgement says no such thing. It's very scathing about Birmingham social services though.

Oh, notice I linked to blog above? It's because within hours, the original statement has been taken down and replaced with one that mutters and mumbles about trying harder, tragic case, etc etc. No formal retraction, nothing.

Almost as if the DCSF had written it before the judgement, eh? Maybe months before. Maybe in June.

Back to politics. 2010 crashes onwards towards the national embarassment that was the election that year, parliament is suspended and in the shameful process that is the wash up, Labour decide the HE legislation isn't as important as the rest of the education bill and ditch it.

And that, in my view, is the potted history of why we don't have registration in England.

You will notice that HE families, campaigners, and organisations, do not feature greatly in this version of events. Politicians, cronies, dead children and two twists of fate (ill jurors and a general election) feature heavily.

Fast forward to 2012. A child not in school dies in North Wales. A child known to the local authority, for whom alarms have been raised, but intervention was not deemed necessary.

Epilogue: Where are they now?

Ed Balls is shadow chancellor. I think this may be his ideal job, as it allows him to imagine that his policies really would save the country without actually having to see them fail in real life.

Michael Gove is Secretary of State for Education

Graham Badman is... well, one thing he isn't, despite the repeated statements of Ed Balls, is Sir Graham Badman. Yet.

What he is doing... some will find distasteful.

Graham Badman is currently available for speaking engagements. His current topic? The lessons learnt from the death of Baby P. Sometimes, Victoria Climbie is also referenced.

To be absolutely fair, it seems that the thrust of the talks is that social workers who know their powers, the law and are absolutely dedicated to the welfare of children are what is needed to save vulnerable children.

I wholeheartedly agree.

What isn't, and has never been, needed is new legislation that forces those social workers into households where no concerns have been raised.

The Badman legislation failed because of happenstance.