A sad but not unusual story

Over on the EO list a few days ago there was a rather sad message which cast light upon two different aspects of home education in this country. Some guy has a sixteen year-old daughter who wishes to go to college. She needs four GCSEs to do the course which she wants and now her father is asking how to go about this. This is the first aspect of home education in the UK which is illuminated. Not just on the Internet lists but among ordinary home educating parents is a vague belief that one can get into college or university without any formal qualifications. Often, parents talk hopefully about portfolios and interviews and the claim is made that colleges and universities actually prefer home educated children without qualifications because they are so original/mature/bright/individual. Parents such as the one I mention above, absorb this nonsense and it is only when their children hit fifteen or sixteen and start asking around about colleges that the awful truth hits them; they cannot get on an academic course like A levels or the equivalent without having GCSEs. There then typically follows a period of panic before the child is persuaded to settle for a less demanding and academic course.

The story above is in many ways a tragedy and this tragedy is largely the responsibility of those who continue to spread the myths about access to higher education. Getting coursework authenticated is all but impossible outside a school or expensive distance learning provider. This makes GCSEs very tricky for home educators. With the introduction of the controlled assessments in a year or two, they will be completely impossible. This leaves IGCSEs. It is hard to find a school or college which allows private candidates to take these and the typical cost will be about £150 per subject. Studying for IGCSEs is far more rigorous than GCSEs and for a sixteen year old starting the syllabus from scratch will take at least a year or two of hard work. Almost certainly, the child mentioned in the post on EO will not now be doing the college course she wishes to do. This is because the father did not make any enquiries earlier and was lulled into complacency by the prevailing myth system perpetuated by many home education activists.

The other interesting part of this business is the response to this question. Three people gave advice to this father. This is about average for educational questions of this sort. Compare this with the responses to a question on another popular home education list, that of HE-UK. A woman posted a question there a few days ago and the gist of it is this. She has de-registered her child from school, in her own words;

'After I followed the correct procedure to withdraw my daughter from school to resume her home education, there was some miscommunication within the LA.'

By the way, one senses that there is a little more to the subsequent story than meets the eye. 'To resume her home education' makes me suspect that this child has probably been taken out of school before and then sent back again. Be that as it may, the local authority served her with a notice giving her fifteen days to show that she was providing a suitable education for her daughter. This might be a little hasty on their part, but I would guess offhand that the last time she was being home educated they had trouble getting evidence of the education. At any rate, there is no difficulty here, all the mother needed to do was contact them and explain the situation. She did so and the matter was cleared up. She is now determined to pursue a complaint against her local authority.

The response to this post has so far generated twelve posts and I have no doubt that there will be at least as many today. This sort of grudge is very dear to the hearts of some home educators and indignation and anger are running high. Two things strike one here. Firstly is that three people answer a question about education on one list, but a dozen respond to a complaint about a local authority on another. Most of those are on both lists and it suggests to me that quite a few people are more interested in grudges against local authorities than they are about education. The other thing which is odd is that if I had just embarked upon the education of my daughter, my energies would be fully occupied with planning and arranging this education. The fact that the local authority sent me an irritating letter would be a minor matter which I could deal with briefly. It seems to be a very big thing for this mother though. I can't help wondering if all the fuss she is generating is designed to distract her local authority and discourage them from asking further questions about the education which she is providing. It would be interesting to know what sort of relations she had with them on the last occasion that she home educated.

There are Internet lists which deal specifically with education and examinations, but many parents get no further than joining Education Otherwise and Home Education UK and then being on their lists. The focus is often upon conflict with local authorities and central government rather than educating one's child. When education is mentioned, it is often only to reassure parents that children are the best judges of what to learn. The father who posted on the EO list has discovered too late that this is not really so. If he had planned a little bit more in advance, his daughter would probably not be in the pickle which she is. Local authorities often try and warn parents about this and this too makes some people angry. Several posts have been made about local authority officers who asked whether children would be taking examinations. The fools! Have they not heard about autonomous education? Perhaps a little more planning for educational outcomes and a little less time spent pursuing grudges and complaints might not be a bad thing on the Internet lists. Otherwise, their influence upon parents is likely to be negative and their ultimate effect upon children harmful.