To monitor or not to monitor? That is the question ....

In November, we had a visit from our local authority. When I tell people we home educate, they expect that this will be the case - and often ask, "Well, are you monitored or anything?" This has become the question I am most commonly asked, after the predictable, "But what about socialisation?" It may surprise people to know that, under the law, home educators are not required to be registered with their local authority. If that upsets you, why? Are you concerned about the welfare of these children, or about their educational provision? Maybe their radicalisation? Do you worry that these children are more at risk of abuse than children in school? The question was raised in Parliament on December 11th 2014 by Mr Barry Sheerman (Labour Co-operative MP for Huddersfield) when he said,"May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on home schooling when the House returns after Christmas? For many people home schooling is a good way of educating their child, but for many others it is not. Has he seen the estimates that suggest we do not know where up to 100,000 children in our country are, what curriculum they are pursuing, or about their supervision, safety and security? In an age when we are ever more worried about child abuse and child protection, may we have an early debate, because that area has got out of hand?" A prompt to those of us that do home educate to contact our MPs to talk about home education before that debate.

But let's consider how the local authority engage with people ... In November, following their initial approach in the summer (as described here) our local Education Officer came to visit us having made an appointment. The boys had laid out some of their work to show him and anticipated talking to him and telling him about all they get up to. However, it transpired that he thought he was making an 'initial visit' as we were new to the city. This involved telling me about home education, what my responsibilities are and basically how the local authority cannot help me. This was unnecessary really as we have been home educating for five years now, and I know the score. Realising this, he said he would kind of start a monitoring visit, which would normally follow six months later. This was what the boys and I had anticipated and involved discussing what we actually do. The visitor was filling in paperwork, and using a laptop to do so, so mostly typing and looking at his computer screen. I spoke to him a bit about our eldest son, then encouraged my son to talk to the man himself. My eldest boy is normally quite chatty and outgoing, but he seemed reluctant to talk, maybe because this chap wasn't really focussing on him, but primarily on the form on his computer. Each boy was asked three questions: "Do you go out and meet with friends?", "What's your favourite subject?" and one other, which escapes my memory. When it was my second son's turn, he spoke to him and showed him a few things, but it was minimal really, and the visitor said, "Well we can just write anything down really". Then, it was my third son's turn but, very shortly into their conversation, the visitor's computer battery died so he said he would have to end the meeting there. It was really quite abrupt and rude. My 8-year-old didn't know what to say!

Some weeks later, the paperwork arrived from the local authority, and the accompanying letter asked me to sign and return the forms about the boys' education. The forms were not well completed, barely reflecting anything the boys have accomplished. And the form for my third son just had my second son's work copied and pasted on to it. It wasn't even correct!

The man had said he would come back in six months to do a further monitoring visit, but I have decided to decline his offer with the following letter:

Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing in response to the paperwork we received following Education Officer Mr ____'s visit on __ November 2014. I am unwilling to sign and return the paperwork as requested because I did not feel it presents an accurate picture of the education we are providing for our boys at home.
I think there was some confusion as to the purpose of Mr ____'s visit. He was making what he called 'an initial visit' and has asked to return for 'a monitoring visit' on ___ July 2015 at ___am. The initial visit was due to our being new to Coventry having moved here in ___ 2014. However, we have been home educating for over 5 years now, so were aware of most of the information Mr ___ was giving us.
When he realised this, Mr ____'s visit became more of a monitoring visit, which is what the boys and I were expecting. The boys had spent some time organising their work and projects to show to Mr ____. However, by this time, there was not really time to do justice to looking at their work. Our son, N, in particular had no time to talk about his learning as Mr ____'s computer ran out of battery which put an end to the visit. The paperwork I have been sent for N is therefore particularly lacking.
As the visit seemed to be primarily about filling in forms on the computer rather than talking to the boys and to me about our home education provision, it seems to me that I could more accurately complete this paperwork myself.
I would ask therefore that no further visits be made to monitor our home education provision. If you require paperwork, please email me the templates which Mr ____ was using and I will complete the boys' records on the computer and email them to you.
Both my husband and I are qualified teachers, and my husband continues to work as a secondary supply teacher locally. We are therefore very aware of the educational provision offered by local schools. Our reasons for home educating are philosophical. Our understanding of the nature of education and learning is not consistent with that underpinning children's experience at school.

It's sad that in so many areas of our society now, everything is reduced to paperwork and tick boxes. How do you thus measure education or learning? Interestingly, I recently gave my second boy back his coveted 'list' of tasks he can complete each day. He likes to have this rough guidance and structure. Do you suppose that helps with the quality of his learning? Well, whilst I can feel better that he has ticked off 'maths' and 'English' for the day - just as teachers can in schools - it often means that actually he will do the bare minimum required to be able to tick the box and complete it in the shortest time. What does this teach us about measuring and quality of learning? In my experience the one does not improve the other.

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