Saturday, 22 September 2012

Every Child Safeguarded

Mr. Humphrey Pumphrey-Carrick-Watson (HPCW) sits in his bureaucratic office where he thinks up new policies everyday. It is his job.

Ms. Coleen Clevercogs (CC) is his personal assistant.

HPCW: "I don't like this business of homeschooling, y'know."

CC: "I believe that in the United Kingdom it's called home educating, sir."

HPCW: "What? Home educating? When it's homeschooling?"

CC coughs apologetically: "Not everyone sees it as schooling, sir. Some home educating parents believe that 'schooling' is what you do with a horse, not a child."

Her boss looks at her sideways: "They all have kitchen tables, don't they? When they let the little bl... er... young people out of the cupboard under the stairs?"

CC: “Home educators as a rule don't keep their children in cupboards under the stairs, sir. The children are quite widely educated in other places such as museums, the environment, observatories, friends' homes, church halls, forests... The home edders are quite well aware that their classrooms are the whole wide world..."

HPCW holds up a hand. "Humph! But they are lazy, aren't they? I mean 'educating at home' just means you can't be bothered to get up to force them out of their jammies and into the school uniforms..."

CC: "Home educating parents are generally opposed to forcing their children to do anything...sir."

Her boss raises his eyebrows. "Oh, that kind..."

CC: “Er, sir, since you don't seem to know any home educators perhaps you should spend some time talking to them. It smacks of bigotry if you just condemn people for their views if you don't agree with them..."

"Dirty word, at the moment, CC." HPCW shuffles a pile of papers from one side of the desk to the other. "There's, of course, the safeguarding issue. The most important matter in hand..."

CC: "Naturally. But home educators are less likely to hurt their children than are parents who 'force' their children into school."

HPCW: “Eh?”

CC: "Yes, sir. Schooled children are more at risk of harm than are home educating children."

HPCW: “Huh? How's that?”

CC: “Well, Mr. Pumphrey-Carrick-Watson there are more schooled children so there are more schooled children being abused. Add to that, the fact that it would be so difficult for home educators to abuse their children.”

HPCW: “Ha! They can't wriggle into the cupboards under the stairs, ha! No exercise 'cos they're too lazy to get their kids to school.”

CC: “I'll pretend I didn't hear that, sir. It's defamation: you are harming the home educators' reputation, decreasing the respect in which they are held and...”

HPCW: “I knew it was a mistake to send you on one of the Law GCSE courses.”

CC: “Home educators are regarded with suspicion by many people in society so it would be difficult for them to harm their children. There are a lot of malicious referrals by neighbours and others to local authorities saying that the children are running wild all day and not learning anything. It's a basic lack of comprehension of the true learning process which occurs at all times and in all places...”

HPCW: “So you're saying that they're all running wild – which is a lack of care by the parents, isn't it? - but the parents are also keeping them in stair cupboards so... I mean... It...”

CC: “Yes, exactly, sir. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about home education, sir.”

HPCW: “I need coffee.”

CC: (handing him a cup) Of course you cannot treat home educating parents as a different species.”

HPCW frowning: “Why not?”

CC: “Well, we don't do safe and well checks on under-2s as a routine measure in our quest to safeguard every child. Schoolchildren aren't visited in the school holidays by local authority 'monitors' and they aren't checked on if the parent rings in to say the child is sick.”

HPCW: “Of course not. Those children are safely at school. School means they are safe...”

CC: “Not particularly, sir. Do you want to see the statistics on teachers and other school employees who have been arrested and/or charged with some kind of abuse against children in their charge?”

HPCW: “Er, not at the moment, Miss Clevercogs. Do you mean? Well, are there a lot of... Never mind, schools have a duty of care that... Um, well, yes, my nephew's arm was broken by bullies last year and the teachers maintain that it didn't happen at school and yet...

CC: “Yes, sir.”

HPCW picks up a pen and twiddles it around his finger. “I think I see what you are saying, Coleen. We can't treat home educating parents differently. We can't monitor them because we don't monitor schoolchildren's parents at times when the children aren't at school. It's discrimination, is that right?”

CC: “Right, sir. And it might activate the Human Rights Act. Families have a right to privacy. Local authorities can enquire about the education parents are providing to their children, but even that's an awkward one because local authorities expect school types of learning.”

HPCW: “Kitchen tables. Sharpened pencils. Tests. Exams. Qualifications instead of learning.”

CC: (smiling) Rather a shame when, if you don't have a qualification you don't get a job but when you do you're overqualified for it. You can't win, sir.”

HPCW: “Unless your uncle, Lord Wadgletter, gives you a leg up and you get a post interning for the Home Office like I did.”

HPCW: “Coleen, how do you know so much about home educators?”

CC: “My sister has home educated her four since birth and I was home educated for five years when my mother took me out of secondary school because I was suffering from bullying.”

HPCW: “Get your sister on the phone, would you, Coleen? I'd like to meet her and her family.”

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