I recently accompanied a young lady to her school, a secondary faith school in the region, where she's not been doing too well academically for various health reasons that demand her absence frequently. A meeting had been arranged with her teachers.
I'd arrived slightly stressed, being aware of the extent to which governance of institutions has been infested by a managerial compulsion to ensure compliance has been achieved by conforming to governmental targets and dicta on such things as diversity and anti-discriminatory laws used to oppress people from a Judaeo-Christian faith background. Case in point: Jennie Cain, secretary at Landscore Primary School in Devon, was told by her headmaster not to return to work after she asked for prayers for her daughter (who'd been disciplined for talking to a classmate about Jesus) in emails that never reached a school computer.
On the other hand, there are still many headmasters in the mould of the legendary Felix Porter from Glasgow, whose sometimes thunderous solicitousness for his charges pointed many a tearaway towards the right tracks. (One of the many ways in which he lives on is in an award named after him.) Working in social housing, I remember one of his successors striding into the office to inform us that we were now part of the truancy reporting scheme. We didn't argue.
It's no metaphor to call education a war-zone. For example, Radagast, a senior teacher in a Catholic school, writes of "the police visiting schools to 'interrogate' students about their beliefs".
One of the major fronts in the war is home education. I wrote earlier this year about Baroness Morgan's assertion that homeschooling "could be used as a 'cover' for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude."
I find this rather strange. The man known as the "British Fritzl", who made his daughters pregnant 19 times, did not emulate his vile Austrian namesake by imprisoning the girls in a cellar: rather, he moved them around the country so that they would not make attachments who might have raised the alarm, but - crucially - sent them to schools. In a scenario that is becoming depressingly familiar, social services and police were alerted but took no further action - indeed, police told the girls' worried grandmother that "slander is a criminal offence".
Likewise, a harrowing case involving a woman accused of taking obscene pictures of young children is emerging in the south of England. But she's not a homeschooling Mum - she works in a nursery which operates from an adjoining school.
Education Otherwise, the charity for families with children being educated at home, provides a laminated card for children to carry if they are picked up by police on a "sweep" for truants. I find it quite surprising that a need for them to print the information that home education is legal in the UK, given that the 2007 guidance from the Department of Schools, Children and Families on these sweeps mentions homeschooling several times. The online version links to a 2006 document from the Department of Education and Skills called What to do if you're worried a child is being abused, which lays down powers already possessed by the relevant authorities to take allegedly abused children to places of safety.
As above in the House of Commons with MPs' expenses, so below with the safety of ordinary folks' children: what is needed is not new laws, powers and regulatory bodies, but for existing ones to be used effectively and with ideological blinkers removed.
Questions remain, however, about what to do when the child abuse is state-sponsored - for example in an assembly in Bromstone Primary School in Kent, when a video of two men canoodling on a bed was shown to children as young as four as part of a drive against homophobia, leaving girls afraid to be friends with each other. Or when the state abets the abuse by rendering certain groups with "alternative" lifestyles effectively untouchable, which led to the debacle surrounding the stepfather of Baby P.
And the young lady I chaperoned to the meeting at her school? I needn't have worried. Her teachers took a blue pencil to her timetable so that she's now concentrating on three subjects, including English and Maths. They did this in the face of Government targets steamrollering teachers into fixing five good GCSE's for pupils. Had she been homeschooled, of course, this would have already been done - one good thing coming out of this farce is that more people are learning about home education than would have even considered it not so long ago.
But to my young friend's teachers, as to Radagast and all those who labour endlessly to try to get a good education for their charges in the face of government oppression, I owe something I don't think those teachers hear often enough:
Related post: Home schooling - next in the crosshairs