On the 30th August The Sunday Times published a letter urging the UK Government to review the country’s education system, acknowledging the valuable role that home education has played during lockdown and supporting parents who choose to continue homeschooling their children.
The letter was organised and co-signed by two Hawthorn Press authors, Anna Dusseau, author of The Case for Homeschooling and Dr Richard House, author of Too Much, Too Soon? Other distinguished signatories include Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, University of Cambridge and Steve Biddulph AM, author of Raising Boys in the 21st Century and The Secret of Happy Children.
The full list of signatories
Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, University of Cambridge
Steve Biddulph AM, author Raising Boys in the 21st Century, and The Secret of Happy Children
Alison C. Sauer, F. Inst Pa. Trustee, Centre for Personalised Education; co-author of Flexischooling: A Guidebook for England and Wales
Peter Gray, research professor of psychology, author of Free to Learn
Dr Fe Mukwamba-Sendall, Social worker, Chair of Education Otherwise
Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor, University of Kent, author of Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating and Why Borders Matter
Professor Marilyn Leask, former dean of education, co-author of Marginalised Learners and Education System Design
Dr Richard House, chartered psychologist, author of Pushing Back to Ofsted
Anna Dusseau, former teacher, author of The Case for Home Schooling
Dr Ian Cunningham, Self Managed Learning College
Guy Claxton, Honorary Professor of Education, Bristol University
Fiona Carnie, author of Alternative Approaches to Education
Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting and Finance, University of Sheffield
Brian Thorne, Emeritus Professor of Counselling, University of East Anglia
Tricia David, Emeritus Professor, Canterbury Christ Church University
Andrew Samuels, former Professor of Analytical Psychology, University of Essex
Dr Jon Berry, University of Hertfordshire
Dr Marilyn Fryer, chartered psychologist and Chief Executive of the Creativity Centre Educational Trust
Dr Alison Green, Executive Director of Scientists Warning and former Pro Vice-Chancellor
Dr David Whitebread, Retired Senior Member, Homerton College, University of Cambridge, author of Developmental Psychology and Early Childhood Education
Alison Taysum, Approved EU Expert, Approved Europ. Sci. Foundation Expert, External Examiner Ulster University
David Curtis, former local schools inspector/ adviser
Carol Dyer, Trustee Education Otherwise
Wendy Charles-Warner, Independent researcher and Trustee of Education Otherwise
Kate Woodley-Smith, Artist and trustee of Education otherwise
Martin Large, author of Set Free Childhood and Common Wealth:For a Free, Equal, Mutual, and Sustainable Society
Dr F.H. Mikdadi, Independent researcher, novelist and poet
Dr Sharie Coombes, mental health author, psychotherapist and former primary headteacher
Nigel Gann, Education consultant, author of Improving School Governance, Teaching Award 2007
Joanna Merrett, EYP, Centre for Social Mobility, University of Exeter
So the prime minister ordered a PR campaign to ensure that schools reopen on time in September (Sunday Times, 9 August 2020) and boy, have we felt it. The fact that government pressure has now swung in the direction of our “moral duty”, accompanied by wildly emotive terms like “personal and social harm”, is no surprise. It can’t be easy maintaining a line of attack based on the importance of academic progress, when the very goal towards which you are desperately herding your metaphorical sheep turns out to be a cliff edge. Do I need to actually say “A Level results scandal” out loud here? Surely not. What the government ultimately wants, though, are bums on seats come the start of September, and not a mass homeschool exodus or – worse – for education to become a spectator sport over the coming months. Children, the theory goes, are better off in schools, and risking exposure to a deadly virus is as nothing compared to the lasting damage of missing valuable instruction from “those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.” (Rowling, 1999) Are you convinced? I’m not.
As a basic counter-argument, the overwhelming benefits of home education are readily available. Few studies have been conducted on homeschooling in the UK because, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, little interest was taken. In 2002 however, extensive research by Paula Rothermel revealed a jaw-dropping 64% of home educated Reception aged children scored over 75% on their PIPS Baseline Assessment, compared to just 5.1% of children nationally. Yet this astonishing statistic does corroborate with National Literacy Project assessment results, which found 80.4% of home educated children scored within the top 16% band on the normal distribution curve. Academically therefore, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of home education, to say nothing of the benefits to global wellbeing including less anxiety, more sleep, steadier family and friendship bonds, and higher personal motivation. Home education is a holistic choice increasingly taken by families with the kind of humanistic internal compass essential for healing the modern world. For example, Jada Pinkett-Smith homeschools her children; Victoria Beckham does not. So, to Professor Chris Whitty’s comment that missing lessons “damages children in the long run” (BBC News, 2020) I would simply say, where are your facts?
Of course, ‘missing school’ and ‘home education’ are two separate things but actually, in the case of the government’s aggressive ‘back to school’ campaign, the distinction isn’t so clear. Whilst state schools have only existed for around 150 years, the shifting face of convenient adult discourse regarding what is ‘best’ for children stretches back and back. In the 15th century, clergyman John Mirk popularised the concept that “children should be seen and not heard”, whilst the industrial demands of the 1800s preferred “the devil makes work for idle hands” – a biblical justification for child labour. Now, the focus is school and the buzzwords we hear – “accountability”, “achievement”, “potential” – boil down to the same thing; an adult-centric argument of economic convenience.
Because, when school is wrongly advertised as the only place to receive an education, it no longer becomes a place where learning happens, but a tool of social engineering which has the monopoly on where learning happens and what is taught (Illich, 1995). The popular leftist attitude that British schools are becoming “drill and kill” (Guardian, 18 August 2020) obedience factories for the working class misses the point entirely. School has always been a socially divisive propaganda machine, and ‘the people’ have always been too busy making ends meet to challenge this.
Coming back to September, and the question mark that hangs over the ‘back to school’ message that currently bulldozes our newsfeeds, we find an alternative viewpoint in a recent tweet from Dr Nisreen Alwan. “Schools are workplaces where loads of households mix,” she writes. “Pandemic messaging about schools that only talks about ‘risk to children’ is dumbing this obvious fact down. Children’s best interest is in having healthy adults to look after them. Acknowledging this is essential to trust.” And trust is the point. Schools are a necessary part of our socio-economic reality, but the government has hugely overstepped this. Attempting to frog-march the nation back to school and deliberately cultivating the false impression that educational alternatives such as home education are “all very well for middle class liberals, but not for you” presents a clear message; the public can’t be trusted to think for themselves. I put it to you that the current cabinet, in representing the ‘best’ that private school elitism has to offer, reflect also the values at pinnacle of that belief system: stark social inequality, narrow-minded reactivity, and intentionally divisive fear-mongering masquerading as public welfare. I hope our prime minister will discover, like the fictional Umbridge, that people aren’t universally passive, and that all those “happy little faces” (Rowling, 1999) looking up at him on his frequent school photo opportunity visits can, in fact, think for themselves.
Baking bread with children can be a wonderful at-home learning experience. As we all come to the end of our first week at home, we are sharing a simple bread baking recipe from Baking Bread with Children by Warren Lee Cohen, for you to print out and enjoy together.
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