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May 23, 2022

Why I Oppose the New English Education Bill.


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Some families educate their children from home for many reasons, and most of those families do so because it is genuinely what is best for their children. Only a small minority will be safeguarding risk and doing it for damaging reasons.

Martine Cotter makes a good point about this in her blog, explaining that it’s not home educators who abuse, it’s abusers.

The simple fact that a parent chooses to spend so much time with their child and puts their own energy and money into teaching their children signifies a wish to do what is best (there are, of course, times when this is not true but these are the deviant cases rather than the norm).

So, why then introduce a bill that punishes or assumes guilt rather than systems that support home education? This is what the British government is currently trying to do.

When we assume guilt rather than support, we instigate a stress response, distrust, and potential trauma.

Trauma is anything that disrupts our sense of feeling safe, especially if that takes away our agency or sense of control. This bill does just that, and I would argue that it runs the risk of increasing trauma in our children. This would increase trauma within the school population where it is already present in larger amounts than we would like to admit.

Many children and parents have already been traumatised by school, and I hear firsthand how this bill is triggering that trauma again, negatively impacting families who were healing and recovering from the trauma they experienced at the hands of the very system they fear being pushed back into.

A recent estimate says two-thirds of children experience trauma at school before the age of 16. That’s a lot!

Aggregate industries have put together some shocking statistics on bullying in schools. A quarter of pupils say they are being bullied a few times a month, 14 percent say they are bullied frequently, and almost half of young people in school have been bullied at some point. More than 16,000 of the children absent from school are pulled out due to bullying, and 55 percent of those bullied will go on to develop depression.

Home Education Action Group on Facebook recently posted that if we turned school refusal on its head, it would be pretty worrying. Let’s say a child starts to get distressed as home time approaches, they refuse to go out to meet their parent, shaking, sobbing, begging you to let them stay at school, but as soon as the parent appears, they go quite, behave well, and the parent states everything is fine. Someone would be calling social services out of concern over the child, but when it happens because a child does not want to go to school, we also blame the parent.

I’ve heard this from so many children right now, who are scared and upset that they may be forced back into school, a place were they have experienced abuse and trauma before.

When trauma has happened in school, a child needs an education that is trauma-informed, and whilst some schools will use this term, not many can truly live up to it.

A trauma-informed education needs to be these six things:

>> Relational: The relationship must be familiar and safe.

>> Relevant: The communication must be age-appropriate and relevant for the situation.

>> Repetitive: The connection must be patterned, so expectations are clear and both sides of the connection are confident in the other party.

>> Rewarding: It must be fun and pleasurable, not sterile and “forced.”

>> Rhythmic: There must be a resonance, with neural patterns (walking, dancing, singing, breathing).

>> Respectful: It’s essential that respect is paid to the child, their family, heritage, core beliefs, and culture.

>> Reciprocal (bonus one): A hugely important part of everyday life is reciprocity. It’s a two-way process.

More on trauma recovery can be found here.

Home education is ideally suited to this way of learning. Children are in a familiar and safe environment with the adults they relate best to, taking learning at their own pace and in their own way. I worry that under current guidance, home education officers will not be trained to understand any of this—as many just post required A-levels or NVQs.

If you’re not trained to understand what trauma looks like, where it may have come from, and how to provide a trauma-informed education, how can you judge if this education is right for a certain child? Will they instead by trying to insist children should be at the stage schools says they should be and following that same style of education?

Being trauma informed also means hearing the voices of those who have been impacted.

Nowhere in this bill do I see a willingness to hear our children’s voices or to work with families to improve provision if it is deemed lacking. Why do we continue to fly in the face of the research and evidence about how children learn best and, instead, push them to have no option but to be tested and measured? We disregard their own uniqueness.

Only recently, English lessons hit the headlines, with phonics being slated as failing our children, but this argument has been going on for years. Instead of a full review and a change in tactics, the government pushed ahead, introducing more tests and pressures, which also when researched show no real benefit to learning. Time and time again, research shows failings in our schools. I have purposely linked mainstream media posts, but behind each of them is lots of academic research going back years, showing the benefits of play and freedom in our learning.

Despite this, schools continue a trajectory away from the best practice in education and toward more and more trauma. A School Attendance Order will be issued to stay in place for the rest of that child’s education. I have two issues with this. Firstly, if this was really about the best interest of the child, why at this point would we not have open, honest discussions with the family and the child to find out about what is going on ? (Trauma, grief, and stress can all play a part in how we educate and whether a child can even engage.) Why not work with that family with realistic timescales to improve the education provision?

Secondly, if one education is deemed as failing, why then force them into another one? And who decided that it’s failing? Our government has shown an appalling lack of listening to the research on many subjects recently, not least education. So how can we trust their judgement about whether a parent’s education is sufficient and right for that child? A child they know next to nothing about and have not even consulted on that matter?

If I was at work and was told that my work was lacking in a certain area, I would expect to be told clearly how it’s lacking, how I can improve it, and be given support to do that—support that takes into account any emotional or physical issues I may be having—not given 10 days and sacked! Child minders, who are inspected by Ofsted, are given six months to improve if they are felt to be lacking, and only inspected once every six years. Yet, a home educating parent will be given just 10 days.

That alone can induce trauma in a child, the one we are meant to be protecting here. Imagine you are bobbing along nicely, happy and secure, learning at your own pace, no pressures to be tested or to conform to an arbitrary judgement of what is expected at this age, and then, suddenly, in just over a week’s time, you are told you have to attend a school. One you have never been to before, where you know nobody, and are likely to experience bullying for your difference—especially if your learning has taken a different trajectory. Home education is typically individualised and interest-led, which means that when children decide to learn things, they learn very efficiently. This is why you can’t compare progress with school. They may play for years and then do eight years of math in six months.

The lack of control or choice (combined with the fear and distress the parent may be feeling) is a prime example of someone having their sense of safety cruelly and suddenly taken away, and instead replaced with a sense of helplessness in the face of things being done to them, not with them. These are things we know contribute to PTSD. Never mind all those children who have already experienced trauma whilst in school and who will now have that retriggered. Many schools have no training in trauma and respond poorly to children expressing emotions in class, as there is no time and not enough resources to deal with that, so many children will now be struggling in an already under-resourced and badly lacking education system.

I urge the government to listen to the voice of home educating families. And instead of blindly making policies, to have those policies informed by research. To ditch this rushed, ill-thought-out bill, and instead talk to the real experts: those home educating, those working with them, and collaborate on something everyone can get behind. Something that instead puts children’s well-being and their voices front and centre, and provides a real, rich, and varied alternative to our school system. To support families not alienate and traumatise them.

We know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) cost a huge amount in the long run, so why contribute to that by making education another form of ACE? Let’s work with families and children to allow them to deliver an education that is right for their child.

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