Local Authority monitoring and why we hate it
Here's how it usually works:
The family of a child who has never been to school, or who was deregistered from school some months or years previously, receives a letter from the Local Authority's EHE liaison person stating that they will be visiting the house to see the family and to review the child's learning at a certain date and time. Such letters are ultra vires, but many parents don't know this, and the phrasing is sufficiently authoritative to convince them that they have no choice. Or perhaps the parents do know that they have a choice, but daren't exercise it for fear of repercussions. So they set about preparing for the visit.
Until this time, the child will have usually been learning quite happily, following her curiosity with the guidance and assistance of her parents, as EHE allows. Not having been restricted by the National Curriculum, lesson plans, or other school requirements, s/he will have been free to explore the world of knowledge, communication and information on her own terms and at her perfect pace. S/he might not be reading or writing yet, but might know a vast amount about dinosaurs, birds or bees, or the science of water, or the engineered structure of buildings, or all or none of the above, or something completely different.
Because this is how natural learning works - it's very focused and individual. It's how such people as Einstein and Newton spent their childhoods - not that we all want to raise mini-Einsteins or Newtons. It's just for the love of our children that we allow them to learn freely and not to be tied down to "You must do half an hour of maths now." Many of us have learned, through trial and error, that when you try to force a child to sit down and "do half an hour of maths now", you engender a hatred of the subject, whereas when you're spontaneously counting flower petals (or spider's legs) in the garden, it's an entirely different matter. And the two activities - the forced maths and the spontaneous counting - are often mutually incompatible.
Our children are the exception to the rule that says "every child must be reading by the age of seven". Lots of our children can read by that age, but many don't choose to learn until the age of nine, ten or eleven and these are often the ones who attend college at sixteen and end up with the best grade in their class. (This happened to a friend of ours: she went from systematically deciphering Mr Men books to Further Education distinction in a little over four years.) Of course, they're not learning nothing before they can read, as they would be at school, because they're with their parents who can read things for them, explain things, answer questions and take part in endless one-to-one discussions about all kinds of things. That kind of education isn't wrong, it's just different - and in many ways superior to the variety that schools are forced to provide.
So the parents receive this letter and straight away they know that their child's learning is about to be judged by someone who probably knows nothing about education other than at school. This person might (or might not) have read something about autonomous learning but even so, the sight of a child not reading, writing, or doing maths and without a pile of 'work' to show, will probably look to them like a child who is not in receipt of a suitable education. The child will have been learning intently all of his life, but how do the parents prove it?
Or there might be some work to show, but the parents will still worry that the work might not reach the school standard for that age group, or it might exceed it. The point is that they're suddenly being judged and the risk of being incorrectly found wanting is very high. It's a sickening feeling, especially when the child was happy and learning well prior to the letter's arrival.
To prepare for the visit they might hastily try to persuade the child to produce some 'work' and in so doing, the child's curiosity and natural love of learning - such a fragile thing - can be lost. When the visitor announces their return in three, six or twelve months, this invariably feels like a threat that if something specific is not produced or achieved before the next visit, the provision will be 'failed' - even if those words are not explicit. In this way, the control of the child's learning passes from the child himself to the Local Authority liaison person and the parents have inadvertently failed in their inherent duty to protect the child's intrinsic motivation, because that is what is at stake.
I've now read several excellent responses to the review questions, many of which contain far more powerful and eloquent explanations than I'm managing to blog here. My concern is that Mr Badman won't get to see the best of them (he can't possibly read them all) and therefore won't have chance to develop a good enough understanding of the issues before he compiles his report. But perhaps the best illustration of our position was conveyed by one home educating parent yesterday in only four words:
You shall not pass.