Posted on March 7th, 2011 No comments
Last week I mentioned that I would return to the phrase ‘carpe diem; and spend a little more time reflecting upon it. The phrase is actually part of a longer phrase – ‘Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero’, which actually means ‘Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future.’ Now Horace was an Epicurean, a follower of a Greek chap called Epicurus who believed that everything that exists is made up of atoms and that gods, if they exist at all take no part in the lives of people. For Horace, therefore, present pleasure was all that existed because the future was uncertain and could be a cause of fear; the Epicureans were big on trying to enter a state of mind which removed all fear. It was these same Epicureans that Paul bumped into in Athens. (Acts 17:16-34) When speaking in Athens, Paul went straight to the heart of the difference between Christianity and Epicureanism when he said, God ‘… is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’
Our modern age is not very different from that of 2,000 years ago. Whilst there are very few ‘signed-up card-carrying’ Epicureans around today, many people live their lives embracing Epicurean beliefs about life – there is only the here and now, and if God is there at all, he is unknowable and disinterested.
The biggest question that we each have to face is how we respond to Paul’s statement – God ‘… is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Do we embrace the teachings of Epicurus and say that atoms are all that exists – ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ or do we accept what Paul told the Athenians and then attempt to understand what this means for us in our lives. It is possible, after all, to ‘seize the day’ and waste a life.
Posted on June 15th, 2010 No comments
The Coalition Government’s new Department for Education has announced a series of radical changes which are likely to have a major impact on education in England and Wales. Not only does the Department have a new name but it has spent little time in announcing a raft of new proposals which are likely to provide schools with greater freedom – the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency is to be closed, a growing number of schools are to be offered the opportunity to become academies, the General Teaching Council is to be scrapped and today the Department announced that state schools were to be permitted to offer their students IGCSEs. Steve Richards, NSUK’s Educational Director stated, “We are delighted that state school pupils are to be offer the same opportunities as our students have enjoyed for many years in being able to study a rigorous qualification that has widespread international appeal. in an increasingly globalised society, this must surely be a good thing.”
In a further positive move today the government announced that the controversial Vetting and Barring Scheme – due to be introduced in July - has been put on hold. Instead Teresa May, the Home Secretary has said that there will be a review of the entire vetting and barring scheme, with a scaling back to “common-sense levels”. Many within the home education community will applaud this decision, along with the new government’s plans to scrap the ContactPoint children’s database.
Posted on March 15th, 2010 1 comment
Now that the court case involving Angela Gordon and her partner, Junaid Abuhamza, has come to an end with both receiving significant jail sentences, it seems appropriate that we at NorthStarUK make seem comment on the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq’s death. Ed Balls and Graham Badman have both used Khyra Ishaq’s death as an excuse to attack the freedom of home educating families in England; both pointing to the fact that Khyra Ishaq had been home educated for the final few months of her short life. According to Balls and Badman, this is justification enough to warrant wholesale changes to the legislative framework involving elective home education and the establishment of the right of local authority staff to interview any home educated child alone and without the parents being present. Indeed, Graham Badman, in an attempt to link this tragedy with home education in general went so far as to say “There are a tiny minority of people who use the home education system as a mask for sometimes horrific abuse of their children.” For Balls and Badman, Khyra Ishaq was let down by an inadequate legal system that did not give local authority staff sufficient powers to step in and protect this poor child when she was in harm’s way.
The reality. however, was quite different. Concerns for Khyra’s safety were expressed within weeks of her removal from school, in fact the deputy head of her former school tried to visit the family and raise concerns . She expressed concerns to social services who refused to accept that there was any need for urgent action. In the ensuing months, the police, social services and educational staff all visited the home and Tony Brownbill, Birmingham City Council’s spokesman said that it had done all that it could, going on “Something happened in the house that no-one could get to because there wasn’t sufficient legislation to get in.” On 17th May 2008, Khyra Ishaq died.
In our opinion, the current legislative position is robust and clear – local authority staff are not obliged to agree to a parent’s request to home educate until they are satisfied with the provision being made by the child’s parents. Whilst the law provides considerable flexibility about how this is to be achieved, it is nevertheless clear where the power lies – it is with the local authority. The 1997 Education Act states “If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.” Ultimately, the local authority can compel parents to send children to school if they are seriously concerned with the educational provision being made by parents.
There is no need for the laws regarding home education to be altered and there is certainly no need to provide local authorities with greater powers. After all, Khyra Ishaq was known to the local authority and it was Birmingham City Council staff who took the decision that she was not in any danger. Not only is there no evidence that greater powers are need, but there is precious little indication that these greater powers, if granted, would be applied with any greater wisdom the next time.
Posted on March 14th, 2010 No comments
There cannot be many people in the UK who have not heard of Jeremy Clarkson, the lead presenter in the popular BBC programme, Top Gear. Clarkson has acquired something of a reputation for having strong opinions, especially relating to the impact of what he sees as overly intrusive government in ordinary people’s lives. In addition to his TV appearances he also writes a column in The Times. He often writes with a very direct and some would say offensive style. However, often, his manner of writing hides some very perceptive comments.
In this week’s article, he writes about the UK government’s latest proposal to make it compulsory that all dog owners must have third party insurance so that they (the owners that is and not the dogs!) are able to pay damages when their little pouch attacks somebody. As a long time dog owner I think that the plan is barmy but of course what the government is trying to do is respond to dog attacks and the growing use of large and vicious dogs as status symbols and protection by young men in disadvantaged areas of our cities.
Clarkson also mentions home education in his article, pointing out that it is madness to try to legislate on the back of extreme cases of wickedness such as the death of Khyra Ishaq, whose mother removed her from school claiming she was home educating her. The government’s response to this was the Badman Report and proposed new legislation making it possible for local authority staff to interview children without their parents being present – because abused children are unlikely to say anything whilst the abuser is present!
Clarkson closes his article in a typically direct and crude manner but what he says is that this world is not perfect – bad things happen to very decent ordinary people; and it is nonsense to generate legislation that affects and controls ordinary people’s lives in order to try to stop all of the bad things happening.
What Clarkson is saying, of course, is very much in keeping with the worldview presented in the Bible – we live in an imperfect and fallen world where things are not as they should be, that all human beings behave stupidly and wrongly at times and sometimes that can seriously hurt others. Christians, however, would argue that the answer cannot be found in the hands of government, legislation will never change human nature. Only the gospel can affect people deep within their beings and give us all what Jesus called ‘new birth’. This is God’s ‘good news’ for a world where bad things happen.
Posted on March 9th, 2010 No comments
Fundamental to any education system is a system of beliefs – each country’s education system says much about what, as a collective, that country believes to be important in life. Increasingly over the last twenty years, the English ( and Welsh) education system has been characterised by a commitment to national economic development and state control. In this regard, Tony’s Blair’s New Labour and Margaret Thatcher’s New Conservatism had much in common – it was the Conservatives, after all who introduced the national ( or perhaps it is more accurate to called it a ‘nationalised’) curriculum back in 1988. Before the 1997 General Election Tony Blair described education as his government’s best economic policy; which was his justification for spending billions on educational improvements, which appear to have achieved little by way of improving educational standards or indeed society as a whole. Government control over education is tighter now that it has ever been and our children are increasingly being seen as belonging to the state. This is essentially why the Badman fiasco of the last year has occurred, elective home education is the last area of education in this country that the government does not control – no nationalised curriculum, no control over how much learning should occur, no control over the standards of parents, and no control over whether the state allows particular parents to educate their children (although in reality the legislation is already in place to ensure that parents do educate their children in an appropriate manner). In this context, it is little wonder that Graham Badman and the DCSF do not want to look at research that demonstrates the home education works, and by and large, works better than their schools! They are simply determined to bring home educators under the control of the state machinery that manages the rest of the children in this country!
For those of us who are Christians, we need to recognise that we are engaged in a conflict that, in an increasingly secularised society, can only get more challenging. Education is about raising the next generation – the difference between what Christians and the secularised state regard as success in this respect is a gaping chasm, which can only become wider in the coming years. At some point, Christians in Britain need to ask the question – ‘Can a secularised education system raise the next generation of our children – equipped and prepared to live for the Kingdom?’
Posted on January 23rd, 2010 No comments
At church yesterday the speaker asked us all – ‘what puts fire in your belly?’ ‘What, in your life, excites you when you think about it?’ He was particularly asking us to reflect on the work that we do for the Lord, and especially inviting us to focus on those areas that we are especially called to minister in, over and above everything else. As I sat there I thought about NorthStarUK and also about gifts – not the sort that we receive at Christmas, but rather those that our Creator gave us at birth. For many years I worked as a special needs teacher. Many of the students I worked with were amongst the weakest in the school, in terms of their academic prowess. But each and everyone one of them had gifts; they all had abilities given to them by their Creator. Often these were talents that school did not notice or value; nevertheless, they were still gifted individuals – indeed, much of my most important work, I felt, was to try to convince them that they had abilities, because many years of schooling had often caused them to lose confidence and led them to devalue themselves. It also struck me that schools do not have a very good track record of working with exceptionally talented individuals, either, unless these talents coincided with what schools were looking for. I thought of Mozart – a child prodigy; how would he have got on in one of our local schools – now it has to be admitted, he would almost certainly have known more about science or geography, but would he have had time to compose – he was writing music from the age of five! Schools inevitably aim at producing generalists; our Creator, however is more concerned to produce unique, talented individuals who have a role within their community. As parents, teachers and educators let’s spend some time this week reflecting on the gifts that each of our children has been given and help them to have a fire in their belly as they develop those gifts and talents in the coming years.
Posted on November 20th, 2009 No comments
Just how much time does Ed Balls have in a week? In a week of headlines that clearly show the desperate state of the nations schools – including news of increased assaults on teachers, news that white boys from poor families continue to be let down by the schooling system, GCSE science grades are inflated, as many as one in eight primary school children had been given the wrong SATS results and almost 50% of 14 year olds admitted to having been bullied – Ed Balls has still found the time to pick on home educating families.
With less than six months left in the job, Ed Balls seems determined to leave his mark. Having publicly accepted every one of Graham badman’s recommendations immediately the Badman Report was published, he has now pushed ahead and drafted legislation in the Children, Schools and Families Bill that will see virtually all of Badman’s recommendations pass into law. Despite ample research that demonstrates that children taught outside schools are more likely to be successful – both educationally and socially – Ed Balls thinks he knows best. He plan to make every home educating family register with their local authority. Each year, parents will have to provide local authority staff with a clear programme of what they plan to teach their children. Each year, local authority staff with little or no experience of home educating will then be permitted to decide whether or not the family may continue to educate without schools! Even OFSTED does not inspect school that often!
In one simple legislative act, Ed Balls has transformed the educational landscape – responsibility for educating children has now been transferred from parents to the state. How ironic that that slippery slope which began with Margaret Thatcher’s National Curriculum in 1988 should finally bring us to the point where our children are not our own – they now belong to the state to be taught what the state wishes and in a place that the state designates!
Perhaps, after all, Ed Balls can afford to ignore the mundane and pressing problems of the school system – because he has his eyes on the bigger picture. Home education demonstrates that parents and children do not need schools, they do not need trained teachers and they do not need the state. Perhaps this is just too radical and too scary for poor Ed Balls to countenance.
Posted on November 9th, 2009 No comments
Broadly speaking, when it comes to education I take the view that more choice is always better than less choice. This was why, in 1988, I was opposed to the introduction of the National Curriculum in England and Wales. I argued that it would introduce an era of increased government meddling wand this would result in increased secularisation in our schools, far less choice for parents and students and no real improvement in education. I am not one to say ‘I told you so’ but I cannot help but feel that events over the last twenty years have confirmed my concerns; indeed, recent reports have suggested that maths and reading standards are no better than they were in the 1950s. The Cambridge Prmary Review, even went so far as to describe our current system as having ‘Stalinist overtones‘ in its obsession with central government control over all things educational!
This brings me to an interesting article that I read last week relating to Swedish ‘free schools’. Since the 1990s, parents, charities and even businesses in Sweden have been permitted to set up non-fee-paying schools, funded by the government; parents are provided with a ‘virtual voucher’ currently worth around £7,000 which they can spend at any ordinary state school or independent ‘free school’ that they prefer. In 1992, the Swedes dismantled a monolithic state-run education system (which already had very good standards, one might add) to create a radical system where student and parental choice was made a priority. What is now particularly interesting is that the Conservatives have expressed an interest in introducing similar reforms in the UK, if they win the forthcoming general election in 2010. I am not an especially political animal and I have to confess that I have never voted Conservative in my life! However, one cannot help but feel that educational choice and the freedom that would inevitably follow, would serve families far better than the pseudo-pontifical pronouncements of any Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. And even those of us who home educate, have to see this as a good thing!
Posted on May 18th, 2009 No comments
Today, the UK government’s ContactPoint database goes live. Although initially the database will only be accessible to local authorities in the north west of England, the plan is to roll it out nationwide and permit just under 400,000 individuals to look at a raft of information about every child in the UK. Costing a quarter of a billion pounds to set up, the government has consistently argued that it will enable services for children to be coordinated and ensure that no child slips through the net.
ContactPoint will hold a raft of information about children in England, including their name, address, date of birth, health information including GP details and information about other professionals involved in providing care for a child. Of particular significance to home educating families the database will hold details about the child’s formal education provision.
Auditors, Deloitte and Touche published a report in 2007, however stating that the database could never be totally secure. The government appears to acknowledge this since it has decided to shield the identities of over 50,000 who are regarded as particularly vulnerable.
Whilst some children’s charities have welcomes the new database, opposition political parties have been critical – the Liberal Democrats have called it “intrusive” and the Conservatives have raised concerns about security matters.
The Christian home education group, Home Service, has consistently opposed the implementation of ContactPoint, arguing that it will not achieve its objective of improving the connected-ness of children’s services nor will it improve the situation greatly for the thousands of children in England suffering abuse who are already known to the local authorities. In addition, Home Service has argued that the introduction of ContactPoint will rob home educators of their right to privacy. The currently legal position in England and wales is that most families are not required to notify the local authority of their decision to home educate their children. ContactPoint will destroy this right because the database will each child’s school. This will enable local authorities and others to monitor home educating families in a way that was impossible previously and in a ay that current legislation does not require.
ContactPoint grew out of the desire to improve child safety in the aftermath of the death of Victoria Climbie. Will children in the north west be any safer today as a result of ContactPoint? The tragic case of Baby P – where health care professionals and social workers were acutely aware of the child’s suffering but appeared to do nothing of substance to prevent it happening - seems to suggest that the answer to this question is quite simply ‘No”!
Posted on February 11th, 2009 No comments
After months of dithering we have finally taken the plunge and launched our own blog! The dithering was not as a result of indecision, in itself; more the thought that a blog is rather like the proverbial dog – ‘for life and not just for Christmas’! Maybe a blog is not quite as demanding as Fido but nevertheless it is something that requires a fair amount of loving care and attention!
As we have said elsewhere, the NSUK blog is really a place where senior staff and other invited friends can meet, in an online sense, and share thoughts about what it means to be an online Christian educator.
Whether the blog takes off or remains largely a navel-viewing exercise remains to be seen. Time will tell. However, we are delighted that you have got this far, that you are still with us and, perhaps you want to find out more.