Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NSPCC series

I'm putting all three parts of my NSPCC series:

NSPCC part 1: anti HE?;
NSPCC part 2: anti family?; and
NSPCC Part 3: anti child?

- here in one post, for linking purposes.


NSPCC part 1: anti HE?

When I was a child, the NSPCC had such a positive image. It was the guardian angel of abused children, propounder of such a laudible aim as saving them from injury and distress. There was no reason to question the existence or activities of such a body: it was accepted that they were the good guys. But in preparation for this three-part series of posts, Tech (my co-author on this project) and I have been doing a lot of reading about the NSPCC and have discovered completely changed situation. So, what went wrong? In the next three posts, we'll try to find out: starting here and now, with a close look at its recent involvement with home educators; we'll then pan out tomorrow to consider the wider picture; and culminate in the third post with an evaluation of its effects on children.

The first we knew of the NSPCC's opinions of Home Education appeared in the initial DCSF press release about the Home Education review on January 19th this year, in which:

Head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, Diana Sutton, said:

“We welcome the Government’s decision to review the guidance on home education. We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children’s Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents’ rights to home educate their children, the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We welcome the fact that this review will look at where local authorities have concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child and what systems are in place to deal with those concerns.”

This was followed the very next day by the appearance on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show of Vijay Patel, the NSPCC’s Child Protection Policy Advisor who admitted, when asked about statistical evidence of child abuse in elective home education, that: "We.. the inf.. We don’t have the evidence there statistically, no."

Home educators were stunned by the slur, especially given that there was no logical reason to associate elective home education with child abuse. We started to wonder about the motives behind it, which I think was the first time many of us had ever had cause to question the NSPCC's motives about anything.

Despite the outcry, Mr Patel then compounded the insult in an interview with the Independent by implying that Victoria Climbie had been home educated: "Some people use home education to hide. Look at the Victoria Climbié case. No one asked where she was at school. We have no view about home education, but we do know that to find out about abuse someone has to know about the child."

The home education movement's response now quickly moved from shock to anger. The pressure group AHEd wrote to the NSPCC, objecting "in the strongest terms possible to these comments. It is our view," the letter continued, "That the comments demonstrate a clear prejudice against home educators and a deliberate attempt to implicate home education with false evidence and scandal in order to prejudice the outcome of the government Review into Home Education."

Some bloggers, like Mum6kids, called for Mr Patel to be sacked. Others, like Pete Darby, wrote powerful letters to the Independent in complaint: "Vijay Patel is robbing the grave of a child that the NSPCC failed to save. He is doing this in order to make a grab for power for his organisation in an attack on a minority group, a group for which there is no evidence of a problem concerning child abuse or neglect."

The political party UKIP even joined in with the call for Mr Patel to be sacked, and other blogs such as Children Are People asked for a full retraction of the comments, at least. Working Dad at Panoptican said: "The NSPCC's message has to be 'children are at risk'. To put it at its baldest, the NSPCC needs cruelty to children to be seen to occur because, without that, it has no raison d'etre," and Firebird said that the NSPCC "Should be ashamed of themselves." *Headdesk* found it "..fairly disgusting that the leadership of a charity that should be beyond reproach should be so ill-informed and in the position of being able to cause so much damage to home educating children and their families."

Jem Dowse, at Doing it our way wrote to his MP, including the sentiment: "For Mr. Patel to use this tragic case to further his agenda against the legal rights of parents to educate their children at home is abusive and extraordinarily disrespectful to the memory of that murdered child. This is emphatically not something that I would expect from a senior person in an organisation that exists to promote child welfare." Lotusbirther questioned the charity's independent status and Maire in Staffordshire commented that, "In order to extend its remit, possibly to get more money from the government or at least keep what it has, [the NSPCC's] policy adviser Mr Vijay Patel is shamelessly spreading false rumour in support of the government’s spurious review into the possibility of home education being a hot bed of child abuse." Even the Victoria Climbié Foundation became involved, as reported by Carlotta at Dare to Know, saying: "The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK is genuinely concerned about the link being made between Victoria Climbié and home education, and Victoria as a hidden child. Victoria was neither home-educated nor hidden.".

But it was on Facebook that the reaction was perhaps most vehemently expressed. A viral campaign developed on the NSPCC's page there, with many home educators' messages now having been mysteriously removed. Eventually, the charity was forced to respond as follows:

The NSPCC would like to clarify its position regarding home education. The statement issued by the NSPCC when the review of home education was announced made iit clear that the NSPCC wishes the review to balance parents’ rights to home educate their children with the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We sincerely regret any misunderstanding caused by the quote attributed to Vijay Patel in the Independent. The reference to Victoria Climbie was meant to illustrate the point that she was killed at home out of sight of the authorities. It was not intended to imply that Victoria was educated at home or that home education was in any way connected to what happened to her. We are writing to the Independent to clarify our position on this important point. Thank you.

- but many remained unsatisfied.

One home educating mother, Sarita, managed to secure an interview with Mr Patel, which - like the rest of the links in this post - really needs to be followed and read in full, to get the proper context. It's this interview that I satirised in my cartoon at the top of my post. Apologies to Sarita - I'm no Da Vinci and I probably didn't do the back of your head justice, but having never seen it, I can perhaps be forgiven. The following excerpts are taken from Sarita's immediate and detailed recollections of the meeting and may not, therefore, be definitive quotes of what was actually said.

During his meeting with Sarita, Vijay Patel stated again that "the NSPCC do not have any specific research or evidence linking home education to child abuse or neglect."

Sarita "asked him why he would - after all the complaints he received in January - do it again last week in the Independent. What was he thinking? He tried to say it was taken out of context but admits to the harm that it caused. I did say that it was unacceptable that a person used to talking to the press and knowing from experience how they work could not take sufficent care in ensuring it didn't happen again. I said he and the NSPCC have to rectify the image of home education that they have created. I asked him if when he met with Baroness Morgan, this was an intended campaign. I asked him how he could say these things without evidence. He couldn't really respond. I told him he needs to apologise publicly and make good the damage he has caused. He said that he couldn't do it publicly. He did say that there would not be any more cases quoted in the press with respect to home education."

- which was, in my opinion, a crucial point that he didn't really answer satisfatorily on that occasion, though I suspect his earlier half-question to her:

"So what about an independent agency that home educators could access..."

- spoke volumes, by way of a possible explanation. Has the NSPCC been promised the contract on elective home education, if they manage to publicly generate some kind of justification for one, on the back of the DCSF review? It certainly looks, from the orchestrated nature of the attacks, as if some collaboration has been going on behind the scenes.

Sarita said: "We then came back to the issue of public perception of home ed, the general feeling of measurement and monitoring needing to be compulsory, but mostly that home ed children could not be deemed safe in a way that school children are. By this stage, I felt he had grasped the major points of our arguments and I asked him again about the perception that he and the NSPCC were fuelling with regard to home education and child protection. I asked why he thought it appropriate that even without evidence he could talk about home education and give the impression that he knew what he was talking about? I asked him whether after listening to what I had to say, he felt that a public apology should be forthcoming. I said that the NSPCC now had an obligation to protect children who were home educated from being branded as being abused. He said he could not commit to me that he will make a public apology and put right what he has done, but he said that given that he understood more about the issues that he would talk to his managers about it."

- and the NSPCC appears to be using its lawyers to talk to the press now, instead of Mr Patel, which leaves us all wondering what his instructions were and to what extent - if any - he breached them in those two interviews. Shockingly, in his meeting with Sarita, he admitted that the NSPCC "had no real knowledge of home education other than information they had gained from LAs and LA responses to previous guidance," and, perhaps even more alarmingly, "He said he wasn't familiar with the ins and outs of ECM!"

Sarita's gut reaction was that Mr Patel was telling the truth in her meeting with him, but if so, it's astounding that the government can be working hand-in-glove with such a careless, ill-informed organisation. To give power to such people over children's lives is surely a highly dangerous strategy.

The spotlight is now on the NSPCC and many of us have been investigating the charity's other activities over the years - as well as its business connections - as a result of the events set out above to see whether home educators have been the only minority to group to be picked on by the organisation in this way. In part 2 of our NSPCC series, we'll look at what we found.


NSPCC part 2: anti family?

I've just caught up with cross-referencing the posts on my blog and it occurred to me that perhaps the NSPCC warranted its own drop-down menu in the sidebar, because I'd surely written two or three posts about them now. When the job got underway, I was amazed to find that I've written nine NSPCC-related posts. Or actually ten, including this one. Now why would a home education blog warrant as many as ten posts about the NSPCC, an organisation that's supposed to prevent cruelty to children? Something's badly wrong there, isn't it? That jars in the logic part of my brain, causing a traffic pile up and setting off all the sirens. It's not right.

So, today's post is about looking at the wider picture. On Friday we ascertained (as if we didn't know before) that the NSPCC has recently been running a vendetta against elective home educators, for reasons best known to itself but possibly suggested at in that little cartoon there. (I did think about doing another one of those today, but my artistic bravado has left me now.) Today I'm going to make some attempt to pull together all the reams of information I've been given about the NSPCC's other questionable antics, the idea being to try to find out whether it's just picking on us out of the blue, or whether this is its normal modus operandi. And if it is the latter - why?

Once I'd got over being bewildered about the NSPCC repeatedly suggesting home educators might be child abusers, the next thing that raised NSPCC-related alarm bells with me was when AHEd was writing its letter to their Chief Executive. Barbara (Chair of AHEd) asked onlist for someone to find out who that was, so I googled 'NSPCC Chief Executive', expecting to find a long list of pages about someone who'd spent his or her life devoted to the issue of child protection. Instead, I found this:

Children's charity gets media savvy

The article states:

Andrew Flanagan, who takes over from Mary Marsh in January, was chief executive of Scotland's biggest media firm, STV (previously SMG), for 10 years until he resigned in 2006. ... He left SMG in the wake of shareholder pressure and subsequently took up the post of chair at Heritage House, a private publishing investment company. He has also worked for PA Consulting, the IT and telecoms company Nynex, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.


A spokesman for the NSPCC says that while Flanagan has no track record in the voluntary sector, his "experience of leading large-scale organisations through growth and change" will be a valuable addition to the organisation.

"No track record in the voluntary sector.."??? Why does a children's charity need a media man for its Chief Executive? What does a media man know about the needs of children? This information in itself, coupled with the bizarre and apparently out-of-the-blue attack on home educators, made me start to think that things are not what they seem to be, with this organisation. And that maybe.. things are not what they should be.

It doesn't feel good to dig deeper. Believe it or not, digging the dirt on people and organisations is not my thing. Taking care of my children, my house and my land is my thing but when something threatens my freedom to do that, action must be taken. The first time I became aware that anything might ever have the power to threaten that, was around the time of the South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal of 1991, when:

social workers and police removed nine children belonging to four families from their homes on the remote Orkney, Scotland island South Ronaldsay in dawn raids, following suspicions of ritualistic Satanic child abuse. The nine children were placed into foster homes and barred from any contact from their parents. During lengthy interviews the nine children denied that any abuse had occurred, and medical examinations did not reveal any evidence of abuse.

In 1991 I was just starting my family, with sons of one and two years old, and the thought that someone had the power to come and forcibly remove them from me on the strength of rumour and hearsay, as had happened to the Orkney parents, was terrifying.

There were similar cases around the same time in Rochdale and Nottingham, and the culmination of the three generated a deep mistrust of social workers and a fundamental feeling of family insecurity in myself other young parents I knew at the time. Those cases didn't just do damage to the victims involved: they damaged society for everyone else in a way that's hard to explain now, nearly twenty years later.

So in researching the NSPCC for this series, I was horrified to discover their part in those terrible witch hunts. From this site:

We kept up detailed correspondence with Dr Alan Gilmour, director of the NSPCC, providing him with statistical information and background data about occultism in the U.K. well before their public support of the satanic abuse myth. Whilst engaged in correspondence with the NSPCC they, without warning, published a critical and sensational press-release supporting the idea of satanic child sexual abuse. The NSPCC did this without ever once asking to see our documented evidence to the contrary. When we sent them a dossier, containing suspicious background on people and groups from whom they had been accepting 'evidence' they ignored the dossier entirely and when we persisted the NSPCC took legal advice and subsequently refused to comment on our evidence. The NSPCC never once telephoned or visited us to review our evidence. They knew that had they done so, they would have had to retract publicly and admit a mistake over a pronouncement which they were already incorporating into a fundraising appeal. Instead they sent a questionnaire to their branches asking their inspectors if they believed that satanic abuse existed. It was this unethical and unprofessional 'research' that prompted the public statements in their annual report in which the NSPCC said that they had 'evidence' of satanic child abuse occurring. Upon sight of this we immediately prepared a condemnatory press-release showing the NSPCC'S inaccuracies. We sent this to the influential people on various NSPCC standing committees, including Princess Margaret, The Queen Mother; Various Bishops and others. We asked SOMEONE to telephone or write to us BUT NOT ONE DID. We then mailed out the same press release to our general mailing file (all MPs; Newspaper Editors and Police & Social Services). We got only ONE reply, a courageous journalist from the London WEEKENDER Magazine who contacted the NSPCC. A spokesperson for the NSPCC backtracked immediately and blamed the sensational publicity on the media response, denying that the NSPCC had said that satanic child abuse existed. When we wrote to the NSPCC and asked them to issue a press release to the effect that their stance on satanic child abuse had been misinterpreted by the media the NSPCC point blank refused. "It is not for the society to comment upon statements published in the popular press". The NSPCC were basically saying that even if their dishonourable handling of the situation had resulted in a jeopardising of religious freedom or victimisation of innocent occultists it was not in their interests to put the matter right under the hysteria which reigned. [My italics]

I don't know if that sounds at all familiar to anyone, but in the first part of this series on Friday, we saw a similar array of half-apologies and half-retractions from the NSPCC regarding its vilification of home educators - but the same fundamental refusal to make any effort to publicly correct the eroneous message it had put out.

The problem is, people assume (like I did) that the NSPCC is a reputable group of child abuse experts and not a mob of professional fundraisers and media men who are actually running it as a very profitable business. A good business creates its own markets, everyone knows that. But if everyone knew that the NSPCC appears to fall into that bracket, they would all cancel their Standing Orders and Direct Debits to the organisation. I know of quite a few home educators who already have.

So, what has the NSPCC been doing between Orkney and the campaign against home education? Demonising men, according to Angry Harry, who wrote the following in 2004:

The National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Children in the UK spends millions of pounds every year manufacturing advertisements and propaganda which portray men and fathers as paedophiles and child abusers. These portrayals are displayed all over the country - on TV, in the radio, in the newspapers and on posters. The idea behind them is to induce the public and businesses to donate money to the NSPCC so that its staff can help to protect children from these allegedly-abusive men. Indeed, their campaigns have been so successful that the NSPCC rakes in about £100 million per year in donations. However, in my view, the NSPCC has done a great deal of damage to our society. Indeed, my belief is that it has inflicted far more damage and harm on to the nation's children than all the paedophiles and child abusers put together. What follows demonstrates that the NSPCC has damaged everyone - including all our children.

- and he proceeds to demonstrate exactly how, with such eloquence that I'm not even going to try to reproduce it here.

So in its pursuit of funding and prominence amongst children's charities, the NSPCC has so far turned against pagans, fathers and home educators, causing untold damage along the way. Who's next? The Internet, according to The Devil's Kitchen in this scathing piece which includes:

The NSPCC, it may be remembered, had been pretty vocal in helping stir up the, quite literal, witch-hunt. Since, at the time, I regularly contributed to the NSPCC, I thought I’d drop them a line asking why they’d been using my money to such mischievous effect. This was, I recall noting to them, particularly galling at a time when systematic abuse in various children’s homes was coming to light. It was, I reasoned, inconceivable that the NSPCC hadn’t received complaints from any of the children on the receiving end of this abuse, so how come they were apparently ignoring actual abuse and, instead, starting up wild-goose chases to disastrous effect?

The reply I received was so breath-taking in its cynicism that it shook even me. Yes, apparently they’d had their doubts about this ritual abuse malarkey but I had to realise that they did an awful lot of very necessary work for children, this costs money, and tabloid bandwagons are a very good way of raising much-needed funds. They rather ducked the question about why they’d failed to spot what was going on in various children’s homes over the years, and hoped they could count on my continued support. [Again, my italics.]

In its campaign against Internet freedom, the NSPCC is working with Becta, our Mr Badman's new employers. (See the editorial down the left hand side of this page [opens pdf].)

Also, as pointed out by Elaine, next in the NSPCC tabloid child abuse bandwagon queue might be, according to their latest publications, women. Put it all together, and you have the blanket assumption (paranoia?) that parents aren't safe and homes aren't safe, but of course schools are, and anyone who's been CRB-checked is. Except - we know that's not true, don't we?

I think it's safe to summarise today that the NSPCC's recent treatment of home educators was nothing personal: it is its modus operandi. In the third and final part of this series, we're going to look at some research Tech has been doing, amongst other things, to try to ascertain whether all of this child protection hype actually does make children safer - or more vulnerable.


NSPCC Part 3: anti child?

Last Friday, we began our three-part series on the NSPCC with an analytical overview of that organisation's involvement in the government's Independent review of home education and the reaction of home educators. Then on Sunday, we looked further back in the NSPCC's history to find out whether we were the only section of society to have been subjected to this kind of treatment by them, and learned that we were not. In fact, the NSPCC seems to have made an art form over the years of using "tabloid bandwagons [as] a very good way of raising much-needed funds".

So today we're finishing the trilogy with an investigation into the actual effects of the child protection culture. We're going to try to work out whether people think children are safer, as a result of it, or in fact more vulnerable.

Before I go on, I'd like to thank everyone who has provided information and encouragement for this series - especially my series co-author Tech, who has ordered books and searched tirelessly for quotes and contexts for me to string together. But other people have been generous too: I printed it all out and have been carrying a thick wodge of NSPCC-based text around with me all week, to which I just hope I can do justice. I probably won't manage to cover absolutely anything: if you notice anything missing, please feel free to add it in the comments section.

We'll start with this article by Jay Rayner from the Guardian archives:

Guardian NSPCC

The article quotes June McKerrow, director of the Mental Health Foundation which has conducted research on children's well-being:

"We do not need any more of these messages. If anything, the whole thing has already been taken too far."

- and it neatly sums up our own conclusion from part 2:

To put it at its baldest, the NSPCC needs cruelty to children to be seen to occur because, without that, it has no raison d'etre.

But the key point of the piece I think is this paragraph:

Of more concern to experts is what impact the NSPCC's constant stream of warnings will have upon child development. Raising children to be fully rounded individuals is about teaching them to deal with risk for themselves. When is it safe to take the stabilisers off the bike? When is it safe to let them play in the park alone? If the NSPCC's warnings delay that process it can only be detrimental. Professor [Colin] Pritchard, [a professor of psychiatric social work at the University of Southampton who has been researching child murders for 10 years] is prepared to go further. 'While 50 children are murdered each year over 250 are killed in motor accidents,' he says. 'If, as a result of the NSPCC advice, more children ride in cars because their parents won't allow them to walk on the streets then statistically more children will end up being killed in car crashes.'

A few years later in the Guardian again, Patrick Butler in an article called: Full stop missing on child abuse:

Guardian NSPCC 2

analyses a report published by the New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) called Not Seen and Not Heard: Child Abuse - A Guide for Donors and Funders by Emilie Goodall and Tristan Lumley, which contains, he says:

an intriguing and potentially explosive challenge to .. the NSPCC's Full Stop campaign.

While it doesn't go so far as to say, like the earlier article, that the campaign actually makes children more vulnerable, it does say:

Campaigning to change public attitudes and keep abuse on the radar, as NSPCC does with some success, has its place, but there is zero evidence that this leads to fewer beatings.

And now I want to talk about Frank Furedi.

Frank Furedi

- Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of the two books that Tech's been reviewing: Licensed to Hug: How Child Protection Policies Are Poisoning the Relationship Between the Generations and Damaging the Voluntary Sector (co-written with Jennie Bristow) and Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child, amongst others.

As well as those, he wrote this article for Spiked: 'A danger to the nation's children', in which he explains how The NSPCC's campaigns could poison family relations. First, he covers the ground we covered last Sunday:

In recent decades the NSPCC has become a lobby group devoted to publicising its peculiar brand of anti-parent propaganda and promoting itself.

But here's where he hits the nail right on the head, in my opinion:

There is nothing particularly novel about childhood insecurity; what is new is the attempt to turn it into a disease and a social problem. What is also new is the mendacious project of turning childhood anxiety into a justification for the predatory activity of a publicity-hungry media machine. Even worse is the message transmitted by this campaign - that the NSPCC understands children far better than their mums and dads do.

The implication that parenting under pressure is an invitation to abuse is an insult to the integrity of millions of hardworking mums and dads. It also helps to create a poisonous atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.

And he so eloquently describes here the problem that's been chewing away at me for the past few weeks, while I've been thinking about all of these campaigns:

The problem with targeting children in this way is that it distracts youngsters from working out ways of communicating problems to family members and friends. It encourages the belief that problems are something you take to a professional or disclose to an NSPCC helpline rather than share with people you know. For children, communicating problems is difficult at the best of times; displacing parents with the NSPCC will only make it more difficult to develop an intergenerational dialogue. Its effect will be to disconnect children from their parents.

Can this be an accident? Can the policy-makers be unaware of this effect? Hmmm. I don't think so.

I'm quite keen to get hold of some of this man's books myself now, but luckily Tech has done this already, and pulled out the following relevant quotes:

From Licensed to Hug: How Child Protection Policies Are Poisoning the Relationship Between the Generations and Damaging the Voluntary Sector, by Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow:

Licensed to Hug

(Amazon product description: "Since the establishment of the Criminal Records Bureau in 2002, more than a third of British adults have had to get a certificate to say they are safe to be near children, and the numbers affected are increasing. Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow argue that the growth of police vetting has created a sense of mistrust. Communities are forged through the joint commitment of adults to the socialisation of children. Now, adults are afraid to interact with any child not their own. The generations are becoming distant, as adults suspect each other and children are taught to suspect adults. The vetting culture encourages risk aversion: there is a feeling that it is better to ignore young people, even if they are behaving in an anti-social manner, and even if they are in trouble and need help, rather than risk accusations of improper conduct.Vetting also gives a false sense of security as it can only identify those who have offended in the past and been caught - not what people will do after they are passed as fit to be near children. "Licensed to Hug" argues for a more common-sense approach to adult/child relations, based on the assumption that the vast majority of adults can be relied on to help and support children, and that the healthy interaction between generations enriches children's lives.")

  • "Piper and Stronach call for 'a more ethical practice':

    ... one that encourages professionals not to slavishly follow 'no touch' guidelines, but to put touch back into context (ie relationships), and take account of trust and friendships. It is argued that we need to think through notions of 'free touch' just as much as we would 'free speech'. This is no call for license, but it is a call for recognition that any system that prioritises bureaucratic constraint over 'freedom' introduces a regime of unfreedoms that then develop - through a series of 'ratchet effects' - a kind of creeping totalitarianism, not to mention a galloping fatuity."

    Piper, H. and Stronach, I., Don't Touch! The educational story of a panic, London: Routledge, in press (2008)

  • "The policy of attempting to prevent paedophiles from getting in contact with children through a mass system of vetting may well unintentionally make the situation more complicated. One regrettable outcome of such policies is to estrange children from all adults - the very people who are likely to protect them from paedophiles and other dangers they may face. The adult qualities of spontaneous compassion and commitment are, we argue, far more effective safeguarding methods than pieces of paper that promote the messages 'Keep Out' and 'Watch Your Back'."

  • "During the course of our discussion it became evident that the application of formal procedures to the conduct of human relations threatens to deskill adults. Many adults often feel at a loss about how they should relate to youngsters who are not their children. When formal rules replace the exercise of compassion and initiative, adults become discouraged from developing the kind of skills that help them to relate, interact and socialise with children."

  • "Individuals who talked to us about the 'hassle of paperwork' also hinted that they were not sure that working with kids was'worth the effort'. And if adults are not to be trusted to be near children, is it any surprise that at least some of them draw the conclusion that they really are not expected to take responsibility for the well-being of children in their community?"

  • "Alongside the growing policy concern about the impact excessive risk-aversion on childhood experience, there is now an increasing realisation that an obsessive focus on risk and procedure can actually make society more dangerous. When adults become paralysed by the injunction to follow rules at the expense of their instincts, tragic consequences may follow."

  • [News stories about The coastguard who saved a girl twice quitting over a health and safety row and Abby Rae, a two-year old who went missing from nursery and was later found dead in a pond are cited at this point.]

  • "This disturbing story, of a child disappearing because the adult who saw her thought twice and chose to cover his back rather than help her out, has attained the status of an urban myth, and is used as the backdrop to discussions about whether you might help a child climb down from a climbing frame, whether you would intervene in a nasty fight between children, whether you would help a child find her way home, whether you would pick up and cuddle a toddler who had fallen over, whether you would administer first aid on a child you did not know in a public playground if you did not hold a certificate..."

  • "People worry about these things because of the sense that 'everyone knows' that it is right to help and comfort a lost, hurt, or frightened child - but at the same time, 'in this day and age', to do so is foolhardy. Thus a human response that was once spontaneous has been interupted by warning bells, making people think twice about something that, in the recent past, they would simply have done."

  • "The principle outcome of these trends for intergenerational relations is not simply an aversion to risk but to responsibility. Adults who used to absorb some of the risks faced by children are often not inclined to continue to do so, in case their behaviour is misinterpreted. Is it any surprise that there is now a generation of adults who have aquired the habit of distancing themselves from children and young people? From their perspective, intergenerational relations are experienced as an inconvenience from which they would rather be exempt. Even professionals who work with children are under pressure to avoid taking responsibility. Their career depends more on ticking the right boxes than exercising professional judgement."

There's much more, but for brevity and etiquette's sake I've got to stop quoting from that book. The problem is that I can't paraphrase what he's saying, without diluting it beyond meaning. We need to all go and buy it! Tech says this quote from Child Protection expert Eileen Munro in the executive summary sums up the whole issue:

"In October 2007, a survey by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People found that 48% of adults said fear of being falsely accused of causing harm was a barrier to contact with children and young people, and that this would make them less likely to help when they saw a young person in danger or distress."

And finally, a few excerpts from Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child, again by Frank Furedi:

Paranoid Parenting

  • "Fear of adults victimising children is fueled by a child-protection industry obsessed with the issue of abuse."

  • "The depreciation of adulthood coincides with the idealisation of childhood and childishness, positing adults as morally inferior. In a secular variant of the religious theme fo humanity's fall from grace, innocent children are said to be ruined by toxic parents in a toxic society. Campaigners promoting the idea of stranger danger contribute to a climate where the stranger - that is, the vast majority of adults inhabiting this planet - is not worthy of a child's trust."

  • "The term *support* is often a euphemism for prescriptive advice about how parents should behave. Parenting education is primarily oriented toward altering adult behaviour and providing mothers and fathers with skills they allegedly lack. Unfortunately, projects that aim to transform incompetent adults into skilled parents tend to disempower mothers and fathers and empower professionals."

After reading all that, I'm fairly convinced of the argument that the child protection hype does nothing to help children be safer and actually does quite a lot to make them more vulnerable and isolated. So why doesn't the government listen to real experts like Frank Furedi, instead of just throwing more taxpayers' money at the NSPCC? And why is the NSPCC still in a position that enables it to repeatedly pick off target groups in its media campaigns, which - at least in the case of this review - seems to conveniently fit with the direction of government policy? We can only assume that they must work hand in glove, but I'd love to know more about this relationship and the meetings that take place between government and this so-called charity and I might do some more digging at a later date about that.

Meanwhile, I have Becta in my sights, as well as the omnipresent Capita, though I'm aware that others are miles ahead of me on this already. I'll be standing on the shoulders of giants, then. But first, it seems, something called The Tasmanian Model. Deep sigh.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Exploring the five outcomes

For linking purposes, this extremely lengthy post combines my personal exploration into each of the ECM five outcomes, in the 2nd week of February 2009. For comments on each individual post, please follow the links below:

"Make a positive contribution" and the "Path to success"

Boiling frogs, but making them achieve economic wellbeing first

Be healthy

Enjoy and achieve

And finally: stay safe


"Make a positive contribution" and the "Path to success"

My mission here today is to try to pin down a reliable definition of that mysterious 4th item in the worryingly dictatorial list of five outcomes with which our children are apparently supposed to be complying. They're all vague, but the fourth one is perhaps the vaguest of the lot, so I thought we'd start with that. Hopefully it will get easier as we go along. (The fifth one, unfortunately, is getting clearer to understand by the month [opens pdf], and I'm planning to blog more about that over there later on. Update: here it is.)

So I'm guessing that 'Make a positive contribution' probably amounts to a bit more that donating a weekly part of your spending money towards a programme that seeks to deprive some African children of their health and liberty. It will, knowing our quaintly aspiring One World Government, have something to do with criteria and tick-boxes, and the pointless consumption of time. There will, no doubt, be some stick and carrot involved and it might be even worse than that: let's see.

My question is: make a positive contribution to what? The answer will no doubt be: "Society," - whatever that is, nowadays. How can a child make a positive contribution to society? By smiling at passing old people, maybe? Skipping around and generally spreading happiness? Is that what the government had in mind? Hmmm. What do you think?

Wish me luck. I am about to dive into the deep and murky realms of and associated areas to try and find out more. I may never return.

Well, here is a pdf chart about all five outcomes, though I can't read it without finding a zoom button. Oh, how neat! Each five outcome also has five aims! So it builds up like a little pyramid. What a surprise. The five aims of "Make a positive contribution" are:

  • Engage in decision making and support the community and environment

  • Engage in law-abiding and positive behaviour in and out of school

  • Develop positive relationships and choose not to bully and discriminate

  • Develop self confidence and successfully deal with significant life changes and challenges

  • Develop enterprising behaviour

Right. Well, my children have cleared some snow from our road this week and we have never refused the loan of a cup of sugar to a neighbour, when asked. Does that sufficiently 'support the community'? I'm guessing not really, but I don't know for sure yet.

What's 'positive behaviour'? Another definition to track down. Ditto 'positive relationships'. And yes, of course they choose not to bully or discriminate. They also choose not to try and impose convoluted laws onto other people that transform brains into spaghetti - does that count for anything?

Number 4, check. Number five, check - they're starting their own business this month. But it can't be that easy, can it? If so, it was hardly worth bothering with legislation for.

Let's dig deeper.

The next level down the pyramid takes us into the brave new world of some things called PSAs and DSOs. National Public Service Agreements and DCSF Departmental Strategic Objectives, and the ones relating to "Make a positive contribution" are apparently as follows:

  • PSA 14 – Increase the number of children and young people on the path to success;

  • PSA 9 – Halve the number of children in poverty by 2010-11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020

  • PSA 20 – Increase long term housing supply and affordability

  • PSA 21 – Build more cohesive, empowered and active communities

  • PSA 26 – Reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from international terrorism

"Supported by:"

  • DCSF’s Departmental Strategic Objectives to ensure young people are participating and achieving their potential to 18 and beyond (DSO 5); and

  • keep children and young people on the path to success (DSO 6)

"Path to success" looks a bit ominous, doesn't it? It comes in for several mentions, so it must be something important. We'll find out exactly what it means soon, but the other question that springs to my mind is this: at least half of those subsections relate to action by Local Authorities, not children at all. So why are children being made to comply with them? Something doesn't quite add up, which is probably a clue to something else.

It looks like I'm going to have to read some of these PSAs and DSOs if I want to find out more.

But wait: we haven't got to the bottom levels of the pyramid yet. Here they are:

National Indicators [relating to "Make a positive achievement"]:

"Quality of life indicators":

  • NI 79 (PSA 10 / DSO 5) Achievement of a Level 2 qualification by the age of 19 – L

  • NI 80 (PSA 10 / DSO 5) Achievement of a Level 3 qualification by the age of 19 – L

  • NI 85 (PSA 4 / DSO 5) Post-16 participation in physical sciences (A Level
    Physics, Chemistry and maths) – L

  • NI 90 (DSO 5) Take up of 14–19 learning diplomas – L

  • NI 91 (DSO 5) Participation of 17 year-olds in education or training – L

  • NI 110 (PSA 14 / DSO 6) More participation in Positive Activities – L

  • NI 15 (PSA 23) Serious violent crime rate

  • NI 28 Serious knife crime rate

  • NI 29 (PSA 23) Gun Crime Rate

  • NI 174 Skills gap in the current workforce reported by employers; and

"Quality of service measures":

  • NI 19 (PSA 23 / DSO 6) Rate of proven reoffending by young offenders

  • NI 21 (PSA 23) Dealing with local concerns about anti-social behaviour by the local council police

  • NI 24 Satisfaction with the way police and local council deal with anti-social behaviour

  • NI 25 Satisfaction of different groups about the way the police and local council dealt with antisocial behaviour

  • NI 27 Understanding of local concerns about anti-social behaviour and crime by the local council and police

  • NI 35 (PSA 26) Building resilience to violent extremism

  • NI 43 (DSO 6) Young people within the youth justice system receiving a conviction in court are sentenced to custody

  • NI 44 (DSO 6) Ethnic composition of offenders in Youth Justice System disposals

  • NI 45 (DSO 6) Young offenders engaged in suitable education, training or employment

  • NI 46 (DSO 6) Young offenders’ access to suitable accommodation

  • NI 149 (PSA 16) Adults in contact with secondary mental health services in settled accommodation

  • NI 150 (PSA 16) Adults in contact with secondary mental health services in employment

The sheer quantity is completely off-putting, isn't it? And some of the points look quite reasonable: I can especially see why, for example, people might be concerned about anti-social behaviour by the local council and police ;-)

On the other hand, some of it looks worrying from a home educator's point of view. I don't even know what "level 2 and 3 qualifications" are. Do you?

We must not be disheartened though, and stay focused on our objectives, the first of which is to find out what is officially meant here by 'Path to success', and that, I fear, will require the reading of a PSA, or a DSO. Which do you fancy?

PSA 14 looks like a juicy one: "Increase the number of children and young people on the path to success". I'll have to Google to find it. Here it is. [Opens pdf] At first glance, it reads like the signposts in a labour ward: Vision; Measurement; Delivery Strategy; Measurement annex; and Delivery annex.

But come on, what exactly is the "path to success"? It's quite exciting to think that we might find out in a minute, don't you think?

Introduction: Five outcomes... Children's Plan (Urgh, I'd better read that too).. blah blah..

1.3 This document sets out the delivery strategy for increasing the number of children and young people on the path to success. Most young people are already on that path. They do well at school make a successful transition to adult life and go on to build successful careers and families.

Yes, but what is it?

They're not allowed to be NEET, yes, we knew that.. Oh blimey, it looks like there are "eight key priorities" coming up. These people love their little sets and bullet points, don't they?

The 'Vision' bit doesn't really say much. Lots of words: no real information. Onto 'Measurement':

The PSA measures progress in increasing successful transitions to adulthood in terms of increased participation and resilience, and tackling negative outcomes

Indicator 1: reducing NEETs.. indicator 2.. oh, here we are.

More Participation in Positive Activities

AAaaargh! Look at this!

Participating in high quality structured activities is a key element in improving the prospects of all young people

Then it goes on about extended schools etc...

This will give children and young people opportunities to
participate in diversionary activities which are both developmental and fun.

Diversionary activities..?

The Children’s Plan established a new goal that by 2020 all young people will be participating in positive activities.

All young people.

The next bit's about drugs, booze, under-age pregnancy, and breaking the law. None of which are - strangely - usually a problem in home educating families. But force all of our 'children and young people' into "high quality structured activities" and that might change.

I'm fast running out of staying power, but "Delivery Strategies" is next. It contains the word 'incentivizing', which is enough in itself to make me crave huge bars of dark chocolate with cherries in it.

Anyway, here are the "8 priority actions":

1. integrating and simplifying governance, accountability and performance management for the PSA at every level – central, regional and local;
2. tackling problems associated with individual service thresholds by, where appropriate, re-allocating available resources across service boundaries and pooling budgets which target similar groups of young people;
3. incentivising effective programmes and interventions – including those in the third sector – where there is strong evidence of impact, and supporting commissioners and the frontline to apply them more widely;
4. ensuring there is a strategy in place to invest in the development of the workforce to support young people and to deliver the ambitions of this PSA;
5. embedding and building on strategies to empower and secure the active participation of young people and their families in the commissioning, design and delivery of services – actively seeking the engagement of all groups, including the most vulnerable;
6. ensuring that the role of schools, colleges, work-based learning providers and youth support services in delivering this PSA is widely understood and acted upon;
7. ensuring that the contribution that other key public services should make to this PSA is widely understood and acted upon; and
8. ensuring there are robust systems in place for the identification of, and interventions for, young people who do not attend school.

I'm stopping there. I can't go on - not today, anyway. The sun is shining, the children are waking, the snow is beckoning, breakfast is cooking.. blue skies.. those things that make us feel alive and free and sane.

But to sum up, Mr Badman hasn't been asked to review Home Education to find out whether our children can achieve those airy fairy vague five outcomes like smiling at passing old people. Of course he hasn't. His remit (and his substantial grounding in the programme of events as set out for our society for the next twelve years) is to be employed in ascertaining to what extent we can be made to fit in with the above intrinsically complicated set of criteria.

Number 8 of the last list is one that should perhaps be of particular concern to us.


Boiling frogs, but making them achieve economic wellbeing first

No, we haven't been doing bizarre science experiments. I'm referring to this:

The boiling frog story states that a frog can be boiled alive if the water is heated slowly enough — it is said that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will never jump out.

The story is generally told in a figurative context, with the upshot being that people should make themselves aware of gradual change lest they suffer a catastrophic loss. Often it is used to illustrate a slippery-slope argument. For example, many civil libertarians argue that even minor increases in government authority, which may seem less noteworthy, make future increases in that authority more likely: what would once have seemed a huge power grab, the argument goes, now becomes seen as just another incremental increase, and thus appears more palatable. In the boiling-frog allegory, the frog represents the citizenry, whilst the gradual heating of the water represents the incremental encroachment of government.

So there. We are all frogs, being slowly boiled alive, without even noticing. Or at least, most of us aren't noticing. This water's getting nice and warm though, isn't it?

Back to the five outcomes. Do you have the stomach to look at another one, after yesterday? I'm not sure I do, but it needs to be done. Still, it should be quicker than yesterday now that we know something about how it all works.

Today I want to focus on the 5th one: Achieve economic wellbeing because I think it's probably one of the most dangerous of the five, if indeed any of them can be said to be less so. In yesterday's post, we saw that making a positive contribution means the compulsory attendance of 'diversionary activities' (in Extended Schools) as well as being on the 'path to success', which seems to mean the taking of specific exams. This is set out in a so-called 'Public Service Agreement' (I didn't agree - did you?) which makes it crystal clear that it means all children. No exceptions.

Hopefully we will be able to nail Achieve economic wellbeing down in the same way today, but isn't it strange that we're having to dig so deeply to find the real meanings of these outcomes? Wouldn't you think an honest government that had our best interests at heart (and didn't enjoy boiling frogs) would make it a bit easier for us to find out what was going on?

So to go back to the outcomes framework [opens pdf]. Take out your magnifying glasses, everyone...

ECM framework

The five Achieve economic wellbeing 'aims' are:

  • Engage in further education, employment or training on leaving school;
  • Ready for employment;
  • Live in decent homes and sustainable communities;
  • Access to transport and material goods; and
  • Live in households free from low income.

(If you're not starting to smell a rat - or a boiling frog - yet, you perhaps didn't read this yesterday.)

The PSAs and DSOs (see yesterday's post for definitions of those) are the same as for Make a positive contribution, which seems strange in itself given that every other outcome has its own set of them. I think PSA9 might be worth a look:

PSA 9 – Halve the number of children in poverty by 2010-11, on the way to eradicating child poverty by 2020 [opens pdf]

- though I bet it contains few surprises.

Yes, it's all about

tackling worklessness, by making work a sustainable route out poverty, and by addressing barriers to work such as availability of childcare.

It looks like it goes back to a slightly lower frog-pot temperature setting, before it was recently raised with the anti-poverty bill about which I blogged elsewhere yesterday.

Lone parents come in for a special mention:

For lone parents: the Government will continue to drive forward employment programmes to help lone parents enter and sustain employment.

- because of course it's well-established that their children do better when separated from their mothers at the earliest possible age - not. They use terms like 'drive forward' which make me think of a herdsman with his cattle.

3.7 To support parents into work, the Government will focus on: lone parents, couple parents and disabled parents.

Are there any other kind of parents? Oh yes: foster parents, who are exempt from it all - I don't know whether you're seeing an incentivization message in that or not.

3.12 Job Centre Plus is a key stakeholder in local strategic partnerships, providing a co-ordinated focus across childcare, child poverty and the Welfare to Work programme. Job Centre Plus also plays a vital co-ordinating role in the use of available funding streams to support the development of integrated Welfare to Work services tailored to the needs of the local community.

For 'Welfare to Work', read 'slave labour'. I sympathise with the argument that people shouldn't get money for nothing, but not if they're being given no alternative. Self-sufficiency, of the cash-free, 'Good Life' variety, is no longer an allowed option. And you might be disregarding all of this, thinking it doesn't apply to you because you're not a lone parent and your partner is in employment, but if you claim Child Tax Credits, then it does. If your gross income, without state help, is less than £29,000 (for a couple with two children - for other figures see here) then it does. If you are not working, then it does. ("The Government believes that every parent who could work, should do so.") If one of you is made redundant, it does and if your partner leaves you, it does. No family is immune from this, especially in the current economic climate.

Increasing take-up of formal childcare
3.13 To help parents enter and sustain work, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), DWP and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will work with delivery partners to continue implementing the National Childcare Strategy. Work will continue to stimulate demand for formal childcare by improving information for parents about the benefits, choices and financial help available. The Government will ensure that increased demand for childcare is met through new duties on local authorities and the roll out of Children’s Centres and Extended Schools. The Government will also invest £35m to improve the provision of childcare for families with disabled children.7 This will start in 10 pilot local authorities, with best practice rolled out in 2010-11.

Your child will attend a Children's Centre and/or Extended School programme. Remember from yesterday's post?

The Children’s Plan established a new goal that by 2020 all young people will be participating in positive activities.

Now we know what 'positive activities' are. Also known as 'diversionary' (in Extended Schools). All young people. No exceptions.

Job Centre Plus will be incentivised by new Job Outcome Targets to place parents into work.

3.19 The Government is determined to ensure that parents are able to choose childcare provision which best meets their needs and those of their children.

- but not if this choice entails them bringing up their children themselves.

Mr Graham Badman has been chosen to lead this review because of his deep understanding of the Every Child Matters programme. In his previous incarnation as Managing Director for Children, Families and Education at Kent County Council (*note: children and families need managing and directing..) he received a 'good to outstanding' Ofsted performance assessment [opens pdf] for compliance with the Framework [opens pdf].

His current remit is to ascertain whether and how home educating families can also be made to comply. I think that we might be the awkward frogs. ;-)


Be healthy

I think we know by now, after looking at 'Make a positive contribution' and 'Achieve economic wellbeing' that 'Be healthy' isn't going to have an awful lot to do with, well - actually being healthy.

If it did, then like the rest of the five outcomes, it wouldn't really bear close inspection. As a passing thought, it sounds like quite a laudable aim: of course, everyone wants to be healthy, don't they? The government is just being helpful and caring. This is what you're supposed to think.

But - as many home educating parents have pointed out - what about those children who, for whatever reason, can't be healthy? Do sick children somehow fail the test? As soon as you start thinking about these five outcomes, what passes for the logic in them starts to fall apart.

From the Framework [opens pdf] we can see that the five aims of 'Be healthy' are:

  • Physically healthy;
  • Mentally and emotionally healthy;
  • Sexually healthy;
  • Healthy lifestyles; and
  • Choose not to take illegal drugs.

(Don't get me started on the risks of taking legal drugs! But obviously doing so would be classed as being 'healthy' in ECM Wonderland.)

And of course, none of that says what it actually means. To find that out, we have to go down at least one more level of the pyramid and read some other documents. Down we go..

  • PSA 12 – Improve the health and well-being of children and young people
  • PSA 22 – Deliver a successful Olympic and Paralympics games with a sustainable legacy and get more children and young people taking part in high quality PE and sport
  • PSA 25 – Reduce the harm caused by alcohol and drugs
  • Supported by: DCSF’s Departmental Strategic Objective to secure the well-being and health of children and young people (DSO 1)

You thought the Olymics had nothing to do with your child's health? Think again.

Onto PSA 12. Let's see what's in there..

Here it is [opens pdf].

1.3 Children and young people are healthier now than ever but inequalities persist. There has been a sharp increase in child obesity and rates of mental health disorders remain worryingly high.

And they seriously wonder why?

The PSA will be delivered only by looking at all aspects of the child’s
life in the round by making strong links to a number of the Government’s other PSAs.

This is how it works. I'm starting to think that recent events like that UNICEF report were part of this frog-boiling process. It certainly highlighted a 'problem' in need of a 'solution'. When it was published, I said: "If all this report does is increase investment in forced education systems to the age of 19 and sanction governments' planned further incursions into peaceful family life then I think it can only damage children's genuine well-being," and I certainly still stand by that in the light of what we're finding out now.

1.5 Getting the right help at the right time is key – from health visiting, midwifery teams, general practitioners and others. With greater co-location, Sure Start Children’s Centres have a key role in delivering this support, including guidance, health protection, promotion and surveillance to all children and families, including those at risk of becoming obese.

What does 'co-location' mean? They're building more of them? They're moving families closer to the ones they've already built? I don't want to get my parenting support from a government-sponsored Children's Centre. I want to get it from my friends, my family and my neighbours please. I prefer bonds to bridges. Is that choice still mine to make?

1.7 Adolescence brings new challenges with increased exposure to risky health behaviour. The Government’s PSA 14 to increase the number of children and young people on the path to success, aims to help young people make healthy choices as they grow up to become adults and, potentially, parents themselves.

Oh yes, that's the one about making them all attend school between 8am and 6pm isn't it? 'Diversionary activities' etc. But my teenaged children made healthy choices just from being allowed to think for themselves. Is that option still open to us?

Emotional health and wellbeing will be measured through the annual ‘TellUs’ survey of children and young people from 2008.

What's the ‘TellUs’ survey? Oh. It's this [opens pdf], if you've the stomach for it.

Back to PSA12.

3.1 The delivery strategy for this PSA focuses on:
• prevention – helping children and families lead healthy lifestyles;
• early intervention – identifying risks and difficulties early and offering help promptly; and
• effective support from practitioners.

Call me paranoid, but it's words like 'offering' and 'help' that really worry me, coming from government. What was it Reagan said? "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." And that's before we get started on 'early intervention'.

• review the levers of health and children’s services reform to ensure they support an increased focus on the health and wellbeing of children and young people;
• develop a national coalition of interests with statutory and third sector partners who need to work together to drive progress;

Ohh they're talking about driving things again, like the herdsman with his cattle. And: levers of services? And all that 'third sector' stuff is definitely fishy, though I haven't explored it enough to work out exactly why yet. When I do, I might start somewhere like here.

• develop effective communication with children, young people, mothers and fathers so that they understand: the importance of health and wellbeing to their lives; where to get advice and support; and how they can influence the design and delivery of services.

Is "Leave us alone please," still an option? Is this still going to be a two-way communication?

3.6 Ultimately, the key to success will be empowering children and families to meet their own health goals.

If we consider that we've met them, can we then be left alone?

Improving health for individuals involves changing behaviour in some way, which in turn means understanding what a healthy choice is and being motivated to make that choice when there are less healthy options. Using the knowledge gained from past successful experience and an understanding of how individuals can be motivated to make personal change, services will support children, young people and their parents to:
• make informed choices about eating healthily, making breastfeeding the norm, keeping fit and avoiding risky behaviour such as smoking, unprotected sex, and substance misuse;
• influence the services they want to support them, for example, in how they want to access health advice and information, help transform school food, access and help design play facilities, or shape local services for disabled children and young people.

I guess not.

3.11 The single most important factor in delivering aspirations for children is a world class workforce..

Yawn.. surprise surprise.. Oh wait, they're not kidding:

The DCSF has set out what has already been achieved and commitments over the next three years in Building Brighter Futures: next steps for the Children’s Workforce.9 It also describes the challenges that still need to be addressed.

Another pdf to read? Has the government got a strategy for active interevention of the prevention of death by pdf??? Probably.

The following chills me to the bone. Does it you?

3.14 Support during pregnancy and the first years is particularly important – this is a significant window of opportunity where mothers, fathers and carers are receptive to help and where the neurological development of children is most rapid and vulnerable. To ensure it is underpinned by the right skills and expertise, training and clinical governance, DH will review its standard for the CHPP and publish commissioning guidance that updates the programme in the light of new knowledge, integrates parenting support and offers support for all and more help for those who need it most.

A 'window of opportunity' when parents are receptive and children are vulnerable. I don't know. If you're happy about the mainstream medical industry and you like the idea of the state taking care of everyone's health, then you probably won't see a problem with this. If you're slightly more cynical, or have different views or experiences, you will.

• promoting the social and emotional skills of children and young people to improve their personal resilience;

I do that myself, just by natural parenting. Am I still allowed to, or is it to be out of my hands now?

• offering a varied menu of activities and childcare between 8.00 am and 6.00 pm, including sports activities, play and other recreational activities;

Thanks, but are we allowed to opt out of this without ringing any alarm bells? It's just that I want to actually know my children as they're growing up, which means spending some time with them myself.

• offering parenting support including structured parenting programmes, information sessions, for example, encouraging healthy lifestyles;

What is the point of offering structured parenting programmes when the children are to be hardly ever at home or actually with their parents?

We're missing something here, though, aren't we? "With rights come responsibilities"? "Parents have a duty to take up the services offered.."? I wonder when we're getting onto that.

3.42 Delivering against the five priorities in this agreement will also require specific action by Government and delivery partners, ensuring at national, regional and local level that the views of children, young people, mothers and fathers shape the way support is designed and provided. This will ensure that they are empowered to make informed choices about their health, and have real influence on the services they want to support them.

And if the answer is still "Leave us alone, please. We feel perfectly healthy,"?

This document was obviously written by very different people than the others I've read in the past few days. There isn't much talk of stick and carrot, but perhaps it isn't perceived as being necessary in the field of Health, or perhaps I'm reading the wrong document. I can't read any more today: there isn't time.

But to try to tease out what Mr Badman might be looking for, in ascertaining how home educating families can be made to fit with this part of the ECM pyramid, well he'll perhaps be considering factors like NI 57 (PSA 22 / DSO 1): "The percentage of 5-16 year olds participating in at least 2 hours per week of high-quality PE and sport at school and the percentage of 5-19 year olds participating in at least further hours per week of sporting opportunities," in which the use of the words 'at school' might present a problem, even if the "2 hours per week of high- quality PE and sport" doesn't.

My Local Authority provides local home educators with a free sports hall for two hours every week. Does yours? If not, or if you might wish to exercise your freedom to choose not to avail yourself of it, what other activities count as "high-quality PE and sport"? Should we even be trying to comply with this stuff?


Enjoy and achieve

After learning something about what 'be healthy', 'achieve economic wellbeing', and 'Make a positive contribution' really mean, I have a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach about 'enjoy and achieve'. Something tells me it's going to be the worst one of the lot. That word 'enjoy', in a government document like this, is just so Orwellian, isn't it? It makes me think of the Ministry of Love. On the other hand, I am curious to find out exactly how they intend to enforce this 'enjoyment'.

Ha! I've just looked at its five aims on the Framework [opens pdf] and already I hate it. Get this:

  • Ready for school;
  • Attend and enjoy school;
  • Achieve stretching national educational standards at primary school;
  • Achieve personal and social development and enjoy recreation; and
  • Achieve stretching national educational standards at secondary school.

Yes, I think home educating families might have some slight difficulty in meeting one or two of those, don't you? I take it we weren't in the forefront of the minds of its authors.

Or perhaps we were.

Associated PSAs and DSOs are as follows:

  • PSA 10 – Raise the educational achievement of all children and young people;
  • PSA 11 – Narrow the gap in educational achievement between children from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers
  • PSA 2 – Improve the skills of the population, on the way to ensuring a worldclass skills base by 2020
  • PSA 4 – Promote world class science and innovation in the UK
  • PSA 15 – Address the disadvantage that individuals experience because of their gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief
  • Supported by: DCSF’s Departmental Strategic Objectives to achieve world class standards in education (DSO 3) and
  • close the gap in educational achievement for children from disadvantaged backgrounds (DSO4)

So we're spoilt for choice. I think I'll have a look at PSA 10 and possibly DSO 3 if there's time to do both before the children wake up.

Well, I've just spent half an hour looking for PSA 10 and can't find it. Can anyone else? I've found plenty of references to it, including one for 'stakeholders' (which turns out to have a slightly different meaning to the one I had in mind) and this:

PSA 10

- which doesn't tell us much, and certainly doesn't relate to home educators.

Let's try DSO 3. Hmm - I'm not having much luck this morning. I can't find that either. I've got sidetracked into a load of stuff about eCAF and other fact sheets, but not even a search on the DCFS's publications page ("What you need, when you need it") will yield a result.

I'll look for the other PSAs and DSOs mentioned in the list and see if I can find anything interesting there instead.

PSA 15 is here - it seems that the Treasury is pretty good at publicising its PSAs (PSA 10 comes from DCFS, who apparently isn't) - but I don't think that contains anything particularly relevant for us.

I'm going to have to try to get to grips with this outcome from another angle, I think. Typing "Enjoy and achieve" into Google led me to this page on the QCA website, which states:

Enjoyment and achievement tend to go hand in hand. If children enjoy learning, enjoy good, supportive relationships with their teachers and peers, enjoy a rich variety of learning experiences and enjoy their leisure time, they are more likely to engage and achieve high standards.

Enjoyment is not just about having fun - it is also about looking back at a 'job well done'; a mission accomplished. Every child has gifts and talents to be uncovered and developed. The challenge for schools is to ensure that all young people see themselves as successful learners and are able to live fulfilling lives.

Pupils need to learn:
  • how to work imaginatively and creatively to develop new ideas, insights and ways of doing things
  • how to assess their skills, achievements and potential in order to set personal goals and achieve their best
  • the joy to be gained from successful learning.

This demands a curriculum full of surprise and challenge. If children are to enjoy learning they need to investigate deeply and widely, build on their own interests and aptitudes, confront the big ideas that shape the world and have the chance to make a difference and take on responsibility.

Schools need to consider the specific needs of all their pupils before designing appropriate learning experiences across every aspect of the curriculum.

The thing is, I think home educators probably do all that much better than schools can.

This lack of relevant documents is very frustrating. What, for example, does "ready for school" mean? I'll try just Googling that and see what comes up. Oh my. A whole 'ready for school' website, that's what. Here is all the stuff we need to buy and do to get our children 'ready for school'. The list of five (another list of five!) necessary skills includes 'Following Direction'. 'Nuff said.

I'll tell you what I did find on my extensive travels this morning though. This little nugget, in here [opens pdf]

1.6 Parents are the best judges of their family’s needs.


And finally: stay safe

In the past four days of studying the ECM five outcomes in a little more detail, we've learned that:

So, does anyone want to hazard a guess at what 'Stay safe' actually means? Let's see..

According to the Framework, 'stay safe's five aims are:

  • Safe from maltreatment, neglect, violence and sexual exploitation;
  • Safe from accidental injury and death;
  • Safe from bullying and discrimination;
  • Safe from crime and anti-social behaviour in and out of school; and
  • Have security, stability and are cared for.

Well, again, at first glance it looks like home education encompasses all those aims far more successfully than school ever could. But we know by now that it's not likely to be as simple as that.

I hope I have more success than yesterday in locating the relevant PSAs and DSOs for this one, which are as follows:

  • PSA 13 – Improve children and young people’s safety;
  • PSA 16 – Increase the proportion of socially excluded adults in settled accommodation and employment, education or training;
  • PSA 21 – Build more cohesive, empowered and active communities;
  • PSA 23 – Make communities safer;
  • Supported by: DCSF’s Departmental Strategic Objective to safeguard the young and vulnerable (DSO 2)

'Socially excluded adults' is code for anyone accepting any kind of state help with their income, or on a low enough income to be able to, so straight away we know that PSA 16 is all about this without needing to read it. I'd quite like (dread) to know what constitutes a 'cohesive, empowered and active community', other than one that contains a SureStart Centre. (Are there any left that don't?) But I think we probably need to start with PSA 13, if I can find it.

Yes, it's a Treasury one, so it's here [opens pdf]. (Because safety is obviously a Treasury issue..!)

Children cannot enjoy their childhoods or achieve their full potential unless they are safe.

Remember when you thought you were enjoying yourself climbing trees, or racing your go-cart? I hope you know now how mistaken you were about that.

Improving children’s safety means tackling a wide range of
issues – abuse and neglect..

Oh yeah, hence the workfare thing. Bad parents, to neglect your children's need for the latest Nike trainers! well as ensuring a stable home environment

- for the waking half-hour a day that they're allowed to be there.

Government has a role to play in supporting parents to strike the right balance between protecting their children and allowing them to learn and explore new situations safely.

You really can't be trusted to make these decisions by yourselves. And your children certainly can't.

However, this is not solely the responsibility of parents, or of local or national government. Helping children and young people to stay safe should be everyone’s responsibility.

Code: we're going to bribe your neighbour, your doctor and any other passing stranger to snitch on you if you dare to have any unauthorised fun. Then we're going to eCAF [opens pdf] the life out of you, like the Dementors from Azkaban.

Indicator 1: Percentage of children who have experienced bullying

In home education? Probably zero, or close.

Indicator 2: Percentage of children referred to children’s social care who received an initial assessment within 7 working days

That's the eCAF [opens pdf]. Soul-suckers.

(Dementors sense and feed on the positive emotions, happiness and good memories of human beings to move around, forcing them to relive their worst memories. The very presence of a Dementor makes the surrounding atmosphere grow cold and dark, and the effects are cumulative with the number of Dementors present. In addition to feeding on positive emotions, Dementors can perform the Dementor's Kiss, where the Dementor latches its mouth onto a victim's and sucks out the person's soul.

Sorry. We've been reading Harry Potter again..)

Indicator 3: Emergency hospital admissions caused by unintentional and deliberate injuries to children and young people

Do people still dare to take their children to hospital?

the Centre for Economics of Education will be carrying out an 18 month project looking at the Every Child Matters outcomes, including a specific focus on safety.

What has safety got to do with economics? Is this about safety, or about cutting back on NHS resources? Why is this a Treasury paper, when PSA 10, about 'enjoy and achieve' is a DCSF one?

Oh look, the other departments are being given something to do:

DCSF and DH are jointly funding the Safeguarding Research Initiative, which aims to improve knowledge of effective practice across a range of child safety issues, including neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) work.

- though I don't think there's much room for improvement in their practice of emotional abuse, do you?

3.12 The Government will continue current work to make the child protection process more responsive, which includes:
• implementing guidance on Working Together to Safeguard Children and What to do if you’re worried a child is being abused

- that's the NICE consultation we were discussing a couple of weeks ago, isn't it?

• improve appropriate referrals to social care by health professionals – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will publish guidelines for health professionals in 2009 on the identification of children with suspected abuse.

Oh. Yes, it is then. Make your child wear a coat; ruthlessly tear that slightly-too-small favourite dress from her screaming grasp, etc. You know it's in her best interests.

3.13 To further build on this existing work the Government will also:
• take forward actions to tackle recruitment and retention and to accelerate the pace of workforce re-modelling in social work. The Children’s Workforce Development Council will be a key delivery partner for this work, details of which are covered in their business plan for 2008-2011;

I wonder if the workfare plans have got anything to do with this new 'Children's Workforce'? Blackmailing us to police each other sounds like fairly standard 'control of the masses' technique, doesn't it? You don't need a degree in Social Work to carry out an eCAF [opens pdf].

• in addition, the Department for Children, Schools and Families will respond to the recommendations of the Byron Review, which has looked at how to help parents and children get the best from technologies while protecting them from harmful content on the internet or in video games.

Urgh, another one [opens pdf] to add to the reading list. 226 pages! Though I suspect it will all be leading to this.

Intervention projects should adopt a ‘think family’ approach – recognising the links and taking action where service users are parents and acting to safeguard children;

I'm not even going to comment on this. No, I am. They have deliberately dismantled the informal networks we had in place to deal with this stuff, and are now replacing them with their own increasingly intricate tangled webs of formal procedure: a souless and austere 'system' of faux care, policed by stick and carrot - but mostly stick. And they thought we wouldn't notice. Here it is, spelled out:

• universal services including schools, early years providers, extended school services, school health services, further education colleges, training providers working with 14 to 19-year-olds, housing services, local authority planners, parks/green spaces managers and road safety officers will work to create a safe environment for children and young people, educate children and young people about how to keep themselves safe, and refer any concerns about children’s safety to the relevant local agency.

• third sector organisations provide a range of preventative services relating to accidental and deliberate harm, including helplines, ensuring the safety
of those working with children, promoting the road safety of children and providing information and resources about accident prevention.

Those 'voluntary' organisations which, until the gullible public's money ran out, were pretending to be independent of government. It was a good system, when we still needed to be convinced that all of this was happening 'for our own good', but no longer necessary now that it's all pretty much legally in place.

I'm just reading through the rest of it to check that we're not all going to have to have our homes checked for safety (though I suppose that's part of the eCAF [opens pdf] isn't it?)

Something called the Staying Safe: Action Plan [opens pdf] is referred to a lot, so I suppose I'd better read that too. It includes the following:

This is being achieved in local areas around the country by different services working together as a Team Around the Child (TAC), using the Common Assessment Framework and sharing information where necessary about children at risk of harm.

- which, along with everything else I've read this morning, is starting to make me think that 'stay safe' might really mean 'be eCAFed' [opens pdf].

Oh and there's a little diagram too:

Stay safe

Spot the parents. We're in that tiny yellow strip over there on the right hand side, separated from the children by the thick grey bar that says: CAF and Contactpoint.

Enough of this. Let's reclaim our stake in reality, shall we? Here we go:

  1. It is parental instinct to keep children safe. Left to our own devices, we do this very well.
  2. To keep this instinct strong, we need to spend a lot of time with our children. It is possible for families to both provide for their needs (when they're not being screwed by the banks and public utility companies, aided and abetted by their own government) and take care of their own children without government intervention. Indeed, this is the most sensible and healthy (and safe) way for family life to be conducted.
  3. Being the subject of an eCAF [opens pdf] assessment is likely to be an extremely traumatic, emotionally abusive experience for children. This should not be made normal practice, because it is unnecessarily invasive and intrusive.
  4. Children learn to manage their own risks by enjoying a degree of freedom to make their own choices. Wholesale removal of that freedom will result in an unsafe society.
  5. Safety has nothing to do with money: it has more to do with choices. Unharassed people make better choices. "Act for the people's benefit. Trust them; leave them alone." - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching. c.500BC

I'm planning to spend my next few blogging sessions on looking at the legitimacy of this ECM regime, before trying to guess what areas of the law might be changed to jemmy home educating families into it.

Meanwhile, do stay safe, won't you? *Rolls eyes*