Interviewing a school refusing child and her mother on GMTV this morning, Lorraine Kelly told a blatant lie several times over: “It’s the law, you must go to school until you’re 16.” Emphasising the point to the child, she added: “Your mum could be in serious trouble if you don’t go to school.” Mum looked suitably cowed, and viewers were reassured that this failing family were now going to be “helped” by “experts” to get the daughter back to school, i.e. conform to norm.
Lorraine seems to have taken it upon herself to mislead the nation by failing to accurately represent the legal responsibility of parents, namely to ensure their children are provided with a suitable and efficient education. This misrepresentation was compounded by her failure to mention that schools only exist to serve parents who choose to delegate their responsibility to educate and that is why they should be subject to rigorous inspection and quality assurance. If schools fail to meet minimum standards, it is only to be expected that parents will object, as in Essex, where some have been given a grant of £10,450 to educate their children outside the state system rather than send them to the local failing comprehensive.
Lorraine also omitted to mention children’s rights under the UNCRC, to which the government is signed up, including the right for children to express their views and have them taken into account, and the right to an education directed to the development of their personality, talents and abilities to their fullest potential. In the UK, however, only Scotland has incorporated the latter right into primary legislation in its Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000. The UK government refused to follow the Scots’ lead, believing it could lead to litigation by parents and children.
That is not only a great pity, but also a total and deliberate cop out. As the former UN Special Rapporteur on Education, Kartarina Tomasevski, asserted in 1999:
“The objective of getting all school-aged children to school and keeping them there till they attain the minimum defined in compulsory education is routinely used in the sector of education, but this objective does not necessarily conform to human rights requirements. In a country where all school-aged children are in school, free of charge, for the full duration of compulsory education, the right to education may be denied or violated. The core human rights standards for education include respect of freedom. The respect of parents’ freedom to educate their children according to their vision of what education should be has been part of international human rights standards since their very emergence.”
Returning to Essex, this pioneering council has certainly set an interesting precedent, confirming as it does that parents are entitled to expect a minimum level of service from schools. By extension, it is surely now reasonable to argue that, where an educational institution fails to meet the learning needs and/or ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children, parents should not be expected to use such a sub-standard, and often downright dangerous, facility on pain of prosecution. The child on the GMTV sofa had been bullied, which is a common trigger for school refusal, but there are many other entirely legitimate reasons why some children find school intolerable, such as boredom, endless testing, irrelevant curriculum, poor teaching and unmet special needs. Since the school system is well past its sell by date and provides little in the way of education for life in a modern civilised society, it is hardly surprising that we are now witnessing a growing army of determined refuseniks.
I spoke to a friend the other week, a lone parent with a high powered career and three teenage children, the youngest of whom has always attended school reluctantly and who much prefers her own company and the company of books to the bell driven regime of her busy secondary school. The girl, now 14, is artistic, creative, highly intelligent and motivated with a small circle of well chosen close friends. She is also a very determined individual who appears to have decided that enough is enough as far as school is concerned and has simply stopped going. Her mother has tried everything to get her to attend, all to no avail, and despite initial sympathy for her plight and a “partnership” approach with the school, the pressure on the parent has been increased to the point of threatened prosecution.
Fortunately, this parent is highly articulate and well connected, and she is already aware of the legality of home education, but she was still reduced to jelly by the end of a meeting at which she was accused of failing to lay down the law and colluding with her child’s non attendance. Her “failure to co-operate”, by forcing her 14 year old into school ensuring she stay there for the day, might lead straight to jail, she was told in a standard meeting convened by council minions to bully parents and children into submission. Having previously attended such meetings to support parents who have decided to home educate, I can personally testify to the bullying tactics employed by people who should know better but who are far more concerned with power trips than children’s education and wellbeing.
In my friend’s case, home education was going to be a difficult option as she has a demanding job and is the family’s sole (high earning) breadwinner without a part time option. Private school fees would not have been a problem for her, but would not have addressed the real issue: her daughter’s deep hatred of school. Since she was not prepared to use force on her child, home education was the only realistic solution, but was only possible thanks to (a) her pre-existing knowledge that the option exists; (b) access to independent information and local home education networks; (c) a supportive network of extended family and friends; and (d) her steadfast refusal to be bullied, and lied to, by council minions. Others are not so fortunate.
As a mere mainstream media cog, Lorraine Kelly is not alone in lying to parents, children and television audiences about school attendance being a legal requirement. However, perpetuating the myth that “it’s the law, you have to go to school until you’re 16” is an unforgivable fib on prime time TV when we know that 20 children a year already take their own lives as a result of school bullying – and that is only the tip of the bullycide iceberg.
Get a grip, Lorraine, do some proper research and learn the true meaning of journalism. It might even save some young lives.
To complain about Lorraine’s interview (not that it will do any good), you can contact GMTV here. You can also telephone their duty officer on 0870 243 4333.
It goes without saying that, despite being broadcast across the UK, this piece was timed to coincide with the beginning of the school session in England. Most Scottish school children returned to their state penitentiaries two weeks ago without a murmur from adopted Dundonian Lorraine.
[Re-blogged from HEF, where this article attracted 9 comments]