strange_raptors: Ellipsis (Angry)
Next week MPs are voting on amendments to the health and social care bill, I'm specifically concerned about the amendment that women should be required to have independent counselling before having an abortion.

There's been quite a lot of news coverage on this issue. Some articles I found useful were Education for Choice's investigation into some independent organisations,  Zoe Williams' Comment is Free piece makes some very good points, a discussion of right-wing Christian activists and their influence on the coalition government, and ways in which Faith-based charities can do good, without restricting choice for women.

If that manages to sway you, or you were already convinced, then you could email your MP, using FindmyMP, with this draft letter that the nice people at FPA composed. 
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (Angry)
So, the budget ... unsurprisingly regressive (unsurprising because it's the Tories and people seem to have forgotten after 12 years of Labour that budgets can be like this), except for a few cases, and one case in particular -- tuition fees. 

Unfortunately this government, like the previous government, has completely messed up the marketing of loans and all the usual rhetoric from the newspapers and the NUS has sprung up about the huge amount of debt hanging round the poor necks of the students. I'm rather fed up of reading it, and so many people seem to be misinformed about university funding that I've decided to set out the facts in this post. I'll happily debate any of the points in comments.

1) Tuition fees are unfair -- Universities require funding, most of which comes from the government, in order to do the things that universities do (e.g. teach students, pay researchers, provide facilities). As this funding comes from the government, people who pay taxes provide the money for this. In order to get more money, universities also charge tuition fees to students. Students often get loans from the government to pay these tuition fees (so the universities get money from the government in multiple ways), but they are expected to pay these loans back once they start earning money. If there were no tuition fees, a large proportion of  the population would be paying for the rest to go to university. However, with tuition fees, the people who have gone to university and who have benefited from this experience pay more than the people who have not. This, it seems to me, is a pretty fair system.

2) Tuition fees are debt --  It is true that throughout university, and after you finish, you are presented with statements which show how much you've borrowed from the government in loans, and that you are expected to pay this back at some point. In this way it is like debt, but only in this way.
  • Unlike debt, it does not affect your credit rating.
  • Unlike debt,  there is no real interest charged on it. Instead the debt rises with inflation -- so you continue paying the real value for your education.
  • Unlike debt, you are not expected to pay it whether you can afford to or not. You begin repaying your student loan after you earn over £15,000. Above this you pay 9% of what you earn each year until you have repaid the debt. This means that if you are earning £20,000, you only pay the 9% on £5000 -- so £450 a year.
  • Unlike debt, your balance is completely wiped after 25 years.  

3) Increases in fees will put off students from poor backgrounds going to university -- There has been no evidence so far to suggest that this is the case (university participation has been going up year on year despite the introduction and increase of tuition fees). However, nothing puts off students from poor backgrounds more than a load of newspapers and the NUS spreading misinformation and rhetoric about tuition fees.

4) Tuition fees are regressive -- It's true that graduates who get high paying jobs will pay their student loan off quicker than those graduates who get lower paying (but still above the £15,000 threshold) jobs. That's why the government is proposing that graduates who get high paying jobs should pay a higher rate of interest than those with lower paying jobs. They're also proposing to increase the repayment threshold to £21,000 -- going back to our earlier example, the graduate who was paying £450 a year will now pay nothing, whilst a graduate who earns £25,000 will only pay the 9% on £4000, rather than on £10,000 (so £360 a year, rather than £900). As well as these truly progressive measures, they're increasing the repayment time from 25 years to 30 years -- this means that graduates with middling incomes will end up paying more, because they'll be paying for longer. However, they're expecting that only the richest 40% of graduates will pay off the full "debt", whilst the poorest 20% of graduates will pay less than in the current system. 

5) A graduate tax would be better --  Tuition fees are effectively a graduate tax, but instead of paying more than your education was worth, you pay the amount it was worth. Like the best taxes, people who earn more pay more, whilst those who earn very little pay nothing. Ignoring these important points, there are various logistical difficulties with a graduate tax to do with EU students, however I think that pales into insignificance when the current system is viewed as a vast improvement on a graduate tax. 

It leaves me feeling sick in my stomach to defend the Tories and the coalition government in such a way, especially given all the other stupidly regressive measures in the budget. There are plenty of things to complain about -- the welfare cuts, the lack of an equality assessment, AHSS funding -- but please, please not the tuition fees.
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
I have been a bit of a failure in keeping up to date with the Children, Schools, and Families Act 2010 - which had included all the Badman recommendations for the compulsory registration of home educated children and so on and so forth. 

Turns out it passed into law on April 8th. With all the home educated stuff removed. Completely. 

So, rejoice, rejoice, and remember: Education is compulsory, school is not.

I'll end with a quote from Lord Lucas on the matter*:

"We are considering a section of the Bill which will cost £20 million per annum, which is about £1,000 per home-educated child. These children receive no money to help pay the costs of examinations; no money to buy textbooks; no money to buy materials; no money and no tuition to help them over difficulties in education. Now the Government can find £1,000 for each of these children-and will spend it on auditing them. Not one penny will go to help the children; it will all go on auditing them. What have these people done to deserve that?"

* I really do not approve of the current state of affairs regarding the unelected house of Lords. However, they have swatted down and opposed so many absolutely stupid Labour policies in the past year or two that I have to feel a little bit grateful towards them. 

For more information see: and
strange_raptors: Profile shot of Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Utena)
My voting strategy can be summed up fairly succinctly: block the Tories from getting back into power. 

It's not a sophisticated strategy, and I feel sad that the first general election I've been allowed to vote in (stupid late May birthdays) is one where I feel so disillusioned by all the parties. I'm not voting for parties, I'm voting against them. So, for a bit of catharsis (so that I don't accidentally throw away my vote when I get into the polling booth), I've created this vid. 

I call it a vid ... it's more a series of photos, done to the same song that that excellent Merlin vid was done to (Sink or Swim by Tyrone Wells). This is my first vid, and I know it's not great. Apologies for the cast being all white men ... 

My first vid.
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
I've been catching up with what's going regarding Graham Badman's report on home education (full report here, summary of recommendations here). More specifically, I've been looking at what Education Otherwise (the home education charity) has been up to regarding the report. 

On the plus side, they seem to have a decent barrister with whom they're consulting, who raised a large number of issues with the report (proper issues that stand up in court rather than the instinctive "Oh god! This is so stupid!"). The minutes from that meeting are here

And then there was the survey that EO did of its own members - not the adults, though, but the kids. And I read through the responses that EO had collated. And I know they probably picked the ones that best suited their purpose because this is politics and not science. And I know that the sample size is far too small for the numbers to actually mean anything realistically. But the responses ... they made me cry. They made me cry quite a lot, in the sort of desperate crying you get when you realise that the messed up bit of the world has just intruded on something close to your heart. 

And I made footnote rashly promise that we would seriously consider home educating our kids when we have kids. Because the responses of the kids to that survey were about how some of them had had really appalling times at school, really appalling, but how they were doing better now. How they were happy, and learning stuff, but above all being happy. 

This is not a good detached report on what's happening with the law and home education at the moment. But it sums up my feelings on the matter, I guess. 

For reference, Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 (which is referenced quite a lot) can be found here.
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (wtf?)
Thought I should link to the actual report

Some of the recommendations are good. Things like the DCSF paying for exam entry, should the child want to be examined (recommendation 10). 

And then we get to recommendation 15:

That the DCSF take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents
to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with
educational or behavioural issues.

I'm sorry. Say that again? You're preventing schools and local authorities from advising parents to consider home education? WTF? WTF? No, seriously, WTF?

And that's ignoring such gems as recommendation 7:

The DCSF should bring forward proposals to change the current regulatory and statutory basis to
ensure that in monitoring the efficiency and suitability of elective home education:
  • That designated local authority officers should: 
    •  have the right of access to the home;
    •  have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.
In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.
  • That a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the effectiveness of elective home education as determined in Recommendation 1.
  • That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.
Watch! Watch as the small child performs for the inspectors! Watch how they jump through the hoops that their parents were forced to write down 12 months ago in order to allow them to continue to home educate their children. Because autonomous education totally works like that.

Honestly, I hope Education Otherwise screws the government well and truly over this, preferably under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 26, paragraph 3: Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children). Oh, but wait, this is a Labour government and we all know their record regarding human rights. Guess we're all screwed afterall.

(Seriously, though, if people could write to their MPs about why this review is mind-boggingly stupid, it would really help. They have 3 months to make a decision on this (I think) so any and all action taken during that time will help.)
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (Angry)
I am so angry by this report that I spent the last few minutes swearing at the screen. Repeatedly. This isn't about the welfare of kids - they've made that clear by the emphasis on having a planned education for your child. I knew it would come to this, that once they started looking into home education they'd find more and more excuses to regulate it. This! This from the government that promised in its election manifesto for 1997 to get rid of the national curriculum. This from the government who said that every child matters. This. I am beyond disgusted. I am beyond annoyed. Never again will fucking Labour get my vote. Never again. Bastards. Filthy lying rotten bastards. Never again.
strange_raptors: Profile shot of Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Utena)
Going by this BBC article, it sounds like the government will be recommended to increase monitoring of home educated kids. Will it be good for home education? I'm not sure. Increasing the LEA's (Local Education Authorities') power to allow home checks (something a number of LEAs already think they have the power to do) is, I think, somewhat an invasion of privacy - although I freely admit that I don't have a good answer as to how to check on the welfare of kids. I do not think, however hard the government claim, that schools provide a good way of checking up on this kind of thing. From that point of view, I'd rather have a national child registration scheme that checked up on everyone who has kids annually. Except that that would cause an immense fuss about nanny-states and so on. Picking on a small minority of educators won't really damage their votes all that much.

The other side to this review, that home educators should receive more support from LEAs is encouraging. Most of the advances for home education have been made by the charity Education Otherwise - things like free admission to museums, or educational discounts. I'd like to see the government give home educated kids the money that they put by for their education if they go to state school, a token that says we accept that you're choosing to educate your child at home, and that this means you will be working reduced hours, and that you will need to buy things like books, or educational software. But if they did that, they'd similarly have to give handouts to kids who go to private schools, and there might be a monetary incentive for home education. 

Ultimately, I disapprove of increased regulation of home education, partly because of my own experiences dealing with an LEA and listening to other people's stories, and partly because what it boils down to is a check on parenting, and I don't see why home educators should be singled out this way. 
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (Angry)
*GAH*. Why? Seriously, why? I (would have, if I'd been born a month earlier) voted for this government. I like this government. Why do they have to be such prats? Why? Note to future self: When having children, check the law re. home education. If over-regulated, emigrate.