I write to you regarding your shameful coverage of the Khyra Ishaq case on the Jeremy Vine Show on Friday. While the interview was conducted by Fern, it was done in the name of JV and quite honestly, you should both be ashamed.
Fern, to be a journalist is many things; there is, without doubt, a pressure to provide a story from one’s employers – and no doubt from those who employ your employers. There is certainly a need to provide readers or listeners with something to make them think. There is an adage that one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. But there is also a duty to investigate, to look at your story impartially and with open eyes. To regurgitate pap is not journalism, or certainly not the sort the BBC should expect. It is the stuff of Bella Magazine to simply follow a hysterical mantra spouted by an agency with more to gain from the hysteria than it has to gain from the truth.
Fern, throughout your career you have marketed yourself as a champion of people, of families and i suspect, you believe that you are someone who allows the voices of women and children to be heard. It may be, while you hosted a conversation yesterday about the desperate case of Khyra Ishaq,that you believed you were doing so.
I believe you let down many more women, children and families than you championed yesterday. I believe you let down Khyra, her siblings, other children in her position and every last home educated child and home educating family in the country. And i would like to tell you why.
If a community knows itself to be at fault, it tends to clam up and hide the evidence. You might ask yourself therefore, why the home educating community are not silent about Khyra Ishaq, or indeed about Eunice Spry and her children?
I can tell you why. We are not silent because we are furious on behalf of those children, furious they were abused and furious they were let down. But we know they were not let down because they were home educated, even if those words are applied to the position they were in. There is a significant difference between Elective Home Education and Children Missing Education, one you should educate yourself on.
Those two families, the only ones the government can bring to the table in defence of their persecution of home education, were NOT hidden, unsupported, abandoned home educated children who would have been saved had they been in school or inspected more frequently. Khyra was in school; her teachers knew she was at risk and begged for help, the teachers at her siblings schools knew they needed help. Social Services knew they needed help and they visited – and the sum total of their efforts was seeing the child on the doorstep and concluding she was fine, despite plenty of other people categorically saying she was neither fine nor safe. Her mother did remove her from school yes, a devious mother who knew how to play the system to hide the worsening truth. But the truth was already in the domain of Social Services – who abandoned her.
And Eunice Spry was also known to Social Services, not just because there were some concerns about children in her care but also because she was an approved FOSTER MOTHER who continued to have children placed with her and left in her care despite those concerns. Yes, they were not in school, i agree. But if regular visits from Social Services concluded she was a fit parent to continue fostering, how exactly was the fact that she was supposedly home educating to blame?
I think, Fern, you have been duped – by a government and a Secretary of State who would like to divert attention from the fact that his Social Services network failed children in its care. Now, why would he prefer to pass the buck on to home educators?
The only cases the government can find where “home education was a factor” are ones where the authorities were already significantly involved in the family and did nothing to help those children. They did not use the powers they had to help them, powers which would have been entirely sufficient to save them, had they been used properly.
Fern, you asked “Should home-educators be required to follow the same rules as the rest of us?” I would like to ask you what rules you mean?
Do you mean “should home educators be handing their children into state care daily and asking permission to spend time with them at non-government approved times?”
Do you mean “Should home educators only spend the hours after 4pm and weekends with their children?”
I have to tell you Fern, those are not rules. They are norms, but they are not rules. And i am free to break norms; i am free to choose to be with my children, to be responsible for them, to educate them as i see fit. I am free to aspire to bring them up in a way that allows them to contribute to a better world.
What rules do you mean Fern?
Do you mean “should home educators have to feed, clothe, love, care, nurture, respect, provide for, worry about, taxi-drive, spend money on their children like you do? ”
Do you mean “should home educators have to make sure their children have friends, go places, see things, do things, interact with people, socialise, join Brownies/Gym/Taekwondo/Dancing/Rugby/Youth Club/Drama Club like you make sure your children do?”
Because Fern, we do. Home educators are a committed bunch of people, with their children’s best interests at heart, who live in the same world as you do, with the same clubs, the same National Trust, the same Alton Towers, the same shopping centres, the same swimming pools. We can make use of all those things to – and we do – cheaply and at off-peak times quite often, allowing many of us to use them more often than schoolers because we can afford to do so.
Or do you mean this rule, Fern? Do you mean “Home Educating families should have to prove yearly that they are innocent of any wrong doing, without cause to believe they are guilty of anything when the inspection took place, by allowing people into their homes, to speak alone with their children, to be inspected and verified and stamped as a good and wholesome family who are allowed to go about their lawful business for another year?”
Do you live by that rule, Fern? Do you allow someone to do that to you yearly? Would you like it if they did? That is quite a different rule to living by an internal code of right parenting and good community which doesn’t (yet) have to be stamped by an authority.
Khyra Ishaq died because she was failed by the state while she was in school, a state which then did nothing to prevent her disappearing even though they knew she was in danger. So should we begin inspecting the homes of all school children, just in case?
Baby Peter died because he was almost ‘invisible’ due to being under 2 and because 60 professionals to whom he was not so invisible didn’t deal with what was happening to him. Should we inspect, yearly or more often, the homes of all under 2 year olds to check they are not also being abused?
Some children become obese because their parents have poor understanding of nutrition. Some don’t. Shall we send all overweight parents to health and nutrition classes and monitor the meals they provide their slim and fit children because obese parents cannot be trusted to do better for their children than they have done for themselves?
Some children get bullied at school. Shall we inspect all of them to ensure they are not learning to be bullied by bullying parents?
Some children are bullies. Shall we inspect all their homes to check they are not being taught to be bullies by bulling parents?
Some children drink alcohol when they are too young. Shall we inspect all their homes to check if their parents like more than a bottle of wine a week?
Some girls get pregnant under age. Should we fit all 11 year olds with an IUD, just in case?
For 2 cases of children removed from school, Ed Balls and the media and Graham Badman have framed the parents of perhaps 80,000 children as possible child abusers who need to be monitored. No one has done an impact assessment on those children to see how this has affected them.
I can tell you. My happy, healthy, fulfilled, loved and home educated children are furious. Hurt, furious, bewildered and confused. They do not understand why they, and their lifestyle, has been singled out like this. My children, who know how to behave in groups and in public, who regularly have to wait for the schooled kids to settle and behave at clubs, who have friends who hate school and learn nothing there, cannot understand why they are being scapegoated.
My children fully understand that their parents are under attack – and it is hurting them. I’m big enough to take it – but it is hurting my children.
You might say there is no smoke without fire, Fern.
I say the BNP might say that about black skinned people.
I say Hitler might have said that about Jewish people.
I say some might still say that about people who are gay.
It doesn’t make any of them right. It doesn’t make Ed Balls right.
I might say all journalists are idiots who cannot think for themselves because the Daily Mirror and Bella Magazine exists.
But i’m disappointed to have to think that about Fern Britton and the BBC.