E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages.  
December 24, 2004
The Williams family versus Hampshire LEA

PeterWilliamsChess.jpgI interrupt my Christmas holidays with news of Peter Williams, and of the battle that his parents are embroiled in with Hampshire LEA.

Who is Peter Williams? Well, among other things, he is a chess champion:

A seven-year-old chess champion has been pulled out of school by his parents after a row over skipping lessons to practise the game.

Peter and Carol Williams decided to teach their son Peter at home in Alton, Hampshire, after the local education authority refused to give him time off for training sessions.

Peter's school, St Lawrence Primary in Alton, had blocked a request to give him a day off every week to play chess.

Peter has dazzled experts with his talent for chess since the age of five - beating scores of older children and adults.

Most recently, the prodigy won the top prizes of 100 and 120 respectively in the Central London Adult Rapid Play and Adult Long Play championships.

He has also won several junior tournaments, including the mini squad under-nines championships last year.

Peter said on Tuesday: "I like the money and the trophies. I want to be the best."

His father added: "Peter is the best chess player of his age in the country.

"We just want him to have the very best chance.

"We wanted him to have time to study and, as children of his age learn best in the morning, we wanted to take him out of school one day a week.

"But the school and the local education authority were treating it as truancy. It's a disgrace really."

Mr Williams said he expected Peter will remain out of school until he is old enough to go to secondary school, where he hopes the timetable will be more flexible.

This report by Alice Mascarenhas, of a chess tournament in Gibraltar, includes some stuff about what sort of boy Peter Williams is:

Gerard Matto, at seven years of age, is one of the youngest local players, playing for the first time in the Amateur Tournament. He had made friends with Peter Williams who has been playing since the age of five. Now, also seven years of age, he is one of the main hopefuls in the English camp, participating in the international tournament.

Having a bit of fun, and after a game, I caught them pawn flicking. They insisted on teaching me how to play anti-chess. A challenge I could not refuse.

Peter is a great Harry Potter fan, and often believes he is a magician himself when facing a chessboard. But not surprisingly, he keeps his moves a secret and just like young Matto is not daunted by any of the adult players.

Peter smiles and tells me cheekily he plays because "you can make loads of money". But on a serious note he is a natural at the game and obviously enjoys the challenge.

"You have to concentrate."

So what else do you enjoy other than chess and reading Harry Potter? "That's easy, educational studies," came back the reply.

It certainly doesn't sound as if Peter Williams is going to degenerate into a vegetative state if he pursues those educational studies that he so much enjoys at home, with his parents, rather than at a school which is determined that he must fit into their routine, no matter what.

I wonder if that remark about "loads of money" is making any difference to how those LEA edu-crats are now treating this case. I say, good for you mate. But I wonder if they approve quite so much.

Both of those reports are somewhat out of date, the first one dating from the summer of 2003. However, having finally heard about this ruckus via Daryl Cobranchi's blog in the USA (such are the ways of the blogosphere), I emailed Peter's mother, and I got an instant response, which you can read at Samizdata by following the trackback below (this being the posting that is going up first). Daryl Cobranchi has posted the address of a Hampshire edu-crat and a Hampshire councillor, whom you can write to if you want to join in this argument. My suggestion (based on what I learned when I was an Amnesty International volunteer a long time ago): be polite and phrase your points in the form of questions rather than put-their-backs-up assertions which might be wrong. Lots of polite letters should be the procedure. No doubt this has now been happening for some time.

Here is an imperfect but just about legible scan of the Failure Notice that Hampshire LEA sent to Peter Williams (snr.), also a bit of a while ago.



Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:13 PM
Category: Home education

There is an equilavent of HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association http:/www.hslda.org) in Britain.

Ruth Slack, Home Service
48 Heaton Moor Road, Stockport, SK 4NX, United Kingdom

Phone Number: 44 161 432 3782
Email Address: info@home-service.org
Website: www.home-service.org

Clearly, there is no legal prohibition of homeschooling in England (Scotland is slightly more complicated).

According to HSLDA:
Compulsory Attendance Ages: 5-16
Legal Status: Homeschooling is clearly legal in England, which allows for children to attend school or "otherwise." There is no requirement to inform the authorities when one is home educating.
Number of Homeschoolers: Between 20,000 and 100,000 children.

Link up with other homeschoolers. Get a lawyer or find a group that provides legal assistance. Stop talking to the LEA directly.

It doesn't sound like you are, but don't mess around trying to do this on your own. It is not unheard of for a judge in the U.S., even though the particular state may allow homeschooling, to give a court order to force a kid to attend a particular school.

If you must, move to another county. Do NOT get to the point where a judge is involved in making this determination. If you get to that point, while rare, it could mean you'd be forced to remain in your current locale with no hope of escape.

One of the main reasons we live in Texas is that homeschooling is "unregulated" here. There are still horror stories, but not nearly as many as regulated states.

I cannot stress this enough--do not give any more information to the LEA without a lawyer between you and them. These things can go sour quickly.

Comment by: Mrs. du Toit on December 24, 2004 03:27 PM

I'd be a bit careful on this one Brian.

Couple of point stick out
1. Hamshire clearly let some parents home school - so there may be a better reason other than vindictiveness why they' re being difficult in this case.
2. The Education authority asked about qualifications - which seems like a sensible question. But we get no answer about the situation from the post. I'd bet both parents failed maths o level so cant teach the kid maths.
3. Exams are relevant since to take maths at 13 it helps if you were taught maths at 6. So the question about exams is really just asking them whether they'd thought things through.
4. The paragraph about "shouldnt the state give us money is the killer since it implies that a) they are aware that they are not able to provide a proper education themselves b) looks a bit like they're playing the system for cash.
5. This came via a US blog. If you had an education problem why go to an american, who probably knows less about the system than someone british? Perhaps because they're more likely to take your story verbatim? Especially if its a pro home schooling blog. So there are touches of Dan Rather here - have you actually met this kid?
6. People are aware of the power of blogs to generate letter writing campeigns, which seems to be the purpose of the posts. But some people play the system. I suspect that under all this there's a desire for revenge against an official who the origionator though was be questioning her fitness to be a parent"

Comment by: giles on December 24, 2004 09:03 PM

I support the LEA here. Any child can be taught to be a "chess genius" - look at that Eastern European man who "trained" both his daughters to be grand masters by the age of 12 - but it's not a very healthy thing for a child to become involved in. There is not a good record for the chess prodigy's of the world becoming healthy and adjusted adults.

This kid needs to get a good all-round education. Chess can be a side thing.

Comment by: Bryan on December 31, 2004 09:34 PM
Post a comment