Home education under threat

Anyone who reads the papers probably realises that the government wants to make major changes to the way home education works in the UK. A report was undertaken by Graham Badman during the early part of 2009. He met many home educators, and admitted to being impressed with most of them. But his report, published during June 2009, was not encouraging.  He proposed compulsory registration for home educators – something that had never been required before. He also recommended that the LEA inspectors should have a new power, enabling them to have ‘right of access’ to home educators’ homes, and even the right to speak to children without parents present.

Badman also wanted to enforce so-called ‘minimum standards’ amongst home educators, requiring parents to register annual plans, curricula and expected achievement outcomes. On the plus side – perhaps – he recommended that flexi-schooling should be more straightforward, and that the LEA should make it easier for home educated students to take exams such as GCSEs without cost.

To confuse matters further, Graham Badman appeared to have muddled Social Services concerns with educational ones. He suggested, bizarrely, that home education might be used as a cover-up for abuse. Naturally this enraged the home education community. Sadly, there are children in the UK who suffer in this way, some of whom may be educated at home (although the majority are in school). But Social Services already have the right to intervene if this is suspected. Many recent media reports suggest that they don’t do a very good job of helping many of the children who are already known to them.

Unfortunately some of the papers picked up on poorly used statistics in the Badman report. An appalling article headline stated that home educated children were “at a severe disadvantage”.  Why? Because Badman claimed that 0.4% of them were known to Social Services (for child protection reasons, apparently), compared to 0.2% in the rest of the population. Since only about 20,000 home educators were known to the LEAs, this implied that 80 home educated children were possibly in danger. The other 19,920 who were known to the LEAs were in no danger at all – they were not in any way at a ‘severe disadvantage’.  Nor were the other 30,000 (or more) who were unknown to the LEAs.

There was a government consultation, which was the biggest threat ever to British home education. They were proposing that Graham Badman’s suggestions became law.

If you are not a home educator, and wondered why these proposals are so terrible, here’s my personal view. Annual registration of all home educators would be a massive waste of tax-payer money, and achieve very little. If the government wished, they could already find the names of most home educators by comparing the Child Benefit records with the private and state school attendence records. Home educators are not ‘hidden’ – they’re out in the community, active in groups, and generally well-known in their neighbourhoods.

If it were JUST a question of registering – a one-off, at the age of four or five, or when a child is taken out of school, and if it guaranteed LEA help when requested (eg for exams, or for using school sports or music facilities) but no interference, then it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Even then, it should be optional, as not all parents want help from the state.

But the proposal was for annual registration, and that it should include the parents’ proposed outcomes for the year for each child. This suggests complete lack of understanding about how home education works. Even when parents use some curriculum or work-books, they usually take account of the children’s own interests too. How would a parent know in September that the child would want to know all about – for instance – Ancient Egypt, or steam engines, or trigonometry – in January?  How can they know how quickly their child will progress with reading, or typing, or indeed any other skill?  Schools must produce outcomes and curricula because teachers have to attempt to educate thirty diverse children at the same time. Home educating parents, by constrast, can treat each child as an individual, tailoring their education to the child’s own age, ability and aptitude – as is required by law.

As for monitoring, that suggests that it is the government who are primarily responsible for children’s education. This is not the case. Parents are responsible, whether their children are educated at school or ‘otherwise’. The government has no way to determine what is a ‘suitable’ education for each child. Schools don’t succeed with all children, after all. Some do well, others fail even to learn to read in a school environment. A newspaper article pointed out that thousands of teenagers are – basically – illiterate thugs. Until the government can solve the many problems within state schools, they have no right at all to interfere in the educationally superior home education community.

Finally, if you still think that home education really ‘should’ be monitored, and assessed regularly, for the rather nebulous reason that children have a right to be educated, consider that if these suggestions were made law, they would give the government huge powers that have never before been seen in the UK. The home education community is relatively small. Many people who send their children to school have no idea how it works, and may think it’s a good idea to be monitored.

But if this law is ever passed, what will be next? How about monitoring of children’s weight levels?  Perhaps children will be considered ‘at risk’ if their parents buy crisps and fizzy drinks in the supermarket. Will all parents be required to provide five fruit and vegetable portions per day, or risk imprisonment? Will overweight children be considered ‘at risk’* and required to eat all their meals under controlled environments manned by government employees? Perhaps vegetarians and vegans be required to prove that their children are receiving sufficient protein…

Ridiculous?  I don’t think so.

*Indeed, just a few days after I wrote that, there was a very worrying news article reporting that a family in Scotland had all their children – including a newborn baby – taken away from them, due to their obesity.