Home education under threat

Anyone who reads the papers probably realises that the government wants to make major changes to the way home education in the UK works. Graham Badman wrote a controversial report during the early part of 2009, which put home education under threat in a way that had not previously happened. 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 the law had never required. The report also recommended that the LEA inspectors should have new powers. He wanted them to have ‘right of access’ to home educators’ homes, and even the right to speak to children without parents present.

Badman also tried to enforce so-called ‘minimum standards’ amongst home educators. He wanted parents to register annual plans, curricula and expected achievement outcomes. On the plus side – perhaps – he recommended that flexi-schooling should be more straightforward. He also proposed 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 that abusive parents might use home education as a cover-up. 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 they suspect abuse or neglect. Indeed, some media reports suggest that that Social Services don’t do a very good job of helping many of the children whom they already know about.

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 Social Services knew about 0.4% of them (for child protection reasons, apparently). This was in contrast 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.

Why did the Badman Report put home education under threat?

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 would 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 attendance records. Home educators are not ‘hidden’. They are out in the community, active in groups, and generally well-known in their neighbourhoods.

If it were JUST a question of registering, it would not necessarily be a bad thing. That assumes a one-off, at the age of four or five, or when parents withdraw a child from school. If it guaranteed LEA help when requested (eg for exams, or for using school sports or music facilities) but no interference, then it could be positive. Even then, I believe it should be optional, since not all parents want help from the state.

But the proposal was for compulsory annual registration. It also required the parents’ planned outcomes for the year for each child. This suggests complete lack of understanding about how home education works. Even when parents use a 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 contrast, can treat each child as an individual. They tailor and adjust their education to the child’s own age, ability and aptitude – as the law requires.

Monitoring puts home education under threat

As for monitoring, that suggests that government is responsible for children’s education. This is not the case. Parents are responsible, whether their children are educated at school or ‘otherwise’. Moreover, 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 to interfere in the home education community.

The home education community is relatively small. Many people who send their children to school have no idea how it works, and may think that monitoring is a good idea. But consider what would happen if these suggestions became law. It would give the government a precedent for monitoring in other situations.  What would happen next?

How about monitoring of children’s weight levels?  Perhaps the government will consider children ‘at risk’ if their parents buy crisps and fizzy drinks in the supermarket. Would it become law for all parents  to provide five fruit and vegetable portions per day, or risk imprisonment? Will the government count overweight children ‘at risk’*? Would the government require them to eat all their meals under controlled environments? Perhaps they would require vegetarians and vegans 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. It reported that a family in Scotland had all their children – including a newborn baby – taken away from them, due to their obesity.