If you watched Channel 4’s Dispatches episode you will know what I’m talking about from the title of this post. Their documentary about home education on the rise in the UK was alarmingly titled ‘Skipping School – Britain’s Invisible Kids’, which was clearly created to be shocking and try and turn the majority of the population against home educators.
Initially the programme comments that home educators are invisible to councils, which really ins’t true. Home educator’s children are out in the world learning every day, meeting adults, children and family. When children are taken off the roll of a school to home educate they will be known to the local authority (LA). The child is not hidden and any concerns can be directed to the local authority. If a child has been to nursery or is registered with the doctor, optician, dentist or known to the police, then they will be known to the local authority. Home educators are not invisible because they are not at school, they are seen at many places throughout the local area.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, then goes on to tell us that home education is illegal in Germany. Which is true, but has nothing to do with home education in the UK. The reason home education is illegal in Germany goes back to when Hitler was in charge. When you have a totalitarian state you want to be sure that you know what ALL children are learning and indoctrinate them into your ideas. Banning home education entirely is pretty worrying! Fortunately that hasn’t been suggested, but the fact Anne brought it up within Dispatches is rather suggestive of her way of thinking.
Home Education Rights
Of course parents who choose to home educate do not need to be qualified in any way and no curriculum is required. If you haven’t read up on how children learn through methods such as unschooling then you will probably wonder how this is possible. The problem is that most people have been to school and have been misled into thinking you need to be taught everything in life by a teacher. This isn’t the only way to learn, children are amazing little sponges. We learn how to walk and talk without teachers, learn colours, numbers and letters from their parents. So why is the rest of their learning any different? Children are born learners, they just need to be shown how to learn so they can learn EVERYTHING they ever need to.
Anne rightly pointed out that parents are allowed to decline visits. Instead most parents are likely to request to keep it in writing as this gives them more information in case the LA tries to overstep their boundaries on a power trip. Some authorities are better than others but there have been frequent reports of parents having to deal with the local authority trying to stop them from home educating for no apparent reason.
Lack of Long Term Home Education Families
The majority of the programme was built around 4 families who have recently begun home educating. Only one family chose to HE through their own choice, the other 3 had various reasons where the schools had not met their children’s needs. This included their school forcing them out (off-rolling) or not meeting their children’s needs in terms of autism, ADHD and various illnesses. The family that chose to HE through choice was only shown for a short period at the beginning of the programme. The edits were clearly biased to make a case for the parents not being capable of home educating, with the mothers mentioning what worried them about home education, struggling to get children downstairs in the morning and a dyslexic mother struggling with the word cataclysmic. A lot of the other information about how much happier the children were, how their mental health had improved and showing how much more they learnt at home was not shown. At least one of the mums who was filmed has written in some home education facebook groups to explain how heavily edited the programme was.
Failing School System
The next step in the programme was to talk to a school about ‘off-rolling’, which is when a school forces parents to home educate their child. This makes a school look a lot better for when Oftsed is due or get rid of children that they don’t have the budget to accommodate due to various needs. This is clearly not a home education issue, instead it’s an issue around schools looking out for themselves and not for the children. Perhaps another Dispatches programme could focus on the failing school system and understand what solutions can be put in place so ALL children’s needs are met?
Anne also visited a high school that showed a spike of children leaving to be home educated in the exam years. This, again, says less about home education and more about the stress and pressure children feel around exams. Perhaps less testing earlier on in schooling and less pressure to do well in exams would be helpful?
When mentioning that school should be the best place to get an education, I’m sure a lot of people would agree. However even Anne agrees that there has been dissatisfaction with the school system. She doesn’t offer any solutions, yet believes that removing kids is not the answer. So what is the answer? No solutions have been put forward, yet clearly the school system is the main problem here? Anne even went on to say ‘what chance does he have of academic success or getting a job now he’s home educated’. Yet the boy she was talking about had already mentioned that he feels more relaxed (better mental health), can finally tell the time (spent years not able to learn this skill at school) and is learning so much better at home, despite the fact his mum was forced to off roll him! To me it sounds like she’s doing a good job and supporting him a lot more than the school was able to.
So where were the families who electively chose to home educate from the start, who have never been to school and don’t intend to? Why were they not shown? Perhaps because they wouldn’t fit into the programme’s aims of vilifying home educators and aiming to get the general public to agree with stricter laws and a register of home educators (read here why I do not agree with a HE register).
A large proportion of the programme was related to abuse and illegal schools. I will dismiss illegal schools straight away as that is not home education and already has laws in place to prevent it. Abuse and neglect is a real issue for all children, however the focus on 5 historical cases of abuse of home educated children seems strange when in 2017 (2018 data not yet available) 47 children were recorded as dying from intentional abuse and neglect (government survey here) and a further 101 committed suicide. That is just in ONE year, yet Anne is focusing on 5 historical cases of abuse that have involved HE children. All the children who died from neglect and abuse and were HE were known to the authorities. Even the tragic case of Dylan Seabridge who apparently nobody had seen, yet a neighbour had raised concerns and the LA tried to visit. The issue here is that everything seems to revolve around the family home educating Dylan. The education was not the issue as a neighbour had raised concerns about his welfare, where there are clear procedures in place. Yet again this is a welfare issue which clearly should have been handled better using the proper procedures, not fobbing it off as an educational issue.
Unfortunately if someone wants to abuse or neglect a child they will find ways to get round it, whether a child is at school or home educated. Having a register will not help as they will simply not sign up to it and could easily move away to another area where people may not even know them.
Further Education and Employment
The programme gave no information on what happens to home educated children as they become adults. Instead of surveying older teens or young adults the programme simply stated that most home educated children are no in employment or further education when they turn 16. This may be because those children are still home educated, a large number of 16 year old’s are still in education even in schools! Although some colleges will take children at 14 years old, most won’t until they are over 16.
Many home educated do go to university, most with exams from further education establishments. However I’ve also seen plenty of parents on home education groups proud of their child gaining a university place without any exams at all. Instead they are accepted through interviews and portfolios of work. The great thing about home educated children is that they choose what to do with their lives and will have the drive to get to whatever endpoint they want to.
Children who are home educated are not ‘skipping school’, they are not registered at school so cannot skip it! Parents and children have chosen to home educate their children for various reasons and there’s nothing illegal about educating your child at home, or more likely the wider community.
Families choose to have children and raise them, not the state. We should be allowed to raise our children without having to subject them to interviews and visits. It’s as if a family is guilty of abuse just from choosing to home educate! What was brought up in this programme is a welfare issue, not a home education issue. If the LA wants to increase their abilities to check up on potential abusers, then they should do this through welfare channels and not education.
The government need to focus their efforts on the school system, an overhaul of some sort that takes the focus of testing and is inclusive of ALL children, no matter what their needs. Not only would that be better for children’s education, it would also improve children’s mental health too.