There have recently been several articles about home educated children being placed on a compulsory register. This all stems from a parliamentary bill that Lord Soley has proposed. The majority of lords (who don’t even have much understanding of education never mind home education!) were shockingly in agreement with Lord Soley. Only Lord Lucas wading in with more understanding of the situation ‘[if we] lived up to our obligations to these parents and children under existing legislation, I do not think we would have a fraction of the worry and problem we have’ (Scroll to column 453 to read more of his insights).
In the UK, education is a parental responsibility and The Education Act 1996 states that “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable— (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” The ‘or otherwise’ is where home education comes in and as long as the education is suitable to the child’s age, abilities and aptitude, it is up to the parents how this education occurs.
It speaks volumes to me that home education is becoming much more commonplace. There is a huge variety of reasons why a parent chooses to home educate, some (including us) chose to home educate from the beginning seeing it as a more tailored and child-led way of learning 1-1 ,earning or 1-2 in our case. I know that many teachers have chosen to home educate their children after teaching in the system and realising it’s not ideal. Other parents have deregistered their children from school due to issues with anxiety, bullying, not learning, limited support for SEN and many more reasons beside.
Lord Soley would like to amend The Education Act 1996, including:
(1)Local authorities have a duty to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education in their area.
(2)A parent of a child receiving elective home education must register the child as such with their local authority.
(3)Local authorities must assess annually each child receiving elective home education in their area (hereafter referred to as “the assessment”). [Including the monitoring of]:
development of each child.
(5)The assessment may include—
(a)a visit to the child’s home;
(b)an interview with the child;
(c)seeing the child’s work; and
(d)an interview with the child’s parent.
Does any of this worry you? It certainly concerns me and the majority of the home educators I know! Currently the local authority (LA) already holds the power to ask for further information on home educated children if they are concerned about their education. But with this new bill not only will home educated children be required to be registered, but they will also be assessed on their education, physical and emotional development. Suggestions of entering the child’s home, interviewing the child away from the parent (which even the police don’t have the power to do so!) and assessing the child’s work. The local authority person who is responsible for home education has no training in education or welfare, so how they propose to have any knowledge to assess home educated children surpasses me!
So why do we need a register? Every person is registered at birth, at doctors, dentists, opticians etc., home educated children access all of these services just like any other child does. If a child was registered at school then the local authority will also be informed once they are removed from the register, so they will be known, a register is not required. School itself is an opt-in service, it’s the parents responsibility to educate their child and they can choose to opt-in to school and let the school teach their child or take the brunt of the expense and responsibility to educate their child at home.
That takes us onto the assessment section. Lord Soley backtracked slightly and amended the bill to remove the ‘physical and emotional development’ from the assessment. The main reason so many people have taken children out of school is because they are not happy in that environment and aren’t able to learn effectively. How do you think these children are going to feel with someone they don’t know invading their safe space, their home and taking them aside to privately interview. Considering the overwhelming number of home educated SEN children this is going to be rather stressful and avoiding stressful situations is one of the reasons their parents chose to home educate in the first place. I also fail to understand how an annual visit is going to give the ‘assessor’ more than a momentary view into a child’s education. Unless they are suggesting that they ask the child questions based on the curriculum, which is ridiculous as the majority of home educators I know don’t follow a standard curriculum, if any at all. My own child is unsure of strangers and is unlikely to answer any questions during a private interview, so I can’t understand how that would even work, would he be classed failing simply because he won’t talk to a stranger?! Will all children in schools have compulsory private interviews too? Why would only home educated children by subject to this type of assessment? How would they decide if a child has failed an assessment or not? A child in Finland doesn’t learn to read until at least 7, but in the UK this would be considered a fail under the NC?!
So what is the real meaning of this bill? Well if you scroll through the parliamentary reading it mostly appears to be worries that parliament has no idea what home educated children are doing and that scares them. I’m pretty sure this is an easy one to find out, there are home education groups across the country who make no secret of their activities. Perhaps the lords and baronesses could read through some home education blogs. Who knows?! The information is there if they actually look for it and many home educators who have removed their children from school send in a report to the LA of what their child has been doing in relation to their education each year. Further reading makes it apparent that it’s more of a welfare issue, with worries about home educated children being abused (which there is no evidence as Lord Lucas points out) and radicalised.
So why would home education suddenly be linked to abuse? There is only one case of a home educated child being subject to neglect and this was Dylan Seabridge. However, as was pointed out by Lord Lucas his case had been raised a year before Dylan’s death, yet the authorities failed to act. This was not brought about by being home educated, this is a failure of authorities to act on their knowledge. There is no evidence that children in home education are any more likely to be abused than those in schools. Home education is not a welfare issue, that would come under social services and they already have powers in place to deal with any such issues relating to children’s welfare.
When it comes to radicalisation it appears that the lords are talking about illegal and unregistered schools. There is already power with OFSTED to identify and remove these schools. This has not a home education issue and the government already have the power to fix the problem. A new amendment will not change that.
Home education is not dangerous, just because Lord Soley doesn’t know much about home education doesn’t mean he should be scared of us. Home educators are a group of like-minded individuals who interact with a large community of families from all backgrounds and varying ages. We facilitate learning for our children through a huge amount of opportunities and create happy, educated and capable adults that have the motivation to create their own success.
Please don’t allow the government to make home educated into government-led rather than child-led. Let us lead our lives without assuming that we are guilty before proving innocence, which is all this bill appears to be.