Home-schooling and the State
Mention to the average person that you home-school your children, and you will meet with one of three responses.
Some will be bemused, never having heard such a thing exists. Others, knowing the moral chaos in many schools, will react more positively and wish you well. But there could be a third response that can only be described as suspicion or outright hostility.
This last reaction may become more prevalent following a report in June 2009 into home-schooling conducted by Graham Badman, a former director of children’s services with Kent County Council.
Children’s minister Baroness Delyth Morgan commissioned the review in January 2009, controversially alleging that parents could be masking such evils as sexual abuse and domestic servitude by home-schooling (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1123182).
The Badman Report is now online on: http://publications.everychildmatters.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/HC-610_Home-ed.PDF
Among the review’s recommendations are that home-educators be required to register on an annual basis with local authorities and demonstrate they are providing a suitable education for their children within the home.
The aim of a ‘suitable education’ seems reasonable from one angle, but coupled with it is a draconian recommendation from Mr Badman that ‘designated local authority officers should have the right of access to the home [and] have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home-educator or the parent/carer’.
Needless to say the Government, in the person of Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has accepted all Mr Badman’s recommendations, although it has also launched a public consultation which is due to end on 19 October.
But is the Government right to accept the report’s findings? And what about the particular recommendation that ‘designated local authority officers should have the right of access to the home’? What if this were put into practice?
It would mean that local authority officials would be legally entitled to enter home-schooling homes - something even the police cannot do without proper suspicion that a crime has taken place – and assess what kind of education the children are receiving. Then if the officials don’t like what they find, they could issue a compulsory school attendance order.
And what about the central allegation that some have levelled against the whole home-schooling movement, namely, that it could be used as a cover for child abuse?
Is there any truth in this claim? On one level, the answer might be yes. Yes, homeschooling could be used as a cover for child abuse. But then again so could many other organisations, institutions and activities, including piano lessons and football clubs.
Even state schools – perish the thought – could be used as a cover for child abuse. Indeed, any activity in which adults and children are involved could conceal an evil agenda. But the fact that piano lessons, sports groups, or home-schooling could be used as a cover for child abuse is a million miles from proving it actually happens.
The fact is that Mr Badman, who was free to cite a load of cases of child abuse among home-schoolers, did not do so. And even if he had found a few isolated examples, would this have justified monitoring and harassing all the innocent parents of the other 20,000-80,000 home-schooled children the report reckons are in this country?
To our knowledge, the Government has no definite plans for requiring piano teachers or sports coaches to register with the State on an annual basis and undergo intrusive surveillance of their activities. So the question arises: why pick on home-schoolers?
To answer this, consider first the reasons for a growing number of parents using home-schooling. These reasons include parents believing that:
• the responsibility for educating children belongs with parents and not the State.
• state schools are too restrictive.
• the current educational ethos is incompatible with personal religious convictions.
• many state schools are too ‘child-centred’ and lack proper discipline.
• some state schools have poor academic standards.
• some state schools are unable to resource the one-to-one help that some children need.
• moral chaos exists in many local schools.
The last reason has led some parents to decide they would do anything before subjecting their children to such an environment. Then there are other parents who have already sent their children to state schools, but later had to withdraw them due to bullying.
But whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, home-schoolers are demonstrating disillusionment with or even outright opposition to the state school system. And that suggests two fundamental reasons the Government may be gunning for home-schoolers, while leaving piano teachers untouched.
Firstly, the State (if true to recent form) would rather not have any of its citizens reject its own accepted wisdom. It is about control. We are not talking about terrorists, of course, but about people who do not share the same philosophy as those in power and would prefer to pass on their own values rather than the Government’s to their children.
Secondly, the more people choose to home-educate because of inadequacies in the state system, the more the failings of that system will be exposed. This will be seen especially when home-schoolers achieve better grades than state schools, as recently highlighted in a major study on home education in the USA. This found that home-educated children academically outperformed their state-schooled peers by a considerable margin (details: www.hslda.org/docs/news/200908100.asp).
Tarring home-schoolers with the brush of educational neglect or, worse, child abuse certainly deflects attention from deficiencies in the state system.
In his report, Mr Badman recommends that home-schooling parents and guardians will need to ‘provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired outcomes for the child’ and that ‘they will be judged on this’. ‘For example’, he goes on, ‘by the age of eight, I think they should be autonomous learners, able to read’.
The (presumably unwitting) irony of this statement is amusing, if it were not so tragic. Perhaps Mr Badman should visit more state schools and discover what proportion of eight-year-olds there he finds so advanced as to be ‘autonomous learners, able to read’. And while there, he might like to look into those schools’ moral standards.
Will he find bullying, ‘sexting’ – sending sexually explicit text messages – harassment of teachers, playground mob control, lack of respect for authority, and a host of other social problems, or are all these things just the inventions of a few awkward critics?
We should weep for the many children who have been so let down by an educational system that claims to be the best in the world, but which, in many cases, provides a thoroughly miserable experience for them.
To return to the Badman Report, at root, this is all about human and parental rights. Should not parents have the liberty to educate their own children, within certain agreed parameters, without the threat of state interrogation and prosecution?
Do not parents still have a God-given responsibility to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) or has the State become the all-powerful parent of every single child in the country?
To put it another way, does the State exist to serve the people? Or do the people exist to be willing slaves of the all-powerful State?
Readers can respond to the Government’s consultation on home-schooling at: http://www.dscf.gov.uk.consultations