THIS is a paradox: A mother goes out to work and hands over her children to somebody she does not know for their education and most of their care, and nobody questions the reasonableness of that decision. If that mother chooses to nurture her own children in her own home, she is regarded with suspicion.
The Schools Bill spells bad news for home educators. If this Bill is voted into law, parents will have a duty to register with the local authority (LA). Officials will be empowered to ask parents for whatever details about their lives that they consider necessary including their religious beliefs, their family size, what time the children are put to bed, at what age they learnt to read and how often they are taken to the park. Nothing would be out of bounds. Finally, via the personal judgment of whoever visits the home (and that person will be unlikely to be qualified appropriately), parents may be branded as giving their children an unsuitable education and issued with a School Attendance Order (SAO). An SAO forces parents to send their children to whatever school the LA chooses, always the one that is not oversubscribed and may well be rated as ‘unsatisfactory’ by Ofsted.
A parent cannot appeal against an SAO and non-compliance could result in a £2,500 fine or a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks; for comparison, common assault carries a maximum penalty of six months. For those of us who have spent years of our lives educating and nurturing our children, carefully picking out curricula, running groups for our children and their home-educated friends and watching our children thrive, this Bill is extremely unsettling.
We are intelligent, loving and devoted mothers and fathers. We are passionate about what we do and yet we feel that Westminster ignores us and brushes us aside. We are under suspicion, underestimated and misunderstood. It seems that home-educating families are victims of false circular reasoning: only inadequate, strange and dangerous people home educate, therefore we must be inadequate, strange and dangerous.
The mainstream media is ignoring this Bill and yet thousands of heroic parents have joined together online to fight it. We know that we represent thousands more families who fear that identifying themselves as home educators will risk LA intrusion. Families are rightly concerned about exposure since many of those LAs are very far from benign.
In 2018, the Government issued an Elective Home Education ‘Call for Evidence’. The first question posed was whether children who are electively home educated should be registered. The majority of respondents felt that current arrangements were already effective.
In 2019, the Department for Education (DfE) held a second consultation: ‘Children not in School’. The results were issued in February 2022 and of the 4,784 responses, 74 per cent said that a register of home-educated children maintained by the LA was not necessary. On whether or not parents should be given the legal duty of registering their child, 77 per cent of respondents disagreed, reasonably asserting that it would be an ‘invasive and intrusive attack on parents’ rights’, ‘wasteful of resources’ and that ‘education is a parental responsibility’.
We question why the government issued these consultations since its plan of action appears to have been a foregone conclusion.
LAs support compulsory registration, suggesting that it would help to ‘safeguard the children concerned as their existence would be recorded’. There is simply no evidence to support this, and Anne Milton, Secretary of State for Education at the time of the first consultation, said: ‘The text of the call for evidence made it clear that there were concerns amongst local authorities that home education increased these risks, but did not claim to present evidence to show whether this was in fact the case.’ Essentially, we home educators are suffering from a classic case of guilty until proven innocent!
Home educators up and down the country who would much rather be spending their time giving their children the ‘suitable’ education that Westminster is so concerned we cannot manage have been writing to MPs and collecting signatures for an unprecedented, record-breaking mass presentation of public petitions championed by superstar MP Graham Stuart on Wednesday.
We will make a statement. We have been collecting signatures in libraries, petitioning neighbours, posting in Facebook groups and asking around churches. We are mostly mothers as well as some fathers who are thrice busy: once in running households, twice in overseeing the education of our brood and a third time in defending our lives against an over-intrusive government that rides roughshod over us.
The Schools Bill is the fruit of a nation which has all but handed over the nurture and education of our children to the government. Cradle to coffin governmental care has so thoroughly supplanted the family that responsible and loving mothers and fathers who dare question the status quo are brushed to one side, upheld with utmost suspicion and even criminalised. Westminster, parents must retain primacy over their children; please step back and leave us to do what we do so much better than you do.