Mum and dad or the state? If you had to make a choice, to whom would you entrust a child’s future? Few sane and rational people, regardless of political persuasion, are likely to plump for the institutions of government over the family. Generally, parents know best, not least when it comes to education.
This ‘truth’ has been challenged most often under totalitarian regimes. From ancient Sparta to modern North Korea, from fascist Italy and Germany to communist USSR and Maoist China, the state acted or acts as a surrogate parent. The maxim attributed to the Jesuits is well understood by such governments – ‘Give me the child for seven years and I will give you the man.’
The extent of human wickedness that can be unleashed when state administrations replace parents was recognised in the wake of World War Two. Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) enshrines the right of parents to educate their children:
‘Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.’
For the avoidance of any ambiguity or doubt, in 1966 the UN General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It states:
‘The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children.’
Most countries around the globe have signed up to both the Declaration and the Covenant. Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act in this country reaffirms it.
What a surprise, then, to read in the Sunday Times (February 18, 2018) that a Facebook group of more than 7,000 have felt the need to protest against a parliamentary Bill which they perceive as a threat to the parental right to ‘home school’. Sponsored by Labour peer Lord Soley, the Bill, if enacted, will set up a compulsory register of all school-aged children. The register would enable children to be tracked at least once a year.
Baroness Cavendish, a former Times and Sunday Times journalist and ex-head of David Cameron’s No 10 Policy Unit, has told the Lords it is ‘an outrage’ that the government does not know the precise number of home-educated youngsters. Stories of some children being radicalised, abused, trafficked or, as the Sunday Times put it, ‘simply growing up ignorant’, have triggered the alarm bell.
Strangely, and presumably because they are registered, there seems much less awareness or concern about the same issues impacting on pupils within the mainstream system. ‘Simply growing up ignorant’ is a far greater issue for state school pupils than it is for those being home-educated. According to employers, around 20 per cent of school leavers are unemployable.
Similarly, the requirement for school to teach and promote ‘value-relativism’ under the British Values programme provides fertile territory for radicalising young people. It has led to two recent and well-publicised cases. One involved a class of 12-year-olds being required to write a letter explaining to their family the reasons why they had converted to Islam. Another was the ‘model lesson’ published by the TES asking young secondary school pupils to imagine they were members of ISIS and to write about the good things that membership brings, such as white slave girls. A link to the ISIS in-house magazine was provided.
Even more remarkable was Ofsted having to downgrade the status of one Church of England school from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ because it was judged to be promoting radical Islam!
We should not turn a blind eye when the right to home schooling is misused. A register may be necessary but not if becomes a vehicle for forcing children into the mainstream. Home schooling is a fundamental human right. A few countries – including Cuba, Belarus, Sweden and Germany but not Russia and China – use legal sophistry to outlaw it.
It is a right that provides a necessary safeguard against, amongst other things, poor teaching, brainwashing in political correctness, force-feeding of so-called sex and relationships education, bullying and Trojan Horse-style radicalisation.
The freedom to home-school is occasionally abused. In promoting this new Bill, however, their lordships should reflect on the adage that hard cases make bad law. The more likely casualties of our education system are not those educated at home but those educated in a mainstream school.