A KEY mission of TCW is ‘promoting the virtues of instinctive social conservatism and its importance for children’s wellbeing’. From time to time an issue arises which falls precisely into that category, and at the moment it is: what would Liz Truss do with home education?
In February when I warned home educators that ‘the Left is coming for you’, I had no idea that the Schools Bill which has now nearly completed its passage in the Lords with the Third Reading due in the autumn then across to the Commons, would propose such wide-ranging powers to regulate and control parents who teach their children at home, a freedom Britain has always enjoyed. I set out some of these astonishingly intrusive powers in June here.
Thankfully some of their Lordships were quick to realise that the Schools Bill is a disaster and basically a power grab by Whitehall with widespread use of dictatorial powers. Half of the Bill (Parts 1 & 2) has already been scrapped.
There has been significant and sophisticated opposition to the home education provisions with even some Church of England bishops backing home educators. The Christian Institute reported that the Bishop of Carlisle warned of ‘undue or unfair interference by local authorities in the area of religion and belief’ and that the provisions ‘cast a cloud of suspicion on all home educators’.
Britain’s small Orthodox Jewish community have reacted even more strongly, declaring ‘Hands off our yeshivot [traditional Jewish educational institutions] or we’ll leave Britain’. Twenty survivors of the Holocaust signed a letter to the Education Secretary explaining that yeshivot would be required ‘to teach secular subjects that are contrary to our customs and beliefs’ adding that there ‘is no evidence that the home schooling that Charedi families give to their children in the secondary schooling age is in any way inadequate or failing’.
With a Labour-dominated House of Lords, the votes are in favour of registration and control. Notably, however, Conservative peer Lord Wei, himself a home educator who understands exactly what the issues are, has been very vocal, writing in Conservative Home of the Bill’s clear evils: ‘The Schools Bill as currently drafted will remove the ability of parents to take their children out of school and educate them at home. It does this by enabling officials to inspect what is being taught and then, for the slightest, subjective reason, force parents to put their children back into school using an attendance order. If they refuse to comply, they would face a hefty fine and then up to 52 weeks imprisonment, without recourse to appeal.’
‘Instinctive social conservatism’ is part and parcel of true Tory values and educating your child at home is an instinctive part of the culture of wanting to conserve and promote what is best for your family. The magazine Country Life pointed out in a 2016 article, ‘Home is where the school is’, that a significant number of home-educated children live in the countryside and that the ‘existence of home schooling, like all independent education, serves as an ever-present reminder to the State sector that it has no monopoly and needs always to justify its actions, its teaching methods and its curricula to parents’.
The key question right now is what will the incoming Tory leader do with the disastrous Schools Bill and the clampdown on home education freedoms?
Ten years ago, as the incoming Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Childcare and Education, Liz Truss appeared before the Education Committee, who were examining Labour proposals for a register of home educators, opposed by the Conservatives.
She firmly nailed her Tory colours to the mast, telling the committee that ‘we give home educators considerable freedom. We also give them responsibility to provide a suitable education for their children. We do not ask them to register. We do not have undue interference, which I would not be in favour of’. She went on that ‘it is the parent who has legal responsibility to make sure that child has a suitable education. So it is their legal responsibility, and if they are not fulfilling that and it comes to the notice of the local authority, then the local authority has a duty to follow that up. But it is the parents’ responsibility, and I think we have to be careful about legislating from Westminster to try to interfere with that’.
Conservative Party members have a short interlude in which to exercise a rare opportunity to shape party policy before the mandarins step in and dominate the new Prime Minister’s time and thinking. While the two leadership contenders are busy promising the earth, there is every possibility that a fundamental change to the relationship between family and state will be progressed and implemented on the sly. The right to educate your child on your terms is a long-established and precious freedom to be thrown away at our peril. To this the leadership contenders must commit.
The seemingly inexorable rise of the Woke Nanny State is reversible and party members, MPs and the public have the chance to recover lost values and retain core freedoms by speaking up right now.