Memorandum submitted by West London Home Educators
1. Mr Badman pits children’s right against parents’ rights throughout the review. This is incorrect and could lead to dangerous social policy.
2. Parents will have responsibility without power.
3. Responsibility for education will shift away from parents to government with far-reaching consequences.
1. Throughout the review there is talk about finding a “balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child”  This notion that parents and children have opposing interests is incorrect and could lead to dangerous social policy. Presenting family life in this way seems to imply that the rights of these two complementary parts of the family are in direct opposition to each other. The scenario is presented as if parents are trying to use the current law to structure family life in a way that suits the parents’ needs alone, despite any potential damage this might mean to their children’s lives. In fact, this posturing of the debate is artificial and damaging.
All the aspects of family life: earning a wage, feeding the family, having leisure time together and learning together are all part of family life that benefit both parents and children and are crucial for family cohesion. This is no conflict of interest between adversarial ‘sides’ but a mutual and organic melee of common interests.
The implication in the review is that children are home educated against their will, that parents see it as in their own interests to stop their children going to school, for some unknown benefit that only parents derive. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact home educating parents and children spend much of their time together thinking about, articulating and demonstrating to themselves and their family as a whole the benefits of home education.
Further the review seeks to allow local authority officials to speak with children alone “to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well” In order to do this the review is asking for powers for the designated local authority officers. They should:
– have the right of access to the home;
– 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.
This recommendation cannot be referring to welfare concerns about a child because the law is already clear about the procedures local authorities and social services have to investigate any welfare concerns. As this review is about an educational choice, one must assume that the reference to being “safe and well” has to do with educational matters. This must be understood in the light of an analysis of conflicting interests between parents and children. If parents are somehow home educating their children for their own reasons and against the interests of their children, as this review suggests, then the only line of defence for these children is presented as some external government agency. We would like to ask where is the evidence of any sort, however small, that this has ever been the case? This antagonistic representation of home educating families is very dangerous indeed. It presents a picture of family life where all parties are pitted against each other with only government appointed professionals as referees. Needless to say, we would entirely reject this picture of modern family life and as we have previously stated, we see the family as a fluid organic mixture of continual subtle negotiation and cooperation between all of the family, to work together to find compromises and mutual aid for the good of the whole.
2. Parents will have responsibility without power
Mr Badman says in the review:
I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility without power.
This is an interesting point. As the law now stands and as the review reiterates, it is and shall remain parents who are responsible for their children’s education. If local authorities believe now that they have responsibility without power, this will actually be the case for parents in reality if these recommendations are made law. How is it possible for parents to hold primary legal responsibility for their children’s education and at the same time for that education to have to be ‘licensed’ by the local authority, as it will be if these recommendations are implemented?
Currently, parents are responsible for deciding and delivering the education that is suitable for their children. Where there are concerns, the onus is on the state to prove that they are failing to do so. Mr Badman’s recommendations place the decision regarding ‘suitability’ into the hands of the LAs. If enacted, these proposals would effectively remove parental choice, undermine parental responsibility for education and make the state the parent of first rather than last resort. State control of education contravenes the Human Rights Act and the UNCRC.
This leads to our third point:
3. Impossibility of parents remaining responsible for their children’s education
If these recommendations go through, Recommendation 1 would require annual registration:
“At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months. Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.”
The parents’ statement of educational approach, intent and planned outcomes has to be approved by the local authority, so the final responsibility for the child’s education would rest with that authority. Parents would no longer have the prime responsibility for their children’s education, despite Mr Badman’s protestations to the contrary.
If these recommendations and primary legislation come into force, it must be asked, what will be the mechanism by which local authorities can be called to account when educational provision is not 'suitable' or 'efficient'? Further, how does the government envisage the procedures for all children to access compensation from their local authorities if they deem their education was not sufficient and suitable? This procedure must also extend to schooled children, as local authorities would also have the prime responsibility for their education since this would have been divested from all parents, not just home educating parents.
This is a change in the relationship of children to parent, parent to government and citizen to state. It is a fundamental change in the way England views family life and therefore has implications for all families, not just those choosing to home educate. For example, as the law stands now, all parents can choose the style of education they think best for their children. If for any reason your children are not doing well at school, for the moment you have the possibility of trying a different type of education. This will no longer be the case if these recommendations are made law. Or again, the fact that parents are responsible for their children's education, and not the school, LA or government, gives you a greater legal weight in asking for changes in the system to meet your children's needs.
Further, the education world is a richer, more diverse and interesting place when there is more than one type of education on offer. Home educators are a potential creative melting pot of novel educational approaches and alternative ideas, which in today’s global market are currencies which are in very high demand.
In conclusion, although we have made only a few detailed points about the review, there are many others that could have been made. We reject the review in its entirety, as there is no evidence presented in it that shows there is a problem vis-ą-vis EHE. Current legislation is capable of dealing with any and all the problems that may arise, as shown by the lack of evidence in this review. There is no problem. To suggest changes to primary legislation with the consequence of changing the relationship of families and the state without any identified and proven problems is extraordinary. This demonstrates either a complete lack of understanding of the review process or a closed mind that had outcomes planned before the review began. Legislation introduced in either of these cases is very damaging, both to the political party in power and the parliamentary system as a whole.