Sunday, 18 October 2009

They Are Coming For Your Children: Why the changes in legislation concerning home education should worry every thoughtful parent. Part 1.

I thought I should write a little on why the current proposals on changes to legislation regarding elective home education should be of immediate concern to all parents, regardless of their educational choices.

The most common attitude I find amongst my non-home educating friends and acquaintances is one of support. The huge majority can see that this is a battle over freedom, and an important freedom in that it relates to the relationship between the state and the family, specifically the troika of the state, the child and the parent. Even these people though, with some notable exceptions, see this current fight as being the home educators' problem. Support is vocal and sometimes passionate, but usually not passionate enough to actually do anything to help. Theoretically they can see that what is happening to home educators links in with recent scandals over vetting and barring proposals, or mutually beneficial child care arrangements between friends. They know that the government is drastically wrong in its rejection of the recent Cambridge Review of primary education and that the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum for 3 to 5 year olds is hopelessly wrong-headed and potentially damaging. They can see there is somehow a link to the failure of Social Services and others to protect Baby P, Victoria ClimbiƩ, Khyra Ishaq, or the Eunice Spry foster children. In short, they know that the government is massively wrong in its attitude to children, education, families, and child protection, and that potential home education regulation is a part of that. All I can say to these people is, please put two and two together and act now on our behalf, because this is just part of the culture of suspicion that eminates from our government, and the creeping legislation to remove children from parental control and into malfunctioning state control.

The other attitude that I come across, albeit only occasionally, is that of course home education should be regulated. Such people sincerely cannot see why registration is an issue, and believe that monitoring is necessary to ensure that a child is receiving an education and is not being abused. "If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear." So it is to these people I am addressing this post, and the ones that I hop will follow.

1. Registration

First, a quick lesson. You may be surprised to hear that, in legal terms, registration means granting to some other party the power of 'regis' (literally 'kingship') over something which is yours. This means you are signing over temporary ownership of the 'thing' to someone else for them to care for in your stead. This comes from maritime law, as does much of our legal system of Acts and Statutes, whereby a captain would grant regis over (i.e. would register) his ship to a harbour master while he was on shore for a while, so that they could care for it in his absence, or sell it to recoup their costs should he not return. When you register something - whether it is your car or your child - you are actually transferring legal ownership to the body you register with.

This is not, however, the only reason a large proportion of home educators are against registration.

The Badman Review recommendations, which have been wholeheartedly approved by the DCSF, suggest that home educating families must register with their Local Authority. The LA's acceptance of their registration would be conditional on them:
  • submitting to statutory annual checks from LA officers in their own homes as to the safety of their children and the adequacy of their educational provision;
  • possible interviews with their children without parents present;
  • providing a statement of planned curricula, targets and projected outcomes for the following year;
  • proving satisfactory (by the LA's standards) progress in their child's development with regard to the statement they made the previous year;
  • several other criteria.
Failure to comply or to perform satisfactorally in any of these areas would lead to the refusal of registration and therefore the removal of the right to home educate. Effectively this is not a registration scheme, but a licensing operation.

Incidentally, it is proposed that failure to register or to provide 'adequate information' should be a criminal offence. This leads to an astounding situation where something that has always been a protected and lawful right, and an accepted part of natural law, will suddenly become a criminal offence through passivity - that is, if someone has been quietly, successfully, lawfully home educating for years and there is no hint of suspicion that they have ever done anything wrong, and carries on doing so without change, suddenly they are a criminal purely by the passing of a new law to make them so.

But again, this is not the only reason many home educators will not accept registration.

Registration, we can tell you from bitter experience, would only be the first step. The entry of our children on yet another database would inevitably lead to the harassment of many law-abiding people. LA staff may think they have the child's best interests at heart, but they do not include the parents' beliefs, philosophies, religion, parenting methods, or love for and hopes for their children in the formulation of their plans. With some exceptions, home educators' experience of voluntarily registration has been hugely negative. At the very least it is a "post code lottery" as to whether registration will bring helpful suggestions for useful local resources from a respectful LA education officer, or an immediate home visit by a hostile ex-head teacher whose only experience of education involves the blackboards, workbooks and lesson plans necessary in a group-learning situation.

But this too is not the only reason to disagree with mandatory registration of home educators.

How my child is educated is simply nobody's business but my own. Legally this is so; it is my responsibility under section 7 of the 1996 Education Act. We are actually being asked to register so that the LA, and thence the government, will know where all the children are. The only possible reason for them wanting to know where my child is is that they don't trust me to carry out my legal responsibilities and to do what is best for my child. Make no mistake: I am responsible for my child's education, and the Common Law principle of "innocent until proven guilty" applies to this as it does to how a child is raised between birth and 5 years old, or during the school summer holidays. Should children on their summer break register for the three months they are out of school? With criminal charges if they take the child elsewhere without first notifying the authorities?

It is often said that the state has a stake in the child, as that child will grow to become a boon to, or a drain on the country. I say that my children are unique human beings who should not be evaluated as mere raw material for the country's economic future. They are individuals who belong to no one but themselves, over whom their parents have natural guardianship by dint of having brought them into the world, and through their standing as the people who know and love them better than anyone else. Registration, in law as well as in practise, would sign my children over to the guardianship of the state. I will not disown or dishonour my children in this way.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post that really covers all the points.