There follows a guest post by Jessica Turpin, a home educator who is concerned about the Government overreach of the new Education Bill, which grants local authorities sweeping new powers to regulate home education and force home educated children to attend their own failing schools.
Who is responsible for your child’s education? It may well surprise you to learn that if you are a parent in the U.K. today then it is legally your responsibility to ensure that your child receives an “efficient full-time education… either by regular attendance at school or otherwise” (Education Act 1996 Section 7). This law makes complete sense since nobody loves a child, knows a child or is more committed to his or her wellbeing than the parent. Moreover, as a committed Christian, I believe that the Bible clearly delegates the responsibility of educating and training children to their parents, as well as admonishing us not to exasperate them! There is no space for the Government to usurp us on this point.
Most parents entrust the educational aspect of parenting to the Government. They are perfectly entitled to do so. A few of us do not.
My husband and I have seven children, aged four to 11, including two sets of twins. We have never made use of Government nurseries nor of Government schools. We have elected to give them a Classical Christian education at home and have never looked back. If you lived on our street, you would likely want your children to be friends with my children. Indeed, they are well-known and well-liked. My children will not teach your child to swear, they will not sell your child drugs, nor will they show your child how to find pornography on the internet. They will not beat up your child. I am not trying to be funny; my husband and I know the faces of the local schoolchildren who would not think twice about deliberately injuring one of our offspring.
If you would take the time to get to know another home educating family, you will meet people who may well do things differently to us. Families have differing values and differing reasons for home educating. Many, like us, have never taken advantage of the ‘free’ Government system. A great number have been burned by the schools. A large proportion have children with learning difficulties who have given up hope of receiving the support they require at the hands of the Government and elected to bring education ‘in house’.
Now the Education Bill has landed. It is being discussed in the House of Lords this week and devoted parents who typically pay twice for education (once for your children and again for ours), who generally manage on one income, who spend their evenings planning, preparing and networking instead of relaxing in front of the TV, who are raising the children whom you will want to employ ten years henceforth, are about to have their freedom removed by a Government that does not know the limits of its own power.
Before you brush us aside as an unusual and dangerous breed particularly deserving of Government control, could I ask you to ponder a few questions. What would you do if your child were being mercilessly bullied in the school playground and left the house each morning in tears? What if your child’s teacher posted explicit sexual content on Facebook and after an ‘investigation’, the school found nothing to be concerned with? What if your daughter suffered sexual abuse in the toilets? What if your bright child in a class of 25 was bored and frustrated, unstretched and unchallenged in the abilities you know he possesses? Is there a point where you would say, “Enough is enough. A line has most definitely been crossed. I no longer wish to outsource my child’s education to the Government since it has been tried and found wanting. Henceforth, I will personally oversee my child’s education and ensure his or her safety during the hours of 9am until 3pm?”
Allow me a moment to walk you through the ways in which this seemingly prudent and wise decision would open the door to unacceptable Government intrusion into your family life.
Number one, your name will be put on a register. “Innocuous,” I hear you say. The Government has lots of lists. It has a list of sex offenders. It has a list of people with driving licences. (Do we really need a licence in order to educate our own children?) What many home educators recognise is that once the Government takes control of one area of life, it does not easily relinquish it. The tendency rather is to impose ever tighter controls. A very real concern amongst home educators is that a register will open the door to the requirement to follow the National Curriculum. I would like to suggest that if they standardise us, they are discarding riches. Take my family: today our ‘book-work’ included Latin, Greek, a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem and some creative writing on an imaginary visit to Wonders of the Ancient World. We also visited the park, tidied our bedrooms, read stories to a poorly four-year-old and discussed recipes for an impending birthday cake. Every aspect of our day was an opportunity for learning and I have absolutely no idea whether any of these ticks the boxes of the National Curriculum. Quite frankly, I could not really care less, but I do know that we are thriving and that my children are receiving a far superior education to the one they would receive at our local primary school. The beautiful thing is that not one home educating family in the U.K. will have had the same day as ours. I know that a number were standing outside the House of Lords with their children, representing us all and giving their little ones a wonderful opportunity to learn about democracy in action.
Number two, once our name is on this ‘register’ the Local Authority (LA) will be given permission to require “such details of the means by which the child is being educated and any other information that may be prescribed” (Education Bill Part 436C). Take one moment to think about what this undefined, vague and dangerous statement means. All it would take is for one slightly hostile member of the Local Authority (and home educators know that we are generally treated with suspicion) to be legally entitled to visit my home and they have an open door to ask me what I teach, when I teach, how much sugar I give to my children, whether they can read, whether they belong to a library, what we teach about marriage, gender, the environment, Covid and why we read the Bible with our children every morning. This is tremendous, unthinkable Government overreach. The state has absolutely no authority to require this information of us.
Number three, if we fail (or forget) to tell the LA that we are moving out of the area, if we fail to provide some of the information required or even make a clerical error (perhaps we omit to inform them that we have changed our spelling curriculum), then based on no definite legal criteria whatsoever the LA may come to the belief that our children are not receiving a “suitable education” and slap us with an immediate School Attendance Order (SAO) (Education Bill Part 436 I). The Government can literally force us to send our children to a Government school, the likes of which the Prime Minister and Education Minister have deemed not good enough for their own children.
Finally, if we do not comply with orders to send our children to school, we are guilty of a criminal offence. We become liable to a £1,000 fine and a 51-week prison sentence (Education Bill Part 436 Q). The loving parent is criminalised, and removed from her children who are presumably put into care. What an excellent use of taxpayers’ money. It is almost as though the Government has taken offence to the fact that we do not wish to use its education system.
Before I wrap up, allow me to quickly address the suspicion that home educators keep their children home in order to abuse them. Contrary to popular belief, we are devoted to our children. Nothing turns our stomach more than child abuse and we are committed to keeping our children safe from predators. Research shows that home educators are referred at a higher rate under the Children Act than other families (which means we are held in greater suspicion) but that there is no significant statistical difference in the rates of child protection plans for home educating families and other children between the ages of five and 16. There is simply no credible evidence for suggesting that children are at a greater risk of abuse in home educating families.
There is, however, a strong argument that in keeping our child home with us, he is far safer than he would be in Government schools. Ofsted recently visited 32 schools in order to conduct a review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges. Its findings revealed that 90% of girls and nearly 50% of boys report being sent explicit videos and picture of things they do not wish to see. Moreover, it recommends that “even where school and college leaders do not have specific information that indicates sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are problems for their children and young people, they should act on the assumption they are.”
Six years ago, the Scottish Government tried to bring in the Named Person scheme and the Supreme Court in London ruled that, “The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their ruler’s view of the world.”
Dear Government, by whose authority do you presume to enter our homes, assume the right to require whatever personal information of us you so desire and insist that we use your schools?
Might I suggest that you get your own house in order before you seek to tell me what to do with mine?