Key Thought:- Would you have been happy to have been educated by your parent(s) throughout your childhood?
Britain has a long-standing compulsory education system which is widely respected. Examinations are uniformly taken at 16+ (GCSE) with a smaller cohort sitting 18+ (Advanced Levels). These examinations act as the gateway to post-education life and are essential in 21st century Britain. Despite education being compulsory, there are caveats. Perhaps because of legacy worries about authoritarian indoctrination, the British education system has been subverted by a home-schooling provision in educational legislation. Within the British context, home-schooling is incomprehensible but nonetheless it exists. Needless to relate it is a scandal.
British compulsory education began in 1870 with the Forster Act. Children between five and ten years old were entered into partially free schools (parents were expected to make a contribution) but there was provision for poor families who couldn’t pay. Over the next 146 years there have been many education acts. The concept of ‘child’ has radically changed. The curriculum has expanded and subject specialists teach ‘their’ subject. (Using non-specialist teachers is often criticised as diluting standards.) Children are protected from maverick teachers by the National Curriculum. The external examinations system*, which continues throughout the child’s time in school, acts as a further educational guardian for children. British state education is a well-funded (c. £85bn in 2015), well-organised and coherent system.
Given the intensity of the state’s involvement and the fact that it’s an uncontentious part of the political narrative, it’s astonishing that home-schooling is legal. The relevant clause in the 1996 Education Act is amazingly laconic :
Section 7 Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age –
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable— (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise**. (my highlight)
‘Or otherwise’ is the Pandora’s Box which puts children at the mercy (see addendum 2 below) of their parents. Any parent, regardless of skill, aptitude or personality, is designated the arbitor of educational provision. Home-schooling parents can ignore the National Curriculum and ‘educate’ their child as they see fit. Within the 1996 Education Act (sections 353 ff) the National Curriculum is outlined in detail and this is the gold standard for education in Britain. LEAs*** have no right to monitor parental performance. This negates section 7 (quoted above), which is an absolute duty placed on all parents. This duty is legally enforcible and includes the nuclear option of parents losing custody of their children it they are in default. Home education places children at risk of obsessive parents, slacker parents and incompetent parents. The National Curriculum demands a very wide educational skill-set (for all age groups) from home-schooling parents, which is probably why it isn’t compulsory for home education. Parents don’t get professional mentoring or in-service training, unlike teachers. Home-schooling has no checks and balances as external examinations are not obligatory. There is no possibility of anyone knowing whether the home schooled child is benefitting from an efficient education.
Fifty thousand home schooled children in Britain are at risk from their parents. Parents may be well-meaning. But so what? Being well-meaning isn’t a qualification for the provision of education children absolutely need to succeed (or even to have an adequate life) in 21st century Britain. What an extraordinary state of affairs! The well-funded, well regulated education system is undermined by legislation permitting any parent to inflict whatever they see fit on their children. This scandal should cease. Home education is a child protection issue where the child’s rights have been lost.
Obsessive parents who devote themselves to developing their children are not necessarily abusive unless you regard absolute control abuse, which I do. Ruth Lawrence (b. 1971), a mathematics prodigy, was home schooled with her first experience of formal education being Oxford University, which she entered at twelve years old. A stellar Oxford career was rounded off by her Ph.D. when she was eighteen. Her obsessive father is now estranged from Ruth, who has repudiated home-schooling for her own four children . Another famous and tragic example of home education is that of Dylan Seabridge (b. 2003). He died, aged eight, from scurvy. His parents, quite legitimately barred access to Dylan from both medical and educational authorities, and deny that he died from scurvy****. Notwithstanding the controversy about Dylan’s death there is no evidence that section 7 (see above) was adhered to in any shape or form. Meanwhile there are a further 49,998 children about whom nothing is known.
Dylan Seabright wasn’t murdered by his parents but there seems little doubt that he could have thrived in a different family situation. There are about 210 deaths (out of 282), which “were actually attributable to abuse or neglect”*****. This is the situation which is current in the UK and that the government have legalised total, unmonitored control by parents.
*External examinations also includes the SAT (Standards and Testing Agency) tests, which begin with children aged seven.
**For the 1996 Education Act see http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/acts/1996-education-act.pdf
***Local Education Authorities
**** see http://www.home-education.org.uk/faq-carers.htm that home education was not in itself a risk factor for abuse or neglect – but recommended creating a register of home-schooled children to keep tabs on them.
*****See https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/information-service/factsheet-child-killings-england-wales-homicide-statistics.pdf pp2-3 2014