Home-schooling, the National Curriculum and yeshiva schools

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*. (Education Act 1996)


Very large amounts of money and scarce talent are devoted to the education of British children. In 2015 Britain spent 6% of GDP (circa £85bn in cash terms): a major commitment in the nation’s children. Nonetheless parents can withdraw their child(ren) from school and undertake home education. These parents needn’t follow the National Curriculum and their educational ‘programme’ is unmonitored. Their children don’t need to take SAT tests or national examinations at 16+ or 18+. The National Curriculum thus becomes optional and parents sidestep the obligation to provide ‘efficient’ education. One consequence is that home-schooling gives parents an opportunity for indoctrination, religious and political. Yet yeshiva schools, who’s aim is to indoctrinate their pupils with their religious beliefs, are illegal and are pillored as ‘wrong’. Why?

State education is resisted by parents who feel that it’s an intrusion of their right to educate their children. The National Curriculum is tailored to mass educational provision not individual needs/desires/whims. It’s nonetheless the gold standard of education in Britain setting benchmarks for judging schools throughout the country. The National Curriculum reflects the governments view of what children should know before they become adults. Home educating parents work to their own agenda whether it’s bizarre or not. Worse: they are under no compulsion to demonstrate that their version of educational achievement is either superior, or equal, to the outcomes demanded of state schools.

Parents committed to home education make the untested claim that they educate their children better than state schools. Alongside these parents are those with intense religious beliefs. For example some ultra-orthodox Jews living in London have removed their sons from state schools and entered them in illegal yeshiva schools**. These boys are intended to become quasi-Biblical scholars within the Ashkanazi tradition (an intellectual ghetto). Pupils in yeshiva schools are indoctrinated into an intellectual culture quite distinct to general British society.

Clearly yeshiva schools are not undertaking ‘home-schooling’. Yeshiva schools flourish under the radar of the state authorities existing in a parallel educational world. They are illegal but should they be? The principal objection appears to be that their curriculum denies the values of 21st C. Britain. Yeshiva schools are unashamedly aiming at the maintenance and protection of a unique culture. This unique culture is at odds with mainstream British culture but does that make it wrong? If it’s wrong why are parental rights actively promoted by legislation? An ultra-orthodox Jewish family could home-school their children with the same outcome as a yeshiva school simply by exercising the legal exercising of parental rights.

In what sense are yeshiva schools different to state schools? Both rely on a coherent, cohesive statement of educational experiences. The intent is clear. The education provided is supported by parents. Both state and yeshiva schools jell with parental understandings of the society that they believe their children will live in as adults. Both systems try to efficiently achieve their desired ends. Both are aiming at the creation of a society that adheres to core beliefs. Can the state’s fundamental values trump parental wishes when they have already conceded that home-schooling is legitimate? The state’s opinion of what constitutes the good society is precisely that an opinion and conflicts with that of ultra-orthodox Jewish parents. An instrumental argument about the need to create an educated work-force for the development of a competitive nation falls as Jewish parents could counter-claim that they are concerned about the eternal well-being of their children.

It appears implausible that an education exclusively focused on one aspect of life, a religious experience, could possibly be acceptable. Yet the government has conceded the point already by permitting home education. Yeshiva style home-schooling is legal and implicitly endorsed as educationally legitimate and yet yeshiva schools are not. This legislative anomaly requires correction one way or another.

* ‘Or otherwise’ is the phrase which permits home education by unqualified parents who may ignore the National Curriculum if they so wish, or if they are incapable of fulfilling it ‘efficiently’.
** The Wikipedia article is here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshiva
***Yiddish is widely used by central European Jews and is a predominately German language with elements of Hebrew and Aramaic.


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