I’ve hesitated over posting because this is an emotive and extremely complex subject, so much so I cannot cover everything I want to in one post. However, for home educators it is a subject that keeps coming back, and may seriously change our lifestyles if Lord Soley’s Home Education Bill 2017 comes to pass.
This issue is that of creating a register of home educating families in the UK. Lord Soley’s Bill appears to have the support of Winifred Robinson in her recent Radio 4 documentary ‘Out of School, Out of Sight‘ some of which is discussed in this article about a young man who is also the main feature of Robinson’s programme. I am not going to go into the lazy journalism of both of these features. This is discussed here, and is well worth a read. I would like to start by talking about Mohammed himself.
Both the article and the radio programme present Mohammed as an unhappy young man, in an unhappy family, who is struggling to access education. This seems to be presented as the fault of Home Education, with very little talk about the responsibilities of schools, and inaccurate discussion of the responsibilities of LAs in cases such as this.
My first thought on reading was: where was the support for Mohammed and his family?
Mohammed’s family chose school as the place for their children’s education. Perhaps they didn’t know at the time that Home Education was an option, and is in fact the default option in the UK. Perhaps they didn’t realise that the responsibility for a child’s education always lies with their parents (except in cases where the child is a ward of the State), and that even when they delegate that work to a school the responsibility still lies with the parent. Whether they knew all this or not, they chose school. They put their trust in schools to care for and educate their children, and they have been let down by those schools. Not by home education; by schools.
The description of Mohammed in school is an unhappy one, culminating in his exclusion for bad behaviour, but the reporter does not seem to have considered why this was. What was going on in Mohammed’s life that meant he needed to express himself in such a way that meant the school could not accept him back on the premises? Where did this begin, and what provision was put in place to help him? These questions became more urgent when, further down in the article, we learn that his older brother had also been excluded and offered a place in the same Pupil Referral Unit Mohammed was offered. This is not one boy struggling, this now seems to be a deeper rooted issue. Mohammed’s family had grave concerns about his entering the PRU, having seen the effect it had on his brother, and so the only other option they were offered was to home educate.
As this recent article states, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Mohammed’s family is not the first I have heard of that has been ‘encouraged’ to home educate. Not by a long way. Due to the circles I move in, most of the situations I have read about first hand through social media are those of children with additional needs being excluded because schools are unable to manage those needs. This is not necessarily the fault of the school alone. Although many have a long way to go in terms of training when it comes to children with autism, ADHD and similar neurodivergences, there are also many excellent schools and teachers that work hard to do their best for all children. This is the fault of a system that requires so much ticking of boxes to access the funding required for adequate support, and little looking at the actual child and the reasons behind behaviour. This is the fault of LAs doggedly following their own policies as opposed to the law, either due to lack of understanding and training, or, more worryingly, due to cost saving measures. The school system has a lot to be desired when it comes to educating children who have additional needs, whether those be due to a special needs diagnosis or to some other underlying cause for challenging behaviour.
You may be wondering how all this relates to the registration of home educating families in the UK. First of all, as I said above, home education is the default option in the UK. By this I mean that as a child reaches Compulsory School Age if their parent wishes them to attend a school they must register. If their parent wishes them to be home educated they do nothing, the system sets to its default: home education. Also, the responsibility of a child’s education remains with their parents, whether they choose school or not. These are important rights to many in the home educating community, and rights that parents who choose school should be upholding as well because it may well affect them too if they are removed.
This is the point where many people will start wondering how we can be sure those children who are unregistered as home educating are learning the right things. The answer is: it is none of our business. Schools are inspected and checked because they are working for the parents to educate their children in their place, and parents have a right to know what is happening in their child’s education because it is ultimately their responsibility. Home education effectively cuts out the middle man: my children’s education is my responsibility, therefore it is none of anyone else’s business unless I and my children choose to share it.
This is also the point where lots of people will be wondering about how easy it could be for abuse to take place in a home educating family as they are not being ‘watched’. First of all, I am going to point my finger at all the unknown abuse that takes place in families where the children are at school. Lets not forget the abuse that takes place within schools themselves, which is a major reason why many families choose Home Education. I would also point out that there is just one recent high-profile case of abuse in which the child was home educated; in all the other cases the children were either attending school, below Compulsory School Age, or were in fact registered at a school and not attending. The case of Dylan Seabridge was terribly sad, but not the fault of Home Education. He was ‘seen’ by a number of professionals in the year leading to his death, all of whom failed to protect him. There are safeguarding measures to protect children in home educating families in the UK, just as there are for schooled children. But, as for schooled children, those safeguarding measures only work if concerned professionals take the time to trigger them.
However, in Mohammed’s case, none of the above really matters. He was registered as home educating. He had previously attended a school, and therefore was automatically placed upon his LA’s home education register when he was deregistered from the school. That is how the system works. So I am back to asking: where was the support for Mohammed and his family? Lord Soley’s wish with his Bill seems to be to register home educating families so that they can be better supported. This is a valid desire, but misguided. For a start, LAs have no budget for Elective Home Education. Teams of advisors usually have other roles that pay their wages, their work with home educating families is secondary to that. Most also have little to no training in the area (and in many cases do not seem to understand the law). No money, no support. Certainly not on the scale that Lord Soley’s Bill is recommending. I am sure I don’t need to remind anyone that our Government has recently made (and is continuing to make) large cuts to to funding of many public sector areas, including schools. I doubt they will be happy to fund Home Education support to the extent that Lord Soley suggests.
One of my children is in fact on the Home Education register for our LA, due to an over-zealous professional thinking she had a duty to ‘report’ us. I can tell anyone who is curious that this is actually more work for me, with no return for my child or his education. I also resent the insinuation that because I home educate I need to be checked up on as I parent my children. This is how registration of home educators may ultimately affect those families that choose school. If home educators need to be checked up on (Lord Soley’s Bill recommends visits to the child’s home as a possible way to do this), surely parents of schooled children should be as well? At least as much abuse takes place against schooled children as against home educated children, especially if you consider the reason behind many home educators’ choice is to escape the systemic abuse in schools themselves. So if we are to be watched, it makes sense for everyone else to be watched as well. If you think that unlikely to happen, look towards Scotland’s Named Person scheme.
I feel for Mohammed and his family. They have been severely let down by the system, and are not happy home educating. Whilst I am strong proponent of home education (I’d have to be, huh?!), I do believe in should truly be elective, and in Mohammed’s case it was not. At the same time, I would call for Lord Soley and the Government to look to the schools and sort them out before turning any attention to home educators. There is a huge amount of knowledge and support within the local and national home education communities. It is within schools where children are being let down daily, and they and their families are going too long without adequate support.