What’s been said?
On 6 September 2018, Ian Mearns MP (Lab. Gateshead) spoke in a short debate at which the Education Committee presented its recent report Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions [PDF]. The report was introduced by the Committee Chairman, Robert Halfon MP (Con. Harlow), who summarised the evidence they been provided earlier in the year. He made one reference to home education in the context of increasing reports that some schools have been coercing parents to say they intended to home educate a child, in order to remove them from the school’s roll. This, it seems, is to improve a school’s results in government statistics.
Mears was next to speak, and called for an abrupt end to the “unlawful” practice of what has become known as “off-rolling”. He continued, “We must ensure that youngsters are getting the opportunities that they should get, not just being palmed off and, euphemistically speaking, home educated. To be frank, some good home education is going on, but it is rare. The growth in what is being called home education just cannot be sustained as an educational process.”
Why does it matter?
School exclusions have, it seems, reach an unprecedented level in England, as Halfon stated, “Forty-one children are permanently excluded from our schools every day – the figure has gone up 40% in the past year – and 2,010 pupils are temporarily excluded every day.” It should also be recognised that many of the parents who are leaned on to HE a child are far from prepared for what is a highly demanding change in lifestyle. Such parents need to be better supported by the system to which they have entrusted their children; however they should not become a stick with which to beat genuinely elective home educators.
Whatever our opinion of him, whenever Lord Soley goes on record to speak about home education, he always pays lip service to “the many home educating families who make a great success of educating their children”. Mears, it seems, disagrees with him, claiming that good home education is rare. It has to be asked if his claim is based on evidence or on the propaganda he appears to have swallowed? He also seems to have been persuaded that family-based education is inferior to the school system. One can almost hear EHE parents demanding sight of his evidence. He has certainly not digested any of the papers listed on our Research page.
We have commented previously on some of the evidence presented to the Committee (here & here). None of that evidence was about the role of HE other than in the context of off-rolled children. The focus was on the increasing use of exclusions, Alternative Provision and coerced off-rolling by schools. Therefore Mears’ assertions must be the result of thinking which he has absorbed from elsewhere. Sweeping statements like these, however, fuel the fire of the hostile environment in regard to EHE. Not that many members of the public will notice them, but other politicians probably will – and so may some reporters. They therefore need to be robustly challenged.
What can I do?
Obviously, if Mears happens to be your MP, you can contact him and ask him on what grounds he made these claims. Ask him to read some of the research into HE outcomes. Offer to introduce him to home educating families in Gateshead.
There are ten other MP’s on the Education Committee; if one of these represents your area, ask them if they are aware of any evidence given to the committee which might support Mears’ claims. Tell them of your concerns about the way EHE is being caricatured by such comments. If you have not spoken to them previously, take this opportunity to enhance their knowledge of home education.
Mears’ comments should also remind us all that the lull in negative comments about HE during the parliamentary recess was nothing more than a pause. There is still much work to be done protecting our responsibilities as parents to ensure that our children receive an education which is suitable to who they are.