What’s been said?
It’s becoming more and more apparent that the increasing numbers of EHE children are the result of a combination of circumstances. The previous model of parents motivated by a conviction about the benefits of education within the family environment is being replaced by greater numbers of families turning to HE as a second choice. Amongst these are parents who have determined to provide a good education for their children, whilst others have been coerced into HE as schools seek to off-roll children.
Recently, speakers in three Commons debates have signalled that they are being told that government policy could trigger a new wave of parents withdrawing their children from schools and electing to HE them. On 20 March, Schools Minister Nick Gibb sought approval for “the draft Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019.” Why should HE feature in a debate on RSE in schools? MPs, it seems, are hearing from parents with clear religious convictions that the new regulations, which interpret the law that enables parents to withdraw children from sex education does not apply to relationships education. Furthermore, once a child reaches fifteen, responsibility for deciding if they should receive sex education is transferred to the school.
Whilst most of the speakers in the debate supported the changes, approval was deferred until 27 March, when it was overwhelming passed – the new guidance now has to be approved in the Lords. In the original debate Stephen Timms (Lab, East Ham) spoke about the reaction of Jewish parents, stating at one point, “Voices in the community say that if this continues, orthodox Jewish families will either home-school en masse, which they are fully entitled to do, or conclude that the UK is no longer a country where they are welcome.”
Three weeks previously, Education Minister Damien Hinds, had updated members on the proposed new RSE guidelines. One speaker, Dr Julian Lewis (Con, New Forest East) asked “Is not the likely effect of this going to be that in some cases, instead of children getting necessary sex education in schools, more parents are going to keep their children out of school?” Emma Reynolds (Lab, Wolverhampton North East) followed up by inviting Hinds to “say something about how the increasing number of children who are being home-schooled will benefit from these reforms.” The Minister drew a helpful distinction between genuinely HE children and those who are “sometimes statistically deemed to be home-educated because they are not in school.” After commending parents who, “are doing the most amazing and dedicated job in educating their children,” Hinds unhelpfully added, “Where children are able to be in school, we want them to be in school.”
At the same time, another group of MPs were debating RSE in Westminster Hall in response to e-petition 235053, which called for parents to be given the right to opt out. One speaker, Chris Green (Con, Bolton West), asked, “What assessment has the Minister made of the likelihood of an increase in children being home-schooled?” Green was followed by Naz Shah (Lab, Bradford West) who warned “Some of those parents have indicated that the legislation coerces them into giving up their parental rights, and that although they may not have a right to opt their children out of lessons taught in schools, they do have a right to take their children out of school and teach their principles through home schooling.”
Why does it matter?
There are two reasons why what is happening over RSE guidance should concern home educating parents. First and most important is the central issue about parental rights, as opposed to the state’s desire to impose the prevailing ideology on all children. This is the same reason why home educators should resist registration and monitoring. Underlying both is the belief that the state has final authority over what children are taught.
Most HE families know that Human Rights laws protect parental responsibilities by requiring states to “respect the right of the parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” (ECHR) Perusing the above debates, it is clear that the majority of parents who are expressing concerns about the new guidelines are from traditional religious communities. The 20 March debate [Parliament TV] highlighted that most MPs see this as a conflict between the rights of religious groups and those of the LGBT community. What went unrecognised however, was that neither side should be allowed to force their convictions on the children of parents who hold different beliefs.
The second reason the EHE community should be concerned is because in the run up to the new guidelines being implemented, there could be a significant rise in EHE numbers. At present it’s not possible to predict whether these new EHE refugees will develop their own support networks or if they will look to the existing ones.
If such a migration to EHE does occur, we should also be prepared for an increase in calls for state supervision of all children. It is entirely possible that those who have been lobbying the Government to change the RSE guidance, will join with those already campaigning for registration and monitoring of EHE.
What can I do?
Do not assume that the changes of approach to RSE in schools have nothing to do with EHE.
Be aware that an increasing number of parents are saying that HE is the only option which will soon be left to them.
Whilst Lord Soley’s Bill is constitutionally dead, remember that arguments against HE will continue to be driven forward. Graham Badman’s recommendations were reincarnated by Soley and could very easily be reintroduced in the future. If the EHE community has been swelled by the arrival of more refugees by then, be prepared for the numbers of those who publicly challenge our freedom to have risen too.