Are Parents Suitably Qualified to Educate their Children?

What’s been said?

Frank Field MP has submitted 4 questions about home education, which were answered (5 March 2018) by Ann Milton, Minister of State for Skills and Apprenticeships. The questions concerned the checks in place on home educated children, asking the Secretary of State for Education what assessment for EHE children he has made of:

  • the adequacy of safeguarding checks that are in place
  • whether there is an attainment gap between them and children in formal education
  • the adequacy of the regulations that are in place to protect them from abuse, extremism and radicalisation
  • the regulations in place to ensure that parents are suitably qualified to teach their children.

The questions make a vast number of assumptions, betray considerable ignorance about the definition of education and the role of the State in the education of children.

Why does it matter?

This is another example of a pre-emptive attempt to seize control of home education. Yet again the issue of safeguarding is raised, despite the fact that the only two deaths associated with home education in recent years were of children already known to authorities, who missed opportunities to intervene. It is indicative of the safeguarding juggernaut that is driving headlong at parents, whipping up public opinion as it gathers speed. Where will it end – with home educating parents being required to have Food Handling certificates and conduct Health and Safety audits on the learning space? And if home educating parents, then why not all parents?

Exactly how does Frank Field intend to compare the attainment of the two groups of children? Comparing two groups of data, one with a dataset of 45,000 and the other with 8 million is a statistical nonsense. Anyone who analyses school progress data will tell you that there is no such thing as standard progress – children learn at different speeds and in different ways. EHE children are not following a common curriculum, so what would comparison prove?

He questions the adequacy of regulations to protect EHE children from abuse, extremism and radicalisation. The implicit assumption? All home educating parents should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.

The suggestion that parents need to be ‘suitably qualified’ in order to teach their own children is a demonstrable piece of nonsense, but it does betray the underlying view that while parents need to do the biological bit and provide child care at evenings and weekends, it is only trained, qualified teachers who are capable of teaching or enabling learning. If that’s the case, how come children learn to walk, talk, eat and play?

What can I do?

In response, Ann Milton states that “The department will shortly be holding a consultation exercise on revised guidance for local authorities on the most effective use of their powers in relation to home education”. She is reiterating the firm stance from the DfE that there will be no new powers. Wait to see how the existing powers will be used.

Be aware, too, of the intended use of big data – the second paragraph of Ann Milton’s reply refers to using health information to access children not otherwise known.