Leading academic urges Education Secretary to listen to home educators and engage with research into home education ahead of introducing register.
What’s been said?
On 13 July the Daily Mail published an article entitled Forcing homeschooling parents to sign up to a mandatory register risks treating them like sex offenders, leading academics warn.
In it Dr Harriet Pattison, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood at Liverpool Hope University and long-standing researcher into how children learn, expressed her fears that a formal register of home educators is “likely to stigmatise children and parents.”
The matter of a register has had a high profile in recent months, with the Education Select Committee’s current Inquiry into Home Education, repeated parliamentary Written Questions about the topic, and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s latest pronouncement cited here by the Daily Mail that he is absolutely committed to creating a register of home educated children, with its introduction imminent.
Pattison however remains completely unconvinced about the need for a register, doubtful that one would bring any benefit, and seriously concerned about the adverse effects for home educating families which would ensue if one were established.
Apart from the injustice of a register for people who are purely following “a legitimate option that sits next to school education in the eyes of the law,” she is particularly worried about the opening up of a slippery slope into monitoring, assessment and standardisation for children presently enjoying a personalised education suited to their age, ability and aptitude.
Hence her impassioned plea for some serious engagement with the abundant research which does exist (despite claims to the contrary) and a listening ear from the powers that be, ahead of any legislation.
Why does it matter?
Pattison sympathises with the views of many within the home educating community who resist the concept of a register on grounds that it would “reinforce the stigma attached to home education.”
In a climate of negative reporting and speculative reasoning, she demands proper scientific evidence about the need for a register, and warns of danger ahead because “people are not seeing the threat to their freedoms and individuality because they have been erroneously convinced that this is a safeguarding issue.”
The Mail reports her debunking of the claim that home educated children are “somehow vulnerable or invisible.” In her opinion this is “groundless,” and “the argument for the register is based on the notion of risk rather than actual evidence.” [Emphasis added]
Safeguarding, abuse and alleged connections with off-rolling, illegal schools, radicalisation and so on have indeed featured prominently in the public debate around home education, whilst research findings about the unjustifiable association of these with HE have been played down or ignored.
Such is the unlevel playing field home educators have lived with since the days of Graham Badman.
Importantly Pattison also brings her academic perspective to bear on the subject, pointing out that registration will almost inevitably open the door to monitoring. “And monitoring will mean standardisation – which goes against the whole point of alternative education.”
Alternative education allows for a child’s needs to be addressed individually via a programme of learning devised to match their developing interests and level of maturity. It is not the same as linear, school-based “off the peg” learning – but it works.
Hence Pattison’s emphasis on the need for legislators “to understand that home educated children are often on a different learning trajectory to those in school.”
She also addresses issues concerning local authorities and the strained relationships which can frequently exist between their staff and home educating families. She would love to see these replaced by “a reciprocal relationship with real cooperation,” but believes that much work will need to be done in order to break down “decades of mistrust.”
Unfortunately, in Pattison’s view, the introduction of a register would only serve to exacerbate such problems: “Sadly, this register will not build those bridges but drive more wedges between families and authorities.”
If policy changes are in the end deemed inevitable, her closing plea is for constructive rather than injurious ones.
“If there’s going to be policy changes, make sure they’re ones that are helping people and offering support – such as granting access to exams for home educated children – not closing doors and taking opportunities away from families and, ultimately, all the children who benefit from home education.”
What can I do?
Read this article, and be thankful for positive reporting of a home education issue.
It is particularly timely in view of Lord Soley’s impending oral question about a register in the House of Lords on 21 July.
Share it with other home educating parents. If you are already in contact with your local councillor or national politician, why not forward it to them?
If you are someone already known to the authorities, you may not have given the matter of a register serious consideration up to now. If this is the case, do think very carefully about the points raised by Dr Pattison, especially the implications and likely long-term outcomes of a register. The threat of monitoring and with it the eventual control of how children learn and what they study bring with them far more serious consequences than an annual visit from a pleasant LA jobsworth trying to tick their appropriate boxes!