What was said?
The parents of Lilian Hardy, the child actress who played Matilda in the West End musical, have made further information known about their daughter’s case as the situation in which they unexpectedly find themselves deteriorates. The case first came to attention recently when Lilian’s parents were issued with a school attendance order, even though their daughter has been home educated all her life. She was not known to her local council until the Royal Shakespeare Company applied for a child performance licence so that she could appear in the production. Her parents have refused to comply with the order and so face a fine, which they will refuse to pay. This could result in their going to jail.
Why does it matter?
The couple have offered to submit samples of their daughter’s work to the council as evidence of her ongoing education. It should surely be self evident, too, that a child who can beat off stiff opposition to gain the role of Matilda is articulate, can learn lines, sing, socialise, follow direction, work in a team and be in possession of good physical health, stamina, determination and resilience. However, the council has refused work samples and the evidence under their noses, saying that this is not satisfactory and that she must either meet with a home ed adviser, or else be examined by an educator known to her. Neither of these is within DfE guidelines, which say that a home educated child cannot be routinely inspected. Westminster council responded to the parents by stating that it operates its own policy.
There are various issues at stake here. The legality of a council writing its own rules and insisting on a child being inspected without evidence of a problem is a breach of the child’s rights – rights which Lilian’s parents are prepared to defend even if it lands them in prison. Her mother cites the sustained attack that EHE parents are currently experiencing, with “insinuations of neglect and abuse” as part of her reason in defending her right to home educate.
A spokesperson for the council says that while it respects the rights of parents to home educate, it has a statutory duty to “ensure that resident children receive a suitable education”. It is on this point that the argument hinges. Who determines “suitable”? The law is firmly on the side of the parents. Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says: “State Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to … the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential”. Nowhere does it mention a curriculum, a testing regime, or the right of the state to interfere in how parents exercise their right enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, viz “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their child”.
What can I do?
Be aware of your legal rights and be prepared to challenge your local authority if they attempt to impose their own set of rules on you.