Home Education Belongs in a Free Society

Poole MP says, “a diverse education system… is the best thing for our nation.”

What’s been said?

The lull in political comment on home education in the House of Commons was shattered on 14 January by Angela Rayner (Lab, Ashton-under-Lyne), Shadow Secretary of State for Education. Rayner, currently the front runner to be Labour’s next Deputy Leader, was replying to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, at the opening of a debate on Education and Local Government, as set out in December’s Queen’s Speech.

Whilst we had noticed that there was nothing about HE in that speech, the Byte team is very aware that over the next five years there will be several more opportunities for the government to introduce a bill mandating HE registration in England. Rayner, however, is anxious to bring about change as soon as possible. Much of her speech was a predictable political gripe about what the government is not doing. Inevitably, her attention turned in time to HE:

“While we are on the subject of Bills that are missing in action, perhaps the Government can tell us what has happened to their legislation to regulate home education. The right approach would have cross-party support, but we cannot scrutinise what does not exist, so where is it?” [watch]

Around ninety minutes later Sir Robert Syms (Con, Poole) spoke out in defence of parental freedom:

“In Poole we have people who home educate, and they get very nervous every time the Government and civil servants review this. There is a role for home education within our system. I know that Ministers understand the concern when the central civil service wants to have a good look at what is going on. Sometimes it is for reasons of bullying and sometimes for religious reasons, but home education, in a free society, ought to be very much part of the system. We are starting a process of repair through fairer funding for our schools. We need to encourage foreign students because they benefit our country greatly. We need to have a diverse education system because that is the best thing for our nation.” [watch]

Why does it matter?

Such exchanges remind HE families that Boris’s landslide victory and the focus on Brexit have not driven EHE out of politicians’ thinking. There are plenty of politicians and lobbyists who are still set on transferring responsibility for every child’s education from their parents to the state.

It is also an important reminder that the Labour politicians have always taken the lead in this ongoing initiative which began when Ed Balls was Secretary for Children, Schools and Families. Eight years later in 2017, it was reinvigorated by Lord Soley, a Labour Peer. Now, it seems, a potential Deputy Leader of that same party is in a rush to bring in registration. Unlike the LibDems however, there is no record of the Labour Party having an official policy concerning EHE.

In contrast to Rayner’s concerns, Syms’ confidence in the role of HE in British education is a breath of fresh air not felt on the benches of the House of Commons since the days of the Badman Review. Those long enough in the tooth to have lived through those frantic months will remember how late on the night of December 8th 2009, a record breaking seventy-four MPs one by one formally presented Petitions from over one hundred and twenty constituencies, requesting the House to urge the government to withdraw any proposed legislation arising from Badman’s flawed and hasty review.

It is striking that since the introduction of Lord Soley’s Private Member’s Bill, no MP has spoken so positively about the value of home education. Syms also made an important point when he highlighted the fears of HE families about the implications of “the central civil service” wanting “to have a good look at what is going on.” He also rightly linked HE with the values of a free society. The present efforts to wrest educational freedom of choice from parents clearly signal that Britain is amongst several nations where personal liberties are fast being eroded.

What can I do?

If Syms is your MP, please thank him for speaking up for HE families in his constituency and across the country.

If you are a Labour supporter, we encourage you to engage with the party with a view to them adopting a policy which values the positive outcomes experienced by many HE families. We reported on one such initiative in July last year. If you have an opportunity to question any of the candidates in the leadership elections, press them hard on why Labour politicians have been so prominent in seeking to demonise HE parents.

Wherever you live and whether or not you have party political leanings, please continue to speak to your national and local politicians. Invite them to witness HE in action and tell them about some of the many positive outcomes for young people who have been educated by their own parents.