What’s been said?
When the DfE published its updated EHE Guidance and launched its consultation on “Children not in school” on 2 April, there was a flurry of media reports covering Damien Hinds’ announcement. At the same time Humanists UK published a statement on its website with the headline, “Humanists UK welcomes compulsory home-school register as move to shut down illegal schools.”
The article shows no hesitation in congratulating their organisation for the announcement, “Humanists UK, which has led the campaign against illegal, unregistered schools, says a Government register of home-schooled students will make it harder for illegal schools to operate.” Listing what their campaign has involved, the author includes “various exposés with Newsnight, BBC News at Six/Ten, BBC London News, Victoria Derbyshire, the Independent, and the Evening Standard, among others.” Claiming credit for prompting the creation of Ofsted’s unregistered schools team, they highlight that Humanists UK was, “the first external group” to meet that team.
The article further states – falsely – that it is the claim that pupils in unregistered schools are “home-schooled” which prevents Ofsted from taking action against the proprietors. Humanist UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson adds, “These proposals are not about being against homeschooling in any way, shape, or form, but about preventing some people from abusing the lack of regulation of homeschooling to deny children any education at all.”
Why does it matter?
Assuming that Copson is sincere when he claims that Humanist UK is not against HE per se, the group have clearly not thought through the implications of its campaign. No-one can defend education which overwhelmingly fails a child, but the last year has brought to light substantial evidence that the major driver behind the rise in HE numbers has been the failure of schools to provide suitable education for some children. Whatever the cause, it is now clear that a combination of a lack of resources, and in some instances a lack of motivation in schools, has led to parents deregistering their children. The inability in some schools to respond to children’s needs for appropriate SEND provision, to provide protection against bullying or to cope with disruptive pupils, whilst others are discarding low achievers through off-rolling, are examples of how state-funded schools fail to provide many children with a suitable education.
Recent debates in Parliament have indicated that in coming months a further rise in EHE numbers may be likely as the Government pushes ahead with plans to override parental responsibilities with its new RSE curriculum. In the battle for the right to prepare each child to be a responsible citizen in the future, all the signs are that governments around the world are now deciding that they have the right to define how the next generation should think. Parents who see things differently are a danger, not simply to governments’ Utopian dreams, but now it seems to their own children’s safety. Hence the requirement for parents who don’t want their four and five year olds taught alternative values to give way before the machinery of the state.
At the foot of every news item on Humanists UK’s website is the statement: “we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail.” Reading that, one might think they would support parents’ rights to teach their children differently to that which the state has determined. However, one doesn’t have to look far around their website to discover that that is not the case. In an article reporting on Damien Hinds’ recent letter to head teachers in connection with RSE, Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said, “It is encouraging that the Government has backed schools and said parents don’t have the right to veto the curriculum.” That is the very opposite of encouraging free thinking, and neither does it promote tolerance of parents with genuine concerns about their children’s welfare.
What can I do?
Now that Humanists UK have publicly claimed that they led the campaign which has resulted in the Government’s commitment to introduce a registration scheme, if you are a Humanists UK member, we encourage you to challenge the leadership over this policy. Your freedom to bring up children as you consider best for them depends entirely on other parents being able to do the same, even when you disagree with them.
Remember too that Humanists UK always backed Lord Soley’s Bill which has proved to be the catalyst in bringing about the revised guidance and the proposed register. They act as the secretariat of the APP Humanist Group, of which Soley is a member. When Lord Agnew announced a review of the EHE Guidance in November 2017, they responded by saying that they had “been calling for reform in this area for some time.” Readers may also remember that they warmly welcomed the adoption of a new policy on EHE by the Liberal Democrats in March 2018.
If you are trying to understand why the ground on which the freedom to home educate once firmly stood has been undermined, considering the role played by lobby groups such as Humanists UK may provide you with insights you had not seen before.