Legions of Home Educated Children are Missing

What’s been said?

According to the Sunday Times (18 February 2018) ‘legions’ of children are missing in home education. Quoting the well documented cases of Dylan Seabridge and Khyra Ishaq, together with new evidence of a home educated Bethnal Green girl who attempted to become a jihadi bride, the article quotes Lord Soley as saying that these cases are just ‘the tip of the iceberg’, although he presents no evidence for the hyperbolic claim that thousands of home educated children are being abused, neglected and radicalised.

Why does it matter?

Media reporting on home education is reaching hysterical levels, as Lord Soley works to try and leverage support for his Bill, but facts are often omitted in order to create a problem where none exists. Reviews found that professionals had missed opportunities with both Dylan Seabridge and Khyra Ishaq, the latter child having been removed from a school which had failed to notice that she was subject to a ‘lifetime of beatings’. In the case of B, the teenager removed from a flight to join her friends, the home was found to contain extremist and radicalising material. But the report fails to point out that four of her friends who did make the journey were all attending school full time. Statistically, that makes home education safer than school.

Lord Soley also says he has ‘scores of letters’ about his proposed bill to enforce compulsory registration and inspection – no doubt he has, but the reporter fails to establish precisely how many of those letters are from children or young people who have suffered as a result of being home educated. Instead, by presenting the narrative of just one, the implication is made that scores of people have told similar stories. Not just that, but religion is tarnished, too, even though available evidence suggests that religious belief is not a particularly common reason for EHE.

The well-worn argument about unregistered schools is also brought out for another airing, despite the fact that Lord Agnew, Under-Secretary of State for Education, is on record as saying that Ofsted is dealing very effectively with the issue, as evidenced in Ofsted’s annual report.

Lord Soley (who is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society and a member of the Humanism APPG) adopts a beguilingly benevolent tone in saying that he wants to offer support to EHE parents. But the issue, which the media never addresses, is actually one of parental rights, enshrined in human rights legislation. That is the basis on which any amendments to the law should be made, not the amalgam of emotional narratives, half-truths and personal interpretation that this article is serving up. Substituting anecdote for evidence does not make for honest debate. It certainly doesn’t make for good law.

What can I do?

Take opportunities whenever possible to point out that elective home education and unregistered or illegal schools are not the same thing – where possible, write letters or emails countering the misleading descriptions that the media embrace with such enthusiasm. EHE children are not missing children, they are simply children whose parents have made a choice to educate other than at school and this message needs to be proclaimed at every opportunity.