What’s been said?
On 11 June 19, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, appeared before the Education Committee for an “accountability hearing.” The recording of the seventy-five minute session can be watched on parliamentlive.tv. [Transcript as a web page or PDF.] A summary of her evidence was published later that day on the Tes website.
In his article Martin George first mentions HE under the heading “Children’s rights ignored in LGBT protests.” Longfield associated the current unrest about the changes to the RSE syllabus in primary schools with issues concerning home education by initially stating, “The aspect of children’s rights against parents’ rights is one that we are coming up against more and more.”
This is a well-worn claim, dating back at least to the 2009 Badman Report. In the House of Lords, Second Reading debate on the Children Schools and Families Bill, Baroness Deech asserted, “It is the duty of home-educating parents to secure for their children the education pledged in international treaties; the parents do not have stand-alone rights to determine that education in any way that they wish without state regulation.”
Similarly Longfield argued, “It was something with home education: the parents may have chosen that, but actually the child has a right to education.” (Note her implied view that home education isn’t actually education!)
Longfield’s main comments on EHE were made earlier in the session, in response to questions from the Chair, Robert Halfon MP, about the rise in EHE numbers. Here she claimed that parents home educating due to a philosophical choice are “less than twenty percent, even fifteen percent” of the whole EHE cohort. She went on to say that it was the need of the majority to access support which motivated her to call for a register.
In the TES item, George heads his final section, “Council should assess home-educated children,” adding “Ms Longfield said councils should assess children who are home educated, as well as their parents, twice a year to ensure they are receiving a proper education.” Next he cites her reference to Jersey where “a parent has to apply every year to home educate and [they] are assessed every year.” Fairly, he also includes her comment that she had “not gone that far.” One has to wonder whether that is because she perceives it to be a bad arrangement, or simply because the government is not yet ready to implement it?
Elsewhere in the session, Longfield also spoke approvingly of her Jersey counterpart’s additional power “to instruct,” revealing that she is, on her own admission, not only obsessive about her role of championing children, but also dangerously ambitious to expand the powers of future Children’s Commissioners.
One final point in regard to EHE is Longfield’s confident expression of her belief that it was she who influenced Damian Hinds to adopt a register. Responding to questions from James Frith MP about her connections with government – officially she is independent of it – and her meetings with the Minister for Education, she stated that she “went to brief him about the home education recommendations.” Her next meeting was when he informed her that he had accepted her recommendation of a register. She added, “which I was obviously quite pleased about.”
Why does it matter?
Evidence sessions like this are informative. This one sheds light on the political process to date, whilst illustrating that those who have been lobbying for change in regard to EHE are not going to stop should a register be established. Having made clear that for her, “children’s rights” are significantly more important than those of their parents, Longfield has clearly signalled that she will continue to argue in favour of substantial monitoring of HE children by LAs.
One does not have to step back too far from her terminology to understand that her appeal to children’s rights is about far more than the quality of their education. By using the same argument in connection with the RSE debate, she is plainly implying that children’s rights apply equally to what they are taught about ethics. Human Rights legislation however, firmly places the responsibility to determine the world-view children learn on the shoulders of their parents; “the State shall respect the right of the parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” EHCR Article 2 Protocol 1
Longfield’s reasoning strongly suggests that she and her co-campaigners will only be content when every child in society is forced into the cultural and philosophical mould which they espouse.
For a variety of sometimes opposing reasons, home educators stand aside from such pressures to conform and are therefore considered a threat to the elite’s utopian vision. Whatever their motivation for HE though, genuinely elective HE families do value their educational freedom and know that this can only be maintained if the same freedom is available to others – no matter how different they are. Yes, differences do rise to the surface at times, but our respect for each other as parents provides a far healthier model for the future than the Orwellian approach of Longfield, Spielman and Soley.
What can I do?
Recognise that the debate which has surrounded HE for a decade is essentially a philosophical one. It is not essentially about the quality of education a child is receiving, but about the type of citizen the state is seeking to manufacture.
Free range children grow into adults who question the received wisdom of any society. State-controlled education produces a population which willingly conforms to the agenda of the establishment. Consider carefully if your children’s future ability to be themselves as adults is something you are prepared to do all you can to protect.
If so, no matter how worn down you are at present, allow Longfield’s ambitions to revitalise your determination to stand for true educational freedom, however much effort it takes.