MPs and Education amongst Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities – 1

What’s been said?

Twice in three days MPs focussed on issues concerning Gypsy, Roma and Traveller [GRT] communities. Education featured in both instances, and remarks were made about HE. Both sessions provide useful insights into political thinking about home education across all communities, as well as the problems faced by minority groups in regard to fitting in to “one size fits all” education. This Byte considers the first of the two sessions. The other will be covered separately.

On Monday 10 September, Andrew Selous (Con. South West Bedfordshire) introduced an adjournment debate on Gypsies and Travellers. He stated that his constituency is badly affected by inconsiderate traveller groups living in unauthorised camps. The purpose is not to discuss those wider issues here, but to highlight comments made about home education in the course of this debate.

As he began, Selous spoke positively about the percentage of “Travellers becoming settled residents, with the children now attending school regularly and the parents in formal work.” Later, however, he highlighted that GRT children, “have the lowest attainment of all ethnic groups throughout their school years.” [Col. 566]

Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse, returned to education in his response [Col. 577] agreeing, “It is shocking when we consider the educational outcomes of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children.” Given the context, it was inevitable that HE would be mentioned, and Malthouse noted that “the Government support the right of parents to home education.”

Selous next asked the Minister if he accepted that some adults in the GRT community favoured the current law on HE because it provided them with freedom, even though their children were missing out. Accepting that children themselves might not say that they wanted go to school, he continued, “but we in this place have a duty to do what is right for all children so that they can fulfil their God-given aspirations and talents and become the scientists and engineers we need for the future.”

Malthouse agreed, but also recognised that there is currently a debate over HE, adding that the House may wish to express an opinion about the topic in the future. The final point he made regarding HE was, “The question is whether that education is of an acceptable standard, and therefore whether a local authority feels able to enforce.”

Why does it matter?

In debates of this type, ministers may offer clues as to current government thinking on other areas. On this occasion Malthouse’s signal that the government continues to support the rights of parents to elect to HE may be worth little more than a qualified sigh of relief. Many will be concerned that his reference to the ongoing debate was framed in terms of LA’s expressing and enforcing their opinion as to whether the education being provided meets their standard.

If you are wondering what that standard might be, Selous possibly provided a clue when he said “and become the scientists and engineers we need for the future.” [emphasis added]. A foundational issue since states first assumed responsibility for educating children concerns whether they are educating them for the benefit of each individual child, or for the prosperity of the state and its structures. What if their “God-given talents” are not to be part of tomorrow’s state machinery? Perhaps one thing which motivated HE parents recognise more than many other people is that education is about preparing children to be responsible adults who are enabled to be themselves, not engineered cogs on the state’s production line.

What can I do?

The HE Byte Team hope that by highlighting exchanges such as these, we can encourage the EHE community to be aware of how politicians are thinking about home education at present. We want to encourage you to look behind the headlines and try to understand why they perceive HE as a problem.

Education has always been about shaping young people for the future. British and international laws enshrine the historic understanding that it is parents, whatever their culture, who normally know their children best and should therefore take the lead in preparing them for adulthood. There is an growing philosophy today that children should be shaped according to the state’s values. Whilst it must be recognised that some parents fail their children in various ways, it should also be asked if “safeguarding” has become an excuse for state-shaping of children to fit into the mould of the current political agenda, whatever that may be.

Finally, if your MP is one of the two named above, their comments provide you with a reason to contact them concerning HE. Encourage them to protect the responsibilities of parents to prepare their own children for their adult lives. Emphasise that it is unjust for the shortcomings of a few to warrant the state usurping parental responsibility from all.