Muslims, home education and risk in British society

What’s been said?

In April the British Journal of Sociology of Education (£) carried a short paper which came out of “a larger study exploring the views of a diverse range of [EHE] families.” Featuring two West Midlands Muslim HE families, it focuses on how Ofsted’s response to the so-called Birmingham “Trojan Horse” affair has resulted in them being socially marginalised.

Readers may feel it is not just Muslim HE families who have been adversely affected by the association of terrorism with home education. The Sunday Times recently carried the headline “Half of extremists take children out of school“. That same morning the National Secular Society published a lengthy comment on the article which also quoted Neil Basu, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police. Last year he included HE in a list of practices “which are a breeding ground for future terrorists”. That comment was later picked up by Ofsted’s Matthew Coffey in a call for the registration of EHE.

Why does this matter?

These campaigns have negatively impacted the whole of the HE community, therefore it is helpful to understand how other families are finding it hard to cope with the negative connotations. Whilst this sample is small, the two families provide helpful insights into the consequences of “negative press” about HE. Their stories are summarised in the “Findings” section.

The grandson of immigrants from Pakistan, the first father moved from teaching to training teachers, and then into academia. His wife was also a teacher and they have two children under eleven.

After the family “relocated into a wealthy area favoured by university lecturers”, their eldest child was racially bullied at school, largely but not exclusively with reference to the “Trojan Horse” affair. What was most difficult was that the school refused to take meaningful action to counter it. The tensions negatively affected their child, and this led to their decision to home educate.

Not an easy option, because even their family light heartedly accuse them of “radicalising” their children. It is with his university colleagues however that the father feels most ill at ease, “I know they read the papers, so they probably think I’m some sort of fundamentalist.”

The second father is a first generation immigrant from Afghanistan who works in a low income job. He recognises that two of their three children are home educated in name only, attending a “community school” adding, “One that supports my culture.” It teaches both academic skills and Islam, the latter he says “respects our background.”

He spoke of the lack of respect in British culture. Although schools are supposed to teach respect for everyone he did not see this in practise. He too feared for the long term well-being of his children. He is disturbed by what he sees amongst the majority of young men in his neighbourhood. Most are unemployed, aimless and often caught up in criminal behaviour. He does not want his children to end up like them.

What can I do?

The most striking finding of this research is that when parents believe their children are at risk, they are prepared to pay the cost of doing something to reduce those risks, even if they put themselves at risk of being misunderstood for doing so. These are not parents seeking to radicalise their children but to protect them from harm. This is an increasingly common reason for families choosing to HE. When schools fail to respond to bullying or to a child’s emotional or physical needs, loving parents cannot continue to abdicate their responsibility to those who are failing to safeguard their children and failing to respect them as parents.

There are now multiple reasons why the HE community needs to be engaging with politicians. When doing so, consider telling them your own story, or that of someone you know, who found the risks of leaving their own children in a school which was failing them too great. Don’t be afraid to speak about the costs in time, emotions and energy as well as finances. Like these two families, many of us have been met with suspicion or ridicule for wanting the best for our children. Do your best to help politicians appreciate that recent campaigns against EHE have increased the need to defend what is an ancient responsibility of all parents.