Proposals for Local Authority Registers Create Wider Concerns

Proposals for Local Authority Registers Create Wider Concerns

Articles published on websites outside the HE communities emphasise the dangers of the plans for registers of children not in school for all families, especially as they are now being conflated with a tracking system for all children.

What’s been said?

“Giving every baby an ID code is a bad idea” is the title of an article by Frank Young, editorial director at the think-tank Civitas, published on Comment Central on 10 February.

Just a few days later, on 14 February “Watch out, home educators, the Left is coming for you” appeared on The Conservative Woman, this one penned by a former home educator, Tristram Llewellyn Jones.

What do these two pieces have in common? Both authors voice serious concerns about a burgeoning desire for increased state control over the lives of the rising generation, and about a general erosion of civil liberties.

Young perceives the DfE’s proposed register of all home educated children as a “small step towards a register of every child in the country.” He is adamant that this is “something we should absolutely seek to avoid.”

Acknowledging that bad parents and dysfunctional families do exist and always will do, Young challenges the approach commonly taken by the quango state. He likens this to the “bottom trawling techniques of mass fishing, cast a net over everything and you catch the fish you want and much else besides.”

His final paragraph recommends smaller scale, human, local solutions to the problem of locating and supporting those children genuinely in need of help. He closes with a heartfelt call to press Parliament about such difficult questions for the sake of protecting those who have “little official voice.”

Jones’ article, clearly aimed at a certain readership, also serves as an impassioned wake-up call to home educators to value their freedoms rather than taking them for granted. In his view, home education, “the last remaining forum for truly independent education,” is under threat, and he detects a worrying conformity of thought amongst those who are products of a National Curriculum inspired state education.

The Government’s desire for “a comprehensive picture” of a child on the register and the local authority’s “duty to support” a family fill him with apprehension, because of the accompanying undertones of surveillance and control.

Jones’ own years as a home educated child and subsequent experiences as a home educating parent have taught him to value highly the privacy and independence afforded by this choice, which for him meant that “the education was tailored to the needs of the individual child.”

Reminding readers of how the Supreme Court ruling in the Scottish Named Person Scheme protected individuality and difference rather than expunged it, Jones warns that “If the Government gets away with this attempt to control parents and children, our diversity of opinion, our individuality and our freedom to think outside the narrow box-ticking state will be impinged upon.”

Why does it matter?

First, a selection from both authors to summarise the key issues as they see them.

From Young:

  • It is politically naïve to think a register is the end of the matter;
  • Once the state knows where your children are it won’t be long before officialdom knocks on your door;
  • Databases are less than perfect… It’s the imperfections that matter…
  • Previous governments have attempted to create vast databases of children. (i.e. it’s been tried before and it didn’t work then).

From Jones:

  • For ‘comprehensive picture’ read surveillance and for ‘support’ read control;
  • The clue to home education is in the name – it takes place in the privacy of the home;
  • This is not about the 3 Rs – this is politically motivated interference in family life;
  • And, citing Ronald Reagan, ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”.’

Further to these, we should reflect on what we know of the wider context in which the pressure for LA EHE registers in England and the Children’s Commissioner’s desire for a universal register of all children is being played out.

We live in times when the reach of the state into the life of the private citizen is increasing. Human rights and data protection are live issues on multiple fronts. According to an Economist headline from 2017, the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.

Finally, regarding de Souza’s campaign. There appears to be deliberate confusion between the numbers of children self-isolating or who continue to be “shielded” by their parents for some reason, and those who are now being electively home educated.

On 28 January Dave Thomson, chief statistician at FFT Education DataLab, had bluntly asked, “Who are the children who have ‘fallen off the radar’?” As we have previously highlighted, this company is “Hungry for Your Children’s Data?” However, Thompson is very clear that there is some misleading accounting taking place in de Souza’s offices:

“What is meant by “fallen off the radar”? It seems to me that two different things are being conflated:

  • pupils who are on roll at school but who are severely absent; and
  • pupils who are not on the roll of a school

From an interview given by the Commissioner to BBC Women’s Hour, it would seem that this is intentional.” [Emphasis added]

Later, Sarah Turnnidge of fact-checking service Full Fact, commented thus on 8 February about the impression being given to the media:

“What was claimed – Between 80,000 and 100,000 children are not on any school rolls at all.
Our verdict – The Children’s Commissioner misspoke when she made this claim.
There is no current data to support this.” [Emphasis added]

What can I do?

Read the articles, and always remember to check the facts.

Think seriously about these wake-up calls. We all know how easy it is to hear the alarm, but press the snooze button thinking we’ll get up next time.

Engage with the issues raised. Consider the bigger picture. Home education takes place against the backcloth of life as a whole. It doesn’t exist independently in a time-warp or bubble. Home educators’ lives and freedoms are bound to be affected by the general direction of travel in wider society. Any erosion of civil liberties or disregard for human rights will affect us all.

Consider what practical steps you could take to plug the dyke. Is there someone you could alert to these issues? Could you speak to your MP either individually or as a group of HE families? There are some guidelines here.

Wherever we might position ourselves on the political spectrum, don’t let’s be guilty of those common human tendencies – complacency, thinking it couldn’t happen here, or assuming that someone else will do it.

The present challenges need everyone in the HE communities on board, not just a few activists. Let’s also be on the lookout for opportunities of working with others who are finding their families’ privacy being invaded by a growing state. Otherwise the approaching educational steamroller will crush all our children and grandchildren.