What’s been said?
The day before Lord Soley’s Bill failed to obtain a Second Reading in the Commons, Anna Foster hosted a stimulating discussion on her 5 Live morning programme (25th October 2018) about the pros and cons of establishing a register of HE children. The programme is available on iPlayer until 16 October and the first segment runs from 9 to 33 minutes, with further discussion later in the broadcast.
After a brief introduction pointing out that the number of children being home schooled in England has gone up by forty per cent over the last three years, Foster’s first interviewee was Edward Hardy, father of Lilian Hardy whose name will be familiar to many because of high profile discussions back in February between her parents and Westminster Council about whether or not the Council had the right to insist on seeing their home educated daughter when no cause for concern had been raised.
After relating briefly how their two children came to be home educated, Hardy fields Foster’s typical questions about HE in a calm and reasoned manner, citing the sections of the 1996 Education Act pertaining to HE as a “sane and sensible piece of legislation”, and opining that HE young people “grow up incredibly well rounded, very relaxed young people whilst maintaining their love of learning and life.”
He stated that he had no obligation to grant his LA access to his home, and felt that in their area the LA had “come up with its own policy which in our opinion is in contravention with the government guidelines and indeed with the legislation”. He saw their request as unreasonable because, “Nobody in this country (police, LA, anyone) has the right to enter a home without a just cause for concern… LAs up and down the country are press-ganging HE families to enter homes with no just cause for concern.”
Hardy said a register was “completely unnecessary, and probably unethical too. As home edders we are not registering for anything, nor signing up for a service, we are families looking after our children… It would not be a good precedent to establish a register.”
Foster then spoke to Debbie Barnes, from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services [ADCS]. Unsurprisingly, she was in favour of a register for child protection reasons, citing parents who “seek to hide away their children from the agencies”, and because parents who remove their children from school due to disillusionment with the system may need further support. Her concluding comments summarised one of the main areas of tension between LAs and parents as she saw it, that “without a mechanism to satisfy ourselves that a young person is receiving a suitable education, we can’t be satisfied and therefore should be able to assess”.
After comments and questions from listeners, Foster then introduced Mike Wood from the website Home Education UK, who took the opportunity to correct Barnes’ earlier assertion about Serious Case Reviews. Wood’s position on a register was unequivocal – “wholly unnecessary, contrary to the way in which the law works in Britain”. He too saw it as unethical because, “Education is a function of parenting, and parenting is a human right. We shouldn’t have to register to perform our human rights.” He also challenged the commonly held belief that LAs have a responsibility to ensure that all children in their area are receiving an education, when in fact “no such legislation, power or duty exists.”
In the last hour of the programme (2 hours 5 minutes) Foster’s final HE-related interviewee was Cora McCauley, PR Officer of Home Education Network Ireland. Registration of HE was introduced in the Republic in 2000. McCaulay could sympathise with opposition to a register amongst HE families in England, because the Irish register is overseen by a single agency (Child and Family Agency) rather than by different local authorities. Also, contact is between the Agency and the parents with no assessment of the children or their work and there is normally only an initial conversation when a family first registers, unless further concerns arise.
Why does it matter?
In approx forty minutes’ listening you can hear a wide-ranging discussion on issues currently of vital importance to the future direction of HE in England. Unusually, the presenter seemed motivated to understand the issues better herself and gave a reasonable hearing to all views.
What can I do?
Take careful note of the questions raised and the responses. These are exactly the sort of questions which people (including MPs) are asking about the issue, and the ones for which the HE community needs to have carefully considered answers prepared. Use this material as a starting point for your own thinking and discussion.