What’s been said?
On 4 February, the Telegraph (you may need to register for free to access) published an article by Eileen Tracy, mother to Lilian Hardy (see Home Ed Parents prepared to go to Jail and Radio Five Live Interview), in which she challenges the notion of a register for home educated children. Describing how well Lilian has developed through their child-led approach, Eileen Tracy points out that she is not an unusual case amongst home educators:
“…plenty of her home-educated peers are talented. And studies show that background doesn’t matter: home-educated children have consistently high literacy, numeracy and social skills. We cost the UK nothing and yet yield some of the country’s best results.”
Her concern is that a register “is a Trojan horse enabling the state to dominate parents. Indeed, the erosion of the rights of the home educator threatens the rights and freedoms of all citizens.”
Why does it matter?
Ms Tracy makes strong and logical arguments as to why the prospect of registration is so unpalatable to parents, as it could be easily abused by over-zealous officials.
Under current law, the State should only intervene in with family life when there is cause for concern – regardless of whether children are pre-schoolers at home, in school or home educated. In Lilian’s case, the local authorities sought to overstep their legal remit, even when there was clearly no cause for concern, to the extent of issuing a school attendance order. When Lilian’s parents highlighted the unlawful actions of Westminster Council in the press, it was only once the Council “found an educator whose name they did not reveal” that they were able to tick their boxes and close the case, presumably to save themselves from further negative publicity.
The arguments in favour of registration and monitoring can be easily refuted when subjected to scrutiny. Laws around the welfare of children already provide for authorities to intervene when it appears that there are concerns – this applies to all children, in all environments. In the extremely rare cases where there are concerns about abuse, it is highly unlikely that abusers would comply with registration. Abusers are often highly skilled at concealing mistreatment, to the extent that abuse of children in schools can also often be missed.
As for education, the Local Authority has the authority to make informal enquiries to ascertain the nature of the education being provided by the parent. Further steps may be taken should they have concerns that a child isn’t receiving a suitable education. Unfortunately, all too often, officials seem to be unaware of legal guidelines, and have even been known to adopt policies and practices that have no foundation in law. Were the government to impose heavy-handed restrictions on the many families where children are happy, healthy and thriving in home education, it would: shift the balance of power in favour of the State; create an environment of suspicion and mistrust between parents and local authorities; and endanger the principle of presumed innocence.
What can I do?
Make sure you understand your legal rights and responsibilities as a home educator, and ensure that you understand how enforced registration and monitoring might impact you, as well as having implications for the rights of families, parents and children in the future.
Educating those around you about home education as a valid and positive choice may help to change perceptions about the dangers of registers when it comes to family life.
Consider submitting articles similar to this one by Eileen Tracy to your local paper, to create awareness.