What’s been said?
Frank Field, Labour Member for Birkenhead, asked a written “Named Day Question”, in the House of Commons on 21 March 2018. He wanted to know if the Secretary of State for Education would ensure that children educated at home are required to sit all national tests sat by children in schools. This is the second time in recent weeks he has asked written questions about HE.
The answer was provided on 26th March by Ann Milton (Conservative Member for Guildford and Minister of State at the Department for Education), who stated that “There is no requirement for home educated children to sit national tests.” She referred Mr Field to the 1996 Education Act requirement upon parents to ensure that their child receives an efficient, full-time education suited to their age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs, and reminded him that “parents have wide discretion as to the content of that education and how it is taught”.
She stated that home educated children are “not required to follow the National Curriculum, to which the key stage tests are linked”, and added furthermore that “children attending school are not legally required to sit the national key stage tests, although most children in state-funded schools and some independent schools do take them.”
Why does it matter?
Although Mr Field received a categorically negative response to his question, the episode reveals that he has a deficient grasp of the legislation and principles underpinning home education. His concern that all children achieve a certain standard of learning and his view of national tests as a means to this end are no doubt genuine, but in his desire to extend such tests to home educated children when even schooled children are not legally required to sit them, he has definitely overreached himself.
Frank Field’s campaigns list demonstrates his passion for issues such as wellbeing and life chances, but he does need to remember that home educating parents too are passionate about their own children’s wellbeing and life chances. They are free to access preparation material for standardised national tests should they wish to measure their child’s progress against that scale, but having opted out of the state education system, they should not be forcibly subjected to features from within it. They are taking their responsibilities seriously, providing a personalised education for their children within a home learning environment where each child’s learning style can be accommodated.
How interesting that the summary of Mr Field’s Foundation Years Trust campaign emphasising the crucial importance of a child’s formative early years includes these words: “The report highlighted the powerful drivers of the home learning environment, parental warmth and sensitivity and parental well-being as three of the key influences on a child’s outcomes which can be strengthened through well designed interventions.”
Home educating parents just continue down that path full time for longer than parents who opt to send their child to school, devising interventions as appropriate for each child at each stage. They should not be penalised, hounded to conform or assumed guilty until proven innocent.
What can I do?
If you live in the constituencies of either of these MP’s, make your feelings known to them.
Others can continue their personal campaign to re-educate those within their sphere of influence about the positives of home education, including their own MPs.