The Guardian View on Home Education

What’s been said?

The Guardian published a particularly pointless editorial on 15 July 2018, sparked by sentencing following the death of Jordan Burling. It’s a classic case of the type much beloved by the lobby which wants to prove how dangerous home education is.

The premise of the editorial is that registration is necessary and that home educators must recognise the need for regulation ‘and support efforts to protect a vulnerable minority, even if this means surrendering some of their highly prized autonomy’. The extent of the editor’s ignorance is displayed in the statement that such regulation has already been introduced in Wales. It hasn’t. The Guardian needs to get its fact right.

Why does it matter?

The editorial is pointless for a number of other reasons – the facts are provided below.

FACT: Jordan Burling was well known to Children’s Services while he was at school. After he was withdrawn from school because he was being bullied, these same services should have continued to monitor and support the family. He didn’t die because he didn’t go to school. He died because his family neglected and abused him.

FACT: children cannot be saved from neglect or abuse simply by attending school. Schools can only notify the relevant services and raise the alarm – their remit ends there. If those services do not do their job properly, the child’s presence in school will not make any difference.

FACT: there is an unhealthy obsession with exams in the current debate. The Editorial states that Mr Burling ‘had taken no exams nor gained any qualifications’. The argument about suitable education, passing exams and getting qualifications seems to be more important than the fact that a person died from extreme neglect.

FACT: with recent changes to the law, schools now have to notify the local authority of the destination of every pupil removed from the roll, so there is no possibility of children becoming invisible. In all future cases, the LA will already know where children are, which obviates the need for registration.

FACT: registration will be of no effective use. Even if the state knows where every child is, anyone working with neglected and abused children will know how manipulative parents are in avoiding monitoring or making it appear that everything is fine.

FACT: even if Jordan Burling had been registered, it would not have made any effective difference. The LA would only have been able to issue a School Attendance Order and call in Children’s Services. As both were already aware that there was a problem, what would have been achieved?

What can I do?

Use these facts to point out the futility of registration. Children are neglected and abused – schools cannot stop this happening, they can only raise alarms. All this editorial does is use the case of Jordan Burling to attempt to swing the argument emotionally, rather than rationally.

It is also worth questioning the motives of people involved in using this case to their advantage. Are they really concerned about the needless death of a young man at the hands of his family? Or do they just want to know where every child is so that they can be inculcated with British Values and a national curriculum that leads to prescribed qualifications?