The National Secular Society and Home Education

What’s been said?

Six days after the Second Reading of Lord Soley’s Bill, on 30 November 2017, the NSS’s Education & Schools Campaigns Officer, Alastair Lichten, published an article entitled, “Home schooling debate must prompt wider discussion of children’s rights.” This is informative in several ways.

Why does it matter?

The first key point is that Lord Soley is a Honorary Associate of the NSS and as such, is very likely to be supportive of their objectives.

Secondly, Litchen, like so many critics of HE law, spends some time buttering up home educating families who follow what he describes as “good practice in home schooling”. However he soon introduces the reason for his concerns. Quoting the ADCS he states, “long-term home educators tend to do it for philosophical / religious reasons”. This is immediately followed by a sub-heading, “Children’s independent right to freedom of religion and belief”. This is key to understanding his article because it leads in to the main theme of his argument.

Clive Soley opened the Second Reading Debate on his Bill with these words, “My Lords, there is a difficult balance to be struck between the rights of parents to have the education for their child that they choose and the rights of the child.” Litchen writes, “Parents have the right to raise their children in a religion or belief community and to pass on their religion or belief. But young people also have independent rights.” A further sub-heading then echoes Soley’s point, “The balance of children’s / parents’ rights”. In this section he introduces the Gillick competency, with the complaint that it is “almost completely ignored within our education system.”

In citing Gillick, Litchen sheds helpful light on the thinking of many of the supporters of Soley’s Bill. Wikipedia’s summary of Gillick competence is, “a term originating in England and is used in medical law to decide whether a child (under 16 years of age) is able to consent to his or her own medical treatment, without the need for parental permission or knowledge.” Are you joining the dots? The legal precedent in a case concerning contraception is now being applied by some to education. Is this why so many opponents of  HE are demanding that someone should ask the children if they want to be taught at home? (Of course the same people never propose asking children if they want to go to school!)

One other connection is noteworthy. The EHE community is now very aware that “unregistered schools” have been added to the list of “HE dangers”. Readers may wonder why. Litchen explains, “The NSS has been on the forefront of raising awareness of the children being left to languish in unregistered, and therefore illegal, ‘schools’… However, with Ofsted’s support, local authorities are now taking this issue seriously.”

These days it is common to portray secularism as neutral. However, within the ranks of the NSS it seems that there are also ideologues who want more than to simply exercise their freedom to live according to their own philosophies. This article illustrates that there is a campaign not only to ensure that education in schools promotes one particular ideology, but also to force-feed that same worldview to every child in the country whether or not their parents agree with it.

Whilst the NSS campaign is focussed on outlawing religious education, Litchen seems to care little if parents and children with different philosophical convictions to his own become collateral damage in his eagerness to promote the brand of secularism to which he is committed. He hopes that registration of HE will only be the start of such a process, not the end of it.

What can I do?

The main need is for the home educating community to be aware that Balls, Badman, Soley, etc. are almost certainly not just individuals with a personal agenda. They are people influenced by a shared belief that the State is the only safe pair of hands for your children. If Soley’s Bill fails, someone else will step up to the plate.

If you are a member of the National Secular Society, then begin to challenge those with influence in it about their direction of travel. Challenge them to develop truly liberal policies in regard to family life and not to pursue a direction which may end up with families being torn apart because parents do not subscribe to a particular secular ideology.