Unicef UK, the Rights of the Child and Graham Badman

Why it is essential for home educators to understand the rationale behind Unicef UK’s submission, rather than just allowing it to infuriate them

What’s been said?

Many will be surprised that the United Nations Children’s Fund [UNICEF] UK submitted a response to the Education Committee’s Inquiry into home education. This is probably because they remember the name meaning the UN’s “International Children’s Emergency Fund” when it was launched in 1946.

Most do not realise that seven years later “the words ‘International’ and ‘Emergency’ [were] dropped from the official name,” whilst the acronym was retained. In 1959 the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which defined children’s rights to protection, education, healthcare, shelter and good nutrition, was adopted. UNICEF expanded its focus to include children’s education in 1961.

In 1989 the Declaration was superseded by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [UNCRC]; at present one hundred and ninety-six countries are parties to this. The UK ratified the Convention at the end of 1991. It is this commitment to the UNCRC which gives Unicef UK an interest in EHE here.

Their submission contains too many important matters to cover in a single Byte, so comments here are limited to the Introduction and the Summary.

Introducting itself, Unicef UK states:

“UNICEF… is mandated by the UN General Assembly to uphold the… UNCRC and promote the rights and wellbeing of every child… here in the UK, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of children everywhere. UNICEF has a specific role in providing advice and assistance to governments around the world in matters relating to children’s rights.”

UNICEF sees itself as the international police force in regard to the implementation of the UNCRC. No child is excluded from its oversight. Any children which it deems vulnerable or excluded are of special interest. It has a recognised role in providing advice to states, which is exactly why it has taken advantage of this Inquiry to influence the DfE.

Further important insights are to be gleaned from the summary paragraph:

“Unicef UK is submitting evidence… with the aim of highlighting the role the Government can, and must, play in delivering every child’s right to education, including in the case of elective home education. This submission focusses in particular on the rights of the child and how they relate to the choice, regulation, inspection, delivery, and safety of home education… Unicef UK recommends that the Department for Education take a child rights approach to home education…”

Home educators will notice that there is an important word missing from the above, and not as a result of our editing. Whilst the rights of the child are mentioned three times and the government’s role features twice, there is no mention of parents nor of their important responsibilities!

Why does it matter?

Since Joy Baker’s pioneering efforts, HE families across the UK have endured years of prejudice and ignorance from LA staff in respect to parental responsibility and the law. Unicef UK’s submission, however, makes it plain that the increased pressure to curtail educational freedom does not come solely from LAs, but from international institutions associated with the UN.

Most people consider the UNCRC to be a benign collection of aspirations promoting child welfare, which are therefore to be welcomed. Politicians, however, whilst often well-meaning, are not always wise. Consequently, there is now a different agenda piloting the developing application of the UNCRC, one which sees children as autonomous right-bearing citizens, whose future welfare is threatened by their parents.

This is powerfully illustrated by a growing suspicion of parents amongst Children’s Services, a mistrust which runs throughout Unicef UK’s submission. Whilst the need for “the development of respect for the child’s parents…” is recognised [§1c], this is negated by the rest of the submission, three examples being [emphasis added]:

  • “while parents have the right to choose their child’s education… it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure this right is realised for every child” [§3];
  • If parents or guardians should choose to remove their children from mainstream education, these children must not disappear from records. If they do, their education, health, and other rights are at risk.” [§18]
  • “Seeking the views of children can happen in many forms, but should ideally happen through a home visit, away from parents…” [§24]

There is a developing argument that the UNCRC’s emphasis on “the rights of the child”, which involves setting aside a recognition of the importance of the family and the primacy of parents in particular, is making states the legal guardian of every child. This is seen as necessary, irrespective of whether or not parental responsibilities are being fulfilled. Consequently, children’s professionals no longer consider the state to be “the parent of last resort.” One author recently criticised the Duchess of Cambridge for being drawn into this mindset.

Many EHE parents may be surprised to discover that the influence of Unicef UK’s logic is not a fresh factor in the all too familiar hostile environment towards them. Last year this blogger observed that in 2009, as well as publishing his erroneous report into EHE, Graham Badman was appointed a trustee and director of Unicef UK. This is confirmed by Companies House records, and Unicef UK’s annual report records his resignation in 2015. The prestigious St. Paul’s School (London) describes Badman as “a campaigner for children’s rights through UNICEF.”

What can I do?

We encourage you to take time to read Unicef UK’s submission. Don’t just fume at its assertions, but rather try to understand the line of reasoning behind it, no matter how faulty that is. Doing this will help you to appreciate its flaws, and the consequent dangers of the way the rights of the child are now being applied.

Then, in the light of Unicef UK’s intervention in this matter, consider how the EHE community in the UK can best counter international pressure on central and devolved governments to subvert natural and historical parental responsibilities through a HE register and regular monitoring. Unless it is checked, this dogma will eventually lead to the licensing of parents to educate their own children only in “exceptional circumstances” – as already called for in §13 & §16 of this most objectionable of submissions!