An Interesting Political Initiative

A new and very different HE website appeared on 25 June 2019. Entitled Labour Home Educators, this group identifies itself with one particular political party. The only other comparable group we know of is the Green Party Home Education Information Facebook page.

In their first post Who are we? LHE describe themselves as “a group of home educating and home educated members of the Labour party in the UK.” Space constraints permit only the briefest of introductions to their second post (fifteen hundred words). But we encourage you to put this item on your post-consultation, summer reading list, because the contribution it makes to the defence of parental freedom in the British Isles is thought-provoking.

This substantial post is entitled, “Our response to the NPF 2019 consultation on Local Accountability in the National Education Service.” For those unfamiliar with this jargon, the Labour Party has recently (30 June) concluded its National Policy Forum Consultation 2019, covering eight areas of policy, including Local accountability within the National Education Service. Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of EHE in the documentation, but that is exactly why it’s important that a group of Party members has decided to raise it as part of this consultation.

Their submission is obviously written by people who understand political language, and can use it to communicate their significantly different expectations of a National Education Service [NES]. Some readers may therefore struggle with parts of the terminology, but we encourage you to press on, for the text argues strongly for the understanding that “British home educators take their cues first and foremost from their children’s needs.” They also emphasise that HE “is community-focused; highly diverse and tolerant; based on an understanding of children’s development and differing needs and abilities; and has a deep respect for learners’ voices.” The whole of the first section is in fact a strong rebuttal of the media rhetoric which has generated a hostile environment against EHE over the last decade.

The group’s recommendations for Labour education policy are listed under three headings. Thirteen proposals are made under, “How Labour could support parents and children who choose to Home Educate.” These include recommendations that LAs should maintain “positive ongoing relationships with local home education communities,” and that “all service providers coming into regular contact with families,… should also receive proper training about home education.” The authors also propose that nationally “a home education entity within the DfE should be set up to deal with research, policy, and complaints.” Another interesting proposal is an Open School service similar to the Labour-inspired Open University.

The second group of proposals are entitled, “Home education is the most appropriate setting for some children.” These will be more familiar to EHE families, as they focus particularly on children for whom classroom learning is full of challenges due to their emotional or physical needs. Finally, the question is asked, “What can the schools and the NES learn from home education?” The answers are formed around phrases such as: education and childcare should be decoupled; the NES should offer modular, non-coercive, flexible education; built around learners’ needs; foster healthy relationships and a nurturing environment; and learning should be community-focused and community-embedded.

Why does it matter?

It’s clear from Anne Longfield’s recent comments that no matter what happens in response to the English consultation, there will be further calls for mandatory monitoring of EHE throughout the UK. One reason why such campaigns have been successful is that historically the EHE community has sought to keep its distance from politicians of all types, because relationships with LAs have commonly been so negative. Consequently, unless we are protesting against Badman or Soley, MPs hear very little about the hard work many HE parents put in, nor do they have any idea of the outcomes of their labours. This group of parents should therefore be commended for trying to change that situation within the political party of their choice.

Secondly, their contribution could serve to open up new areas for discussion within the HE community. Take, for example, the call for the DfE to have a dedicated EHE unit, staffed by people with significant experience of HE (parents or students) responsible for research, policy, and complaints. That is a whole new approach, which may not be easy to achieve – but is it worth putting to politicians from other parties? Are there other proposals listed which you have not come across before, but are worth thinking about? Given the changed landscape in which EHE now exists, we need to think in fresh ways to help politicians resolve their perceived problems with school-refusing parents.

You may not agree with every point made, but this submission contains plenty of food for thought even for seasoned HE parents.

What can I do?

First, make sure you read this group’s submission.

Secondly, begin to discuss with other HE families those ideas in it which you like and those you don’t.

Thirdly, make use of those points with which you agree when you contact your MP or local councillors. We especially encourage you to highlight the desperate need for better trained staff at both local and national levels.

Finally, if you are affiliated to either party, get in touch with the relevant HE group – Labour or Green. If you are connected to another political party, try to find out if there is a HE group amongst its members and if not, think seriously about starting one. If you struggle to find other HE members in your party, let us know and we will try to help.