Demanding powers to look for a problem

What’s been said?

Parents on the Isle of Man, concerned that changes in EHE legislation will allow the state unwarranted interference in their children’s education, commissioned experienced social work Allan Norman to prepare a report for them (Appendix 2 p34—35). In addition to explaining the human rights framework which clearly states the rights of children, parents and the state, (see previous article) he also considered how conflicts arise between parents and local authorities.

Why does it matter?

The reasons why parents home educate are manifold.  Many relate to parents’ concerns about deficiencies in state provision. These include:

  • special needs or disability, where needs are not being met
  • unresolved bullying, leading to school phobia or refusal
  • poor attendance which has led to action against parents
  • off-rolling
  • summer born children who struggle to cope
  • a family move to an area where no school place is available
  • timetabling or subject availability mean that young people cannot follow their chosen course of study
  • dissatisfaction with school ethos, or a belief that conformity to an ethos is not in their child’s best interests

Local authorities, for their part, have their own concerns. These include:

  • provision of resources for SEND children must be defined by available funds, so that parents’ wishes may be constrained by budget
  • bullying cannot always be dealt with solely from the view of the victim, especially if the parents’ wishes disrupt the wider school community
  • wellbeing can be monitored if a child is in school, while invisible children may be vulnerable to abuse or neglect
  • children and young people are better prepared for life in a social environment in which they learn to relate to others
  • home education provision may not meet expected standards

These views raise serious questions. Why, for example, doesn’t the state put its house in order so that SEND, bullied and school phobic children can be provided for in school, which is where their parents would like them to be? What evidence is there that a child is safer in school? Where is the empirical evidence that children who attend school are better at relating to others? Why should the state be the arbiter of what makes for an effective education? And so, why does the state want power to go looking for a problem, without evidence that any exists?

Human rights legislation is clear on this – the role of the state is to support parents, not monitor them. Intervention is only permitted where there is risk of abuse or harm, not merely to go looking just in case. And the state cannot dictate to parents what constitutes a suitable education.

What can I do?

Be aware of the human rights framework which protects your right to educate your child as you choose without state interference in how, what, and when your child learns. Use the arguments if your local authority attempts to visit your home or speak to your children about their learning without your prior agreement. Ensure, if you do meet, that the reasons for the meeting are clearly stated in advance and that they comply with the law.