Home Education – Not Quite Missing from Party Manifestos

A round-up of party policies on education and family

What’s been said?

With the general election now imminent, it seems timely to summarise what political parties have said about home education in their manifestos. The team have accessed nineteen documents from all the major parties, including their Scottish and Welsh counterparts, and several minor ones. Whilst the majority comment on the need to provide better education for the nations’ children, we have come across only one party which supports “the rights of parents who wish to home educate their children.” However, this will be of little comfort to home educators as it is the policy of – the almost defunct – UKIP.

Addendum: Following the publication of this Byte, we have been contacted by the Libertarian Party, which has five candidates standing in the election. Their manifesto is supportive of HE, stating “We shall encourage and promote home education… There shall be no stigma to home education – children are not invisible if they are being taught at home.” Our apologies to them and any other small party whose manifestos did not come to our attention earlier.

The only other party to commit to supporting the rights of HE parents is the Green Party, though this is not included in their manifesto. Under the heading “Home-based Education” §ED150 of their Education Policy reads, “We support parents’ rights to educate their children in settings other than at school. They also state that LAs should build positive relationships with the HE community and that all schools should provide part-time places on request for home-based pupils.

The other side of the debate is championed by the LibDems who, as we have previously highlighted, adopted a UK wide policy in spring last year calling for the National Curriculum to be imposed on all HE families, and for compulsory registration and monitoring of all children being educated outside a registered school, with two visits each year.

In December 2017 Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education, issued a statement calling for “a register of all home schooled children.” Criticising the Welsh Labour government for acting too slowly on this matter, he commented, “I want to see a requirement on parents to register with a Local Authority children who are receiving home education, and also to ensure that those children are seen and spoken to annually.”

One may wonder why the majority of political parties don’t consider EHE worthy of mention in their campaigns. Almost certainly it’s because, whilst it is now in vogue for all politicians to express grave concerns about the number of “unseen” children being educated outside school, they know that there are not enough HE voters to make any meaningful difference when the ballots are counted.

By contrast, you will have seen if you have read any of the manifestos that a recurring theme is promising a better future for state-funded education. This is no surprise, as those who want the state to educate their children overwhelmingly outnumber those of us who don’t.

Why does it matter?

In recent years the number of EHE families has risen, this increase being driven in part by parents finding that their school’s provision is unsuitable for their children. Whether they have regular or special needs, these are not being met in an environment of mass education, and this is not simply due to a lack of funding. Many HE families are well aware that teaching one’s own children rather than handing them over to others normally strengthens the whole family and provides a solid foundation for children as they grow into adulthood.

The natural and historic situation is that children spent the majority of their waking hours alongside one or both of their parents. However, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, opportunities for children to learn in this way have become rare. Most fathers and mothers now find it impossible to maintain their standard of living whilst spending their days alongside their children. The demand for state provision of childcare and education has therefore risen to the point where the majority believe – despite what the law affirms – that education is the responsibility of the state rather than a child’s parents.

This is why all the main parties and most of the others make repeated manifesto promises to take care of children and educate them from a few months old until university and beyond.

The Conservatives promise to “establish a new £1 billion fund to help create more high quality, affordable childcare, including before and after school and during the school holidays.” Labour’s promised National Education Service “will provide free education for everyone throughout their lives,” and “within five years, all 2, 3 and 4-year olds will be entitled to 30 hours of free preschool education per week.”

The SNP state that “Scotland has embarked on a massive programme of investment in our children and their education.” [Emphasis added] They also believe that “The massive expansion of early learning and childcare – from 600 hours per year to almost double that at 1,140 hours – will transform lives, giving more children the best possible start.”

Similarly the LibDems make “a bold offer of free childcare from the age of nine months, transforming the opportunities for early years education.” Plaid Cymru are committed to providing, “free full-day early years childcare and early years education to all children between 1-3 years old,” with “seamless care from early years into school.”

In Northern Ireland the SDLP recognise that “The first years of a child’s life are vital for their wellbeing. The foundations for our paths in life are laid in these years.” But they too have “consistently campaigned for an increase in free childcare provision to 20 hours per week, with a view to further increasing this to 30 hours per week.”

The underlying message of all these commitments is that children are better off spending their time with state-funded employees than with their parents.

It is regrettable that there is only one party, UKIP, prepared to stand out against this trend and promise to “repeal laws infringing the family unit’s fundamental right to be primarily responsible for its children.”

What can I do?

Given the lack of choice, your vote is unlikely to seriously challenge this agenda of extended civic education. However, investigating individual politicians’ views and party policies on education and the family will implicitly inform you about their attitude to HE.

If you get an opportunity to talk to a candidate or one of their canvassers, be sure to ask about their policy on HE and wider issues such as the value of family life and parental responsibility.