Will the Liberal Democrats Change their Home Education Spots?

What’s been said?

In early February the LibDems published details of their 2018 Spring Conference planned for 9th – 11th March. Not long afterwards an extract from “Policy Paper 128, Every Child Empowered” was being circulated amongst the home educating community. Alarms bells were ringing because section 9 (p33) focusses on EHE, under the title “Home schooling and un-registered schools”.

Its four sections cover: praising home educating parents but seeking to ensure the safety of children; unregistered schools; a requirement for children not being educated in a registered school to be visited biannually and to be taught the National Curriculum; a condemnation that parents are being forced to choose home education because schools are unable to stop bullying.

Why does it matter?

The first thing to note is that the Paper has been “approved for debate by the Federal Conference by the Federal Policy Committee”. With EHE being a “devolved matter”, it is important to recognise that this proposal is relevant not just to those in England, but to every home educating family in Great Britain.

This turnaround is disappointing because at the time of the Badman Report, the LibDems rallied to support EHE in the face of Labour’s attempt to regulate it. Eight years later they are putting forward proposals which go far further than Lord Soley’s Bill.

Perhaps by now the HE community is getting weary of being damned with faint praise, for whenever political figures congratulate the work we do, they then turn and put the boot in by accusing us of irresponsibly harbouring abusers. This proposal is no exception.

Ofsted should be pleased that its campaign to taint EHE by associating it, without supplying hard evidence, with illegal schools and radicalisation is making headway amongst most of the political parties.

It is this mix of safeguarding and illegal schools that has emerged since Badman which the LibDems are using to justify calling for twice yearly visits by LA staff. However a greater danger than the frequency of visits is that the inspectors will be tasked with ensuring that children “are being educated in line with the national curriculum entitlement set out above”.

This is important. It is the first time a political party has committed itself to a policy which seeks to dictate what home educated children are taught, and not just that they receive a suitable education. This move should be fully resisted, for it erodes parental freedom to educate their children according to their own philosophy. This is a freedom enshrined in human rights law.

Finally, we should welcome every call for the State to put its own educational provision in order. Elective home education “should always be a genuine choice, rather than a last resort.” Unfortunately this policy only identifies bullying as a cause for parents reluctantly opting for HE. Widely discussed elsewhere is the inability of schools to provide suitable education for many children – especially those with SEND and disruptive behaviour – which is forcing parents to teach their own children. There are also undocumented reports of schools coercing parents to HE for the benefit of the school.

What can I do?

Do not forget that there are two significant proposals in this document: the two visits a year and the move to impose the National Curriculum on home educators. Both shift the responsibility to ensure a child’s education from their parents to the State.

If you are a member of the LibDems, make your voice heard either in writing or at any Party meeting you attend. If you have a LibDem MP or local councillor, contact them and make sure they are aware that this policy is a bad one and will lose them support. Remember this applies to the devolved nations as well as to England.

Remember too that even though Ed Balls failed to bring in registration in 2010, he succeeded in creating a debate about the “dangers” of EHE. He failed mostly because the home educating community engaged with politicians. We need to do that again. They all need to know that HE children are far from “hidden” and the best way for them to know that is to have met plenty of them!