Isle of Man Bill Delayed Amid Legal Controversy

Officials choose to ignore legal opinion

What’s been said?

The Isle of Man Education Bill 2019, expected to be introduced in October, has been delayed. The whole concept of the Bill is centralised control of all education by the Department of Education, Sport and Culture (DESC) and has been heavily criticised.

The National Association of Head Teachers made allegations of “institutional bullying” by the Minister, and limited industrial action by head teachers ensued in October. That month a Select Committee report widely criticised the Bill and concluded that the Minister has “failed to gain the confidence of the staff working in the Department’s own schools, whether as senior leaders or frontline staff. At the same time the Department had antagonised home educators.” Nonetheless the Committee concluded that there was a case for reform of home education law as “there is a risk at present that a case could arise where a child was not receiving a suitable education and yet this was not yet apparent to the Department.”

Finally, the Isle of Man Solicitor General published the Government’s rebuttal of a Human Rights Opinion obtained earlier in the year by home educators. This concluded, inter alia, that the “protection of the economic wellbeing of the Island” and the “safety and wellbeing” of home educated children was “sufficient justification” for reform of home education law. This was despite a report by the Isle of Man Safeguarding Board stating that “The Department believes that there are 154 children who are electively home educated,” whilst making no mention of any child protection issues in connection with home educated children.

Why does it matter?

The comments by politicians and lawyers show that, despite considerable written and oral evidence from home educators, few of those in positions of influence and responsibility are prepared to engage with the complexities of home education and human rights laws. Fundamental misunderstandings may well result in flawed laws and policies.

The Select Committee had been in receipt of the Human Rights Opinion but there was no more than an acknowledgement of this report, and no attempt was made to engage with the detail. Nor did the Committee engage with the important conclusion that the “Key Proposals set out above do not comply with Article 8(1), Article 9(1) or Article 14 of the ECHR’, and that parents finding themselves a victim of new laws would be able “to bring proceedings against the DESC” under the Human Rights Act. The Committee’s own conclusion that, unmonitored, home educated children might not receive a suitable education was shown to be entirely unsubstantiated.

The Isle of Man’s Solicitor General fell into the same trap of failing to engage with the complexities of home education and human rights laws. (His notion that home education conflicts with the “economic wellbeing of the Island” and that home educated children are a drain on the public purse was entirely unsupported by evidence.) On the contrary, the one hundred and fifty-four children who are home educated obviously free up the public purse.

The Solicitor General argued that regarding the views of parents “as having some kind of ‘primacy’ or paramountcy to the exclusion of the interests of the State is wrong.” This shows complete ignorance of the long-established British position that education is a parental duty, with the state’s role being to provide schools for those parents that choose that option.

The Solicitor General also looked to Amanda Spielman for support and further sought justification for the Isle of Man’s proposals by reference to German home education law. Most egregiously, he completely misinterpreted the Supreme Court’s Named Person judgement in the case of The Christian Inst. & others v The Lord Advocate [2016] UKSC 5. He argued that “intervention in the private lives of the parents is justified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children” when in fact the Supreme Court said that a child’s wellbeing was “too low a threshold” as the assessment of that wellbeing involved the use of “very broad criteria.”

What can I do?

All Isle of Man legislation has to be cleared by the UK authorities for human rights compliance and the island is rarely challenged on such matters.  If these proposals become law they will become the acceptable standard for other British jurisdictions. This is why they have to be stopped.

Home educators are specialists in their own field, and raising the understanding of the issues by those in authority is an uphill task. The ideas behind specious concerns about home education by proponents of control and monitoring need to be repeatedly challenged.

Home educators are specialists in their own field, and raising the understanding of the issues by those in authority is an uphill task. The ideas behind specious concerns about home education by proponents of control and monitoring need to be repeatedly challenged.

It is clearly possible that officials et alia have not stopped to think too deeply about what they are proposing, or the unintended consequences of those proposals. The lack of objective evidence supporting law change is a huge weakness in the case officialdom is mounting against home education freedom.

Home educators can write to the Isle of Man Government pointing out how defective their arguments are. Home education legal experts in particular may like to write directly to the Isle of Man Solicitor General, challenging his legal misunderstandings.

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