Vigilance still Needed

With the spotlight on pandemic schooling at home and the problems of reopening schools, it is helpful to be reminded that state distrust of home education has not evaporated.

What’s been said?

Despite pandemic restrictions, the team at Scottish Home Education Forum [SHEF] have continued to work hard.

Their latest piece of work is a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee which is currently considering Petition 01730: Registration of Home educated children in Scotland. SHEF’s submission was published on their own site on 15 May and is also available as written submission F on the Petition’s page.

Petitioner Kenneth Drysdale lodged his petition in August 2019. It calls on the Scottish Parliament “to urge the Scottish Government to conduct an urgent review to identify children who are not registered with an Education Authority in Scotland and are being denied a basic human right to access an education suitable to age, ability and aptitude.”

SHEF’s latest submission links to their two previous posts on this matter. Here they acknowledge the particular concern of this petitioner – “the provision of compulsory education for those children whose parents live apart following separation or divorce, and/or who may disagree over the ‘means’ employed to educate them in accordance with their age, aptitude and ability.”

Why does it matter?

Though Petition 01730 has received only eleven signatures, SHEF’s submission is a useful read in other respects.

The very fact the report is listed under their Civil Liberties tab should remind us all that the existence of citizen bodies like this is vital. Their careful monitoring and hard work make an important contribution to preserving HE freedom.

The group was established in 1999 as “an online peer support network.” Since then their scope has expanded to include “conduct[ing] research and offer[ing] advocacy, training and consultancy services,” and they currently have a membership of around three and a half thousand.

Their research reports (three in the last three years, all linked from their submission) meet a real need for “reliable statistical and demographic data on home education in Scotland.” As recently as March we reported on the latest of these, “Home Truths,” – a comprehensive investigation into home educators’ relationships with local authorities in Scotland.

SHEF asks some significant questions. For instance, why is it that, “despite statutory guidance having been in place for two decades and the current version for 12 years, the same problems are still being reported by families on a regular basis?”

The SHEF submission also highlights the adverse effects felt by home educators due to being “consistently excluded from policy discussions” and the “near-universal failure to acknowledge the existence of ‘education by other means’ as a lawful and equal alternative to council schooling.”

As parents of more children with Additional Support Needs turn to home education for solutions, HE numbers are only likely to grow. The forum provides a context for members to share “myriad concerns about poor treatment by local authorities and other services,” with some of these being followed up at national government level.

As far as the present petition is concerned, SHEF’s submission reminds the Petitions Committee that repeated calls for compulsory registration of EHE children over the last twenty years have all been unsuccessful.

“As key stakeholders,” they write, “we have extensive knowledge of the arguments, both for and against, as well as direct experience of resisting unjustified interference by the state, up to and including pursuing judicial review.”

Given their track record and the calibre of their previous research, these are probably not just empty words.

Vigilance and perseverance are two very important aspects of maintaining home educating freedom in any context. Consider how many peer support networks have morphed of necessity into organisations with a wider brief of monitoring official policy or practice and challenging any overstepping of the mark.

A quick look at the International category linked from SHEF’s home page will provide you with a flavour of issues presently being faced by home educators in other places. A browse through Euro Home Ed’s Other countries links would do the same.

What can I do?

By virtue of what they do, HE parents are busy people with many demands on their attention. It’s easy to get our heads down and be unaware of what’s going on, especially when officialdom can be less than transparent about its agenda.

But without watchmen, slippage to a “new normal” can take place gradually, subtly and oh so easily. Whatever the cause, it’s always harder to regain ground that to defend it in the first place.

Scottish readers can therefore be thankful for the existence of a robust and determined forum like SHEF. Together with HE families from other parts of the UK, they can be inspired to perseverance by these observations from SHEF’s 2020 New Year message found on the Campaigns section of their site:

“…despite winning multiple battles, the war on families will never really be over and the statutory guidance we fought for is/was always just a sop to be ignored when inconvenient…

We are still an unpopular minority, whose many positive achievements and ‘outcomes’ are more likely to be ignored or erased than celebrated. We will, however, build on our many successes and take strength from each other and those who have gone before.”