Home schooling: what is the liberal approach?

It’s an issue that arouses passions on either side. For some, home schooling is an absolute right, for parents to be able to educate their children in the manner of their choosing without interference from the state. For others, the concern is to ensure that children whose parents are not suitable to home school do not suffer for the rest of their lives as a result.

Where, as liberals, do we draw the line between the rights of parents to know better than the state; and the rights of children to achieve the best possible education?

Lynne Featherstone wrote about home schooling on her blog in October, concluding:

a really interesting conundrum – where everyone is trying to do their best by the children – but the state feels it isn’t safe to leave them to their parents alone and the parents think the state should butt out.

I do think that home schooling is something that parents should have a right to choose – but despite the protestations from my visitors that all home schooled children are happy and safe – I have heard about less happy outcomes.

I suppose it’s getting that balance right – that’s the challenge.

Home schooling is currently under debate in the House of Commons, as Labour pushes its Children, Schools and Families Bill into a second reading. Lib Dem shadow schools and families secretary David Laws this week had the task of setting out the party’s position on home schooling, moving an amendment stating that “its proposals for the regulation of home education introduce powers which are excessive and risk undermining key freedoms for home educators”.

Here’s what he said about the issue, as recorded in Hansard:

We accept the Government’s good intent in seeking to ensure high-quality home education for all children, and we recognise the evidence that was given by the local authorities. Obviously, it is extremely controversial evidence, and it is very difficult to get a reliable data set, but it is argued that 8 per cent. of home-educated children may not be receiving a good education, and that 20 per cent. may be receiving a poor education. We recognise, as I think all Opposition Members do, that local authorities already have a duty to ensure that all children receive a suitable education. … We agree that there is a real issue, but the challenge for the Government is to get the balance right, and we do not believe that they have done so. …

… we have concerns about two issues. The first is the nature of the registration process and whether the Government are in danger of presuming to be able to judge, at this stage, what a suitable education is, and of presuming to give individuals in local authorities the power to take away people’s ability to home educate when there is no clarity about what a suitable home education is. Under the Government’s proposals, individuals will not only be required to notify local authorities, but effectively be registering, and by registering, will be required to prove their ability to home educate and prove that they are delivering a suitable education.

I put it to the Secretary of State that the only way that local authorities can reasonably do that job is by having a set of very detailed criteria about what home education is. Necessarily, the concern of home educators is that if the Government or local authorities seek to do that job without any agreement on what a suitable home education is, many individuals could suddenly find themselves having to comply with exactly the type of rigid state education that they have tried to escape by leaving formal schooling and going into home education.

Secondly, it is very regrettable that education and safeguarding have become so mixed up in the Badman report. An assumption that local authority inspectors should have to check whether all home educators meet safeguarding requirements is inappropriate. The scope for local authorities is to consider whether a suitable education, however defined, is being given, not to assume automatically that local authority inspectors should look at the safeguarding circumstances. The intrusiveness in that part of the Bill is quite extraordinary.

Under the Bill, a local authority must ascertain the child’s wishes in relation to home education in all circumstances. It must check on the child’s welfare in all circumstances, automatically assuming therefore the duty to prove that there are no welfare concerns, rather than simply picking up any that arise. In addition, a local authority must make at least one home visit and hold one meeting with the child each year. The cost-benefit analysis assumes that 100 per cent. of children will receive one in-year visit, with 50 per cent. receiving additional monitoring. There is a description of the statement of education, which has not yet been clarified in its detail but must be produced. In other words, the change in the regulation of home education is very significant and will mean that home education is regulated as never before.

We would like to suggest a way to improve the current regime, without perhaps creating some of the problems of the disproportionate response that are involved in the Government’s proposals. First, we do not support the voluntary approach that the Select Committee advocates, but we suggest in the first instance that the Secretary of State ought to consider whether the scheme could involve notification, rather than registration. Notification would oblige everyone who is home educating to declare that information, without undertaking a registration process initially that proves in some way the suitability of the education.

Secondly, we suggest that a review over a longer time scale is needed, to consider what suitability means in home education. It would be dangerous to give local authority officials the responsibility for making judgments on suitability without any detailed guidance. I put it to the Secretary of State that we are simply not able to give that guidance, based on the debate so far and those that we are likely to have in Committee.

Thirdly, we obviously want more support for home educators and more training for those local authority staff who must oversee such things, and we will debate that in Committee. I should have thought that that was an area of common ground. The Government would have a better chance of gaining a consensus if we separated educational inspection from safeguarding. That has been one of the things that home educators have found most provocative. We would like the process to focus on the quality of education, not on safeguarding. We would like the Government to reflect again on how they can introduce a much lighter touch inspection regime, where the actions taken by local authorities are proportionate to the perceived risk, rather than presuming that every home-educating household in the country must be inspected in the ways set out in the Bill.

I hope that the Secretary of State is willing to take those proposals seriously. Outside the Committee’s proceedings, we would be willing to take part in cross-party talks with himself and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath [Michael Gove] if that is necessary to try to reach an agreement on proposals that could command cross-party support.

What do Lib Dem Voice readers think? Has David stuck the right, liberal balance on home schooling? Should the state simply leave well alone, not even requiring notification? Or does government have the right to ensure minimun educational standards are being met to ensure all children receive an education that enables them to live their lives to the full?

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42 Comments

  • If it was just about the education a child should recieve then once a year visits to a homeschooled child and standardised testing would be fine. But school is more than just education, it’s socialisation too. Without adequate socialisation, a child’s social and emotional development suffers. While you can test a child’s knowledge of a subject via an exam, how is an individual child’s social skills and emotional maturity tested in an exam setting or single yearly visit?

  • The socialisation argument is really redundant. A child’s emotional and social development do not rise or fall because of the school system. I could direct you to any number of people who went through the public school system who never properly developed emotionally or socially.

    Parents who school their children at home should endeavour to provide interaction with other children. Parents who I know that home school do exactly that.

    Home schooled children cannot be automatically equated with awkward, ill adjusted, undeveloped individuals. Just as a public school educated individual cannot be automatically equated with a well adjusted, socially and emotionally adjusted individual.

    If the public school system did capably develop individuals emotionally and socially then we would not have the social issues we face today in British society.

  • In principle I think parents should have the right to educate their kids as they see fit and the state’s responsibility should be limited to supporting them to do so, but in practice I’ve yet to hear a single justification for home-schooling that didn’t appear to be more about projecting the prejudices of the parent than ensuring the well-being of the child, and I’d always put the rights of a child above the personal prejudices of a parent.

  • Paul Griffiths 17th Jan '10 - 1:23pm

    The differences between the requirements for home and institutional schooling are fascinating.

    As I understand it, home educators do not have to be qualified in any way. They don’t have to follow any particular curriculum or devote a set number of hours to any subject. The children do not have to sit any tests or exams. The local education authority has no right to visit the children in their homes or see examples of their work.

    Contrast this with the regulation that surrounds institutional, and particularly state, schooling.

    Yet both practices are accepted as fulfilling the parent’s legal duty to educate their children.

    Are these differences fully explained, and necessitated, by the contrast between a domestic and an institutional setting? I can’t help wondering if home education is incredibly lax, or if institutional education is incredibly prescriptive. (I suspect the latter.)

  • Here in the US it’s just an excuse to turn out barely educated religious bigots. Don’t buy into this – it’s just an excuse for highly illiberal parents to brainwash their kids into becoming highly illiberal young people!
    Be warned!!

  • I’m actually dismayed that the LibDems, in principle, seem to support this blatant increase in state control.

    8% of home-educated children don’t get a good education and 20% get a poor one – it wouldn’t surprise me if those figures are roughly the same or worse for state-educated children.

    It’s just a typical Labour (and Ed Balls) policy of increasing state interference, employing more bureaucrats and spending more public money with little to no additional benefit. The legislation assumes that the state knows best and presumes home-education is in some way suspect. I can understand the concern that some children maybe disadvantaged by their parents in this regard but you could say that about many parents who send their kids to school but don’t care about their education.

    Great so we have David “let’s monitor children whilst they’re being schooled at home” Laws and Chris “we wanted airport scanners implemented several years ago” Huhne. What on earth is going on?

  • Paul Griffiths 17th Jan '10 - 2:10pm

    It seems reasonable to me that parents should have to tell the local education authority that they are home schooling their children. Parents have a legal duty to educate, and should be required to be clear how they intend to fulfil that duty. Home schooling being, of course, one way.

    Whether the state is justified in mandating any of the content of that education is another, much bigger, question.

  • Sarah Barnard 17th Jan '10 - 2:41pm

    “Where, as liberals, do we draw the line between the rights of parents to know better than the state; and the rights of children to achieve the best possible education?”

    One of the major problems of this legislation is that it acts as though this is a conflict present in 100% of cases of HE. There should be no line between the rights of the parent to know better than the state what is best for their child and the right of the child to a good education. In the vast majority of cases there is no such line. The majority of people who choose to home educate (not home school…school does not equal education, though good schools are certainly capable of providing an education) do so after investing a lot of time, thought, research and effort into what would work best for their child. There may be people who just don;t send their kids to school because they cant be bothered or because they have something to hide from the authorities, but a) whatever the skewed statistics Graham Badman has produced suggest, this is no more likely among home educating families than the general population and may in fact be a smaller number and b) none of this legislation would prevent people who want to hide from doing so. I have a friend whose half-brother is “home educated” because his mother wishes to prevent him from coming into contact with people who do not share her belief system and the LA know about him, Social Services know about him and the mother is still hiding him. She will continue to do so under any system.

    Personally, I was happy to work with my LA, despite their clear lack of understanding that anything that does not look like school can be educational. their policy sets out that they expect to see evidence of 25 hours per week structured work. Really? the same about of “class” time as a child who has to share one teacher and one TA with 29 other children. Does one child who has the full attention of an adult who knows how best to inspire her, explain to her in the way that works best for her, change things if it isn;t working, come back at a later time when she is ready to learn that *really* need to work for the same number of hours as a schooled child? Not least because it is very hard to quantify since educating your children is an essential part of any parent’s role. It’s not confined to sitting at a table with workbooks. but they have certainly already given me little reason to trust them, using intimidatory tactics and threatening me. Would any parent be happy to let their child be interviewed alone by people like this? If she was a criminal she would have more rights! A minor who commits a crime cannot be interviewed without an appropriate adult? All she has ever done is be so unhappy in school that at 5 she was thinking of self-harming. The school refused to even work with me to think of ways to help her cope better and just sid “she had to learn to get on with it.” She was told off and handled roughly for crying….at 5!!! So will I trust the state to make decisions about her well-being? No. First and foremost , she must be allowed to be well, safe and secure. *only* in that situation can she actually learn anything…in school all her mental energy went on coping with a situation she found unbearably stressful (and this is not an isolated case…many people home educate because their children have been deeply traumatised by school).

    Anyone wishing to legislate on an issue that has the power to destroy lives surely has a moral obligation to inform themself. Graham Badman had this opportunity in his review but chose to ignore evidence that contradicted his preconceived ideas, eg he interviewed Paula Rothermel, a respected academic and author of research into autonomous education. He dismissed her work completely and chose instead to ask her whether all *mothers* who home educate were suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy? (I thought it was illegal to discriminate on grounds of gender in this country???)

    I would say to the Lib Dems to take the opportunity to be informed and whatever your final position is, make that decision on sound evidence not prejudice. There are a LOT of people out there ready and willing to provide information and share their experiences with people who are genuinely willing to listen. Unlike Ed Balls, who claims the “majority” of home educators agree with the proposals. If you look at the repsonses to the consultation document, only one question even got close to an even split, the vast majority were 80-90 something % against the propsals…and the consultation had one of the largest ever number of responses. Which the governement chose to dismiss as “campaigns” by organisations such as the BNP. There is something immensely shameful about labelling anyone who disagrees with you as mentally ill, a criminal, a racist. Trust a state which deals with dissent like that….no way!

  • “The mark of a true liberal is someone who defends the liberty of another to live a certain way, even when he himself disapproves of that way. So it is with home schooling. It is surely an inalienable right to raise your own children in the manner you see fit,”

    Your conclusion doesn’t follow from your initial premise. In fact if completely ignores any rights that the child may have (there are in any case very few inalienable rights in a liberal system). Education is, even at its most benign, about imposing a viewpoint and values on other individuals – that is actually quite in illiberal idea but on balance the effect of (say) compelling everyone to learn how to read is of benefit to everyone’s individual liberty.

  • Maybe it would help to compare a parent’s duty to educate their child with their duty to feed their child – should we all have to register our dietary choices and meal plans for approval by the council? The consequences of poor diet (almost exclusively provided by parents) are much greater than those of poor education, and lead to substantial life-long health problems and associated tax burdens. The concept of registering how we will fulfil our parental duties is a very slippery slope for *all* families, and if introduced into law, the implications will not just affect home educators.

    Children who are not subjected to the physical and timetabling restrictions of school naturally learn from every experience and interaction, regardless of how much formal “teaching” takes place. It’s hard to make the leap of faith that children are self-motivated learners when you use school children as the comparison, but the opportunity to explore whatever interests or confuses them at that particular moment significantly increases the amount and depth of understanding that is likely to be achieved. There is no evidence that a set curriculum increases the quality of education, just the quantity – who decides what would constitute the “best possible education” for each child? Common sense says that it would not be the same for every child, or that if it was, then this could not possibly bring out the best potential in every child, so why impose this one-size-(never)-fits-all approach on those who have made considerable sacrifices in time and income to give their child what they hope will be the best start in life?

    Again a comparison to diet might be helpful – a meat eater and a vegan would be likely to have completely different opinions about what would constitute the “best possible” diet – should either be able to impose this on the other?

    There is no evidence of either need or benefit for these proposals, and certainly not enough grounds for introducing such sweeping changes to the role of the state in parenting. These proposals will prevent parents from being able to provide an education that is individually tailored to their child, and will instead require them to provide one that is easier to be assessed by an LA official. Box ticking at its worst.

  • The current assault on elective home education, like ID cards, satellite surveillance of motor vehicles, martial law for young people, etc, etc, is a part of the control agenda. It is directed from Washington, and its purpose is to turn everyone outside the elite into servile robots.

    Now, before I get stuck into defending elective home education, I should mention that the control agenda is being applied elsewhere in education policy, not just to home schooling. Witness the periodic “discussions” about extending the school day (every pocket of individual autonomy to be extinguished), and the proposals now in train to extend educational conscription to the age of 18. A very depressing and alarming picture all round.

    And look, too, at the subtle and dishonest way that the Badman Report has been trailed. First, home educators are smeared as paedophiles, then we have the old canards about socialisation and religious fanaticism wheeled out. See how easily the string-pullers turn the keys in the backs of these freedom-hating authoritarians who cannot bare the thought that a single young person could be spared the misery of compulsory so-called eudcation (look up the thread and you’ll see what I’m talking about).

    Right, back to elective home eudcation and why Liberals must defend it. Home schooling is, in the main, carried out by dedicated parents who do not wish to subject their children to the hellish nightmare we call “school”. Most do a great job (and make considerable financial sacrifices along the way). The children are generally well-adjusted and successful in their chosen careers. They learn without having to wear uniform, without being forced to participate in sport and without being bullied. There is a minority of young people who have a bad experience of home education, but the state already has the power to deal with those cases. Religious fanatics are unlikely to be interested in home education, because religious organisations do not trust parents to teach their doctrines correctly. Socialisation is not an issue in many cases, because home educating parents tend to share round tasks, which means bringing children together. The nasty bits of socialisation (ie, being bullied) are excluded. But then, social authoritarians tend to think bullying is rather a good thing, especially if it is they who are doing it!

    The one good thing about the Badman Report is that it calls for all home educated children to have access to public examinations. That is welcome. The increased powers of access and snooping that are being proposed, and the underhand stigmatisation that goes with it, are not. As Liberals, we must reject them.

    Only a minority of parents will ever be able to educate their own children (in the main, those able to forgo a second income). Fundamental reform of the state provided “education” system is required.

  • Paul Griffiths 17th Jan '10 - 6:15pm

    Can I caution against casting this debate in terms of home vs state education? From what I’ve read elsewhere, the most ardent proponents of home education seem to be just as critical of private schools.

  • @ sesenco: my comments are justified, as this guy is clearly a nut job….

  • Felix Holt wrote:

    “it’s (elective home education) just an excuse for highly illiberal parents to brainwash their kids into becoming highly illiberal young people!”

    What, like Felix Holt?

    “Be warned!!”

    I am.

    A very dangerous thing, this freedom business.

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Jan '10 - 8:55am

    I think it would help if advocates of home education stopped banging on about parental “rights”. (At least, it would help me to have more sympathy with their arguments.) I don’t believe in such a thing as parental rights – parenthood is all obligations, folks. If you do it half-well there are plenty of rewards, but it’s never about rights.

    Of course, as individuals we all have rights, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, which in turn includes a presumption that one is carrying out one’s obligations in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Which is why these proposals do seem disturbingly authoritarian, and should probably be opposed. But can we oppose them while making clear that we absolutely do believe in society’s right to intervene in the parent-child relationship when appropriate?

  • “But can we oppose them while making clear that we absolutely do believe in society’s right to intervene in the parent-child relationship when appropriate?”

    I don’t think home educators would disagree with your sentiments within that statement. There is already the ability for the state to do this if there appears to be a problem. And as things stand now, there has to appear to be one and the state does not have the right to assume there is one automatically. These proposals turn the presumption of innocence on it’s head.
    I think the whole *balancing the rights * debate is a red herring. It seems to be used by this government just before they are about to impose something draconian.
    In law I have a duty to educate my children at school or otherwise. But I also do have the right to protect them from harm, and to disagree with a local authority officer if I think they are wrong in their assessment of a situation. At the moment, I have the right to speak up for my children and have my day in court. (with these new proposals , I won’t) I also have the right not to be presumed guilty nor have my home and privacy invaded. I do not see these rights at odds with the rights of my children. My rights to protect my children and their rights are on the same side of the scale. It is the state that is wanting to balance the rights of the family with the rights of the state to intrude IMO.
    This legislation seems to me to be seeking to give the state rights that in a liberal society, it does not deserve.

  • Malcolm Todd wrote:
    “I think it would help if advocates of home education stopped banging on about parental “rights”. (At least, it would help me to have more sympathy with their arguments.) I don’t believe in such a thing as parental rights – parenthood is all obligations, folks. If you do it half-well there are plenty of rewards, but it’s never about rights.”

    To be fair, if you have been following this current legislation since the outset you would have seen that it is actually the government which is determined to make this a rights issue. They repeatedly misuse this illusory idea of rights to support their own ideas and to scare people into supporting them, and as a divisive measure to separate parents from children – not just in bad situations but in all cases. Don’t forget that rights, as originally intended and discussed by John Locke, Adam Smith et al, were there as a protection for people from abuse by the state. I believe, and the law currently agrees with me, that when deciding between parent and state as prime advocate for the child, the parent is the natural choice.

    This is not a question of rights, but as you rightly say, responsibilities. We have a legal responsibility to ensure our children are offered an education. Most of us do that (or attempt to do so) by passing the child into the schools system and trusting Ofsted and the like to tell us whether that system is upholding or abusing our trust. Others decide to take the responsibility so seriously that they will not trust a state-run, often overtly political system with it. It is only right in a democracy that it should be possible for children to be raised free of state interference, curriculum plans, and other influence. For a government to attempt to remove that that possibility is a deeply suspicious act.

    This is not the same as leaving children to the devices of ‘bad’ parents. The current system allows Local Authorities to make enquiries about home educated children, informally request evidence that education is happening, meetings with parents and so forth, right up to the final sanction of sending the child to school with a School Attendance Order. Again, this is as it should be as, unlike the current proposals, the single prerequisite is that there is some evidence that the child is not receiving education. It would be helpful of course if those investigating had proper training in order to assess such evidence, which is where the current system falls down.

    The main difference between the current system and that proposed is that the government is attempting to remove the need for evidence in order to intervene in a home educating family’s life. How it can be a ‘liberal approach’ to support this I cannot see.

  • “Can I caution against casting this debate in terms of home vs state education? From what I’ve read elsewhere, the most ardent proponents of home education seem to be just as critical of private schools.”

    It’s difficult not to criticise state schools. How a government runs state schools is a pretty good indicator of what standards they will apply to home education Most education inspectors after all seem to be retired head teachers and the like. The DCSF itself has framed its questions about home education in terms of state school measures, e.g. a “full time” education (home education happens all the time, not just between 8am and 3pm five days a week), a “balanced” curriculum (presumably they think the National Curriculum is balanced, but many would disagree).

    Think of it this way: If you disagree with the way state education is run to such an extent that you are willing to sacrifice time and income and totally rearrange your life so that your child doesn’t go through it, would you like the managers and architects then to come along with statutory powers to make you follow their ideas at home?

    Independent schools are a different issue as they are so widely diverse. However, they do on the most part still adhere to the state school model – classes of age-segregated children, compulsory attendance, teacher led lessons, target (exam) oriented, fixed periods for learning, a limited curriculum which may complement or conflict with the needs and interests of an individual child, etc. They also bring the issue of money (and therefore class) into the debate as on the whole one has to earn a lot in order to be able to pay the fees.

    The point remains that it is the state which wishes to apply its standards to how home educators educate their children, so state schools are the measure of how successful those standards are, so we cannot avoid discussing them.

  • Paul Griffiths says:
    “As I understand it, home educators do not have to be qualified in any way. They don’t have to follow any particular curriculum or devote a set number of hours to any subject. The children do not have to sit any tests or exams. The local education authority has no right to visit the children in their homes or see examples of their work.

    “I can’t help wondering if home education is incredibly lax, or if institutional education is incredibly prescriptive. (I suspect the latter).”

    Horses for courses I think.

    Institutional education (school) is such that many children are being taught simultaneously. Teaching a class of 30 is as much about crowd control as education – so says my school teacher wife. Also there is the issue that ‘strangers’ are teaching kids (hence safety is important, CRB checks, etc), in a municipal building (health and safety again), on behalf of parents (hence Ofsted checks to reassure parents the schools are doing it properly), using public money (more checks needed to ensure it’s being spent properly), with methods and initiatives that seem to change weekly under the current government, which may work well for some kids, but not so well for others (so checks, tests, coursework, etc are needed to see where everyone is up to, so the next bit of education can be planned appropriately, remedial help arranged for those left behind, etc).

    Conversely, home education involves one or two parents facilitating the education of their children (no one would agree with Ofsted’s suggestion of CRB checks for parents I hope) and probably meeting up with other home educators for formal or informal joint sessions for social and/or educational reasons. It happens in the home, library, museums, shops, friends’ houses, in the local community, at allotments and in parks and in fields and … pretty much anywhere else there is something to learn (so health and safety is hard to apply). No state money is used (so no need to find out what is being spent – home educators even have to pay around £100 a paper for their children to take GCSEs). Parents are taking on the responsibility for their child’s education themselves (so no need for Ofsted to report back to them on how they are doing – they can judge for themselves and, in a less suspicious culture – ask others for support when required), and can adapt their methods very flexibly to the changing needs of the small number of children in their charge without any reference to political whims, vote-winning initiatives, fashionable ideas, media hype, or the need to consider and balance the needs of large numbers of vastly different children.

    So in short, home education is less prescriptive because it has to be (that’s part of why it works) and institutional education is more prescriptive because it has to be (that’s part of the nature of the beast).

    A note on home educating parents not being qualified. I think I mentioned that my wife is a qualified Primary school teacher (with a three year Bachelor of Education degree, not just a one year PGCE). She is adamant that virtually nothing that she learned about teaching in schools is of relevance to teaching our children at home. Also, I personally work for a teacher training college and see several hundred post graduate ‘beginning teachers’ pass through our doors every year, along with teachers and heads on vocational training courses and so on. We are fairly well placed to see how education in schools happens and it has little to do with how education at home happens.

    Teacher qualifications are about how to manage classes of 30+ children; keep them all paying attention when they don’t want to, or at least not disrupt things; deal with the wide range of abilities in a class – help the slow ones to catch up, and slow the faster ones down and make ‘busy work’ so they don’t get bored; deal with a vast range of emotions being exhibited by children who may or may not want to be in your class, ranging from excitement and vociferousness to aggression and boredom and so on. And there is some educational theory in there too, and a bit of stuff on lesson plans and coming up with teaching resources. Not a lot of this applies in home education.

  • Hywel said:
    “Education is, even at its most benign, about imposing a viewpoint and values on other individuals – that is actually quite in illiberal idea but on balance the effect of (say) compelling everyone to learn how to read is of benefit to everyone’s individual liberty.”

    I know it’s just an example, but actually I’d dispute that most children need to be compelled to learn how to read. My six year old was in bed last night with a pile of books, doggedly working her way through them. We only taught her the basics of phonetics when she asked us to – it took around 3 weeks of occasional sessions for her to get the hang of it. Since then she has been largely self taught, coming to us when she reaches a particularly tricky word or passage. We provide a supportive atmosphere, plenty of reading material which we are always happy to read to her, and as little pressure or expectation to learn as possible. I fully expect my son (a baby at present!) to reach the same stage at some point over the next ten years or so – probably later than his sister as boys are generally more about physical learning than intellectual subjects at an early age.

    There is an expectation amongst most people that children don’t want to learn, or must be compelled, at least in part, to submit to education. The truth in my and many other home educators’ experience is that compulsion discourages learning. Children are not stupid. If they see something is useful, sooner or later they will want to find out how to do it.

  • I guess that realistically David Laws’ reasoned criticism of the proposed legislation stands more of a chance of ameliorating its worst aspects than outright opposition, but really the liberal approach to home schooling should be to tell the government to mind its own business and stop legislating away individual autonomy. I want my daughter to be free to educate her children, if she wants to and if it suits them, in the same way that she was educated: without interference and inspection by the local authority; without pressure on her to prove that what she might be doing conforms to someone else’s idea of what constitutes ‘education’; and without having childhood’s curiosity and spontaneity stolen by deadening routines and irrelevant labour.

  • Paul Griffiths 18th Jan '10 - 9:30pm

    Tony, you seem to be suggesting either that your daughter’s judgement is infallible, or that everyone’s idea of what constitutes education is equally valid. Is this what you intended?

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Jan '10 - 11:07pm

    While I can’t support the government’s proposals, and certainly no action should be taken against parents unless there is some reasonable degree of evidence that action is required, it does occur to me that they have a point about some of the problems: in order to provide an acceptable chance of detecting neglect/abuse (both in education and otherwise), we do need independent observers to have at least some contact with the children, and some sort of regular inspection for home-schooled children would seem to be appropriate for this.

    As usual, the government has gone completely up a tree and tried to grab far more power than it needs to solve this problem. All we really needed was some kind of requirement for suitable officials to have access to the children at regular intervals for observation; if they found cause for concern then existing processes appear to be adequate to deal with that.

  • Andrew Suffield has crossed a very dangerous line, because he seems to be saying that parents cannot be trusted with their own children. Where does this lead? Should only those who can prove themselves not to be paedophiles be permitted to have children? Should everyone under the age of 18 be subjected to compulsory inspections of their genital organs by state bureaucrats every six months? Andrew has fallen for the Washington inspired canard that the suppression of elective home education is about protecting children. It isn’t. Brown, Balls and their American puppet-masters couldn’t give a stuff about child protection. What they care about is using every possible excuse, from terror to crime to traffic congestion, to extinguish individual autonomy and turn us into mindless robots. And my goodness they are succeeding.

  • Paul:
    “Tony, you seem to be suggesting either that your daughter’s judgement is infallible, or that everyone’s idea of what constitutes education is equally valid. Is this what you intended?

    It’s not so much that everyone’s idea of what constitutes education is equally valid, but rather it is a question of who is best placed to judge the validity of the education of an individual child. I would agree with Tony that it is, in the vast majority of cases, the parent. You are thinking in generalities here, and one of the reasons people home educate is to get away from having ‘one size fits all’ generalisations applied to their children. Again, the parent should be free to get on with the serious business of educating their child free of harassment, as parents have for hundreds of years, and the state’s role should be to protect those children who need protection if there is evidence that this is required.

    You are starting on a slippery slope with your premise, that parents are responsible for ensuring their child is educated, but only if they do so within limits defined by government. Don’t go there. Dare I say it, be a bit more liberal and trust people with liberty. The government of New Zealand recently has. It has decided to drop monitoring of home education because it is a waste of taxpayers’ money (their words), giving little benefit to children at great expense. The Ontario administration has done the same I believe. Also New Hampshire dropped plans for monitoring almost as draconian as our own government’s.

  • Andrew, I assume that the reason you feel that home educated children should be checked up on is that you are imagining them to be at home most of the time (as the term “home education” seems to imply), whereas in reality, our children are out and about with us at home ed groups, museums, libraries, sports centres etc and are therefore “seen” by a far wider range of people than school children .This, I would think, gives far more protection than relying on the awarenes of just a few very busy teachers.

    In relation to their education, it is near impossible for a stranger to assess the education of a child who learns autonomously, which is a very popular and effective method for the reasons I mentioned in my earlier comment. There is no evidence to suggest that home educators are neglecting their children educationally, and surely provision of no-strings support would be the easiest way of addressing any such concerns, since parents who home educate do so because they believe it will give their child the best start in life, and would therefore welcome such support if it was available (which it isn’t, at all). 1 in 6 school children leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate, yet no-one is suggesting that a different approach should be enforced here, despite the fact that these children are already known to not be receiving a suitable education. Why are home educators being expected to meet different criteria, and judged by higher standards?

    Involvement of LAs on the basis of routine mistrust will not result in constructive and empowering engagement with families, and is unlikely therefore to achieve any real improvements. If you want to see an increase in the number of home educated children with 5 or more GCSEs, then just give free access to exams! It won’t mean our children are any better educated, just that they have more qualifications, which not all do want, as is the case in school.

    Incidentally, both New Zealand and Ontario have recently dropped their monitoring schemes because they proved to be completely unnecessary, and therefore a total waste of taxes. Are we really going to introduce changes like this here purely for the benefit of being able to tick boxes that a child is not being neglected? if so, why just for home educated children? why not for under 5’s too? and what about children during the summer holidays? Where should the line be drawn?

  • Andrew said:
    “We do need independent observers to have at least some contact with the children, and some sort of regular inspection for home-schooled children would seem to be appropriate for this.”

    Who is this ‘we’ that you are talking about? You and who else? You see I bridle a little at your claiming that you need to employ people to check on my children. I educate them very well thank you. We get comments from friends and neighbours about how bright they are and how confident and social. Why do you, who has never met them, feel this voyeuristic need to investigate them? I don’t feel the need to get anyone to check on your children – I’m sure you are raising them perfectly well. Forgive me for remembering too much 20th Century history, but I get very nervous whenever someone (and it’s usually a politician) starts referring to “our children”. Ed Balls does it with alarming regularity.

    However, taking this as it was hopefully meant, with good intent…

    I really don’t think you realise what you are saying.

    In material terms, we are talking about monitoring maybe 40,000 families for the sake of finding a small number (a few hundred, by the government’s own – obviously skewed – estimates) of children who would not be found and helped by current methods. The cost of this, even if every home educator in the country signed up with no fuss, will easily run to several hundred million pounds for the specialist training and employment of inspectors, the setting up and maintenance of (yet another) database, record keeping, support services, legal fees…. All to monitor a minority group which has not been shown to be a cause for concern, in a financial climate where cutbacks will have to be made in essential services like health, social services and schools, in a world where other countries are reducing the regulation of home education.

    I also don’t think you understand the damage that monitoring will cause. Remember that monitoring happens now – a first check after a child is withdrawn from school, and others should there be suspicion of a problem. So we know what monitoring entails and how it affects children. Consider autistic children being checked once a year by a stranger. The National Autistic Society has just recommended that children on the autistic spectrum would be better served if they were home educated, by the way. Consider a child who we self harming when in school because they were so traumatised by the experience, or who considered or even attempted suicide because of the bullying and the failure of the teaching staff to even notice what was going on. A yearly visit by a representative of that system, who has the power to put them back into that situation will terrify them. At the very least it will alter their education from what they and their families want it to be to what they think the inspector will want to see.

    Everyone is very concerned about ‘children’s rights’ but very very few seem to want to talk to the children themselves and find out what they think, or look at the effects on them of a monitoring scheme. Education Otherwise asked 700 or more home educated children what they thought of the government’s proposals last year. Over 90% were against the idea of monitoring, either on their own account or thinking of friends who would find it overwhelmingly intrusive and traumatic.

  • As I’ve said in another comments section elsewhere on the interweb, what we need ultimately, not just with this issue but with our attitude to parenting generally, is a complete paradigm shift. That is, we should in all areas relating to families:

    1 – Trust that parents have the best intentions of their children at heart. Whilst no one could disagree that this is not always true, it is true in the vast majority of cases. In order to promote and celebrate freedom of choice, which is what liberalism is supposedly about, we have to take a positive view of people. We have to trust people with freedom.

    2 – Encourage those in need of help to step forward and ask for it. The way to do this is not by imposing compulsory visits on families, or to vet more parents, or to police lunch boxes, or to prime medical staff to suspect abuse when dealing with children, or any other illiberal measure. Rather it is to make the support attractive. Make it high quality, with worthwhile benefits and no strings attached (as Jill says).

    3 – Improve social services and education welfare provision for those who actually need them. This means less paperwork, less of a blame culture, better pay, better management and communication, and whatever else is needed to cause a drastic improvement in morale in the sector.

    4 – Change Local Authorities to Local Services. Perhaps this will remind civil servants that they exist to serve the people, not the other way round. Parents should be trusted unless there is evidence that they should not. Public (and corporate) bodies should have to prove themselves worthy of trust before being allowed near children.

  • Andrew Suffield 19th Jan '10 - 8:46am

    I assume that the reason you feel that home educated children should be checked up on is that you are imagining them to be at home most of the time…

    Not in general. Just that there are some cases where this does happen, and that we cannot in good conscience ignore them. The problem lies in noticing that it’s happening at all. If you’ve got any better ideas for doing that, I’d love to hear them.

    In relation to their education, it is near impossible for a stranger to assess the education of a child who learns autonomously

    I can’t agree that it’s impossible. Certainly it would be hard to rank it in comparison to state schools, but there is no good reason for trying to do that. If the child has interests that they’re actively pursuing, and is being given reasonable support in doing so, that would seem sufficient to me, and quite easy for anybody to assess.

    1 in 6 school children leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate, yet no-one is suggesting that a different approach should be enforced here

    Personally I’d suggest that it should be. The government’s priorities here are somewhat questionable. But that’s a different debate.

    You see I bridle a little at your claiming that you need to employ people to check on my children.

    I’m really not that concerned by the possibility that parents might have their feelings hurt. That much, certainly, is an acceptable price to pay. I’m only going to consider points relating to the impact on the children.

    Why do you, who has never met them, feel this voyeuristic need to investigate them?

    16% of children experienced serious maltreatment by parents. Naturally everybody says “but that’s not me”. One in six of these people are lying.

    Is this enough reason, or do you want more? I can find more horrifying figures if you like. There’s several on that page.

    A yearly visit by a representative of that system, who has the power to put them back into that situation will terrify them.

    I can see no conceivable reason why they should have that kind of power – or any power at all, besides access for a simple, non-confrontational conversation. They don’t even need to inform the child of the reason for their visit, if the parent doesn’t want them to.

    Consider autistic children being checked once a year by a stranger.

    I see no reason why their regular psychologist could not be responsible for this, in which case they wouldn’t even need to make an extra visit, just inform the government that they’re already handling the case. The same thing goes for any other children who have similar circumstances. I would also stipulate that any child who has such severe problems must have this level of professional support, and that any attempt by the parents to prevent them from getting it would fall under the heading of ‘severe neglect’, so there doesn’t seem to be a problem here.

    Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that the visitor’s only possible reaction to anything they see would be to inform social services, who would treat it exactly the same as any other report from a concerned neighbour. Furthermore, let’s suppose that the parent can have any suitable professional of their choice (doctor, teacher, etc) sign a form to indicate that they have regular contact with the child (not necessarily in their professional capacity) and have no concerns, and that would be sufficient – which would be expected to account for most children, so the only ones visited would be those who are abnormally isolated. Would that really be so terrible? It appears to cross off all the issues raised so far.

    All these objections seem to me to be “solvable problems”. Just because the government has failed to propose a sane system does not mean that a sane system cannot be created. Rather than coming up with reasons why it can’t be done, I would encourage people to come up with alternatives which satisfy the basic requirement of “every child has some kind of regular contact with a person who would be expected to notice and report neglect or abuse”. This doesn’t seem an unreasonable objective to me.

  • ” I assume that the reason you feel that home educated children should be checked up on is that you are imagining them to be at home most of the time…”

    “Not in general. Just that there are some cases where this does happen, and that we cannot in good conscience ignore them. The problem lies in noticing that it’s happening at all. If you’ve got any better ideas for doing that, I’d love to hear them.”

    There are already safeguards in place, the LA already have the power to check on this. They don’t need any more powers than they already have, training yes, power no.

    ” A yearly visit by a representative of that system, who has the power to put them back into that situation will terrify them.”

    “I can see no conceivable reason why they should have that kind of power – or any power at all, besides access for a simple, non-confrontational conversation. They don’t even need to inform the child of the reason for their visit, if the parent doesn’t want them to.”

    It is on the Bill that this is exactly the power they will have. They will have the power to issue SAO’s for any reason they see fit, and we won’t be able to challenge it in court either.

    “Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that the visitor’s only possible reaction to anything they see would be to inform social services, who would treat it exactly the same as any other report from a concerned neighbour. Furthermore, let’s suppose that the parent can have any suitable professional of their choice (doctor, teacher, etc) sign a form to indicate that they have regular contact with the child (not necessarily in their professional capacity) and have no concerns, and that would be sufficient – which would be expected to account for most children, so the only ones visited would be those who are abnormally isolated. Would that really be so terrible? It appears to cross off all the issues raised so far.”

    They will know this already by the Contactpoint database which is rolled out across the country soon. Every minute detail of our children will be on there. Why should we have to get people to sign to say they think we are good parents? How about innocent until proven guilty? As it has been pointed out many times there are already safeguards in place to protect the children who need it. The cost of implementing this new bill will take away time and money that would otherwise be spent on children who really need it.
    The majority of cases of abuse in the news are children who were already known to the authorities. A lot of school children are abused and it goes undetected. I was bullied at school yet the teachers didn’t notice anything all.
    It is an emotive subject but at the end of the day parents must hold responsibility for their own children. State interference always ends up badly. If this bill goes through, the next stage will be checking on preschoolers, then children off school on holiday. Dieticians coming to check your fridge and cupboard contents to see if you are feeding your children correctly. Far fetched? I don’t think so, after all it’s all for your own good isn’t it? The government knows best!

  • “I’m really not that concerned by the possibility that parents might have their feelings hurt. That much, certainly, is an acceptable price to pay. I’m only going to consider points relating to the impact on the children.”

    I’m not sure ‘hurt feelings’ is adequate to describe the raw state of many families’ emotions after the past year. And again, I’m talking about families as a whole, not just parents. You seem very dismissive of the effects of organised and persistent bullying. If you had been speaking about these things before the Badman review destroyed any confidence home educators have in government, you might have had a better response.

    “16% of children experienced serious maltreatment by parents. Naturally everybody says “but that’s not me”. One in six of these people are lying.”

    If you take these statistics as fact. This 16% you quote is from a 10 year old study by an organisation that spends 80% of its funds on fund raising, lobbying and advertising. They have a vested interest in over-emphasising problems and manipulating statistics to fit current media interests – such as the discovery they made and subsequent advertising and lobbying campaign that most child abuse is perpetrated by women, mere weeks after the female nursery worker abuse case came to light. Looking at the study, this 16% you quote includes parents who ‘over-criticise their children’. The NSPCC regularly classes smacking, used as a disciplinary measure, as serious abuse. Advertising standards and the Charity Commission receive regular complaints about the NSPCC from concerned members of the public. Their adverts have been pulled for misrepresenting facts. Need I continue? This is not a reliable source of figures. Indeed part of the problem we have in this country is that the third sector organisations which provide such figures, like corporations which publish research on their own products which unsurprisingly finds them to be excellent, have a vested interest in the results and so cannot be seen as remotely independent. But that is another discussion.

    Let me take this 16% anyway. The vast majority of that 16% are children in schools. Such children are seen regularly by teachers – the thing which advocates of monitoring say is what is lacking from the protection of home educated children. So can you tell me how much protection your annual contact with ‘officials’ would be, given that allegedly this large number of children in schools, who are seen five days a week for several hours a day, thirty or so weeks a year, still suffer “serious maltreatment” (such as, to quote the report, “lack of [emotional] warmth”)?

    “Is this enough reason, or do you want more? I can find more horrifying figures if you like. There’s several on that page.”

    I want verifiable, independent figures which prove that home educated children are more at risk of being abused than the rest of the population. Local Authority figures currently show that they are around a quarter as likely. Such figures were gathered and interpreted by home educators, true, so the vested interest problem still occurs. However, the figures are available and can be checked and I’ve not found anyone who has found fault with them thus far.

  • If you take these statistics as fact. This 16% you quote is from a 10 year old study by an organisation that spends 80% of its funds on fund raising, lobbying and advertising. They have a vested interest in over-emphasising problems and manipulating statistics to fit current media interests – such as the discovery they made and subsequent advertising and lobbying campaign that most child abuse is perpetrated by women, mere weeks after the female nursery worker abuse case came to light. Looking at the study, this 16% you quote includes parents who ‘over-criticise their children’. The NSPCC regularly classes smacking, used as a disciplinary measure, as serious abuse. Advertising standards and the Charity Commission receive regular complaints about the NSPCC from concerned members of the public. Their adverts have been pulled for misrepresenting facts. Need I continue? This is not a reliable source of figures. Indeed part of the problem we have in this country is that the third sector organisations which provide such figures, like corporations which publish research on their own products which unsurprisingly finds them to be excellent, have a vested interest in the results and so cannot be seen as remotely independent.

    Don’t shoot the messenger. Either SHOW the figures are wrong, or don’t complain about the figures. If you manage to show the figures are wrong, THEN you can try and understand why they are wrong by looking at the author’s motivations.

    The NSPCC regularly classes smacking, used as a disciplinary measure, as serious abuse.

    Well it is abuse. You think smacking a child, someone who is defenseless and can’t hit back, is okay?! You wouldn’t smack an adult, so why a child?

    I don’t support the government’s proposals on this issue, but I can understand where they are coming from, especially with people like you who say things like “I educate them very well thank you.” and then advocate smacking. You’re the kind of person who abuses their liberty and ruins it for the rest of us.

    People who smack their children should have their children taken away from them.

  • Well it is abuse. You think smacking a child, someone who is defenseless and can’t hit back, is okay?! You wouldn’t smack an adult, so why a child?

    No, I don’t think smacking is okay. I didn’t say it was. I raise my children on the broad principles of attachment parenting, autonomy and TCS and find punishment (or reward for that matter) of any kind counter productive and pointless. What is your point?

    “I don’t support the government’s proposals on this issue, but I can understand where they are coming from, especially with people like you who say things like “I educate them very well thank you.” and then advocate smacking. You’re the kind of person who abuses their liberty and ruins it for the rest of us.”
    And Alex, you are the kind of person who issues knee-jerk proclamations about other people’s motives without really hearing what they are saying.

    I said that the NSPCC views smacking as serious abuse. Their reports and press releases imply that it is on a par with stubbing cigarettes out on a child’s arm, or breaking their bones. I don’t think you would go as far as to say that?

    Andrew was using a specific report from the NSPCC as an example of how one in six children experience “serious maltreatment”. He referred to “horrifying figures”. His premise is that, if home educating children are inspected by ‘officials’ of some sort, this horrific abuse, presumably including smacking or emotional withdrawl as these are included the figure he cites, would be stopped. I disagree on the fairly obvious basis that it hasn’t stopped it happening where children are in more regular contact with “officials” through being at school, and that Local Authority statistics, when looked at in full, show that home educated children are around 4 times less likely to be abused than their schooled peers.

    Whilst I personally find smacking abhorrent, indicative of a lack of self control and a lack of imagination as to less bestial ways to teach children self-discipline (or rather, I suspect, to release pent up frustration), it is not currently against the law, and is not on the level of serious abuse that the report was inferring. Actually, I personally find the current trend for denying connection or emotional interaction to a child through idiotic ideas like ‘crying it out’, ‘the naughty step’ or ‘time outs’ to be just as abusive and probably more damaging in the long term.

    Please Alex, try to be a little less self righteous and judgemental of others and make sure you understand what they are saying before you start abusing them.

  • I’ve just noticed this little codicil:
    People who smack their children should have their children taken away from them.

    When I said I agree with Alex I certainly do not agree with this. Saying that the upset caused by smacking is worse than the utter trauma that the separation of a child from its parents causes shows remarkable ignorance. A very high proportion (I remember 70% but could be wrong) of children taken into social care end up in seriously bad situations often involving prostitution, sexual abuse, drugs and other forms of crime. This seems a rather harsh thing to wish on children.

  • Their reports and press releases imply that it is on a par with stubbing cigarettes out on a child’s arm, or breaking their bones. I don’t think you would go as far as to say that?

    Ah, so it’s the word “serious” you are talking about. In which case, I would like some evidence that the NSPCC are doing this please.

    it is not currently against the law

    Non sequitur. If murder was made legal, would that mean murder was morally okay?

    Actually, I personally find the current trend for denying connection or emotional interaction to a child through idiotic ideas like ‘crying it out’, ‘the naughty step’ or ‘time outs’ to be just as abusive and probably more damaging in the long term.

    Maybe, but to say that requires empirical evidence. There is plenty of research on smacking, but not so much on the stuff you list above.

    Please Alex, try to be a little less self righteous and judgemental of others and make sure you understand what they are saying before you start abusing them.

    I’ll be as self-righteous and judgemental as I want: I have a moral compass, I don’t see why I shouldn’t use it, just like everyone else.

    And I’ll try to understand what others are saying first, but the way you phrased it made it very hard for me to interpret the intended meaning.

    (I also find it interesting how you show by your use of “abusing” that the word “abuse” has a few layers of meaning, which the NSPCC is not allowed to have)

    When I said I agree with Alex I certainly do not agree with this.

    How do you intend to deal with smacking without separating child from parent?

    Saying that the upset caused by smacking is worse than the utter trauma that the separation of a child from its parents causes shows remarkable ignorance.

    No, I’m saying that the utter trauma caused by smacking is worse than separation of a child from its ABUSIVE parents.

    What was that about being self-righteous and judgemental?

    A very high proportion (I remember 70% but could be wrong) of children taken into social care end up in seriously bad situations often involving prostitution, sexual abuse, drugs and other forms of crime.

    1. As a liberal, I see nothing wrong with drug taking and prostitution.
    2. I take your other points on sex abuse, crime etc (though see ranters’ points above), but the response to this statistic, if true, is to improve social care, not allow smacking to continue. (I could of course also list all the stats associated with adults who were smacked as children).

    This seems a rather harsh thing to wish on children.

    So does leaving them with abusive parents.

  • Wow! The tone of the debate has got a lot more personal since I last checked a couple of days ago!
    @ rantersparadise
    “You need to interact with other people instead of your mum and dad every day, day in and out until you are 18.
    That is creepy and really unhealthy.
    You need to learn about the culture you live in, the town, your country and the people SOCIALLY not in a book your parent has given you and lastly, you need to be able to actually get the ability to source a variety of opinions that are not from your Mum and Dad.
    You need to observe life-good and bad.”

    It would clearly be very unhealthy for a child to *only* interact with their mum and dad, but that simply isn’t what happens! I would suggest it is also unhealthy for children to be forced to spend the vast majority of their childhood away from their families, and instead spend pretty much all day every day only interacting with other children of exactly the same age as them, and to have almost no control over what they learn, when, for how long, and from whom.

    In my mind, the example you give of a child being made to have contact with a mother who apparently does not want to do this, is an extreme example of exactly the situation of so many children who are artificially seperated from their families to be placed in the care of schools, and whose parents then dread the school holidays. The strength and security in this relationship is often irretrievably lost.

    Trying to teach a child about real life and being part of a community will, as you rightly say, always be a mere shadow of actually experiencing that, and home educated children have a clear advantage by actually spending their entire lives living directly in the community, rather than being incarcerated in schools. The artificial way that school children’s opportunities are divided and defined by age, timetables, curricula, etc is in no way conducive to sustaining enthusiasm, individuality, respect for diversity, etc, and prepares them for a “real life” that perpetuates this situation.

    I’ve been incredibly inspired by all the home educated children I’ve come across, all of whom have been far more able to relate well to adults and younger children than children who go to school. They are relatively free from peer pressure, and remain firmly rooted in their family, in a way that gives them far greater independence because their is no loss of trust, and less dependence on peer pressure to ascertain what is or is not acceptable. I understand your fear that there may be some who feel obliged to conform to their parent’s expectations, but I certainly have not met them, whereas I’m sure we all know numerous examples of children who succumb to peer pressure, bullying and the injustice of many aspects of schools.

    @Alex
    “I’m saying that the utter trauma caused by smacking is worse than separation of a child from its ABUSIVE parents.”

    Wow, that’s said with conviction! I can’t say I agree with that at all though. Whilst I don’t believe “scales” of abuse are helpful, there’s a clear difference between isolated smacking and repetitive or severe physical punishment. Even isolated incidents can be traumatic depending on the circumstances, but it would be extremely rare to find a situation where the trauma would be worse than seperation from the parents. It is exactly the fear of such seperation that prevents most children from speaking out about abuse.

    However we define “serious” abuse, and however we feel about it, the statistics clearly show the incidence to be lower amonst home educating families, so even if it is considered compatible with “liberal” politics to reverse the burden of proof in order to routinely trawl families in an attempt to establish whether or not they are abusing their children, then this would have to be applied across the board, whereas this Bill is only attempting to do so with home educators. I personally cannot see how it could be considered compatible with “liberal” politics since it is based on mistrust and state supremacy.

  • The confusion seems to be that schooled children are seen by professionals (teachers) etc and therefore abuse will be detected. But how will home educated children ever have abuse detected if we don’t send an official in there or get a gp or someone to sign they are safe and well.
    However schools do not have a good success rate at noticing abuse. This has been highlighted by one of ofsteds reviews of all serious case reviews over a 2 year period where often the information (signs) may be there but schools do not connect the dots.It is an extra layer but far from the only layer. and currently there is no requirement on teachers or other professionals to sign individual school children off as safe and well on an annual basis.
    Home educated children are often far more conspicuous in a community than schooled children who may well be lost in the anonymity of large schools.
    If you take nspcc figures of rate of serious abuse in school age children as accurate and then look at the number of children on a protection plan then it seems there are potentially more schooled children who are abused but not detected than the entire population of home educated children.
    So if we are to take this saving just one child seriously and if we really believe it would find actual abuse then this should be for all children not just home educated children as there are far more going to school everyday with undetected abuse.
    Maybe all parents should have a yearly or 6 monthly safe and well check of their children by education officials in their own home.
    The same officials who are terrified of missing something.
    Perhaps all families where there is a change in family dynamic should register a new partner or perhaps it could just be the mums who have new partners who need to register and then submit their children to safe and well checks. After all there are actually some patterns there if you look at case reviews.But we know and recognise that even with a pattern that often involves a male partner who is not the biological father it does not follow that there are high percentages of such men who abuse their partners children. The overwhelming majority don’t. Yet there is at least some kind of patten with serious case reviews there.
    But that would be highly offensive and discriminatory to single out those families even if it did save just one child. Can you imagine if this legislation was actually to propose safe and well monitoring of all families with a male adult who wasn’t the biological father of all the children on an annual basis so they could satisfy the authorities that they weren’t abusing the children and that the mothers must register each change of relationship. Then there would be an outcry of discrimination and unfair stigma. It would not be seen as proportionate even for saving just one child. Yet there is at least a recurring serious case review theme there. I do not believe this should happen to single mums and their children as I am sure most people don’t. home education is not a recurring theme in serious case reviews etc and yet even the liberals are suggesting it is reasonable that these families register themselves in order to be obliged to demonstrate annually that they are not abusing their children. That discrimination and stigma for families exercising a legal parental choice in fulfilling their responsibilities is really to be seen as reasonable and proportionate and a good use of scarce resources.
    No other families (other than perhaps those with known abuse or actual intelligence based reason for concerns) have to demonstrate annually that they are not abusing their children.
    The other point to make is that this just wouldn’t touch those extremely rare hard cases as they would go underground or move around and not register. And there are actually no serious case reviews that I know of where the child wasn’t known to services. The problem is not about knowing about children but actually getting it right when there is good reason to suspect abuse or even known abuse.
    The spry children were in school and being abused for years before they were home educated and were known to services. once they were home educated the mother complied with visits. yet opportunities were consistently missed.
    Surely it needs to be demonstrated how the proposed legislation would actually make a beneficial difference before intruding on family life in such a discriminatory way. If you don’t choose to do it for school children or single mums with a new partner then there is no reason to do it for home educators.
    Home educated children are known just not always to an LA officer.
    I have not yet seen an example which could not have been addressed using existing legislation and I have seen
    lots bandied around.
    Finally the noise generated by all the referring up of families by underqualified (in terms of interviewing children appropriately for safeguarding issues) LA staff who will not want to miss anything will divert resources from those children where there are actual reasons to be involved. you don’t find needles by making bigger haystacks.

  • My daughter is a funny sociable educated bright child. If i suggest she could attend one of our many local primary schools her response is ” NO.. I love going out, and seeing the beach, museums, the library, playing with my friends and being with you and daddy.” Why would I want to wear that horrid school uniform all day, and be stuck behind those bars on that play ground, where there is nothing to play with.

    She is nearly 6. I have NEVER told her about the school environment. I have never said she cant do school. I as a parent however have the duty to protect my child from abuse, fear, neglect. If I were to place her in one of the many excellent schools which are around this area, could I as a parent be sure she wouldn’t be put in danger or neglected.. her questions answered correctly and her voice listened to and respected?

    As parents we chose to bring our children into this world. We believe we do the best we can for our child. Many children will thrive in the school environment, as we read every year many children however suffer from bullying and abuse in the same environment. It isnt about whether school or home education is right, its about the right of the child to learn and be taught in an environment which brings out the best in them. However many children and parents are let down by LEA’s year after year, and this is why many parents don/t want LEA’s involved in the “registration” of there children.. They have had there chance to make a difference… They have failed.

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