A knife wrapped in cotton

November 30th, 2007

The guidelines covering Home Schooling in the UK have been published by the DfES. Some HE people think that they are fine, and are actually celebrating them as some sort of triumph. I beg to differ.

As a matter of principle, If you are a free person, your relationship with government must be unambiguous, and the powers of government clearly delineated. You must also have protection from being the victim of false accusations. These guidelines enshrine ambiguity and false accusation as a pretext for investigation (violating the ‘innocent before proven guilty’ principle).

It doesn’t matter what else the guidelines say that is positive for Home Schoolers; as long as the bad sections are in there, your rights are effectively nullified.

The problem with these guidelines boil down to a few words:

under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education

This means that upon the judgement of an individual in a Local Authority, by his prejudices and background, you can be compelled to account to him that you are educating your children to his satisfaction. What constitutes ‘suitable education’ is not defined in the law, and in fact the guidelines say this, so the onus is placed on individuals to make up standards as they see fit. If you do not satisfy the prejudices of an individual, then they can:

…serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such (suitable) education.

I am completely baffled as to how someone can think this is in any way acceptable. It gets worse. The guidelines say that:

Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so.

The phrase appears three times in the guidelines in slightly different forms.

This is nothing less than a threat. “You had better talk to us…OR ELSE”. I simply cannot believe that this sort of language has been left in this document.

If you do not comply with what they say is ‘sensible to do’ then the Local Authority can serve a ‘school attendance order’ on you, forcing you to send your child to school:

(a) a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and

(b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school, the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a “school attendance order”), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.”

The guidelines are self contradictory. They say on the one hand that ‘suitable education’ is not defined in law, but on the other they say that Local authorities can force you to send your child to school if they determine that you are not providing suitable education. They say that:

It should be noted that parents of all educational, social, racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds successfully educate children outside the school setting and these factors should not in themselves raise a concern about the suitability of the education being provided.

but then there is a section that deals specifically with ‘Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children’. Why is this section there given the text above? If you regard Roma people as a ‘race’ then it is covered. If you think of them as a ‘social group’ or an ‘ethnic group’ then they are covered. This section is curious, and it speaks to the attitudes of the people who authored this document.

How anyone can construe this as something to celebrate is completely beyond me. The only saving grace about this is that what has been published are guidelines and not new law. Nevertheless, staff in Local Authorities who are hostile to Home Schooling will see this as a new tool in their hands to investigate every Home Schooler in their catchment area.

Let me put it this way to those gleeful Home Schoolers who are celebrating over this weekend. Just imagine if, in your Local Authority, Mr. Tony Mooney was the man in charge of Home Schoolers. Would you like this document to be the thing he uses to guide his actions?

Not a very pleasant thought is it?

The fact of the matter is, every time you have a poorly written and ill thought out document like this governing your life or some aspect of it, you are in danger of being violated. If the current crop of Local Authority staffers are reasonable that is no guarantee that the next lot will be.

That Home Schoolers in the UK are failing to understand this is, frankly, frightening.

One Response to “A knife wrapped in cotton”

  1. Graham Badman and Ed Balls declare war on Home Educators | BLOGDIAL Says:

    […] the previous consultations did not result in government listening to the concerns of Home Educators and then acting on them, and this one will be no different. This […]