Yesterday evening as I was scrolling through my news feed I spotted an article in the Guardian with the title ‘The Guardian View on Home-Schooling in England: A register is needed’.
Ignoring the fact that the term in the UK is Home Education (home schooling is an American turn of phrase) I was shocked and disappointed to read the article and wanted to reply in an effort to dispel some of the points it raises.
For those not aware, In England, the responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents. In England, whilst education is compulsory, school is not and the Education Act 1996 states that
‘parents have a duty to secure an efficient full time education for their child, suitable to his/her age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he/she may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.’
It is this ‘otherwise’ that enables me and Damian to freely and legally choose the path of education for our children that we see fit. We do not need to register, nor follow a school curriculum, We simply provide a full-time education tailored to the children’s needs, and regular readers will know I share plenty of the things we do to achieve this.
This article in the Guardian comes at a time when the right of parents to choose how their children are educated is under threat. There has been a recent call for evidence by the Department for Education about changes to the guidelines for Local Authorities that looks to be seeking to establish more monitoring and checking up of parents. The argument is that there are children ‘unknown’ to authorities who are at risk of harm, and the often touted ‘risk of radicalization’. Reports and articles will always state that Home Education itself is not a safeguarding concern and that there is no evidence to suggest that children who are home educated are at a greater risk of abuse or neglect. So why is a register needed? The Guardian article cites a number of cases to back up it’s (weak) argument for the introduction of a Home Education register.
It begins with reference to the recent case of Jordan Burling, whose mother and grandmother will shortly be sentenced for his manslaughter. Jordan was known to various authorities and he was taken out of school at 12 under the guise of home education. At this point, the school have a duty to inform the local authority that a child has been removed from their roll and will be home educated. The Local Authority will log him as a child receiving home education (rather than a child missing education). Thus, Jordan Burling will have been on a register of known children in his local authority receiving home education. The very register that the article is arguing for.
Dylan Seabridge in Wales is a second case cited. Dylan was eight years old when he died. This article makes it clear that Dylan was known to Social Services, and had the many professionals involved with this family used the powers that they had and had ‘joined the dots’ then he wouldn’t have been quite as ‘invisible’ as is claimed in the headline. Do you think having Dylan on another register would have stopped this level of neglect and cruelty?
The case of Khyra Ishaq is another that is quite often quote – Khyra was removed from school and even though the Headteacher raised concerns to Social Services (and about the route to home education) these were not acted upon. As she was removed from school Khyra will have been on a register of known home educated children in her local authority. Again, the very register this article argues the case for. In this case, Social Workers had involvement with this family and, were concerns apparent, then they had the powers to act on them. Khyra was on the register that the article calls for, and in fact, professionals had already raised concerns. This register did not stop her abuse and death.
The sad reality is that the three children cited in this article were all children that were known to social services and the education system. The failing in preventing their abuse and deaths was not that they were home educated, it was that the powers and processes in place to help to safeguard them failed. I don’t believe that adding another haystack in the form of a Home Education register makes the needle any easier to find. It just stretches already stretched resources further and does nothing to safeguard children.
What, I believe, authorities would be better doing is to consider the reason why Home Education is on the increase. At a time when we are told about increasing mental health problems with young people, exam stress and sexual abuse on the rise, consider why parents might wish to choose an alternative path for their children that doesn’t send them on a relentless road of tests and exams.
I think there should be more concern about clamping down on the practice of off-rolling – Schools are wrongly using the right to home educate to ‘off roll’ troublesome or difficult students, and I know of instances where friends have been persuaded into this without actually understanding what it means for them. Why are schools, off-rolling students? Are they now able to provide for them? Why not?
Home Education is not perfect, and neither is school, but please stop labelling a lack of a Home Education register as the reason for the multiple failures of authorities. For the British girls that fled to Syria last year, do we blame the school – are schools to blame for radicalization? Or how about the boy who died after an asthma attack at a school, he was deemed to have died of natural causes contributed to by neglect (by the school).
The article in the Guardian this weekend was disappointing and, in my opinion, could have done more to explore the failings that led to the children in the three cited cases dying. In all three cases, these children were already on the very same register the article supports – yet it didn’t stop their deaths.