Common sense on home education?
The Welsh Assembly recently announced a consultation on elective home education. The Children’s Commissioner has been calling for compulsory registration and an annual inspection for all home educated children. Everyone thought that this was going to happen.
Instead, Kirsty Williams AM, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Education, decided that the onus should be put on Local Authorities to keep a database of children within their authority, with information about where they are educated. At the moment, independent schools only have to notify the LA when a child leaves their school. This will change so that independent schools will have to provide their LA with details of all the children on their registers. Some elective home educators choose to interact with the LA, so this will leave a small group of children currently unknown to the authorities. It will be the responsibility of each LA to track those children down, rather than the responsibility of the parent to notify the LA that they are home educating.
That is a big step in the right direction of protecting parental rights. There are, though, still some concerns. Local Authorities will be held responsible for ensuring that every child receives a suitable education. This is a well-trodden path which centres on the definition of ‘suitable’. Clearly there are basic skills that all children require – they need to be able to read and write, they need to be numerate and they need to develop social skills. But who decides when, and how, they acquire those skills?
The BBC recently carried an article about Cambridge academic Tara Westover. She was home educated in rural Idaho, raised by parents who thought that education equated to state brainwashing. She has no children, but if she did, she says she wouldn’t send them to school because ‘They might think education is sitting quietly’ – she could equally well have added that education is about waiting or standing in line. That is exactly the reason why many parents choose to home educate. And given Ms Westover’s academic success, who is to say that her unorthodox home education was unsuitable?
And so, although there will be no compulsory registration in Wales (or not yet, anyway) this still comes back to the question of parental rights. It’s for a home educating parent to decide how best to educate their child, deciding what they will learn, and how and when they will learn it. It’s for parents to decide how to develop their child’s social skills (home educated children are generally very socially confident) and it is not for the state to dictate.
A similar consultation on home education is expected any day now in England. Lord Agnew, Under-Secretary of State for Education, has indicated that he doesn’t want to introduce unnecessary legislation and is in favour of clarifying the role of Local Authorities. LAs are not keen – they are calling for new powers, for compulsory registration and annual inspection.
We can hope that Lord Agnew’s view prevails, and that he follows the lead given by the Welsh Assembly. Watch the Parent Power website for news when the consultation opens and make your views known about the rights of parents to determine how their children are educated.