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The British home-education debate – is it about to hot up?

Julius Blumfeld, a home educator himself, believes that it may be a while before the right to home educate in Britain is seriously eroded. (“Ask me again in ten years time.”) But I recommend also this rumination by Michael Peach about the future of home education in Britain, and on how to defend it. Says Peach:

Currently in England, although most Local Education Authorities would like you to think otherwise, we are pretty free to educate our children as we see fit. School is not compulsory, there is no legal obligation to inform the LEA of your decision to take your children out of school, you don’t have to let LEA representatives into your home, you do not have to let them see any of your child’s work, and you do not have to complete a pile of forms just to satisfy them that you are doing a good job (A statement of educational philosophy should suffice). From what I can tell we currently enjoy probably the most freedom in this regard anywhere in the western world.

So far so good, in other words. Which is also pretty much what Blumfeld had said:

At the moment, home education in the U.K. is off the Government’s radar. It’s just a quirky thing for a small minority. It’s nothing to worry about and it’s not worth bothering with.

But as Blumfeld had gone on to say:

… as more parents home educate their children, it will become increasingly visible. And as that happens, the pressure will grow for the State to “do something” about “the problem” of home education. The pressure will come from the teaching unions (whose monopoly it threatens). It will come from the Department of Education (always on the lookout for a new “initiative”). It will come from the Press (all it will take is one scare story about a home educated ten year old who hasn’t yet learned to read). And it will come from Brussels (home education is illegal in many European countries so why should it be legal here?).

As I say, Blumfeld preceded that by saying that in in ten years time things may have changed, and home-education might have become a “libertarian issue”, i.e. a political battleground.

Ten years? Peach thinks that things may be about to get nasty a lot more quickly than that.

However, these freedoms are coming under attack. A new directive from the DfES to LEAs has come to light. Apparently this directive has been widely discussed with home education groups, however the largest of them, Education Otherwise has never been consulted.

The directive contains several passages that are in direct contradiction of the existing law but this does not seem to have been taken into consideration when it was issued. Why is this?

Of course it could just be ineptitude on the part of the department but I do not believe this to be so. This is the start of a long and winding road that leads to new legislation and restriction of the rights of parents.

Peach believes that home-educators should adopt a totally hard-line and uncompromising attitude towards all this, but fears that many of them won’t.

Daryl Cobranchi agrees vehemently with Michael Peach, and disagrees very vehemently indeed with Julius Blumfeld. Alice Bachini will also be keeping an eye on things, both here (at her personal blog) and, I would assume, now here (at Rational Parenting).

For the wider libertarian movement, all this is both very depressing or a possible opportunity, depending on how you look at such things. Personally, I would infinitely prefer the home-educators to be left alone to do what they want with their children, within the limits only of the criminal law. But the kind of libertarians who think that recruiting new libertarians to the libertarian movement is the only sure way to save the world will welcome these developments, because lots of hitherto (see Blumfeld) mostly Green and/or Pink home educators are, it would seem, about to get a severe political education at the hands of the state. It may, in other words, be the gun hobbyist story all over again. The gun hobbyists, to simplify that story only somewhat, started out as gun hobbyists with guns, and ended up as libertarians without guns.

Until now, Britain’s home educators have mostly tended to rely on keeping their heads down and not criticising the State Monster so rudely that he stirs himself and decides to go on the attack. But if the Monster is now attacking anyway, silence no longer makes sense. A campaign may now be needed to explain to Britain and its rulers just how important is the right to educate one’s children as one sees fit, and just how damaging would be the ending of this right. Again, following on from the gun example, it might help a lot if the Americans got heavily involved with the debate over here, in the manner of Daryl Cobranchi, and I dare say, already, quite a few others.

4 comments to The British home-education debate – is it about to hot up?

  • For a story that publicises how home education [or at least, non-school education] can bring up a highly-talented, happy and self-motivated individual, check this New Scientist interview with the 20-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematics lecturer who got his Phd in his teens and spent most of his childhood travelling round the United States with his father, selling craft objects for a living. His father also sounds a remarkable individual – as people who decide to home-educate a child generally are, of course.

  • Tim Haas

    I have first-hand experience in fighting this kind of directive. In 1997, New Jersey’s state Department of Education issued a document purporting to define the relative rights/duties of local school boards (our LEAs) and homeschooling parents. Replacing a standing directive from the early 1980s, its demands exceeded both the compulsory education statute and long-established case law.

    The first bit of action was to inform as many homeschoolers as possible of the new document, point out exactly where it misinterpreted the law (something Schoolhouse has done with respect to the Scottish Executive’s draft directive last year), and make concrete suggestions on how to deal with the local authorities when conflicts arose. (Not that there was conflict everywhere — there are some 600 local school boards in the state, and many had a repuation for simply letting homeschoolers alone.)

    One tactic that worked especially well was to send the school copies of the statute and case decisions with the relevant sections highlighted, and then demand that the school respond with cites from statutes, administrative code (which has the force of law), or case law to back up their contention that we needed to submit a curriculum, teach a certain number of hours/days, etc. Most parents I know of who did this usually didn’t hear from the schools again.

    These skirmishes went on for about two years, but it began to become clear to the state that the document was causing more problems than it solved. Representatives of various homeschooling organizations eventually secured meetings with state officials, which led to the convening of a task force to rewrite the document. I got myself appointed to said body and ended up acting as a broker between the Christian homeschooling contingent and the secular homeschooling contingent so that we could go in against the state folks as a united force.

    On the day in April 2000 on which the full task force finally met to review the rewritten document, we got everything we wanted and drew the lines between state and homeschooler in emphatic and unambiguous language (“The local board of education is not required or authorized to …”). Though some bureaucratic mealymouthedness crept back into the next draft, the meaning wasn’t changed.

    The final document was distributed to schools in September 2000 and posted on New Jersey’s website. There are still isolated problems between (more often than not brand-new) homeschoolers and districts — I hear of a few a year as the answer-man of the New Jersey Homeschool Association — though I find it’s usually a matter of ignorance rather than malicious intent.

    I offer this link to the state document for reference and invite correspondence from anyone who would like to hear the whole story, discuss tactics, etc. I also have examples of how these situations can go horribly wrong (Pennsylvania, the state right next door, being a case in point).

  • Further to Mark G.’s comment above, I bring you a piece I wrote earlier tonight on another homeschooling success, American figure skater Ye Min Bok.

    Mark, how interesting you should post here: I linked to you yesterday in the blogroll for my newly-launched “specialist blog” Asia Pacific Information Systems, which has nothing to do with politics, at least overtly.