The roots of confrontation between local authorities and home educators

There seems to be pretty general agreement that there is more tension between a number of home educating parents and their local authorities than was once the case. A few days ago, somebody here suggested that this was largely due to the Badman review. This is an interesting idea. There are it seems to me two main ways of looking at the situation today. On the one hand is the perspective that aggressive local authorities, acting in many cases beyond the letter of the law, have provoked peaceful and good natured home educators into becoming militant and uncooperative. By this reading of the matter, the groups of people fighting against any new laws or regulations simply represent the will of the people; they are working on behalf of the majority of home educating parents. Another view would be that those agitating so furiously against supposed local authority infringement of their ’rights’ are a small core of malcontents and trouble makers who are always arguing with various authority figures about anything at all; from fluoridation of drinking water to the vaccination of children, from the export of powdered baby milk to less economically developed nations to building nuclear power stations.

A recent debate on one of the larger Internet lists devoted to home education shed a little light upon which of these two cases is more likely to be correct. It will be recalled that during the Badman review and the framing of Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, one of the proposals which caused the greatest anger was the idea that local authority officers should have a right of entry to the homes of those educating their own children. Of course this idea was really a non-starter; the legal complications of the thing would have tied up the British courts for years to come. It was used as a rallying cry by those who rejected the whole idea of receiving visits from their local authority. Now many local authorities have never insisted anyway on making visits of this kind and have always been content to accept written evidence of the education being provided for a child. Essex, my own local authority, are like this. This never struck me as a big deal, but of course there are those who feel strongly about it.

One might think that with authorities who simply request a written report about a home educated child’s education, that even the most militant parent would feel that there was no cause for confrontation. No visits being asked for; all they want is some idea of what is going on. A couple of days ago, I mentioned the facetious idea that the owner of one of the largest home education lists put forward, for sending a pig’s heart to the local authority. This was of course a joke, but the background to the suggestion is revealing. Somebody posting on this list had been asked by her local authority to provide an account of her child’s education. One might have thought that after all the fuss and bitter opposition to receiving visits, that this would have been welcomed as a good thing. You would be wrong to think that. This request caused a well known figure in home educating circles to suggest sending as much irrelevant material as possible, simply in order to make the whole business more awkward and troublesome for the local authority. Others seconded this, agreeing that they did not want to make the process easy for the local authority and that the more awkawrdly they reacted, the better this was for their purposes. This was bloody-mindedness on an epic scale.

It looks to an objective observer as though even where their demands are fully met and home educating parents are given the option of sending in a written report, rather than being expected to allow a local authority officer into their home, some activists will still try to create a confrontation. I have a strong suspicion that even if all local authorities accepted reports and did not even ask for visits, then the next campaign would be to refuse to provide any account at all of the child’s education, on the grounds that it is no business at all of the local authority. This attitude, and I can see it emerging clearly now as a strand in British home education, suggests that much of the more militant section of the British home education scene actually wants confrontation and conflict. Even when their demands are met, they will come up with fresh grievances. We are seeing the first stirrings of this with the anger over a council’s request for a written report; we shall be seeing more of this in the future. The more reasonable and accommodating become local authorities, the more unreasonable will become the demands of some home educators.


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