Every so often home educators catch hold of some phrase and before you know it you are seeing it on every blog, list and forum. Ultra vires is one of these, ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is another. Local authorities must be reminded that home educating parents are ’innocent until proven guilty’ if they should happen to ask about a child’s education. Most home educating parents simply parrot this expression without having the least idea what they mean by it. It ties in with the idea which I explored in a recent post, that many home educators like to feel that they are being persecuted. The idea that the government or local authority should wrongly be treating them as guilty of something fits in neatly with this craving for persecution. Let us look at the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and see just what these characters think they mean by it.
Commenting on a recent post of mine, somebody said:
There is a law that states that we must provide a suitable education. You are either
innocent or guilty of breaking that law. What's so difficult to understand about
This is of course, complete nonsense. Nobody is breaking any law by not providing her child with a suitable education and I have no idea why anybody would believe this. Still, many home educators appear to think that this is so. Perhaps we can clear up this misunderstanding. If I have care of a child aged between five and sixteen and do not cause him to receive an education, I am not committing any sort of offence, either criminal or civil. If somebody suggests that my child might not be receiving an education, this cannot mean that they are accusing me of being ‘guilty’; there is nothing to be guilty of. I am not breaking any law by failing to educate a child, nor can I be arrested nor any civil proceedings be brought against me by anybody. The whole concept of innocence or guilt simply does not apply under those circumstances. Guilty of what, exactly? The thing is meaningless. I am not, even theoretically, guilty of breaking any law.
The only time that the idea of innocence or guilt could possibly enter into a discussion of a child’s education in this country is if the child is enrolled at a school or the subject of a School Attendance Order which names a specific school which he should attend. None of this applies to home educators. Their children are not enrolled at school and as many Freedom of Information requests have established, School Attendance Orders are issued my most local authorities perhaps once every couple of years and even then, hardly ever to home educating parents. Here is the wording used in School Attendance Orders:
It will be seen that the offence would be not failing the duty to provide the child with a suitable education, but one of ignoring the order itself. The offence is created and comes into being only by the serving of the order and relates only to that. No SAO, no offence.
Nobody in this country could ever be taken to court for not providing a child with an education; it is not an offence. Therefore even the most zealous local authority officer could not suspect a home educating parent of committing an offence. The idea of ’innocence’ or ’guilt’ is utterly without meaning. The only time that any offence could ever be taking place would be if the local authority issued an SAO and that simply does not happen. It would only be at the moment that a School Attendance Order was served on a parent that even the very possibility of an offence was created.
As I said at the beginning, this really has more to do with the widespread desire of many home educators to believe themselves victims of persecution than anything else. They want to believe that heartless officials are falsely accusing them of breaking the law. One more time; it is not against the law to keep your child from school and fail to educate him. Nobody could, even in theory, be taken to court for this. The only way that you could fall foul of the law is if your child is a registered pupil at a school or fails to attend the school named in a School Attendance Order. Unless this is happening, you are not breaking any law, nor could anybody even suspect you of breaking any law regarding the education of your child.
One final time, unless any readers have actually been served with a School Attendance Order or have children who are registered pupils at a school and are not being sent regularly, there can be no possibility of any offence and consequently no talk of innocence or guilt. Forget the expression 'innocent until proven guilty'; it does not and cannot apply to you. No mechanism exists for prosecuting anybody for failing to abide by the duty of causing a child to receive a suitable education. Prosecutions can only be brought with regard to failing to send a child to school.