When I wrote recently on this topic, I was surprised to find that there was broad agreement about many points. Here are a few more points with which few home educators will disagree. First, there will always be cases of cruel or abusive people mistreating or even murdering their children. Most of these children are at school and a few are home educated. Such abusers can be very cunning and a brief visit once a year will almost certainly miss some of these wicked parents.
A second point is that annual visits for every home educating family is an expensive and not particularly effective way of keeping an eye on the situation. To give an example, one need only look at my own case. Essex County Council chose to involve themselves and start visiting our home when my daughter was eight. We live in Loughton and their office is in Colchester. Each visit entailed a seventy mile round trip for the woman. By the time my daughter was thirteen and taking IGCSEs, it was clear to both us and the local authority that such visits were a waste of their time and ours. There are many similar cases. This sort of thing is not a good use of resources.
On the other hand, I do not believe that we should just assume that every parent is capable of undertaking this civic duty. Just as somebody who volunteers to undertake the duty of policing, as special constables do, is required first to demonstrate his or her fitness to undertake the task; so to with those who would educate a child. The easiest way to assess the suitability for exercising this duty is for somebody from the local authority to make an initial visit to the home and speak to both the parent and child. In this way, I would guess that a chat and a look around the home would make it clear that a large proportion of those parents were quite capable of taking on this duty. The remaining people, I am thinking a ballpark figure of perhaps 10% to 20% could be offered the choice of continuing to home educate with some involvement and monitoring by the local authority or, if they declined, a School Attendance Order would be issued.
Of course, such a rough and ready method would result in some unfit parents being overlooked and other perfectly capable parents being offered closer supervision. On the whole though, I think that this would work better than the current system, where some parents are never seen at all. The beauty of a system like this is that it would require no new legislation. All that would be necessary would be for local authorities to tell parents that they could not be convinced that a suitable education was taking place without visiting their home. Of course, parents have no duty in law to comply with this and those that refused would automatically be issued with a School Attendance Order.
I have an idea that a system of this sort would sift out quite a few parents who are not really educating their children, while leaving the 80% or so who are to get on with the job without any interference. For those who doubt that it would be possible to judge in the course of a two hour or so visit, which parents and homes were suitable for the education of a child; there are various strong indicators. The presence of many books is one. A home with no books on display is almost certainly a home where parents are not valuing learning and education. This would be easily spotted within the first few minutes of a visit.