One of the things which irritates some home educating parents is the apparent willingness of local authorities to lie to them and misrepresent the law about education. This is a recurring theme on some forums and lists.What motive could local authorities have for doing this? Hatred of home educators? Sheer wickedness? I want today to look at an example of this sort of thing known to me and to consider why such tactics may be quite justifiable and in the best interests of children.
In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, where until recently I was doing a lot of home visiting, there are many Bangladeshis and British people of Bangladeshi origin. A lot of them are from the Surma valley and speak not Bengali but Sylheti. It is not at all uncommon for the children of such parents, even those born in this country, to speak only Sylheti when they start school. This is a problem, but not one that anybody will discuss openly, for fear of being called racist. If the parents were not told constantly that the law required them to send their children to school at the age of five, many would not do so. The result could easily be young people who not only could not speak English at five, but could reach the age of twelve or so without speaking anything but Sylheti. This is especially the case with girls.
Here is a perfect example of why I feel that local authorities are both justified in giving out untruthful and misleading information to families and also paying more attention to one minority group, having different rules for them if your like, than are applied to white, English families. The chances of a white child born in this country reaching the age of five without learning to speak English are effectively zero. The chances of a child from a Sylheti speaking family in East London doing so can be high. This is a disaster for the child’s future prospects and he may never be able to take full advantage of the free education which he receives. The educational outcome for children of Sylheti origin is awful. It is disguised by the fact that monitoring often does not distinguish such children from other ’Asians’. Gujarati children tend to do brilliantly at school, better than white English kids and so they raise the average attainment for ’Asians’.
This is one example where a local authority needs to apply stricter rules to one ethnic group than another. It is also why in some areas, parents are told that the law requires them to send their children to school. In coming days, we shall be looking further at the implications of this sort of situation and what it can tell us about the reasons that local authorities often tell lies about the legal position of home education and do their best to discourage some people from undertaking it.
To recap, if a Sylheti family in Stepney decided not to send their daughter to school at the age of five, there is every chance that this child would not learn to speak English. She could remain in the home and marry young, never being able fully to participate in ordinary life. The local authority wishes to prevent this from happening. Should they tell these families that the law requires them to send their children to school at the age of five, which is not true? Or perhaps they should not discriminate in this way against one cultural group. Maybe they should crack down upon anybody who failed to send a child to school and start insisting that they can visit the family and talk to them in person? This sort of stratagy, where all parents are treated in the same way has caused a lot of trouble and ill feeling in some parts of the country, because it treats loving parents who genuinely wish to educate their own children as being potentially negligent. What do readers think? Should we go out of our way to protect girls who are at risk of never receiving a proper education and remaining second class citizens? Or should we on the other hand pursue all parents who do not send their children to school at the age of five and behave as though they are all careless of their children's welfare?