As most readers will be aware, the Education Committee, a select committee, has launched an enquiry into the support available for home education in this country. It seems to me inevitable that this enquiry will lead eventually to more involvement by local authorities into the lives of many home educators. One of the problems that some home educators face is that they would like their children to take GCSEs and other examinations, but lack both the expertise and money to arrange them. It is manifestly unjust that a home educated child whose parents have perhaps been paying taxes for years should have to pay again to access GCSEs. It is also to the benefit of society in general that more of the fifty thousand or so children currently being educated at home should gain GCSEs. This would help them to progress into further and higher education and also make them more attractive to potential employers. I have an idea that this is one area of support where the select committee might make a definite recommendation.
This is all well and good, but the implications for both those who do want their children to take exams and also those who do not, are profound. Let us look first at those parents who do wish their children to sit GCSEs. Children at school typically sit eight or ten GCSEs; obviously, if you are going to provide finance and other assistance for home educated children to sit them and the local authorities will be receiving the Age Weighted Pupil Units for each child, then some parents will want their children to sit the same number as pupils in schools. My own daughter took eight IGCSEs and if the local authority had been offering financial help, then I would have expected them to pay for those GCSEs that I wanted my child to sit. Now all this will mean spending public money. You can’t just chuck it around willy nilly and so we hit the first difficulty. How will local authorities know whether or not they are simply wasting the money by entering some child for ten GCSEs? They would be unlikely to take my word for it that my daughter knew enough about physics to get an A*; they would want to make sure that they weren’t wasting time and money arranging for her to sit physics. For all they know, she might be barely literate, the whole thing might really be a pointless enterprise for all concerned. Perhaps she should just sit one or two, in perhaps English and maths, rather than physics, chemistry, history and geography as well? Even then, if they did enter her for maths, should she be entered for foundation or higher? How can they find out what level she is at in the various subjects?
Already, before the scheme is even off the ground, testing of the academic achievements of home educated children by local authority officers has appeared. Indeed, it is an inevitable development if once you concede that the local authority will be assessing the amount of money to be spent on arranging for these children to take examinations. Still, it might be argued, this is all voluntary. Only those parents who wish their children to take GCSEs will be involved. Just because I want my daughter to sit GCSEs, that does not mean that an autonomously educating parent in the next street would have to do the same. Nobody would have to submit to this testing and all these questions. This is ingenuous. If once local authorities begin regularly testing the abilities of home educated children, it will create an entirely new situation. This testing is bound to spread to parents whom the local authority will talk into it and encourage to become involved for the sake of their children, who would do so much better if they were to have a few GCSEs.
Now as it happens, I do not think that this would be a bad thing at all. Speaking personally, I would like local authorities to ask more questions of parents and to see how their children were doing; whether they really were being provided with a suitable education and so on. I would be glad if local authority officers were to start pressing parents to think about GCSEs and doing their best to see that the children studied for and took them. Not everybody feels this way though.
The point I am making is this. What sounds like a perfectly innocuous and well-meaning idea, making it easier for those who want to enter their children for examinations, has serious implications for the future of all home educating parents. It has the potential to create conflict a few years down the line, if taking GCSEs became the aim of local authorities for home educated children in their area, rather than simply an optional service which they provided. I think that people need to think about this a little before championing one side or the other in this question. They need particularly to think carefully before expressing too vehemently these views before select committees or to local authorities.