On April 10, the Department of Education made a proposal by launching a Call for Evidence, a program to increase oversight of home education by compulsory registration of children who are educated at home or outside of school and monitoring by local authorities. It is a 12-week consultation program with an action plan to seek opinion from families with home-schooled children, local authorities and support groups to determine ‘whether the current arrangements for oversight of elective home education are adequate to fullfill the government’s aspiration that all children in England should receive a good education
Lord Agnew, the School Systems Minister, announced on Tuesday that every child is meant to receive a ‘suitable and safe education – no matter where they are being taught.’ The number of children who are receiving home education has not been properly recorded due to having no registration in place for families whose children are schooled at home, but a document by the Department of Education suggests that there are now a total of 45,500 home-educated children from its rise of over 20 per cent in a span of 18 months. The rise of home education statistics has brought to light issues and concerns such as ‘radicalization and unregistered schools offering services to home-educating parents.’ In particular, an issue raised by OFSTED Chief Amanda Spielman who claims that religious extremists are “perverting” the purpose of education by taking advantage of “unusually permissive” rules surrounding the education of children in unregistered schools. More than 170 undocumented faith schools are estimated in the UK with over 3,000 children enrolled.
While the School Systems Minister has cited that ‘across the country there are thousands of dedicated parents who are doing an excellent job of educating their children at home,’ they need to find ways on how to act quickly in the event that it does not. A £3 million targeted fund was also announced as financial support for the joint effort between local authorities and over a dozen agencies in ‘tackling the minority of out of school settings that seek to undermine British values or expose children to other harmful practices.’ Out of school settings include ‘any institution providing tuition, training or instruction to children aged under 19 in England that is not a school, college, 16-19 academy or registered childcare provider.’
Parents of home-schooled children however are crying foul over the government proposal, citing that it is an invasion of privacy and a compromise of parental rights on their children’s education. This isn’t the first time the government has initiated ways of taking the issue of home-schooling into their own hands. In 2014, Westminster Council in London expressed its interest in imposing annual visits on home schooling families as a way of securing the ‘welfare of children or for seeking to ensure that they receive the highest standard of education possible.’ Parents felt that they have become victims of a growing frenzy regarding child safety.
Under the current system, schools need to inform local authorities if a pupil is removed from their own register. Children who have never been registered to a school are not included in the statistics. Most home-schooled families are opposed to registering their children stating that a register isn’t a solution for issues that surround child safety and quality of education. According to Eileen Tracy, whose daughter Lilian starred in the West End stage show and has faced legal action against local authorities over her child’s home education, registering your children doesn’t make it more safe. She says, “If registration made kids safe then no school children would self-harm, suffer abuse, develop eating disorders, turn to crime or commit suicide. We know that most UK children are in poor mental health despite being registered already. Let’s not waste public resources on yet more of what doesn’t work.”
Addressing the government’s claims that home-schooling helps perpetuate radicalization, the home education community stresses out that the authorities often confuse illegal schools with home schooling. According to a parent, the increase in the home educated statistics has nothing to do with radicalization but with the failing standards of the country’s educational system.
Tracy also emphasized how home education has an approach centered on the child’s own capabilities and learning pace. “Through home education, parents exercise their right to let their child develop at their own pace and cherrypick their academic pursuits and other passions without confused outsiders breathing down their necks.”
Camilla Bradshaw-Burke, another parent who home-schools her daughter Tilly, 14, has an ambiguous opinion regarding the issue. Having taught for 15 years, she became distraught over the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of the educational system which had no regard to her daughter’s ‘calm, introverted’ personality.
This is a tricky one,” she says. “On the one hand I have found myself worrying about individuals I know who are home-schooling who don’t seem equipped to educate their children adequately and so perhaps some sort of over-haul is needed to ensure that every child is receiving an education appropriate to their individual needs.”
The Call for Evidence is also seeking to penalize schools who encourage or force parents to educate their children at home by “off-rolling” children who are problematic and challenging to the institution and would affect their league ratings.
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