The two perspectives could hardly be more different. To most people working in the field of education and social care; it is a grotesque anomaly. Getting on for a hundred thousand children about whose education hardly anything is known. Are they passing GCSEs? Nobody knows. What percentage go on to become NEETS? We have no idea. Are they as literate as the general population? Couldn't really say. I mean, it's absurd! It has to be said that this view is probably shared by many ordinary people. On the other side are the parents of the children in question. To them, any attempt to change the law or even ask too many questions about the situation is a gross intrusion into their private life; a flagrant breach of the rights of both parent and child. Outrageous!
The law covering home education is to be found in the 1996 Education Act. The wording of this act in respect of home education was lifted practically intact from the 1944 Education Act. The relevant words, those concerning a suitable education to be obtained, "By regular attendance at school or otherwise", were inserted into the act not to legitimise home education but to allow the upper and middle classes to continue engaging governesses and tutors for their children. It is I think, safe to say that the idea that parents would one day use this section of the act to justify teaching their own children out of school never for a moment crossed the mind of anybody in the legislature. Yet here we are, sixty five years later, and those few words are still the only thing that the law has to say on the subject of home education. In other words, the education of perhaps eighty thousand children is regulated by a couple of chance sentences in an old act of parliament.
Any objective observer would probably agree that with the numbers of children educated out of school rising inexorably, it really is time for a law which specifically sanctions and regulates the practice of home education. About the details of such a law, there will be no universal agreement; that is inevitable. But about the need for some sort of legal framework there is consensus, except of course among the home educating families themselves. But this is often the case. Individuals and communities who are closely bound up in some peculiar and outlandish activity often have difficulty understanding how others view their special interest. The incomprehension on the face of the steam engine fanatic when he realises that not everybody is fascinated by the Flying Scotsman. The pigeon fancier who cannot see how anybody could fail to appreciate the finer points of bird breeding. So involved are such people, that they will be wholly unable to take an objective and dispassionate view of their obsession.
So it is with home education. It is the ultimate strange hobby, a hobby which affects every aspect of the lives of its devotees. If their lifestyle brings them into conflict with the law, then so be it. The law can go hang! The Queen's speech in parliament paves the way for the registration and inspection of home educators. This is perhaps the bare minimum which most normal citizens would expect and desire for the scores of thousands of children being taught out of school. Whether the new law will be able to get pass the Lords is another matter entirely. The present administration is quite fond of invoking the Parliament Act and an important Bill involving children would be a perfect excuse for doing so should there be obstruction in the Upper House. One thing that home educators should realise is that however much they campaign, to the man on the Clapham omnibus the proposition that children taught at home should be registered and inspected is an eminently sensible one. Public opinion is not likely to be with the home educators on this matter.