I have been reading the Newcastle Report, a Royal Commission set up in 1858 in order to examine and report on the state of education in Britain. Some of its findings and recommendations are surprising, particularly when you bear in mind that only ten years later compulsory education was introduced in this country. The Newcastle Report had this to say on the subject;
"Any universal compulsory system appears to us neither attainable nor desirable. An attempt to replace an independent system of education with a compulsory system, managed by the Government, would be met by objections, both religious and political."
Today most people view school as such a natural and integral part of modern life that it seems incredible that a Royal Commission could have come down so firmly against the idea of compulsory education. Interestingly, the words that they used to dismiss the idea could be used to today by the opponents of the regulations about home education contained in the Children, Schools and Families Bill. What would be the practical results if the element of compulsion were to be wholly removed from education? I suppose that we and our children are in general so used to the concept of kids having to go to school or at the very least be educated, that it would throw everyone into confusion at first!
Would parents continue to send their children to school if compulsory education were abolished? Probably they would. An awful lot of the parents to whom one talks look forward to the day that their children will be going to school. many of them dislike the school holidays, especially the long Summer holiday. There is also the popular belief that children have to go to school to learn. Most parents would be frightened of the consequences of a child not being taught at school. Indeed, we know this to be true, because of course parents do not have to send their children to school as things currently stand. A very tiny minority fail to do so. School is popular with parents.
School is also, by and large, popular with the children themselves. They like the opportunity to get away from their parents, to meet their friends and so on. I believe that some of them even learn there!
In other words, despite the fact that school is not compulsory and never has been, the overwhelming majority of parents and children seem to like it just fine. At a guess, the situation would not change at all if a new law was passed which abolished the compulsory element from education altogether. Things would carry on just as they do now.