It is hard when one is actually living through dramatic changes which affect an entire way of life, to be objective about those changes.It is a racing certainty that when the Queen gives her speech to parliament tomorrow, a committment will be made to tighten up the law on home education. On the HE-UK and EO lists there will be protests that this is designed to interfere in matters which are more properly the concern of the family rather than the state, that a parent's right to decide what is best for her child is being eroded or even scrapped entirely. There is no doubt at all that feelings will be running high. And yet....... I have a suspicion that certainly in a century and probably in as little as a decade, people will ask themselves what all the fuss was about.
In 1880, an act was passed by parliament which made school compulsory for all children aged between five and ten. There was a huge amount of opposition to this new law. It took away the rights of parents, it was striking at family life, the government was disregarding the views of many citizens, it was for parents to decide how their children should be educated. In short, many people were saying much the same sort of thing that home educating parents will be saying on Wednessday evening. The parallels between the two cases are uncannily similar, if not precise.
The fact is, none of us willingly embrace change. We are generally comfortable with the way things have been running along up until now with the legal situation and ask only that there be no change. However, times do change. The current law on home education is based upon the form of words contained in the 1944 education Act. This act was passed at a time when home education was virtually unheard of in this country. That is to say home education of children by their own parents. There were plenty of governesses and tutors and it was to exempt families who could afford these that the 1944 Act included those fateful words, "By regular attendance at school or otherwise."
It is manifestly absurd that with perhaps as many as eighty thousand children being educated at home, we are still relying upon a legal situation which was established when there were no home eduating parents. That a new law should be debated and perhaps altered to take into account the fears and worries of home educators is reasonable. That we should do nothing and continue to rely upon laws framed before there was any such thing as home education would be a mistake. There will be opposition to a new law, just as there was after the 1880 education Act. After that law was passed, so many parents refused to co-operate, that prosecutions for the non-attendance of children at school were running at over a hundred thousand a year. It was the second commonest offence prosecuted in the 1880s, exceeded only by drunkenness
History judges that those parents who so vehemently disagreed with the Education Act in 1880 were wrong. I suspect that history will subsequently judge that those who were against a new law which was intended to make the duties and responsibilities of parents and local authorities clearer as regards home education were also wrong. They will be seen as reactionaries who preferred to cling to outdated laws, rather than to consider and help shape the future.