Ever since Graham Badman's review of elective home education was launched in January, suggestions have been made that it was all part of a sinister and deeply laid plot, having as its ultimate aim the abolition of home education in this country. The publication of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which contains draft regulations relating to home education, seems to have provoked even normally rational people into wild speculations upon the eventual outcome for home educators if things carry on like this. So let us bring this idea out into the open and examine it carefully to see if there might be any substance in the notion that certain members of the government actually hope to make home education impossible in England and Wales.
The first question we must ask is that classic enquiry when a suspected crime has occurred; cui bono? Who benefits from this thing? Well who would benefit if home education stopped being a viable option for parents in this country? In order to answer that, we might begin by asking ourselves what the practical consequences would be of the abolition of home education.
With schools currently at bursting point, the immediate result of something like 80,000 extra children suddenly being registered at school would be a demand for somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 new teachers. (Assuming roughly one teacher per thirty new pupils.) In the long term, fifty or sixty new schools would need to be built to accommodate all these pupils; so the first beneficiary might be the teaching profession. New jobs, new schools and an acknowledgement that education is a state monopoly, not something any Tom, Dick or Harry can just do in their kitchens whenever they feel like it! This is an interesting hypothesis, but it does not really hold water.
The new regulations regarding home education are contained in the Children, School and Families Bill. They are only a small part of it. Much is taken up with various initiatives designed to raise standards in schools. If the teaching profession were behind this new bill, and I have to say that I don't really buy into the idea of a teachers lobby forcing the government's hand, then it is surprising that so many of the bill's provisions are designed to make life more difficult for teachers. For example, the idea that teachers will need in to be re-examined every few years to see if they are still fit to teach. Why on earth would teachers wish to force measures like this onto the Statute Book? I'm not sure either how keen I would be as a teacher to have a load of home educated children suddenly foisted off on me. All those weird parents causing trouble and making complaints at every touch and turn! I would have thought that most teachers could do without the aggravation. So I must conclude that if there really is a plot, then teachers are not at the back of it.
Who else might be implicated? Could it be that the government, or even just an individual member of the cabinet like Ed Balls, is dead set on getting rid of home education? What would the government get out of it? How would they benefit? I suppose that it could serve to make them look as though they were very concerned about vulnerable children and determined to take robust steps to protect them. The only problem here is that most of the electorate have not even noticed that home education is facing new controls. If it was done as a publicity stunt, then I would have expected to see a little more publicity associated with it. In the event, it has been simply slipped past in a few obscure pages of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Hardly anybody apart from home educating parents themselves even know that it has happened. For that reason, I think we can acquit the government of playing to the gallery on the child protection issue. They have not drawn enough attention to what they are doing for that to be the case.
What other culprits could be in the frame for this? It is hard to identify any one group or even a combination of groups who would benefit enough from the destruction of home education to make it worth their while. The medical profession? Big Pharma? Psychiatrists? The military-industrial complex? Area 51? I am quite open to hearing any suggestions as to who or what could be behind a plan to get rid of home education in Britain.
In the meantime, I shall continue to assume that the stated aim is the true one; to ensure that children withdrawn from school are in fact educated at home. I am quite prepared to believe that many parents disagree violently with Graham Badman, Ed Balls and many of the officers working for local authorities. I am also able to accept that people like Badman and Balls might be mistaken in what they think about home education and wrongheaded in their whole approach. I do not happen to believe personally that this is the case, but I am certainly open to the possibility that they, and of course me, are quite wrong. However, unless strong and convincing evidence emerges, I shall continue to think that they are actually acting honestly and that they have the best interests of children at heart.