There are a lot of good things about living in a representative democracy such as we have in this country and there are some bad things. A good thing is that we actually get a chance every few years to change the government. In practice, this means choosing between Labour and Conservative of course. We do not directly make the laws, we elect representatives to do it on our behalf. These are our MPs. By and large, the system works pretty well. It works at least as well as any other method and better than most, although it has its drawbacks. One of these is that it is easy for minority groups to get trampled down.
Sometimes governments decide to be tough on some minority or other deliberately, because it will be popular with everybody else and the actions they take distract people from the failure of the government in other areas. Cracking down on asylum seekers or benefit cheats are an example of this. It can serve to make your government look tough and determined to look after the interests of the ordinary citizen. It can also grab the headlines and make the voters forget how you are screwing up the economy or launching illegal wars. Banning hunting or the keeping of certain breeds of dog were also measures of this sort. Almost always, before they act in this way, the government of the day finds out how the masses will view this attack on a small, special interest group. The idea is to gain votes, not lose them!
Some of these attacks on small groups are greeted with wide approval. The ban on hunting was very popular with people living in the cities. Often, the members of the special interest group under attack are baffled by the public reaction. They are so used to belonging to this group and identify so closely with its aims and purposes, that they are honestly surprised to hear that many people do not like what they are doing and think it should be stopped. However, governments are quite clever at this sort of thing. In many cases, whatever their motives, and these are often cynical and populist, the end results of their clamping down on some group or other do tend towards the common good. This is how many people, including I am guessing many people who read this Blog, felt about the law on fox hunting.
Which brings us neatly to home education and the Children, Schools and Families Bill. There are two important points to consider here. Firstly, the present administration is onto a winner with this. Examining teachers' fitness to do their job regularly is likely to play very well with the electorate. So are pledges to raise educational standards in general. So to are action on safeguarding concerns about children taught at home. Now I have made it fairly plain I think that I do not believe that this is really a valid point at all, but that does not matter in the slightest. Everybody else send their kids to school and there is bound to be a certain amount of suspicion attached to those who don't. If they are making sure that schools and teachers are up to scratch, then why not check out those parents who are teaching their kids at the same time? Sounds good to Joe Public. When you combine this with spurious safeguarding fears, it becomes a classic case of working up a fear about the safety of kiddies and old folk, always a winner with voters.
Just as those who went hunting foxes did not really see the public mood, so too home educators appear to be a little out of touch. This is in the nature of special interest groups in any case; they assume everybody understands and shares their concerns. The Badman review of elective home education was very big news for home educators, for instance, but 99% of the public had not even heard of it. The Queen's speech was anxiously awaited to see what she would have to say on the subject of home education, but the newspapers and television did not bother overmuch with that aspect; it didn't matter to most people. Most coverage of the Children, Schools and Families Bill made no mention at all of the new regulations regarding home education. It was of little interest.
I suppose that I am observing this developing situation with a certain amount of detachment and wish that home educating parents would be a little more accommodating to local authorities. I suspect that if the bill does get passed before June, parents are going to find a system imposed upon that that they will have had no part in shaping. Many local authorities are prepared to work with home educators towards a new regimen, but the feeling seems to be that if everybody flatly rejects change, then it simply will not happen. I find this unduly optimistic.