I have been thinking today about the seemingly implacable hostility that exists between certain home educating parents and their local authorities. Without considering the rights and wrongs of the case, because I have not the slightest doubt that there are faults on both sides, I was wondering if there is any way of finding a compromise.
It is becoming increasingly likely that the Children, Schools and Families Bill will be passed before the next general election. There may be one or two MPs and Lords who are prepared for various reasons to oppose this measure and help try to prevent it reaching the Statute Book, but I would not think that they will be able to do this. A bill full of provisions designed to crack down on inefficient schools and useless teachers is not likely to face widespread opposition in either the Lords or Commons. Most of our legislature will hardly notice the few paragraphs which introduce registration and monitoring of home educators. Those who do spot them will probably approve.
Let us assume for a moment the bill actually becomes law. I am well aware that many parents are determined not to co-operate with local authority officers on various aspects of it. Is there room for meeting half way though? On the subject of registration, this is more or less a done deal. When ContactPoint is switched on, any child who has a blank field for "Educational Setting" will be receiving a letter from her local authority making enquiries. This will be de facto registration in itself. But what about the requirement for a statement of educational intent and so on?
I think I am right in saying that hardly any parents object to sending their local authority an educational philosophy. It seem to be a pretty standard response to enquiries and often used as a way to fend off a visit. It seems possible that this will not be considered sufficient in the future. An awful lot of parents are very much opposed to providing a curriculum, claiming that this would destroy the whole basis of autonomous education. Without going into the rights and wrongs of this position, is there a way that something more than an educational philosophy could be put together, which was a little more detailed as regards what the education was intended to provide for the child? Something less than a curriculum, certainly, but a good deal more than the sort of vague waffle which some parents currently submit to their LA? How far would parents be prepared to go in order to accommodate their local authority and avoid conflict on this particular matter?
At the moment, a lot of parents, perhaps the majority, seem to be against visits. I say the majority, because of course all those who are not at the moment known to their local authority presumably do not want visits. According to most estimates, these are at least as numerous as the parents who are known to local authorities. I can see that there will be trouble if local authority officers march into such homes and demand that little Johnny demonstrate that he knows his multiplication tables or has read Great Expectations . However, they will want to see the child and probably talk to him. What sort of model for these encounters would satisfy home educating parents? Assuming that is, that non-compliance is not an option and that a blanket refusal to engage with the LA might lead to court? Have parents any idea how this conflict could be resolved in a way which would satisfy both themselves and their local authorities?
I cannot think that an adversarial approach to these new regulations will benefit anybody, least of all the children concerned. If we take as given that change is coming and that home education in this country will be regulated and governed for the first time by laws which explicitly recognise its existence, then the only question remaining is how parents adapt to those laws and help mould the local authority practice. I do not wish to be a Cassandra, but I can easily see that if home educating parents launch a campaign of non-cooperation, this will ultimately lead to court proceedings and trauma for children who have been withdrawn from school for bullying. I don't think this will be to anybody's advantage.