A couple of days ago, I looked at the idea that there might be a plan to destroy home education by burdening parents with so many restrictions and regulations as eventually to stifle it entirely. I concluded and most people I think agreed, that there was no such overall plan, more a number of separate trends which all tended to make life difficult, particularly for autonomously educating parents. Today, I want to look at a similar point. Why do local authorities wish to interfere in the matter at all? Why can't they just leave home educators to get on with it?
Well, why do local authorities, some more than others, actually fuss about home education? A number of possibilities suggest themselves. One is that this is just busybodying for the sake of it. Another explanation would be that local authorities wish to promote schools as the only appropriate places for educating children; that they are opposed on principle to home education. A third possibility is that they genuinely care about home educated children and worry that they are either at hazard or are not receiving a good education. Let us look at these hypotheses in turn.
There is no doubt at all that local authorities like to poke their nose in other people's business. They do it all the time. Whether it is how we are disposing of our rubbish or the height of out hedges, it seems that the council are always hovering about ready and willing to interfere. Could it be that this is at the bottom of their interest in home education? Just a mania to regulate for the sake of regulation? If this were the case, then I would expect local authorities to pester all home educating parents with forms and paperwork and generally to make a nuisance of themselves with all home educators. They do not.
Rather, they focus usually on those about whom there are concerns from other agencies, those known to children's social care for example. They make a point often of making early contact with families who withdraw their children from school and about whom the school has expressed unease. A number of local authorities take more interest in uneducated parents who intend to educated their children and also in those who say that they are doing so autonomously. All this looks as though local authorities target those children who, rightly or wrongly, they feel to be at risk of failing educationally or to be at some sort of risk for reasons unconnected with home education. In other words, it does not look as though they are determined to crack down on home education as such, but only specific groups of home educators.
What of the idea that local authorities see school as the best and most appropriate place for children to be educated? Again, the evidence for this is weak. Even LAs where some parents have had problems, seem quite happy for certain parents to home educate. Most local authorities now have a bit about home education on their websites and are happy to provide parents with information about this option. There is no feeling that home education as such is a cause for concern. The fact that so few home educating parents are made the subject of School Attendance Orders also argues strongly for the idea that most local authorities do not have a problem with home education as such. Only perhaps with certain types of home education or particular groups.
Lastly, what of the possibility that local authorities act as they do out of genuine worries about some home educated children? Here, the evidence is stronger. Some militant autonomous educators complain of local authorities taking actions which are, strictly speaking, ultra vires. For instance, they may urge parents to follow a curriculum, ask for a plan of work, insist on home visits and so on. I cannot offhand think of any reason for such behaviour other than that they are concerned about a number of particular children being taught at home. The concern may be misplaced. They may be wrong to feel anxious about children whose parents are opposed on principle to teaching them or deciding what their children should learn. It is however these families that many LAs focus upon. This makes it look as though the officers in these authorities are targetting those very children who they feel will not thrive academically through home education. In short, they do so because they are anxious about the welfare of these children. It is this which has motivated them to appeal for stricter regulation of home education. They may be wrong, but they have no motive more sinister than the desire to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society - our children.