Over the last few millenia there have been many debates as to what constitutes "a good education". The Greeks had one idea, the Romans another. Through the Renaissance and into the Age of Enlightenment, learned men and women struggled to define just what we mean by "education" and what makes one type of education better than another. Her Majesty's Government are racked by no such doubts and concerns. They know that a good education is one which results in the passing of at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and Mathematics.
I would imagine that few home educators subscribe to such a narrow view of a good education as does our present government. We are left with a slight problem. How do we know if a home educated child has received, or is receiving, a "good education"? This is a question of more than academic importance. The suspicion is that if the Children, Schools and Families Bill is passed, then some home educated children will as a result find themselves compelled to return to school. If some of the less restrained parents are to be believed, this could end with nervous breakdowns and even suicides. That being so, the search for a definition of a "good education" could conceivably be regarded as a matter of life and death!
Many home educating parents speak glowingly of what one might call the intangible benefits of home education. The leisurely and stress-free pace of the process, the empathy and compassion which they see in their children, the freedom to develop as who they wish to be, rather than mindless robots taking the same string of GCSEs as the other thirty kids in their class. All this is well enough and I am sure that such parents have a point. However, Kindness and altruism are traits which most parents see in their children; these characteristics need not be limited to those taught at home. There is also an effort to allow children a greater choice in which examinations they will take, so that the children in a class of thirty might all have what are known as individualised learning plans. In other words, some of the supposed benefits of home education are, at least in theory, being extended to the state school system.
If parents of home educated children wish to persuade everybody else that their children are actually getting some benefit from home education, then they are going to have to come up with a demonstrable, objective measure of just what it is that those children are getting. This might prove relatively easy for children with special educational needs. Relaxed, one-to-one tuition and activities designed to stimulate the child can often be provided better at home than in a crowded and understaffed unit. Similarly, those whose children were bullied may well be able to make out a case on safeguarding grounds, although it remains to be seen how this will be viewed under the new laws. This still leaves the great mass of home educated children. Those of normal ability whose parents simply prefer having them at home. I am wondering what, if any reasons the parents of such children will be able to give for not coaching and entering their children for examinations, assuming of course that all the recommendations of the Badman Report are implemented and that access to GCSEs is assured.
In short, how will these parents show that their children are receiving a good education, at least as good as that offered by the local schools? If five GCSEs is not the preferred measure of education for such people, what is? What do most home educating parents mean by an education? How will they define it in such a way that the local authority will readily be able to distinguish the child at home who is not taking GCSEs and is never the less receiving a good education and another child who is not taking GCSEs because his parents don't want to go to all the trouble of teaching him? What is the defintion of a good home education, if not five GCSEs?
I am not the only person asking such questions and musing about this subject. If the Children, Schools and Families Bill does become law, then every home educating parent in the land will need to be considering this very question before too long. It might be as well to start now!