Monday, 25 January 2010

What the future holds

I have been re-reading Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution and one idea to be found there puts me in mind of the current situation with home education in this country. This is the notion that the Bolsheviks had that they were the "Vanguard of the Proletariat". The idea being that ordinary people cannot articulate their desires and need a small group of ideologues to do it for them and explain how things work and what to do next. I have a suspicion that some of the more voceiferous home educators, especially in organisations such as EO and HE-UK see themselves in just such a role.

The truth is, very few parents are actively involved in groups like Education Otherwise. Sure, many people join when they deregister their children from school, but most do not really become active. Ironically, many join on the advice of their local authority, many of who include details of EO on their own websites. A lot of people who don't actually join, look to these organisations for advice, join the lists and so on. It is of course people like Education Otherwise, HEAS and so on who have spearheaded the resistance to Graham Badman and the new Children, Schools and Families Bill. I think it fair to say that many parents, having found out about home education from the Internet, withdraw their children from school in the belief that it is an easy process and that the powers of local authorities are strictly limited.

In effect, we have a hard core of perhaps a few thousand dedicated home educators who fight campaigns, run groups and advise parents. In addition to that, there are perhaps another forty or fifty thousand, perhaps many more, who have taken their children out of school or never sent them in the first place. They are not particularly active in the home education world, but are comfortable in the knowledge that by and large their local authority will leave them be for most of the time. The dedicated hard core will of course continue to home educate, come what may. They will fight and campaign, organise petitions, lobby MPs and so on. It is the great mass of home educating parents that I am curious about; the ones who deregistered their children because they were assured that they could do so and nobody could stop them. I wonder what they will do when the going hots up a little over the next year or two?

Home education in this country has grown tremendously over the last decade or so. There are a number of reasons, not least the access to reliable information which the Internet affords everybody. Movements like this however ebb and flow. One moment, they are the big craze and then a few years later hardly anybody is doing it. I have no doubt that several thousand enthusiasts will stick at it, but I suspect that many of the hangers on and camp followers, those who only started because it was easy and increasingly popular, will fall by the wayside. It is one thing to send in an educational philosophy, or photographs of your kid building a treehouse or something. It will be quite another when the locla authority are breathing down your neck and asking what you are actually teaching the child! I am guessing that once the new act comes into force, if it does, then local authorities will move quickly with a few School Attendance Orders and perhaps prosecutions. This would at once put the wind up anybody who wasn't fully committed to the business. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see half the kids who are currently being taught at home, being returned to school in the first year or so.

Of course home education will remain an option for the truly dedicated, but the truly dedicated are always a small minority of any movement. Anybody who has started on this path without huge committment, and there are many such, will almost certainly throw in the towel. It will not mean the end of home education, but it will mean that those who home educate will have to be pretty determined and prepared to put some hard work in.

1 comment:

  1. Of course another factor would be the families' experience of school. It will be interesting to see what happens when local authorities start issuing SAOs or bringing prosecutions only to find a parent with a collection of thick folders documenting the same LA's failure to provide a suitable education in school. The LA might not be bothered about the child's education, of course, but might be deterred by the cost of pursuing legal action against a parent whose counter-accusations might prove expensive. I predict a good deal of brinkmanship and bad feeling should this legislation go through, rather than hordes of home-educated children meekly returning to the school fold.