Responsibility in this country for seeing that a child is educated rests firmly with the parents. About that, there is no argument on either side of the home education debate; parents have a duty to cause their children to be educated. The next question to ask is how do parents come to have this duty, where does it come from? The answer to this question will shed light upon the vexed question of monitoring visits.
For myself, the answer is quite simple and straightforward. I believe this duty comes from God and is part of his instructions to humanity, along with the prohibition on adultery, admonition to love my neighbour and various other commandments. However, it's often a little tricky to claim that one is doing something just because the Lord says so. After all, the Lord apparently told Peter Sutcliffe to hack up prostitutes with a screwdriver, so we need to be a bit cautious about using divine commands alone as a justification for our actions! Fortunately, in this case we don't need to. We also have the Education Act 1996 to fall back on. This too says that parents have a duty to cause their children to receive an education.
Most irreligious people are, even if they are unaware of the fact, legal positivists. Let's face it, if duties and rights don't come from God, then they must come from men and women. In the case of our society, these duties and rights are codified and then formed into laws. In other words, the duty to see that our children are educated has been bestowed upon us by law. We have many other duties and responsibilities like this, duties that parliament has given us. Paying a certain proportion of our income to the government is one such duty. Keeping your gun locked up securely in a steel cabinet if you have a firearms certificate is another. Now just because these duties have been laid upon us by parliament, does not necessarily mean that everybody will abide by them all the time. Take tax, for instance. You might think that it would be enough for the law to say that we have to pay part of our earnings and that would be the end of it. Why can't the government just trust us to do it? Why do they have to check up on us? The answer is fairly obvious. Even though we have been given a duty by law, some people will try and evade it. That is why we have tax inspectors and why the Inland Revenue have a huge range of powers to enter our homes and look at our documents.
If I wish to keep a shotgun in my house, then I must by law obtain a firearms certificate. This is my duty. I must also keep it locked up safely when I'm not actually using it. The police make regular visits to the homes of those holding firearms certificates in order to check that their arrangements are in keeping with the law. If you refuse to let them in the house, that's fine; you just lose your firearms certificate. Why can't they just take shooters' word for it? They have a duty, surely the police should just assume that people are observing this duty? It's outrageous, they won't take anybody's word for it, but insist on checking their homes regularly!
It is, when you think about it, quite sensible. Parliament thrusts these duties upon us whether we want them or not. Clearly, some of us will try to wriggle out of our duties if the state isn't watching. And so the next logical step is that if parliament lays a duty or responsibilty upon us, they will also want to check that we are actually undertaking this duty and not shirking it because we think we can get away with it. Makes sense really. So when we have a duty to pay tax, the government appoint people to check that we are doing so. Otherwise some people might be tempted not to pay the full amount. Similarly, the law lays a duty on those holding firearms certificates to keep their weapons securely locked up. To make sure that some fool isn't leaving a loaded twelve bore leaning against the wall in the living room, the government gets the police to pop round from time to time to make sure that this particular duty is being adhered to. And of course in precisely the same way, when we are given a duty by parliament to see that our children are being educated, the government assumes that some people will avoid this duty. They want to get somebody to visit every so often to see whether citizens are also undertaking this duty.
The duties which we have are, if not from God, then simply the free creation of human minds. The implications of this idea are profound and I have sketched some of them above. The conclusion is inescapable, if the duty has been devised by men and women and imposed upon us, then it is perfectly reasonable for those same men and women to check that we are fulfilling this duty. Causing our children to receive a suitable education is just one of many duties which we have under law. As with many other of those duties, the government likes to check up from time to time that we are actually doing it and following the law.