I remarked a few days ago that those opposed to wholly unregulated home education are once again being told that they will have "blood on their hands". Baroness Deech is the latest such person. This phrase was first used of Graham Badman of course and quickly proved counter-productive when it led to the denial of several Freedom of Information requests. The idea behind this accusation about "blood on their hands" is that vulnerable children are liable to die if any obstacles are placed in their parents' path when they wish to deregister them from school. This may be so, but what is absolutely undeniable is that children have already died as a direct result of the ease with which it is currently possible to withdraw a child from school.
Khyra Ishaq is of course one such child and another was fifteen year old Scarlett Keeling, whose mother withdrew her from school supposedly in order to home educate her. Her pedagogic technique consisted of wandering off to India with the child, who subsequently had the most educational experience of having sex on a beach in Goa with a number of men, one of whom killed her. From a purely educational viewpoint and leaving aside all safeguarding issues, I surely cannot be alone in thinking that she would have received a better education in an English classroom.
Now of course, this is not to suggest for a moment that home educated children are any more likely than those at school to be murdered. They are not. I am just pointing out that although restricting the practice of home education may lead to the deaths of children, not restricting it already has caused such deaths.
If those who agitate for regulation of home education are supposed to have "blood on their hands" for any resultant deaths, then I suppose that the same must logically apply to the people who have been campaigning for years for the practice to be completely free and unrestricted. The best parallel I can think of is with rock climbing. Traditionally, people climb with ropes and safety harnesses, everything is done in a particular way and the aim is to take as much care as is humanly possible. Then there are free climbers, who simply climb up without any precautions and take a lot of risks. Now I think that is absolutely fine; if somebody wishes to take chances like that, that's their business. I have done things like that myself and it was nobody's business but mine. Suppose though, that I had encouraged others to follow my lead and started discouraging people from using ropes and other safety aids? I might be alright on a rock face, but suppose some of those who followed me were not able to cope? What if they took their kids up there in the same way? I would be at least partly responsible for any subsequent accident.
This is pretty much what has happened with home education. The existing school system, while certainly not perfect, has grown over the years with the aim of doing the best for the greatest possible number of children. Inevitably, it fails children from time to time. Those who take their children out of school are like the free climbers whom I spoke of above. There is no reason why they should not take a risk like this, although of course when their gamble involves the education of children, other considerations must apply. But by starting organisations which encourage others to take this serious step, they must share responsibility when an atmosphere is created in which any parent can simply pull her kid out of school with no prior warning, whether or not she is capable of providing an education for her child. There is no doubt that whatever happened subsequently, Khyra Ishaq's mother genuinely intended to teach her own children. She bought workbooks and other educational resources, but of course found that she was not up to the job. This is an extreme case, but I have seen other children whose parents have deregistered them and then found that they can't really ensure that their child is being educated.
Thirty or forty years ago, mothers like Khyra Ishaq's would not have considered for a moment taking their children out of school. They would have been afraid of the truancy officer knocking on the door. The current climate, where parents feel able to remove their children from school willy nilly, has been created by groups such as Education Otherwise. If Graham Badman and Baroness Deech really can be said to have "blood on their hands" because they wish to rein in home education a little, then those who helped create the situation where Scarlett Keeling's mother could just take her out of school and whisk her off to India, must also be thought to have blood on their hands due to the unintended consequences of their actions.