There can be no doubt at all that children in this country have certain rights. That being so, then others must inevitably have corresponding duties to see that children are able to exercise, or at the very least are not prevented from exercising, those rights. Where do these rights come from? My own view is that the Lord has given us these rights and duties and that they are set out clearly in the Bible. Others would argue that only a raving madman would claim to be basing his life upon the myth system of a Bronze Age Bedouin tribe! Perhaps we should adopt a more up-to-date and modern approach, believing that the rights which our children enjoy are those given to them by the law of the land.
What sort of rights do children in this country have? For one, they have a firm right to an education between the ages of five and sixteen. Who has the duty for ensuring that they receive this education? We do, as parents. This is all perfectly clear and straightforward. Do children have any other rights? Well, they have the right to the five outcomes of the Every Child matters document. This is underpinned by the 2004 Children Act. Who has the duty to see that our children have access to these five outcomes? There is no doubt at all about that. The local authority has the duty of seeing that children in their area are getting access to the outcomes of Every Child Matters. The only difference is that in one case the duty devolves upon us as parents and in the other upon the local authority. This is tricky. How did I know whether or not my own daughter was receiving her entitlement to a full time education, suitable to her age and aptitude? That's easy, I knew because I saw her every day and was able to judge her development. Could I have known this without seeing her? Probably not. What about the local authority? They too have a duty towards our children. Can they fulfil their duties towards our children without actually seeing them? Can they judge whether or not our children are healthy, safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic wellbeing? It is unlikely that they will be able to establish that children are doing all those things without meeting them, and yet they have a duty in law to see that children in their area actually have access to all those outcomes listed in the Every Child Matters document.
If we accept that our children have a right to an education and that this right comes not from God but from Parliament, then the rights associated with the 2004 Children Act are no less important than the ones conferred by the Education Act 1996, which entitles them to an education. Both lots of rights come from the same source, the only difference being that parents have the duty to ensure that one right is secured and local authorities have the duty to see that the children get the other set of rights.
In short, we as parents are not the only people who have duties towards our children. Nor are the five outcomes of Every Child Matters the only rights which our children have that others have a duty to secure for them. It seems pretty clear that however much we as home educators wish to claim that we alone are responsible for our children and their welfare, this is not the case; either ethically or legally. Others do have a legitimate interest in our children.
Of course, we could of course say that we are only answerable to the Lord for our rights and duties, but this raises another, even greater, problem. Imagine the situation faced by the Canaanite Education Department around 2000 BC. There's Abraham with his son Isaac. They wish to know if the child is receiving a suitable education, but Abraham refuses to discuss the matter. He says that God is giving him the instructions about his child directly; he does not accept any human advice on the matter. Next thing they know, Abraham is up on Mount Moriah with the child tied up and laying on a pile of wood . Abraham says that he is going to cut the child's throat and offer the boy up to the Lord as a sacrifice. It's OK though, it's nobody else's business; the Lord has told him what to do! This would be a pretty unsatisfactory situation even during the Bronze Age. In the Twenty First Century it would be intolerable.
It seems to me an inescapable fact that society has a right to watch over our children to see that they do not come to harm. This is because parents are not always the best judges of what is good for their children. I think that in the case cited above, the Canaanites would have been pretty negligent in allowing Abraham to go ahead with what he evidently saw as a desirable otcome for his young son. It also seems to me that whether we think that our duties towards our children come from God or from Parliament, we must accept that others have a hand in ensuring that our children have access to those rights we which have a duty to secure for them.