We saw last year that somewhere in the region of 2% or 3% of home educating parents were opposed enough to the Children, Schools and Families Bill to sign petitions against it. How did the rest feel about it? If they were all madly in favour, why didn't they organise pro-legislation picnics or start signing petitions asking for new regulations? In other words, how did the great majority of home educators actually feel about the idea of registration, annual visits and so on? In order to answer this, we must examine the difference between how ordinary citizens act and how they wish their society to be ruled.
Let's start with a simple example. many of us buy pirate DVDs. We do this , despite the fact that we are aware that this is breaking the law of copyright and indeed sometimes of theft. By doing this, we are not saying that we wish for the law on theft and copyright to be abolished. We most of us recognise that such laws are necessary, it is just that we feel that they should not be applied to us there, at that moment. Most people do this a lot: break or ignore rules, regulations and laws. We do not really disapprove of them, just wish to ignore them. For instance, five years ago a new section of the building regulations was introduced which made it illegal for anybody but a qualified electrician to carry out certain work. Now like most people, I still tinker with sockets and light switches, but I am aware that the law forbids it. I was irritated by the new law, but recognised that it was sensible. Many DIY enthusiasts campaigned about this in the same way that home educators opposed the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Even so, most knew that it was a sensible precaution.
I have remarked before that while some home educating parents were vociferously opposed to the bill and although some actually welcomed more help from their local authority, the vast majority probably felt the way that I did about home education. That is to say they wished simply to get on with without being bothered by the council with forms, visits and so on. I certainly did not volunteer to register myself with the local authority and many parents feel exactly the same way. However when we were stopped by a truancy patrol, although I did not have to give my name and address, I did so. Why? Because the local authority also have a job to do and it might make it easier for them if I sometimes cooperate! Besides, in general I think it a good thing that they do know how many children in their area are being educated at home.
As I said to begin with, most of us do things every day that violate some rule, law or principle. We don't actually want the laws to be abolished, but we feel that they should not apply to us too strictly! This really is a common feature of human nature. So many of those parents who have not registered with their local authorities are not strongly opposed on principle to doing so. They probably regard it in general as quite right and proper for others to do so; just not them. After all, they know that they are not abusing or neglecting their child, so why should they and the council have any dealings with each other?
What reason do I have for supposing that most parents felt this way? Partly because of the great silence from the majority of them. A few hundred submissions to the Badman review and select committee, perhaps three thousand names elsewhere. The other 98% or so probably wish to be left alone, but at the same time realise that it might be a good idea for their local authority to know a little more about other home educators in the area. Not them of course! Like me, most of them know very well that their children are safe and receiving an education. This is what humans are like. We frequently behave in contradictory ways. So although I for one felt that I need not have any dealings with my local authority, I was well aware that there were others whom they really should be involved with. But my own selfish interest in avoiding fuss and paperwork meant that I would not help with such a project and instead would keep myself to myself. When I was stopped by the truancy patrol, I felt in a sense a little guilty, because I knew that it was quite reasonable for the council to wish to keep track of children out of school and all I was doing was making their job harder in order to avoid a little personal inconvenience.
We seldom welcome changes in the law which will make our own life a little more awkward, even when we recognise full well that such laws are needed. Most of us are inherently conservative in such matters and have the attitude that if the legal system has been working well enough up to this point, why change it? I suspect though, that many home educating parents realise at the back of their minds that there is a good case to be made for keeping track of children who are not at school; at the very least knowing how many there are and where they are living. Their problem is not with such a law in principle, but only in its application to them.