One has to feel sorry for Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education. He played a blinder when he was in opposition by pretending to be outraged at the plans for regulating home education. Who can blame him? It was such a fantastic chance to embarrass the Labour government and help scupper one of their flagship bills. Still, it is looking increasingly as though this unprincipled piece of realpolitic will be coming back to haunt him in the future.
Gove apparently thought that his Academies Bill, about to be rammed through parliament at breakneck speed, would be a real godsend for home educating parents. The fact that he believed this shows that he no more understands home education than Ed Balls did. Gove is puzzled that so few home educating parents seem interested in setting up so-called free schools. To him, it is the perfect solution and he has told colleagues that he is bewildered that the home educators are not queuing up to start their own schools and abandon this mad idea of educating their own children at home. Combined with the fact that after the passage of his wise and good measures all the schools in England will become world class academies, he really can't understand why anybody wouldn't want their kids to go to school. He does not seem to realise that most home educating parents wish to educate their children at home and not send them to some hastily rebranded comprehensive.
June was not a good month for Michael Gove and his dealings with home education. His announcement that groups of parents would be able to set up free schools on the 'Swedish Model' in disused shops and garages coincided with news from Sweden that home education was to be banned entirely and that the free schools would be obliged to follow a state imposed curriculum. Is that the kind of 'Swedish Model' that he had in mind? At the same time, Ofsted published their survey of home education and local authorities, in which they called for compulsory registration of all home educators. Gove's response was to say that his department was examining the current situation. In the next few days, the Serious Case Review into the death of Khyra Ishaq is due to be published. It is quite possible that this will try and blame unregulated home education for the child's death, thus piling on the pressure for Gove to do something. As if that was not bad enough, the rumour is that another high profile case of abuse in a home educating family is due to hit the headlines in the next month or so.
This then is the bind in which Michael Gove finds himself. On the one hand he has said publicly that he admires the fantastic job done by home educators. On the other hand, there is hardly a teacher, social worker, local authority officer or civil servant in the country who does not believe that the practice of home education needs to be regulated in a new way. This dilemma is matched by another. On the one hand the coalition is talking of handing power back to the people and ending the statist approach which characterised the Labour government, but on the other hand Cameron and his cronies are populists, always seeking to give the people what they think they want. Listening to the reactions to Khyra ishaq's death, I am guessing that what ordinary people want would be increased regulation of home education in order to prevent further tragedies of this sort.
In the normal way of things, this would be the signal for the launch of a government enquiry. But hang on a moment, didn't we have one of those last year? Of course we did and it recommended increased regulation of home education. Any new enquiry would certainly say the same thing, because that is the view of everybody working in the field of education.
I shall be interested to see how Gove deals with the question of home education in the coming months. He would look like a right one if after all he said in opposition he then went ahead with new laws on home education. On the other hand, an announcement in the wake of some new tragedy that the government were determined to take a tough line on this would certainly play well with the vast majority of voters. My guess is that he will, at least for now, sit tight and hope that he can forget about the business entirely.