Yesterday I posted a humorous piece about the fact that I am often being told that I have no place in the debate on home education because I am no longer a home educator; the reason for this being that my daughter is now seventeen and attending a Further Education College. Somebody commented with the surprising news that those who make this objection are not really saying this at all. They are rather complaining that I am 'attempting to limit the freedoms of current and future home educators', instead of trying to maintain these freedoms or offering help to other home educators. Apparently, by not understanding this convoluted metaphor, I am 'displaying my ignorance'! Well it sounds a bit odd to me. Why can't these people just say what they mean? Why not say, 'You are attempting to limit the freedoms of home educators', rather than 'You are no longer a home educator'? Still, let us assume that this is true and see where such a claim might lead us.
The first thing to say at once is that although I am pretty nifty with words, I doubt if there exist in the English language adjectives powerful enough adequately to convey the depth of my indifference to the 'freedoms of home educators', if by these are meant the freedoms of those adults responsible for furnishing children with an education. Those supposed freedoms are right down there with 'parents' rights'. I have no interest in them whatsoever and never have had. My only concern as far as home education goes lies in the right of children to receive an education. Nothing else really matters to me in this debate. So anybody hoping to engage me on the topic of 'home educators' freedoms' or 'parents' rights' might as well spare their breath.
Let me set out the perspective from which I have always worked and then explain why I feel that my aim is actually precisely congruent with that of all other home educators. (And for that matter every local authority officer and civil servant at the Department for Education). I educated my own child. I did so because I felt that I could provide her with a better education than that on offer at the local maintained schools. For this reason, I would have fought hard against any attempt to make her go to school. She was entitled to the best education available and was receiving it. This had nothing whatsoever to do with my 'freedom as a home educator'. She had a right to an education and was getting it. If I had not been able to provide an education at least as good as that on offer at a nearby school, then her right would have been to go to school. This seems to me to be quite clear. My freedom to educate her would not have entered the question. She was entitled to the best education available.
Because parents have a legal duty to cause their children to receive an education, a right is created for the child to receive an education. Duties create rights and rights create duties. In this case the duty creates a right for the child, but no corresponding right for the parent is created. Talk of the 'freedoms of home educators' is absurd.
The current system is not perfect; no human invention can ever be that. Some children are not receiving a good education. This is the case with those at school and it is also the case with children being educated at home. If we change the law or revise the 2007 guidelines for local authorities, there will still be some children who are not receiving a decent education. There is nothing we can do about this; it is in the nature of the Universe. I assume that everybody concerned with home education in whatever capacity is acting with good will. I assume this of the local authority officers, the autonomous home educators who despise me for a Quisling and also of people like Graham Badman. I take it for granted that they all hope that as many children as possible will receive a good education. I believe that the home educators who oppose any change in the status quo want this and I also assume that the people at the Department for Education want the same thing. I certainly want this very strongly. In other words, all parties acknowledge the right of children to receive a good education. Everybody also knows that some children are not getting an education. This is what I meant earlier when I said that my aims were congruent with those of other home educators.
As things stand, some home educated children are receiving a good education while others are not. If we change things, then some home educated children will begin to receive a better education than they had been doing. Of course at the same time, the education of some other children will be compromised and their education will be worse than it was before. We cannot fully foresee the consequences of any action or inaction. All parties want the greatest number of children to be receiving an education; they have different ideas on how to go about achieving this end.
I have been accused of wishing to erode the 'freedoms of home educators'. As I think that I have made clear, this simply does not enter my thinking for a moment. As things stand, the current system with regard to home education is letting down a number of children. I think that there is scope for improvement; I do not believe that the system we now have is the best that can be possibly devised by men and women. It has arisen accidentally and owes more to Edwardian court cases than it does to any rational consideration of the situation in the twenty first century. I would like to see a new arrangement, one which would more robustly secure for children their right to a good education.
We are all of us working towards the same aim. I feel that the measures which I support would maximise the numbers of home educated children who received a good education. Those who oppose any change feel the same thing. Local authorities believe that their own policies will also tend towards this end. I feel just as strongly as others about this subject; the only difference being perhaps that I am able to behave in a fairly good natured way over it. Those who claim that I am attempting to limit the freedoms of home educators are quite wrong; I simply do not care about these so-called freedoms. I care about the right of children to an education and have in the past worked hard to secure this right, both for my own child and the children of others. I shall continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Portraying this current debate as some Manichaean struggle between the forces of darkness on the one hand and a noble and heroical band of parents fighting for their ancient liberties on the other, is too silly for words. Everybody wants the greatest possible number of children to receive an education; we differ only in how this may be achieved.