Underlying much of the debate among home educating parents on the possibility of increased regulation of education outside school is an assumption that there is more to this than meets the idea. One frequently reads that the government or local authorities do not really care about the children and that something else is driving this whole business. I am frankly baffled as to what this might be. I certainly had my differences with Essex County Council and they annoyed me at times, but I never doubted for a moment that they were acting in what they felt to be the interests of my daughter. Similarly, I never had reason to suppose that Ed Balls was motivated by anything other than the anxiety that some children might not have been receiving an adequate education or might have been at risk of abuse. These fears may have been mistaken, but I have no idea what else might have been at the back of the Badman Review apart from genuine, if misplaced, concern for children.
Nevertheless, many home educators feel that there is some sinister agenda of which we are not being told. This varies from an apparent desire on the part of the state to make all children the same and not to allow parents to raise future rebels and malcontents to local authorities wishing to protect themselves against job losses. Although beliefs of this sort are more properly classified as conspiracy theories, there may in some cases be a grain of truth in the anxieties which parents are feeling.
Yesterday, somebody said here that he felt that Schedule 1 of the Children, Schools and Families Act was designed for the benefit of the state rather than for children. This is classic wooly thinking; it does not seem to occur to people that what is of benefit to the state is often of benefit to individuals as well; the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. What benefit would the state have received from the passage of Schedule 1? There was no secret about this; it was set out plainly in the accompanying notes when the CSF Bill was published in 2009. One of the benefits would have been that more home educated children would have gained five GCSEs between grades A*-C. This would have raised the average earnings of these children over their lifetimes and made it less likely that they would be claiming benefits. In other words, it would have been of benefit to the child. The state would have benefited too. I say the state, but I should perhaps say society. Society would benefit because there is a direct and strong correlation between children who at the age of sixteen do not have at least five GCSEs between grades A*-C and their future life chances. To give one example. In prisons, it is extremely common to find young people without a single GCSE. Among young professionals, this is unheard of. The more and better GCSEs, the better the outlook in terms of employment and higher education for a young person. This means better earnings over the course of a lifetime. This is not to say that every home educated child without GCSEs will end up in prison of course! It does mean that out of a large group of youngsters, those without GCSEs are more likely to be unemployed and less likely to go into higher education. They are also far more likely to be involved in criminal activity, using drugs and suffering from psychiatric problems. Their health tends to be poorer as well. All this tends to lower their earnings over their lifetime.
Here is one instance where the interests of the state and of the children themselves coincide. If a young person is on benefits or in prison, it is not only bad for the young person, it is expensive for the state which is obliged to support him. When home educating parents are talking of the state not being the parent to their children, it is to be hoped that they are bearing this in mind. In other words, if they are rejecting the state's involvement in the upbringing and welfare of their children now, are they going to be doing so in the future? If their children end up with no qualifications and perhaps unemployable, will they be telling the state to get lost when it comes to providing support in the form of benefits? Here is a definite a stake that the state has in a home educated child. If in the future, society will be expected to shell out for the child when he is an adult, perhaps pay for him to be educated or trained, then I think that it is justifiable to look at his childhood and ask what might have brought him to this point.
Before anybody mentions it, yes, I am aware that many school leavers are poorly qualified and end up in prison or on the dole. And no, I have no reason to suppose that either of these outcomes are more common among home educated children. According to Mike Fortune-Wood, there are over a hundred thousand home educated children in this country. If true, this would be the equivalent of more than a hundred schools full of children. It seems to me reasonable that the state should want to know something of this large number of children, including how many of them might prove to be wholly reliant upon state benefits in the future. Poor educational outcomes are not simply a private matter between parent and child; they affect us all ultimately.