I am always delighted, as I have remarked before, to see particularly flagrant examples of hypocrisy and double-dealing. We saw one such yesterday, when it was suggested that local authorities who do not believe that children are being provided with a suitable and efficient education should issue a School Attendance Order. Why, they have all the powers they need already, you know. I have not the slightest doubt that the people who write this sort of thing know perfectly well that it is not true. Similarly, the person who commented that educational philosophies were not enough and that local authorities should expect a good deal more than that alone as evidence that an education is taking place was being less than candid. Let us look at those two points and see what we can make of them.
Local authorities do ask for evidence that children are receiving an education. The easiest thing would be for the local authority officer to drop round and have a chat with the kid, let him show some of his work and talk about it. This of course won't answer, because as is well known the children of home educating parents are liable to have nervous breakdowns, screaming fits or go into status epilepticus if they are introduced to an unknown adult. Lord knows what happens in such homes when the man comes round to read the meter! Presumably the child has a blanket thrown over his head and is put in a darkened room to recover. Without visiting, how is evidence provided to the local authority? Ah, I know. Perhaps the exercise books for the last year or so, containing essays about plays that have been studied, diagrams of the nitrogen cycle, what the child has been learning about the Tudors; that sort of thing? Why no, this won't be forthcoming; the family are autonomous, you see. Well what about notebooks where the child has pursued an interest of his own, made detailed observation of an ants' nest or something of that sort? Written material about some interest of his own? Unfortunately not, because although he is twelve, his parents have not yet got round to teaching him to read and write. He is illiterate and can just about scrawl his own name in block capitals. ( This is no exaggeration by the way. The teenage sons of three very well known home educating parents are functionally illiterate because their parents had ideological objections to teaching them to read and write).
Perhaps the best thing to do for the evidence is for the mother to submit a diary, accompanied by photographs. We know quite a bit about this scam, because parents on some home education lists who have the wind up when the local authority have been in touch ask how to produce such evidence, then post asking for advice on how to deal with this crisis. Easy peasy! Just pretend that your son is studying biology by practical work in the garden. Take a few pictures of him looking thoughtfully at a beanstalk and then scribble a few pages of a supposed diary. Photocopy this and send the copies and the pictures to the local authority. Be sure to quote the appropriate law when you do so. This will make the local authority realise that although your kid is growing up pitifully ignorant and unable even to write his own address, it would be impossible to prove this to a lay magistrate.
This is the way in which many children in this country are denied an education, in defiance of both their legal and moral rights. The local authority can only issue an SAO if it appears to them that the child is not receiving an education. On the evidence sent, it is possible that he is; it is equally likely that he is not. If they do take action, all the home education lists will at once be aware of the fact and without knowing the facts will offer their unqualified support for the parent concerned. There will be the expense of prosecuting, negative publicity and at the end of it all, the magistrate might not choose to allow the prosecution anyway. Little wonder that few School Attendance Orders are ever issued.