I feel a little sorry for the Welsh home educator who commented here yesterday, saying what a pleasure it was to find a place where home education could be discussed without the quarrelsome and ill -mannered antics of those on some of the home education lists and forums. No sooner had she said this, than some of the more aggressive types zoomed in and showed her that this blog was not a safe space after all! It would be interesting, incidentally, to know how many of those commenting here are, like her, Welsh and so likely to be affected by the laws being proposed by the Welsh Assembly. Anyway, back to the desirability or otherwise of changing the law.
When the Children Schools and Families Bill was about to be passed a couple of years ago, with its provision for the compulsory registration of home education, the assertion was made that such registration and monitoring would harm home educated children. The same suggestion is now being made about the proposed measures in Wales. Commenting here yesterday, somebody claimed that this sort of thing was bad because:
less confident home-educators, who are, nevertheless, doing a better job than schools, may be harmed, along with their children.
This is the sort of thing home educators often say whenever anybody wants to change the law. I was myself mentioned in the blog Dare to Know, as somebody who would have 'blood on his hands' if the parts of the CSF Bill relating to home education were to be passed! Statements like this are a bit true, but wholly misleading. For example, I might say that black people are lazy. Well, this is true as far as it goes; after all there are lazy black people. It is misleading though, because of course not all black people are lazy. So suggesting that home educated children will be harmed by this or that new regulation or law may be true, but misleading because not all children will be harmed. Some may be harmed, but others will benefit. So in a sense, both the local authorities and the more militant home educators are both right. The LAs say that registration and monitoring will benefit some home educated children and home educators say that some children will be harmed. This is what it is like in the real world; nothing is black and white and whatever you do, there will be bad consequences for somebody!
Let us draw a comparison with the introduction of compulsory seat belts some years ago. If at the time, I had campaigned against the proposed legislation by claiming that children would be killed and injured as a direct result of this law, I would have appeared to be a bit of a crank. Still, that is probably what has happened. Because drivers feel safer when they and their passengers are wearing seatbelts, they tend to drive faster. This is bad news for pedestrians in built up areas and is likely to end in more pedestrian casualties than when the cars were travelling more slowly. This of course has led to campaigns to reduce the speed limit in certain places. However, those actually in cars are far less likely to be killed and injured when they are wearing seatbelts, so on balance it was a good idea. This is because lots of children travel in cars and there are fewer on bicycles or foot; the net result is fewer children being injured in road accidents.
Introducing a law to regulate home education would be very similar to this situation. Some children would suffer harm, but others would benefit. In order to work out if it is a good plan or not, we have to consider a number of factors. For example, some home educated children are already suffering harm, although others are benefiting enormously from being home educated. A new law would change the balance, with perhaps more children benefiting and fewer suffering harm. Or perhaps it would be the other way round!
Simply stating that home educated children would suffer harm if new legislation were to be passed is utterly meaningless. Of course some will suffer harm, just as some are already suffering. What we must do, and it is not at all an easy proposition, is discover the relative proportions of the increase or decrease in those likely to suffer harm and those who will probably benefit. Then we must somehow calculate the proportions of those being benefited and harmed under the current arrangements. We also need to define just what we mean by 'harm' and 'benefit'.
None of this is straightforward and many of the suggested benefits and much of the supposed harm is pretty vague and intangible. In a sense, there is no fundamental difference between the views of home educating parents and those of most local authorities. Both sides know that some home educated children benefit from the education they receive. Both know also that some children are harmed by being withdrawn from school and educated at home. The debate hinges around the exact proportions involved and this is where the crux of the matter lies.
There is no such thing as a perfect human system or institution. Always, there are victims and winners. This is true of home education, just as it is with schools. I do not see this as grounds for doing nothing and declaring that no change should ever be undertaken. I can see ways that I think that schools could be improved and I can also see scope for new ways of organising home education. My suspicion is that those who oppose any change in the field of education are probably the sort of reactionaries who just do not like new ideas and new ways of doing things. I can understand this; the older I get, the less fond I am of change myself! However, there is a powerful reason for changing the law and this is that the present legal situation is not at all clear. This ambiguity leads to conflict, because sometimes local authorities overstep the mark because they genuinely believe that they have powers which they do not possess. If the precise duties of both parents and local authorities were to be set out in plain language, then I think it likely that there would be less antagonism and confrontation as a consequence, because everybody would know where they stood.