Thursday, 6 September 2012
The Education select committee hearing on September 5th 2012
The witnesses who gave evidence about home education to the select committee were a remarkably homogenous bunch; all female, all white, all aged between forty and sixty five, all well spoken and probably all well educated as well. Most intriguing of all, every single one of them spoke in that same quiet, patient way that teachers and social workers do. This was eerie! In a sense, the whole session was a little like the three card trick. Many people are concerned that not all parents are capable of providing a proper education to their children and so eight women are presented who nobody in their senses would doubt for a moment are able to give their kids a decent education. It would have been interesting to put eight of the less sane and articulate home educators in front of the MPs and see what they made of them.
Despite the fact that Graham Stuart is now the Chair of the committee, I picked up on the fact that there seemed to be an appetite for some sort of registration among other members. This is because two facts emerged clearly. The first was that nobody knows how many children in this country are not at school because their parents are supposedly educating them at home. The second was that nobody has the least idea how many of those children are actually receiving an education. There were valiant attempts to obscure these facts, notably when Fiona Nicholson made the astonishingly untruthful claim that we know precisely how many children are being educated at home, because we have the figures from the local authorities. Incidentally, I watched with bated breath when Fiona was asked whether she was in favour of a simple scheme which would mean the registration of all home educated children. Great amusement was caused three years ago, when she gave evidence to the select committee at that time. Despite being asked by the then Chair several times, she appeared uncertain as to whether she was in favour of registration and he finally put her down as a ’Don’t know’! This time, she was ready and answered crisply and firmly as soon as the question was asked.
I have an idea that several members of the select committee smelt a rat when presented with such a clearly intelligent and well-informed group of women. They were clearly not typical of the sort of parent with whom many local authorities come into contact and about the children of whom there is such concern. Although there was no talk of monitoring this time, the idea of registration was definitely in the air. I would not be surprised if that actually happened in the end. It would of course not be the end of the matter, particularly if events in Wales follow their current course. Whether compulsory registration of home educated children would be a good or bad thing is a debatable point, but I have an idea that it is the direction that many people’s minds may be moving. It might seem like some to be a reasonable compromise between the wishes of the local authorities and the strong feelings of many home educators; a bare minimum to which few reasonable parents could object.