A difficulty with some home educating parents is that once they have been out of touch with mainstream education for a while, they rather forget how things work. This is leading to yet another confrontation, this time regarding the alternative provision funding which Westminster makes to local authorities for children under sixteen who attend colleges rather than schools.
I must say, before I point out why this scheme is doomed, that I cannot for the life of me see why any parent in her senses would want to send her fourteen year-old daughter to a further education college, where she would be mixing at once not with other fourteen year-olds, but with young men of eighteen or nineteen. This seems quite mad to me, but then it is really no affair of mine. Let us ask why local authorities, schools and colleges would all be very wary about such an enterprise and probably try and stop it dead in its tracks if humanly possible.
What we have to bear in mind is that many fourteen year-olds currently at school, particularly the more mature ones, do not like being kept at school. They hate being treated as children, dislike wearing uniform, do not really want to call adults ‘Sir’ or need to ask permission to visit the lavatory and so on. They remain at school because most of their parents are unable or unwilling to educate them at home. If a method existed though whereby they could simply move from school to college and study there, there would be a great demand for it. In the last few months, it has started to become known that this is possible. All the parents have to do is de-register their children, allow them to ’deschool’ by watching television or playing computer games for a few months and then apply for a place at college. I know of at least one parent who has been bounced into doing this by her fourteen year-old son. She would not have dreamed of home educating, but is quite happy for her son to transfer to the local college. If the idea becomes widely known and catches on, there will be many more such parents.
If the present trickle were to become a flood, this would cause a massive change in further education colleges. At the moment, because nearly all the students are over sixteen, nobody needs to worry much about things like the age of consent, which kids are heading off to the pub at lunchtime, stringent child protection policies and a host of other things. If it is known that two students of seventeen have nipped back to somebody’s house and had sex at lunchtime; nobody cares. The situation would be very different if the place had a substantial proportion of fourteen and fifteen year-olds. It would quickly become a nightmare, with the lecturers having to assume the responsibilities of teachers acting in loco parentis. The students at college are currently past the age of compulsory education and this affects how the staff view them. This too would change if there were a lot of fourteen year-olds about.
There are other problems. The funding would tend to flow form the schools to the colleges. This would screw up the finances for local authorities. What would be the reaction for the general public if instead of children being kept on school premises, they were wandering around the town at all sorts of odd times? Why just fourteen year-olds? Why not thirteen or even eleven and twelve year-olds?
As long as arrangements of this sort were informal and rare, nobody much minded the occasional fourteen year-old attending college to study. It has been going on from time to time for many years. This is quite a different thing from making it an official policy of which anybody may take advantage. One final point and this really does puzzle me, is this. I can understand parents wishing to assume responsibility for their fourteen year-old child’s education; I did so myself. If they no longer wish to do so, if they want others to undertake the job on their behalf, then there exists a nationwide network of institutions dedicated to that end. Such places are present in even the smallest villages and will educate children whose parents do not wish to do so for themselves. These places are called schools and if home educating parents wish to stop educating their children at home then they can always send them to one of these establishments. Why must home educators try to ensure that the entire secondary educational system in the country is altered, indeed revolutionised, for their convenience?