The case of the home educated children taken into care in Hackney, at which we looked yesterday, was an exceptionally revolting one. It is of wider significance though, because of the light it sheds upon the thought processes of those involved with home education. For example, I very much doubt whether Alan Thomas, who is a good-hearted and amiable old buffer, would have dreamed in a million years, when he was writing his report about this family, that somewhere on the fringes of the case was a man fantasising about somebody having sex with pre-pubescent schoolgirls. It simply would not cross the minds of most people connected with home education in this country. This is a problem.
Those who work with children, either as teachers, social workers or police officers, know that there are some pretty unpleasant adults around. Most home educating parents and academics don’t know this. They assume that once you have identified a man or woman as being a home educator; then that is it, you know that the person is basically sound. If only life were that simple! The truth is, there are plenty of wicked and perverted people mixed up in the world of home education, just as there are in the rest of the world. Being a home educator is no guarantee of virtue. So when a parent posts an appeal on the Education Otherwise list, telling us that she is being pursued by social workers and the police, I am open minded about the business. She might be completely innocent or she might be a dangerous lunatic. This is not the case with some on the home educating internet lists, who fall over themselves to assure the woman that she is a good mother and advise her to have nothing at all to do with the social services. The very fact that she is a home educating parent is, in other words, enough for them. It means that she is right, her children are loved and cared for and any social workers involved are bad people, liars and probably out to steal her children. This is a very dangerous perspective to adopt, sight unseen!
Or take another example. Eighteen months ago, an appeal was made, signed by a list of well known home educators as longs as your arm, to raise money so that a home educating mother could flee to Ireland, one step ahead of social services. Once again, the fact that she was a home educator was taken to be sufficient to assure everybody that there was no cause to be concerned about her children. It is this attitude that makes many professionals uneasy. The very fact that somebody does not send their children to school is no sort of guarantee that their children are safe. Most probably are; some will not be. It sometimes looks as though the more that social workers are interested in a home educating family, the more convinced are other parents that there is nothing to worry about and that it is yet another case of social workers overstepping the mark. Do not be deceived! Home educating parents are just as capable of providing an unsafe environment as anybody else. When social services are looking hard at a family, there is usually good reason.