Wednesday, 23 October 2013
A Myth of Home Education
I have written before about the powerful mythology which surrounds the early days of home education in this country. Briefly stated, it runs like this;
Throughout the 1970s, there were only a tiny handful of home educating families in this country and they had a hard time; being mercilessly harried by unsympathetic local authorities. In the mid 1970s, a few of these persecuted souls banded together to found Education Otherwise and this is when things began to change for the better. There were a few high profile court cases around 1980, Iris Harrison, for example and following this, the right to educate children at home became more widely recognised. Many home educating parents today believe this sort of nonsense. Let’s have a look at the reality.
I happen to remember the situation for home education in 1971-1973 and it was in many ways easier than it is today. Local authorities were aware of home educating parents and were quite happy and laid back about this type of education. Some, the London Borough of Islington for example, even provided premises for home educators. Things became progressively more difficult after Education Otherwise was formed. Of course, I am a bit of a crank and not perhaps reliable. Maybe I’m making all this up. Let’s have a look at some of those who were actually home educating in 1972 and see what their experiences were. Perhaps we should also see what officers from various local authorities were saying about home education back then.
David Head was at one time General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement. In 1972, he became very disillusioned with schools and decided to educate his eleven year-old daughter Alison and fourteen year-old son Martin at home. He wrote to his local authority, telling them of his plans. What do readers think they did at that time, over forty years ago? Went mad and tried to force the children back into school? Began legal proceedings? In March, he received a letter from the local authority, saying that they understood that he was assuming responsibility for his children’s education and that they would not be attending school any more. Head wrote back with a brief outline of his plans and that was that until October. Yes, the local authority did not bother him at all for the next seven months. The thing is, most local authorities had had experience of home education at that time and were, in the main, quite supportive. Let’s see what they were saying in different districts about home education.
Again in 1972, Alison Truefitt spoke to a number of local authority officers responsible for home education. Here is a selection of quotations by these people:
The practice is for the District Inspector to see the parent at the divisional education offices and enquire into the details of the arrangements made for educating the child.
We used to ask to see timetables, but with the changes in child education today that could be embarrassing.
We ask for samples of work, although with changes, that could mean that we’d be satisfied with, for example, tape recordings.
In fact we couldn’t these days ask that a child covered a particular subject regularly.
This is all very interesting and confirms my own memories of that time. It is curious to note that nobody was talking about visiting the home, or even requiring any particular subjects to be taught. It was all very easygoing and relaxed. A new home educator was given seven months to settle in, before anybody wanted any real information. This is so different from the impression that many people today have of home education forty years ago, that it might be worth looking at what happened to change all this. Over the next few days, I shall be considering a few of the famous cases and asking whether it was local authorities which suddenly changed and became opposed to home education, or whether perhaps it was a new type of home educating parent who appeared on the scene, seeking confrontation rather than cooperation.