Thursday, 24 October 2013

Delving deeper into the mythical origins of British home education

We looked a little yesterday at the situation with home education in this country in the early 1970s. Parents were home educating and local authorities were, by and large, OK about the practice. By the late 1970s though, things had become a little different and the impression was that local authorities were fighting home educators and trying to put a stop to home education. This is quite untrue, but let’s see how this false and misleading impression has been cultivated.

Here is the sort of newspaper article which maintains and perpetuates the myth of the persecuted home educators of the 1970s;

Honestly, just look at this nonsense! ‘A landmark ruling in 1977 opened the doors for home education.’  As I remarked yesterday, there were plenty of home educating parents before 1977; the doors were always open to this educational option. ’ Home educating is now legal’; of course it is, it was never anything other than legal. This promotes the myth that it was one or two landmark rulings in the late 1970s and early 1980s which established the right of parents to educate their own children. I want today to look in detail at one of those famous  cases; one which is often quoted. I want to show readers what really happened in this case and demonstrate that  it was the awkwardness of a tiny minority of home educators which caused so many problems for the majority, who were getting on just fine with their local authorities.

During the first six or seven years of the 1970s, home educators in this country just got on with teaching  their children. Sometimes their local authority would ask what they were doing and the parents would tell them and then there was often no further contact. It was an idyllic situation in many ways. Then, along came  people like Mr J. D. Phillips. Phillips was living with Mrs Reah and her son Oak, who was born in 1971. They lived in Leeds. When Oak did not start school in September 1976, the local authority wrote to Mrs Reah and Mr Phillips, simply asking what arrangements they were making for the child’s education. As we saw yesterday, other local authorities were doing much the same at that time and once they had some idea about the education, they tended to leave the family alone. Mr Phillips wrote back:

Oak Reah receives efficient, full time education (from Mrs. R.H. Reah and Mr. J.D. Phillips) which is suitable to his age, aptitude, and ability: he receives this education otherwise than by regular attendance at school: he has already received this education since (and inclusive of) his 5th birthday: such education falls in accordance with current Educational Law.

Because the family refused to provide even the sketchiest details about the education being provided, the local authority kept asking, sending a number of letters. Instead of just telling them what was happening about Oak’s education, Phillips engaged a solicitor. The local authority wrote to the solicitor, who replied:

We can do no more than reiterate what we have said previously. Your powers under the Education Act 1944 only come into operation if ‘it appears  that the parents of any child  are failing to perform their duty’

This was off course, sheer bloody-mindedness. Other children were being home educated in Leeds at that time; all the local authority wanted was a brief outline of the education. Still, there it was, J. D. Phillips was determined to tell them nothing.

Eventually, in January 1978, the council wrote again, saying:

It would appear that you, being the parents of the above-named child have failed to cause your child to receive full-time education, suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
‘I therefore serve this notice upon you that you are required under section 37 of the 1944 Education Act to satisfy my authority by the 8th February 1978, that your child, Oak Reah, is receiving efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

All that the parents needed to do at any stage to stop this was to tell the local authority a little about their child’s education. They still refused to do so. A School Attendance Order was issued and Phillips ended up in court. Even now, all he needed to do  was to explain to the magistrate how he was providing an education for Oak. He refused to say anything at all on the subject.

This whole sequence of events indicates what some local authorities were having to cope with. As long as home educating parents were happy to deal reasonably with them and simply discuss what they were doing; nobody had the least objection to home education. When parents began keeping their children out of school and refusing to say a word about what they were doing, that is when the problems began for home educators in general in this country. Phillips was not the only person at that time setting out to make life difficult. Next week, we will look at a few other troublesome types who managed between them to turn a perfectly amicable situation into a battleground. Their malignant influence on home education persists to this day. If it were not for those people like J. D. Phillips, home education today would be a good deal more pleasant and there would be less conflict between parents and local authorities.


  1. I was listening to Terror Though Time on Radio 4 yesterday, and one thing really stood out for me. Don't get me wrong, I am not equating home educators to terrorists in any way. But they were discussing the Baader Meinhof gang, and they asked what legacy they left. The reply was nothing changed for the good. Personal freedom changed in a bad way, as it allowed the Big Brother state to come about more quickly.

    I think something similar although on a very much smaller scale has happened in home education in the UK. People before the 1970s were left to get on with it, (just read any children's novel published before the 1950s to see just how frequent and normal home education was) but when people started to fight against the local authorities, we started to get local authorities fighting back.

    I see this happening now with certain people advising home educators to not engage with the LAs, to treat them like the enemy and approach them with suspicion. Then in turn the LAs start treating home educators in the same way.

    It is laudable that people what to fight for their freedoms, but sometimes fighting for freedoms that we already have results in us losing personal freedom more quickly, not gaining freedom.

  2. Webb says " As long as home educating parents were happy to deal reasonably with them and simply discuss what they were doing; nobody had the least objection to home education"

    No wrong again Webb LEA/s want meeting /home visits and do like it when you object and say i prefer to submit the evidence of the education my child is getting via written samples of what he/she is studying.I would never let an LA officer into my home or have a meeting with them these LA types have nothing to offer and in many cases would not leave you alone if their get assess to your child or home
    I do hope you incude us as troublesome types who managed between them to turn a perfectly amicable situation into a battleground.
    I notice you never call the Local LA officers troublesome why do you suck up to them so much you looking for a job from your LA?

  3. I am certainly in favour of free speech -although I am a little boggled ( to say the least) by a link that has just appeared on a home ed list which appears to be supporting the view that it is better for a father to shoot his children then let social workers take them....