Thursday, 28 November 2013
Local authorities and education
Over the next few days I want to look at why local authorities wish to see children attending school and the related question of why some authorities are a little dubious about home education.
The first question to examine is why actually local authorities care at all about whether children are receiving an education. Because many home educators are obsessed with imaginary conspiracies, the obvious answer to this question is hardly ever considered. Expressions like ‘box tickers’ are used, and ideas put forward along the lines that forcing children to attend school has some sinister motive, which only shrewd and intelligent home educators are able to discern. Perhaps it is about social control or trying to impose uniformity upon the citizens of the nation? There is a a fairly vociferous strand in British home education which goes even further and asserts that compulsory education is a wicked plot by some vague and largely invisible cabal; sometimes the Illuminati, for others Jewish plutocrats are the villains.
Actually, the reasons for wanting children to be in school are simplicity itself. It is better for individuals and also better for society as a whole. There is a strong association between things like illiteracy and poor education and a host of undesirable things; ranging from ending up in prisons or psychiatric hospitals, to early sexual activity and prostitution, from drug use to membership of criminals gangs, depression to unemployment and premature death. There are many advantages to being literate and well educated and no disadvantages. Educated people tend to live longer and be happier. So poorly educated individuals are very expensive for society and tend to cause problems for others. The fewer illiterate or ill educated people; the better for us all. Almost invariably, this education is acquired largely at school.
Now of course, some people educate their own children. Very few of us do so, though; for most, education is undertaken by schools. Because of all the bad effects connected with lack of education, the government, both central and local, makes huge efforts to ensure that children do not miss out on their education. This means, in effect, making sure that children spend almost ever week, from Monday to Friday, going to school every day.
That’s pretty much all there is to the case. There is no hidden agenda, no conspiracy, no deeper motive than to try and make sure that as few people as possible are illiterate or lack a decent education. Because most children’s education takes place in school, there is sometimes a fear that children who are not at school are not receiving an education. Sometimes this is true, of course. Sometimes, it is not true and the child not in school is getting a perfectly adequate education. It is certainly society’s business to make every effort to see that children are being educated, because lack of education is not just a personal disaster, but likely to have ill effects on other people as well.
Having cleared the ground, tomorrow, we shall look at why local authorities have become uneasy in recent years about children who are not being sent to school and whether their fears might be justified.