A little while ago, we looked at the fact that parents who wish to educate their own children in Britain are required to meet certain minimum standards in doing so. This inevetiably raises the question of who should decide wheter such minimum standards are being met; the parents or the state. Most home educating parents in Britain are under the mistaken impression that they are in law the final arbiters of what their children should and should not be learning. This view has never been accepted by anybody other than a handful of militant home educators. It is instructive to look at what happened when two parents from this country took their case to the European Commision on Human Rights. The ruling went against them; which was encouraging for local authorities in Britain who are in favour of monitoring home education.
A woman called Iris Harrison insisted throughout the 1970s that not only did she have the right to educate her own children, but that the lcoal authority had no right to dictate the form that this education should take. Eventally, the case was settled in court, with the judge ruling that children educated at home should at least receive systematic instruction in such subjects as reading, writing and arithmetic. (Harrison and Harrison v Stevenson (1981) QB (DC) 729/81). The parents then took their case to Europe, on the grounds that their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights were being violated. Article 2 of the Protocol says that;
No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it
assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the state shall respect the right of
parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and
The result was not at all what Iris Harrison and her husband had hope for, as it was ruled that not only is compulsory schooling quite compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, but that if any child is not in school, then the state has a perfect right to monitor his or her education.Clive Sheldon QC wrote about this case, saying that;
It was clear that A2/P1 implied a right for the State to establish compulsory schooling, be it in State schools or private tuition of a satisfactory standard, and that verification and enforcement of educational standards is an integral part of that right.
Accordingly, the Commission held that to require the applicant parents to co-operate in the
assessment of their children’s educational standards by an education authority in order to ensure
a certain level of literacy and numeracy, whilst, nevertheless, allowing them to educate their
children at home, could not be said to constitute a lack of respect for the applicants' rights under
Art 2 of Protocol. Accordingly, the Commission found that the complaint was inadmissible
In other words, according to the ECHR, the state can monitor home education to its heart's content! Indeed, in a later case, brought by a German, it was ruled that home education can even be completely banned and that the ECHR allows for this.