Stop giving local authorities powers to oversee home educating parents - because home education needs ‘protection not persecution’.
That’s according to a Liverpool Hope University academic, who warns that families who choose to home educate their children are facing unprecedented levels of ‘misunderstanding and ignorance’ in the face of new threats to their way of life.
In July this year, former education secretary Gavin Williamson outlined plans for a mandatory register of all home educating families, based on the need for better “accountability” and “monitoring” of those out of the school system.
In recent weeks Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has also endorsed the plans, saying parents who home educate shouldn’t feel “threatened” by the proposal.
But Dr Harriet Pattison, Home Education specialist and Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Hope, is one of the many vocal opponents to the register.
She fears parents will face persecution and harassment while civil liberties are eroded.
And in an impassioned plea to the Government, she’s urging them not to put faith in local authorities to manage any register - because councils don’t fully understand the complex landscape of home education.
Dr Pattison argues: “Spielman’s words expose the misunderstanding, assumption and dismissal that home educating parents face.
“She justifies the proposed register, likening it to a school register that holds ‘basic information’ about ‘who the children are, where they are, and who’s educating them’.
“In other words, let’s just gloss over the fact that law-abiding parents, often picking up the emotional and educational pieces which precipitated an exit from State education, will be breaking the law and liable to sanction if they do not present themselves and their children for this register.
“There are deep implications for civil liberties here. Like the school register, the home education register will be an instrument for action. It’s a prelude to regulation.
“The assumption behind the proposed monitoring is that a good education is embodied in the national curriculum, that any alternative is lesser, that a teaching style of ‘instruct and test’ is the only option. Here is the misunderstanding and the ignorance that home educators fear.
“And it’s important to stress that local authorities receive no training in home education. Their educational thinking is almost always confined to school education and these are the parameters within which home educators will be expected to operate.
“Home educators have sufficient taste of this already from the many local authorities that have operated outside their legal remit for decades.”
Stressing her fears, Dr Pattison adds: “We’re seeing job advertisements where local councils are looking for people to carry out home education assessments that say the applicant should have A Levels - and that’s it. There’s no formal training.
“And my fear is that they’ll essentially be going into homes looking for the school environment to be replicated at home. But home education doesn’t work like that, it’s much more flexible.
“This all feeds into decades of mistrust between local authorities and home educators.”
Dr Pattison says the Government itself can’t even get a grip of what home education means. She points out that the term ‘home schooling’ has been used to cover everything from those unable to find a suitable school place to those registered at school but learning at home because of Covid, and even excluded children.
She adds: “Like any other minority group, the label applied to home educating parents is really important.
“For decades, home educators have argued to be addressed as precisely that, in order to have an identity clearly demarcated for political purposes. Yet even the government term of ‘elective home education’ is used without consistency, and the debate is slippery, precisely because it is never quite clear who is being spoken about.”
Dr Pattison is also adamant home educated children are not ‘invisible’, ‘off the grid’ or ‘neglected’ because, on the contrary, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that home education is a sociable and effective form of education.”
Speaking about the planned register, she explains: “Home education offers learning which is personalised, flexible and organic. It allows children to follow their own interests, to go at their own pace, to feel good about themselves and to be nurtured by their family.
“Yet there are real reasons why home educators are alarmed.
“Spielman needs to stop telling them that they have nothing to fear, and instead start listening to those concerns. It is the least that home educated children deserve.
“Home education is here to stay. It is growing across the globe, including in countries that ban or tightly regulate it. After decades of mistrust and ignorance, it is time to start working together. Time to stop placating, time to start listening.”