Home-education: a response to the House of Lords debate

For context, I was home-educated for my whole life, up until the age of 16. The decision to go to school at that point was joint between myself and my parents.

On the 24th November 2017, the new bill on Home-Education had its second reading in the House of Lords. The bill seeks to give new powers to local authorities to monitor and assess home-educators in their area; including mandatory registration for all home-schoolers across England and Wales. (the bill would not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland) More information on the bill itself can be found here https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/homeeducationdutyoflocalauthorities.html and the full debate can be found here http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/e6193efe-e0b5-4cb8-b6ff-7607f6032199?in=12:46:00&out=14:53:00 However, rather than looking at the bill itself (as it will go through numerous changes) I would like to look at the debate it recently had in the House of Lords.

The tone of the debate was set early on when the bill introduced by Lord Soley. (Labour) Although his views were among the mildest of all the speakers, it was clear how little he understood the lives of most home-educators. Indeed, he said himself “I’ve not had a great involvement in education, I don’t claim to have that much knowledge of it.” What struck me in particular was a statistic he quoted from Kent: that 1003 registrations of home-educators were closed in the past year. According to Lord Soley, this indicates that the lives of home-educated children are in a “constant state of flux.” In reality, as children choose at various points in their lives to re-join the system — either at school or even university — this statistic simply indicates the passage of time! However, in all credit to him he emphasised repeatedly the need to protect the rights of those parents who home-educate well. “The majority of parents who do this very well, and want to be left alone, should not be given any hassle by this bill. We really need to let them get on with it.”

General points that were made included many myths and exaggerations about the reality of home-education. The myth that home-schoolers are anti-social and isolated came up of course; how little the speakers understand home-education was underlined by this quote: “I believe that missing the experience of the school playground and meals eaten in common with other children is a significant loss for those educated at home.” This is of course ridiculous; it’s not like there are no public playgrounds home-schooled children can play in! The issue of radicalisation and illegal schools also came up repeatedly. While these are undeniably problems that need to be addressed, Lord Lucas (Conservative) took the words right out of my mouth when he said “When it comes to radicalisation we talk blasély of these hundreds of illegal schools; why? They’re doing something illegal, shut them down! … It’s a problem with the state, not of home-education.”

Indeed, Lord Lucas comments made a comforting break from the patronising ignorance of most speakers in the debate. Home-educators were labelled at various points “vociferous”, “hysterical” and “bohemian” and were (unsurprisingly) the subject of many utterly unfounded claims. Besides some of the quotes and claims I have included already, speakers claimed that the children have no say in their education (which to me would be unheard of), that there is “growing consensus that registering home-educated children is essential.” — although where that consensus was coming from was not made clear — and that “There’s no evidence on the educational attainment or socio-economic progress made by home-educated children.” This last one is simply factually incorrect; the little data we do have points towards higher academic achievement in home-educated children than their peers in school. (https://www.oxbridgeessays.com/blog/home-schooling-better-system-education/ and http://www.home-education.org.uk/articles/wc/wc-he-outcomes.pdf)

I could go on indefinitely with claims and myths such as these, but I think that the examples I have given demonstrates the current understanding of home-education that is held by the key speakers on this debate. However, out of all the speakers present Lord Lucas made many points that I think most home-educators (the only group directly affected by this bill, remember) will appreciate. I would love to include a full transcript of his speech, but these two quotes sum up his views nicely. “I believe that, by and large, the state does not make better decisions for children than parents do.” “You can do so much more in home-education that you just can’t do in schools, and we should not seek to regulate that freedom away.”

Finally, I will not dignify the Baroness Deech’s comments with a response; suffice it to say that if you imagine the most vile, anti-home-education opinions you possibly can, you’ll get quite enough of the gist of it. Let me end however, on a quote that really stood out to me. “The Government should not be deterred, as it has been in the past, by the vocal protests of home-educated parents. Their children are silent, and that is what must change.” For what I hope is the only time in my life, I am compelled to agree with the Baroness. We as home-educated children are not vocal enough; and that must change. Luckily, I suspect the Baroness — and the Government in general — is not quite prepared for what happens when home-schooled children do indeed speak up.