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We need to talk about regulating home education

If you haven’t heard about the proposed private member’s bill in the House of Lords concerning home education, you’re either not home educating, or you’re not in the UK. This proposal is to require all home educators to register. It means compulsory registration, mandatory visits, interviews with children and parents, testing of children, supervised lessons and who knows what else. These are mostly all terrible ideas. I can just about acquiesce to registration, but after that government needs to allow parents to educate their children as they see fit. Many people don’t understand why anyone would object to making sure all kids are given a ‘good education.’ The answer is simple; we don’t.

Firstly, school isn’t about safe guarding, it’s about education. We don’t send our kids to school to keep them safe from ourselves. We send them to school for an education, which collectively we have decided in general is what children need. Every new baby is visited by a health visitor multiple times, every child has a GP. Why are children who don’t attend school a concern but children who don’t attend a doctor occasionally not a concern? It doesn’t make sense. There are alternatives to regulating home education if safe guarding is your concern. Alternatives that make more sense! They could provide home education hubs where children could meet socially and form relationships with each other. Perhaps they could provide ad hoc groups and courses where children would have a connection to adults outside of their family. They could do this without being authoritarian and undemocratic. We should not be disrupting children’s education for safeguarding. We sometimes like to go on as if education is a primary concern for the whole of society. If we believe that, then we need to find a way to achieve both aims. Because regulating home education effectively destroys education for those children.

Schools are no guarantee to preventing child abuse. Many real life horror stories have been in the news regarding schooled children. In fact, schools are sometimes a safe-guarding concern themselves. Many many parents are home educating now because of bullying issues their children have had at school. Many, many children who are at school enduring daily bullying wish they could be home educated because the school is doing nothing. Maybe some schools are better than others, maybe there’s little they can do, but I’ve read plenty of stories about children right here in the United Kingdom getting bullied or beaten up and administrators refusing to acknowledge that it’s a safe-guarding concern itself. They could not keep the child safe. That child is safer at home. But still, the parent is then bullied by the school about deregistering and starting home education. In fact when you hear about the bullying by administrators it’s no wonder where the kids get it from: Adults everywhere.

The pressure that schools pass on to children, even sometimes unwittingly, along with the bullying that goes on is driving children into epidemic levels of anxiety and stress. They are on medication, they are refusing to go to school, they are having physical health problems and they are attempting suicide, sometimes succeeding. The number of suicides in children 10 (TEN!) to 18 has risen in the past decade. It’s not all down to social media. Peter Grey will tell you in Free to Learn it’s down to schools and the lack of free play children get these days.

There’s plenty of research against the amount of testing we are doing to children. There’s even research that indicates avoiding any testing, ranking and assessment is a good idea. The pressure of assessments is a big reason a lot of people keep their kids out of schools. This preference is evidence based, it’s not hokey, hippy hogwash. Read Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards. The state school system, in general, is decades behind the times and runs counter to the evidence. So it would be extremely undemocratic to force home educators to also put their kids through similar procedures.

All of this would regulate home education more than independent schools which surely is obviously undemocratic. You are allowed to be concerned about the education a child is receiving but frankly, kids are learning a lot of things that are even more important from their parents that are not regulated. Things like faith, trust, kindness, empathy, or the lack thereof. These things are important for how they relate to other people. These things shape society. If you can’t force parents to teach empathy you sure as hell should not be forcing them to teach science. (Note: we LOVE science in this house, I’m speaking theoretically here.)

But they aren’t proposing to BAN home education, you say. Oh? Aren’t they?

Well, not technically. What they are proposing is to force school at home on home educators, and that is not how home education tends to happen in a large number of cases. Many of us are more free flow than that. And guess what? Our kids still learn. They learn without the pressure and anxiety. They learn without the constant unrelenting bullies at their heels, whether peers, teachers or administrators. They learn with peers who value them, they learn on their feet if they choose, but they learn in a natural and healthy way that should be available to all children.

Home education is often about allowing the flow to be child led. There is no real reason kids need to learn certain things at certain points. It’s only because the school system required some conformity to teach a large number of kids at once (and then they needed to prove that they did so) that the idea became so imbedded in our heads. Forcing large amounts of information that the child is uninterested in is not education, it’s not in their best interest and it cannot be allowed to be forced on home educators. For many many decades if not longer, home educated children have graduated into the working world without a problem. Some perhaps, have struggled. But for just as long, some proportion of schooled kids have graduated into the working world unable to cope as well. Unless schooled kids had a huge advantage over home educated kids, which they certainly do not, it is wholly undemocratic to not allow that choice.

“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” ~ Katrina Gutleben

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