Lord Soley: We must never forget the rights of the child in home education
Educating your child at home is an important right for parents. But there are problem areas that need to be addressed, writes Lord Soley ahead of his Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill
My Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill will have its committee stage on the floor of the House next Friday 27th April. The core purpose of the bill is to create a register of children receiving elective home education and for the local authority to be able to assess the child’s educational achievement.
There are many reasons that parents home educate. Often it is a conscious and well thought out decision by parents and many of them do it extremely well and only light touch regulation is required. The local authority will be required to carry out an annual assessment of the child’s progress.
I am not and have never been opposed to home education. I think it is an important right for parents who choose to do it. But there are problem areas that need to be addressed and we must never forget the rights of the child.
Recent evidence suggests some children are being pushed into home educating because the school cannot cope with their underachievement or problematic behaviour. Others because they have special educational needs which the local authority have not properly addressed.
There are also a significant number of cases where the parents want to home educate but are having difficulties providing the child with a sufficient educational experience and sometimes return the child to school, which is disruptive for child and school alike. I have put down an amendment which will require the local authority to provide advice and information to such parents so that they can access other resources for the child.
Finally, there is a small but crucially important group where the child is taken into home education for all the wrong reasons – most notably radicalisation, trafficking and abuse. This bill will not put an end to all such cases but it will significantly reduce the number of children at risk of such abuse.
It is all too easy for a child or children to simply ‘disappear’. Currently, a parent does not have to inform the local education authority that they have decided not to register a child with a school when they become of school age. The bill will require such registration. A child can also be taken out of school at any stage and in the worst cases can end up being sent to an unregistered school and radicalised, trafficked, or abused.
There have been a number of instances where children have been abused, in some cases resulting in the death of the child. We have a duty to respect the right of parents to home educate but we also have a duty to ensure that children are not put at risk. So, some form of regulation is necessary.
I also believe society has a right and a duty to ensure a child is receiving the essentials of a good education – to be literate, numerate and able to write. There are obvious differences in skill levels for children, especially those with special educational needs. But I see no reason why regulations and assessment should not recognise different educational philosophies, as long as the child completes their education and is able to cope with the demands of modern society.
I have received a number of letters from people who were home educated, who say, ‘My parents meant well but I just find it too difficult to get a job or deal with my shyness because the education they gave me was too restrictive’. They are, understandably, reluctant to talk about their difficulties in public. That is one of the reasons I would like to see some serious research carried out into the possibilities and problems of home education.
If this bill becomes law I hope it will provide a basis for ensuring the right to home educate is respected but that it is also delivered to a standard that protects the rights of the child.
Lord Soley is a Labour peer. The Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill will have its committee stage on Friday 27 April