Government to clamp down on home schooling families

Home schooling families are to face visits from their local authority to ensure they are providing what the Government defines as a “suitable” and “efficient” education.

Under recommended changes to the law accepted by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls this week, home schooled children will have to be registered with the local authority every year.

Parents will be required to provide their local authority with “a statement of approach to education” and a twelve-month plan outlining what they will teach.

Parents who fail to register or provide inadequate or false information will be guilty of a criminal offence.

Fiona Nicholson, of support group Education Otherwise, said: “If they introduce a registration system, it would completely shift the balance of power.

“The state is coming into family life and trying to regulate it. It is an extraordinary invasion of the family.”

Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said: “In accepting the recommendations of this report, the government is signalling its intention to introduce an unprecedented level of intrusion into family life.

“The plan to allow local authorities routine access to the homes of children who are educated outside the school system shows a fundamental distrust of parents.

“If the government gets its way, home educated children will be subject to a far greater degree of individual state surveillance than children receive in school. The current legal framework already grants local authorities sufficient power to intervene where they have evidence that a child is at risk of suffering significant harm whether the child in question is in school or not.

“The legality of going beyond that and granting local authorities a routine right of access to the homes of parents who teach their children at home is open to question under human rights legislation.”

The proposals come despite the fact that many parents who home school do so because they disagree with the state’s approach to education or believe that in practice it is not up to scratch.

The measures have been recommended by Graham Badman, who has been reviewing the law on home schooling. He was also chosen to lead an investigation into the death of Baby P last year.

The review’s launch prompted anger from home schooling groups when the Government suggested home education might be used to cover up child abuse.

The review has now concluded that there is no evidence for this, but Mr Balls has written to Mr Badman accepting his “call for urgent action to improve safeguards for home educated children”.

Ann Newstead, another spokesman from Education Otherwise, said: “To suggest that just because children are at home they are more vulnerable is not just flawed and inaccurate, it is downright insulting.

“Most parents have removed children from school to keep them safe.”

A consultation has now been launched on Mr Badman’s most “urgent” proposals. Mr Balls said responses to the consultation will be taken into account, but wants to “introduce these changes at the earliest possible opportunity”.

Earlier this week Conservative MP Mark Field said home schooling families “are concerned that the government is manipulating current anxiety over child abuse to intrude further into the sphere of home education when it has no legal right to do so”.

He said: “The majority of home educators feel that the government is simply incapable of trusting parents to do the best for their children”.

He suggested the Government should deal with its own failures relating to child abuse before pointing its finger at home schoolers.

It is thought that between 20,000 and 50,000 children in the UK are currently home schooled, with the practice becoming increasingly popular.

In a study on home schooling two University of London academics recently found that the method was “an astonishingly efficient way to learn”.

Last week Guardian education blogger Adharanand Finn said the introduction of a compulsory register and minimum standards for home educators would “remove from parents the responsibility for how their children are educated”.

He said: “For many, without the freedom to learn autonomously, the very reason for home education will cease to exist.

“We’ll have to wait and see how far any new legislation will go, and how hard home educators will resist it, but let’s hope we don’t end up with a situation like that in Germany, where the ban on home education means for many parents the only option is to emigrate.”

In Germany it is illegal for parents to educate their children at home.

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