Parents who home school in Northern Ireland could be caught by “deeply alarming” and “intrusive” proposals, the largest home education group in the Province has warned.
The Education and Library Boards in Northern Ireland have proposed a new draft policy, which would give government officials sweeping powers, including to visit homes at least once a year.
Maria Hanley, of the Home Education Northern Ireland (HEDNI) group, said: “The proposals are alarming and intrusive, representing a serious assault on parental choice and introducing a fundamental change to the relationship between parents and the governing authorities.
“This draft policy has no basis in current Northern Ireland education law. Any change of this sort would require primary legislation by MLAs at Stormont, not by unelected officials.
“Under national and international law it is accepted that parents are the most appropriate judge for their child’s interests – these plans cut across the rights of parents to educate their children in the way they think is best.”
The boards are currently consulting on the draft policy, which would include a database to register and monitor homeschooling families.
The policy says that the opinion of the child will be “taken into consideration” as part of the board’s assessment of their home education.
The proposals also say that parents who choose to remove their child from school should face detailed questioning and delays before being allowed to homeschool.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a US organisation that protects legal rights to home educate, said the plans in Northern Ireland are a “frontal attack” on parents’ rights.
The HSLDA website said that the Northern Ireland education authorities “are threatening homeschooling freedom with a new and imperious policy”.
It said parents should be free from “unwarranted and unreasonable government interference”.
Under the current law in Northern Ireland, parents have a duty to provide their children with an education “suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”.
HEDNI points out that the role of the education and library boards in the Province is to react in cases where parents are not doing this, and that without the appearance of failure the boards have no power to act.
The Northern Ireland proposals are similar to controversial plans from Westminster in 2010, which also threatened to severely restrict homeschooling in England.
The proposals faced strong criticism and were dropped before the last General Election.