MPs concerned over home school probe

Home schooling parents risk being hounded by the authorities as the Government conducts its third review of home education in four years, a Conservative MP said yesterday.

The review is being conducted by Graham Badman, who also investigated the Baby P child abuse scandal. A report is expected in the next few weeks.

The review is looking at whether home education is being used as a cover for child abuse, a suggestion which has angered home schooling parents.

Writing ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on the issue which took place yesterday, Mark Field MP said: “There is deep concern that the Badman review will result in closer monitoring of home educating families.”

He added, “home educators are reporting an increase in social service visits to check on the welfare of their children”.

He said the Government should examine its own failure to deal with child abuse scandals before pointing its finger at home schoolers.

During yesterday’s debate on the Government review, Mr Field was joined by other MPs in voicing support for home education.

Anne Main, Conservative MP for St Albans where there are at least 60 home schooling families, described their decision as “a resourceful way of proceeding with a valuable education that is tailored to their child’s needs.

“When one looks into the matter, one sees that it is a heartening way forward and can be complementary to the state system”, she added.

Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George said after visiting home schoolers in his constituency it was clear to him that “in many cases these people have chosen this option precisely because they want to escape abuse and bullying in schools”.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Diana Johnson, said a balance was needed between “the right of parents to decide what is best for their children in their education and development” and “the right of every child to receive a high standard of education in a safe, secure environment.”

Mr Field agreed that the Government must “balance the rights of all individuals”.

However, he added: “Given that home educated children are not proven to be at any greater risk, it is inappropriate to throw away the liberty of parents, even in part, to choose how to educate their child”.

He quoted concerns voiced by one home educator about the Government’s review: “They keep asking us for our views and when we don’t give them the right answer they come back and ask again.”

Mr Field said: “There is an overwhelming case that home educators should be allowed to get on with their lives without undue state interference.”

When the review was announced the Government insisted: “There are no plans to change parents’ well established rights to educate their children at home.”

But in his comments Mr Field described how “home educators 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 added: “The majority of home educators feel that the government is simply incapable of trusting parents to do the best for their children”.

Mr Field explained concerns that current legislation covering home schooling is “perfectly adequate but poorly understood” by local authorities.

He wrote: “Rather than viewing home educators with suspicion, the government must guard the sacred right of parents to educate their children whilst vigorously tightening the current system when it comes to child welfare.”

Earlier this month the NSPCC had to apologise after a spokesman suggested that home schooling may be a cover for child abuse cases like that of Victoria Climbié.

In a recent study on home schooling conducted at the University of London, researchers found that the method was “an astonishingly efficient way to learn”.

Authors Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison concluded: “The ease, naturalness and immense intellectual potential of informal learning up to the age of middle secondary school means they can learn certainly as much if not more”.

Supporters of home schooling are keen to avoid a situation like that in Germany, where the practice is still banned under Nazi-era laws.

Some German home schooling families have been forced to seek asylum in the UK and other countries after choosing to withdraw their children from the state education system.

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