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United Kingdom

March 5, 2010

Draconian Home Education Law Continues to Move Forward in the UK

The freedom of home educators in the United Kingdom hangs in the balance, as British parliamentarians deliberate over a potential upheaval of current home education law. Proposed regulatory measures would significantly impact a parents’ ability to direct the educational upbringing of their children.

To Learn More

The Bill Committee received oral evidence from Graham Badman and from representatives of Education Otherwise, the Home Educated Youth Council, the National Children’s Bureau and the National Autistic Society on January 19, 2010. The session may be viewed (1 hour, 11 minutes into the meeting) or read on the Parliament website.

The Bill Committee finally reached Clause 26 and Schedule 1 of the Bill at its final meeting on February 4, 2010. The debate may be viewed (1 hour, 28 minutes into the meeting) or read on the Parliament website.

The Children, Schools and Families Bill (CSF), with a lengthy clause on home education, has continued to move through the legislative process in Parliament in recent months. The House of Commons has now completed the committee, report, and reading stages for the bill. Although an amendment to leave out the home education parts of the bill was introduced, there was no time to debate this measure before the bill left the House of Commons on February 24. The House of Lords will now review the CSF bill, beginning on March 9.

The British government’s proposal requires all home educating parents to apply annually for permission to homeschool from the local authority. Further, the proposed legislation would establish an intricate monitoring system for home educators. The bill places tremendous power in the hands of school officials and the state. Local authorities may revoke a family’s registration to homeschool for a number of reasons, including a “failure to cooperate” or if the official decides it would be harmful to a child’s welfare to continue being homeschooled. Home visits would be utilized to determine whether home education is “suitable” for a child.

Growing Opposition

A contingent of British members of Parliament (MPs) has grown increasingly opposed to the home education clause of the bill, especially after it was rushed out of the House of Commons. Twenty-five MPs signed an amendment to leave out the home education clause, and many additional MPs voted against the CSF bill specifically because the problems in the home education section had not been thoroughly considered.

In response to the proposed changes to education law, the Family Education Trust, a family advocacy organization in the United Kingdom, states: “Home educating families typically do not draw a distinction between education and family life—the two are very much intertwined. It is for this reason that many are so uncomfortable about registration and monitoring. They would feel that their family life were being monitored and their children surveilled to a degree not experienced by children attending school.”

While many supporters of the proposed bill point to homeschool laws in the United States to substantiate a system of registration for home educators, this view is inaccurate. In the majority of American states, parents simply notify the school district of their intent to teach their children at home. Only two states require homeschool parents to register with the state. Even so, in these states it is the exception and not the rule to deny a homeschool approval.

In addition to the registration and monitoring scheme, the proposed bill operates with the assumption that all home educating parents in the United Kingdom are potentially mistreating their children and neglecting their education. Much of the bill’s wording is based upon a suspicious view of home education. Accordingly, the British government seeks to put into place safeguards it hopes will ensure that all children receive an education. Yet these restrictive “safeguards” will severely penalize parents who exercise their right to educate their children at home. Indeed, parents would be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Additional Bureaucracy

Overall, the CSF bill creates many additional “unnecessary elements of bureaucracy,” although existing legislation on home education already provides for local authorities to protect children and to address situations where harm to a child is suspected.

The proposed bill resulted from the infamous June 2009 “Badman Report,” an investigation of current home education law conducted by former British government official Graham Badman. The British prime minister subsequently accepted all recommendations put forth in the report, thus starting the ball rolling on the creation of new law on home education in the United Kingdom.

This highly regulatory bill demonstrates the dangerous precedent set by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Laws that curtail the rights of parents to direct the education of their children are a natural result of the UNCRC. Homeschoolers in the United Kingdom are only the first of many to experience the repercussions of a state adopting this UN treaty.

As the Family Education Trust concludes: “There is no need for the proposed registration and monitoring system for home educators. The current legal framework is consistent with British legal traditions and with international human rights instruments, and pays due regard to parental responsibilities, family privacy and child welfare.”

Home educators in the UK continue to face a battle, as the British government seeks to treat the family and education as arms of the state. HSLDA is committed to standing with those who are fighting to retain the ability to direct their children's education at home.