British law has always held that it is the duty of parents to ensure that their children are suitably educated, and the legal position is that while education is compulsory, school is not. As HSLDA readers will know, the established position has come under considerable attack in recent years.
Although home educators are treated with a certain amount of suspicion, this established position has held good since laws passed in 1944 clearly stated that it is legal for a child to be home educated at any time unless it “appears” that the education is unsuitable. To date, all legal challenges to home education law (known as “education otherwise”) have failed.
In a new development, the Isle of Man (a British Crown dependency) is set to overturn long-established British law. This small island, just 31 miles by 13 miles with a population of 85,000, has few home educators, and the government has very rarely had to use its enforcement powers.
Home educators have had to register in the Isle of Man since 2009, and in 2017 the government here consulted on closer regulation.
The government now appears to be deeply prejudiced against home educators, and much more aggressive proposals have surfaced in a public consultation on a New Education Bill. Widespread reforms to home education law are proposed to commence this year. This consultation on the Bill closes 20 March, and anyone can contribute from within or outside of the Isle of Man.
The new bill sweeps away the legal status quo. “Education otherwise” is replaced by a Parental Duty stating that “Each parent of a child of compulsory school age must ensure that the child receives suitable education, whether or not by regular attendance at a school” and that parents should only “have a reasonable degree of influence over the kind of education.” The present law stating that inquiries can only be made “if it appears” the education is not suitable is to be replaced with the wording “if the Department suspects”—a much more powerful provision for the government.
The government wants to:
- Assess the child’s work
- Interview the child
- Interview the child’s parent
- Require the parent to supply unlimited personal information
In addition, the government intends to specify performance criteria for home educated children covering methods, processes, and opportunities for “social interaction and integration.”
The proposals are further toughened up by criminalizing parents who refuse to send their child to school if the government successfully prosecutes them for not meeting the criteria. The maximum sanction is six months in jail for one or even both parents.
In another part of the bill, the government wants to overturn the established position on religious education. State education, reflecting Britain's long-established Christian heritage, culture, and legal system, has always been required to be “of a broadly Christian character” in the Isle of Man. Parents who hold other beliefs are allowed to opt out of religious education. However, the Isle of Man now wants to impose a compulsory secular curriculum, and the obvious concern is that the government will try to impose this on home educators under the “social interaction and integration” assessment criteria.
Why, for such a small island, is this so important? All laws passed in the different British jurisdictions have to be cleared by the British authorities in London to ensure that they comply with Human Rights Legislation. The Isle of Man government is expected to assert that its laws do pass this test, and that logic, if accepted, could set a new bar for a change in law across the rest of Britain. The Isle of Man can, and does, break new ground from time to time. Voting rights for women and, more recently, new laws legalising opposite sex civil partnerships started in the Island.
Home educators in the Isle of Man are launching a legal challenge against the Isle of Man government under the Human Rights Act. Raising funds in a small island is not easy, and HSLDA members can help advance the cause of home education freedom by contributing to this GoFundMe in order to fund the legal challenge.
Importantly, Britain currently has the world’s most permissive home education law. It is perfectly allowable to educate your children from the start to the finish without any contact or interference from the authorities, but maintaining that ideal requires all our support in the face of such aggressive challenges.
Retired airline captain Tristram Jones is a home educator and civil liberties campaigner in the Isle of Man. He was home educated himself before training as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Over the past ten years, he has undertaken many political campaigns related to data privacy and children’s legislation.