Officials in England are calling for a national registry of homeschoolers ahead of an election this year, and similar battles are beginning to take shape in the US. Homeschoolers in England expressed concern that the Labour Party’s posturing signals even wider support for increased regulation of homeschooling.

“We’re now in a position where all three major parties believe in the efficacy of a homeschool registry,” said homeschool advocate Randall Hardy. Given this reality, he added, homeschoolers are preparing for a legislative effort that could arise after the national election.

In a January speech outlining policies favored by the Labour Party, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson echoed calls by other political coalitions to tighten government oversight of England’s growing homeschool population. Among other demands, Phillipson insisted that all students in England should be given an identification number and entered into a database, which would then be monitored by AI for absence trends.

It’s unlikely Phillipson’s proposal will be enacted this year. The United Kingdom’s government is expected to schedule a general election as early as May—and must do so no later than January 2025. That means there probably won’t be time to pass major legislation before Parliament adjourns. But with support from all three parties for a national registry, homeschool advocates are worried that it is only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

The Labour Party is favored to win the majority of votes in the next parliamentary election.

Standing Together

Attorney Kevin Boden, director of HSLDA International, noted that our organization stands ready to assist England’s homeschoolers as they strategize ways to defend their freedoms. Boden added that homeschoolers in America should take interest in Britain’s political developments, given that some British lawmakers are framing education issues in a way that reflects trends in our own country.

“Sometimes we’re prone to disconnect ourselves and say that the struggles in America are different from what homeschoolers face elsewhere,” Boden said. “But to be disconnected is to be disinformed and unprepared for the challenges that are coming.”

Making the Most of a Crisis

For example, to justify new restrictions on home education, British lawmakers are conflating homeschooling with a genuine crisis afflicting both England and the US—a high rate of chronic absenteeism among public school students.

As Hardy explained, legislators are now saying the government needs a method for tracking “all children not in school.” This includes the estimated 1.6 million students who are failing to attend class regularly, but would also require tracking of all homeschooled students as well.

Phillipson said as much in her recent speech, insisting that, “If children aren’t in schools, local authorities need to be clear about where they are.”

Another way officials and other critics are laying the foundation for new restrictions is by presenting unflattering depictions of homeschoolers that are not necessarily grounded in fact.

Lord Nash, a former minister in the Department for Education, employed this technique to make the case for empowering local authorities to visit homeschooling families where they live.

According to The Times of London, Nash said that of the 100,000 children being homeschooled in England, “I’d be surprised if more than 20,000 [families] are really competent to do so. It’s essentially an unregulated area. There needs to be some sort of power of inspection.”

The Eye of AI

And this scrutiny would not be limited to home visits.

Phillipson insisted that homeschooled children should be added to a national student database that would be integrated with tracking systems run by other government agencies. The proposed database would link students with government resources by “joining up existing records for children and improving coordination between education, social care, and wider services that support families,” The Guardian reported.

It’s too early to tell if the registry and database proposals will amount to more than campaign pledges. Much depends on the outcome of the upcoming election and whether the leaders of the party that gains power believe they have the political mandate to forward their objectives.

Whatever happens, said Hardy, at least British homeschoolers know what issues to focus on.

“Ever since 2017 we’ve had to fight this agenda, and it’s still going on,” he said. “The direction of travel is really concerning going forward.”

Closer to Home

Meanwhile, in the United States, homeschool families have similar reasons to remain watchful. In Oklahoma, a bill introduced in the current legislative session calls for homeschool restrictions much like those proposed in England.

Oklahoma House Bill 4130 would require parents to request approval and undergo background checks in order to homeschool. The measure also calls for the state Department of Human Services to maintain a database of all individuals, facilities, and organizations that assist with homeschooling, “podschooling,” or “microschooling.”

The bill is not expected to move forward, and even if it did pass, it would face a major legal hurdle. Oklahoma is the only state where homeschooling is explicitly protected by the constitution, which guarantees parents the right to provide their children with “other means of education.”

One thing is certain at this point. American and British homeschoolers will share a common cause when they gather for an international home education conference this coming July in Manchester, England—an event sponsored by the Global Home Education Exchange and HSLDA.