The ruling party in England, with support from national education officials, have called for a homeschool registry even though feedback collected as part of a formal consultation (review process) by the government shows major opposition to such a scheme.
England has long recognized the right of parents to home educate their children without formal contact with local authorities. A dozen states in the United States, such as Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, and Indiana, have similar recognition. Since 2009, however, British education authorities have been pushing for more regulations on homeschooling families.
In February, England’s Department for Education unveiled responses to a 2019 consultation on proposed legislation that would significantly alter homeschool law.
According to the department’s summary, 4,753 individuals and organizations were asked if they thought local authorities throughout England “should be obliged to maintain a register of children who are not registered at specified schools.” The document clarified that this question referred to children who are being educated at home.
The vast majority of those who responded—74%—said they opposed such a registry. Those who objected included 82% of the 3,514 parents and young people who replied to the survey.
More and More Requirements
Despite this overwhelming view in opposition, officials insisted that they plan to pursue legislation to establish a registry—along with a host of yet-to-be-determined requirements.
“This is just one of the latest examples of growing hostility toward homeschooling in Europe,” said Mike Donnelly, HSLDA senior counsel and director of global outreach. “Homeschool parents in the United Kingdom can’t help but be concerned by the increased restrictions in nations such as France, Portugal, and Romania, and are doing what they can to keep it from happening in their own country.”
Donnelly noted that the call for requiring British homeschool families to register first arose many years ago. But those behind the proposal appeared to develop a heightened sense of urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, when an unprecedented number of students switched to homeschooling.
Randall Hardy, a homeschool advocate in England, pointed out that the surge in homeschooling during the pandemic simply accelerated a trend that began some time earlier.
“We’ve had exponential growth in home education in England over the past five years,” he said in an interview last week. “Most of that has been driven by schools failing children.”
He explained that many new homeschool families chose the option because they felt public schools were not adequately providing for their children with special needs.
Listening to Bureaucrats instead of Constituents
This trend may help account for the fact that, in reference to the 2019 survey, England's top education officials said they were most influenced by the responses from county and municipal governments. Of the 145 local authorities who responded, 96% said they favored requiring homeschool families to register.
Another explanation for why national officials seem more swayed by the opinions of local authorities might be found in a 2019 document introducing the survey and explaining the rationale behind the proposed registry. It stated: “Local authorities need to be supported to be able to conduct their duty to ensure all children in their area are receiving a suitable education.”
Donnelly said that this claim is based on a faulty interpretation of the law.
“Local authorities are not responsible for ensuring every kid gets an education,” he explained. “That’s not what the law requires. The law requires that parents provide a suitable education. If there’s evidence parents are not providing a suitable education, that’s when authorities can intervene. That’s the legal point at issue here.”
For many parents, Hardy explained, a registry “implies you have to have permission to do something.” And these homeschoolers feel they “do not need permission from the state. They don’t want the government to have anything to do with it.”
Details Still Have to Be Worked Out
Donnelly added that in order to shift the responsibility for the education of children from parents to the state, major changes in the law would have to be enacted—which is exactly what national officials hope to achieve.
What especially concerns homeschoolers is that national officials, by their own admission, have yet to work out the details for a registry. These details would include determining what information parents would have to provide, what deadlines they would have to abide by, and what penalties or enforcement mechanisms would be established for parents who failed to comply with reporting requirements.
There is also the issue of how much data the government will collect and how well it will be safeguarded.
Donnelly said it’s easy to envision this process going through a prolonged bout of tinkering, which would result in homeschool parents having to navigate a bureaucratic morass in order to invoke what is supposed to be a guaranteed right.
He offered Ireland’s homeschool registry as an example.
“It has been a significant source of friction and litigation as the government continues to move the goalposts,” Donnelly said. “Officials just keep requiring homeschool parents to submit more stuff. It just shows how these kinds of laws provide an opportunity for more regulatory creep that doesn’t help anyone.”