England’s top education official revealed last month that his department has abandoned legislation that would have imposed new restrictions on British homeschoolers. What has come to be known as the “Schools Bill” will not advance for consideration in parliament’s House of Commons, according to UK Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.
Despite this welcome announcement, advocates for homeschool freedom remain wary. The Department for Education “would continue to prioritize certain elements of the bill, including a proposed register for children who were not in school,” Keegan added, according to the Guardian.
This means the death of the Schools Bill “is not a complete victory,” said homeschool advocate Randall Hardy. “This announcement provides only a respite for home educating families in England. Parents need to remain vigilant and protect their parenthood.”
A brief history
For years, English lawmakers have been pressing for more oversight of homeschooling, despite the law’s explicit statement that parents may “otherwise” provide for their children’s education outside of school.
The rationale for this ongoing effort can be found in a 2019 government study that states, “Local authorities need … to ensure all children in their area are receiving a suitable education.”
In a similar vein, the Schools Bill also sought to give national officials more control over England’s “academies.” These government-run schools are granted a great deal of freedom in choosing curriculum, school hours, and their programs’ operation in general—very much akin to public charter schools in the United States.
However, the Guardian reported that the Schools Bill’s introduction met with “fierce opposition over clauses that critics claimed would have given ministers sweeping and unprecedented powers over how academies operate.” Naturally, this opposition included England’s many homeschooling families.
Vigilance moving forward
Hardy said that the Schools Bill’s introduction proved that lawmakers are out of touch with what families want and with what England’s legal heritage protects:
“Embedded in the foundations of British education law is the concept that it is parents who are first and foremost responsible for ensuring that their sons and daughters receive a suitable education, not the state and its employees. There is, however, growing pressure for the state to assume primacy in the education of every child. We know that once such a responsibility is surrendered to any government, it is extremely hard to reclaim.”
Homeschoolers are watching to see if any of the Schools Bill’s proposals will be revived, and in what form.
One thing remains certain. Before it can press forward with any new legislation, England’s government will have to recover from a year of considerable turmoil. The last half of 2022 saw two prime ministers resign, four education secretaries ousted, and the death of the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.