Homeschooling is experiencing unprecedented growth in England, as more parents discover how the benefits of home education can help students thrive. But a recent court case may make it more difficult for families to craft education plans suited to their children’s individual needs and interests without first consulting local officials—who are often unfamiliar with homeschooling methods and its flexibility.
According to The Guardian, a new survey by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) revealed a record 115,542 children were homeschooled in England during the 2020–21 academic year: “a 34% increase on 2019–20 totals.”
The newspaper added: “This year’s total marks the biggest year-on-year increase since the survey began six years ago.”
However, the burgeoning homeschool community was taken back when England’s High Court issued a ruling in November that marked a potential major expansion in how much authority local governments are presumed to have for regulating and inspecting homeschooling.
Homeschoolers Shocked by Ruling
The finding in Goodred v Portsmouth City Council grants local officials more power to monitor homeschool families. This power could include having officials visit families’ homes—or possibly ordering parents to stop homeschooling and enroll their children in school.
“Home educators are naturally shocked and concerned about what this means for them,” said UK homeschool parent Juliet English, as she discussed the case and its implications on a recent podcast with Mike Donnelly, HSLDA director of global outreach.
Randall Hardy, another podcast guest, who homeschooled his own children in the UK and now has grandchildren who are being homeschooled, agreed. “Everybody’s devastated,” he said.
Juliet and Randall explained that this change is disheartening because of who it harms the most—the students who benefit from the flexible and customizable nature of homeschooling.
“We’ve got so much evidence to show that children learn better in these different environments,” said Juliet. She added that research shows homeschooling boosts development by providing students more time to engage in two crucial activities: imaginative play and being outside of the classroom in the real world.
Randall pointed out that increased restrictions could also make it harder for parents who removed their children from traditional schools to help them cope with additional challenges, such as special needs, bullying, or even trauma brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Homeschooling works for these families, said Randall. “Because of its personalized learning, they find it suits their children for the better.”
Juliet concurred. “The children stand to lose out hugely if the local authority decides the parent isn’t doing enough,” she said.
The facts of the case are fairly straightforward, as Donnelly pointed out.
After city authorities in Portsmouth told Christina Goodred they needed more information about how she was homeschooling her three children, she compiled a written report which was similar to what she had submitted in previous years.
Council staff then requested actual samples of the Goodred children’s schoolwork or in-person meetings.
Christina refused, arguing that English law only requires parents to either send their children to school or make arrangements to “otherwise” educate them. It says nothing about what sort of documentation is due to local officials. After months of back and forth, Christina requested judicial review in the High Court, which eventually ruled entirely in favor of the council.
An Issue of Trust
Lizzie Troughton, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom in London who was also on Mike Donnelly’s podcast, described how the ruling’s outcome could mean major changes for homeschool families.
“It [the ruling] essentially says there is a lot of discretion for local councils, and it also says it’s not unreasonable for this council to have asked for specific samples and specific proof of progress,” Lizzie said. She added that local officials may become much more aggressive in the way they scrutinize homeschool families.
Juliet agreed. “We are seeing an undermining of the primacy of parents in deciding how their children are educated and raised,” she said.
Nevertheless, Juliet and Randall said they refuse to lose heart.
More than ever, said Randall, he intends to spread the message that “it’s going to be up to you, as your sons and daughter’s parents, to stand for their futures. You can’t rely on somebody else doing it for you.”