As we approach the 150th anniversary of the State requiring parents to educate their children new proposals are emerging for consultation that would potentially alter the nature of the contract between individuals and the State over the education of children between the ages of five and sixteen (and possibly eighteen).
As I noted in a post in June 2016
Parents are not required to send children to school to be educated, but if they do so it must be ‘regularly’. There seems to be no similar legal penalty that appears to be enforced for those that decide to home school or educate their children in some other way than sending them to school.
So, the requirement on parents has been to ‘educate’ their children, and the state school was always the default option if no other action has been taken by parents. I suspect that parliament either thought schooling generally a ‘good thing’, so most would take up the option or that it didn’t want to interfere in family life any more than necessary. As stated, the law also allowed private schools to continue with minimal state interference.
Fast forward 150 years and we live in a different set of circumstances, where family rights can be challenged by the rights of individual members of the family. In these circumstances, the right of the child to a ‘good’, ‘satisfactory’ and even’ appropriate’ education may top the right of a family to educate their children as they see fit. At some point the courts will have to rule on this issue.
In order to reach a decision on the education a child is receiving the state needs to know about that education and that the child is indeed being educated. This latter point is, I think, the reasoning behind the current move by the DfE to consult on a register of all children’s education.
Is this a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Realistically, the State wants to know children at risk either because parents are deliberately hiding them from the State or because state providers have made attendance at a school so challenging parents have withdrawn their offspring with no other adequate education in place.
A compromise might be that if a child is entered into a school, and receives a unique pupil number, it becomes eligible for tracking until the end of compulsory schooling. This would allow parents of genuine home schooling that never interact with the State to continue unhindered in their way of life. But, pupils excluded, off-rolled or otherwise removed, perhaps because of bullying or poor SEND provision, would remain open to checking on their education.
Apart from anything else, this might help local authorities recognise where provision has broken down for some children and argue for better resources. The risk is that, at least in the short-term, some schools might exclude more pupils since they would no longer disappear from the system. However, that risk is part of the debate society must have about schools and their place in communities: exam factories or education for whole communities?
This proposal doesn’t deal with those that want a different form of education. But, rules about what is a ‘school’ and the inspection of all schools with severe penalties for unregistered schools might deal with that issue.