April 23, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The year-long lockdown had a disastrous effect on the education of many of those children who were relying on conventional schools, which did not always rise to the challenge of teaching remotely. Many parents, again, found it difficult, at short notice, to create an environment in which their children could learn effectively, whether through lack of technology, physical space, or for other reasons. These children were still enrolled in schools, and it was the school system which failed them. Children being home-educated, by contrast, found their education disrupted the least of anyone’s.
What happened in 2020 illustrates the robustness of home education. Tailored to the needs and circumstances of the family and the child, it can deal with the disruption caused by things like illnesses or the family moving house far more easily than a bricks-and-mortar institution. Similarly, providing tuition for a child who wants to study a relatively obscure subject may not be easy for a home-educating family, but in most schools it would be out of the question. All things considered, it’s not going to be home-educated children who are still suffering educationally two or more years from now.
The natural reaction to this situation for some is to attack the very concept of home-education. The latest is Fraser Nelson. He lets the cat out of the bag when he says that it became worth worrying about only now that it has grown, partly thanks to the epidemic. It is not the failure of home education, in other words, that Nelson is worried about, but its success.
Nelson is the editor of the right-wing U.K. weekly Spectator, and he is writing in the Daily Telegraph. Why does a supposedly conservative journalist seek to ridicule the idea that home-education is a “sacred right”? Like a lot of intellectuals on the political right, he seems to have no sense of the importance of the family, and like his colleagues on the left instinctively assumes that state intervention is the only way to deal with problems, whatever their origin. When he sees some families looking after an important aspect of life, the education of children, so successfully that other families realize this could be a possibility for them as well, he is worried. What if it all goes wrong?
What if schools go wrong, Fraser? But it’s too late for that: they have gone wrong, and that is why we are having this discussion right now. When schools go wrong, it is time to attack home education. To punish the dog, kick the cat.
Nelson’s arguments are instructive. The two categories of children he is really concerned about are those served by unregistered schools, and those who have been excluded or “off-rolled” from schools.
In the U.K., a school by definition provides education for a minimum number of hours for a minimum number of days a year. If it does not, it’s not a school, but a provider of educational services. If it does, it is subject to a great deal of regulation. Nelson is worried about institutions which are teaching for more than this minimum number of hours, and are not registered or regulated. They are breaking the law, and the people involved can face heavy fines. It appears that the state’s educational apparatus has not enforced the law effectively. What on earth has this got to do with the need for new laws on home education? The children at these institutions are by definition not being home educated.
On exclusions, educational fashion — assisted by the state’s inspection regime — has dismantled effective discipline in many schools. The result is that some schools are places where children can be knifed and raped, but receive little education. As a way of dealing with the situation, the government has instituted public “league tables” ranking schools by their pupils’ performance in standard examinations. But how do schools — under intense pressure not to impose order on the chaos — improve their rankings? Well, they could chuck out the worst pupils, who often have nowhere else to go.
Formal expulsions are actually difficult for schools to do, so they came up with an ingenious scheme. Who says state bureaucracies can’t be creative? They now sit down with the parents of difficult children, and persuade or bully them into removing their children. This is called “off-rolling”. If the parents have no effective plan for educating their children outside school, this is no longer the school’s problem. In principle, local authorities should be providing them, if necessary, with tutors, but unsurprisingly this system doesn’t always work well.
Fraser Nelson has mentally categorized these children as “home schooled”: They are not enrolled in schools, true, but these are not parents who have made a decision to home educate. This is a problem created by schools, which can only be solved by schools. Home educated children should be left alone.