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Steve Weatherbe

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UK government mulls ‘crackdown’ on homeschoolers

Steve Weatherbe

LONDON, December 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – British homeschoolers are facing renewed government interest in regulating them, sparked by fears that Muslim parents are only pretending to be homeschooling while actually sending their children to underground madrassas to be radicalized.

Christian homeschoolers have their own fears – that vague and ungrounded concerns about Islamization will be used to extend the nanny state to them. Estimates of how many homeschoolers there are in Britain range from 40,000 to 100,000.

"I am concerned this might develop into a means of browbeating all manner of home educators whether they be Muslim or any other religion, and this being used to introduce a much tighter regime of control in the United Kingdom," Roger Slack of the Christian Home Education Service (CHES) told LifeSiteNews.

The education secretary, Nicky Morgan has reportedly ordered a "crackdown" on homeschooling according to reports in the British news media, which are sourced to unnamed "officials" based on "fears" that "have been raised" without evidence cited or a source of these fears being named in any news stories.

A typical story in the Independent attributed to a "senior government source" proved to be empty of actual instances of Islamic radicalization or harm of any kind befalling homeschooled children. "Many people do it very well," said the source. "But we need to know where the children are and to be certain that they are safe. For every parent doing a brilliant job, there may be someone filling their child's mind with poison. We just don't know. We don't have reliable figures." 

In fact, the only thing the British government knows about homeschooling is that it doesn't know anything. "We are blessed," admits Slack, whose parent-members are happy to be teaching their children Christian morality and theology while preparing them for work and university without any scrutiny.

CHES's Slack told LifeSiteNews that concerns about homeschooling have been raised in the past but always died down. This time there is an added dimension: the decision of hundreds of Muslim Britons – all products of the government school system – to travel to Syria and fight for the radical Islamic group ISIS.

"The government is using them to interfere with all sorts of things," said Slack. Because after-school madrassas are being blamed for the radicalization, the government is talking about inspecting them all, and to avoid the appearance of discrimination, Christian youth groups will be inspected, too. So far, no Christian youth have gone to Syria to fight for ISIS."

Four years ago, the government developed the "Prevent" program to help teachers identify and inform on youth being radicalized, but, according to Slack, the program proved a failure. Nonetheless, every private Christian school was required to develop its own plans to implement Prevent.

In 2010, the previous Labour government produced a plan to regulate homeschoolers, which "we fought tooth and nail," said Slack. The government was defeated in the 2012 general election before the enabling legislation could be passed.

Slack says there are no known instances of graduates of registered private Muslim schools being radicalized, nor have there been any cases of children being poorly educated generally by homeschooling parents.

Nonetheless, the usual unnamed sources in government tell journalists that plans are "being considered," by persons or committees unknown, to require homeschoolers to register with local councils, a system in place in Southern Ireland.

The issue divides on partisan lines. The Labour education critic Lucy Powell described the situation as "a worrying weak spot for government. It is vital that action is taken to ensure that all children, whether in school or taught at home, are given the knowledge and skills to succeed, not taught a narrow curriculum of hate and bigotry."

But Conservative MP Graham Stuart, chairman of  the House of Commons committee on home education, told reporters the government should keep its hands completely off homeschooling. "The home is used by parents to inculcate ideas into their children's heads all the time. Just because there is a problem does not mean there can be a solution. If the next step is a formal register I would resist that strongly. The legal duty to educate a child rests with the parents, not the state. That is a long-standing settlement in this country."

Mike Donnelly of the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association said British  officials are like bureaucrats everywhere. "What they want is control. It really bothers them that they don't know how many homeschoolers there are and what they are doing," he told LifesiteNews. At the same time, he said, they have no evidence that there is anything amiss, or this too would have been leaked to the news media.

The evidence from surveys by scholars in the U.S. is that homeschoolers do better academically than public school students and also are more tolerant. "They were more accepting," said Donnelly, " of the rights of people they disagreed with to hold positions they disagreed with."

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