Home education is growing in popularity in England and Wales – current estimates suggest that around 40,000 children are home schooled, although only half of that number are known to local authorities. It’s an option favoured by many Christian parents and historically, their right to make this choice has been respected. As long as provision is suitable (and local council inspectors can make an ‘informal enquiry’ to ensure suitability) parents are trusted to educate their children as they wish. But this might all be about to change, following recommendations in the recently published Casey Report.
Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that: ‘In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ The right to home educate is further reinforced in the 1996 Education Act which states that: ‘The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents/carers’ although provision must be ‘suitable’ and ‘efficient’. The term ‘suitable’ was defined by Mr Justice Woolf in case law in 1985 as being an education that ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole’.
An attempt was made to bring home educators under the firm control of the state in 2009 – it failed then, but the climate is very different now, and secular campaigners have very cleverly woven anti-faith sentiment into the fabric of concern about safeguarding and social cohesion. A new review of local government provision has been ordered and Alan Wood has chosen to consider the role of local authorities in monitoring home education as one of the strands of his investigation. The mantra now is that the state should know where every child is and what they are being taught to ensure that it complies with British values. So the proposal is that all children not in school must be registered and that local authority inspectors should have right of access to the home to interview children without their parents present.
That might seem like a good safeguarding idea on the face of it, but it’s the product of wilfully confused thinking. Illegal, unregistered schools and home education are not the same thing, however much the state might choose to assume that they are. It gives to local authority inspectors powers of entry to your home which are currently only available where criminal activity is suspected – police officers with search warrants or customs and excise officers.
And for Christian parents, that is alarming, given Louise Casey’s definition of religious belief. She says that for those for whom ‘religion is very important in their daily lives … there appear to be some who are keen to take religion backwards and away from 21st Century British values and laws on issues such as gender equality and sexual orientation’. Any Christian who does not embrace the liberal, progressive views of society is, in her view, creating segregation.
Casey recommends not only that home educators should be registered, but that the government ‘should also consider the standards against which home education is judged to be clear that divisive practices are not acceptable in any setting’. In other words, Christian parents who, in their own homes and churches, teach their children that our universe is created by God; that we are designed as male and female, and that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, are harming their children and sowing the seeds of social division.
In her appearance before the Communities and Local Government Select Committee last week, Casey spelt out what she meant by this saying: ‘it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage … it is not how we bring children up in this country. It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression “religious conservatism”, because often it can be anti-equalities.’
Should alarm bells be ringing for Christian home educators? On this evidence I think they should. Liberal, progressive values are sweeping our society like a tidal wave, taking all dissent in its wake. Home educators, Christian schools and churches should take notice – join the liberal, progressive form of religious practice lobbied for by anti-faith groups and so readily espoused by the state, or lose your right to raise and teach your children in accordance with biblical truth.