The idea that child abuse can be thwarted by tightening laws about home education has been around for some time. The tragic case of Khyra Ishaq prompted Ed Balls to commission a review of home education in 2009 that was undertaken by Graham Badman. He reached the same conclusions as this week’s serious case review – that the law be changed to ensure that social services speak to children to assess if home education is in their interests. It seems that Khyra’s last hope was that the local authority’s home education support team might intervene once her mother had withdrawn her from school.
The principle seems straightforward – through registration, all home-educated children would become visible to the authorities, who could then protect them – and ensure that the education being received is adequate.
But Khyra was known to be at risk by the agencies whose job it was to protect her both before and after her withdrawal from school. The unpleasant fact is that parents who want to abuse children have ample opportunity wherever their children’s education is taking place. The belief that children in school or being monitored out of school cannot be suffering abuse is sadly naive.
From the home educators’ point of view, however, the conflating of welfare issues with education is a dangerous step. It not only threatens educational freedom but also places a presumption of guilt on loving families who must prove themselves innocent to suspicious officialdom. And, most insidious of all, if the law were changed, social workers and education professionals would presumably be expected to monitor the quality of education provided.
It is here that home educators have their strongest reservations. Education at home is nothing like education at school. Research by ourselves at the University of London’s Institute of Education has shown how diverse individual learners are, and therefore the diversity of ways in which their needs can best be met. Home education can range from the highly structured, based on set curriculums and lessons, to the completely informal. Styles of education can change between children and over time, bringing a flexibility and dynamism that would be impossible in a formal setting. While officials talk the language of individualism and chances for everybody, home educators are in a position to deliver precisely that kind of tailor-made education. That school should be the benchmark against which all education is measured is resented by many home educators.