Leading article: Home tutors need guidance

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The Independent Online

The call for stricter controls on families who educate their children at home, at the Professional Association of Teachers' conference last week, deserves serious consideration.

The call for stricter controls on families who educate their children at home, at the Professional Association of Teachers' conference last week, deserves serious consideration. As the law stands, local education authorities have an obligation to ensure that parents who want to teach their children at home provide them with a broad and balanced curriculum to suit their age and ability. However, parents have the right to refuse a visit from the LEA, or to refuse the authority a meeting with the child, even if they co-operate with the visit. In addition, parents only have to register as home educators with the local authority if they have taken their child out of school - not if they decide before the child reaches school age that the child will never set foot in an educational establishment.

It makes sense to put all parents on an equal footing - both those who withdraw their children and those who reject schooling from the beginning. It also makes sense to check on home schoolers because of fears of child abuse. Increasingly, too, according to local- authority monitors, the decision to home-educate is being taken by parents who fear the Government's anti-truancy drive, with its threats of imprisonment for parents. Such parents are unlikely to have a well thought-out curriculum plan for their offspring.

One fear expressed by home educators may be well-founded, though. That is the worry that some inspectors may be prejudiced against them. The pioneers from Education Otherwise, who achieved the landmark victory that led to the present rules and regulations, certainly believe that to have been the case. It is difficult to legislate against prejudice. One step in the right direction would be to ensure that those who carry out inspections come from the local authority's home monitoring service rather the education welfare service - which has the returning of truants to school as part of its remit.

As a by-product of this debate, it would be a good idea for the Department for Education and Skills to commission its own research into why growing numbers of parents are turning to home education. Education Otherwise estimates that the numbers have grown by about 20,000 in the past two years, to about 170,000. Is it because parents are disenchanted with the education provided in state-run schools, and think that they can do better? Or is it because they know that their offspring are going to truant, and want to protect themselves from any possible penalties?

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