Tighter Safeguards for Home Schooling?

Today’s report from the Birmingham Safeguarding Children’s Board, reviewing the tragic case of Khyra Ishak, has once again raised questions about the level of controls applied to families who opt for home schooling.

I was contacted by ITV News who planned to run a report in the main evening news.  To their credit, they asked me to put forward a student or family which was a good example of home schooling. The student needed to be about 11 or 12 and close to London and they wanted to send a camera round in the next half hour. We identified four possible families whom, we believed, would represent the happy face of home schooling and tried to contact them. Two were away, perhaps on holiday, and two said, quite reasonably, that it was much too short notice. In the end, we ran out of time, and were unable to recommend anyone suitable. ITN promised to look elsewhere but they were working, as ever, to a tight deadline, and, as it turned out, they ran the report on national television without any such “balancing” film.

Instead, there was footage of Christopher Spry, a “child abuse survivor”, suggesting that there should be tighter controls. I don’t think the watching audience would have gained a fair sense of the other side of the argument. Nor is there any sign that home schooling was a significant issue in either the Spry or Ishak cases.

The objective seems to be to put pressure on the government yet again to implement the recommendations of the Badman Report. Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, was given a brief chance to respond and said “the child did not die as a result of home schooling”.

That is indeed the key point and it is to be hoped that the new government sticks to its guns and resists the misguided pressure to apply heavy-handed controls and safeguards to home learners and their families. Children in desperate situations, like Ishak, require effective intervention and there is no doubt that mistakes were made. But the local authorities already had sufficient powers to make that intervention and it is a story of human error not lax regulation.

Most home-educated children exist at the opposite end of the social spectrum from the unfortunate Khyra Ishak. They pursue their studies within hugely supportive and resourceful families who have positively elected to provide an education within the home. Such children are often remarkably successful, both in terms of qualifications and their overall personal development.

It is not an easy option for the families concerned and it would be a great shame if any were deterred from choosing this option by the threat of “inspection” and the problem of having to justify complex educational choices.  Let’s keep the balance of control and freedom as it is right now.

Dr Nicholas Smith,

Principal, Oxford Home Schooling

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