From the Editor - Parental rights, and the wrongs of the wicked few
Ask teachers what they think of home education and most will respond with a raised eyebrow or a snort of derision. It's akin to asking most doctors what they think of homeopathy, or anyone with a science degree their opinion of Prince Charles. It is the confident sneer a professional bestows on misguided amateurs.
Whatever the motivations of parents who choose to educate their children at home, it is hard not to see their choice as a slap in the face for the profession. It's like Jamie Oliver offering to cook for the family and mum declining because she prefers Iceland's Freezer Pleasers. How could teachers not be offended? It's understandable if they struggle to be objective. Be honest. They say "home educator", you say "wacko nut jobs with a fondness for Linux, Gor-Tex and God". Everyone knows the story of the home-educated prodigy who went to Oxford at 13, became a prostitute and whose father was jailed for sexual assault. Where there's smoke ...
... there probably isn't fire. Parents who choose to home educate do so for a variety of reasons, most of them prosaic rather than ideological - a lack of provision, a lack of support or simply the lack of a school place. Oddly, the numerous cases of pupil catastrophe that punctuate the regular system are never used to trash the concept of "school". So it's hardly fair to blacken the reputation of home educators because of a few well-publicised tragedies.
The impression that these DIY pedagogues live on the margins of acceptable society is, however, only reinforced by the antics of the home-education lobby. It is relentless, vociferous, obsessive and litigious. This paragraph will result in hundreds of protesting emails, several solicitors' letters and at least one complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. The lobby's lack of perspective, its uncompromising zealotry and adolescent monomania fuel suspicions that home educators shouldn't be left in charge of a pot plant, let alone a child.
Which is unfortunate, because, despite their embarrassing champions, home educators have an excellent case to make. It doesn't matter if teachers think that children would be better off in school than at home. It is irrelevant if they believe that home schooling deprives a child of the ability to learn social skills, or if they harbour suspicions about the quality of his or her education. Take away a parent's right to decide how they should educate their child within the law and you take away a fundamental right of a parent to be a parent. And, yes, that includes the right to provide their child with what others would consider a bad education.
There is, of course, one exception that trumps parents' rights: the right of a child to grow up free from abuse and neglect (pages 28-32). Even if we accept, for argument's sake, that home-educated children are no more likely to be abused than those educated in school, the fact remains that hundreds will be. And, unlike school pupils, they will suffer abuse that has little chance of being spotted.
It is not easy to put in place a regulatory system that is robust enough to protect vulnerable children and light enough to respect the rights of home educators. Nor is it cheap. But that doesn't mean the Government can avoid its responsibility to try. And if the price of saving just one child is compulsory registration, it is a cost home educators should bear.