Humes warns on home learning

24th March 2006 at 00:00
One of Scotland's most outspoken educationists has stepped into the home education debate currently raging in The TES Scotland letters page, with a warning that authorities may have to intervene in the education of children who are being taught by parents with "very extreme religious views".

Walter Humes, director of research at Aberdeen University's school of education, said that in such cases home education could become a situation of indoctrination and that was outlawed under the United Nations Convention on Human Rights which protects a child's right to "grow up in a spirit of free enquiry".

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Scottish School Boards Association in Glasgow, Professor Humes also warned that closure and amalgamation of small and rural schools was likely to lead to a growth in home education.

He predicted that the trend to home education was likely to be reinforced.

"In Scotland, 50 per cent go on to some form of higher education. They feel themselves informed about educational issues, less dependent on professionals and more inclined to take on responsibility themselves.

"Home education won't suit everyone but I believe it is a growing trend, most particularly in those rural areas where the local school has been closed."

In a reference to the home education debate sparked by contrasting views in our Platform column from Michael Russell, the SNP's former education spokesperson, and Mike McCabe, South Ayrshire's director of education, Professor Humes also criticised local authorities as "paternalistic".

"Officials and professionals routinely think they know best," he said. "In my view, we have been too deferential, and I say that as someone who aspires to be a professional himself."

Local authorities might seek to "enable" rather than "control", but it was important to ensure that the enlightened rhetoric was matched by reality.

Looking to the enactment of the Parental Involvement Bill, which seeks to replace school boards with more flexible school councils and forums, Professor Humes warned the SSBA that it was at "a very critical point in terms of your organisation's tactics".

The association, which has opposed the new legislation, had to make a hard choice between discreet behind the scenes lobbying or a more strident campaign of public opposition.

"If it is lobbying, the interests of parents are perceived as getting too cosy with the establishment and may begin to lose the trust of their constituency," he said. "But, if you go over the top on every single occasion, you will be portrayed as emotional ranters and ignored."

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