Isle of Man bill reopens UK debate on home-schooling

The Isle of Man is consulting on plans to force parents who home-school to provide annual reports on their childrens’ development.

The crown dependency’s education minister, Graham Cregeen, put forward the proposal for “home educators to provide an annual report of the education they have provided for their children”.

In England, the former Conservative MP Neil Carmichael, who once chaired the education select committee, criticised current home-schooling laws on the mainland, and welcomed the proposal as a “good start” for the Isle of Man.

However, Mr Cregeen stressed the importance of not bringing in “draconian” legislation that may have an adverse effect on children and parents using the home-school system.

The issue of home-schooling in England has become more relevant as the number of children educated under the system doubled in the past six years, a Schools Week investigation discovered last month.

An estimated 15,131 children were home schooled in 2011, but that has now reached at least 29,805 (and is likely to be higher since some authorities could not provide figures), mounting pressure on the government to look again at policies to ensure the safety of children educated at home.

READ MORE: Home education doubles, with schools left to ‘pick up pieces’

Mike Wood, founder of Home Education UK, an online forum for home-educating parents, said most families would be willing to provide a general annual report on what they had taught.

But if the annual report was “prescriptive” about what should be learnt, then parents would see the consultation proposals as the “thin end of the wedge” for more intrusive policies, he said.

It mustn’t be prescriptive about what has to be taught

A similar proposal for annual reports  in England would be unnecessary, as most local authorities already had various communication channels with home-educating parents, which didn’t need “pinning down” further, said Wood.

But Carmichael suggested that “school leaders would be a most appropriate” channel through which to monitor home schools in the Isle of Man and, potentially, in England.

“It is totally inconsistent for the government to be talking on the one hand about truancies and holidays, when parents can take children completely out of school whenever they want,” he said. “I think there is a huge loophole there.

“Problems arise when families use this loophole to deal with children when it is not necessarily in the interest of the child.”

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  1. Is it not in the interests of the human rights of each child to ensure that they receive an education suitable to their abilities and needs? Under English law it is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that their child is suitably educated. Some parents choose to educate their child using private tuition or paying fees in the home-setting or at a private school. Others choose to access state-funded education in its variety of settings. Coming full-circle, surely all educational settings need appropriate inspection and feedback to ensure the human rights of each child are upheld? And so begs the question – what is appropriate inspection? At present state schools are not on a fair inspection playing field with each other or private schools, and there is large resentment with state interference in family life of home-schooled children. Maybe government need to look at the reasons why home-schooling is on the increase and make the education systems for all our children a much more child-centred process rather than a regime process which alienates learning and achievement? I think the idea of home-schooling is really appealling for 21st century education, but this worries government because they have less control. And somewhere in the middle of the argument sits the most important thing of all – human rights of the child.

  2. Who would this report be for? It’s not for the state to decide how children should be educated. Kids belong to their parents, not to public servants like Mr Carmichael, no matter how much he might wish otherwise.

    The reason we have school reports and inspections is because the school is providing a service to the parents, and thus the parents need to be kept informed on how the school is doing. But home educating parents don’t need informing about their own progress, since they have the knowledge first-hand. In the same manner, you might ask someone else who is cooking for you when dinner will be ready, but you never ask *yourself* when you’re cooking your own food.

    Bureaucrats who think reports are needed for everything are under the mistaken impression that they are the ones in charge. They’re not. They are public servants, and they should know their place.

  3. Neil Carmichael has been at odds with the home education community for some time, and I don’t think too many tears were shed when he lost his seat at the last election.

    Using school teachers as a means of monitoring home education would cause immense friction, because most of them lack a basic understanding of how home education works. Where local authorities employ former teachers in EHE roles there is usually an awkward bedding-in period where the ex-teacher has to learn how it all works and that it is not necessary to have formal sit-down lessons with written work marked by the parents in order to have a comprehensive and excellent education.

    As always, it comes down to standards. If a report is provided, presumably someone reads it and decides whether the education described therein is acceptable. What are the criteria against which such a report is judged? Who gets to decide on those criteria? Home education is tailored to the needs of the child, so what is suitable for one child may not be suitable for another, so each child would have to be individually assessed. The parents, being the people who know the child best, would have to both write the report and come up with the assessment criteria, thus making it a huge waste of time. Government thinks that all children should advance at the same rate in all subjects when clearly that is a nonsense idea so they are not qualified to provide individual plans.

    As for loopholes, some years ago DfE was doing its best to introduce a huge loophole of its own and it was largely down to home educators pointing out that it would wreck the government’s truancy drive that it was eventually stopped.