Christopher Hitchens – Mail Online January 28, 2009
I knew this was coming. The inflamed, all-seeing red eye of political correctness, glaring this way and that from its dark tower, has finally discovered that home schooling is a threat to the Marxoid project, and has launched its first open attack on it.
Before long, those who wish to declare independence from the state system (and cannot afford monstrous private school fees) will face endless interference, monitoring and regulation.
How do we know this? On the 19th January, an obscure person called Delyth Morgan levelled what I regard as an astonishing smear against people who educate their children at home. She suggested that such parents might be abusers, saying (I have taken these words directly from the Education department's own website): 'Making sure children are safe, well and receive a good education is our most serious responsibility.
'Parents are able, quite rightly, to choose whether they want to educate children at home, and a very small number do. I’m sure the vast majority do a good job. However, there are concerns that some children are not receiving the education they need.
'And in some extreme cases, home education could be used as a cover for abuse. We cannot allow this to happen and are committed to doing all we can to help ensure children are safe, wherever they are educated.
'This review will look at whether the right systems are in place that allow local authorities and other agencies to ensure that any concerns about the safety, welfare or education of home educated children are addressed quickly and effectively. The review will of course talk to home educating families to ensure their views and experiences are heard.'
The nerve of it is amazing. She first suggests the existence of abuse, then produces no evidence for this claim, then says that one purpose of the inquiry is to see if there is any evidence of such abuse. But if they haven't any evidence, on what basis do they think they have the right to launch such an investigation? It is sadly true that, if you want to wreck someone's reputation, you accuse him of child abuse. Everyone will immediately back away, and guilt will be presumed.
There's another point here. What's the logic? Even if a small number of parents were found to be using home schooling as a cover for child abuse, which so far as I know has not happened in Britain, that would not warrant an inquiry into home schooling as such. You might as well investigate all primary schools, or all nurseries, on the basis that some children who attend them are abused. There are many places apart from schools where children may be observed by doctors or others who might detect abuse.
I haven't any evidence that any members of the House of Lords abuse their children, because there isn't any. But on this logic, that state of affairs would presumably entitle the Department 'For Children' to probe their Lordships' House for evidence of such abuse, at taxpayers' expense.
Talk about having it both ways. One thing or the other, but not both - as Bertie Wooster said to Roderick Spode, when he discovered him combining leadership of a fascist movement with a ladies' frilly underwear business.
The precise terms of reference, if you want to know them, are these :"The Elective Home Education Review will investigate:
• Whether local authorities and other public agencies are able to effectively discharge their duties and responsibilities for safeguarding and ensuring a suitable education for all children.
• Whether home educating parents are receiving the support and advice they want to ensure they provide a good, balanced education for their children.
• Consider what evidence there is to support claims that home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude.
The guidance on children missing education is the first step in clarifying expectations in respect of the current system for supporting and monitoring home education. It also makes clear that parents’ right to home educate is not being altered and that suitable home education can take many forms.
Home education is just one area highlighted in the guidance, as it describes many circumstances which can lead to children missing education. The guidance describes how important it is for local authorities to tackle all problems around children missing education, in order to meet the vision set out in the Children’s Plan, particularly keeping all children safe from harm.
Graham Badman, former Director of Children’s Services at Kent County Council will lead the review, which is expected to conclude in May 2009. "
Oh, and look who else is along, our old friends the NSPCC, who you might have thought had enough to worry about elsewhere. But no. Diana Sutton, Head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, is quoted on the same Departmental website, saying:
“We welcome the Government’s decision to review the guidance on home education. We believe the existing legislation and guidance on elective home education is outdated. We support the view set out by the London (LA) Children’s Safeguarding Leads network that the government should review the legislation to balance the parents’ rights to home educate their children, the local authorities’ duty to safeguard children and the child’s right to protection. We welcome the fact that this review will look at where local authorities have concerns about the safety and welfare, or education, of a home educated child and what systems are in place to deal with those concerns.”
You work out what that means, or why an organisation supposedly devoted to stamping out cruelty to children should be involved in this, standing, metaphorically, at the minister's side. I will, as they say, move on.
Who is this Delyth Morgan? Well, technically, she is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families. This means she is Junior Minister for what used to be the Ministry of Education, in the House of Lords.
But who else is she? Officially, she is Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, raised to the peerage at the unusually young age of 43. Why? I think what follows helps to explain. She has a degree, as it happens in physiology. She was educated at a comprehensive school (unlike me), a College of Further Education (like me) and London University. She is married with a daughter. She seems to have spent much of her adult life toiling for right-on pressure groups : She was Campaigns Coordinator of Shelter for two years, then Director of the Workplace Nurseries campaign for four years; then she switched to an interest in health - the national Asthma Campaign, the long-term Conditions Alliance, a cancer 'taskforce' and various NHS committees. She was a very active chief executive of a body called Breakthrough Breast Cancer. I'm not sure if she was a paid employee in any of these posts. She is plainly a committed Labour activist, not just someone made a Labour Peer because the government liked the look of her. She drove a busload of Labour politicians round the country during the 2005 election. She was a mainstream candidate for Labour's National Executive in 1999, which suggests some deep roots in the party.
Why should she be less than keen on home education? Why is she even interested in it? English law since 1944 has allowed parents to educate their children at home without any state interference at all. In this, we are quite unlike Germany, for instance, where it is a criminal offence to do this - a law, I believe, dating from 1938, when Hitler wanted everyone brought up as a National Socialist, but somehow not repealed by the new Germany. I'd be interested to know the legal position in other countries, but I think it's illegal in China, legal in most European and Commonwealth countries. Many of the 50 United States used to have legal restrictions on home schooling, but most if not all have now been repealed, thanks to a powerful popular campaign, supported by huge numbers of parents who now reject the US state system - mainly on religious grounds.
That development, unlikely here, may still haunt leftists in this country. In that very funny movie 'Mean Girls', Lindsay Lohan plays a Chicago teenager who has till now been homeschooled by her globetrotting academic parents. There's a hilarious fantasy clip, when her schoolfriends discover this, illustrating what most urban liberal Americans think "Homeschooling" means - a group of stump-toothed, unwashed boys in some West Virginia trailer park talking, very, very slowly, about how Jesus lived at the same time as the dinosaurs (or something like that).
This is of course rather unfair. Certainly the home education movement is largely Christian, and Christian in a pretty uncompromising and Protestant way - that's why it has rejected state schools from which Christianity has been expelled thanks to an absurd misreading of the US Bill of Rights. Roman Catholics tend to use the network of parochial schools instead. But the education achievements of homeschoolers have been considerable, and they regularly capture many of the best scholarships at Ivy League universities. There are also a lot of them, sharing many non-school activities, which disposes of the cliche (invariably trotted out by opponents, and based on nothing) that home-schooled children do not have any social contact with others of their own age. What they do have is much more contact with adults who think it worthwhile to say 'no' to them when it matters, who read to them and converse with them and teach them morals and manners. But let that be, I'm sure we'll have a chance to debate this.
What the modern left really don't like about homeschooling is that it is independent of the state, and threatens its egalitarian monopoly from below. If it became a mass movement, it would be very dangerous to their project of enforcing equality of outcome, while using the schools to push radical ideas on sex, drugs, morality and politics.
They can (just about) tolerate the super rich in tiny numbers sending their offspring to schools that cost £30,000 a year plus extras - though the growing refusal of such schools to use the government's diluted exams may lead to a severe clash here too. More and more are opting for International GCSEs, similar to the old 'O' levels, which state schools are effectively barred from using , instead of GCSEs. They are also dropping the discredited A-levels in favour of the 'Pre-U' and the International Baccalaureate. This has happened, just as the Charities Commission, under the quangocrat Dame Suzi Leather, has been given a brief to make things tough for such schools, who would become even more expensive, and probably impossible to maintain, if their charitable status went. It will be interesting to see what happens.
And as long as it was just a matter of a few retired hippies and eccentrics keeping their young at home, which it was until very recently, home schooling didn't matter. But what is happening now is that many parents are taking their children out of state schools because a) they are being horribly bullied in anarchic classrooms and playgrounds and b) they have begun to notice that many of the schools aren't teaching them anything much anyway. - despite years of propaganda, stunts, gimmicks, 'specialist status', absurdly glowing OFSTED reports and allegedly improved (but fiddled) exam results.
If all the plumbers in your area were no good at fixing leaks, and kept flooding your kitchen, you'd teach yourself plumbing and do it yourself. The results couldn't be worse. Why not take the same view with schools? Why not just keep them at home and do a better job yourself? Of course this is impossible for couples who both trudge out to work every day. But one way or another there is now a significant minority of households where this isn't the case, where homeschooling looks like a serious option and may take off. I suspect the left-wing establishment want to nip it, hard, in the bud. Though of course I'm not prejudiced, and will wait with interest for the report.
Also see: Germany Declares War on Home-Schooler
When Schools Fail
Last updated 01/02/2009