Simon Webb: We must get tough on home schooling

The most popular educational method used by those who withdraw their children
from school in this country is known as autonomous education and involves
nobody teaching children anything at all! I believe this peculiar technique
is causing incalculable damage to the thousands of home educated children
upon whom it is used.

Autonomous education is based on a simple principle: that children alone are
the best judges of what they should learn and when they should learn it. If
a child wishes to spend the day slumped in front of a television or games
console, this is not a problem, the choice is his. Many autonomous educators
go even further, asserting that it is for the child to decide on bedtimes,
diet and other aspects of lifestyle. To see how this works in practice, we
cannot do better than look at “How People Home Educate” on the
website of Education Otherwise, a registered charity working in the field.

A mother writes about educating her children, aged 10 and seven, whom she
describes as “night owls”, at home. They apparently have no
bedtimes and get up “later than I would like”. She says: “Their
days are often filled with television and lots of play”. There is no
academic work at all. Neither child can read but she says: “They will
read one day and will do so because they want to, not because somebody tells
them to.” As a description of the odd week or so during the school
holidays, this is perfectly acceptable; as a long-term lifestyle for growing
children, it verges upon the neglectful. Yet this account is quoted with
evident approval by the largest organisation for home educators in this

No wonder such parents are vehemently opposed to new legislation which would
enable local education authorities to check up on the education being
provided for children taught at home. The disadvantages of this system are
probably obvious to most parents. Our children are most decidedly not the
best judges of what is wholesome and good for them. Many children and
teenagers, if left to their own devices, would not surface until lunchtime.
Following a sugary snack of biscuits and fizzy pop, they might spend the
afternoon playing computer games or watching television.

It would be a rare child who chose instead to get up at 7am or 8am, eating a
healthy breakfast of wholemeal toast washed down with a glass of mineral
water before settling down to teach himself algebra! That is why we as
adults assume responsibility for the welfare, physical and mental, of our

As the law stands, any parent can withdraw a child from school simply by
notifying the head in writing. The LEA can make informal enquiries about the
education being given to the child, but has no right to enter the home or
interview the child. For many, this is the end of their education.

According to the recent review of home education conducted by Graham Badman,
there may be as many as 80,000 home-educated children in Britain. Under
current arrangements, nobody has the slightest idea what sort of education,
if any, many of these children are receiving. This is hardly a satisfactory
state of affairs. My daughter and I welcomed the representative of our LEA
into our home once a year to show what we had been doing, but many parents
are determined not to allow the LEA any access to their homes. Under those
circumstances, it is impossible for the local authority to have the least
idea what is happening with regard to the child’s education.

It is high time that LEAs were given the power to check up on the wellbeing
and educational attainments of these children. The furious opposition to any
change in the law is spearheaded by autonomous educators who are, not
surprisingly, anxious to prevent anybody from assessing the efficacy of
their educational provision. While fighting for their own “rights”,
such people are denying their children one of the most important rights that
other children in this country enjoy; the right to a proper education.

The writer is a home-educating parent who works with children with special
needs in inner London

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