01 March 2010

More about home education

Home tuition loophole. Khyra’s mother and stepfather used home education as a cover for her horrific abuse. If parents wish to remove a child from state school to teach them at home, they simply have to notify the head teacher. By law, they must provide a ‘suitable’ education according to the ‘age, aptitude and ability’ of the child. But there is no requirement to follow the national curriculum or to provide a set number of hours of education. Local authorities can make informal inquiries to establish if parents are offering a suitable education. But the law allows parents to refuse to let officials see the education that is taking place. They simply have to show examples of the child’s work – with no need for the youngster to be present. *

The above extract is evidently implying that the degree to which individual liberty survives in the ‘educational’ system is regrettable.When I got the top scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, it was almost entirely on the strength of work which I had done under my own auspices and which the local education authority had not known about. I translated all four languages on the optional translation paper, having become proficient in reading languages by reading them. I had deliberately prepared myself for the General Essay papers by informing myself of the views of major philosophers of the past, and a Somerville don later said to me that my essay papers were the most remarkable she had ever seen. Even the maths, on which my marks would not on their own have got me the top scholarship, owed nothing to tuition from anybody or to the supervised courses which I had been forced to undergo, and which had not even been intended as ‘preparation’ for the specific purpose of taking university entrance exams.

It is a complete fallacy to suppose that ‘teaching’ necessarily has much relevance to outcome, or that conformity to the ‘national curriculum’ or ‘set hours’ of supervised ‘work’ would be a good thing in any individual case.

The contribution of the ‘education authority’ to my education was consistently negative, as it, or individual members of it, discouraged my father (a headmaster) from allowing me to take the School Certificate exams (normally taken at 16) when I was 13, then from supporting me in going to a post-graduate summer school at a French university when I was 15, and finally from supporting me in starting to take external degrees from London University when I was 16. On the other hand, they encouraged him to get me into supervised school and university courses against my will. I did not think they were relevant to my purposes and being forced to attend them was anything but beneficial.

Incidentally, the comments in the Daily Mail refer to the current law ‘allowing’ local authorities to make ‘informal’ enquiries in cases of home education, as though this were somehow less intrusive than ‘formal’ enquiries. I am not quite sure where a line could be drawn between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ enquiries in any case. ‘Informal’ ones can have sufficiently damaging effects on the life of the victim being ‘enquired’ about, as I know to my cost.

* Daily Mail, 26 February 2010.