Home School Court Report
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Vol. XXV
No. 5
Cover
September/October
2009

In This Issue

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by Michael P. Farris
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English Home Education: Already in Proper Balance

Editor’s note: Although our coverage of homeschooling freedom abroad has recently focused on Germany, there is a trend in England that not only threatens the freedom of homeschoolers there, but also has serious implications for homeschoolers in the United States.

For the past decade, England has had a level of homeschooling freedom comparable to that of the United States. A new report, suggesting serious restrictions of homeschooling freedom, bases its recommendations on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—and prefigures threats that will likely arise in the U.S., should our Senate ratify the CRC.

The following excerpt is based on Mike Farris’s response to the report. You can read his full-length response online.

Michael P. Farris
HSLDA/Kimberlee Bloom
...
THERE IS SIMPLY
NO BASIS FOR
WIDESPREAD ALARM
CONCERNING THE
WELL-BEING OF
CHILDREN.
...

Introduction

Graham Badman’s June 2009 “Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England” proposes draconian changes in English home education law.

His central assertion is that the current education law does not properly balance the rights of parents and the rights of children.

However, he reaches this conclusion on a faulty basis. Most significantly, he fails to fully and accurately describe the current legal framework that governs home education. He avoids any discussion of the existing power of local education officials to intervene with the force of law in a situation where they have found a home education program to be unsuitable.

Nevertheless, he makes a series of recommendations to remedy the problems he has “discovered.” Central to his scheme is the requirement that a government official be empowered to compel entry by a government official into the homes of families engaged in home education. Then he wishes the official to have the power to interrogate each child in order to “hear” the child’s wishes and make an independent determination of the suitability of the home education program.

The Badman Report opines that traditional English concepts of parental rights and liberty must be sacrificed to achieve the value of adherence to children’s rights theory—specifically, the theory contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

How the English Legal System Works

There is nothing ineffective about the current English law when all of the elements are considered:

  • Homeschooling parents are under the same educational duty as all other parents.
  • This standard has been subject to further definition by English courts.
  • Local school officials have both the duty and authority to take action if they have reasonable grounds to believe that suitable education is not being given to any child.
  • Parents are given notice and an opportunity to cure any deficiency.
  • If the school officials are not satisfied, they may order a cessation to home education.
  • If the parents disagree with this decision, they may elect to appeal to the Secretary or make their defense in court.

An Incomplete Comparison

The Badman Report asserts: “International comparison suggests that of all countries with highly developed education systems, England is the most liberal in its approach to elective home education.”1

England

Seven lines of analysis follow. He mentions Germany, “most European countries” (without elaboration), and New Zealand.

The omission of the United States is a particularly blatant error when it comes to the subject of home education. There is little doubt that more children are being homeschooled in the United States than in the rest of the world combined. (See “Homeschool Progress Report 2009” in this issue for the latest U.S. home education statistics.)

Once the United States is brought into the comparison, it is inaccurate to suggest that England has the most liberal approach to home education regulation.

England’s Education Act of 1996 is similar to some of the older American home education laws. Some states are more lenient than the English system, and others have more specific requirements. None differ greatly from the general approach of English law that parents should be trusted and authorities are empowered to intervene in the extraordinary case.

There is simply no basis for widespread alarm concerning the well-being of children. Freedom works.

Badman’s Reliance on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Badman begins his review of the regulatory framework of the current English system by citing Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This Article provides that “in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child [be] given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

Accordingly, Badman suggests that Parliament enact mandatory provisions to require parents to have an official enter their home to interrogate their children concerning their “views” and to make an independent assessment of the suitability of the home education being provided.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown
World Economic Forum/Remy Steinegger
The Right Honorable Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Obviously, the Article 12 system would vest the independent reviewer with extraordinary power of subjective judgment. Such a methodology is antithetical in any society that places any value on the rule of law, privacy, and liberty.

The Badman Interrogation Program: A Violation of Human Rights

Badman’s approach flies in the face of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (made binding on the United Kingdom by the Human Rights Act of 1998). Article 8 says,

  • Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  • There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Badman believes that unless officials can enter a home, no one can know for sure what is happening with a child. There is a certain truth to this assertion. However, this is true for all homes, not just those engaged in home education. Unless and until the government is willing to install surveillance cameras in the home of every family, there is no way to absolutely guarantee that officials truly know what is happening in each home. Freedom comes with some risks. But it is generally believed that the totalitarian alternative is far worse in the long run.

Would Badman’s Inspectors be Professionally Qualified to Assess the Suitability of Home Education?

House of Parliament
E.N. Wikipedia.org
Houses of Parliament for the United Kindom.

Finally, there is serious doubt that such an inquisitor would be qualified to evaluate the effectiveness of a home education program. Any form of assessment (including testing and measurement) is generally required to meet four professional standards for accuracy and reliability. A clear statement of these standards is found in a publication by the British Council describing certain examinations for English proficiency: Examinations must be “designed around four essential qualities: validity, reliability, impact, and practicality… ”2

An American court used essentially identical standards for the validity of educational assessment to overturn an improperly crafted program of home education assessment.

In Lawrence v. South Carolina State Board of Education, 412 S.E.2d 394 (S.C. 1991), the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that 16 of 33 panel members, all of whom were professional public school educators, assembled to conduct the study were unqualified:

Panelists who were not home schoolers were given no description of the requirements for successful home schooling. These sixteen panelists were not familiar with home schooling or were never asked if they knew anything about it.

Task-relatedness evaluations required a panelist to judge whether the EEE item tested some knowledge or skill that was “a necessary prerequisite” to home schooling. Sixteen of the panelists were not qualified to make this evaluation since they were given no information as to what the prerequisites for home schooling were.

[emphasis added]

This is a very important principle. Public school teachers and college professors of education were held to be “not qualified” to evaluate effective home education. The application of professional educational standards to the task at hand demonstrated that there are significant differences in the methods and strategies of successful home education and the strategies employed in institutional schools. Evaluators who have neither professional expertise nor in-depth study of home education simply are unqualified to make valid assessments.

The Badman method of home interrogations fails all four of the criteria outlined by the British Council for proper assessment and measurement:

  • Validity. The interrogators would have no objective tools of measurement and would lack the proper expertise in home education.
  • Reliability. Subjective home interrogations of children simply cannot produce results that have any semblance of national consistency, accuracy, or fairness.
  • Impact. The massive invasion of family privacy as well as the contraction of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights are just the beginning of the negative impact of the Badman home interrogation methodology. The impact on the child must be considered. When a strange adult appears in the home with the announced purpose of interrogating the child separately and apart from his or her parents, a considerable degree of anxiety can be anticipated. Moreover, consider the long-range impact, as the child’s view of a free society is severely damaged.
  • Practicability. The costs would be staggering.

The Badman method simply cannot survive any review of its appropriateness as a method of educational assessment.

The Article 29 Problem

Badman also urges new substantive requirements to be adopted to define what is “suitable” for a child’s education, citing Article 29 of the CRC.

Subsection (a) contains little more than current English law requiring a suitable and efficient education. Subsections (b) through (e), however, attempt to control the substantive content of the education and require the promulgation of certain worldviews that are controversial, not just among homeschoolers, but among many other segments of the population.

Advocates of this treaty make a clear and bold declaration concerning the meaning of these sections: “Article 29(1)(b) through (e) directs state parties to instill particular values in children through education.”3

It is unnecessary to debate the legitimacy of each value enshrined in this list of viewpoints to be instilled in every child in every type of school. The real issue is, does England intend to mandate the inculcation of certain “approved” values to children?

England’s current law is clearly on the side of freedom and contrary to any regime of government-compelled indoctrination in any particular system of values.

Nothing in English law allows government officials to dictate the worldview, opinions, or viewpoints which must be taught in home education.

Conclusion

The Badman Report advances no sustainable reason for changing current English law on home education. Not only do its inaccuracies threaten the freedom of homeschoolers in England, but they also demonstrate to the United States the regime of compelled indoctrination in controversial values that awaits parties to the CRC.

Endnotes

1 http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/PDF%20FINAL%20HOME%20ED.pdf.

2 http://www.britishcouncil.org/colombia-exams-yle-handbook-2007.pdf.

3 2006 treatise entitled The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child: An Analysis of Treaty Provisions and Implications of U.S. Ratification. Jonathan Todres, Mark E. Wojcik, Cris R. Revaz; Transnational Publishers, Ardsley, New York (2006).