HOME SCHOOLING / INTERNATIONAL
United Kingdom
United Kingdom

December 12, 2009

Criminal Background Checks Part of Draconian Law Proposed for Homeschoolers

A bill proposed by the British government and now making its way through parliament would impose the most burdensome and intrusive regulation on homeschooling in the English-speaking world.

“This bill is breathtaking in its scope and reflects a perverse level of suspicion towards parents who home-educate their children,” says HSLDA Staff Attorney and Director of International Relations Michael Donnelly. “If this bill were to pass, it would be the most restrictive and overbearing law in the English-speaking world. It places total discretion in the hands of local educational officials to determine whether or not they will ‘register’ a home education program and would require criminal background checks for parents before they could begin homeschooling their own children.”

The bill is the result of recommendations made by Graham Badman, whose report was released this past summer and later accepted by the current British government. Current British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently dismissed homeschoolers’ concerns about the report. (Read HSLDA’s “Reply to the Badman Report.”)

Brown responded to a petition supported by thousands of British homeschoolers calling on their government to reject legislation based on the Badman Report. Brown said that the report and legislation were fine because, “[m]ost developed countries require registration to home educate, with the majority also having a process of systematic monitoring. It is only right we afford our own children and young people the same checks and balances.”1

Free to Homeschool

In reality, few developed countries require registration to homeschool. Neither the United States nor Canada, where the overwhelming majority of homeschoolers reside, require homeschoolers to register with the state. Rather, most North American governments have a system of notification where parents simply inform the authorities that they are homeschooling. “Registration” implies approval. However, no Canadian province and only two of the 50 American states require registration involving the formal approval of homeschools. And in these two states there are virtually no instances where homeschools are disapproved.

It’s also true that few developed countries require systematic monitoring of homeschools. Homeschoolers in the United States and Canada especially enjoy freedom from government interference. Although some American states do have testing requirements for homeschoolers, no state has a system that even remotely resembles that proposed in Britain.

It is troubling to many homeschool advocates that the British government has gotten its facts wrong. It appears the government is trying to use any means necessary to justify their actions against homeschoolers. And though the report is currently the subject of a special inquiry by a parliament committee to determine whether it was conducted properly, its implications have raised concern with homeschool leaders outside Britain as well.

“Real Ignorance”

Paul Farris, president of HSLDA Canada, especially took issue with Brown’s comments about the report:

“The prime minister is wrong about his assertion that ‘systematic monitoring’ is prevalent among developed countries—especially if he means the kind of monitoring called for in the Badman Report. In most Canadian provinces monitoring simply means annual notice, but there is virtually no required performance monitoring at all.

“The Badman Report and this bill shows real ignorance of homeschooling and will not facilitate success in home education but will rather interfere with home education.

“In Canada we have variety, but in our most regulated province of Alberta, authorities there carry out their duties with a good understanding of how home education works. Home education is tremendously successful, with a far higher success rate and far lower failure rate than public education, and therefore does not need the kind of systematic monitoring you have in public education. Home education is a fundamentally different method of educating children. Its success is based on some of those differences. The kind of monitoring the government envisions will threaten home education by discouraging parents.”

Rights at Risk

Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, a charity dedicated to promoting stable family life and the welfare of children, also disagreed with the proposed legislation based on the Badman Report.

“In his Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England, Graham Badman attempts to give the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) precedence over statute, and adopts an extreme interpretation of the Convention,” said Wells. “In so doing, he argues that Article 12 of the UNCRC requires that local authorities be given a right of access to home-educated children in order to ascertain their views on home education.”

Provisions of the British proposal require local education authorities to solicit the views of a child regarding home education, to visit them and interview them alone. The bill allows local authorities to terminate “registration” if parents do not “cooperate” with the local educational authority. The bill also delegates some jurisdiction to the country’s “Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards” to be involved in home education and would require that parents be subjected to criminal background checks before being allowed to homeschool.

“To impose a system of routine monitoring of home-educating families would represent a breach of their right to a private and family life and constitute a waste of public resources,” said Wells. “Furthermore, the proposal to grant the local authority a statutory right of access to the homes of home-educated children is in effect reversing the presumption of innocence in British law and treating parents with suspicion until they have proven themselves innocent.”

Wells highlighted the “sheer madness” of the proposal to conduct background checks. “If it is deemed unsafe for children to be with their parents during normal school hours, it is equally unsafe for them to be with their parents in the evenings, at weekends and during the school holidays,” he said.

Cornerstone of other Freedoms

American homeschoolers should be concerned about what is happening in Britain because it shows how the UNCRC can be used to effectively stop parents from homeschooling freely.

Michael Farris, president of ParentalRights.org, whose goal is to amend the U.S. Constitution to protect parental rights, points out that a restrictive approach to home education is at odds with the fundamental notions of freedom and liberty on which Western nations are built. “Any nation that severely restricts the ability of parents to choose alternative forms of education, including home education, in the name of creating national unity, cannot call itself a free nation. Freedom necessarily requires the individual to have the liberty to think differently and believe differently than programs instituted by the current rulers of any nation. Educational freedom is the cornerstone for all freedom of thought and conscience.”

The proposed law takes Britain down a dangerous path. Other European countries, notably Germany and Sweden, have cracked down on homeschooling. In Germany, the government aggressively persecutes parents who make this choice. HSLDA is supporting the Romeikes, a German family who have applied for political asylum in the United States because of the harsh treatment they were subjected to by German authorities. Their case will be heard Immigration Judge Lawrence Burman in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 20.

Mike Smith, president of HSLDA, wondered what might happen to British homeschoolers if this law is passed.

“What will happen to British homeschoolers if they take a stand against the state?” Smith asked. “The experience in Germany suggests that they will lose custody of their children, be fined and potentially be jailed. We hope and pray that this legislation will not become law because it will turn a nation that was once a free country into one which has become a shadow of its former self.”

The bill has had its first reading in parliament and has received opposition from a number of members who presented petitions criticizing the Badman Report. Many have also called on the English Government to withdraw this draconian legislation.

Donnelly noted that HSLDA would stand behind British homeschoolers fighting the laws.

“We are standing with European homeschoolers threatened by authorities who are either trying to ‘stamp out homeschooling’—as in Germany—or to restrict it to the point of extinction, as in Britain. We are grateful to our members and friends who support our work and our ability to invest in fighting for freedom for parents under fire.”

For more information about HSLDA's involvement in supporting homeschoolers under fire internationally visit our website.

Notes

1. http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page21550