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United Kingdom

May 20, 2014

New UNCRC-Linked Policy Threatens Homeschool Freedom

Homeschoolers in Northern Ireland Look for Help to Oppose Onerous New Regulations


Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly also serves as HSLDA’s director of international relations. He and his wife homeschool. Read more >>

Citing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Northern Ireland education authorities are threatening homeschooling freedom with a new and imperious policy.

The proposed policy grants government agents sweeping power over homeschooling in Northern Ireland. The proposal tracks with requirements imposed by the UNCRC such as requiring that government assessors seek the “opinion of the child” to determine whether or not parents are providing a suitable education. The policy is a frontal attack on the rights of parents and families to be free from unwarranted and unreasonable government interference and shows how UN treaties are a threat to educational freedom everywhere.

The draft policy is available online.

Harsh New Rules

It reflects a dramatic departure from the policy in the rest of the United Kingdom where parents enjoy the appropriate freedom to decide whether or not their children will be homeschooled without unreasonable state intrusion. The new policy involves prior and subjective approval of homeschooling, a database to register homeschooled children, and gives school officials the power to question homeschooled children and arbitrarily enter a homeschooler’s home.

In 2009 homeschoolers in England fought against similar proposal recommended by the “Badman Report.” The current policy being proposed in Northern Ireland appears to have been influenced by similar ideas that the state has the authority to intervene and determine how and whether children should be home educated.

The agencies responsible for education policy in Northern Ireland are five education and library boards, known as ELBs. Homeschoolers and fellow citizens have until June 27 to communicate their concerns before the policy could be implemented. The ELBs have opened discussion on new regulations for home educators. Homeschoolers in Northern Ireland are actively responding to the threat to homeschool freedom and are asking for our help!

Identifying the Threat

A Northern Ireland homeschool group, Home Education Northern Ireland (HEdNI), is opposing the policy. The group has identified the following areas in which homeschoolers are threatened in contrast to the current policy which respects the rights of the parents and families to be free from unwarranted intrusion for government agents.

Access into the home. The ELB or local school will be responsible to access the homes of homeschooling families on at least an annual basis to inquire into their homeschool program.

Questioning children. The ELB or local school will have access to homeschooled children to obtain their opinion on the homeschool program.

Approval and curriculum review. The ELB or local school will have authority to review homeschool programs and curriculum regarding “appropriateness or otherwise” and grant approval to families who are homeschooling.

Homeschool database. The board or school will “maintain a confidential electronic database” of homeschool students.

Monitoring. The ELB or school will be mandated to monitor the homeschool program on an annual basis.

Delayed withdrawal process. Parents who want to withdraw their child to homeschool will be encouraged to discuss their decision with the school principal and keep their child in school until their homeschool program is “in place.”

Northern Ireland law, as is true in the rest of the United Kingdom, currently requires parents to provide an education for their children either through a local school “or otherwise.” The current law, appropriately, presumes that parents have the responsibility and the right to educate their children. Article 26(3) of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights explicitly recognizes that parents have the “prior right to decide the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

Other UN human rights treaties also recognize that parents have a right to ensure that their children’s education is in conformance with their “religious and philosophical” convictions. The proposed Northern Ireland policy, influenced by the UNCRC, does not take into account these important qualifications.

Northern Ireland homeschool advocates say that the draft policy is an administrative move by the education boards which is not approved by law. They say that the policy claims to have jurisdiction to make these changes based on the Education and Libraries Northern Ireland Order 1986, but that law does not give any statutory authority to the education boards to regulate homeschools, including monitoring and approving homeschool programs, visiting homeschooling families, and questioning homeschool children.

Oppose the Policy; Sign the Petition!

HEdNI is leading the campaign against the Northern Ireland Elective Home Education Policy. They are encouraging Northern Ireland homeschoolers to attend focus groups organized by the local EBS to oppose the legislation and to contact their politicians.

HSLDA is calling on other homeschoolers around the world, as requested by HedNI, to support them in their defense of homeschooling freedom in Northern Ireland. They have created an online petition called “Hands off Home Education.”

Please take a moment now to show your support for homeschool freedom in Northern Ireland.

Advocates are also asking that you write to key figures including:

For more information and an email template >>

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