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A proposed law in the UK threatens the rights of homeschooling parents and subjects them to compulsory inspection visits.
At Answers in Genesis, we seek prayerfully to support parents no matter the type of education they choose for their children, including state education, independent secular education, independent Christian schools, and homeschooling. We produce a number of resources that can be used in many of these environments.
It will be of concern to many, therefore, to read of the report on “Elective Home Education,” compiled on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) by Graham Badman in the United Kingdom. The areas of specific concern to Christians (and many non-Christians) will be the proposed compulsory annual registration of their children and inspection visits by representatives of the Local Education Authority (LEA).
In many cases, it is precisely because of the poor standard of LEA provision that parents have chosen to educate their children at home. There will also be concern that these proposed inspection visits should involve conversations between LEA representatives and the child alone—without the parents present. This latter point is an abuse of parental responsibility and rights.
Badman states, “This review does not argue against the rights of parents as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 outlined above, nor their deeply held convictions about education.”1 This quote underlines the problem with the report—and the basis for why Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, was wrong to accept the report. Parents do not have rights under English law to educate their children in the way they wish—they have a duty to do so. Even non-Christian critics of the proposals have pointed this out. Gill Kilner, a home-educating blogger, says this:
Elective home education: the deliverance (in elective home education) or delegation (to schools) by parents of any and all compulsory educational provision is a legal duty, not a legal right. It is our legal duty to ensure our children’s education is suitable and efficient. The education acts confer this duty on parents, because parents know their children best and are therefore in a position to ensure the provision is suitable for them. Mr Badman seems not to have grasped this.2
The famous quote from successive education bills—repeated in the Education Act 1996, Section 7—does indeed refer to duty:
Duty of Parents to Secure Education of Children of Compulsory School Age
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.3
This is in line with the biblical position:
You shall teach them [God’s laws] diligently to your children. (Deuteronomy 6:7)
Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
Whichever form of education you choose, the parents (and specifically as indicated in Scripture, the fathers) are responsible, and we will answer to God. In my book, Truth, Lies and Science Education, I noted:
Education is first and foremost the duty of the parent rather than the state. . . . Parents may delegate this educational responsibility to those whom they trust, but this delegation in no wise removes their responsibility for the education of their children.4
In other words, Badman has his priorities reversed. It is not that homeschoolers should submit to education authorities; it is that if parents choose to send their children to a collective school, rather than educate them at home, the school must still educate them according to the wishes and direction of the parents. The teacher is in loco parentis. As an aside, Christian parents should think long and hard about whether the teachers at their children’s school are bringing them up according to the values that the parents want—and if not, then it should be considered a mistake to send our children into such an environment.
Many Christians in the UK have chosen to homeschool their children for precisely this reason—for the positive reason that they understand their biblical duty and for the negative reason that they do not feel able to delegate this responsibility to their local school, knowing that the teachers’ own personal ethics and moralities are not in line with the Bible. In the past, there has been no reason for parents to need to justify this decision. The Bible makes no requirement to justify this position and supports those who take it. In an atmosphere where increasing numbers of Christians feel that they suffer discrimination for their faith, this report could open up one more avenue for such discrimination.5