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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Voicing concerns about education

Our friends in nutty Christian Voice, whom we don’t seem to have heard from for a while, are getting twitchy about recommendations that home-schooled kids in the UK probably deserve a better deal.

The Badman Report “will oppress-home schoolers”, say Christian Voice in an emailed alert to an online petition.

The email links to an article on a Guardian blog called Mortarboard, which says:

The government’s announcement of the review came wrapped in sinister language about the need to investigate “claims that home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse such as neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude”.

As the same blogger, Adharanand Finn, said in January:

From the government’s perspective, the world of home education is full of unknowns. It doesn’t know how many children are educated at home. It doesn’t know how well the ones that are can read and write and meet other educational targets. And it doesn’t know if anything more sinister is going on under the cover of home education.

Now, whether you agree with compulsory education is another matter. Given that it’s the law that children be educated till the age of 16, you might argue that it’s up to the government to make sure the right sort of education is being administered. What you consider “right” education is, again, a matter for debate in another arena, but perhaps we can agree that, if children are being educated at home, we ought to be able to be satisfied that certain standards are being met and that kids are getting taught.

But, in the online petition Christian Voice want you to sign, they clearly don’t want any tightening up of inspection and supervision.

One wonders what they’re afraid of. Perhaps our more secular inspectors might decide that Mrs Godworthy is giving her kids too much Bible; or that Mr al-Bakri is shoving the Koran down his kids’ throats at the expense of English and maths.

I suspect Christian Voice won’t much care what happens to kids whose parents follow other religions, but they’d certainly be against removing any God-bothering nonsense from lessons.

However, where I might agree with them is that this seems on the surface to be more interference in people’s lives by a government that seeks to control everything we do.

If abuse occurs in kids’ homes – as the Badman Report seems to fear – social-services departments should be there to investigate, with police help if necessary. Forced marriages are an abomination, as are sexual abuse and forced labour. We need mechanisms to root out these evils. Perhaps the home-schooling thing is a way for the government to do it by the back door, rather than confront the fact that much of the abuse being talked of is likely to be among families whose culture is not indigenous – especially forced marriage and child labour. It would be very non-PC to suggest that, wouldn’t it?

All the government really needs to ensure is that kids are learning what they’re supposed to learn, and that there are examinations and other procedures to ascertain that.

I’d feel put out as a parent if a jumped-up tosser from some bureaucracy or other demanded to interview my kid without my presence, as seems to be one recommendation, and he or she would probably get some mouth from me and little by way of cooperation – in fact, hindrance stopping just short of illegal.

But if that official merely wanted to inspect the home-class work that my kid had produced in order to ensure that educational standards were being met, that would be another matter. And I’d expect him or her to frown hard on parents who stuffed their kids’ minds with gentle Jesus at the expense of subjects that will prepare them for life (life, note, not just the world of work and consumerism).

It’s an area fraught with problems, I suspect. How much “right” does a parent have over a kid’s education? How much “right” does the government have to impose a curriculum that merely grooms a kid to accept the status quo that sees powers beyond our understanding running our lives, never to question, never to challenge, never to rebel?

Education breeds good little consumers, just the way our politicians’ friends want them to be. Excesses of prescription and proscription can only turn kids into automata rather than freethinking individuals (yes, some of whom may grow up to embrace religion, but that’s life).

But automata are what politicians want us all to be, and – while I can see some possibly skewed reasoning in Christian Voice’s concerns, and know the organisation to be a big bag of nuts – I don’t believe we should be too hasty to try to turn home schooling into something that takes away its very purpose.

Must leave you with this, though: the Christian Voice email, from Stephen “Birdshit” Green, can’t restrict itself to talking about education and reports and petitions: it has to have as a valedictory, alienating many who might otherwise take the alert seriously, that reads, “Yours in our gracious Lord’s mighty name”.

Hat tip to Stuart Hartill over at Clinging to a Rock.


Betty Buxton said...

Hmm, what is being proposed here is removing parental responsibilty for educating their children (the current position in law even for those who use schools) and instead making parents accountable to council officials who will have the power to intervene in private families according to their own prejudices. I have supported familes where the council and headteacher have attempted to prevent home education because in one case the family lived on a council estate and in the second place because the mother was a lesbian living with her partner. The headteacher backed up by the council thought the child would suffer from not having access to a male role model. They were unable to prevent the family home educating but under the new proposals they will be able to. Personally I'm surprised that Pink Triangle would want to support measures that diminish parental responsibilty and will allow local councils to have absolute power over familes. You can be certain that the only children unlikely to be forced back into schools under the new regime are those of parents approved of by the bods in the local council. In practise this is likely to mean only white, middle class, heterosexual, married, home-owning, curriculum following parents need apply.

Intelligence Squared said...

After the launch of our new website, Intelligence Squared are excited to announce that we will be live-streaming a debate, "Atheism is the new fundamentalism", on Sunday 29th November at 6.45pm GMT at

In partnership with, you will be able to watch online for free as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and philosopher A C Grayling take on Richard Harries, the former bishop of Oxford, and Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, at this sold-out Wellington Squared event held at Wellington College, Berkshire. It will be chaired by the Headmaster of Wellington, political historian Anthony Seldon.

Andy Armitage said...

Betty Buxton, nice to get your comment, which is interesting, and I like the points about the council estate and the lesbian couple. I think you'll see, though, that the blog piece is critical of authority that wants total control, so I think we're broadly in agreement. I just threw a few thoughts into the mix, too. Thanks again for your astute comment. Keep coming to the blog.