Lord Clive Soley has introduced a bill in Britain’s House of Lords, H.L. 11, which would impose dramatic restrictions on English and Welsh parents who choose to educate their children at home.
If passed, Lord Soley’s bill would require these homeschooling parents to register with the local authorities, and to submit their children to regular educational, physical, and emotional assessments. The details and implementation of those assessments would be overseen by the Secretary of State.
This would completely rewrite British law on home education. Government officials in the United Kingdom currently have no formal authority over home educators—the law simply states that children should go to school or be “educated otherwise.”
H.L. 11 raises the specter of the infamous 2009 Badman report, which has often been cited by critics of homeschool freedom to support their demands for repressive regulations.
As we reported in 2009, Graham Badman’s “Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England” proposed that homeschooling families be subjected to home visits by government officials. These officials would be empowered to question the children and determine whether the family’s home education program was suitable.
Homeschooling Autonomy at Risk
Fortunately, Lord Soley’s proposal is unlikely to become law any time soon. But many British home education leaders warn that the introduction of the legislation must be taken seriously.
On a Facebook page for those who oppose H.L. 11, support group leader Mike Woods wrote:
The consensus is that there is no cause for panic. The bill remains unlikely to proceed to law as it is a Private Member’s Bill brought by two Labour peers. It does not currently have the support of the government nor, apparently the Labour Party. Although [sic] a report that was issued on the morning of 4/7/17, by England’s Children’s Commissioner, about missing children, seems to have some relevance. It’s possible the bill was timed to coincide with the reports an attempt to have it adopted by the Government.
Woods also claimed that the legislation, if passed, “would mean an end to unschooling and autonomous education.” He explained that the bill would “fundamentally disrupt the relationship between parents and children” by requiring compulsory registration, mandatory visits by government officials including mandatory interviews with children and parents, mandatory testing of children, and supervised lessons.
Gill Robbins of the Christians in Education blog wrote that the bill “is part of the softening process, a piece in the jigsaw which is designed to remove a parent’s right to educate their child as they think best. And the consequences are likely to be far reaching.
As written, U.K. law leads the world in respecting the rights of families to educate their children at home without undue interference from the government. Passing H.L. 11 would be a dramatic step backwards for freedom and for families, with repercussions far beyond the U.K.
The global homeschooling movement is aware of this attack and will be working together to help British home educating families fight it.
Peter Stock, the president of HSLDA Canada, said he was concerned that a step backward in Britain could affect homeschoolers in Canada.
Lord Soley’s anti-parental rights bill is a ‘solution’ in search of a problem…..In the face of the overwhelming evidence that homeschooling promotes academic excellence, Lord Soley would strip parents of their authority and impose state control over home education, even imposing invasive home inspections. We look to Britain as the birthplace of our liberties: please do not allow this totalitarian measure to move forward.
Gerald Huebner, the chairman of the Board of HSLDA Canada, is concerned as well. As he put it:
Canadian home educators are very concerned about the proposed legislative changes to education laws in Britain. The move to force home educators to register and seek permission to educate their own children, along with intrusive assessments, is a clear infringement of the human rights of parents. Home educators around the world have seen the current British home education regulations as a model of government respecting parental human rights, but these proposed changes now threaten these human rights globally.
Russian homeschooling leader Irina Shamolina said that H.L. 11’s philosophy is unpleasantly close to that of the former Soviet Union, which she experienced as a child:
We in Russia are shocked by the totalitarian spirit of the approach the government of GB is taking in treating the natural right of the parents to raise and educate their children the way parents prefer to do it. The situation is taking place in the country which proclaims itself to be a model of a true democracy!
Polish homeschooling leader Marek Budajczak was also deeply critical of the U.K. proposal, saying:
There are two opposite political mentalities in Europe: the British one (inspiring citizens’ freedom) and the continental one (of Prussian origin). Changing legislation on home education in England and Wales would equate expelling fundamental parents’ rights in favor of statism. We in Poland know the destructive consequences of the last one. England shouldn’t become a secondary Europe; they should be faithful to their own political heritage.
I agree with Mr. Budajczak. Britain has a strong heritage of political freedom—and that includes the freedom of parents to raise and educate their children without undue interference from the government. It was the British legal philosopher John Locke (an influence on our own American system of government) who said that “nature grants instruction solely to parental power.
Britain needs to preserve that freedom for its parents, now more than ever. That’s why HSLDA is honored to stand with our British friends in opposing H.L. 11.
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