Resistance to change

The British are in general a conservative nation. They tend often to oppose change almost as a matter of principle, without weighing the merits of new proposals. This is particularly noticeable with the educational system. When universal, compulsory education was suggested in the nineteenth century it was widely opposed as being 'un-English'. The Newcastle Report in 1861 looked at the state of educational provision in Britain. The authors concluded that:

Any universal compulsory system appears to us neither attainable nor
desirable. An attempt to replace an independent system of education by
a compulsory system, managed by the government, would be met by
objections, both religious and political...

Oddly similar to the sort of things some people were saying about home education in the wake of the Badman Report! When universal compulsory schooling was introduced a few years later, there was an enormous outcry, which took the form of widespread civil disobedience. In the decade after the passing of the 1880 Education Act, prosecutions for the non-attendance of children at school were running at over a hundred thousand a year. It was the commonest offence in Britain, with the exception of drunkenness. Every attempted change to the educational system has encountered the same mulish obstinacy and insistence that the existing system is the best possible and that any change could only be for the worse. The introduction of free schooling, the raising of the school leaving age to twelve, the introduction of GCSEs, the abolition of GCSEs, the introduction of comprehensives, the raising of the school leaving age to sixteen, the abolition of the 11 plus: all were assumed by many to be bad ideas simply because they were new ideas. This reactionary attitude is not limited to schooling; home educators too are always antagonistic to any change in the existing arrangements. Any new idea is met with shouts of anger and claims that this will mean the end of home education. In some European countries, they are a little more amenable to new ways of doing things. Take France for instance.

In 1998, a law was passed in France which introduced compulsory registration for home educators. The following year, another law was passed which set out what children educated at home should be studying. It also declared that home educated children should be at roughly the same academic standard by the age of sixteen as those who had been taught at school. The subjects studied must include the French language, knowledge of French literature, history and geography, mathematics, science and technology, sport and art. In addition to this, home educated children must be able to demonstrate that they can ask questions, make deductions, be able to reason, evaluate risks and us computers. When this law was passed, many predicted the end of home education in France. In fact numbers of home educators have risen slightly since then and nobody claims that the law is oppressive or infringes upon their human rights. It is still perfectly legal to home educate in France; the government have simply introduced new safeguards to ensure that home educated children are receiving as good an education as those at school.

It is interesting to contrast the situation in France with that in this country when much milder changes in the law were being debated. Of course if you really believe that everything to do with home education in this country is absolutely perfect and incapable on any improvement whatsoever, then there is no more to be said on the subject. Clearly under those circumstances, any change would be a change for the worse. It is hard to imagine how such a perfect setup could have arisen for home education. It depends after all on odd rulings, some of them a century old, along with a few random sentences in educationa acts, none of which specifically mention home education. A miracle indeed that a perfect legal position should thus have been created by accident!

I can quite understand why so many parents are against any change; I feel exactly the same way myself about a lot of things and the older I grow, the less I like any sort of change. I can understand perfectly why people did not like to see the end of the Corn Laws or the dangerous innovation of votes for women. However, I can see why it might not be a bad thing if home education were acknowledged in law for the first time and conditions for its practice set out. Its present, somewhat precarious, position has become established by chance events and was fine when only a few dozen people were doing it. With scores of thousands now involved, it really makes sense to put the thing on a more businesslike and clearly defined footing, unappetising as this might sound to the more reactionary parents.