Home educated children and the Open University

The question as to what people might be entitled to if they turn down public services and make their own arrangements with regard to education, is once again rearing its head. We are probably all familiar with the views of somebody who comments regularly here and believes that it is unjust that his son is not provided with money from the public purse to enable him to send his son to Eton. Most of those who come on this blog reject his point of view. A rather subtler, but essentially the same, argument is currently being advanced on some of the British home education support lists.

When we earn money, a certain proportion of it is taken from us in various taxes and used to provide services which are of public benefit. These include hospitals, police forces, fire brigades and of course schools. Nobody is obliged to make use of those services. If I wish to pay for private medical treatment, I am free to do so. If my house catches fire, I can put it out myself instead of ringing the fire brigade. If I don't like the local state school, I can send my child to an independent, fee-paying school or teach her myself. We are not entitled to a cash alternative if we do not use these services. I did not call the fire brigade last year, but I still have to pay a share of their costs in my Council Tax. The same goes for schools, the police and hospitals.

Some home educating parents have advanced the idea that because they don't use schools, they should be given a sum of money as an alternative. This would presumably mean that to be fair, childless people should also receive a similar rebate. It is an unworkable idea and those who advocate this are in the minority. A variation of this idea though is more popular. It is this; because home educators don't send their children to school, they should be allowed to have free education from other sources. The main sources to which they claim they should be entitled are Further Education Colleges and the Open University. There is really no such thing as free education of course and what these people are really asking is that other people pay for their choices. This is exactly the same argument as that used on here by the man who wants £30,000 of public money each year to send his son to Eton!

Free schools are provided for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. After that age, free colleges and sixth form centres are provided. Those who wish can send their children to these places. If local authorities and individual colleges wish, they can allow children under the age of sixteen to use the colleges. This is uncommon and not a right, but something which the college might allow in special circumstances. With the raising of tuition fees at universities, the Open University is now planning to charge more. Some home educating parents are protesting that this is unfair and that because they do not use the free schools, their children should instead be entitled to free university courses! This is a very strange proposition indeed. These courses are not free at all; the rest of us have to pay for them through our taxes. What these parents are really asking is that we subsidise their unconventional lifestyle via our taxes. They are in the position of those whom we mentioned above who have elected not to use the state health service. Having opted not to do so, imagine a family claiming that the state should provide them with some alternative form of health care for them so that they had a better service than those using the NHS, but also, at the same time, had it for nothing. Most of us would regard that as being a bit unfair on those who had stuck with the NHS.

The most grotesque piece of cant which I have seen in connection with this question was the assertion made by one woman that she feels that we are moving towards a position where all learning will be prescribed and that no other learning will be allowed except that sanctioned by the state! Any of us are free to learn anything we wish. We are also free to teach our children anything we wish. We can reject the free school being offered to us for our children, just as we can reject the health service and even the police. The local police are not very often in evidence in my street. If I wished, I could hire a private security guard to patrol my garden at night and deter burglars. I have a perfect right to do this. What I would not have a right to do, would be to expect others to pay for this private arrangement through their taxes. Regardless of how things may have worked in the past, expecting free university tuition for children whose parents have decided to reject the free education already on offer, is precisely the same as hoping that others will pay for private health care. It is not really on.