Written evidence from Mr Swithun Dobson

My name is Swithun Dobson, father of four and a home educator. My purpose in submitting this evidence is to explain the gravity of the proposed introduction of a mandatory register and how home education facilitates a personalised approach to education.

The fundamental question raised by this call to evidence is as follows, who is the genuine guardian of the child? Is it the parents or is it the State?

If it is the former, then the legal assumption ought to be that they are doing an adequate job of raising their children unless there is significant evidence to the contrary. This is an analogous position to believing in “innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, there should be no investigation of a family until it becomes apparent that an offence is taking place at which point the authorities can take action. As such, a mandatory register or inspection of home education is at best unnecessary and at worst assumes a failure of parents. The current legal framework provides abundant tools for the authorities to intervene if there is evidence of significant malpractice by parents as enshrined in general criminal law, the Children Missing Education Act 2016 and the Education Act 1996.

If the answer to my opening question is that the State is the genuine guardian of the child then it follows that parents are mere agents of the State and thus need appropriate oversight in the form of a register and inspection. This is a consistent position, in certain respects to take, however would be a huge alteration in the relationship between the family and state. From Aethelstan until today, parents in England have been considered the guardian of the child. This is not an arbitrary custom; in a very literal sense the children “are” the parents’. Further, parents typically have the best information about how to raise this specific child, they also have the motivation to see that the child succeeds. Of course, there are exceptions but this general reality is obvious. Thus there is no basis to view the State as the genuine guardian of the child.

The benefits of home education lie primarily in being able to provide a tailored education to the child.  Schooling, either State or private, primarily revolves around learning the national curriculum. This does not allow the child to cultivate their natural abilities or interests – children learn best in those areas in which they have an interest[1] For example, from the age of 12 I would have much preferred to study economics and political philosophy rather than biology and German yet I was required to endure the latter even though I have had little use of either subject ever since and would have learned far more studying the former. Now one could argue that this will lead to a narrow curriculum that would not equip the child for life in adult society. However, whilst pursuing his own interests, the child can naturally learn reading, writing, arithmetic and some basic computer competence – the basic skills required to function in today’s market place. Suppose your son is enamoured with Manchester United, player stats naturally lend themselves to basic maths, and learning about the history of the club encourages reading. It can also lead to more varied topics such as geography and even physics – for example, learning why the snow on the plane’s wings, caused the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. Following one’s interests can lead to unexpected places, which can be a catalyst for a future career. This does not imply an entirely laissez faire attitude which allows 24/7 FIFA playing but one of a few boundaries and guidance in which they can flourish.

Further, home education allows study at the pace of the individual child.  At school my wife had to stay after school, so she could learn the material for the higher paper, since the teacher only covered the intermediate content in class. Hence, a common curriculum typically punishes those who are significantly above average as well as those significantly below average.

Given that an individualised approach is the key benefit of home education, an inspection regime makes little sense because the only way an inspection regime can work is if common standards exist. Consequently, if an inspection regime existed it would imply common standards and thus prevent an individualised education taking place.

One of the potential disadvantages of home education is not easily being able socialise  and learn with other families however this is normally not a problem because there are typically many groups that exist that home educating families can attend. Yet, the government’s response to SARS CoV-2 has prevented this by originally banning such meetings and at present effectively banning them due to the extent of the cleaning regime required at venues in addition to social distancing measures. Given that these groups are typically run on a voluntary basis they have been disproportionately harmed by the law relative to schools as they do not have the funds or time to legally comply. Further, those home educated children typically aged 16 and 18, were again disproportionately affected by the exams debacle as private candidates had few, if any avenues, to be awarded a grade so many missed out on university places as they had to wait until the Autumn exams to sit the papers meaning they had effectively to defer university entrance for a year.

The way the government can help home educators is to simply leave them alone. We know our children best and can find assistance as and when we need it. Stop proposing registers and inspections. Stop making it impossible for groups to meet. Use the existing legislation if there is evidence of parental malpractice.

The more corrupt the State, the more Laws. Tacitus

October 2020


[1] This is consistent with the work of Entwistle on deep learning. Entwistle, N. (1992) Styles of Learning and Teaching: An Integrated Outline of Educational Psychology for Students, Teachers and Lecturers. UK: David and Fulton Publishers Ltd