Written evidence submitted by Mr. Patrick Couch

Home education

Responding to the Education Committee call for evidence

It is my firm conviction that parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children. Although I am now retired, when I was working as a secondary school teacher, I recognised that I was ultimately responsible to the parents of the children I taught and not to the state (even though the state paid my salary). A government ought always to promote that which is right and protect against that which is not. Society’s foundation is that of the family, and so I believe that good government will do everything it can to support the family, and this includes the empowerment of the parents to bring up children to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

This is why some parents choose to educate their children at home: because they believe it is best for them.

I appreciate the fact that in order to promote the well-being of families, local authorities may have to intervene, but they already have powers to do just that. The current approach is appropriately balanced between family privacy and child protection. Although the number of occasions on which I was involved in child protection matters during my teaching career was very small, it was very clear that the system worked. I don’t think that by giving local authorities even more responsibility for safeguarding home-schooled children will be beneficial. Local authorities are already overstretched and such is the nature of our over-sensitive society that I fear that the local authorities would feel under considerable pressure to interfere far too much in the lives of law-abiding families in order to protect themselves from criticism. In so doing, they will become distracted from those children who truly are most at risk.

What is the evidence that inspection of home-schooling is necessary? Where is the mandate for it? Each home-schooling situation will be different from another, which, of course, is one of the strengths of home education. However, this would make inspection impractical. (I was involved in school leadership for a number of years and it amazed me how school inspections seemed to be predicated on the assumption that education is the same in every school and in every classroom!)

I was quite intrigued to discover in a research report by W. Charles-Warner in 2015 (‘Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric’) that in England, home-schooled children are much less likely to need state intervention to protect them that children educated in school! Indeed, in light of the 2018 report by the DfE, Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges: Advice for governing bodies, proprietors, headteachers, principals, senior leadership teams and designated safeguarding leads, home education would protect children from the alarming levels of such harassment and abuse that has been documented.

Whether or not a family wants support from the state should be entirely voluntary. Requesting such support or choosing not to request support should never be deemed a cause for concern. I’m sure that some parents feel that they have to take their children out of state schools because the special needs of their children are not being met by the schools. In this case, would it not be wiser to make existing provision better for such parents and children? Similarly, helping families meet the costs involved with sitting examinations could be supported.

Rather than seeking to promote a culture that is built on suspicion and fear, surely the government must prefer a culture that is founded on trust and support? The public purse is limited; may it be used to build up the family unit and not break it up because in the end, a society is only as strong as its base which is the family.


October 2020