Written evidence submitted by Dr Ryan

My background

I home-educate my children for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I want them to receive an education that is directed at preparing them for a life of human flourishing. (The Aristotelian reason.)

Secondly, as someone who has been lucky enough to inherit the Western cultural and intellectual tradition from those who came before me, I have a moral duty to pass on that great treasure to those who come after me. (The Burkean reason.)

Thirdly, I believe in the Principle of Subsidiarity, holding that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level at which they can be dealt with.

I do not think the school system does any of those things and I believe my wife and I, together with our local community, can do much better.


1. The duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education;

I believe local authorities should have no obligation to regulate home education and no legal authority with which to do so. It is already a criminal offence to fail to cause one’s children to be properly educated and also a criminal offence to abuse children in other ways. This legal situation is both appropriate and sufficient. Crimes should be investigated and prosecuted when they occur – there is no need to go out looking for crimes where there is no reason to suppose any have been committed. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian state to do this.

On safeguarding: There is a notion among some well-meaning bureaucrats that home education provides a convenient cover for abusive parents to go about their abuse without state oversight and that an exhaustive list of such children would enable them to inspect each family, one at a time, to seek out such abuse. There are two problems with this. Firstly, it makes it convenient for the state to intrude into the private lives of the great majority of families that are home educating properly and in good faith.  Secondly, as a matter of well-confirmed fact, local authorities have a terrible record of preventing abuse of children and have often been complicit in it on an industrial scale. It is always a great mistake to judge government policies and programmes by their intentions rather than their results.

On quality assurance: The question assumes that home-educated children may receive education of inferior quality but it does not consider that the opposite may be true. In my experience, home-educated children receive a much higher quality of education than their peers in school. (Indeed, some critics of home education argue, on egalitarian grounds, that it gives home-educated children an unfair advantage. I home educate because I want to give my children the best education I can - and I make no apology for that.) In any case, the law (quite rightly) does not define what a proper education consists of - and so local authorities would have no objective basis on which to decide whether the law has been broken due to insufficient quality.


2. Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required

I believe such a register is neither required nor desirable. It is not required because there is no legitimate reason for its creation – I have already dismissed the ‘safeguarding’ and ‘quality assurance’ worries in my previous response. It is not desirable because it would be a convenient tool for state interference in people’s private lives.

The main beneficiary would be the headcount and budget and payroll of the relevant local authority.


3. The benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face

Benefits to children

The benefits are great and many while the disadvantages are few. The master benefit is that parents care about their children much more than the state bureaucracy does and this drives most of the other benefits.

The benefits are so great that there is insufficient space or time here to list them all. A few: Home educators are motivated by instinct to do the best for their children while bureaucracies are motivated to do the best for themselves. Individual attention yields highly super-linear returns. Education woven into the fabric of daily life, rather than an activity undertaken between bells, is much more effective and becomes a life-long stance towards the world - rather than a burden to be suffered until it can be escaped. Education is enjoyable and fun, a celebration of a child’s natural curiosity. A healthy distance is maintained from the often toxic influence of consumerism, mass media and social media. No space for bullying or abusive behaviour between children to develop. Possibility of focusing on something as though it mattered, instead of dropping it 40 minutes later at the ring of a bell. Time is spent on learning, not queuing up or marching around or being punished for imagined offences, often connected with the colour of socks and the length of ties. Children know this institutionalized situation is contrived and warrants neither their attention nor their respect.

Home educating parents who appreciate respect the immense value of the Western intellectual and cultural tradition are free to perform their moral duty pass it on. As Sir Roger Scruton often said, a precious cultural inheritance brings with it not only the rights of ownership, but the duties of trusteeship. Such an inheritance should not be idly squandered, for it is the property of others, who are not yet born. A charitable view of the school system is that it aims to pass on this inheritance but fails due to bureaucratic incompetence. A more cynical view is that it fails to pass it on because it actively aims to erase it. Neither is acceptable.

Home educating parents who respect the value of other worthy intellectual traditions are free to pass those on too.

Benefits to society at large

Importantly, the Call For Evidence fails to ask what benefits accrue to society at large from home education. This is a very serious omission so I will comment on it here.

Pluralism of educational approaches and settings (including at the level of the family and local community) breeds a genuine diversity of thought and opinion that is vital for the intellectual health of society as a whole. As John Stuart Mill famously argued (On Liberty, Chapter 2 – ‘Of the liberty of thought and discussion’), a society in which everyone is educated uniformly and thinks uniformly becomes intellectually stagnant, cannot make any progress and will inevitably fall into decline. This is because intellectual progress is made through a process of constructive and respectful disagreement, for which a healthy variety of well-reasoned positions is a pre-requisite.

This is how home education (and pluralism in education more generally) can be a great benefit to society at large. The Call for Evidence omits to ask about this most important issue.


As for potential disadvantages, the most often raised (but rarely realised) potential disadvantage is social isolation. Some commentators imagine (usually without evidence) that home-educated children are locked indoors, perhaps in a cupboard, having no contact with other children (usually ‘of their own age’ is added as a further indictment) and become socially awkward or lonely as a result. In my experience this is wholly untrue. For younger children, home education is substantially a social and outdoor business, usually muddy, with indoor desk work only taking on greater emphasis as they get older. Grass-roots home education groups (Burkean ‘little platoons’, if you must) exist in every town and region and most families have the opportunity to attend community educational sessions on a daily basis.

The real concrete disadvantage is that home educating families are taxed at the same rate as everybody else but receive none of the education budget, so they are unjustly and substantially financially disadvantaged.


4. The quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children, including those with special educational needs, disabilities, mental health issues, or caring responsibilities, and those making the transition to further and higher education

I do not speak for families with special needs. For the rest, it is inconceivable to me that educational ‘support’ from the government would be genuinely helpful and it seems likely that it would come with onerous strings attached. Leave us alone.

In terms of financial support, I believe all parents (not limited to home educators) should be entitled to control their pro-capita share of the national education budget (perhaps through a voucher system) to spend on the education they see fit. I understand that would be around £3500 per year for children aged 5 to 10 and £5000 for children aged 11 to 16.

Parental control of educational spending would lead to the blooming of an enormous diversity of schools and educational settings that could only benefit society as a whole, for the reasons I gave above (‘Benefits to society at large’). It would also fix the problem that most well-intentioned but unregistered schools are trying to fix.


5. Whether the current regulatory framework is sufficient to ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children is safeguarded, including where they may attend unregistered schools, have been formally excluded from school, or have been subject to ‘off-rolling’

I have no experience of formal exclusion or off-rolling so cannot comment on these issues.

Unregistered schools are a natural response of concerned parents to the shortcomings of the state school system and are not, in themselves, a bad thing. As I said in my previous response, diversity of school choice is a good thing and should be enabled by giving parents control of their due share of the education budget.

(There are perhaps worries about some faith schools indoctrinating children with toxic ideologies that lead them to become a danger to society later. I acknowledge the existence of this problem but argue that it is highly disingenuous to run this issue together with home education more generally. This problem is quite specific and warrants a specific solution that does not punish the great majority of home educating families that have no part in it.)


The role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education;

None. I have already made it clear that I do no approve of future regulation of home education and therefore there would be no role for inspection.


What improvements have been made to support home educators since the 2010-15 Education Committee published their report on ‘Support for Home Education’ in 2012

I am not aware of the report. The question assumes that government reports and committees have significant impacts on home educators. Thankfully, they have almost no impact. I also note that the question assumes, a-priori, that the impact of the report must be ‘improvements’. This assumption is not supported by evidence.


The impact COVID-19 has had on home educated children, and what additional measures might need to be taken in order to mitigate any negative impacts.

Home education is resilient to state failure. The COVID-19 epidemic has had a negligible impact on home-educated children’s education. (This is an instance of the general truth that functions performed locally are resilient, while functions performed centrally are fragile.)


The question asks about mitigation of negative impacts but does not ask about positive impacts. The main positive impact is that there are a lot more of us now. The state’s dereliction of its (self-appointed) responsibility to educate children has been a prolific recruiting sergeant for the home education community.


November 2020