Since I decided back in April to take a stand against Lincolnshire County Council’s home education power grab, I’ve had a depressing number of people shake their heads in bemusement at me or at Jon, online or in real life, asking why it matters and why, if we’ve got nothing to hide, we object to being monitored by the LA.
It’s not so much depressing that non home educators don’t understand the law on home education – that’s not surprising. It’s not even that depressing that so many non home educators believe home education *should* be regulated and monitored to within an inch of its life, and are often surprised at how little legal power a local authority has in this regard – that’s excusable, in the most part, because people with no experience of how home education works tend to just “not get it”.
No, it’s depressing because so many people don’t seem to understand that it matters when an authority tries to pretend that it has powers it does not have. It especially matters when a local authority takes the position that an entire section of its community is guilty until proven innocent. It’s home educators at the moment. Who might it be next?
It’s also depressing that people could think I would voluntarily put myself and my family through this hassle and stress for something which did not matter. It really, really matters.
There is, of course, the much quoted “First they came…” statement:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
….which so eloquently illustrates why it matters when no one takes a stand. But don’t be silly, I’m told. It won’t come to that. Of course they’re not going to start inspecting what we feed our children or checking whether schooled children are being abused at home during school holidays. It’s just a report, once a year. If you’ve got nothing to hide, why not?
I’ll tell you why not. Because my daughter is happy, healthy, well cared for, loved, adored, well educated and fully enjoying almost every single one of the rights afforded her by the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child. Except for one. She is not enjoying the right to privacy. Or at least – she will be, even if we have to go to court over it, but Lincolnshire County Council does not seem to believe that she is entitled to that right. She is discriminated against because of her (and our) lawful educational choice.
I’ll tell you why not. Because there are some children in Lincolnshire who are not as healthy, happy, loved, adored or well educated as my daughter, and who are not enjoying a full complement of rights. Those in abusive homes – Lincs CC does not have a very shiny record in this area of social services. Those “looked after” by the council – another not very shiny reputation there. Those in failing schools, and schools governed in the interests of making money for vested interests rather than in the interests of the children. Those in any kind of school who are suffering bullying; those who are bright but bored in school; those who need extra help with their education which they are not getting. While my daughter is one of the lucky ones, I will not permit interference in her life from those who inaccurately claim a duty to protect her rights, yet do so poorly in protecting those children who do need their help.
I’ll tell you why not. Because evidence suggests that when one home educator gives an inch, a local authority like Lincolnshire will take a mile from another family. But everyone allows visits, they’ll say. But everyone lets us speak to their child. But everyone can see that we’re fair and honest and protecting your child’s rights. They’ve already tried it in this complaint. The vast majority of families co-operate with us, said Debbie Barnes, as if this magically made their policy legal or ethical. And while my family has previously been judged “suitable” by this authority, what of a different family, perhaps a family with a more unorthodox set up, or a different style of education, or where there is illness or disability, or poverty, or where the parents are not middle class and well educated themselves? What if, by effectively colluding with this local authority, I make it easier for them to bully and harass a different family? Don’t think it doesn’t happen – every home educator knows it does. And for those who think that local authorities never get it wrong, or that social services only ever gets involved where they need to get involved, or that councils are never malicious or dishonest in their dealings with families, or that families are not sometimes, tragically, torn apart by those supposed to be serving them – wake up. Leave the fairy tales behind and do even the most basic research, and you’ll find that these things can and do happen. I will not play even the tiniest of parts in helping them to happen to someone else.
I’ll tell you why not. Because when my tiny daughter was at school, she suffered horrendously – at the hands of other children AND staff. Her head teacher did nothing. Nobody from a local authority came knocking at our door then to find out if her education was adequate or to make sure she was safe. Nobody cared, because the boxes were ticked and they had done their “duty” to my child. Like hell they had. We removed her from their system, opted out of their box ticking, took away their control over her life and vowed that we would never give it back. The ignorance and prejudice on display from them during this complaint has served to underline once more that we did the right thing picking up our bullied, bemused, frightened little girl, turning our backs and striding away from the system. On a point of principle, I cannot and will not ever accept this local authority pretending that they have my daughter’s interests at heart.
I’ll tell you why not. Because instead of writing a report or jumping through an unnecessary, ultra vires hoop so that the local authority can grab back some of its box ticking power, I prefer to spend my time with my daughter and my family. I have more important things to do than to co-operate with poorly phrased, vaguely threatening requests for information from a local authority which suddenly claims to care so much about my daughter, but which happily tramples both her rights and ours in its rush to exercise an ill-advised superiority complex.
And I’ll tell you why not once more. Because we are not criminals in waiting, who need to prove our innocence on a regular basis. We have broken no laws. If the law were changed tomorrow to allow home education monitoring, we would go along with it through gritted teeth, however much we disagree with it. Because, like most families, we are law abiding citizens. Yet this local authority breaks the law with impunity, simply because it disagrees with it – because it finds the current law on home education “unsustainable.” A fundamental right every British citizen should enjoy is the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. That this local authority can so blatantly disregard that right for home educating families tells you all you need to know about them, their agendas, and why we will stand and fight, for as long as it takes.