Shropshire’s Home Educated Children, “We’re Not Invisible”

On Wednesday 18 July, home educating families from across the county joined together for a ‘visibility’ picnic. The gathering, in The Quarry at Shrewsbury, was one of many such events across the country in response to repeated accusations that home educated children are in danger because they are not seen regularly by professionals employed by the state.

In recent months the campaign to force home educating families to register with local authorities so that they can be “monitored” has been boosted by a Private Members Bill introduced by Labour peer Clive Soley. In response to these events the Department for Education recently carried out a consultation to which home educating families were invited to respond. However, the three documents published in connection with the Call for Evidence, consisted of almost twenty-five thousand words putting forward a complete and complex reinterpretation of domestic law and international Human Rights legislation.

Incensed by the tone and content of the government’s apparent take on this, families across England have submitted over three hundred constituency-based ‘Petitions to Parliament’ calling on the department to substantially rethink its plans. They warn that if the proposed changes are implemented they will affect every family, not just those who home educate. This because the long-established understanding that all parents are legally responsible for the education of their children will no longer be upheld. Instead, it will be assumed that council employees have prime responsibility for the education of every child in their area.

Alison, a mother of older children, commented, “I really wanted to come today to get together with other home educating families to show the world who we are and how normal it can be. We are all doing this because we really want the best for our kids. Many of us have sent them to school and the kids have had bad experiences like bullying or stress from all the testing. It’s not fair to put young kids through that.

“They need to be free to learn in their own time and space. My kids learn so much by getting out and experiencing real life rather than being stuck in a classroom with 30 or more other children and just one teacher in charge of them. My oldest has just done GCSEs and will be going to follow his interests at college next year. It’s not always easy, but I’m happy it was the right choice for us.”

Sue, a teacher by profession who now home educates, had travelled from Wales to show her support. She said, “The curriculum that we have at the moment is very narrow and it’s all about rote learning, and actually as home educators what we’re able to do is skill our children up with the ability to find things out for themselves in a creative and interesting way. I believe this equips them better for the wider world and society that they’re going to go into.”

Her comments were supported by Jasmine, home educating mum of one, who pointed out, “As home ed parents we strive to open up different doorways to offer our children alternative ways of learning.”

Other parents had travelled to London to picnic in St. James’s Park before delivering a letter expressing their concerns to senior politicians responsible for the Department for Education. In Darlington picnickers delivered a national petition signed by over 16,000 people to the civil servant responsible for writing the consultation.

On a lighter note, when asked if they had any comments they wanted to make, one group of parents at the Shrewsbury picnic spent some time trying to formulate a joint response. This brought about a delightful HE moment. They said, “We tried to come up with a quote to sum up our day, but we went off on a tangent talking of gears and bikes, which is quite typical of home ed conversations.”

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