Saturday 7 June 2014

You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.

Home educators in France are waking up to the reality that their educational choice is about to be legislated out of existence by the French Senate. This is the latest in a raft of anti-family measures by the Hollande government, which has also added traditionalist pro-family group Civitas to groups to be monitored for “religious pathology” by the newly minted “National Observatory of Secularism” created by Interior Minister Manuel Valls  to promote France’s secularist policy and what it deems to be 'public morality' in schools.  

It shouldn't be surprising that home education is under threat in France. Vincent Peillon, current National Minister of Education is on YouTube saying that democracy is not possible where the Catholic Church is present and that the Church must be destroyed as part of an ongoing “revolution”. Pro-family groups in France are finding the legislative ground shifting, but  have become well organised: the wonderful pro-(natural)-family “Manif Pour Tous” movement has spread beyond France to Spain, Italy and Ireland. We need it in Britain as well.

British home educators watch France with increasing unease. We have a few things in our favour – for the moment at least. The first is that home educating in the UK is not a predominantly religious phenomenon. The vast majority do so for loosely philosophical  reasons: most are found somewhere on the hippie-ish spectrum – from yurt dwelling alternative lifestylers to slightly mad Oxbridge academic families, they are all people who have thought outside the box and often place great value on family and children. For Catholic home educators this is positive: religion can't be pinpointed so easily as a reason to crack down on home ed. Britain also has a legacy of civil liberties,  from which stems a residual  tolerance of home education  compared to other European countries. The strong home education communitiessthat have resulted mean  home educated children have access to wide and varied social networks. This is significant as the French legislation specifically mentions "voluntary de-socialization, destined to submit the child, who is particularly vulnerable, to a psychic, ideological or religious conditioning" as the reason for banning out-of-school learning.

In Britain the current government is taking a laissez-faire attitude towards home education. If it's working – and the research shows that it is – why change it?  However only a few years ago,  in his role as Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, Ed Balls did his best to crush home education, commissioning a report on electively home educated children. When the initial report recommended no changes to the existing situation Balls commissioned a second report followed by a select committee. Backbencher Barry Sheerman, (who as Chairman of the parliamentary cross-party committee on children, schools and families under the last government  asserted that “faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But does become worrying when you get … more fundamentalist bishops”) has been asking leading questions about Home Education and making cryptic comments on Twitter. The message is clear: home education is in our sights and we won't be happy until it's gone.

Should this matter to the majority of parents who do not home educate? ABSOLUTELY. Why? 
Because Home Education as a litmus test of the relationship between the family and the state. Where the state accepts home education the state is accepting the family as the natural and safe environment for a child to learn. By contrast, state prohibition of home education is symptom of a state’s broader ideological position: suspicious of the family, wary of religious or ideological “indoctrination” , and insisting that professionals are better equipped than parents to guide children's academic and moral growth. 

A government that does not respect the right of a family to determine their children's educational path will never respect the rights of the parent to be the primary influence on their child. When the next round of state-led threats to home education kicks-off, pay attention: it’s not just about home education.

A version of this article appeared in Catholic Family Round-up in April 2014


  1. Hi, we're very concerned about what you say about the situation in France. Do you have any more information on the changes coming? Many thanks.

  2. Shades of the post-revolutionary "cult of reason". Will they never learn?!