Acton Institute Powerblog

All homeschoolers may have to register with the government

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The Department of Education has proposed new guidelines that all homeschool parents must register with the government. Officials say the registry, which comes as a booming number of children are being educated at home, would be used for government officials to check up on students and assure the pupils are receiving the government’s definition of a quality education.

The UK government unveiled the proposal as another controversial policy percolated through the British school system: teaching compulsory classes about homosexual, bisexual, and transgender relationships beginning in primary school. That motion passed the House of Commons last week by an overwhelming vote of 538-21 (and one of the dissenters has since apologized). If passed by the House of Lords, it would take effect in September 2020.

Furthermore, children aged 15 and up will be able to take sex education courses, a mandatory part of the Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum, even if their parents object.

When the UK government proposed a national homeschool registry in 2009, Conservative MP Graham Stuart said, “If enacted, the government’s proposals will, for the first time in our history, tear away from parents and give to the state the responsibility for a child’s education.”

In response to the new proposed guidelines, Christian Education Europe said in a statement, “The family unit, parental rights, and the protection of children are under threat as never before, and it is up to each person to preserve the freedom of family life in the UK.”

“In the last month the government has released plans to remove the option of parental opt-out from specific classes in schools, and now attempts to remove the freedom of choice within homes,” the group said.

As in the United States, negative (and false) stereotypes about homeschool or parochial school families often get reinforced in the popular media. Just this week, a female presenter on a popular British TV show confronted her 29-year-old, pregnant co-host for homeschooling her children, arguing that homeschool kids inhabit a “pampered and enclosed world.”

For schools to improve, she said, parents must commit their children “100 percent” instead of “taking their kids out and stick[ing] them in a bedroom at home.”

But should people ask parents to sacrifice their children’s education for the sake of potentially improving the collective educational average?

Parents’ educational decisions about their own children, especially over sensitive issues that touch on deeply held religious or moral beliefs, are fundamental and inalienable.

The government justifies its intrusion into the lives of families by saying that many of the UK’s 60,000 homeschool children are being taught by illegal schools (which should call into question the efficacy of passing additional laws).

UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds, a Conservative, rolled out the new proposal this week, saying, “As a government, we have a duty to protect our young people and do our utmost to make sure they are prepared for life in modern Britain.”

The UK’s Office of Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) assessed that “some” of these schools “are operated by those with fundamentalist religious beliefs. That means that children in these settings can also be at risk of radicalisation.”

But this rather brings the conversation to the point. What the UK objects to is not so much homeschooling but the shattering of a former cultural consensus around British or “European values.” However, as Kishore Jayabalan of Instituto Acton (our Rome office) pointed out in his latest “Letter from Rome,” those values are premised upon a broad cultural acceptance of the Christian religion – or as Hillaire Belloc put it: “Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe.”

When religion no longer informs the culture, government must rush into the void in a ham-fisted attempt to erect the foundation that secular culture bulldozed. And the government invariably tramples on the rights of the innocent along with everyone else.

Both recent intrusions into parental rights should be reversed.

(Photo credit: Big Ben in Japan. This photo has been cropped. CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.