Adapted from an article which was published in Education Otherwise in 1998
Note on terminology: For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the law of education in England and Wales, “LEA” stands for local education authority, and a “home visit” is one possible method of providing evidence of one's educational provision. It is an inspection by a local government official in the home-educating family's own home.
Some home educators in England and Wales assert that there is nothing wrong with having a home visit – and then use the possibility that an LEA official will find some problem with the education they are providing, to justify coercing their children to jump through various educational hoops and produce the semblance of learning. They can't have it both ways! But actually, neither is justifiable.
Yes, if asked, you should provide evidence that would convince a reasonable person that you are giving your children a proper education. But no, the law here does not say that you must provide evidence in any particular form, nor does it give local education authorities the power to dictate the content, method or the form of the education provided.
Therefore, you could in principle provide evidence in any of a number of different ways. Why might one way be better than another? Specifically, what could any reasonable parent have against home visits?
Having a home visit (or any kind of face-to-face meeting) with a person standing in judgement over your whole life-style can be destructive of autonomous education, for it would be a very unusual child who did not experience a narrowing of choices, and very unusual parents who could entirely protect their child from anxiety – and therefore from a loss of spontaneous motivation – at the very prospect of such a judgement.
Also, LEA officials are likely to have a less than perfect understanding of what we are trying to do and why, and they may be simply unable to open their minds to ideas about education that strike at the very heart of everything they have been working for. As home educators, we are, in the logic of the thing, implicitly criticising their life's work. It takes a very special LEA official not to find home educators disturbing.
It is in general humiliating for them to find that educating children is so easy and so pleasant and so cheap for a bunch of non-professional parents, whereas qualified teachers, with all the huge financial and other resources poured in by the state, seem so often to fail dismally. So they can't help but want to “disprove” our implicit criticism. They can't help but want to find that we are not doing a good job.
The purpose of the home visit, or whatever you do instead, is to provide evidence which would convince a reasonable person that you are providing a proper education for your children. Given the logic of the situation, as I have described, is it not very unwise, especially for home educators who believe in autonomous education, to opt to have the LEA gather their own evidence?
When you opt to have the LEA gather its own evidence, you give them control over the resulting evidence. Every human being is biased, and as I have tried to show above, there is good reason to think that it would be a tall order to expect a human LEA official not to interpret what they see as evidence that the education you are providing is insufficient. Later, that same official, with all his or her human bias and psychological need to find that you don't measure up to professional teachers, could in principle stand up in court and state this as their conclusion. And in that situation they are the Experts and you are just the parents. Their interpretation will count as evidence against you. You would of course have an opportunity to rebut this “evidence”, but having to disprove an expert's evidence is not the ideal position to be in, in a courtroom.
By the same token, if the LEA never have any opportunity to gather and pre-interpret their own evidence, but the parents have provided ample evidence of their own, then it will always be the LEA who are at the disadvantage.
If you are called upon to provide evidence, I'd advise you to do so. The question is how? By giving the LEA access to your home or your children so that they can make their own judgements, with all their human biases? Or by providing evidence that you choose.
While a face-to-face meeting with the LEA leaves you vulnerable to their “expert” interpretation, written evidence from you does not. You could, for example, get a qualified teacher to write a report on your children's education. Then the evidence in court would be from your expert, not someone in the LEA who feels compelled to “disprove” home education. Quite a few parents simply write their own report, and that can be fine too. If you do this, be sure that you make it as beautifully-presented as possible and check it carefully for spelling and grammatical errors. LEA officials may not be able to string a sentence together, but the judge will be more likely to notice your errors!
If you are trying to promote your children's autonomy and thus don't want them tested even informally by a friendly teacher, and also don't want even to think about issues like “what progress they have made”, you might consider getting friends to write sworn or affirmed declarations for you. Your friends would be writing statements giving details of educational things they have witnessed you doing with your children, your children doing, or that they have done with your children. They might also be swearing to any improvement or progress they have noticed in your children's knowledge and skills. Finally (less important) they might be swearing that they hold the opinion that you are conscientious, blah blah blah and a good person to educate your children. Again, be sure that any such statements are true and well-presented before your friends take them to a solicitor or commissioner for oaths and swear or affirm them. The information in those statements should be such as to convince a reasonable person that you are providing a proper education for your children.
If you have done this, and the LEA people want to make a legal issue of your case, they will then be in the position of either having to show that the information in the statements is insufficient (and then they must specify how), or of having to argue that your friends and experts are committing perjury.
There are no doubt many other forms of evidence that would be perfectly fine. The only point I am making here is that if you control the evidence, that puts you at a natural advantage over the LEA and (assuming that the evidence you provide would convince a reasonable person that you are providing a proper education for your children) makes it highly unlikely that you will ever have to use your evidence in court.
The minuscule possibility that you might come before a judge is, perhaps, one more reason to keep control of the evidence provided and keep all communications with the LEA written (and well-presented, and reasonable!).
Criticism welcome! If you would like to comment, email me at sarahfitz-claridge.com.
Index of other articles of interest to home educators
My Libertarian International Fall Convention 2002 paper, given in London, England, The Semblance of Consent. Published in the The Laissez Faire Electronic Times Vol 1, No 40, November 18, 2002.
Nefarious character or gullible fool? A brief comment on a current conspiracy theory.
To the transcript of my US Libertarian Party National Convention 2002 speech, Is that a burqa on the bedroom floor?
The Burqa Incident, an article about how I was expelled from the Libertarian Party National Convention room and (allegedly) narrowly escaped spending the night in jail being interrogated by the FBI. Published in the The Laissez Faire Electronic Times, Vol 1, No 23, July 22, 2002.
To the transcript of my Youth 4 Liberty Summer Camp 2002 speech, War, Free Trade and Liberty – Strange Bedfellows?
Index of articles, papers and speech transcripts by Sarah Fitz-Claridge
Copyright © 1999, 2003 Sarah Fitz-Claridge
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