Religious Liberty: Home Schooling and ‘Suitable’ Education; Ideal or Ordeal - Opportunity or Nemesis

6th June 2018

The purpose of this article is to seek to analyse the definition of ‘suitable’ education as cited in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996[1] and to explore tension between both church and state ideologies from a Seventh-day Adventist perspective. The Government issued for England and Wales in April 2018 an elective home education [home schooling] guidance for parents to undertake as their obligation in relation to home schooling. The draft version published for consultation states that:

 

b. to be ‘suitable’, education at home should not directly conflict with the fundamental British values defined in the Government guidance[2].

This stipulation, though only guidance, should not be ignored or overlooked by the Seventh-day Adventist community. Therefore, it is very important primarily that those who have opted for home schooling their children should equally be well-versed with this government guidance and provide a clear, constructive and measured response that demonstrates our Christian school ethos.

The government’s draft guidance for consultation on elective home education should be understood in the context of pronouncements by Sir Michael Wilshaw, Dame Louise Casey and Lord Clive Stafford Soley.

Sir Michael Wilshaw – (former Chief Inspector of Schools) raised concerns about a link between the growth of unregistered schools and an increase in the number of home educated children. He suggested that officials from Ofsted and the Department for Education should work together to consider how the current legal framework around home education should be strengthened[3].

Dame Louise Casey ‒ (Author of the Review into Opportunity and Integration) noted there was no definition in law of what constituted ‘suitable’ education. However, she acknowledged in 2007 that the Department for Education had issued guidance using a definition which was taken from a judicial case in R v Secretary of State for Education and Science (1985), but Casey argued that the 30-year-old case runs counter to British values. She argued that if Independent Schools were requested to teach fundamental British values, then that should also apply to home educated children[4].

Lord Clive Stafford Soley introduced a private members' Bill[5] – in the House of Lords. His motivation for this Bill he noted was to prevent home schooled children from "radicalization, exposure to extremist material and child abuse."

The views of Sir Michael Wilshaw seem to have laid the foundation for current thinking on the home schooling legislative process. This was built on by Dame Louise Casey, who recommended that fundamental British values be introduced into home schooling. And furthermore, the activities of Lord Soley in the House of Lords led him to sponsor the current Bill to bring about the changes that Wilshaw and Casey previously hinted.

Following the introduction of the legislative process, the impact of potential changes in England and Wales to home schooling are huge. This is due to the added emphasis placed on ‘suitable’ education which includes fundamental British values as defined in the government guidance. The violation of which could result in sanctions from the Local Authorities if in breach. How would this then impact on our Seventh-day Adventist religious liberty? The approach or manner the Adventist Church organisation takes to navigate through this possible clash with the state about what ‘suitable’ education entails is crucial. The government acknowledge that some parents choose to home school their children for ‘religious and cultural beliefs’ and thus ensure their education is aligned with it.

As the way forward, I suggest a two – prong approach response to the government. The legal route, followed by a clearly defined philosophy of Seventh-day Adventist education (latter could include a selection of Bible texts):

 

Parent’s Duty

 

  1. (a) Argue that Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 gives a parent [guardian] a statutory right to home educate and to provide 'suitable' education for the child at any stage up to the end of compulsory school age. And this also applies to a child with special needs (SEN).

 

  1. (b) Argue also that the First Protocol, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a Right to Education states that: "No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education, and to teaching, the state shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions." This means that the state must respect the wishes of the parents, albeit the state has limited discretionary powers to intervene when necessary to do so. [6]

 

  1. Include the United Nations-Universal Declaration Human Rights Article 26(3) "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."[7]

 

Philosophy of Education

The Adventist definition of 'suitable' education states that:

"True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is…It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come." [8]

This Adventist philosophy of education should be viewed in the light of the current working definition of the government's guidance taken from the case law that 'suitable' education:

"primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child's option in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so." [9]

It is interesting to note the case law definition on 'suitable' education relied on by the state for guidance, affirms 'equipping' the child takes place within the proximity to which the child is a member [community] and not to the country as a whole. Against this backdrop, the Adventist definition is very broad and suggests a form of education that prepares children for service in this world and eternity from a Judeo-Christian tradition. This is not in contravention of the overall working definition of the state, but only goes further because of the emphasis from its community it places on service in this world and for the world to come. Seventh-day Adventists must use the common ground for unanimity purposes.

The fundamental British values inclusion on 'suitable' education is adherence of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, anti-discrimination, mutual respect, tolerance and understanding of different beliefs are by and large axioms that law-abiding citizens including the Adventist community welcome. But when fundamental British values also set out in the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristics 'religion or belief' and 'sexual orientation' as two competing interests clash, that raises a religious liberty related issue for Adventist proponents for home schooling. Suffice to say the recent Elective Home Education guidance for Local Authorities stipulates, "c. local authorities should interpret 'suitable' in the light of their general duties…. However, there is no requirement on parents [home schooling] to actively promote the fundamental British values, as there is for schools."[10]

It is important to observe that government guidance on British values to local authorities is inconsistent here from the obligation now being expected of parent's home schooling their children.

Finally, I kindly request that as many of our leaders, pastors, parents, teachers and as many of our members actively take part in the government consultation on home schooling launched by the Department for Education (DfE) on 12 April and closes 2 July 2018. Tackle only the questions you feel able to do. This is your time to air your views.

Also see it as a form of witness, an ideal and not an ordeal. An opportunity for our Church community to share with the state what we believe in a cordial and amicable manner, not taken as a nemesis. Your contribution might influence the government to accommodate your view. Visit www.adventrlp.com or www.adventrlp.com/useful-links to access the home schooling consultation details underway for England and Wales.

 

[1] Section 7 of the Education Act 1996

[2]Elective home education Departmental guidance for parents: draft version for consultation April 2018

[3]BRIEFING PAPER Number 5108, 18 January 2017 - Home education in England By David Foster

[4] The Casey Review – Into Opportunity and Integration Dame Louise Casey DBE CB, December 2016

[5] Library briefing - Home Education (Duties of Local Authorities) Bill [HL] of 2017 – 19, House of Lords

[6] Paul M. Taylor (Barrister Lincoln's Inn) Freedom of Religion; UN and European Human Rights Law and Practice (2005) p.378

[7] United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

8 White, E. G. (1998) Education p.13

9R v Secretary of State for Education and Science (1985) ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust

10Elective home education Departmental guidance for local authorities: draft for consultation April 2018

[Brighton G Kavaloh (Retired Pastor)]


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