Home schooling is vital

A picture of a mother and son doing schoolwork togetherHot on the heels of the Tower Hamlets Muslim foster care hoax, the Times today printed a story (behind firewall) claiming that home schooling was part of “a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists”, a claim made by Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu at a police superintendents’ conference in Stratford upon Avon:

Unregulated education including home schooling and the segregation of some communities are helping to create extremists and future terrorists, the national police counterterrorism co-ordinator warned.

Neil Basu, a deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, said that some “disenfranchised” members of society feel that the government fails to understand their religion and see “no future in the West”. He added: “Segregated, isolated communities, unregulated education and home schooling are a breeding ground for extremists and future terrorists.”

Mr Basu told the police superintendents’ conference in Stratford-upon-Avon that the homegrown threat was from a “more extreme second generation” of jihadists and warned of the influence of social media.

There was no evidence presented of home schooling having any role whatsoever in fostering extremist views such as may have contributed to terrorism in any way. One terrorist or suspected terrorist having been home-schooled does not prove that the two were connected; it would need to be proven that, for example, a bigger proportion of people convicted of preparing or instigating acts of terrorism had been home-schooled than of the general population. I recall that back in 2001 after the Oldham riots, segregated schools were found to be largely to blame and these were not Islamic schools but bad secular schools in segregated areas.

I do not have any friends I know to be extremists (though I do have a few that regard their Islamic identity as separate and more important than their British one, an idea Basu also accuses home-schoolers and clandestine Islamic schools of promoting), but I do know quite a few home-schoolers. None of them home-schooled their children to set themselves apart from society, or to set them against it. They did it because they wanted a different kind of education to that on offer: they may have wanted less book-based learning until about age 7, as is common in Europe, or they may have wanted a broader curriculum than what schools offer, perhaps without the over-emphasis on English and maths (particularly if they are already well able to read), or the exams at age 7 and 11 and, in particular, the over-emphasis on the exams throughout the top year of primary schools. I also know quite a few parents with children with special needs, particularly autism spectrum disorders, who find that mainstream schools do not even attempt to address their children’s needs and are often actively harmful, and that the same is true of the ‘special’ schools on offer, if there are any.

There are a whole host of other quite genuine reasons for parents to home-school:

  • They do not want their children bullied (or they already have been)
  • They do not want their children exposed to racism, or stigmatised on that basis when they are still children (they want to keep them off the “school-prison pipeline”)
  • They want to be responsible for their children’s sex education, rather than a stranger or other children
  • They want to encourage their children’s individuality, rather than have them change in undesirable ways or suppress interests in order to ‘fit in’
  • Their children have been refused places at all the acceptable school or the one all their friends are at, perhaps for reason of bias (e.g. a Catholic school with a habit of refusing children of mixed parentage)

Where people are misrepresenting themselves as home-school tutors in order to run clandestine schools and, worse, not maintain standards of cleanliness or physically abuse the children (as also alleged about some of those involved), I agree that this should not be tolerated. But the right to home-school one’s child is vital as mainstream schools are often just not adequate. Even though physical punishments have been banned in schools for many years, some of them are still violent places and are often cruel, irrational and unjust environments. I would not want to raise a child in a country where I could not teach them at home, all the more so if I could not find a suitable, friendly school where my values and my child’s rights were respected.

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