Section 7 and the role of the state in home education
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable —
(a)to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b)to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
Home educators of course comply with this section of primary legislation in the 'otherwise' sense and this is one of the few positive duties imposed specifically on parents in statute.
It's interesting to wonder why there isn't a section of the law stating that the parent of every child of any age must cause him to receive efficient full-time nutrition, oxygen, shoe leather and so on, because the educational part should go without saying as well and I'm sure, prior to 1870 that it did, or nobody would have ever learned anything facilitated by their parents before adulthood and we know that this was not the case.
But in 1870,
"The views expressed by industrialists that mass education was vital to the nation's ability to maintain its lead in manufacture carried considerable weight in Parliament."
Children had to be kept out of the factories safely, so their parents could be free to focus on work and the children could be trained to varying degrees in classrooms. I suppose by lobbying for this to be compulsory, the industrialists were hoping to secure tax funding for the enterprise which of course they did, and we are again (still?) in a situation whereby only the reasonably well paid can afford a non-waged spouse to focus only on the care and education of the family's children.
The other question people sometimes ponder is why Section 7 made the parent responsible for the child's receipt of efficient full-time education. Since the state was eventually going to be providing free education in most schools (and according to Hansard it already was) why not impose the duty on local authorities instead?
Possible answers to this which spring to mind are as follows:
- Children, at least historically, were seen more as members of families than as citizens of the state
- Parents could be prosecuted for non-compliance perhaps more easily than local authorities
- Should the education prove to be unsuitable for the child, the parent would be liable and not the state.
When I read arguments from political types who do not home educate, as I have this week, calling for all home educated children to be forced to follow the National Curriculum, to be submitted for state testing and regular checks and so on, I think of Section 7 and this *parental* - rather than state - duty it confers. To what extent can the state make specific stipulations as to the nature this education can take when not delegated to its own agents (the local authorities or schools) without breaching the parental role so much that it effectively takes the duty to cause receipt of the education upon itself?
If parents are to retain the duty to cause receipt by their children of suitable education then parents must be given the leeway to decide what form this education should take. If they have no leeway to decide upon form and content, then logically they cannot be held liable if the education proves to be unsuitable - for example, at the end of a disastrous period of tuition at school followed by poor outcomes for the child on leaving. If parental freedom to choose the form and content of the provision is curtailed, then parental liability for its suitability becomes void and some other body would become liable, possibly the local authority or the state itself.