Saturday, 5 September 2009

Society v Government

I have been wondering why the UK government and the Swedish government appear to be sharing information and are working to the same time table* before changing their respective legislation on Elective Home Education (*June and October 09 deadlines). The FOI Literature Review for the Badman Review notes that Sweden has Scandinavia's strictest official regulation of home education in Europe with an annual license to EHE (elective home education) and Britain has the most liberal. Sweden is now tightening its legislation and England is following suit by adopting Sweden’s annual license and is providing a further opportunity to ban a family from exercising EHE with the words “anything else” embedded in the sentence “anything else which may affect their ability to provide a suitable and efficient education”. If you look at the use of **language that is being used in both of England and Sweden’s proposals it would appear as though England and Sweden are both in process of bringing their legislation on home education in line with that of Germany's current legislation which bans home education – this is further suggested by the 2006 European Court of Human Rights ruling that upheld Germany’s ban. A ban brought into being during the Third Reich by Bernhard Rust in 1938 apparently. (**Daniel Monk, Senior Lecturer in Law, at The School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London has anticipated many of these tensions in his paper Problematising Home Education.)

The Swedish government, unlike the English government, is quite clear that they are going to all but ban home schooling and the reasons given on the Rohus website (Rohus is The Swedish Association for Home Education) are:

"…that the education in school should be comprehensive and objective and thereby designed so that all pupils can participate, regardless of what religious or philosophical reasons the pupil or his or her care-takers may have." Thus, the proposed law argues: "…there is no need for the law to offer the possibility of home-schooling because of religious or philosophical reasons in the family. All together, this means that this proposed change cannot be said to contradict Sweden's international obligations [i.e. Human Rights Conventions]."

All of which look suspiciously like the reasons given by the European Court of Human Rights in upholding Germany's ban on EHE. *My emphasis

"In a landmark legal case commenced in 2003 at the European Court of Human Rights a home-schooling parent couple argued on behalf of their children that Germany's compulsory school attendance endangered their children's religious upbringing, promoted teaching inconsistent with their Christian faith – especially the German State's mandates relating to sex education in the schools – and contravened the declaration in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions". In September 2006 the European Court of Human Rights upheld the German ban on home-schooling, stating "parents may not refuse... [compulsory schooling] on the basis of their convictions", and adding that the right to education "calls for regulation by the State". The European Court took the position that the plaintiffs were the children, not their parents, and declared "children are unable to foresee the consequences of their parents' decision for home education because of their young age.... Schools represent society, and it is in the children's interest to become part of that society. The parents' right to educate does not go as far as to deprive their children of that experience. The court stressed that the decisive point was not whether or not home education was equally effective as primary school education, but that compulsory school attendance require children from all backgrounds in society to gather together*." The European Court endorsed a "carefully reasoned" decision of the German court concerning "the general interest of society to avoid the emergence of parallel societies based on separate philosophical convictions and the importance of integrating minorities into society." (see Konrad v. Germany)

A little too coincidentally this also mirrors the quote from a submission made by the Church of England to the Badman Review even though the C of E concluded their submission by stating there was no need for a change to current legislation (a conclusion that was ignored by the review).

“that children and young people not in formal education are missing the benefits and challenges of learning in community with their peers. Children who do not go to school may not experience the social and cultural diversity encountered there; they will not learn how to deal with the rough and tumble of everyday life; they may never meet people with different faith and value systems. All such encounters, even the difficult or painful ones are enriching. We are concerned not only with the five Every Child Matters outcomes, but also with the spiritual well-being of all children and young people. Spiritual well-being arises not only from being cared for in a loving family and/or faith community, but also in encounters with people of different opinions and backgrounds; in learning to listen to a variety of opinions; to encounter diversity and the riches and life-enhancement it can bring. Spiritual well-being depends on living and taking a full part in community life. Children and young people in schools learn about and from the five major religions. This may be a difficult part of the curriculum for home educators to provide, yet it is vital for the Government’s community cohesion agenda that all children learn in a balanced way about the variety of religious values and practices, and to be encouraged to question their own beliefs and practices.”

This is somewhat ingenuous of the C of E given their schools admission policies and the fact that all British school children must, by law, attend a daily act of Christian worship or sit alone in a classroom. Importantly, though, it provides the government with the appearance of evidence that makes roughly the same points made by the German courts i.e. - "The parents' right to educate does not go as far as to deprive their children of that experience. The court stressed that the decisive point was not whether or not home education was equally effective as primary school education, but that compulsory school attendance require children from all backgrounds in society to gather together." As does the AS Neill quote mischievously used in the Badman Review "the function of a child is to live his own life — not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, not a life according to the purpose of an educator who thinks he knows best." - i.e. "The European Court took the position that the plaintiffs were the children, not their parents..".

"The government doesn't care about the evidence. If they did there would never have been a review in the first place and its recommendations would not have been accepted by the government. The real problem is that the government publicly claims that they implement evidence-based policy, but time and time again they have shown that they actually manufacture policy-based evidence."

(home ed parent.)

From our own personal experience the Swedish Government, the German Governments and C of E statements are all wrong and are either ignorant or wilfully ignorant. In fact because we are immersed in the world around us: EHE as we experience it, is absolutely society centred education (Alan Thomas is very good on this in the EO video). Schools do not represent society any more than the police service, hospitals or prisons do, but are just one aspect of society. Not only is the reasoning of ECHR flawed it is not applicable to the British context. Firstly the circumstances of that case were particular to one family with a singular and atypical view of the world and should not be presumed to apply more widely. Secondly the historical and present day context of our education system is vastly different to that of Sweden (where, for example, private and single sex education is not so deeply embedded). In urban Britain, at secondary level, children do not mix with children of other backgrounds – their parents can choose to send them to schools which segregate them by sex, or religion, class or ability and anyone who has ever met a parent of a 10 year old in London (2 years before secondary transfer!) will have witnessed the effort the middle classes go to ensure their children go to a school with other middle class and or Christian and or high achieving children (as Harriet Harman’s and Diane Abbot’s famous defections to the private sector, and Tony Blair’s choice of a religious school exemplify). Indeed our experience is that in secondary school children do not even mix with children in a different academic stream from themselves. So the idea “that compulsory school attendance require children from all backgrounds in society to gather together” is a nonsense in this country. By contrast our home educated child has friends that whose educational backgrounds range from Eton and Pimlico Academy, she has friends in the ‘gifted and talented” sets at their schools and friends labeled with special educational needs.

“Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities are heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer...”

From Common Sense by Thomas Paine, who died 200 years ago this year, and who argued that people are born with a set of natural rights and that any society that violates those rights is flawed and should be changed..

Now, it is quite clear that today's Germans have absolutely nothing to do with their country's Nazi past and as one German commentator recently remarked: the Germans were probably the most pacific country in Europe. Yet their government has gone to some considerable length to get a square peg into a round hole and ensure their ban on EHE remains law. This is very problematic for the rest of us and should be challenged because the logic they have used would be persuasive if you are ignorant of, and thus fearful, and so hostile to EHE and its place in society. It would be even more problematic if Germany believed its own logic and was pushing for a Europe wide ban. Interestingly, Annette Schavan who is Germany's current Education Minister was Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports of the German federal state of Baden-W├╝rttembergfrom 1995 -2005. During this time, she oversaw school education in Baden-W├╝rttemberg, the same German state that had successfully defended Germany's ban on home education at the ECHR – see Konrad v Germany.

One of our problems is that the British government are wrongly associating equality with a some sort of good that can be distributed. Neither equality nor education are goods that can be divvied up. They are instead dynamic, the function of processes and relationships. Related to their confusion about equality and distribution is their conflation of equality with standardisation. If equality or education were things you could distribute then giving out the same thing repeatedly might make some sense, but since neither are static in this way, the standardisation agenda is not only misconceived, it is counterproductive. Giving everyone the same experience is not giving them an equal experience because people are different in such complex and irreducible ways. A real concern for equality would recognise that very different approaches, experiences and outcomes can have equal worth within a society.

I have also posted Rohus's response to this question and the full text of the Konrad v Germany decision which I believe could be the source of everything.

We do not live in a democracy and even if the Badman Review does not become law because of the General Election all political parties continue with the same rotten system once they are in power - lots of Tories hate Cameron and are already planning his fate post victory if he has one. You would think that a suitable project for Westminster would be a Prime Minister elected by the people, with an independent cabinet, whose powers are checked by an elected first and second house (the Lords and Bishops can run for election like everybody else). (The Queen can stay head of state because she was Electively Home Educated and so everybody knows at least one home educated person.)


  1. What an post, great work.

    Love this bit '(The Queen can stay head of state because she was Electively Home Educated.)', at one time I wouldn't have agreed but she seems to be the one part of government that does not want to get a foot in our door. She required our money though!

  2. Good piece, but please note that this:

    "This is somewhat ingenuous of the C of E given their schools admission policies and the fact that all British school children must, by law (26 Bishops in the House of Lords?), attend a daily act of Christian worship (or sit alone in a classroom). "

    is not the case in Scotland where state schools are supposed to be be "non denominational".

    "British" does not equal "Englandshire-ish" :-)



  3. Artcile 6 of their Basic law -
    2. The care and upbringing of children is the natural right of parents and a duty primarily incumbent upon them. The State shall supervise them in the performance of this duty.

    Do you think this is the part that Badman wants to institute - The states supervision of all educational establishments?

  4. Jaki, the state already supervises all educational establishments through licensing and inspections; what this is about is the direct supervision of all PARENTS and CHILDREN in their PRIVATE LIVES.

  5. Why am I not surprised the EU and those who favour it promotes authoritarian legislation originated by the Nazis.