Protecting our children’s rights to education

1:36 pm - February 22nd 2009

by Elizabeth Mills    

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Home Educating families face ongoing and increasing challenges in protecting the right to educate our children without interference from the state.

There have been three Government reviews into Home Education in the last four years.

The most recent is extremely concerning as it alleges links between Home Education to abuse without producing any evidence. Details of the review are here.

Parents, not the state, have the responsibility of educating their own children and they can choose for this to occur “at school or otherwise”. In our house we choose to educate the children “or otherwise”, it supports freedom and possibility, allowing our children to engage with the world and access the most appropriate education for them. They learn efficiently and without constraint.

John Holt said in his book Escape from Childhood:

No human right, except the right to life itself, is more fundamental than this. A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests you and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.

This government is currently using the legitimate desire to “safeguard children” as a reason to carry out this latest in a series of ridiculously frequent reviews of home education and increase “monitoring of home educating families”.

Family privacy needs to be breached when there are concerns of parental abuse or neglect but to say that Home Education fits this category is slanderous and offensive.

Representatives from ‘Education Otherwise’ recently met with Mr Badman who is leading the review; they were supported by Ian Dowty, Barrister who has a special interest in HE and Lord Lucas a Libertarian Conservative Peer. A record of the meeting is here.

The Home Education community have been hopping in anger since this latest review was announced. It is outrageous to suggest that a minority group is possibly abusing its children without any evidence. Those who make these suggestions have been asked repeatedly for evidence and statistics, they have produced none.

There is a drive from some local education authorities to control how we all educate our children. These excessively frequent reviews indicate that the Government itself has similar desires.

We see the need to protect diversity in our children as well as in our ecology. Those who provide education in schools are not in a position to judge the education that we provide; it is often so radically different to that provided in schools.

If anyone has ideas on how to help us in this campaign we would be most grateful.

The issue is also discussed in this video

More reading:
On the legal issues around Home Education
BBC – Home educators angry at review
Dare To Know blog
Sometimes It’s Peaceful blog
Children Are People blog

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About the author
This is a guest article. Elizabeth Mills is a mother with two children who choose to learn without attending school.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Education ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

Personally I can’t see the problem with home schooling providing the parents take it seriously. Doesn’t it tend to produce good academic results in America?

I have always been suspicious that many of those opposed to homeschooling feel that way because they like the idea of schools indoctrinating children into a particular worldview whether it be left-wing or right-wing.


The results in the UK are also good.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that a home educated child could expect to achieve results similar to someone at a private school. It really ought to be mandatory.

Well I have no objecton to homeschooling but the authorities make various checks to try to ensure children are getting a proper education at school so I don’t see why they shouldn’t do the same if children are being educated at home. Being responsible for one’s children’s education is a big responsibility and whilst I don’t doubt the motives or dedication of parents who do this I wouldn doubt that it’s something which everyone would be competent to do.

The difficulty with making progress checks is that children learning autonomously at home do not necessarily follow the pattern that is expected of them in school, so how do you judge their progress? Plus once you start to say that you will inspect them regularly, you change the educational motivation, from intrinsic to extrinsic, and the values from what the children values to what the inspector values. All of these are held to be bad things by many home educating parents, who are trusting in their children and facilitating their learning without judging it against extremely artificial standards.

Many home educated children go on to get GCSEs, A levels and enter college or university, some of them just skip straight to university, thus demonstrating that it is entirely possible to do this in a far less structured way than that required at school.


When the state is responsible for the education it is right that they monitor progress. When the parent is responsible it is an imposition for the state to become involved. Think about what you are saying – the implication is that parents can’t be trusted with their own children.

I would have preferred a home education myself. I used to hate school. I was bullied, not a real horror story but bad enough. I also got a hard time from the teachers, the majority of whom I despise to this day.

My advice to an intelligent youngster would be not to bother with university unless you want to be a scientist, learn some useful trade & educate yourself in your spare time. There were autodidacts in the 19th century who never went to school, or left at ridiculously early ages, but who drove themselves on. Only fuckwits think you can’t learn without formal qualifications, & that’s because they can’t be arsed to read a book.

The majority of people, even in adult life do not have the intelligence to self-learn & need to be spoonfed, as witness some of the utter fuckwits I met in my undergraduate days. I came from a fairly shite background, in terms of my parents’ education & the school I was at, so it was a great surprise that I was at any kind of university but I’d like to know their excuse for going there. (though at least it wasn’t a poly). They went around campus thinking they were something special, but it told against them that they had every advantage & remained thick.

You can’t polish a turd, however priviliged you make their upbringing fuckwits are still fuckwits even if their parents are on £50,000 a year & live in a detatched house. They probably need a formal education. But if they are clever, they don’t really get anything from school that they couldn’t better get from the library & from their parents banning TV & video games in the home & restricting internet access to an hour or so a day.

There is of course a concern over the standard of education, but this can be dealt with by networks of parents forming mutuals. They could hire tutors & it might end up not far from being a school but one run by parents.

If it hadn’t been for my uncle having been to university & built a successful career, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to study. No one else in my family has any kind of education formal or informal. They had the intelligence, but they just hated school & the culture of low expectations crushed them.

It is the schools & other institutions of the state such as the building of vast council estates that are responsible & they almost got me with their utter shite.


At last we agree on something! 😉

I just wish I had have heard the advice about university when I was 16.

It wouldn’t have been a good idea for me though, as I am incredibly bad with my hands (am a laughing stock amongst just about everyone because of my clumsiness) so I couldn’t really see myself having a trade. I used to labour in a factory in the summer & I found that hard enough. I probably wouldn’t have understood how to do plumbing, joinery or what have you.

Being at university didn’t ruin my mind, I actually really enjoyed it, but I didn’t need it academically or in order to further my career (I haven’t got one).

I suppose I am a bit disagreeable! At least to you & other libertarians 🙂 But there are people far more statist than me.

I think universities have done me quite well, all in all, but I wouldn’t wish them on everybody. Nor is a university education any sort of pre-requisite for producing scholarly work, though I suppose some technical and professional courses are rightly considered best offered by universities. The facilities can be very useful, and you can be fortunate and get some wonderful teachers, but I think an awful lot of their strength comes from their ability to grant that ‘graduate’ status rather than any specific sort of knowledge. Much of their product seem to be fairly wedded to what was once an aristocratic, now technocratic regime.

To return to the subject at hand though, what can be done for the HE community? It strikes me that it all folds into the broader attack on civil liberties. Whether it’s better than school all not is actually not relevant – it’s what parents choose for their children. As I’ve mentioned before, if the government can inspect HE families in case they are guilty of abuse they can inspect everyone.

It’s a pretty sick state of affairs.

The problem that I see is that it’s such a small minority interest that it will always be hard to garner sufficient public support for a mass campaign. It needs to be rolled in with a wider civil liberties campaign. There are also some (legal) guerrilla tactics that could be considered.

If you want to contact me offline Elizabeth, I can go into more detail. There’s a contact link at my website.


What Bishop Hill says is spot on

“When the parent is responsible it is an imposition for the state to become involved. Think about what you are saying – the implication is that parents can’t be trusted with their own children.”

This is exactly the issue we are concerned about. The state may/must monitor it’s own actions to assess whether is providing the appropriate services and education that it has set out to provide to children and families, but those services are not compulsory and must not become so.

The implication is indeed that parents can’t be trusted with their own children, the results of this will have a huge effect on familiy life, parental responsibility and indeed on governement resources. If they seek to take this responsibility then many people will expect them to meet it even though it is impossible for the state to do so.

It’ll be like the situation we had with the snow recently, with no one sweeping the snow off the path in front of their own houses, slipping and sliding about complaining that the council should be gritting the foot paths. Shoveling snow is fun, helpful and yet we expect the state to do when it is clearly not in a position to do so.

Parenting is fun and rewarding, if we choose to do it without using schools it is crazy to have us judged by those who run schools, it is an entirely different way to bring up children and support learning.

By forcing children to learn in a specific way we take the fun and the joy out of it. By forcing parents to parent in a particular way we take the fun, the joy and the creativity out of that too.

One HE mum has likened the evaluation of HE families by Local Education Authorities as like “the butchers evaluating the vegetarian diet again”. Many of the consultants used for this purpose have not even read the basic texts of Home Education.

Action needs to be taken as with all children if there is evidence that there is abuse or neglect.
Interference is not required otherwise.

Assessment by people who are not experienced in this type of education is most unwelcome, unnecessary and unhelpful. Many HE parents and children believe that tests, exams and assessment are necessary only for specific purposes e.g. to prove capability to enter University or competence to carry out a particular job but that ongoing evaluation of children’s learning is like a gardner pulling up his veg every 2 weeks to check if they are growing.

“Fish swim, birds fly; man thinks and learns” John Holt

Thanks for your thoughts.


My god, read David Semple’s post, trackbacked at #12. Read it and weep.

There’s a bizarre leap in logic behind the governments interference: ‘most child abuse occurs in the home’ is translated to ‘if you are in the home, you must be being abused’.

Most accidents occur in the home: this does not mean that the home is inherantly a dangerous place.

Quick response to blog on Though Cowards Flinch

“My concerns are as follows: a) what does the child want; ”

This is a biig issue for many Home Educators, I think parents are (in general) more likely than schools to support a childs own desires to learn. Most HE kids would not choose to go to school, If one of mine did I’d find them the best school I could for them and let them go.

Many of us follow a philosophy of supporting Autonomous Learning. It is this particualr group of home educators who are challenged most by the authorities, those who follow curricula tend to have an easier run of it.

See the book Winning Parent Winning Child by Jan Fortune Wood and Doing it Their Way by the same author.

The blogs linked above will give you some more information on autonomous learning.

“b) is the child getting the same breadth of education as in a classroom; ”
The child is far more likely to be in the real world learning by doing, my 6 year old is spending the day working out how to do predictive texting on my new phone to find his favorite cartoons on the net. What a way to learn to spell and see if you are right so once he goet Tweetie and Sylvester right he got his cartoon!!
Next hel teach me how to do it. Doing and teaching are great ways to learn all the research shows this. He kids get ample opportunuty to do this.

“c) is the child simply being taught to regurgitate the world-view of the parents;”
A risk I agree but what to learn at school to regurgitate the world view of ones teachers or the state? And as I said many of us support autonomy and wish to support the development of childrne who are able to evolve their own views.

“d) does the child have access to sufficient resources to support learning to a level equal to that which his or her peers will reach by the same age.”
We live in this modern world with computers, internet, cheap books, fab museums, great countryside. Most HE kids have little restraint on their access to those things. It doesn’t require lots of money some do it on very low incomes.
I won’t get into an argument on whether one wishes to have the same goals and targets for all kids of the same age just because they are the same age except to say that on the whole HE parents wish for their children to achieve whatever excellence they themselves are capable of.

“Ensuring these opportunities needs to be the responsibility of a body with no intellectual bias towards one form of education or the other – but since primary legislation is the responsibility of the State, it is to the State such a body must answer.”

The risk with this argument is that the State appropriates the responsibility to educate the people.
There are many people who would prefer to keep that responsibility themselves.
Do have a look at the Sometimes it’s Peaceful Blog mentioned above to get an idea of the concerns.

“the question, since when are parents more qualified than teachers to choose what their children can and can’t learn?”

Missing the point entirely that the people most qualified to decide what chidlren learn are the children themselves!! and in general a parent or person who loves that child will support them well in that quest for knowledge and learning.

I agree with your concerns that some parents will wish to direct their child’s learning but in general it would require a very dogmatic parent not to respond to the child’s desires with regard to learning. Children are passionate learners when given freedom, support and access to resources.

“Whether boards of governors, LEAs or some body that will collectively represent home schoolers, this sort of regulation is the right of a democratic society – however we collectively decide to arrange it.”

A person’s learning and thinking are their own business. How would you like it if your learning was regulated by our “democratic society” however we collectively decided to arrange it?!!
Apart from any liberty issue its’ bloody inefficient for a body to regulate learning.

It’s like the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists deciding to regualte and monitor all kids learning to walk.
What a waste of time and resources.

If people choose to use schools, that’s fine, if the state thinks that’s the most efficeint way to ensure education of the population, that’s fine too, but what cannot happen is that those who choose to learn otherwise be forced to accept that model, and in particualr to implement it in their own homes. It does not allow choice and as you mention the child’s choice is important. Most HE parents give their children that choice.



I should spell check these things before you all have a go about the nerve I have to HE my kids and not be able to spell!!!! Proof of the pudding is the 6 year old overtaking me!!


Thanks Shatterface it is this implication that HE is a cover for abuse that is concerning us why make these allegations without any evidence. post no 14

And anyway HE kids are not always at home, in fact mine are the most obvious kids on the street. No school uniform, out in the day when everyone is at school, chatting to old ladies full of nosey questions at the bus stop etc etc

What is amazing is that a large part of the population think it is illegal, we have really begun to enjoy these conversations, telling people how much fun it is and watching as they move from thinking we are nuts to realising that they might like to have been able to do it too.

I think a lot of this is being framed as either/or when it doesn’t necessarily need to be. My little one goes to school, but that doesn’t stop me taking her to the library, or her spending time in the kitchen with grandad, or doing woodwork with mummy, or going to the observatory or museums with us etc.etc.


I have a variety of problems with your approach to this issue. Firstly, you make statements like ‘this is a big issue for many Home Educators’ but I’m moved to ask, how do you know? Do you ask for a show of hands at the local meetings? Is everyone honest? The bottom line is this: without actually investigating, methodically, using a sample of the home schooled and the home schoolers, you have no means to verify any of the generalisations you are making.

If it is a concern that parents will want to direct what their children learn – and bearing in mind the number who withdraw their children from school on religious grounds, I’d bet a lot of money that it should be a BIG concern – what are you doing about it? It’s all very well to promote learning which the child directs – I’m in favour of that, and so are most teachers – but what about those who aren’t being allowed to choose the direction in which they learn?

More importantly, what about the children whose very decisions on this matter are clouded because of a religious ideology they’ve imbibed from birth with nothing to challenge it? When you can outline a policy proposal that takes these things into account, without screaming about the invasion of family privacy by the State, then I might actually become interested in a hurry – because I’m a teacher and I’m not the only teacher who worries about the state of the education system.

Your more extreme rhetoric attempts to relativize this issue – by saying that at school kids are learning the ideology of their teacher, but you left out multiple things. Firstly, the teacher doesn’t come vested with the authority and respect of a parent. Secondly, there are many more teachers all with different points of view. Thirdly, the teachers aren’t the only source of learning at school – as you should appreciate. Secondary schools in particular have a) libraries and b) after school clubs.

Some of this is available to children who are home schooled, and to some home schooled children, it’s all available, of that I have no doubt. But all of it should be available to all children, home schooled or not. How do we test that it is available, and how do we test that parents are encouraging – not forcing, and not forbidding – their children to take advantage of these things without some form of regulation?

Finally, you missed my point about the social nature of education, evidently.

A person’s thinking and learning is not their own business, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost among those, what a person thinks and what a person learns impacts upon me, as this is a democratic society. I have no objection to a person holding X opinions, but where X opinion blatantly contradicts a body of factual knowledge, then it’s not learning, it’s indoctrination – unless the opinion can be substantiated by reasoned argument and methodical investigation.

Secondly, we neither think nor learn in a vacuum. Our thinking and learning is conditioned by our exposure to any number of sources of information – experience, school, church, media, friends, family and so on. More importantly, the thinking of every individual we come into contact with is conditioned in the same way. So I am alarmed at the suggestion that the only guide to what we should learn is what we want to learn: even our predispositions of taste are affected by outside influences.

I am arguing that children – all children – should be exposed to the greatest possible range of influences. If you are prepared to argue, as I think you are, that home schooling is the most effective way to do this, then I’m prepared to accept your argument on good faith. I am not, however, willing to relinquish my right to be safeguarded against those parents whose motives are somewhat less pure than yours and other Home Educators.

That safeguarding requires the intervention of the State, not to proscribe a list of things children shouldn’t learn, but to ensure that parents are meeting their responsibilities and that children are learning the things which we, as a democratic society, need them to learn, especially if, as Holt suggested, we were to abolish the age requirements for voting.

Asquith, you don’t go to school only to learn science, maths and the classics. A big purpose of school is socialisation and emotional literacy ie what it feels like to be bullied and dream about the popular girls/boys in the class and what their lives must be like. Its a microcosm of life – in all its unfair glory. You can’t get that at homeschool and when you’re a child you wonder what is so bad about school that your parents don’t want you to go and then when you are an adult you can see clearly the issues (which can’t be pretty) which drove one of your parents to want to give up their lives and spend it teaching you your times tables.

I agree with you about not everyone needing to go to University but it has become more of a rite of passage rather then for a vocation or career.

Rude thoughts on David Semple’s article here.

I am not satisfied that even children being given a very partial sort of education is grounds for state intervention.

Perhaps the textbook example is the Amish in the US that are given widespread capabilities to opt out of a variety of mainstream activities (the Haredi in the US and the UK are another example). They get a very odd education and to their individual choices will be effected and constrained by it, but I don’t think anyone can say that these individuals live worse lives as a consequence. Much worse is the prospect of forcibly breaking up essential features of these communities which would certainly cause harm to those participating in them. Of course, in so far as occlusion is used as way of getting away with actual child abuse, then the secrecy isn’t legitimate but that is a far cry from making judgements about the sort of education children receive.

If we aren’t going to get all activist on these perfectly harmless minorities, I don’t see any justification whatsoever for intervening amongst home educators whose aims are pretty much the same as the mainstream even if their techniques are (unsurprisingly) unintelligible to your average educational establishment apparatchik.

David, I have a variety of problems with your approach to this issue. Re. your first point.. For someone commenting on a group blog that deals with political concerns, is it such a surprise that the internet can be used to discuss matters of concern?

Speaking of generalisations, do you have any figures that support your implication that the majority of home edders do so for religious reasons? What evidence do you have for the content of the education provided by such parents? How do you think that compares with the curricula in faith schools?

As for learning that the child directs – which you assert most teachers are in favour of (I’ll resist the temptation to belabour the point about generalisations any further) – what do you understand by the term autonomous learning. particularly in a home education context?

I take your objections based on the social implications of education more seriously. However. you must surely see that any discussion of compulsory subjects is itself an intensely political subject. I am not arguing that it follows the absence of a core canon of knowledge is apolitical, just that any assertions of “necessary knowledge” are not as neutral as you appear to suggest.

I would support Elizabeth’s contention that HE is a great way to maximise the variety of influences that a child encounters. Schoolchildren spend most of their time confined (I use the term advisedly) with their age-mates. Do you have a mental image of the “home-schooled” child in a garret with a text-book? My daughter meets a wide age-range of adults and children in the HE activities which we, as HE parents, organises on our own initiative.

Lastly, if you were to substitute the word school for parents in your final paragraph of comment #19, how successfully is the State achieving those aims?

Who determines what is in the national curriculum?

Ian, to answer a variety of your questions in one go, read the original article I wrote, to which Elizabeth is responding. Some of the things you ask have answers contained therein.

Also, I have figures for US home schooling, which are government statistics, but I’m not sure if DCSF has published any material like this. From one source at any rate, some 14% of respondents suggested religion as a reason for their withdrawal of their child from school. I don’t think I contended anywhere that a majority of home edders withdrew their children for religious reasons.

The evidence I have for such contentions as I do make, I make on the basis of personal experience. Moreover, you’ll never meet an individual so opposed to faith schools as I am – and I feel fairly knowledgeable about the subject, having experienced 14 years of faith schooling and growing up with an entire generation of young people who had similar experiences.

Also, I’m not suggesting the apolitical nature of any of this; it is definitely political. I have no problem with that – I’m just suggesting it is best if interpreted through a different paradigm than State-vs-People, which is, as far as I am concerned, a ridiculous reductionism towards the political.

Just to supplement…14% of an estimated 150,000 is a lot of kids.

And as for my contention about what ‘most teachers’ think as regards child-led learning, well I’ve talked to four teachers about the subject on the way home, I can vouch for the issues which come up in PGCE training and I can vouch for the DCSF standards, the language of which seems to be geared towards pushing teachers to encourage pupil-led learning within a certain framework. Take that or dismiss it at your leisure. My point wasn’t an idle I-know-more-than-you pissing contest, it was a genuine concern that the OP didn’t seem to accept the verifiability of certain factors which contribute towards what we might broadly understand as ‘a good education’.

I’d also like it noted that I’m not opposed to home-schooling.

Response to David post 19

“I am arguing that children – all children – should be exposed to the greatest possible range of influences”

I agree

“If you are prepared to argue, as I think you are, that home schooling is the most effective way to do this, then I’m prepared to accept your argument on good faith. ”

It is the best way I can see for my children to achieve the greatest possible range of influences. How other people achieve this is their concern, I am happy to share my opinion on the benefits of our way of learning, I have no wish to impose it on others either for their own good or for mine. (Though we’d have even more fun if more of our schoolie friends decided to HE)

“I am not, however, willing to relinquish my right to be safeguarded against those parents whose motives are somewhat less pure than yours and other Home Educators.”

Interesting perspective!

The law as it stands is considered by many to be sufficient.

I’ve quoted relevant views of John Holt, much of his writing is inspiring to home educators, and your adding his more extreme views to this argument is not relevant.

You might also enjoy the work of Jan Fortune Wood mentioned above.

Thanks for the time taken to respond it is interesting to see the other point of view.



In my experience, PGCE qualifications offer no guarantee (perhaps not even a likelihood) of quality and the DCSF barely even knows what name it is these days. What they have to offer is probably better than nothing, but I wouldn’t want to rank it higher than any serious pedagogical alternative offered by home education or the private sector (with the exception of a small minority of religious instruction).

For me there are two issues – the criticism related to autonomous learning, and that relating to indoctrination.

First of all, all children who are taught a discrete package of knowledge such as the national curriculum, delivered by teachers, in schools, are absolutely not being allowed to choose the manner in which they learn.

A school environment automatically precludes this because there will always be children who don’t want to or can’t learn in a school environment. Many, if not most, teachers have a vested interested in promoting their delivery of knowledge over a child’s choice to learn,ad qualified teacher status over those who seek only to enable learners, precisely because their professional existence, identity, authority (and income) depends upon it. I view with doubt anyone who believes that their teaching degree or any other qualification makes them a better facilitator of my child’s learning than someone who is passionate about true autodidacticism.

My personal view is that encouraging anything other than autonomous learning is also harmful indoctrination, placing a premium on conformity and encouraging children to be controlled and dependent upon authority (ultimtely requiring ever more intervention and resources in the long run). Actually, in order to have the best possible chance of safeguarding David’s sensibilities, then viewing one’s thinking and learning as first and foremest one’s own business is fundamental if one is to learn about motivation, self-control, critical thinking and effective problem-solving skills, personal responsibility and the accommodation of others. It’s crucial for instilling a philosophy that enshrines a love of lifelong learning. This approach in no way excludes the constant exposure to others’ diverse perspectives, values, and practices – it embraces them – and all of this is far more accessible when actually participating in the real world.

Children who go to school will find it nigh on impossible to expose themselves to “the greatest range of possible influences” and that is precisely my reason for not sending my child to school unless she chooses to go. There is no better way of learning about the real world than participating in it – and we all have our own, unique, subjective ways of doing this. You cannot have autonomous learning with a “but there are concrete things that all children have a right to be taught” caveat.

On a separate note, it seems David’s overriding concern regarding home education is the possibility of religious indoctrination. I simply don’t think that one person can ever be in a position to criticise another’s choice or implementation of religion, or the impact that might have on a child’s learning, given that both areas (religious belief and learning) are utterly human, subjective, infinitely complex and therefore sit outside of an empirically driven approach to objective observation and measurement. Enjoying our own personal freedom to live and learn involves being exposed to ideas and philosophies we might find dogmatic or abhorrent, but, as no one person has the ultimate authority or one right way of doing things, it quite simply isn’t any of our business to step into someone else’s family and attempt to rectify what some (but by no means all) might consider their misguided philosophical, political or religious views of the world. Espousing tolerance and respect on the outside is the best way of combatting such issues.

Even in relatively clear cut cases of serious physical child abuse, directors of children’s services are telling us that harm minimisation by definition does not prevent every single child from danger or even death, and it is unrealistic to expect that it will. We have to accept this unless we want to live in a totalitarian state – we cannot have it both ways.

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