To Prevent Extremism, We Must Examine Home Schooling And Social Exclusion
Last week, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (more commonly known as Ofsted) in the United Kingdom found that some 6,000 children were being taught in unregulated settings, some in ‘quite appalling’ conditions with unqualified staff and unsafe accommodation.
The issues highlighted were threefold. First, access to these alternative schools by authorities was difficult, with time spent gaining entry being used by these schools to hide their activities. Second, unregistered schools teach for under 18 hours – some for only 17 hours and 50 minutes – to avoid being registered as a school. Third, one in five of the places under investigation had links to religious centers, among these the most common was a Muslim setting. The fact that parents were allowed free places at local state schools did not stop them from sending their children to these ‘alternative’ centers, and often paying fees to do so.
While much has been written about the need to introduce a home schooling register for local authorities to inspect against, this has often been lobbied against by parents. The reasoning behind this is simple – the state should have no reason to interfere in the private life of the family home without evidence of wrongdoing. This is especially complicated when it comes to the spread of extremist views by parents to their children. While support for home schooling is an important aspect of liberal democracy, it brings new challenges as it becomes a route for extremists to pass on their values.
A report I published recently examines this in more detail. Of the 57 children examined between 2013-2018 who were subject to family court proceedings regarding a risk of radicalization, 19% has been home schooled. Home schooling, however, did not correspond exactly with the code of isolation from society, which came in at 39%. A much larger amount of children, therefore, were described as ‘isolated’ in court transcripts regarding their cases. In London Borough of Tower Hamlets v. B, for example, the subject B’s home schooling led to her isolation from society. Her siblings, despite also being home schooled until the age of 16, were able to become integrated in society through sporting and other social interests.
Of concern, therefore, is the idea that unless home schooling is coupled with outside interests that integrate an individual into society, it is possible for an otherwise intelligent individual who has benefited from home education to be drawn to extremist ideas. This is particularly the case with children in the report who were taken out of school by their parents – either to travel to join Islamic State in Syria or to join at home study circles. This inconsistency in exposure to those of a different mind-set often led to ‘social exclusion’. In the 2018 case ABCDE, Re the father was a leading figure in Al Muhajiroun, a banned extremist group in the United Kingdom. The mother was heavily involved, and possibly a leader of, the Women’s Circle, a women’s group affiliated with Al Muhajiroun. During court proceedings, the case put forward by the local authority was that the children often accompanied their mother to Women’s Circle meetings and that there was evidence that the children had attended Al Muhajiroun demonstrations.
The problem of home schooling is a complex one. While it can be an important mechanism for a family to educate and empower their children, as recent reports by Ofsted illustrate, home schooling can potentially bring harm to a child by isolating them from wider society. Inspectors warned, moreover, that parents are misusing the label of “home schooling” to in fact send their children to unregistered centers. The balance between protection of children and the fundamental rights of privacy and family life must be weighed. When it comes to extremism, however, we would do well to be duly cautious of how home schooling and unregistered centers may be exploited to advance hateful and problematic views.