Presently it is any parent's legal right to educate their child[ren] outside the state system of education. This legal right permits independent schools to exist, such the Free Presbyterian schools, or a parent may desire to educate their child[ren] at home. The relevant legislation is to be found in section 45 of the: Education and Libraries Northern Ireland Order 1986 SI 1986/594:
Duties of parents to secure full-time education for their children
45. (1) The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
(2) The provisions of Schedule 13 shall apply to the enforcement of the provisions of paragraph (1) and a parent who contravenes the provisions of that Schedule shall be guilty of an offence and liable to the penalties provided by paragraph 4 of that Schedule.
Where a local Education & Library Board believes that they have evidence that this is not happening they can intervene using Schedule 13 Enforcement of duty imposed by article 45.
However, the five Education and Library Boards are consulting on a new policy where they will be able to intrude into what Home Educators are doing. This intrusion will come about without there being any degree of suspicion that a child is not receiving a "efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude."
These draft proposals are in many respects similar to the recommendations in the Badman review commissioned by the Department for Education for England in 2009. They were subsequently defeated in the British House of Commons. Their defeat on 8th December 2009, made history when the highest number of petitions ever were presented simultaneously on a single topic in Parliament. Conservative MP Graham Stuart presented the petition rejecting the recommendations of the Badman Review from home educators across England and Wales declaring:
This is a historic night. More than 70 Honourable and Right Honourable members will present petitions from more than 120 different constituencies opposing the compulsory registration and monitoring of home educated children.
See report here in the Guardian Newspaper - Petition Record over Home Schooling
The five Northern Ireland Education & Library Boards are seeking to bring in similar proposals in here by the back door, without any legislation being passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. These proposals will give education inspectors permission:
1. To approve curriculums, inspect homes and examine the children's learning environment. Parents will be required to forward a copy of their Curriculum to the relevant Education & Library Board/Education & Skills Authority named officer so that the Board/ESA can "reach a decision that the proposed programme for the child is efficient and appropriate to the age, ability and aptitude of the child, and to any special educational needs he or she may have."
2. To decide whether a parent can educate their child at home or not. The proposals read: The Board/ESA named officer will assess the learning environment and the suitability of the programme to meet the educational needs of the child. The Board/ESA’s decision as to the appropriateness or otherwise of the programme, having due regard to the best interests of the child and relevant legislation, will be communicated in writing by the named officer for EHE to those with parental responsibility.
3. To enter the homes for mandatory annual inspections without needing any grounds for doing so. Under the menacing title of Monitoring of Elective Home Education Programmes, these proposals will bring into effect the appointment of an 'officer' who will 'monitor' the home education of children. The relevant section reads: The Board/ESA will monitor EHE programmes on at least an annual basis to ensure the child is receiving efficient full time education suitable to his or her age, ability and aptitude and to any special educational needs he or she may have. The child’s opinion will also be taken into consideration.
4. To question children about their education, and possibly other matters as well. Again this can take place where there is no evidence of educational neglect.
5. To require parents to prove that they are complying with the law. In effect this to prove your innocence, even where no existing evidence or suspicion of educational neglect.
These proposals are being put forward without any change in legislation and after similar proposals were thrown out in England as being unacceptable and an intrusion in to the privacy of someone's home. Graham Stuart Member of Parliament for Beverley and Holderness) told MPs: If enacted, the Government's proposals will for the first time in our history tear away from parents and give to the state the responsibility for a child's education.
This is a most sinister development!
The relevant consultations for each Education and Library Board can be accessed through the following links:
South Eastern Education & Library Board - http://www.seelb.org.uk/index.php/en/schools/53-elective-home-education?hig
Western Education & Library Board - http://www.welbni.org/index.cfm/go/publications/cat/128/parent_Key/190>