What is it about the "Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill, which received its first reading in the Lords on 27th June 2017, that is so significant? It is after all, highly unlikely to become law, but at least some of its significance stems from the fact that it is nonetheless part of an on-going effort on the part of those antipathetic to home education to influence legislators.
But what is constitutionally significant about that? Well, if the bill were to become law, it would completely overturn a key underpinning of our democracy, ie: that it is for families to decide upon the nature and content of education rather than the state. This is because the bill would make it a requirement that every home educating family pass muster with their local authority in terms of their educational provision which means, in effect, that the state takes over the task of determining the nature of a suitable education. Once this happens, democracy is at risk since it removes one of the key checks and balances that mitigates against the instigation of tyranny, ie: freedom in education.
But why, it is reasonable to ask, given that local authorities already have a duty to try to discover children not in receipt of an education, has the state not already taken over as de facto parent in terms of deciding upon the nature of a suitable education? The state in determining that a suitable education is not taking place, must have decided upon the nature of a suitable education.
The thing is, the section on children missing education doesn't mean that anyone must define what a suitable education actually is. It only means that the state must decide what a suitable education isn't! These things are very different.
A suitable education is a broad category of things. It is similar, in this way, to a healthy diet. You can know, broadly speaking, when someone is not in receipt of a healthy diet, but you wouldn't by so doing, have determined what sort of diet a person must eat.
Likewise, the state determining that an education is not suitable is not the same as the state determining the nature of a suitable education, since all manner of different forms of education could be suitable and this is where we are at with current legislation. Families and not the state currently still get to decide upon the nature of a suitable education and they (unlike the state), can vary it so that the education is genuinely suited to the individual child.
However the recent bill as law would overturn all that. The state would then decide upon the nature of suitable education. Parents would no longer get to decide this, and whilst this might not look constitutionally frightening at the moment, we must not forget how quickly democracies can deteriorate, how a chipping away at the edges of checks and balances could more easily lead to such a decline and how dictatorships are buttressed by a state controlled education. Think not only of the decline of Revolutionary France and the Weimar Republic but also of the recent annexation of the Crimea and the current political volatility throughout the whole of the Western World, with swings to extreme ends of left and right, and populist votes which resulted in a president that admired the way Putin goes about things and press bans from Whitehouse briefings.
We are by no means at the end of history as Francis Fukuyama would have had us believe shortly after the end of the Cold War. Eternal vigilance remains as important today as it ever was.