Written evidence submitted by Katie Finlayson

  1. Background

1.1 I have been home educating for 15 years, including extensive involvement in local and national support groups. I have supported hundreds of home educating families in person, and thousands online. While many of these families have simply chosen to home educate because of the benefits of a personalised educational approach, often choosing not to ever attend school, a substantial and increasing number have come to, or are considering, home education following attendance difficulties in schools.  These families have typically found home education to be a better fit for their child.

1.2 This evidence is my personal view based on the cumulative experiences reported by many families who are considering or have chosen elective home education. It does not represent the view of any organisation.

  1. Factors causing persistent absence

2.1 The biggest factor in persistent absence among families who later elect, or consider, home education, seems to be related to mental health concerns, particularly anxiety. These can be general conditions, where a child suffers from depression or anxiety which is exacerbated by the school environment but still present at home, or can be specifically in response to school - for example, bullying (from both peers and occasionally, staff), sexual harassment, or the daily stress of a loud, crowded and highly controlled environment. These factors often copresent with autism or ADHD, of which there is a high prevalence within the home educating community, and parents reports that schools are unwilling or unable to meet their child's needs, frequently leading to a breakdown in the family's relationship with school.

2.2 In the latter case families often report that their child is far happier and better able to learn outside of the school environment, as well as being safer. This safety can manifest as safety from direct harm from other students, or safety from mental distress leading to self harm and in some cases suicide attempts.

2.3 Similar issues occur with physical illnesses, particularly chronic illnesses, where either the school environment itself or the handling of the condition (for example, limiting access to toilet facilities) mean the child finds the school environment difficult or damaging to health. This can include making the condition more obvious to other students when the child may become a target for their peers. Vulnerability to Covid is a part of this but far from the only factor.

2.4 Another factor is dissatisfaction with the curriculum, leading to a child being unwilling to engage in learning within the school environment, or children and parents being unhappy with what they are being taught. This can take many forms but common issues raised are

2.5 Again these may be linked to a child's SEN, and there has often been a period of low attendance where parents may have raised concerns with the school which they do not feel have been satisfactorily addressed, prior to making a decision to deregister.

2.6 Over the lockdown period, while the situation was very different to a normal home educating lifestyle, many of the families whose children were struggling in any of these ways had the experience of learning within their home environment. For some this was eye-opening, either because their child responded well to a different style of learning, or because it enabled parents a closer view into areas their child was struggling with and the work they were expected to do.  This led both to an increase in parents deregistering at the time, and an ongoing awareness that school buildings are not the only or perhaps the best way to learn for some children; even amongst parents who expected their child to return to school, this experience has provided an alternative outlook; and where difficulties with school have persisted, parents have come to realise that home education is a better approach for their circumstances.

  1. Schools support for families

3.1 Many families who have deregistered following attendance issues report that the school has not listened to their concerns or engaged in a way that places the needs of the child at the centre of the process. They feel that the pressure on attendance figures leads to a desire to 'get bums on seats' regardless of whether the child is effectively learning while in the building, or whether school attendance is the best thing for that child at that time. Parents frequently feel blamed for their child's difficulties and that they are not being listened to; this is particularly frustrating when concerns are raised by parents but not acted on at an early stage, leading to more severe difficulties later on.   

3.2 Many parents feel that the pressure on attendance is detrimental to their child's health and confidence, particularly where the child is more comfortable and learns better within a home environment. Messages such as "[school is...] the best place for children to thrive, be safe and happy and learn"[1], while they may be true for many, are alienating to children and families where this is not their experience.

3.3 Some parents do want to get their child back into school, or be supported by the school to offer a learning experience that better suits their child, but feel that they have no choice but to deregister because the pressure on them is tearing their family apart and damaging their child, in the name of helping them.  Fines may be the final straw in a recognition that the system values attendance figures over the wellbeing of their child; or it may be when a parent has a crying child forcibly removed from them to be taken into the school building. Other parents report being told that they should force a teenager into the school building 'in their pyjamas if necessary'; young children told that their parent may be sent to prison if they don't comply; families given advice to ensure the home environment is as unpleasant as possible in a bid to make school seem more attractive by comparison. None of these actions feel like support.

3.4 Schools, fearful of accusations of off-rolling, also frequently denigrate the possibilities of home education, rather than having a genuine conversation about the pros and cons of this choice, alongside a commitment to offer a suitable education within the school system for all those who choose to make use of it. This is something a school may well not be best placed to understand, but at the least they should be able to signpost to the many peer support groups that can help parents understand the commitments and opportunities involved, without offering an unasked for opinion on a decision that is the parents' choice to make.

3.5 Specific requests from some parents are for either 14-16 college opportunities, which are extremely variable in both availability and quality across the country; or for a supported form of remote learning to be available, either on a permanent or temporary basis. There are many forms of this that could work, from parents supervising at home, to a child in physical school but working independently outside of a classroom environment that they find difficult.  However the remote learning that can be offered is strictly limited by DfE guidance, and while there are funding and resource implications to be considered, these options should be explored rather than dismissed. This may not be at a schools level, and for workload reasons should not fall to an individual class teacher, but a coherent offer could be available on a national, regional or local authority basis. This is not a solution that would work for all but may be useful for some.

3.6 Finally, where parents do decide that home education is the best choice for their child, schools could continue to help by offering exam centre services to their local communities, offering GCSE and equivalent qualifications (such as IGCSEs, which are frequently more accessible to private candidates due to slightly different requirements on practical aspects), on a cost-only basis. If many more schools were to offer this, home educated children would be able to access a local, affordable exam centre to demonstrate their learning and progress to the next stages of their education; and the burden on each individual school would be smaller if more centres were available. This would help all home educated children, but particularly those from low income families and with SEND who may be less able to pay private centre fees and arrange travel and accommodation where exam centres are a considerable distance away.

3.7 Some of these approaches would not necessarily improve the narrow measure of attendance figures; but they would support children's education, which is the underlying aim of encouraging attendance. Fundamentally where children are happy and successful at school, their attendance is usually correspondingly high; low attendance is often a signal that something else is not a good fit. Attendance should be viewed as an output measure, not an input.

  1. Pupil registration regulatory changes

4.1 The Department's proposed changes to the pupil registration regulations contain a concerning change to the ability of parents to deregister where their child has an EHCP, moving from a situation where deregistration is taken as an immediate instruction of the parents wishes as to how they will fulfil their parental responsibility of educating their child; to one where the LA must offer prior approval before the child can be removed from roll. This removes a vital protection from children by preventing their parents from taking an immediate action to remove them from a situation that may be causing them harm; it also marks a further step away from a parents' right to make decisions about the best interests of their own child, and for the default to be that parents are trusted to do that, unless alternative evidence exists.

4.2 The consultation document states that the local authority 'will be expected to not withhold approval unnecessarily, nor delay for an unreasonable period'. However with SENDIST tribunals currently giving dates a year away, and appeals fully supporting LAs actions in only 3.7% of cases[2], it is hard to believe that LAs have the capacity to act in a timely fashion. Adding a blanket responsibility, rather than one targeted to cases with evidence of concern, will further overload an already dangerously fragile system. Meanwhile children will be either be trapped in a situation that their parents recognise as not in their best interests; or parents will take the hit of attendance fines or prosecution, using up scarce time and resources on a court process that in most cases will not be necessary.

  1. Recommendations

5.1 The experience of children and families with low attendance should be front and centre of your inquiry. The key policy organisation advocating for these families is Square Peg, which works alongside the support organisation Not Fine In School. I urge the Committee to call Ellie Costello from Square Peg to give evidence on behalf of the families you are discussing.

5.2 I also recommend the Committee read the newly published book "Square Pegs: Inclusivity, compassion and fitting in - a guide for schools.", and challenge key figures within the Department for Education to do the same.

5.3 I recommend the Committee ask the following questions of the Government:



[1] Children's Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, quoted in Schoolsweek, 15 Jun 2022 (, accessed 7 Feb 23)



February 2023