Written evidence submitted by Mrs Clare Emerson

Home Education: Call for Evidence 2020


1. Introduction

Evidence submitted on 6.10.2020 by Clare Emerson as an individual with 17 years of Home Educating experience in England.  I also act as a representative of Home Educators within our Local Authority area of Cumbria, meeting bi-annually with the Head of Learning Improvement, who is responsible for HE in Cumbria, and liaising with any specific concerns or information the LA would like disseminated at any time.


2. Our experience of Home Education

I am a mother of 4 children who have never been to school.  My eldest is the first male in our family to go to university and is planning a Masters after his BSc Hons concludes this year, my second child did some Level 2 Maths and English courses alongside practical land-based courses and had a thriving self-employed business at 17 years old.  The younger 2 are 15 and 13 and working towards GCSEs from home, with intentions of becoming a vet and aquatics specialist respectively.   My 4 children age 13-20 still play together and work as a team, they are independent learners, they are passionate and motivated, they know how to work hard and are considerate people who will have a proper conversation with you.  Interestingly, the time they don’t spend walking corridors, doing registration or subjects they abhor has given them time to become specialists and this is something myself and other HE parents have observed: HE creates specialists, often with differing careers within families as each child gets a completely tailored education. My son got his place at university, not on his grades, which were average, but his evidence of independent learning in doing GCSEs from home by himself, in the much wider reading he had time to do and in the work he had already begun in his field.  In the words of the professor at the open day, “you are already a Zoologist, I just need to get you the piece of paper” and he offered him a place on the spot.  My daughter, who is self-employed and very dyslexic, is extremely diligent and phenomenal at verbal instructions as a result.  Home Education has kept her away from the desk-based learning environment that would have been soul-destroying for her and allowed her to follow her natural skill-set and passion for a practical land-based lifestyle and her work is in high demand. 


3. Questions about the efficacy of Home Education

In 2009 when Graham Badman had a list of questions about HE, which are hard to answer in the UK, the answers were published in research by Dr Brian Ray in the US (2009 Progress Report), using SATS results of 11,000 Home Educated children, showing the consistently high (about the 80th centile) success of Home Education regardless of style of learning, money spent, class or even the level of state oversight.  It has been concluded that the “usual” factors that affect educational outcomes do not seem to apply here and one suggestion was that the key factor is how interested the parents are in the education of their child.  Other countries like NZ, decided to monitor a lot more closely, but then realised it was unnecessary and a waste of resources and reduced their involvement dramatically as a result.


4. The real issue in the UK

The issue in the UK is not that Home Education is a “problem”.  There is an issue that school is not providing the education that parents want or their children need.  Failure to care properly for Special Educational Needs, bullying, disagreement with National Curriculum or elements of it that parents find an over-stepping of duties (SRE content for example), not being allowed to take children on holiday and over-sized classes are all pushing up the HE numbers, as well as those of us who just want to Home Educate. Add to this the illegal practise of “off-rolling”, which is occurring because schools do not have the resources to work with complex needs of certain students, yet another school-based problem that shouldn’t be taken out on the HE community.   Now, of course, we have Covid concerns: you can’t tell people restrictions are being tightened because it’s getting worse, and that they are being swayed by fake news on social media if they are concerned about infection at school!


5. “A suitable education”

As I am sure is clear from my opening paragraphs, HE for us has been successful and enjoyable.  We even spent 9 months travelling, which was a wonderful educational experience, yet one that would be frowned on if our children had been registered at a school.  Our children are connected to us and each other and are rich in social and life skills as well as the formal learning they do.  I realised a long time ago that character trumps certificates: if someone is hard-working, considerate and has good self-esteem they will never do badly; if a person is lazy and selfish or doesn’t believe in themself, it doesn’t matter how much or how good an “education” you provide for them, they are not equipped to succeed.  But the content of a good education is the key and the answer is as unique as the person giving it.  Furthermore, whilst we cannot agree on the content of a good education, the fact is that it varies from person to person and it is insulting to suggest that the state cares more about, or knows my child, better than me!  This is a major factor in the resistance of HE parents to oversight – we are each the experts in our own children.


6. Is the 2019 Guidance helpful?

6.1               In 2019 new guidance was issued to Local Authorities and to parents and I am sorry to tell you, this is not helping at all.  In my response to the consultation before it was published, I expressed my profound concern at the lack of tangible support and that the documents are primarily the process of dealing with a completely undefined “unsuitable education” and basically come across as predominantly threats. The summary flow chart does not make any suggestions for action regarding a suitable education!  Consequently, Local Authorities are making illegal demands of families and failing miserably to achieve the positive relationships encouraged in 5.3 of the LA guidance, which seems to be a very low priority.  There are 27 references to support in the LA guidance: but there isn’t any funding, so support amounts to what can be provided for free, therefore very little, even in “good” Local Authorities like Cumbria (which is actually due to 1 person within the LA).  Furthermore, 2.3 of the LA guidance suggests HE may be in the best interest of the child (again, I would ask who is most aware of and invested in the best interest of the child?) ‘even if they require additional support’. However, a lot of Local Authorities are now using this guidance to threaten School Attendance Orders if parents do not produce information in a certain format or allow a visit or access to the child’s work, declaring they cannot confirm the education is suitable otherwise.  Some were even demanding visits in lockdown!  After reading 2.4 of the LA guidance it is hard to understand how some Local Authorities are asking for timetables, hours a week of education provided, how families are meeting the National Curriculum or assessing the child’s progress.  All these point to them not understanding Home Education or the law and we shouldn’t have to be fighting our corner on this!


6.2              Aside from the complete lack of funding to offer any support or meet their duties in regard to HE, a major problem is that there is no qualification in Home Education; the staff deciding whether a child is receiving a “suitable” education – which is left to the Local Authority to determine – are completely unqualified.  Even if they have education or school system experience, they don’t have Home Education experience, and it’s very different to school-based education.  It is also highly unlikely that they have personal experience of Home Education.  As the expert in my own children who is confidently carrying out their Home Education, why would I want to be assessed by someone who is neither qualified nor experienced and doesn’t know us?!  Furthermore, the suggestion in the guidance that LAs decide what is suitable implies some kind of committee approach, whereas the reality is that HE is in the job description of only 1 or 2 people, so these decisions are based on the opinions of an unqualified person.


7. A case in point – the results of current Guidance

At the time of writing, Blackpool are advertising for an EHE “officer” (Local Authorities can call them what they want – offerings vary from “advisors” to “enforcers”) and this is demonstrates the position of the majority of LAs across the country.   Here is the link to the whole job posting: https://www.greater.jobs/search-and-apply/job-details/3587146/.


I have copied in of the job description completely, as this is indicative, but red highlighting is mine.  LAs have no duty to monitor home education, yet here we find it in the job description, along with being able to refer into services.  Rather than respecting parents’ legal right to exercise their duty to educate their children, they are supposed to “scrutinise” all EHE referrals and their strategic aim is to reduce the number of EHE “cases”, as if they are some kind of disease.  You will note the absence of the word “support”.  It does finally turn up at the end of the main duties and responsibilities section but it purely seems to relate to improving attendance, so is not actually support in Home Education.  Despite the fact that it is acknowledged in the 2019 Guidance that the huge majority of Home Educators are doing a great job, there is no part of this job description that pertains to those people and what pressure is going to be applied to achieve the strategic aim of reducing HE?  What about the proportionate approach that is called for in the Guidance? In the skills and experience required section, there was not one mention of having experience of Home Education or understanding or a positive opinion of alternative styles of education. What was required was QTS, and many qualified teachers who have decided to home educate will tell you that their training is more of a hindrance than a help, because it is has taught them to teach the NC in a school setting.  Furthermore, they have situated the position within the Schools Admission Team, which is not going to make families committed to HE want to interact with them!


8. Claims of abuse

Now onto to the discredited abuse claims.  In 2009, Graham Badman used the numbers of children

“known to Social Services”

Lowest estimate of HE children


and determined that HE children were twice as likely to be known to Social Services as children in school. 

He failed to mention that “known to Social Services” is not “known to be at-risk”.  “Known to Social Services includes any child with disability or SEN and false referrals (my kids would be in that stat as someone rang Social Services concerned that my children don’t go to school - they were immediately recognised as not at risk and case closed).  So that top number should have been a tiny fraction of the number used.

Furthermore, the bottom number was the lowest estimate of HE numbers (45,000 at the time).  Highest estimated numbers were 150,000, which of course would instantly have given a less exciting headline.

Thirdly, it should be mentioned once again, that suggesting Home Education played a part in the abuse of invisible children, on consideration of the Serious Case Reviews it is clearly seen that many of the children had been known as they had at one time been to school and usually concerns were raised and various departments failed to follow up.  Home Educators are pleased that if someone has a welfare concern, the current law allows Social Services to check on the welfare of that child and follow their processes to ensure the safety of that child.

Finally, I would raise the simple facts that abuse does not suddenly start at the age of 5 and children in school are only there for 13% of their time.  If abuse is a major concern, reinstate the Health Visitor service, which is supportive and generally welcomed by parents. 

Home education is a poor cover for abuse and the reality is that you need to be invested in your children to choose to structure your life, career and income around their education. I promise you, that when you tell someone you Home Educate, they are watching a lot closer and sometimes feel the need to give the children a little maths/spelling quiz as well! 


9. Support for Home Educators

Home Educators are by nature pro-active. We organise activities, share tutors, support each other with resources, child-care and experience.   It would be nice to have access to things like funded swimming or music lessons, but the distrust that has built over the years and the desire for independence makes us happy to waive these and we are really good at finding alternative routes.  However, the one area where support would be appreciated is exams.  Since schools became academies, the LA can’t tell them they have to accept external candidates and with Covid concerns and many HE children not receiving a grade this year (nor getting refunds in a lot of cases, I might add), a willing exam centre for 2021 is going to be almost impossible to secure.  There have been several periods in recent history where you could not get a GCSE exam centre in Cumbria.  Cumbria LA attempted to collaborate with us to create a HE exam centre, but were told that they were not a place of learning, so the exam board rejected their application!  Costs of exams vary, 4 GCSEs for my eldest cost about £300 (but the following year the school decided not to allow external candidates, despite there being no problems), I am expecting my daughter’s 5 GCSEs for the coming summer series to cost £2-3000.  I accept that we have saved a lot of money over the years by Home Educating, so we just have to find this now, however it is not fair to suggest we aren’t doing exams when it’s being made unnecessarily hard for us to do so.  It is also unacceptable that 16-18 year olds legitimately continuing their Home Education are counted as NEET, when that is simply untrue.


10. Is there a need for monitoring?

A few weeks ago I had a productive conversation with our MP about Home Education and I feel it would be beneficial for all MPs to talk to their Home Educating Communities as they would find themselves reassured.  As someone who is in touch with the HE community, I know there is no need for monitoring.  Home Education is simply parenting: if you are an acceptable parent, you are entitled to fulfil your parental obligation to provide your child with a suitable education yourself.  Parents are deemed innocent until proven guilty and the same should be applied to HE.  Home Education is not teaching: it’s facilitating.  It’s really interesting that my worst subjects are my children’s best subjects: in those areas I had very little, if anything, to offer them, but I have facilitated and encouraged their learning in those areas.


11. Registration

11.1              In terms of registration, education is a parental duty and you register for school if you do not want to carry out this duty yourself; Home Education is the default setting and we are passionate about upholding that.  But another reason Home Educators are hugely opposed to registration is that they don’t trust Local Authorities. If HE families could expect a consistent respectful approach and that Local Authorities would only act within their legal remit without making further assertions, if they actually had anything to offer in terms of support, then maybe we wouldn’t be so opposed to it.  It would be even better if it wasn’t Local Authorities making contact, as they represent the system Home Educators have rejected or may even have badly let them down.

11.2              At it currently stands, the only children who are not on the unofficial list, are the ones who have never been to school. The Guidance suggests that these are far more likely to be the Home Educators with positive outcomes, although I personally disagree with this view, as there are so many reasons to move to HE.  It is likely that the huge majority of Home Educators are in contact with their LA.



12. Conclusions

  1. leave Home Education alone, take action that encourages Local Authorities to not make up new rules themselves and remain within their legal remit and build the trust they have never achieved with the HE community. 


  1. Consider what it is about the school system that is failing, and make changes accordingly.


October 2020