Written evidence submitted by Mrs Hannah London

I am submitting this evidence to the committee as an interested member of the public; as someone with several years of experience working in a local state primary school; as a friend to several home-educating families as well as to many schooled families; as a parent at the beginning of my home-educating journey, with children aged four and one.


Fundamentally, I feel that the government's main job with regard to home education is safeguarding from clearly abusive situations, such as physical abuse, neglect or brainwashing. (As a brief aside, I do not believe religion per se should come under this last heading! Religion as an excuse for abuse, such as training children to believe that everyone outside the home or religious group is an enemy, is clearly problematic. But many religious families choose to home educate at least partly so that the way of life in that religion is more easily shared with their children, and I believe that this religious freedom should be safeguarded.) Since the government has, with the best of intentions and with true benefit to individuals and society, taken on the task of ensuring a free and worthwhile education is available for every child, clearly the government must consider what a good education could include. But when a family is willing to keep the responsibility of educating their own children, rather than delegating this responsibility to the state, it is surely highly questionable what authority the state has to influence this education. Therefore I consider it reasonable for inspections of home educating families to be limited to aspects of home education that would indicate the level of physical and emotional safety of the home environment. The content of an education can vary greatly from one to another and still prepare an individual well for adult life. Inspectors should consider the safety of the home environment; the content of the education should largely be outside of their remit.


Practically speaking, I understand that the content of home education may be relevant to safety concerns. I think many home educators would appreciate it greatly if there were some assurance that inspectors of home education had training or experience regarding at least the concept of different educational philosophies. Further, if inspectors had some awareness of some of the main schools of thought in home education, such as classical schooling, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, unschooling, home educators would feel much better supported and less fearful of being misunderstood. One way to encourage greater understanding on the part of inspectors would be to actively recruit inspectors with some home education experience. An alternative would be to employ someone with a strong home education background (such as a parent of home educated children, parents who have run home-ed co-operatives, parents who have participated in mentoring relationships with other home-educating families) to train inspectors in awareness. However, I would question the need for any in-depth inspection of home education set-ups unless there has already been evidence of problems, such as reports from neighbours or social workers with specific concerns (not simply concerns that children are home educated).


Many home educating families are concerned that a main aim of the government, specifically Ofsted, is to make home education look as much like a typical school education as possible. There is little evidence that education as provided in schools is the best way, or even an especially good way, to educate children. What it certainly is is a convenient way - convenient given the parameters of teaching classes of 30 children at a time; convenient for parents who feel it is right for them to work outside the home and who need childcare to support this. Many home-educating families have chosen to home educate precisely to avoid the negative implications of large group education, and our concern is that inspectors checking the "suitability and efficiency" of our educational set-up will be comparing what we do to what is done in schools. Schools are usually aiming for high academic achievers. I am aiming for my children to grow into people who care for others, who grow in their areas of strength both academically and personally, who learn to cope with their areas of weakness. There will be reading, writing and arithmetic in our home education. But it may not take place using exercise books and spelling tests. And different milestones may not be reached at the precise ages they would in most schools. This diversity of approach must be acceptable to inspectors of home-educating families, or they overstep their responsibilities.


Regarding the government's concern that children be prepared for adult life in society, I have been considering if it could be made possible for home-educating families to access free GCSE and A-level examinations. Since most employers require some formal qualifications, the vast majority of home-educating families enter their children for at least some GCSEs, etc. Currently, this must be completely self-funded. From one perspective, I understand that the government may feel families opting out of the school system should not expect to gain from that system. However, typically those families are paying taxes, their children are eligible for school places and would receive free exam entry if they were in schools, and they are in fact saving government funds by not taking up classroom places and resources. Perhaps state schools could be encouraged to make a way for home-educating families to enter for exams via the school. It could be that the school would require the home ed students to demonstrate some level of aptitude and training before entry, such as taking mock exams under exam conditions on school premises. This free access to exams would be one important way that the government could better support home-educated students in making the transition either to working life or to further/higher education. The Committee will remember that free, state-funded access to public examinations was in fact a specific recommendation of the 2012 Support for Home Education inquiry (see Summary, and points 36 to 44), and indeed also the Badman Review of 2009.


On a related note, the 2012 Support for Home Education inquiry reported that access of any kind (self-funded or otherwise) to local exam centres often proved difficult or impossible for home-educating families. The recommendation was made for local authorities to be mandated to provide access to exam centres (see points 37 to 39, and 43). To my knowledge, this recommendation has also not been followed through. It would be hugely appreciated by home-educating families if exam access were simple and consistent across the country. Anything the Committee can do to further this cause would be a significant help to the home education community.ed inquiry


October 2020