Written evidence submitted by Sally Lowther


Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required

The idea of a statutory register stems from the conflation of education and safeguarding.

It is essential that social services maintain a register and assessment of children perceived to be at risk.  However this is NOT the same as children being home educated (any more than the fact that some children in school are at risk doesn’t mean the entire school population is).

For education purposes, the legal requirement for education rests with the parents.  Local Authorities may want to offer services and support to home educators, and it is reasonable that those receiving such services can be registered by the LA.  But this should be a free choice and not a statutory obligation.

Questions have been raised about children who are effectively “under the radar”.  This again is a safeguarding and NOT an educational issue.  Any statutory registration is unlikely to be adhered to by those who are determined, for whatever reason, to keep their child away from all authorities.  If a child is, for example, not registered with a doctor, parents are unlikely to happily comply with a requirement to register as home educators.


The benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face

Many children are deeply unhappy at school.  Some are suicidal or having severe mental health problems, caused or worsened by a toxic culture in their particular school circumstances.  For these children, home education can literally be a lifesaver.

For many others, they are happiest learning in an environment which is familiar and safe, with freedom to develop in their own way, even if they would cope fine at school.

And for others home education is an amazing adventure.  They experience the chance to be taught individually, on a far wider range of subjects than could be covered at school.  Much of their teaching can be hands-on, outdoors and self-led.  They can develop skills at working independently, planning their own workload, and finding out where their deep interests lie.  They will have experiences and opportunities that can never be offered to a class of 30.

For example, as a home educating parent, I took my children on trips to museums, art galleries, historic sites and places of interest at least once a week.  We carried out hundreds of experiments on the kitchen table, learned how to cook meals from different time periods and cultures, and even mummified a Sainsbury’s chicken when studying the Ancient Egyptians. One of my sons taught himself C++ programming and derived calculus from first principles aged 13; another taught himself degree level Linguistics alongside his GCSEs.  One of my daughters qualified as a sports coach and spent a day a week volunteering in the community. My children learned how to plan and managed their workload at GCSE level, found the transition to A levels at a Sixth Form college laughably easy, and went on to Higher Education.  Two achieved Firsts from Oxford University, and are now doing postgraduate study there, another is just starting at a different Russell Group university.


There are disadvantages. The family has to sacrifice financially, either giving up one income or buying in tutoring or online courses, which may affect the amount of money available for other aspects of the children’s lives.  They may suffer from loneliness or isolation, although the majority of the country now has such a large population of home educators that there are a plethora of groups available to suit every temperament.  In some cases the children may get a far inferior quality of education to that which the child would have received in school, although this is often mitigated by the one-to-one attention of a parent, however unqualified themselves.


The quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children, including those with special educational needs, disabilities, mental health issues, or caring responsibilities, and those making the transition to further and higher education

The biggest financial demand on home educators is examination costs.  My local exam centre charges over £200 per exam.  My children have taken 9 GCSEs each from home, giving us a total bill over the last 6 years in excess of £7000. This does not include textbooks, science equipment, or any tutoring we may have paid for. 

In addition we have had to pay out £400 per child to gain Access Arrangements for their dyslexia, a cost that is basically discriminatory, as those without additional needs do not have to pay it. 

My children could have taken more GCSEs, but we just couldn’t afford it.  Many home educators are happy to take on the everyday costs of home education, as we would if we decided to pay private school fees. However it would make a huge difference if the cost of public exams was covered by the state or local authorities.  I think that many parents would even consent to registration with the LA if they were going to have the benefit of paid examination fees.


For my children the transition to further and higher education was painless.  They were confident in their academic abilities, and through the many home education groups we attended, had become used to making new friends easily, potentially more easily than those who had been with the same group of children in school for the previous 5 years.


I believe that my LA has excellent support available for those who want it, including advice, pointing out resources and groups, and support with transition to higher and further education.


The impact COVID-19 has had on home educated children, and what additional measures might need to be taken in order to mitigate any negative impacts

The impact of Covid-19 has been both much greater, and much less, on home educated children than those in schools.

For those not in examination years, the impact has been less than for those in school. Education could continue as before, albeit without the trips and group activities that most home educators use frequently.  There were no massive adjustments that had to be made, the parents were used to home educating and the children were used to being home educated.

The exception to this would be the few cases (I personally know of two) where the home educating parent has become ill with Long Covid.  This obviously has a significant effect on the education of the child or children at home, although until the schools re-opened this would be no more so than if the parent(s) of a school child had similarly fallen ill.


The most substantial and very, very difficult effect of the pandemic on home educated children has been for those in examination years.  Many elective home educators (rather than those who have felt forced into it by their children’s mental health needs) do not use tutors or online courses.  This was the group that found it either very expensive or completely impossible to get CAGs in summer 2020, and who are most fearful of what may happen in summer 2021.  Some had paid out hundreds or thousands of pounds in examination fees and were unable to get a refund.  For some this has delayed progression to the next stage of education, for others they have been able to continue, but with far fewer GCSEs than they had expected and worked for.

It is absolutely essential that the government plans NOW for what will happen to home educated students who cannot get CAGs in case the summer 2021 exam series is cancelled.  Many children who had revised and were exam-ready in March 2020 had their exams postponed – ostensibly to November, but many centres are not offering November sittings to external candidates, and so now to summer 2021. If they failed to be given a grade again they would be losing two years of their life and education, which is completely unacceptable.  In addition many centres that have previously taken external candidates for exams are currently refusing to book them in for summer 2021 because of the possibility of having to give CAGs, making it very hard for some home educators to access exams at all.


My preferred solution would be an arrangement whereby if the summer 2021 exams were replaced by CAGs, a solution for those without external tutoring would be built into the planning.  For example, written exams at examination centres could still be offered for anyone unable to get a CAG. Or alternatively a system of invigilated online exams, similar to that used by Oxford University for its finalists this summer, could be brought in, again just for the relatively small number of children who are totally unable to get CAGs.  This is something that needs urgent attention and planning from the government, before home educated children once again are forgotten in the rush of planning to award grades to those in school.


October 2020