Written evidence submitted by Philippa Mitchell

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the following points:

1.  The duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education;

The LA has no legal remit as regards the quality of home education.  Under Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act the responsibility for education lies with the parent whether at school or otherwise.  Therefore, in home education the quality of the education  is the responsibility of the parent.  The LA can only intervene if there is evidence of the education not meeting the criteria of full time, efficient or suitable. 

The main issue with my LA, Surrey, is that home education comes under Vulnerable Children – Inclusion (back to school) section and not education.  As the managers working in this area have experienced some of the worst cases of safeguarding issues and problems of poor education, this does colour their views of home educators.  Home education should really be under the Education aspect of the LA as our children are not missing an education.

Some parents, myself included, are working with the LA to improve their understanding of what home education is and why people do it and the wide range of problems with the school system that have resulted in many more opting for home education (even before Covid).  This is also helping the HE community in Surrey to understand about the LA’s duties and we are working to improve the relationship and look for ways the LA can better support the HE community.  It has been slow going over the last 2 years due to huge personnel and management changes within the LA.

I feel the LA has more than enough power within the current regulations to assure the quality of home education. 

One issue that needs to be addressed is the conflation of home education with safeguarding.  Home educators are not a safe-guarding issue by default - The Government Guidance (2019) acknowledges that there is no proven correlation between home education and safeguarding. Yet, the LA’s approach is currently to treat home educators as guilty of safe-guarding concerns until we can prove we are not eg by having a meeting with them and letting them talk to our children without an adult present.  This is totally not suitable for most HE families and children and is ultra vires.

2.  whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required;

I do not believe that there is any purpose or value to this.  Moreover it treats us as criminals who need to be on a register and is highly offensive.

3. the benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face;

In my experience as a home educating parent, all the HE children I know are able to learn and discover at their own speed, following their own interests, in styles that are suited to them and their abilities.   How and what they learn often changes throughout their learning journey and varies from family to family and child to child.  As a result, their education is personalised to them and each child has the chance to focus on the things that interest them when it interests them, which enhances their motivation and desire to learn.

They also learn in the real world, with children of mixed ages and a variety of adults.  They know that learning is part of life, it is not separate and can acknowledge that play with friends, cooking, cleaning, gardening, hiking etc is often just as much part of their education as reading a book, researching a topic or writing an essay.

The main disadvantage is the difficulties in finding centres willing to allow independent students to sit exams.  Local Authorities could help with this by encouraging FE colleges to support HE children in doing exams or equivalent if they wish.

4. 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;

There is no specific support available to home educators and HE children. 

I only know of 1 LA that provides limited funding for GCSEs on a first come first serve basis. There is no support that I know of the help HE children make the transition to further/higher education, though many do and many are valued by universities because they were home educated.

Though FE colleges can accept HE children on 14-16 courses and many HE children would like to do this, very few do and seem unaware of government funding available.

If LAs were to offer financial support for exams, many home educators would be wary of the conditions that would be attached.  So choosing to accept support would need to be optional.  LAs could easily support HE students doing exams or taking practical courses by listing colleges and schools that provide these services in their area.

Children with additional needs of any sort often find it much harder to access the same support that children in school may get as the systems are set up with the school in mind.  This is despite the fact that schools are often not suitable environs for children with additional needs and I know of quite a few families who have removed their children from the school system because of their child’s additional needs.  The children and families are all happier home educating, but some would like help.  Medical professionals often ask for reports from teachers and will not accept the parents word.  This limits the ability for HE children to access the support they need and even within Surrey is quite variable.  Some families with children with additional needs manage to get funding from the LA to pay for tutors, activities specialist support etc for their child whereas many get nothing!  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason why! (other than perhaps a parent with the energy to keep fighting and pushing).

The support for children with additional needs should be the same whether they are in school or home educated.  All relevant professionals and LAs should be receive training on working with home educated children and how best to support them.

4.  Whether the current regulatory framework is sufficient to ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children is safeguarded, including where they may attend unregistered schools, have been formally excluded from school, or have been subject to ‘off-rolling’;

I feel that the current regulatory framework is sufficient, if not on the over-officious side. 

On the issue of academic achievement the regulatory framework, DfE and LAs are failing so many children in school by not  ensuring that the academic achievement of children in school is safeguarded.  Within home education, the children and families work to the strengths of the child whether that be more academia or practical, to ensure that the child can live and thrive in the society in which they live or might wish to live.

The issues of unregistered schools and off-rolling should be dealt with separately from home education and not conflated.  Already all children in Surrey who deregister from school are asked by the LA if they have left voluntarily or forced out. 

The regulations should be on the schools to prevent off-rolling.  Unregistered schools should be dealt with by tightening the regulations on what is defined as a school.  Anywhere that parents are in attendance as educators or support, is not a school and this removes most home education settings from school regulations.

5. The role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education;

I do not believe there is any need for further regulations to inspect or monitor home educators.    We already have sufficient regulation and laws to enable LAs to step in if education is not suitable, efficient or full time

However, there is a need to inspect how the LAs carry out their work on home education and ensure it fits within the law and is not a post-code lottery.

There is also a need for an independent complaints system (not only going to the SoS for Education) for home educators to use when an LA oversteps the law or causes severe issues for the HE family.

6. what improvements have been made to support home educators since the 2010-15 Education Committee published their report on ‘Support for Home Education’ in 2012;

There were many excellent recommendations from this report, sadly none were put into practice.  This report should be revisited and the following aspects implemented country wide:-


7.              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 main issue I have come across is children who were supposed to be taking exams being totally left out of the whole system as they were studying independently and due to take the exam at a local centre.  These children have not have any support from government at a national or local level.

The other main impact has been the loss of group learning and social activities as many groups are still shut down as the regulations and laws are not overly clear.  As parents usually remain at a venue and are part of the learning journey as either support or running activities, this quickly takes numbers present over the number a venue can have and makes the group unaffordable.  Even parent-led outdoor learning groups (eg nature study, geography, history) find it hard to run and know if they are within the law.

There have been a lot of people starting home education during Covid – many of whom are doing so because their children are happier and in a better mental and physical state out of the school situation and often are learning more at home than they did at school. 

Yes, some are keeping their children out of school because of fears of Covid due to very vulnerable family members, but this should be their choice and ideally – if they are not wishing to home educate long term, they should be given ‘Education Outside of School’ support from the local authority. 

October 2020