Written evidence submitted by Mr Taylor


Home Education Call For Evidence 2020


To Whom it May Concern,


I am a home educator of several years experience, with children of Primary School age, one of whom has diagnosed special needs.


I am submitting evidence as a member of the community this call for evidence discusses to enhance your understanding.


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


       As a home educator who is extensively connected with others across our community who share our experiences I feel Local Authorities (LA's) place too much emphasis on an enforcement role to the detriment of home educated children. I would like to see more duties placed on a LA to be supportive of their local home educated children. Simply focusing on safeguarding and quality of home education sets up an adversarial relationship between the LA and families. Their current duties to react to safeguarding or educational quality concerns if any are brought to their attention is sufficient as this is in keeping with their duties to schooled children. There is no evidence to suggest that home educated children are more at risk of neglect or abuse so there is no basis for authorising discrimination against home educating families. Already several LA's take the unofficial approach that home educators are guilty of neglect or abuse until proven innocent.


     Many Local Authorities still engage in Ultra Vires behaviour, such as telling home educators that face to face meetings are required, threatening the use of police to perform welfare checks if meetings are not agreed to which is a misuse of police time, imposing arbitrary 'monitoring periods' on families where educators have to provide weekly reports in order to receive approval to home educate, insisting on inspections of the home or even unsupervised interviews with the child. The threat of referral to children's social services for not acquiescing to LA demands for the above has also been known.


     An example of a LA behaving poorly towards its home educators is readily available here via the Local Government Ombudsman, where the LA were found to have been misleading to the complainant and consistently pursued inappropriate enforcement action against them without proper investigation. Even when investigation later proved the allegations against the complainant were unjustified, enforcement action was still pursued even in spite of LGO intervention.




    Cases such as this are not rare with home educators having to form a support group of over 13,000 members to share best practice and seek advice about LA's overstepping their remit or behaving poorly.


     Further enhancements to their powers or duties in this regard will increase the persecution of home educating families unfortunate enough to be within a hostile LA. If the LA had duties to be supportive of home education it would provide a positive incentive for home educators to engage with their LA; as things stand interaction with the LA only brings administrative burdens at best; stress, conflict and acrimony at worst.


Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required;


      A statutory register of home-educated children is not required. Most home educators will be known to their Local Authority already as the LA is informed by the school of a new member of the community upon their de-registration. The only other involuntary register society maintains that I know of is the Sex Offenders Register. Combined with the use of any such register being for the sole purpose of monitoring and enforcement action against home educating families a statutory register sets entirely the wrong tone for how our community and the LA should interact.


     A register is not an end in and of itself, it is clearly a tool to be used as a foundation for further powers to limit the freedoms of home educated children and their families. Additionally a register would put home educators and their children's data at risk as evidenced by the Information Commissioners Office recent findings of widespread data protection failures within the Department for Education.




      If this register purpose is simply to satisfy Government statisticians as to the number of home educated children then those children's data security and privacy seems a high price to pay to satisfy bureaucratic curiosity.


      Home educators take the education of their children so seriously that they sacrifice significant amounts of their time, energy, and commonly an income, to give their children the best start in life that they can. Treating them with suspicion and trying to monitor their lives and breaching their children's privacy is a poor reaction of the State to a community whose efforts should be supported and applauded.


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


      Home educated children benefit from a much lower teacher:pupil ratio than their schooled counterparts, ensuring that their parents have a live awareness of their progression in various areas and the children's education receives a great deal of 1:1 attention. The flexibility afforded by not having to follow a curriculum allows home educators to tailor their children's education to suit their skills and interests or to take extra time to address identified weaknesses. Their interactions with the peers tend to be more positive than children in school as children have a greater adult:child ratio at meet ups or groups so parents are able to intervene if issues occur within the group and actively teach pro-social behaviour.


    Bullying is rare to unheard of within our home educating community that my children are members of. Whilst I have occasionally heard the argument that bullying is an important experience growing up I am not aware of any other facet of abuse that people may argue is beneficial to experience. My son with special needs including stimming and tics has never experienced bullying and has a wonderful circle of close friends as well as a wider circle of friendly children he participates in activities with. I am not confident many schooled children with special needs can boast the same.


     Home educated children socialise with different sexes, races, ages and religions within their community, instead of a group of 30+ strangers who were born within 12 months of each other and live in similar post codes as seen in most schools, some schools also selecting for sex, religion or wealth. Home educated children by the nature of the community they engage with become friends and familiar with children older and younger than themselves, leading to wonderful opportunities for the older children to take a leadership role in play and activities, and to children being judged on their own merits rather than compared to a “typical year x” child. There is also a higher ratio of children with SEN within the community which our children gain positive exposure to, which encourages the British values of tolerance and respect for others. I have found my own child and other children with SEN to be much more comfortable and at ease in home education than they would otherwise be in school.


     One of the potential disadvantages they face is where an LA has successfully harassed a family into sending their children into school the social group of the local home educated children can suffer from the loss of members unexpectedly as well as the poor children sent out of a familiar education environment into a very alien one where they suffer dramatically reduced access to their existing friends; into an environment where learning is inflexible, not delivered 1:1 and rife with peer abuse (bullying), possibly covering a curriculum that is unsuitable as they may already be ahead of the national curriculum in areas.


      Home educated children face disadvantages from many LA's focus on monitoring and enforcement rather than support. Some children, generally those who were once in school but left because the environment was unsuitable for them or because of bullying, are scared when LA officers threaten to put them back into school if they don't comply with the officer's idea of what education should look like.

      It is common for us and others to face confusion from authorities when trying to access certain services for our children. Seasonal flu vaccinations, for instance, we try to access but the GP surgery receives no funding for school-age children, so tells us to speak to the school nurse, who of course we have never had any contact with nor know how to get in touch with, and then it can take a significant amount of time to ensure we can get a flu vaccination through another means. Schooled children frequently get access to discounted trips to venues through their school to take advantage of educational opportunities. Schooled children have access to lab facilities and examination centres for free and organised for them. Many home ed families have to travel many miles to find an exam centre that will take them, plus the private costs of sitting the exam this can be quite expensive and probably limits the academic opportunities available to some children. Some families I am aware of have not been able to access CAHMS support as they are told referrals and investigations for a diagnosis must be done through school. Some venues have in the past not accepted school age children during school time in an effort to combat truancy, discriminating against home educated children.


        If LA's were to focus more on a role of championing and advocating for their home educating community with other organisations rather than enforcement and monitoring they could make a positive difference for home educated children in their areas and have a better working relationship with families.


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’;


     The way you have phrased this question implies that you are considering if home educated children and their parents should be held to a higher standard than schooled children and their parents. The legal responsibility for providing a suitable education resides with the parents in both instances, schooled parents simply choose to engage a contractor regulated by the State and home educating parents prefer to discharge their responsibility directly.


      The state takes no interest in whether an individual's academic achievement is safeguarded if they are in a school setting. If a school is rated 'inadequate' or 'requires improvement' by OFSTED the state takes no responsibility for moving the pupils of those schools to a better performing institution, it simply provides instructions to the institution on how to improve, leaving it to the parent to choose whether to move the child to a better quality institution; the state even allows new pupils to be enrolled at 'inadequate' institutions. The state proposes to treat home educators as second class educators and parents by simply removing pupils if it finds their provision inadequate rather than requiring improvement.


      There are many actors who are anti-home education on principle that take the view that any school even if it provides an inadequate education is better than any home education, the phrasing of this question highlights that you are likely being influenced by this lobby without critiquing their position sufficiently.


    It is in part thanks to this lobby that safeguarding concerns, gang membership, illegal schools, racialisation etc are tagged on to home education without any significant evidence to back this up. I feel there is a concerted effort by certain actors to fling enough mud at our community in the media and to Government that hopefully enough will stick giving them the leverage to persecute our community more easily. The state already has sufficient powers to tackle illegal schools and safeguarding concerns without incorrectly correlating these issues to home educators. As for off-rolling families already leaving school to home educate are already asked for their reasons for doing so making off-rolling detectable.


      It is telling that all of the few tragedies involving abuse and death of home educated children involved families already known to authorities such as social services who failed to discharge their existing duties or powers to protect those victims. Further powers are not being requested by LA's to support home educated children, they are being requested because some actors see Home Education as inherently harmful and wish to 'protect' children by making Home Education as hostile an environment for families as possible.


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


     Inspection should play no role in the future of Home Education. Existing powers are sufficient for a qualified individual to determine if a family are providing a suitable education. Some LA's and other actors lobby for inspections because they think that home educators are by default liars and are reluctant to accept evidence such as reports from parents. Creating an inspection regime will simply allow LA's to legally treat home educators like criminals on parole who have to prove their innocence of educational neglect at regular intervals.


       For example Blackpool Local Authority recently advertised a new EHE Officer role (October 2020). Prior to complaints from their Home Educating Community the advert included quote “The successful candidate will monitor and scrutinise all EHE referrals to ensure that children's needs are identified and that appropriate education provision continues speedily and effectively...The strategic aim will be to reduce the number of EHE cases within the area.” This LA openly acknowledged that it is a goal for them to reduce the number of home educators in their area. Allowing them the power to conduct inspections will be open to significant abuse and injustice to home educated children. This LA will not be alone in this thinking.


    I spoke about some of the advantages of Home Education earlier. One of those being flexibility to design a curriculum tailored to your children's strengths and weaknesses and move at an appropriate pace for them. This may mean they are behind or ahead of the national curriculum at any given point in various areas. By imposing inspections you deny the ability for parents to tailor their education to their children and force them to tailor their education to the inspector. A stranger, who does not know your children anywhere near as well as their parents, potentially with no teaching qualifications then sets the pace and curriculum for a child's learning no matter how inappropriate or unsuitable. Again this is a proposal that does not have the interests of the child at heart and is simply another tool desired by some to effectively make Home Education unsustainable.


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;


     LA's regularly misrepresent their powers to their Home Educating community, some even go so far as to encourage schools to break the law by putting illegal barriers to parents de-registering their children from mainstream schools, with schools being encouraged to delay de-registration until the LA have 'approved' the parents 'request' to Home Educate. Some LA's even convening 'Panels' (without inviting parents) to discuss the child and the 'request' to Home Educate where no other concerns are apparent.


       The DFE have issued new guidance, however this guidance has not smoothed tensions between LA's and home educators. LA's still frequently misrepresent what the law requires and defy guidance by demanding evidence be provided in specific formats such as dated and marked work samples. Notices to Satisfy and other enforcement action are taken by some LA's without giving information of any specific concerns to home educators when challenged as to what about their provision seems insufficient.


      It is still a struggle for many home educators to access examination centres and those exams must still be paid for privately. Unsurprisingly calls for more 'support' for home educated children from LA's and others consistently focus on call for more enforcement powers, not for anything that may actually help the community educate in the manner they have chosen. Local offers of support for home educators do not to my knowledge exist because most LA's do not provide support, they simply focus on enforcement.


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.’


     Home educated children are at best an afterthought to the Government when it comes to children's needs. Home educated children had exams cancelled by the Government and no system was implemented for them to receive a grade, which will have stalled their academic progress whereas schooled children can continue onward to college or university.


     Schooled children are allowed to meet in groups of 30+ within school allowing for relatively broad social interaction whereas home educators must work around the rule of 6 or navigate the complex rules for Out Of School Settings which are obviously not designed with the way home education meet ups are usually run in mind. Some home educators with large families cannot meet up with other families to socialise their children or can only meet up in fractured ways.


     The home educating community benefits greatly from the efforts of volunteers; parents who take it upon themselves to organise group activities for home educated children during school hours such as archery, sports, art, play meets, climbing etc. This network of volunteers has been throttled by the guidance and laws the Government has issued. Few parents who already run households on a reduced income (by having at least one full time educator for their children) will dare risk getting the guidance wrong and being subjected to thousands in fines. Indeed even the administrators of several home educator social media groups used to arrange meet-ups have banned the organisation of meetings through their online groups for fear of being in breach of the law and being subjected to fines. LA's still demand details of home educated children's social opportunities however the Government make it highly risky for home educators to socialise their children efficiently.


October 2020