Written evidence submitted by Ms Gigi Sudbury


Many answers to the Committee's questions overlap, so please refer to the numbered answers as a loose guide.


Question 1:


Until the LA has educated itself about home education they will continue to provide poor and inadequate support.  There needs to be a good first touch council website with excellent information about home education readily available.


Imagine what it is like to be visited by an 'officer' who is an ex teacher or truancy officer and who has absolutely no idea about alternative educational provision. 


Here is a common story: The officer asks irrelevant questions which the unschooling family (or other) is not placed to answer.  The officer writes a report, which is held in council offices, saying, 'I can see no evidence of a suitable education taking place.'  The stupidity of this process is beyond belief.  Had the officer been suitably qualified s/he would have been able to find out the nature of the educational provision.  Please note the unpleasantness of the language home educators commonly have to deal with: 'officer' (like police officer), 'compulsory' (often misused as in 'school is compulsory' which is wrong), 'proof',' evidence', 'report'.


When home educators have asked what the education officer's qualifications are, they have been told 'it is not appropriate' to share the information.  It is odd that a person with unknown qualifications is potentially allowed into your home to  look around and ask deeply personal questions.  It means a broken boiler is getting more respect than a person, as it would be routine, I believe, to check the repair person is qualified to do the job.


There is sure evidence that the huge majority*(see star below) of home educators thrive, in fact, statistics show that they do better than their school counterparts in all areas including literacy levels on which schools put so much (undue) weight (schools insist all children learn at the same time to read and write, while we know that each child will be ready to do so at a different time, a fact which home educators are in a position to respect).  The level of intrusion on their lives from authorities means they have to account for far more, which is discriminatory on the deepest level.


Many home educators I know have spent years educating the education officers who come to their home.  This turns out to be a thankless task as that officer retires, passes on none of the information they have (not always, sadly) had the insight to take on board to their future colleagues and the family has to start all over again, probably with a retired teacher of truancy officer, who rolls out the same misguided platitudes and insults.


Question 2, 5 and 6

-  A mandatory register is wrong.  It means thousands of home educators who are doing a more than exemplary job educating their children will be forced to engage with a system that has NO UNDERSTANDING for what they are doing. 

- A register is a HUGE WASTE OF MONEY.  Thousands of pounds will be spent investigating families who do not need to be.

- If this is a register to protect the minority of children not being suitably educated or living with social problems or even abuse, it will not help.  Such families will only hide more deeply and avoid contact more effectively.  It should be noted that such families are most often not bona fide home educators*, rather these children have been in and out of school, often not properly supported by that system and then named 'home educators'.  It is a disgraceful confusion of misplaced blame and lack of understanding.

- To protect vulnerable children there needs to be better social care provision, more support in schools where problems should be seen (are often missed) and proper cultural understanding of all ways of living.

- Money not wasted on a register should be spent on vulnerable families, for example, those off-rolled or families with SEND children which the system so far has failed to provide for and who cannot thrive in a school setting. Genuine support with properly educated workers in place, properly targeted, would be a game changer.  The same goes for unregistered schools who would be more willing to be in contact where respect is offered.

-  It is a point so obvious that I find it heart-breaking:  If home educators were approached with kindness and understanding, they would be far more willing to share information, to open their doors to a warm face with whom they have a relationship (not the dreaded 'officer'), and to ask for help.  Draconian measures only increase alienation and distrust.  It is mind-boggling that this cannot be understood, history has taught us this lesson repeatedly.

- Here are a few suitable words or attitudes to be used by an LA: kindness, trust, patience, warmth, friendship.  A simple human gesture of kindness will build more bridges than a thousand officers with clipboard and inappropriate questioning.



Question 4


There needs to be further support for home educated children wanting to take exams, including the chance to take an EPQ.  Many home educated children, because they have been enabled to pursue their own interests (not the interests of a broken school system), specialise or discover their passions early on. An EPQ would be an excellent way to show the depth of their knowledge and skills.


On a broader note I believe the GCSE and A level (but especially the GCSE) exams have little use for the majority of children, in school or not.  They should not be the only way to proceed through education into college or university.  There are far better ways to show skills and knowledge.  I also believe they are responsible for huge mental health issues among school children put under pointless pressure.  (Ref; question 8 also.) Under recent Covid circumstances this stress has been increased, not least for home educating children sitting exams, usually under far less stress as they have been learning on their own terms, because they are now unsure of how and when exams will be taken.   Many were ready to sit exams last summer and missed the chance because there was no affordable way to take the necessary mock exam instead.  Hard working, motivated children have been put off track – again a point of serious discrimination.



To sum up: the general attitude towards home educators is so poor as to be risible.  There has been little effort made by LA's to improve their understanding, despite repeated efforts by home educators to help them to do so.  There are exceptions to this, but there is still a long way to go.  Recent headway has been made with Dorset CC for example, who, as far as we can tell, are genuinely seeking guidance from us, with an exceptional leader of department in place, heading regular Zoom meetings, with her team and home educators working together. Our trust in this is building slowly, as too often we have been let down.  Were the system to begin to appreciate what home educators do, to listen and learn from them, to understand complex educational philosophies and how effective education outside school can be (although we are very bored of doing all this), then, and only then, will a desirable and productive support system begin to work.


October 2020