HED0073

Written evidence submitted by Mrs Emma Burrows

Response to Call for Evidence of Home Educating

Interest:               Home Educating Parent

Anonymous

Elective Home Education is the lawful right of parents and children in this country. Whilst education is compulsory, schooling is not. The primary duty to educate a child remains that of the parents not the State.

The duties of Local Authority with regard to home education including safeguarding and assuring quality of home education

The duties of the Authority are set out in s436a Education Act 1996 which states

“A Local Authority must make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but –

a) are not registered pupils at a school, and

b) are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than school”

Nothing in this piece of legislation confers a duty on the LA for quality assurance or safeguarding. Prior to the release of the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities 2019 (“EHEGLA”) and Elective Home Education Guidelines for Parents 2019 (“EHEGP”) this piece of legislation did not in fact apply to home educated children.

Quality assurance

3.5 EHEGLA confirms that

“The current legal framework is not a system of regulation per se, or forcing parents to educate their children in a particular way. Instead it is a system for identifying and dealing with children who, for whatever reason or circumstances, are not receiving an efficient, full-time and sufficient education.”

The duty for quality assurance is placed upon the parents regardless of whether a child is home educated or attends school.

Safeguarding

Whilst everybody has a general duty in relation to the safeguarding of all children both the EHEGLA and EHEGP confirm that home educating is not a safeguarding issue. This surely is commonsense. After all parents with children below Compulsory School Age and parents during the school holidays are deemed capable of looking after them without the need for state intervention and the same should apply to home educated children.

Certainly no further duties are required. Home educating departments remit should remain to determine whether a suitable, sufficient and full-time education is being provided.

There are already measures in place to protect children where there are genuine concerns and these should apply to all children not those just receiving home education.

Further given the Government’s recent vote on extending free school meal support to those on the lowest incomes when this is one of the biggest indicators of poor school performance, it seems rank hypocrisy to claim safeguarding concerns about home educated children whose parents are self-supporting.

Whether a statutory register of home educated children is required?

In my opinion, there is no need for a mandatory register. There seem to be 2 main arguments upon which Local Authorities base their need for a register: they need a record of all the children in their area in order to be able to exercise their duties under the Education Act and safeguarding.

The duty of Local authorities is a qualified duty. In order to discharge their duty they only need to identify home educators in so far as reasonably practicable. It is accepted that 80-90% of home educated children are known to Local Authorities because they have been deregistered from schools (EHEGLA). This will almost certainly be the case in situations where children have recently been deregistered from school. In addition, there will also be those whom the Local Authority are aware through other means. Given this, the number of additional children identified is likely to be minimal.

A register in itself does not protect children. Some of the most horrendous crimes against children recently have taken place in full view of schools, social services and medical staff (Victoria Climbie and Daniel Pelka cases). Home educators should not be made the scapegoats of society’s failure to protect these children. There appear to be a common misconception that home educated children are hidden away. This could not be further from the truth. They are still registered with GPs, Dentists, Opticians and extra-curricular activities. 

The benefits children gain and the potential disadvantages

For us, the benefits for our daughter are numerous and clear to see. She is far happier, less anxious and her learning capacity has increased dramatically since starting home education.

Our daughter’s school provided a conveyor-belt, one-size fits all education regardless of whether it suited her or not. Whilst she was “exceeding expectations” in all areas; she succeeded in spite of the system not because of it and was largely down to the fact she had engaged parents who provided extra-curricular support. She certainly wasn’t fulfilling her individual potential.

Some of the benefits for our daughter include:

Disadvantages

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 current regulatory framework is underpinned with the notion that school is the only solution. It doesn’t give any thought as to whether school is the best solution for the individual.

None of the issues, identified are “home education” issues they are school issues.

The role inspection should play in the future regulation of home education

There is no need for inspection as the Local Authority has no duty to ensure quality assurance.

There is no requirement of home educating parents to follow a set curriculum and therefore it is difficult to envisage an inspection critieria that would be able to assess fully and appreciate nuances of home education. Any inspection criteria brings with it rigidity, age-related expectations and conformity which for many is the reason that the education system has failed their children so badly in the first place. In my opinion and experience, it is also incompatible with the provisions of s7 Education Act 1996. The rigidity of the education system significantly limited our child’s ability to fulfil her full potential.

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.

As any parent who has tried to access support for diagnosis of special education needs such as Dyslexia, ADHD, ASD and Anxiety based disorder will tell you it is nigh on impossible. This is not limited to home education; it is the case across the education system. However, home educating children are often disproportionately disadvantaged as many agencies will not accept referrals without school support. Even where a referral is accepted the waiting less to access these services is years.

What improvements have there been to support for home educators since 2010-2015 Education Committee published their report on “Support for Home Education”?

Local Authorities should undertake a swift review of their own material to ensure their policies reflect the guidance available. There was evidence of an inconsistency across the country leading to a postcode lottery

The “postcode lottery” is still much in evidence. Since the publication of EHEGLA and EHEGP if anything the situation has got worse. Whilst, we have received no correspondence from our Local Authority since registering our daughter in April 2018 home educators are regularly subjected to:

This is perhaps unsurprising when the DfE’s own blog on 20/10/2020 unashamedly misrepresented the position with regard to LA duties and schools stating

“...the Government expects your LA to coordinate a meeting involving your child’s school and social workers where appropriate. We strongly recommend you meet with your LA to consider whether EHE is appropriate for your family and your child before you decide whether to withdraw them from their school’s roll.”

None of these measures are required and indeed go directly against the current process and procedure from removing you child from school and notion that home education is not a safeguarding issue.

As a further example of the prevailing attitude of Local Authorities to Home Educators, I refer you to the advertisement placed by Blackpool Council recently for an Elective Home Education Officer which included

“Part of this role will be the monitoring of the quality of this provision in line with statutory guidance and non-statutory services if required...The strategic aim will be to reduce the numbers of EHE within this area.”

The job description goes on to state under Emotional Demands

...There will in some cases be resistance to the information and advice which is being offered.”

It is little wonder they are met with resistance if the advice that they provide is wrong and has no legislative basis and their strategic aim isn’t to support parents, it’s to coerce them into sending their children back to school.

The development of a more formalised professional association of, and/or annual conference for home education officers could be a welcome step in terms of sharing best practice nationally 

No comment.

Local authorities might also improve their relationships with home educators by ensuring officers dealing with issues are placed in a dedicated or neutral team; locating home education officers with those working on, for example attendance, children in care or safeguarding gives an unhelpful position

This remains the case.

We recommend that the Government places a duty on every local authority to ensure access to local centres for home-educated young people to sit accredited public exams

A postcode lottery which has created problems for those where there is no local provision and who were left with no option other than to enter as independent candidates. Many home educated children taking their exams in 2020 during did not receive grades for exams and were forced to take “resits” in November missing out on college and university places as a result. Given that many exam centres are not allowing independent candidates for 2021 this is only likely to get worse.

We further recommend – given the contribution that many home educators make through their taxes –that the costs of sitting public examinations (to an appropriate level of entitlement) be met by the State.

This has certainly not been met. This combined with the lack of local exam centres are the biggest barriers to home educated children taking GCSEs and A-Levels and will only become worse as many exam centres are not accepting applications from private candidates due to the problems in providing exam grades for these students.

Impact of Covid-19 on home educated children and measures that might be taken in order to mitigate these negative impacts

For us, we’ve mainly been impacted by the closing of home education groups, activities and learning spaces. Our local library has been an area where we can study and have access to unlimited resources. Whilst, the library remains open we are unable to use it as an additional study area.

There has been confusion as to whether home education groups are covered by an exemption from the “rule of 6” and this has led to many groups simply not taking place. This needs to be clarified asap.

For home educators in general, the experience of those taking formal exams this year has been awful with home educating children missing out on college and university places as they had no exam results.

That said, arguably our daughter has been less affected than her school counterparts. Throughout lockdown, it was very much business as normal and there was no disruption to her education or learning environment. She would certainly be unable to cope in the learning environment that her school educated cousin is currently subject to and to the lack of consistency over whether she might be sent home because someone in her bubble has tested positive for Covid-19.

October 2020