HED0075

Written evidence submitted by Mrs Polly Smith

I am a home educator, submitting evidence in order to ensure the voice of home educators is heard in response to this call for evidence.

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

Making the decision to electively home educate my children is one of the best things I have ever done.  Home educating gives us freedom to meet their educational needs in the best way possible.  They are thriving.  A ratio of 1:2 is far better than 1:30. It enables their passions and interests to be followed in a way which would simply not be possible at school.  They have many friends and participate in many activities outside the home.  We spend more time outdoors than we do at home.  They have the opportunity to play and debate with their friends far more than they would at school.  They have the opportunity to explore the natural environment far more than they would at school.  The opportunity to socialise is broad and includes the benefit of being able to socialise with a range of different age children because children are not in year groups.  The fact we can attend many different groups means that they have a wider range of children for them to make friends with (as compared to school where children are placed in a class of 30 and have to make do with those in their class).  Another huge benefit is the ability to pace themselves according to their own needs rather than the needs of the national curriculum.  They are able to dive deep into the subjects and passions they have and to spend time really understanding new concepts.  They do not have to switch and stop learning because the bell has rung, or it is time to pack up.  Learning happens all the time and they have no concept of it beginning at 9am and ending at 3pm.  Their learning is constant and is entwined into life.  They do not dread learning; they enjoy it and are fired up by it.  They do not compare themselves to others, they feel proud of their achievements and are not held back by thinking someone else is better than them.  Because of this, they have strong self esteem and the ability to give everything a go.  They have never been bullied.  Whilst they do have challenges in friendships and these are a natural part of human development, they do not suffer mean comments, physical bullying, bullying online or any of the debilitating bullying that school children are subjected to and which damages their mental health.  They can express their desire to learn Latin or study Shakespeare and are celebrated for that. 

 

The only negative element is the attitude of the media, politicians, lobbyists and senior civil servants who are anti home education.  The children obviously pick up on this and cannot fathom why anyone would be against a way of life that they love. We are tired of the comments from leaders saying most of us do a great job, but…  When there are more than enough safeguarding procedures in place.  The rare example of children who have been abused and are home educated are used against us when in fact, the local authorities were already aware of them and shown not to have done enough to protect these children.  Home education then becomes away of avoiding and addressing the real issues, which is that social workers and the local authority have let these children down. 

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;’

We get plenty of support from the home education community, these are people who are knowledgeable about home education and have the experience to provide to others who have younger children.  We are always helping and guiding each other.  We have local groups where we can ask for support, or set up activities, we even have people finding discounts for us to educational resources where needed.  Of course, we see plenty of children entering home education who have been let down by schools and local authorities.  Funding and investment needs to be made into CAMHS and other services because it is clear that many children in the school system are being let down. 

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; and 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.

I believe there have been no improvements.  In fact, relationships between local authorities and home educating families have got worse.  There is clearly suspicion and misunderstanding on the part of paid employees by the local authority (being next door to Portsmouth allows me to see this very clearly).  Families are harassed, doorstepped, questioned, challenged, dismissed.  We are talking about families who are hardworking, invested in their children’s education and make significant sacrifices in order to do so.  We should be respected, and local authorities need to follow the law.  I emailed my MP, Alan Whitehead, on 10th September to ask about the law and home educated children when Covid rules changed with regards to whether we could meet up for educational purposes and to date have had no response. 

Home educated children who were due to take exams have been let down and discriminated against.  They were excluded from the process and hardly any were awarded grades, even with private tutors offering predicted grades.  It is unacceptable, when they had been working so hard towards their exams, not to be offered any alternative.  The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb repeatedly used the excuse that private candidates could obtain grades in the autumn – which was far too late in many cases for students to be able to progress their education.  Teachers are suggesting 2021 exams should be cancelled and replaced by teacher assessments and coursework, as Scotland is doing for GCSE equivalent, but how this will work with home educated children or are they do be excluded from GCSEs for two years?

 

 

‘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’’

Responsibility for education rests with a child’s parents – this is in education law.  The wellbeing and academic achievement of home-education children is safeguarded by their parents.  I am confused as to why ‘unregistered schools’, children who have been excluded from school and children who have been subject to ‘off-rolling’ are included in this?  Elective home education does not include children who have been let down or abandoned by the school system, and it does not include illegal education

 

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

The Education Committee’s 2012 report, ‘Support for Home Education’ Section 2, states, ‘The role of local authority is clear with regard to home education.  They have two duties: to provide support for home educating families (at a level decided by local authorities themselves), and if families wish it; and to intervene with families if the local authority is given reason to believe that a child is not receiving a suitable education.  It is not the role of the local authority routinely to monitor whether a suitable education is being provided, and local authorities should not act as if it is, or cause parents to believe that it is.’  Far too often, we see example after example of local authorities overstepping this and trying to force families to prove that education is suitable (to some unknown standard), causing stress and acting in ultra vires ways.  Families are often scared into submission and attempt to meet these demands.  Authorities are asking for annual reports – which to me certainly seems like a form of monitoring.    In terms of safeguarding, home education is not a safeguarding concern.  We are families operating within the state, we take our children to Drs, dentists, hospitals, shops, cafes, local community events, we interact with neighbours and like every other parent in my road, it is presumed that I am doing the best for my child and am not breaking the law unless there is evidence to say otherwise.  Are local authorities to be given powers to enter our home, as a law-abiding family, with no evidence or concerns over our children, based solely on the perfectly legal choice to home educate?  This strikes me as state intrusion and vastly overreactive.  I do find it quite interesting to read that the local authority want to assure the quality of the home education I provide to my children when so many schools are failing.  In the judgement concerning Ali v Lord Grey School (2006) UKHL 14, Lord Bingham stated, ‘..the party with the keenest personal interest in securing the best available education for a child ordinarily is, or ought to be, the parent of the child..’

 

‘Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required’

In short, no, it is not.  There is no evidence to show that a register would help or support the home education community.  There are plenty of safeguards in place for children in terms of medical professionals, social services and many others.  There is no evidence to show that home educated children are at any risk because they are not registered.  Home educated children are registered at birth and at Drs and many other services.  They are visible.  In fact, they spend much of their time in the community. 

 

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

This is really bizarre.  There should be no inspection or regulation of home education.  The reason that home education works so well for children is that parents have the freedom to design an education which is tailor made to the individual child.  This includes going at the child’s own pace, meeting any individual special needs they may have, learning in ways that are innovative and imaginative.  Ofsted is barely fit for purpose for schools (article after article shows their failures).  Local authorities are not qualified to assess home education (and usually have limited understanding of what it is, as well as believing myths about it).  I am confident in my own intuitive judgement as a parent to my children.  This is something that home educated families are committed too.  Inspection and regulation would inhibit our freedoms and inhibit our children’s success.  It is state encroachment and is uncalled for and unevidenced.  There is no need for inspection or regulation of home education.  It would be unethical to ask parents to jump through these hoops in order to satisfy the state when there is no evidence to show this would benefit families or children. 

October 2020