HED0096

Written evidence submitted by Adoption UK

Home Education Inquiry

Submission from Adoption UK

October 2020

Adoption UK is the leading charity in the UK providing support and advice to adoptive families. With over 6,000 family members, plus school and individual education professional members, we are well placed to gather and synthesise the views of the adoptive family community. The research underpinning this submission has been carried out over several surveys of adoptive parents, both members and non-members of Adoption UK.

Introduction

Adoption UK’s Adoption Barometer 2020 report, based on a survey of nearly 5,000 adoptive families, found that 7.5% of respondents from England had home educated one or more of their children during 2019. This is an increase on last year’s survey, when 6.5% had home educated.

The Barometer survey was open during January-March 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic led to widescale school closures. A further survey of more than 600 adoptive parents of children enrolled in school in April 2020 revealed that 10% of respondents in England were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to consider home educating longer term after their experiences during the early part of lockdown. Home education among adoptive families appears to be on the rise and, anecdotally, we are aware of many families who have followed through on their intention to home educate permanently in the wake of Covid-19.

This is in the context of DfE experimental statistics showing that previously looked-after children lag well behind their peers in statutory examinations (average Attainment 8 scores of 31.1 in 2018 for adopted children, compared to 44.4 in non-looked-after children), and Adoption UK research showing that adopted children are over-represented in SEND statistics, especially SEMH, and at greater risk of fixed period and permanent exclusion.

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

In the Adoption Barometer 2020 it is clear that the overwhelming majority of respondents who were home educating were not doing so out of parental choice. In fact, only 4% said that home education was their first choice for their child’s education.

12% of respondents in England said that they were home educating because their child had been permanently excluded or threatened with permanent exclusion. A further 37% said that they were home educating because their child’s school had been unable to meet their needs, and 20% because there was no suitable school provision in their area. 83% would prefer their child to be in school if the right school was available.

It is absolutely vital that this inquiry recognises that a significant proportion of children are being home educated because the education system in their area has failed to provide them with a suitable education and, in some cases, failed to adequately safeguard them while in school.

School is an important protective factor for many children but, where families are home educating because school has failed to meet their child’s needs, the focus on welfare and safeguarding seems to miss the point. Local authorities already have a duty to identify children not in receipt of an education, and school attendance orders available if parents are not able or willing to demonstrate that an appropriate education is being provided. Local authorities also have powers with regard to safeguarding and it is our opinion that these are separate domains and should remain so.

It is our view that if local authorities were able to intervene earlier and more effectively where problems arise in school, then the majority of adopted children who are being home educated would return to school. This means strengthening the powers and increasing the scope of Virtual Schools, providing more robust guidance to settings on the use of PLAC Pupil Premium (PP+) and monitoring the effectiveness of its use more directly, dismantling the often adversarial approach to accessing funding and support for high level SEND, introducing training on trauma and conditions which adversely affect care-experienced children (such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) into every setting, and ensuring that there is high-quality, well-funded alternative and special needs provision in every local authority area.

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

Although 83% of home educating adoptive parents would prefer their child to be in school if the right school could be found, 90% agreed that their child was happier and calmer being home educated, and 65% said that the benefits of home education outweigh the disadvantages (all statistics from Adoption UK’s Adoption Barometer 2020).

While families whose children normally attend school did experience significant challenges during the lockdown period, 52% of secondary school aged children were reported to be calmer without the stress caused by school (Adoption UK, Home Learning During Covid-19, 2020).

For children who may be experiencing difficulties rooted in attachment and trauma, a key benefit of home education is the potential for learning to take place in an environment where they feel safe, the approach can be flexible, and the effort taken to cope in school is no longer needed. Approaches to providing a suitable education can be varied according to the child’s needs, and may not follow the format or approach of the National Curriculum. Therefore, a ‘tick box’ inspection exercise closely aligned with what a school might be expected to provide will miss the point of the individualised learning experiences that home educating families often seek to provide.

A significant disadvantage of home education for children with an EHCP is the withdrawal of LA support for the maintenance of the provisions of the plan. The term ‘elective’ home education ignores the challenges that force families to take the difficult decision to remove their children from schools (sometimes more than one school) where their education, SEND and SEMH needs are not being met, sometime to the long-term detriment of their mental health and attainment.

This review of home education should look closely at the provision that is available for SEND once families are home educating, and recognise that home education is often far from ‘elective’ even when parents appear to have instigated it.

The quality and accessibility of support for home educators and their children

In Adoption UK’s 2019 Adoption Barometer, 66% of home educating families said they did not feel appropriately supported by their local authority. In 2020, this figure had risen to 76%. There are serious concerns among adoptive home educating parents about the capacity and willingness of local authorities to support them in home educating.

When families take the decision to home educate, whether electively or not, they take on a huge financial burden while often losing income as one parent reduces their working hours or stops working altogether. 89% of home educating adoptive parents say that they have suffered financially (Adoption Barometer 2020). While in many cases continuing to pay taxes towards a state education that their child can no longer benefit from, home educating families find themselves funding tutors, resources and examinations for their own children.

As a minimum, funding should be provided out of education budgets to cover the examination fees of home educated children. Every Local Authority should also be required to provide examination centres where home educated children can sit statutory exams, free of charge.

If local authorities are providing high quality services and support for home educating families, and are pro-active in ensuring that their offer is widely publicised, then there is an increased incentive for home educating families to make contact with the local authority. In this case, the relationship between families and the local authority can be constructive, collaborative and reciprocal, rather than based on registration and inspection.

Recommendations

While this call for evidence comes in the context of reports of increasing rates of home education, we have strong evidence that the overwhelming majority of adoptive families who are home educating are not doing so through choice, and would prefer their child to be in school, if the right school could be found. In light of this, it is vital to examine the reasons why parents begin home educating and consider what additional resources and support should be made available in order for their children to remain in or return to school. While home education can be the right decision for some families, it should always be a choice and never a necessity. We would recommend the following:

To give adopted children and those with SEND the right support in school:

For families who are home educating:

Local authority programmes to support finding work experience placements for home educated children

 

Submission by: Rebecca Brooks, Education Policy Advisor

October 2020