Written evidence submitted by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator
Evidence to the Education Select Committee : Home Education : November 2020
Introduction and Background
- As Chief Schools Adjudicator, I submit this written evidence to the Committee.
- This evidence is derived from the reports made to me by local authorities responsible for education. I should make clear at the outset that by law these reports are concerned with “matters connected with relevant school admissions”. This means that they do not cover all aspects of home education or all the matters of interest to the Committee in its current inquiry. The reports to me are then summarised in my own annual report to the Secretary of State for Education which also gives an account of the case work carried out by schools adjudicators each year in the discharge of their statutory functions.
- Local authority reports are required by virtue of the School Admissions Code to be submitted to my office by 30 June each year. The Code sets out the minimum requirements for local authority reports and provides also for local authorities to cover “any other issues the local authority may wish to include”. It is my practice to note matters of emerging or increasing interest to local authorities shown through issues they have included in this way. If I judge it would be of interest to the Secretary of State and/or others and having discussed the matter with officials from the Department from Education (the Department) and with a representative group of local authorities, I may then ask specific relevant questions in subsequent years via the template which local authorities complete to send their reports to me. In 2017 four local authorities commented without any prompting on elective home education and I then asked about this in 2018 and 2019.
What local authorities have told me about home education
- My report for September 2016 to August 2017 was the first in which I dealt with home education and it said at paragraph 104:
“Elective home education (EHE): four local authorities reported significant increases in the number of children being educated at home and, in particular, that this was not always in the children’s interests. There were disturbing references to children being removed from schools to be educated at home with the encouragement of the school as an alternative to exclusion. One local authority described it thus: “schools off rolling learners to EHE when the families have no means to educate in order to protect their results records and school performance”. One local authority with nearly 2,000 children registered to be home educated said, “the majority have had some form of local authority intervention with a large proportion known to social services.”
- Against that background, I asked local authorities to tell me about the numbers of children they knew were being electively home educated in their areas in their reports to me covering the periods September 2017 to August 2018 and September 2018 to August 2019. I also asked them for any comments they wished to make in their 2017 to 2018 reports and in the following year for any comments on matters relating to elective home education which they had not already made.
- I attach at Annex A the relevant extracts from my reports which summarise what local authorities told me in those years about elective home education. In their reports in 2018, 120 of the then 152 local authorities responsible for education chose to make comments on elective home education and 102 did so in 2019. This is a very large number of comments; by contrast, when invited to comment on the use of pupil premium 38 local authorities did so in 2017 and 37 did so in 2018. At the very least it demonstrates a high level of interest and, I consider, concern on the part of local authorities.
- So far as the numbers of children being educated at home are concerned, the Committee will understand that local authorities will not necessarily know about all children in their area who are being educated at home. I should also emphasise the Office of the Schools Adjudicator cannot and does not carry out any validation or verification of the information provided to us by local authorities; my job here is simply to report what I have been told. That said, I have no reason to doubt that the numbers reported accurately reflect what local authorities themselves know.
- The reports indicated that the number of children known to local authorities as being educated at home rose from 52,770 at the end of March 2018 to 60,544 at the end of March 2019. I do not know the extent to which this reflects better knowledge of the number of children being educated at home or a real growth in the number or a mix of both. However, I would judge from comments that it is due in part to a real rise in numbers and this would be consistent with other reports. It is also the case that pupil numbers in state-funded mainstream schools in England also rose by 84,700 from January 2018 to January 2019 but I leave it to others who are better qualified and better placed than I to make judgements about whether the rise in the numbers of those known to be being educated at home is more than proportionate to the increase in the number of school age children in England.
- Three local authorities told me that the numbers of children being educated at home had not changed from March 2018 to March 2019. These were the City of London, the London Borough of Greenwich and the Isles of Scilly. Twenty one local authorities across all parts of the country reported falling numbers of children being electively home educated at 29 March 2019 compared with the previous year and 128 also across all parts of the country reported increasing numbers. I should say that even where local authorities reported fewer children being electively home educated in 2019 compared to 2018 this was sometimes within a context that the numbers had generally risen over the recent past.
- As noted above, the focus of local authority reports to me is school admissions. This context means that when they have told me about elective home education, local authorities are not setting out to give me the complete picture of their knowledge and work related to home education. They do not, for example, generally tell me about the work they may carry out to support families for whom elective home education is a positive and long term choice. Rather, they concentrate in their reports on cases where children have been removed from their school – and the many reasons for this - and even more on subsequent challenges in securing a school place when parents are no longer willing or able to home educate their child.
- In 2020, I had intended to ask again about the number of children recorded as being electively home educated in each local authority area and for any comments on aspects of this matter which the local authority had not covered in its responses in the previous two years. However, in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic I was concerned, as was the Department, to minimise all burdens on local authorities, including in terms of requests for information and data. I accordingly agreed with the Department that I would not ask about elective home education. Similarly, I did not ask about the numbers of schools giving priority to children entitled to the pupil premium. Nonetheless, 12 local authorities, did opt to comment on elective home education. Those local authorities included northern and southern authorities, county councils, London boroughs and metropolitan unitary authorities.
- In their comments, the 12 local authorities collectively made the following points which I consider add to points made in earlier years:
- the numbers of children being electively home educated continued to rise;
- two of the local authorities reported particularly large numbers of year 11 children being home educated having previously been in school. Given the particular importance of year 11 to children’s education, this was of understandable concern to these local authorities;
- one local authority considered that the “option for elective home education should be withdrawn for children subject to a child protection plan or school attendance order”;
- some local authorities said that they believed the Covid-19 pandemic would contribute to further rises in the numbers of children being electively home educated. This was partly because of some parents’ concerns about sending their children to school whether for the first time to Reception or back to school once schools re-opened. Another factor, however, was as one local authority put it “Parents have fed back that they have found the numerous high quality (and free) resources available online invaluable in helping them to provide a structured and progressive curriculum”.
- I am conscious that I have not in this submission directly addressed all the points raised by the Committee in its invitation for submissions. Many of the very important points raised by the Committee fall well outside the remit and functions of the adjudicators. I cannot comment on the benefits or disadvantages of home education or the support provided to home educating families. Nor is it for me to express a view on whether or not there should be a statutory register of home educated children. Still, I hope that the comments I have been able to offer on what certainly appear to be increasing numbers of children being educated at home and the views of local authorities in relation to this will be of use.
Chief Schools Adjudicator
Extract from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator Report to the Secretary of State September 2017- August 2018
Elective Home Education
- Every local authority answered the question about the number of home educated children they knew of in their area. The total number of children local authorities reported as being electively home educated was 52,770 children across all 152 local authorities as on 29 March 2018. However, parents are not required to register their children as electively home educated so this number will be fewer than the actual total of home educated children.
- One hundred and twenty local authorities commented on elective home education. While one local authority told me that, “The majority of cases which are EHE (electively home educated) have elected to do so to suit their own individual lifestyle choice,” such comments were in the minority. They were distinctly outweighed by others raising concerns that the education being provided by these means to at least some children in their areas was not appropriate and not in the best interests of those children.
- Many local authorities welcomed the call for evidence made by the DfE between April and July this year and looked forward to the outcome of the consultation on the draft guidance for parents and local authorities. Several local authorities referred to increases of between 40 to 70 per cent in recent years in the numbers of children electively home educated. One local authority had registered an additional 100 children in the previous month alone. Another said that it had received over 1,000 new registrations in the academic year to date (28 June 2018) and that, “many of these are instantly identifiable as inappropriate.”
- I was told by local authorities that parents had given the following reasons for choosing to educate their children at home:
- failure to secure a place at their preferred school. This can mean that there are higher numbers of children electively home educated at the start of the autumn term and that the numbers fall as places become available at the preferred school or another school that the parents consider suitable. One local authority estimated that this accounted for nine per cent of those being electively home educated in its area;
- a belief that removing a child from school to be electively home educated will mean the child then has a better chance of getting into another and more preferred school;
- seeking to avoid a potential exclusion of their child and/or prosecution for poor attendance. Some local authorities said that some parents told them that they were advised by the school to take this step to avoid their child being permanently excluded;
- worries about their child’s unhappiness at school, most commonly related to bullying;
- concerns that special educational needs were not being met;
- concerns about the standard of education provided (an adverse judgment by Ofsted could trigger this); and
- anxiety (amongst older students) about school.
- Local authorities told me that they were most concerned about children who were removed from their school either because the school, for good reasons, was seeking to work with parents to address a child’s poor behaviour or attendance or because the school had suggested that the child be electively home educated rather than be excluded, perhaps permanently. These comments echo the reasons local authorities also give for parents seeking a different school in year.
- Local authorities were clearly worried that many of these children were unlikely to receive sufficient education at home and that any existing problems were likely to be exacerbated. One local authority told me that 78 per cent of its unplaced children were those seeking to return from what was ostensibly elective home education. In a story echoed by other local authorities, one said. “it is reported by parents that they have been ‘coerced’ to become electively home educated with some reported instances of schools preparing a standard letter for parents to sign advising of their intention to electively home educate. Once these parents realise the implications and requirement to home educate they can find difficulty in securing a school place.” I was told that that there tended to be an increase in moves towards elective home education during the key stage 4 years.
- One local authority said, “It is felt to be too easy for parents to elect for Home Education. This is often done by parents who have no idea of what Home Education involves, often done in haste after a minor falling out with the school.” I was told that some schools, secondary schools in particular, are reluctant to admit children through in year admissions who have been electively home educated. This is particularly the case for children approaching or in key stage 4.
- Against this background, I was very interested to read about actions taken by local authorities to ensure: first, that children were not removed from school in haste; second, to support families who were home educating and to safeguard children; and finally to try and ensure a smooth return to a school if necessary. Local authorities told me of arrangements to help schools to work with parents so that the parent does not decide to remove his or her child and to dissuade schools from encouraging parents to remove their children. Similarly, I was told of efforts to ensure parents were informed about the reality of home educating a child and encouraged to think carefully before taking this step. Local authorities also described measures – including multi-agency working – to support families, to keep in contact with home educating parents and to safeguard the children. Finally, local authorities reported arrangements to ensure that children returning from home education could be considered quickly by fair access panels or otherwise found a school place. I noted a tendency to consider that children should return to the school they had been withdrawn from. There may indeed be good reasons for this; but it cannot be allowed to cut across the right for a parent to seek a place at any school.
- It was clear to me that many local authorities believe that a requirement for home educating parents to register with the local authority would do much to safeguard children. One local authority referred to families moving into the area and no-one knowing that they were there because the children were being home educated.
- Looking to the future, some local authorities argued for a mandatory cooling off period before a parent could withdraw his or her child from school possibly coupled with an entitlement to return to the same school within a specified period. It was felt that this would mean that parents could not take hasty decisions and that schools would not wish to see children withdrawn if it was likely that they would exercise a right to return. I should say that local authorities did also recognise the important right of parents to do what they think is right for their child. As one said, “No parent should feel that they have no choice but to home educate if a school is not meeting their child’s needs. However, every parent has the right to home educate and the local authority want to ensure that both factors are adequately supported.”
Extract from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator Report to the Secretary of State September 2018 - August 2019
Elective home education
94 All 152 local authorities provided the number of children recorded as home educated in their area as at 29 March 2019. Parents are not required to register their children as electively home educated so this number will be fewer than the actual total of home educated children. The total number of children local authorities reported as being electively home educated was 60,544 compared to 52,770 as at 29 March 2018. This is an increase of 7,774 or 14.7 per cent. The data provided shows some reductions in the numbers of electively home educated children in a minority of local authority areas.
- Several local authorities pointed out some children were home educated only for a limited period. One local authority, which had had nearly one thousand new registrations within the academic year, said that 60 per cent of cases were closed (by which we understand the child to have returned to school or reached the end of compulsory school age) in no more than a year. This high turnover appears to relate to the reasons for choosing elective home education. Over 100 local authorities commented on elective home education and echoed the points made in last year’s report where I outlined concerns expressed by many local authorities that some parents may opt to educate their child at home but not actually be able to provide education which fully meets the child’s needs. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/osa-annual-report
 Section 88P School Standards and Framework Act and paragraph 3.23 of the School Admissions Code
 Paragraph 3.23 d) of the Code
 See for example https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/cco-skipping-school-invisible-children-feb-2019.pdf and https://adcs.org.uk/education/article/adcs-ehe-survey-2019-press-release