Written evidence submitted by ParentPower, Voice for Justice UK

According to figures from the Elective Home Education Survey 2018, as of 4th October, 2018, there were an estimated 57,833 children being home schooled in 152 in local authorities across England – representing a 27% increase from 7th October 2017 (https://adcs.org.uk/assets/documentation/ADCS_EHE_survey_analysis_2018_FINAL_web.pdf ).  Since then, the number has reportedly increased by a further 13% (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/feb/24/children-schooled-at-home-up-13-despite-fears-over-lack-of-regulation ). Reports suggest that in some areas the increase has been as much as 119% (https://inews.co.uk/news/children-in-home-education-rocket-england-405854).

The option is clearly becoming increasingly popular and, despite concerns that many parents may not be able to provide a proper education, studies from across the world appear to indicate that outcomes for home schooled children are consistently better than the average for the population (http://www.home-education.org.uk/articles/wc/wc-he-outcomes.pdf).

Despite the rise, there would seem little justification, therefore, to impose increased government oversight and regulation.

Overview:  It is generally acknowledged that parents are the primary educators of children.  As such, they have both the responsibility and duty to ensure that their children are raised in such values as will prepare them for life and equip them, through education, to take their proper place in society. 

Art 2, Protocol 1 of the ECHR, as incorporated into UK law in the Human Rights Act 1998, states that no person shall be denied the right to education, and in the exercise of any function assumed by the State, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure their children receive education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.  In other words, primary responsibility for a child’s education lies with the parents and must not be usurped or interfered with by the State, which operates for these purposes under authority delegated by the parents, in what they perceive to be the best interests of the child.

The duties are further spelled out in S.7 of the Education Act 1996, which states that “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education... either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” Provided only, therefore, that there is ‘efficient, full-time education’, under law attendance at a school or otherwise registered educational establishment is not required, nor is there any obligation to inform local authorities of the decision to home schoolThe unfettered right of parents to decide what they wish their child to be taught and how without interference by the State is therefore acknowledged under law. 

Attempting to impose the requirement that parents must register home-educated children interferes with that right, giving to the State a hitherto unprecedented level of oversight and control.  The practical effect of this would be to transfer ultimate responsibility for children from parents to the State which, on current evidence, would in time use that power to prescribe what children may and may not be taught, and when.  

Why home educate:  There are many reasons why parents choose to home educate.  It may, for example, be that a child is being bullied and is unhappy, or that they are simply not flourishing in a conventional school environment and lagging behind their peers.  Conversely, it may be that a child is highly gifted, and the school is inhibiting full development of those gifts.  Or there may be health issues, or other special needs … or parents may simply take issue with teaching in conflict with their faith or beliefs.  At the moment, provided they provide efficient, full-time education, parents have an absolute right to do this, free of invasive State intrusion or control.   Making home education subject to registration and inspection, however, with the implication that teaching must follow a prescribed curriculum ‘in order to maintain standards’, would defeat that, forcing families to conform to a State-decided programme.

There are already adequate safeguards to ensure child protection: Where a child is being mistreated or abused, or is receiving an inadequate education, then, for their wellbeing, it is entirely right for the State to intervene – but where there are grounds for believing there is a problem and/or that children are at risk, local authorities already have substantial powers for such intervention.  Anything beyond this becomes an intrusion into family life, contrary to Art 8 of the ECHR, as enacted in the Human Rights Act 1998, which provide to the individual a right of respect for their private and family life.

Similarly, making what home-educated families choose to teach subject to inspection by Ofsted, as has been proposed, suggests not so much concern for child welfare, as the extension and enforcement of an ideologically driven agenda aimed at ensuring compliance with ideas and values that many find unacceptable.

Benefits of home schooling: Currently, home education can be personalised to meet a child’s best interests and needs, supported by the many excellent programmes and teaching aids specifically designed for this purpose.  It allows flexibility to keep pace with the child’s development, allowing extra time in areas where a child perhaps struggles, or to provide more advanced teaching where they excel, unfettered by the need to conform to the pace of a larger group.  It encourages independence, self-discipline, self-study and research.  A programme of inspection requiring compliance with State imposed targets would interfere with – and might unacceptably inhibit - this process.

How the Government could help:  Of more benefit than requiring registration, would be for local authorities to commit to providing more practical and financial help – as, for example, funding the purchase of chosen resources and, where required, paying examination fees.

Conclusion: There is no evidence that the current lack of inspection has put children at risk.  Were registration and inspection to become mandatory, it could only serve to increase State intrusion and control. This would place an unnecessary and unacceptable burden on already overstretched local resources, and be an abuse of the rights and responsibilities of parents to raise their children according to their beliefs and values, and in the best interests of the child.

Any changes should only be formulated in agreement with associations representing home schooled parents, such as ParentPower (https://parentpower.family ), The Home Schooling Association (https://www.homeschoolingassociation.co.uk ), or Home Education (http://www.home-education.org.uk ).

October 2020