Written evidence submitted by Mr John Allen FRCS



Submission to the Education Committee regarding Home Education


Executive Summary

1     Home education has multiple benefits, including close family relationships, multi-generational socialisation and good academic results; the main disadvantages relate to access to national exams and the intolerance faced for being different.

2     The existing Guidelines are working well and do not need to be changed; although local authorities may need to take better note of them.

3     There is no argument for a register that could counteract the inevitable bureaucratic drift that would see it morph from a simple list of home educators into a licence or permission to home educate, thus destroying the freedom to home educate that we currently have. After all, what is wrong with freedom?

4     Inspection (other than for literacy and numeracy) would face insurmountable problems; not least in defining suitable.

5     Unrecognised schools, school exclusion and ‘off-rolling’ are not relevant to home education and have no part in this inquiry. It should also be acknowledged that there is no safeguarding issue with home education.

6     There are an abundance of home education support groups, organisations and online forums to support home educating families. Local authority support is relevant only as regards access to national examinations; further, local authority support should always by voluntary, not imposed.

7    Children taught at home because the schools have closed is pandemic Education, not home education; the two are distinct and should not be confused. Any impact of Covid-19 on home educators has been relatively minor apart from the fiasco of grades for national examinations.




1          I write as a ‘retired’ home-educating parent whose children are now adults, and have the experience of two decades of home education whilst knowing how our offspring turned out. From this perspective I would make the following points.

2             Regarding the benefits and possible disadvantages of home education. The benefits are considerable; to begin with it generates a closeness in family life that is beneficial to the children in terms of good relationships with their parents as well as emotional security.

There are also wider social advantages; our children learnt to socialise with all kinds and ages of people, avoiding the generational and social stratification inevitable in modern schooling. They are therefore able, as adults, to mix with a wide range of people. It is true they miss out on the ‘school-type peer group socialisation’ they would get in school, but I would consider this to be yet another advantage of home education. They also do not face the problems of peer pressure when they are young and vulnerable. It is important here to try and dispel (yet again) the myth that home educated children are isolated. This is never the case. Our children met with neighbours and their children, as well as with relatives and their children and our friends and their children and people at church and their children. They socialised in the local home education group as well as with children and leaders in the various clubs (youth groups, music club, swimming club, sports club, etc.)

One of the more striking aspects of home educators over the last few years is the consistent testimony of those who have taken the step that their children’s wellbeing and happiness so often dramatically improves. There is occasional references in the media to the mental health problems of young people, but I notice that the young people concerned are in school; there is no evidence of significant mental health problems amongst home educating families, and I would surmise that the level of such problems is lower amongst home educated young people compared to those in school.

There is also considerable evidence ( Home-Education: Aims, Practices and Outcomes, Paula Rothermel, University of Durham, 2002; www.home-education.org.uk/articles/wc/wc-he-outcomes and the associated references ) that, irrespective of the style of home education the family follows, that academically they do well, certainly when compared to the occasionally poor results of state school education, and interestingly, there does not appear to be the same gender disparity found in the state system.

Disadvantages are few. There is obviously a financial cost as one parent is supervising the education and not earning, so we cannot have the fancy second car or two overseas holidays a year, and in some cases need to be very careful financially. The main disadvantage is the difficulty of access to nationally recognised exams for the older child. The children (and the families) are still often viewed as different’, and also, given the vaguely hostile reporting in the media there is some suspicion from new acquaintance; fortunately, we found that this does not long survive exposure to home educating families.


3        Regarding the duties of local authorities. Local authorities clearly have a duty to ensure that the schools in their area provide an adequate education; although it would seem from Ofsted reports mentioned in the media that this is not always the case. Whether they have the same duties towards home educating children is not so clear. To begin with home educators are an exceedingly heterogenous group from very structured (almost ‘doing school at home’) to autonomous learning – which is what you would expect when parents begin to take their legal responsibilities seriously (as per the Education Act 1996 sect 7). This wide variety of educational practices would require a superhuman degree of wisdom on the part of anyone seeking to assure the quality of home education. I have previously referred to the available evidence which confirms that home educating children do well academically – perhaps even better that children in state schools, which would call into question whether local authority assurance is required.

I find it annoying that, yet again, the old, hoary nonsense about ‘safeguardingis raised. There is no evidence that there are any safeguarding issues with home educated children, certainly not compared to the safeguarding issues in schools, with bullying, abuse, peer pressure, etc. To raise the issue is little more than scaremongering.

It would seem from much of what is seen on social media that some local authorities are gradually becoming more intrusive. Some years ago, relationships between home educators and local authorities were codified in Guidelines; I see no reason to change them and they would seem to be the most fruitful basis for interaction between home educators and local authorities.


4      Regarding a statutory register. The main objection to a statutory register lies in the psychology of officaildom. What is presented as (and may even be meant as) a simple list of families known to be home educating will, in the minds of the officials, morph into a register of those permitted or licensed to home educate; with ever stricter criteria. Furthermore, social media report a steady stream of problems arising form local authorities already overstepping the mark, demanding what is not required and generally acting ultra vires. A register would, I suspect, be an irresistible temptation for local authorities to become more and more prescriptive.

My previous response to a government consultation in June 2019 regarding a register of home educated children is relevant, but possibly a little blunt. It reads:

20 Why do you not support the concept of a duty on each LA to maintain a register?

comments on duty - opposed:

A number of reasons.

1 Section 2.5 of the Consultation document states ' The inclusion of a child on the register would not form in any way some kind of licence to educate a child outside of the school system'. To be blunt, that is simply government flim-flam. In the minds of the bureaucrats who will actually administer the system the register will become a list of those permitted to home educate. It would be invidious to allow hostile LAs - and they do exist - to control the list of those whom they see as allowed to home educate.

2 Despite the protestations of the advocates of a register, there is no evidence that a mandatory register is effective or necessary. It is also, given the subjective nature of the words 'suitable' and 'education', likely to encourage bully-boy tactics by LAs.

3 Such a register implies, if it is not based on, suspicion and mistrust of parents; but in this country we do not have to prove our innocence.

4 The detail is to be set out in secondary legislation, which does not receive the proper degree of scrutiny, and lays the potential register wide open for manipulation by hostile LAs and disapproving individuals.

5 A far better proposal would be for notification (not registration) in a climate of mutual trust between home educators and LAs.

I would acknowledge that more and more local authorities have made a real effort to engage and understand home education and home educators and develop constructive relationships. It would be good if this approach could be more widely practiced.


4     Regarding the role of inspection. This requires clarification regarding the aim and extent of any inspection. There are two issues; firstly, how do you define ‘suitable education’, and secondly, how is any inspecting to be done.

Firstly, to define ‘suitable’ education is a fraught issue, and one that in a tolerant, liberal, multicultural society cannot be very prescriptive. My own thinking is that literacy (in this country including fluency in English) and numeracy should be the core and heart of a suitable education. It keeps being pointed out that home educators are an heterogenous group resistant to being straitjacketed to a particular style or content.

Secondly, inspection should be proportionate. It is reasonable to expect progress in literacy and numeracy, but intrusive investigations risk causing problems as, as I have said before, home educators are an heterogenous group.

Below is my response to a similar question in a government consultation in 2018, which I have included for completeness.


14 How effective is local authority monitoring of provision made for children educated at home? Which current approaches by local authorities represent best practice?

LA monitoring practice - text:

1 Again, effectiveness depends on what it is trying to achieve. It is reasonable to monitor that literacy and numeracy are being learnt, but unreasonable to insist that all aspects of a specific curriculum are learnt as well. My policy was to produce an end of year resume of all activities and achievements of the year for my own benefit, and available to the local authority if required- it was rarely asked for.

2 I am not aware of current practices by local authorities.

15 If monitoring of suitability is not always effective, what changes should be made in the powers and duties of local authorities in this regard, and how could they best ensure that monitoring of suitability is proportionate?

Changes: monitoring - text:

1 The problem with this question is the definition of "suitability", which I have not seen suitably defined.

The points which need to made include:

If a child can read write and do sums then they are equipped for adult life and can learn whatever else they choose. Incidentally, it seems that state school education in this country may miss this target - although this is a school, not a home education problem (but one the government seems reluctant to address).

The curriculum ought to enable the child to live an independent adult life in whichever subculture of life they are in - secular, Jewish, Christian, atheistic, Moslem or any others. Literacy enables an individual to move between the subcultures if so wished - making the failures in literacy in state schools all the more grievous a problem.

Having said that, the monitoring of suitability should be limited to literacy and numeracy, as neither the local authority nor the Government has the authority to rigidly enforce one particular subculture on those from another.

2 Proportionate monitoring is minimal monitoring: as long as literacy and numeracy are learnt, then nothing more is absolutely essential. The risk is that of a rigid enforcement of a particular ideology on others. Home educators are an heterogenous group and it would require miraculous abilities for LAs to monitor the diversity; from structured to autonomous learning, pagan to Jewish to Moslem to Christian to secular: it is not the responsibility of the LAs to enforce or insist upon a particular style or content.


5     Regarding the regulatory framework. The first thing to say would be that to include unregistered schools, off-rolling and school exclusion in this inquiry is grossly inappropriate. These three issues are those of failing schools and have no relevance to home education. Nothing more needs to be said about these issues.

As I have mentioned before, there is no evidence that the wellbeing of home educated children is at risk, rather there is anecdotal evidence in social media that children’s wellbeing is improved by home education. Regarding academic achievement I would refer you to the previously mentioned evidence base, which would indicate that there are no substantial concerns.

I think that the current regulatory framework is working well. There is a set of agreed Guidelines published a number of years ago which is sufficient. There has been a deal of inquiries/consultations regarding home education over the last decade or so, and looking back at the results it would seem that we have exhaustively considered all options and that the current system is workable and should not be needlessly meddled with (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).

Finally, there seems to be a general feeling that the light regulation of home education is a problem, which raises the question: what is wrong with freedom?


6      Regarding support. There is currently no financial support for home educators, and that is as it should be. Financial independence is usually a necessary basis for independence in other spheres, including education. Having said that, those home educators who aspire to take state exams (GCSE and A levels) face considerable barriers. Freedom of access to examination centres should be introduced; payment for the exams could also be considered.

Those children with disabilities and mental health issues such as autism and ADHD are really the concern of their families and medicine rather than education; and one would expect any support to come from medical rather than educational authorities.

One significant issue is that there are many local home educating groups which give a lot of support, as well as a number of social media sites also offering support and advice. These are where home educating families will look first for support. Support from local authorities may be available but it is not always going to be taken, and any support package must be voluntary with no criticism of those who do not use it.


7       The impact of Covid-19. The most important point to make is that, whilst the schools were closed and the children stayed at home, this was pandemic education, NOT home education. However, one impact of Covid-19 on home education was that home education groups were closed due to the government restrictions, as the home education continued unchanged. The other was the problems with examination grades of home educated students who were going to take GCSEs and A levels in 2020; they were effectively ignored.

Having said that, one other possible impact is that the enforced closure of schools has opened the eyes of a number of parents to not only the possibility of home education, but also the benefits that it brings. It would seem unnecessary to consider any measures to mitigate something which has had only a slight impact.

November 2020