Written evidence submitted by Wey Education Plc


               Call for evidence: Education Select Committee – Home Education


About us


Wey Education plc is the AIM listed holding company of an educational group providing services online worldwide. We have a 15-year track record of delivering outstanding results and encourage students to reach for success levels they have never imagined, through our two divisions:

3,000 students currently study at InterHigh. 43% of our students are based internationally, principally in Europe or the Middle East and some in the Far East. Academy21 works in over 240 Local Authorities across the UK to provide approximately 1,000 vulnerable learners each year with the opportunity to study virtually and progress in their learning journeys.


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Written submission on behalf of Wey Education


The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the following points:

The guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) to local authorities (LAs), ‘Elective Home Education - April 2019 recognises the growth over time of the home education sector. It also notes the importance of the right of all children to a safe and suitable full-time education. It highlights the importance of local authorities exercising their existing powers where they feel children may not be in receipt of full-time suitable education (and are therefore potentially vulnerable as ‘missing education’) and reiterates its ‘recommendations’ as to minimum provision for LAs to put in place in terms of elective home education.

Parents have a responsibility to ensure their child(ren) receive ‘efficient full-time education suitable - (a) to his (her) age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise’. However, they are neither obliged to ensure that this education is delivered in a school; nor do they have a legal duty to inform local authorities about any decision to home educate, nor to inform a school / authority when they elect to withdraw a child from a school roll that they have elected to home-educate. Therefore, LAs may well be unaware, in the case of children who have never attended school but also those who have, that they are subsequently being home educated. This may well constitute a broader safeguarding risk.

The DfE indicates that minimum LA provision should include a clear (home education) policy statement, sufficient resources, and organisational structures to implement the policy. This should include guidance regarding safeguarding and may involve a voluntary registration scheme. However, the reality is that there is no ring-fenced funding to ensure each LA follows these recommendations successfully and provision at LA level may vary considerably across the country. Also, their legal powers are currently restricted; LAs cannot ordinarily test out whether home education provision is full time and ‘suitable’, since parents have no responsibilities for evidencing this to the LA and the law does not stipulate what ‘suitable education’ means in terms of for example, subject provision, school day, external examinations and quality. Furthermore, whilst Ofsted checks on how well LAs deal with home education in the context of their statutory responsibilities for vulnerable children, it has no direct responsibility for inspecting the provision of home education.

Compounded by Covid-19, we believe that the increase in online working will necessitate more opportunities for home study as well. Logically as people work from home the capability for studying from home increases, leading to greater mobility, so online education and home school provision will necessarily grow.

While the current system is working well for most children, this new more mobile status of students could be easily forgotten. While registration of children is one aspect of bringing greater visibility, these children of ‘mobile educational status’ need to be served in different ways from other students. In this category, we would need to take account of expat families, families with more than one home address and international onshore children, who may be in particular at-risk categories, as falling between different legal jurisdictions. These children may well be the most at-risk categories when it comes to special educational needs.

In the Australian model, the financial provision for children educated regardless of whether that is in a private or state context, would ‘follow the child’. Ironically, this has led to uneven development in the school sector. Implementing this type of approach would require a political and cultural shift in education funding in the UK – and should not be taken without proper nationwide, parliamentary, and sectoral consultation and debate. Most importantly, the priority might be deemed to be getting funding for vulnerable students to “follow the child”.

How home education is quality assured is unknown territory and there are no robust models available for it at present as far as we are aware.

We believe a statutory register of home-educated children is required. However, as our response above indicates, this would require (a) a change in the law regarding parental responsibilities in this area and (b) would necessitate, we think, more incisive legislation and dedicated funding for LAs to properly enforce this law and to follow up fully once the full extent of the scale of home education is known.

Our goal as a provider of online-based education for many families is to ensure that we offer full-time, ‘highly suitable’ education that is broad and balanced; which promotes pupils’ academic and personal development hand-in-hand, with due regard to student safety, health and well-being. We offer daily live lessons, invite students to experience social activities and we provide a fully developed Co-Curriculum. We instigate full safeguarding arrangements and offer wrap-around pastoral care. Therefore, we believe that there is a highly credible alternative path open to families who wish to home-educate using our online education provision. Our style of provision includes all day provision of live lessons by highly qualified teachers in 40-minute lessons. Our teachers are highly educated, the majority with postgraduate level and QTS. We also provide a Teaching Online accredited qualification (ATHE/Ofqual) which all our staff studies. This means that as well as subject knowledge they are well versed in education technology and the best methods of teaching online. It also requires a full infrastructure of support for student well-being so that pupils are safeguarded and can thrive. We believe that an accreditation system, such as the Online Education Scheme proposed by the DfE, is the way forward in ensuring there is externally, quality assured provision on offer to families who wish to set up online education in this way. We have been part of the pilot programme and Dame Christine Ryan’s report on our provision will be published upon the appointment of the Quality Assurance Body (QAB) for the Department of Education.

We are not however, in a position to fully evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of home education undertaken by other providers or home schoolers, such as is provided directly by parents themselves or personal tutors. As the DfE itself says, parents have a right to educate their children at home, and the government wants the many parents who do it well to be supported. They devote time, financial resources, and dedication to the education of their children. Most parents who take up the weighty responsibility of home education do a great job, and many children benefit from being educated at home.’

We cannot comment specifically on the wider home education scene, in terms of quality and accessibility of support for home educators and for home educated children, including those with special educational needs. There is not currently a full picture of what exists, let alone of the quality, drawn from careful measurement of its impact. The need for a statutory register underlines the first imperative; to have a full picture of the home educated ‘cohort’ nationally, and in turn, a full profile of the requirements of home educators and needs of the children concerned, including some who may be deemed ‘vulnerable’.

The current regulatory framework is insufficient; without proper detailed legal requirements of LAs in place, it is difficult for them to strike the right balance between dealing with cases where an appropriate education might be being provided and those where it might not. LAs should be aiming to establish a positive relationship between the local authority and the home-educating parent. As the DfE says, where that is possible, it allows authorities to better understand parents’ educational provision and preferences and offer them appropriate support. A positive relationship will also provide a sound basis for investigation if the authority receives information that a suitable education is not being provided.

Since cases are rising in number though, LAs also need to be ready to take affirmative action where they have cause for concern and the current picture is mixed. The 2016 DfE guidance to LAs clarifies the hurdles here in relation to cases involving home schooling. Firstly, LAs need to draw together an accurate picture drawing on data from multiple sources, including NHS and social services, since families are not legally obligated to tell them they have selected home-education for their child. Secondly, LAs are then advised to first use informal contact and enquiries where it is unclear that an appropriate education is being provided. A section 436A creates a duty to adopt a system for making such enquiries, paving the way for formal procedures under s437 if necessary. This can lead to school attendance orders (SAOs) being issued. If parents are then unresponsive or give insufficient responses, this in turn can result in prosecutions / fines and / or education supervision orders. However, whilst there was a 171% increase in the issue of SAOs in relation to the suitability of home education between 2017/18 and 2018-19, only 61 Councils issued such SAOs out of 152 LAs nationally.

Whilst there is no direct correlation between home schooling and safeguarding risk, nonetheless, once a LA has established that a suitable full time education is not being provided, this may, once individual circumstances are carefully assessed, lead to an evaluation it amounts to significant ‘harm’. In these cases, relevant legislation, such as s47 of the 1989 Children’s Act, may be applied to commence investigations. This only serves to underline the importance of having a robust regulatory framework, which is well applied, so that weak oversight of home education never leads to safeguarding cases being missed.

Furthermore, there are currently structural barriers within the system of oversight. What is clear is that local authorities, within the current legal framework, must work closely with all school providers to ensure they know about, in the first instance, all children who are known to have been removed from a school’s roll and their destinations.

However, for local authorities, this means navigating the landscape of devolved school governance and ensuring close and effective relationships with multi-academy trusts, (which are numerous and which operate across LA boundaries, often at an arm’s length from the LAs) and also with the proprietors of independent schools. This also entails close working between local authorities too and the delivery of a strategic approach to children missing education, involving multi-agency working. The data management challenges of this cannot be underestimated. Most local authorities do take a careful look at attendance and exclusions, to spot and address patterns, including if necessary, challenging and supporting schools that appear, by exception, to be engaged in ‘off-rolling’ and by monitoring the presence of unregistered schooling in their jurisdiction. What is clear is that changes to the regulatory framework should be accompanied by clarity about national arrangements for how the system of oversight should work, to address the current risk that there are wide variations in quality and consistency of approach.

We believe Ofsted would need to formally check at area level whether the following DfE recommendations as to how LAs should work to a common system of oversight is happening. The DfE expects LAs:

should provide parents with a named contact who is familiar with home education policy and practice and has an understanding of a range of educational philosophies; • ordinarily makes contact with home educated parents on at least an annual basis so the authority may reasonably inform itself of the current suitability of the education provided. In cases where there were no previous concerns about the education provided and no reason to think that has changed because the parents are continuing to do a good job, such contact would often be very brief; • has a named senior officer with responsibility for elective home education policy and procedures, and the interaction with other work on issues such as children missing education, unregistered settings, vulnerable children, and welfare; • organises training on the law and the diversity of home education methods for all officers who have contact with home-educating families, possibly in conjunction with other authorities; • ensures that those LA staff who may be the first point of contact for a potential home-educating parent understand the right of the parent to choose home education. It is very important that parents are provided with accurate information from the outset to establish a positive foundation for the relationship. However, parents are under no obligation to accept support or advice from a local authority, and refusal to do so is not in itself evidence that the education provided is unsuitable; • works co-operatively with other relevant agencies such as health services to identify and support children who are being home educated, within the boundaries established by data protection and other legislation.

At area level, inspectors would need to check on the overall impact of the strategic approach to identifying children missing education, those at risk of this and how they respond to patterns identified and the underlying causes.

It would then need to continue checking, at institution level, whether schools and providers are doing everything they can to check on the circumstances whereby families elect to remove children from their roll and inform the relevant LA promptly of this. Inspectors would continue to check on off-rolling.

Critically though, at both area and institution level, the inspectorate should seek to grow the knowledge base within the profession and to inform policy makers about patterns and causation. This is especially urgent regarding those who elect to home educate as what they see as a ‘last resort’ rather than a philosophical choice. Ofsted should explore the precise reasons why families elect to reject traditional schooling to home-educate and why, if it is the case, instances are rising. This is especially true now during the Covid 19 epidemic. Local authorities are already aware of many cases where the reasons for selecting home education emanate from a perception by the families concerned that the schools their child(ren) attended did not cater well for their child’s specific needs. Ofsted would need to develop precise data on the profile of the children being home- educated, including the proportions who perhaps might be considered vulnerable. There may well be lessons learned for the system more widely about how well it is catering for some families or at least, how it is perceived to be doing so.


November 2020