Written evidence submitted by Mrs Hilary Thomson


Home Education consultation


As a mother of 5 children, several of whom have had periods of home education, I am concerned at the proposal to create a register of home-educating parents.  My concern stems from the fact that it is the fundamental right of the parent to make educational decisions for the good of a child, and I fear that the creation of a register is a step towards the state assuming that role.  This is not, and should never be, part of the state’s responsibility.


I realise that the government is concerned about children who have been excluded from school and are not receiving an education, but this is a separate issue from that of elective home education, where responsible and loving parents have decided for good, sound reasons that their children will be best served by being educated at home. There are countless reasons why people choose to home-educate: bullying which is not dealt with adequately by schools; individual learning difficulties which schools do not have the resources to address; disabilities of various kinds which make the school environment a difficult and challenging one; or simply a carefully thought-out parental decision that what they can provide at home for their children in terms of individual care, tailoring the curriculum to their particular interests and needs, and being free to pursue particular skills in a calm, unhurried  way will suit their children best.  Conflating truancy (to investigate which there is already adequate legal provision) and elective home education only confuses the picture and means that home-education is seen as an issue to be ‘dealt with’ rather than a legal, rational, respectable choice.


Given that local authorities already have powers to intervene if they have reason to believe that a child is not “receiving efficient full-time education”, I cannot see how a mandatory register will have any effect other than to increase anxiety for home-educating families, and to add another burden to over-stretched education departments. Given also that one authority has already been reprimanded by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for visiting a home-educating family without good reason and without explaining the reason for the visit, I fear that putting more power into the hands of authorities will only undermine trust. It could also increase the possibility of investigation being undertaken in order to protect authorities from criticism, rather than because there is any actual cause for concern. Research in 2015 which found that home-educated children were 2 to 3 times less likely to be subject to a Child Protection Plan than children in school, but twice as likely to be referred to social services, only compounds my concern about potential local authority over-reach.  Furthermore, it is inevitable that if parents are needlessly investigated, there will be very negative impacts on the children themselves, both emotionally if they know their parents are under suspicion, and educationally, if they fall behind due to their parents being distracted by the investigation.


Finally, why should it be assumed, as seems to be the case with this proposal, that the choice to home-educate is somehow irresponsible or that it offers children only a second-rate educational experience? In cases where the home environment is not safe, wide legal powers already exist to take action to protect children.  But in the vast majority of cases, home is by definition a safe and nurturing place, and educating children in that environment allows them to grow and develop and learn at their own pace. Parents are free to change tack if the child is not understanding something; free to take a break when needed; free to encourage the pursuit of individual interests; free to take children outside for a walk to get fresh air when they see that they have reached the point of being unable to take in anything else. None of these is possible in a class of 30 children.


In summary, since there is no evidence of the current regulatory framework being unfit for purpose, and given the above-mentioned benefits and freedoms of home education, as well as the dangers of increased state involvement in private family decisions, I appeal to those in charge of the consultation not to create the proposed register.


December 2020