HED0289

 

Written evidence submitted by Mrs Hein

 

 

Response to the Education Committee’s call for evidence relating to the “safeguarding” of home-educated children

 

I am responding to this call for evidence as home education is very close to my heart. I was home schooled for several years and can say that they were some of the best years of my childhood! I have three brothers and we were home schooled together – we wore uniform, had set schedules, studied an array of subjects, and were involved in various extracurricular activities, just as you would in any state school. Fast forward years later and I am now a fully qualified solicitor, one brother owns his own business, another is a manager for the local council working in social care, and the third is training to be a qualified accountant. I would confidently say that we all turned out very well and make great examples of a successful home education! 

 

It is important for the state to recognise that parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children, not the state; and that teachers are educating on behalf of parents, not on behalf of the state. Parents choose to educate their children at home because they believe it is best for them. My parents made that decision for me and my brothers, and now I should have the right to make the same decision for my children. Having experienced both home education and state education myself, and understanding the pros and cons for each, I would certainly choose to home educate my own children and fully intend to do so.

 

Local authorities already have powers to intervene where they have reason to believe that children are not receiving an adequate education, or are at risk of abuse. I fully agree that local authorities can and should intervene when they have good reason to believe there is a problemtaking that approach strikes an appropriate balance between family privacy and child protection. However, giving local authorities additional duties to safeguard home educated children would make them more risk-averse and place undue pressure on them to interfere with the lives of law-abiding families who choose to home educate, diverting them from children who truly are at risk and need help.

 

I strongly disagree with the proposal that a mandatory register is required. It would give the state unwarranted power over parents – why should parents have to register with the state to teach their own children?! This would be a worrying sign of increasing state interference in family life and would certainly be the first step towards even more intrusive regulation and monitoring. There is no evidence to suggest that a register is necessary or would be effective, and, importantly, parents who are of concern would be very unlikely to register anyway!

 

I also strongly disagree with the proposal of termly inspections. There is no evidence that inspections are necessary and there is no mandate for it. Aside from it being a major intrusion into the family home, local authorities already have sufficient powers to address inadequate home education – to take this further would be way beyond the scope of what a local authority should have. I believe that an inspection is totally inappropriate for home education, not least because no home school setting is the same as another; the diversity of approach is a real strength of home education and would make inspections impractical – what would the benchmark be? Why should the state decide which approach is better than another, particularly when it is tailored to the individual child’s needs? I repeat what I said about the mandatory register: inspections would be a worrying sign of increasing state interference in family life.

 

I believe that I am well-placed to talk about the benefits of a home education, as I have lived through it. Home education can be tailored to the child’s individual interests; there is flexibility to vary the pace to suit the child; it provides a safe and nurturing environment for children who have experienced bullying; it also encourages self-directed study which, I can attest to, equips children for higher education. Some people critique home education and argue that the child loses out on social interaction with other children. My response is that there is a national network of home-schooling parents who can meet together with their children and undertake extra-curricular activities together. Regardless of whether education takes place at home or in a state school, I would always encourage children to get involved in after school activities – there are also many local swimming, dance and sports clubs in towns and cities (that any child can be a part of) where children can learn additional social skills and how to work in a team.

 

It has not gone unnoticed that elective home education is often unfairly linked with unregistered or illegal schools, exclusion and off-rolling. I believe that those issues should be addressed and dealt with, but home education should not be considered under the same umbrella as it leads to confused and ineffective policy. I am very concerned, and many others echo my concern, that home education is wrongly associated with child abuse when, in fact, many parents choose to home educate in order to protect their children from the abuse of bullying at school! Research in 2015 found that home educated children in England were two to three times less likely to be subject to a Child Protection Plan than children in school, despite being twice as likely to be referred to social services. Home education actually protects children from the alarming levels of sexual harassment and abuse that has been documented in schools.

 

When it comes to support for home educators, I believe that it should be entirely voluntary and available on request from parents. It is imperative that there are no negative implications for not requesting support or declining to follow advice offered, and that this is not deemed as a ‘cause for concern’. Parents that home school their children often report that they are treated with unwarranted suspicion by local authorities, rather than being supported, and often feel prejudiced against for no valid reason. Some parents feel they have no other option than to remove their child from state schools because, for example, they have special needs which are not being properly addressed by the state school – parents and children like this would be more supported if existing provision were made better. In addition, the provision of financial assistance for exam fees or exam centres would really support parents who are home schooling their children.

 

In conclusion, I feel very strongly that the state should not interfere with family life and the right that parents have to choose how they educate their own children. I am against the introduction of a mandatory register and home inspections as there is no evidence or mandate to support either. I am a testament to the success of home education, and I believe that parents should not require the state’s permission before they can home educate; which would effectively be the result if these changes were brought in. I respectfully ask that you take my points into consideration and do not move forward with the proposal put forward by the Children’s Commissioner.

 

 

December 2020