Written evidence submitted by Mr & Mrs Graham & Pauline Wiggett


Evidence for the House of Commons Education Committee’s consultation on Home Education (Oct/Nov 2020)

Our names are Graham and Pauline Wiggett, we are both retired and were both formerly involved in overseas missionary work in West Africa. 

My wife and I home educated our two daughters, from ages 3 to 11 (and 3 to 9), in Maradi, Niger Republic, and from 12 to 13 (and 10 to 11), in France.  The intervening year, and from 13 to 16 (and 11 to 14) they were day students at a mission school in Niamey, the capital of Niger, where our eldest daughter was able to study for international GCSEs.  As Home Educators we used the Worldwide Education Service (WES) and found their materials and support to be excellent.  Of course, not having been resident in the UK, we could not have expected our local authority to have been in any way involved in the provision of services to our children although, during the periods (usually several months) when we returned to the UK (every 2-3 years), we found our local primary, junior and secondary schools were very understanding and accommodating and gave us ready access to the state school system, even though only for short periods at a time.

We have re-read the “House of Comments Education Committee, Support for Home Education, Fifth Report of Session 2012-13” and note that its Summary on page 3 begins with “In England, the responsibility for a child’s education rests with his or her parents: education is compulsory, but school is not.”  This, I believe, is not under discussion in the present consultation, but it is a significant preamble to any consultation concerning the roles and responsibilities of local authorities in the education of children.

The 2012 report noted (on page 7), with some alarm, that,

“The role of the local authority is clear with regard to home education.  (The DCSF Guidelines 2007 are the key reference point on this.)  They have two duties: to provide support for home educating families (at a level decided by local authorities themselves), and if families wish it; and to intervene with families if the local authority is given reason to believe that a child is not receiving a suitable education.  It is not the role of the local authority routinely to monitor whether a suitable education is being provided, and local authorities should not act as if it is, or cause parents to believe that it is.  (See DCSF Guidelines 2007, p. 5)

“Despite this clarity in Government guidelines, though, we heard evidence suggesting that a number of local authorities are currently acting outside the law, or at least making misleading statements with regard to home education; this, in turn, jeopardises relationships between local authorities and home educators.  Educational consultant Alison Sauer told us that she had completed “a survey of all the local authority websites and [found that] there are only 30 that do not have ultra vires requirements on their websites— 30 out of 152”.  (In her written evidence (Ev 73), Ms Sauer notes that “the worst offender, South Gloucestershire, makes or implies 15 UV demands”.  Ultra vires is generally used in legal terms to mean ‘beyond power’.)

Notwithstanding the recommendation of the 2012 report that,

“Local authorities have a responsibility to follow the law, and to be seen to do so. Considering evidence that only thirty do not currently have ultra vires statements on their websites, regarding home education, we urge all local authorities to undertake a swift review of their own material, and to ensure that their policies reflect the guidance available.” (page 7 of the 2012 report)

it has lately (2020) been well publicised that several local authorities have overstepped their authority even regarding schools (e.g. Warwickshire County Council’s “All About Me” programme, run in over 200 Warwickshire primary schools).  And this, 8 years after the 2012 report’s recommendation.

There has been a significant drive from some quarters, in both central and local government, to deny parents the opportunity to withdraw their children from parts of the curriculum provided by schools, and yet this appears to contradict the basic tenet that “In England, the responsibility for a child’s education rests with his or her parents: education is compulsory, but school is not”.  For some parents, if they are not permitted to withdraw their children from those parts of the curriculum with which they strongly disagree (e.g. PSE and Sex Education which they deem inappropriate for their child/children for reasons of age, emotion, religious beliefs, disability, etc.), what alternative do they have but to withdraw their child/children from the school altogether and Home Educate?  However, such a scenario immediately breaks the trust between the parents and both the school (which teaches the ‘inappropriate’ subject matter) and the local authority (which ‘approved’ the school to teach the ‘inappropriate’ subject matter).  Under current guidelines, the local authority is then asked to provide support to the Home Educator, with both parties feeling aggrieved by the other.

Added to this already tense situation is the fact that, according to the 2012 report, many local authority Home Education Officers sit in departments with other officers who deal specifically with ‘problem children’ (issues of truancy, safeguarding, etc.)

“Of the nine local authority officers invited to our seminar in July 2012, one was situated within a division looking at school attendance; two were from children’s services units; and a fourth was titled ‘Virtual Headteacher for Children in Care’.  Other posts encountered by the Committee used words such as ‘teacher’ and ‘virtual school’ which may not be appropriate for many of the models of home education which exist.” – page 12 of the 2012 report).

Above I have mentioned PSE and Sex Education as particular school subjects which are causing major distress amongst ‘people of faith’.  While the idea of taking the opportunity to discuss relationships in general and to counter all kinds of bullying is perfectly acceptable to most parents , many are concerned that some of the material is not what they wish their children to be exposed to, for different reasons, and wish to retain the opportunity to withdraw their children from classes which include this material.  When this is denied, one of the limited options open to concerned parents is Home Education.

The above commentary represents the preamble to my responses to the different sections of your current consultation:

1)      The duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education.

The basic question asked by the 2012 enquiry was essentially, what help, assistance and support can local authorities offer to Home Educated children?  This question of the current consultation, by adding “including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education”, changes the dynamic of the relationship between local authorities and home educators considerably, from one of help to one of supervision.  It is one thing to offer services and quite another to require compliance.  One of the reasons for parents to choose Home Education, offered in my preamble, was a desire to educate their children differently. Asking them to comply to standards set by the local authority, out of whose scheme (schools) they have withdrawn their children, is to deny the basic tenet that In England, the responsibility for a child’s education rests with his or her parents: education is compulsory, but school is not”.  Safeguarding in Home Education situations should not be treated any differently from how it is treated in any other situation, and “… guidance is (equally) clear that local authorities do not have the power “to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education” (see DCSF Guidelines 2007, p. 6).

2)      Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required.

This question also emphasises “compliance” rather than “offer”, which runs counter to the spirit of the basic tenet “… the responsibility for a child’s education rests with his or her parents …”.  Alternatively, Home Educating parents should be made aware of what services the government (both central and local) can offer.  There will be a great deal of fear generated by a demand to ‘register’ home educated children.  Many of those choosing to Home Educate their children will be doing so because they wish to provide something which is different to the education offered within the school system.  While the vast majority of Home Educating parents will appreciate a genuine offer of help, many will see a statutory register as the first rung on the ladder to compliance to aspects of the school curriculum which form part of their reasons for withdrawing their children from the school system in the first place.

We have very recently seen how so-called ‘harmless’ legislation can very quickly become extended to be ‘very harmful’ (e.g. The Scottish Parliament’s anti-smacking bill – the country was assured that this would not criminalise parents but, only a very short time after it became law, we have seen official government guidelines suggest that people who see parents smacking their children should dial 999 and report a crime taking place.  Even more recently, primary school children have been encouraged to report their parents if they smack them.  Primary school children have no notion of the consequences of such reporting and probably would not wish to be removed from their parent’s care or have their parents prosecuted.  Euthanasia, in Europe, is an example of ‘right-meaning’ legislation to provide options for very sick and terminally ill patients, which has resulted, most recently, in calls for both very young children and perfectly healthy over 75s to be allowed to be euthanised if they so wish.  As sure as night follows day, if a statutory register of home-educated children were to become law, there would be those who would wish to quickly follow such a law with a requirement for home-educating parents to teach their children the very things which were the reasons for them choosing home education in the first place.

3)      The benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face.

Probably the greatest benefit children gain from home education is a curriculum and structure individualised for each student.  Coupled with that is the one-to-one attention that a parent can provide and that no school setting can.  It is true that the parent may not be a particularly good teacher, but that is where local forums, national home education organisations and the local authority can offer help.  Irrespective of their level of teaching competence, If parents have chosen to home educate their child/children, I think you will agree, they will not have done so in order to prevent their child/children from receiving the very best education possible.

Social interaction is another possible disadvantage of home education.  Nevertheless, there are numerous extra-curricular activities in which the children can become involved.  Again, this is a situation to which local home education groups, the local authority and local schools can, and in my mind should, help provide solutions.  Can schools be encouraged to open the doors of their ‘after school clubs’ to home-educated children?

4)      The quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children, including those with special educational needs, disabilities, mental health issues, or caring responsibilities, and those making the transition to further and higher education.

I am not well qualified to respond to this question, just to say that I should have thought that it would be perfectly possible for both central and local government to offer home educators the same levels of support as that provided to ‘schooled’ children.  In the 2012 report we read the comment ‘he who pays the piper plays the tune’, meaning that if the local authority provides support, the home educators will need to dance to their tune.  Most support would be very gratefully received, and home educators would willingly ‘dance to the local authorities’ tune’.  However, there will be those areas where this might not be so, in which case, the support offered may not be accessed.  However, it would be quite unfair of local authorities to withdraw ‘all’ support, from a home educator if they do not access the full package of support being offered.

5)      Whether the current regulatory framework is sufficient to ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children is safeguarded, including where they may attend unregistered schools, have been formally excluded from school, or have been subject to ‘off-rolling’.

This question does not fully respect the basic tenet that “… the responsibility for a child’s education rests with his or her parents …”.  It is not the purpose of “the current regulatory framework” to “ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children is safeguarded”.  The question already implies that the home educated children are a problem.

6)      The role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education.

“… guidance is (equally) clear that local authorities do not have the power “to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education” (see DCSF Guidelines 2007, p. 6).  To change this guidance to allow for statutory inspections will raise the same fears as those about which I wrote in response to question 2) above.

7)      What improvements have been made to support home educators since the 2010-15 Education Committee published their report on ‘Support for Home Education’ in 2012.

I am not qualified to comment on this question, but I do look forward to reading the report of this consultation which will hopefully include a survey of the improvements.

8)      The impact COVID-19 has had on home educated children, and what additional measures might need to be taken in order to mitigate any negative impacts

Those home educating their children, prior to the first lockdown in March, will have been impacted by having field trips (museums, art galleries, etc) and participation in sport activities restricted, and physical social gatherings interrupted and replaced by zoom, or equivalent.

I believe COVID 19 drove more parents into ‘home education’ mode, by virtue of the fact that schools closed and children were having to access work online.  These parents did not choose the home education route for their children so, I imagine that the successes would have been very mixed.  There may be those from among this group who have tasted home education for the first time, enjoyed the experience and wish to continue for the longer term.  Among them will be those who are looking to central government and their local authorities and local schools for support in this new venture.


Thank you for giving me this opportunity to input your consultation and looking forward to reading the results in due course.


Respectfully submitted

Graham and Pauline Wiggett


December 2020