Written evidence submitted by Jemma Nicholls

My name is Jemma Nicholls and I am a self-employed Doula and antenatal teacher and a home educator of three children aged 7, 4 and 1. I will set out my points in sections which reflect the main points of the call for evidence.


1        I believe that safeguarding of children is primarily the responsibility of their family unless they wish to delegate that responsibility temporarily to another institution (for instance, a school would have a responsibility to safeguard a child during school hours). While I believe that any family, whether home educated (HE) or otherwise, who are accused or suspected of being abusive or negligent towards their children should be investigated the HE community has a problem in that often local authorities and their associated institutions see HE itself as an indicator or risk factor for abuse or neglect. Evidence shows that HE families are reported to social services more often than families who use schools, and yet far fewer of these reports are found to need further action.* Until local authorities can take a reasonably positive view of HE families, HE families are likely to continue to see their continued requests for access to and oversight of our HE lives as intrusive and negative.


2        I do not believe a statutory register of HE children is necessary or desirable. Our children’s births are already registered - their existence is not a secret. Who would have access to such a register and for what purpose? I cannot see a reason for such a register to exist and I believe it would have a negative impact on the feeling of freedom and confidence that HE gives to families to know that we were on an official list somewhere, especially given the strained relationship between many local authorities and the HE communities. I cannot see any reason for a register unless it was to ensure that further oversight and assessment of HE families could be facilitated, and such oversight and assessment is something I oppose completely.


3        The benefits that children gain from HE are, to my mind, incalculable. I will try and keep this short

    1. Freedom of self-expression – the ability to dress how they like, play how they like, undertake activities that interest them when they want to and for the length of time they want to.
    2. Less bullying and peer pressure – On the whole, my experience is that HE children are much less likely to be bullied at HE groups. Because HE families are so diverse and, generally, appreciate freedom and self-expression, it has also been my experience that there is less pressure from peers to conform to certain ways of being. My observations of HE children show me that they are confident in themselves and how they want to be and so they will, I believe, be less likely to bow to peer pressure later in life.
    3. Freedom – Our children enjoy freedom to pursue their own interests. Without having to adhere to the confines of school hours and the school week we can enjoy visits to museums and so on at times when there are fewer people around. This means that we can really take our time at these places and we get an awful lot more out of the educational opportunities available there. We are also free to maintain strong bonds with family as we are not confined to two days of the week for visits.
    4. Love of learning – Being able to follow their own interests without worrying about test results or assessments or being forced to learn to pass tests means that HE children can really love learning instead of finding it an unpleasant pressure.
    5. Health – We are able to be outdoors when we want to be which is beneficial for the health of the whole family. We are also able to really rest and look after ourselves when we feel unwell. Without feeling the pressure to maintain good school attendance or justify our need for rest to others we can teach our children to listen to their own body’s needs.


4        Many HE families do not require any particular support and actually prefer to be left to their own devices. People have experienced difficulty with exam costs for older children wishing to gain qualifications.


5        Off rolling is something which is a serious concern and should be looked into. I believe that HE should ideally always be a positive choice made by families, not something which has been forced on them. However, HE families have their children’s happiness, wellbeing and success at the forefront of their decision to HE. I do not believe that there is any reason for external authorities to wish to be involved in the safeguarding of HE children simply because they are HE children.


6        HE families do not require or desire inspection. Inspection can negatively impact the entire experience of HE. HE families need to feel confident that their methods and progress will not be judged by external authorities who may not understand or appreciate the individual family’s ethos and approach to education. Certainly HE should never be expected to follow mainstream, state school styles of education or attainment. The impact of inspection on HE families is large, where people in our HE community have been visited by a representative of the local authority the experience has been overwhelmingly negative. They have felt observed, intruded upon, misunderstood and judged. Any requirement to inspect an HE family would also be discriminatory and against our right to private life. Schooled children could be at home safe in the knowledge that nobody was going to demand entry to check up on their activities, and HE families would not have that same luxury. There is no place for routine inspection of HE families in a free world.


7        I do not believe any improvements have been made. Local Authorities need to prioritise improving their own understanding of the diversity of HE methods and philosophies before they make any further attempt to engage with the HE community.


8        If the government would specifically exclude out of school activities from lockdowns this would help HE families a lot. If the schools remain open, HE children should also have access to specialist instruction and social opportunities. When out of school services (Ballet classes, drama classes, art clubs etc.) are made to close, HE children are forced to be isolated in a way which their schooled counterparts are not. This is discriminatory and morally wrong.


* http://www.home-education.org.uk/articles/article-safeguarding-myth.pdf


November 2020