Written evidence submitted by Mister Alexander Joseph Newby


In this response to the Call for evidence on home education, I will address five of the eight bullet points that I have been invited to address with a short, summary answer. Then I will address the remaining three points in greater detail. Consequently they will not be in the original order. I will include the text of the original bullet point as a heading to these sections. I will finish with a final section addressing an important point not raised by the consultation but strongly relevant to it.

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

The benefits that children gain from home education vary significantly from child to child. Some choose home education because they would be better suited to an education other than the national curriculum. It could be more specialised or more free-form. Others choose to leave school to escape bullies or other unpleasant elements of the institution. Some gain more time with their family and those they love. It would be impossible to list all the potential benefits here and equally impossible to list all the potential disadvantages. I will remark that I think home education would provide an overall gain for many children who do not know it is an option, and it has been a clear benefit to every home-educated child I have known.

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

The quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children is extremely hard to comment on due to the fact that it varies significantly by local authority. One significantly useful thing that the government to do here would be to consolidate information about this support into one place – possibly a website – so that home educators could easily find out what kind of support is offered to them by their local authority. Once such a tool is available it would be significantly easier to comment on the details of the support itself.

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’

The current framework is sufficient in general. There is no evidence available to the public that the current system has problems in general, and the government ought not to make changes without significant evidence. If the government has such evidence it must publish the evidence and make it clear to the community that it is consulting with regards to the problem posed by such evidence. Without that clarity of purpose, there should be no consideration of changes. With regards to unregistred schools, the government ought to deal with these at the level of the institution, not at the level of the children or their families. Home-educating parents are obviously entitled to send their children to receive education at a huge variety of groups, locations and institutions including museums, clubs and tutor groups. If such an institution is found to breaking the law it can simply be shut down without the need to know who was attending it or control what they do once it is shut down.

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 aware what improvements have been made, as there is no easy way to find out what support is available to home educators. See: my answer to the section entitled "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".

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.’

The fair thing to do is ensure that home-educated children and their families are offered the same support as other families, or similar support in cases where doing the exact same thing doesn't make sense.

Now follow the longer-form answers.

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

First I will address the duty of assuring the quality of education. The problem here is that it is impossible for a local-authority to assess the quality of home education, because an assessment has to be done against a standard, and there is no one standard that describes quality education for all children. What is required for a quality education varies from child to child. If you hold all children to the same standard, you will actually cause a drop in the quality of their education, even though your assessment tells you that you are raising it.

I, personally, provide a good example of this. My parents educated me 'autonomously'. That means I had no structured learning. My parents facilitated me learning about any topic I chose and permitted me to choose no topic at all if I desired. This resulted in me mostly choosing to play with Lego, draw pictures and, as I got older, do some writing and music. To an outside observer it might have looked like I wasn't being educated at all, but this is obviously not the case as I have five A-levels at grade A or better and a first-class masters degree from The University of Oxford. I couldn't be more academically successful.

However, if a local authority had tried to 'assess' me they might well have decided the 'quality' of my education wasn't good enough because of how free-form it was. If they had had the power to influence my education, e.g. by forcing me into school, it only could have served to hinder my achievements.

The local authority, therefore, must not have any duty to assure quality of home education as they would simply be at risk of derailing the education of children when they do not understand it. It is the parents who know the child best, and they know better than any assessment what's best for the child.

Secondly, with regards to the duty of safeguarding. Under section 47 of the Children’s Act 1989, the local authority already has the duty to investigate if they are informed that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm (among other things). This legislation already covers home-educated children just as much as other children, and applies to them equally so it is fair. Thus the duty already exists, there is no need to consider it further.

To consider giving the local authority additional duties towards the safeguarding of home-educated children specifically would be discriminatory. Such a proposition has been made in the past with the more detailed idea of giving local authorities the duty and power monitor home-educating families in an attempt to detect safeguarding issues, e.g. by regular visits from some agent of the authority.

However, this would be unacceptable as it would be an incredible violation of the rights to privacy and the presumption of innocence that home-educating families are entitled to. I will discuss further below the rights of home educators not to be subject to inspection ‘just in case’ they might be doing something wrong. I am not accusing this consultation or its writers of actively proposing the monitoring of home-educated families for safeguarding purposes, but I do want to unequivocally state that it cannot be allowed. It would be Orwellian and tyrannical.

Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required

I am going to assume, for the purposes of this question, that the ‘register of home-educated children’ under consideration would be mandatory for families choosing to home-educate. I will talk briefly, first, about the idea of a non-mandatory register. A register that isn’t mandatory doesn’t necessarily have the issues I am about to discuss below, but it’s purpose is less clear. It’s reasonable that an institution providing an opt-in service for home educators might require registration from the home-educating families it serves, but such services are presently provided by the local authorities so I’m of the opinion that it should be up to each local authority if they have any reason to use a voluntary register.

Now: concerning a mandatory register. Home-education is usually both a philosophical position and a way of life. It has these things in common with religion, though there are obviously other differences. If the government proposed that it might want to maintain a mandatory register of all members of a certain religious group, people would outraged, and rightly so. The implication that a religious group ‘needs keeping track of’ for almost any reason would be offensive, not to mention paternalistic and Orwellian. It is similarly unacceptable to propose mandatory registration of home-educated children.

Arguments have been made that home-educated children are somehow more vulnerable or prone to abuse or some similar kind of problem. However, analogous arguments have been made that certain religious groups are overrepresented in certain types of crime, such as terrorist activity or child abuse. To suggest that all members of that religion should be put on a register due to the crimes of a small minority is still immoral and unacceptable. That’s not to mention the fact that there isn’t actually any (publicly available) evidence that home-educated children are particularly vulnerable to abuse or any similar kind of problem. Therefore, suggestions that home-educated children ought to be put on a mandatory register is doubly offensive on the basis that it’s prejudicial against a certain philosophy and lifestyle as well as being irrational and baseless.

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

I’m going to address this question mostly against under the assumption that the inspection proposed would be mandatory. I will talk briefly, first, about the idea of non-mandatory inspection. If families reach out to a local authority for help assessing whether or not they are fulfilling their duties to their child in terms of, for example, the quality of their education, it could make sense for a local authority to be willing to put that family in touch with an agent of some kind that can help them with this issue. I’m of the opinion that it should be up to each local authority if and to what extent they provide this service.

Now: concerning mandatory inspection. This notion is open to the same criticisms that the idea of a mandatory register is subject to: it’s Orwellian and paternalistic. It violates the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence applies in the case the inspections are done for safeguarding reasons, but also in a way it applies to inspections carried out for quality of education as well – it ought to be assumed that parents are doing right by their children in terms of the quality of their education unless some evidence to the contrary arises. Further to this, because school is the ‘default’ for most people, virtually every home-educating parent has already thought about how they will educate their child and is prepared to ask for help or re-register them with a school if home-education doesn’t work for them.

The analogy that it would be unacceptable to select a religious group and propose mandatory inspection of their home life is equally applicable here. See my answer to the section entitled “whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required”.

Non-home-educating families aren’t inspected for quality of education or safeguarding purposes, even though it’s possible for such a family to be failing on both fronts in such a way that it wouldn’t be detected by the school the child goes to – that child could be being abused in a way that doesn’t leave a mark visible to teachers and/or the parents could be failing to teach the child any of the various pieces of essential knowledge that schools don’t include in their curriculum. Obviously, the government wouldn’t have the resources to inspect every single household with children and, even if it could, there would be a huge outrage and resistance from parents everywhere. The home-educating community is an easier target for the government to violate its rights in this way because it’s a much smaller group, but that doesn’t make it an acceptable target. Quite the opposite – it would be all the more sinister for the government to target a group that isn’t large or organised enough to form a powerful voting bloc or any other kind of defence and consider taking away their rights.

On government consultations regarding home education

I'd like to point out that there has been a consultation related to home education, including considerations on registration and monitoring/assessment, in 2020, 2019 and 2018. In 2017 the HL Bill 11 was debated in the House of Lords, which also concerned this topic and garnered a significant response from the home-educating community. From discussions with many home-educators individually and in larger forums, it is clear to me that the response from the home-educating community is generally that we do not want and cannot accept many of the things being discussed or proposed in these consultations – particularly and kind of mandatory registration or monitoring. I expect the responses you have already received from home educators are in majority strong statements against these ideas. The government needs to accept that the community does not want or need these changes. It cannot simply consult on these matters every year. Home educators are essentially forced to respond to these consultations every year for fear that if they don't they will lose their rights. There will come a point that this constitutes a kind of mass harassment, and that is entirely unacceptable.

November 2020