Written evidence submitted by Dr Joanna Sweetland

I am mother to three children now age 13, 10 and 10. My husband and I have been home educating since June 2017. We took our children out of school as we felt that the state education system was not enabling our children to thrive. We felt their creativity, curiosity and confidence was being hampered and the focus of the school was simply maths, literacy and spelling; the school was focused on doing well in Ofsted. I served at the school for three years as a governor, for half of this time I was chair of governor. It was a privilege to serve the school in this way and I was able to see how hard the teaching staff and support team worked. However, the insight this also gave me was that our school had to focus on the requirements of Ofsted. This was a huge pressure for the staff team, so much of the richness of the school week was slowly removed from the curriculum (outdoor play time shortened, spellings for reception kids, forest school stopped, art and music reduced to accommodate more maths to name a few examples). It reduced my children’s education to one which for them felt boring – school was ‘not to be questioned’ and learning was to be done at school. They were disengaged, task orientated, unable to occupy themselves and, if I am honest, bored.

Taking them out of school was not a decision my husband and I took lightly, we explored it for a year. We read a lot and listened to talks/podcasts.  We realised there were not alternative schools, at least not ones local to us, or ones that we could afford, so home ed was our only option.  We decided to give it a year and see how it worked for us as a family. I firmly believe that parents choose to home educate their kids at home because they believe it is best for them. We are responsible for our child’s education; whether this is through the choice of school we make or choice of alternative provision such as home education.

In our 41 months of home educating our kids I can honestly say we have watched them come alive. They are self motivated, excited about learning, curious, confident and creative people. We have connected in with local opportunities such a regular weekly home ed groups we do joint learning with, a local community garden where we grow vegetables or classes such as a drama class they attend, plus joining global learning opportunities (my son is part of Galileo an online learning school and we have also done a programme with the Quest for Space team in California). We mix with a range of different people during our weeks and my kids are as confident engaging with adults they meet as they are younger kids who they love to help with their learning as well. Our weekly rhythm is rich and diverse. We follow loosely some of the national curriculum guidance around Maths and English but a lot of our week evolves with projects we are interested in. We have an amazing Grandad who comes and inspires them in their understanding of history, we have access to amazing online learning opportunities such as codakid.com (learning coding) and Lyfta.com where they are learning they are part of a global community and exploring issues such as plastic pollution. When not in lockdown visits to places such as the zoo, theatre, science museum, art galleries and castles are part of our learning journey. ‘Learning’ doesn’t start and end as in a school day does but is integrated in to all we do. They are learning in life to: financial management, time management, understanding the world of work, black lives matter, the US elections all contribute to their development.

So now, I can say we love home educating. All three of my kids love being home educated. They are thriving and they are passionate learners engaged with the world around them.

In response to some of the specifics raised by this call for evidence I have picked out the following points:

My understanding is that local authorities already have the powers to intervene if there was concern about a child at risk. I believe there is at present an appropriate balance between family privacy and child protection.

I find this one difficult as I don’t see why parents should need to register to teach their own children – we do it from birth and I believe should have the right to continue if we feel this is best for our children.  There is no evidence that a mandatory register is necessary or would be effective. It would seem that this would be an unnecessary waste of local authorities already limited resources.

From our personal experience the benefits of home educating your child are huge. I can tailor their educational journey to meet their individual experience – connecting with their interests and passions enables their learning to be deep and rich. I can go at the pace that suits my children and they are all so very different. Our home is a safe learning environment, the groups and clubs we join are also safe and I know everyone involved. I was badly bullied in my own school experience and endured 5 years of torment from my bullies which my school did little to address. My experience is that home educated kids we meet have no need to bully; they are relaxed and confident in their own world and enjoy interacting with others. There is no competition between peers and no failure. When learning experiences go wrong we see them as opportunities to explore why and grow from the knowledge we learnt. This encourages innovation and out of the box thinking as we try new things and explore different ways of doing. We encourage self-directed learning in our home and within the groups we connect with in the week. Our kids are self-motivated which I believe will equip them well either for further education or in the work place. They can time manage and organize their day and the tasks they have to complete with very little help from me.

I believe any support should be entirely voluntary and available on request from parents. If not taken this should not lead to concern. I understand that in Canada home educators can access financial support as well as support from a learning educational guide. However, this is optional and only taken by some. The provision of financial assistance for exam fees or help with exam centres is something which home educators could be supported with.

I find this one frustrating as elective home education is often unhelpfully conflated with other issues eg. Unregistered schools, exclusion and off-rolling. These are separate issues and they need to be dealt with separately. I find it hard when home education gets wrongly associated with child abuse. This is a separate issue and local authorities have wide powers to deal with this already. I have friends who have chosen to home educate because of severe bullying of their child at school which has not been addressed and home ed has become the only viable option. There is no evidence of a problem within the current regulatory framework. Research in 2015 found home educated children in England were 2 to 3 times LESS likely to be subject to a Child Protection Plan than children in school.

There is no evidence that inspection is necessary and there is no mandate for it. There is no evidence that lack of inspection puts children at risk.  Councils already have sufficient powers to address inadequate home education. As home educators there is a diversity of approaches – this is a strength. However, it would make inspection impractical. Inspection would feel like an intrusion and would be unwelcomed by many home educators.


Thank you for taking the time to read through my submissions to the call for evidence.


November 2020