Written evidence submitted by Mrs Julie Spriddle



Education Committee Call For Evidence - Home Education

Response from JS - Last update - 2020-11-04



About Me:

I am a home educator, I admin a local online support group and volunteer at a monthly home education advice drop-in session.


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


For our family, the primary benefits of home education have been flexibility, and freedom to shape our daughter's education around her specific needs.

        to tailor our education provision exactly to our child's needs according to her age and abilities;

        this has allowed growth and development at her own pace, with no fear or stigma due to perceived lack of ability or otherness.

        She has time to follow her own interests and the freedom to develop as a whole person.

        Her interests shape the education on offer, meaning she is enthusiastic to learn.

        Our daughter is able to choose her own friends from mixed age groups and a wider range of society than if she had been at the local primary school.

        We spend a lot of time together as a family; our daughter is secure in the knowledge that we are there to support her, regardless of the challenge.

        Our daughter enjoys time to play with her friends, to be a child, to run around, to be outside in nature, to watch birds, to grow vegetables and experience how the world works.

        She is part of the real world, she is not locked away in a school building but part of the society she is growing up in.

        Due to lack of school type socialisation, our daughter has a very low tolerance of inequalities, injustice and bullying.

        We collectively benefit from a slower pace of life; our time is not dictated by the school day - this is very freeing.

        We as our daughter's parents work less hours in paid employment, this has reduced the amount of stress in our lives, which makes us happier adults who are nicer to be around.

        Our family bond is stronger; we enjoy spending time with our daughter, making us all happy.

        Sometimes we need to learn a topic alongside our daughter - demonstrating learning is a lifelong skill to our daughter.


Disadvantages are mostly related to the negative attitude of other people to learning that we home educate.

        Our daughter has faced cruel comments from other children along the lines of 'you must be stupid if you don't go to school,' or 'your parents will go to prison because you don't go to school.'

Our assumption is that these are things parents have said to coerce their own children to attend school. It places us and our daughter in a difficult position because any response will undermine the authority of the other child's parents.

Our daughter has learned to be wary of revealing too much about herself to other children until she gets to know them.

        Negative reactions to home education from the general public as we and our daughter go about our daily business.

"No school today?" is an innocent enough question, but it happens often and is typically followed by interrogation to determine if our daughter is suitably educated. It is exhausting having to repeatedly justify our parenting decisions to complete strangers who have no understanding of what home education is and are deeply suspicious of our motivations for doing so.

        Suspicion from medical professionals.

We have all endured negative reactions from medical professionals when they realise that our daughter is home educated.

On one memorable occasion, my daughter accompanied me to a routine asthma check up. My daughter sat on the floor getting on with some work while happily chatting about looking forward to a friend's birthday party later that day. At the end of the appointment, the nurse asked my daughter why she wasn't in school. My daughter answered honestly and was subjected to a barrage of questions about what she had learned that day and did she have any friends, totally ignoring the fact that she'd talked about little else since entering the room.

Attitudes like this presumably come from safeguarding training and are completely unjustified as home education is NOT an indicator of a higher risk; why train doctors and nurses to be suspicious of home educators?



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;


Parents have built up local, regional and national support networks for this purpose. Home educators talk to each other, share resources, organise group discounts and advise on exam access. We also share experience of both good and bad practice from local authorities.


Parents routinely volunteer, helping one another and giving back to the community. For example, I run a local Facebook group for home educating parents and also help run a monthly advice drop-in for new home educators (previously face-to-face in the library but now online).


Coventry is lucky to have a private examination centre which home educators can access, however it is expensive with each examination costing hundreds of pounds, plus tuition fees. If home educating more than one child, examination costs need to be carefully budgeted for and is the main reason home educated children have fewer exam grades than their schooled peers. Home educators typically spread exams over a few years to manage costs, allowing better management of the workload for their children and to reduce exam stress.


On the subject of financial support -  I think the state should pay for the standard public examinations, regardless of where a child is educated. Beyond that, the freedom to educate according to a child's specific abilities and aptitudes is the whole point of electing to home educate.

My worry is that any financial support would bring with it a requirement to prove that public funds were well spent, and that the methods employed could prevent parents from being able to take a flexible approach to their child's education.



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


Looking at the recommendations from the 2012 report by this committee on support for elective home education, I'd say that things have got worse since that inquiry.


Anti-home education rhetoric from councils, the DfE and government appointed children's advocates such as the Children's Commissioner have ramped up, increasing suspicion of home educators and further inflating tensions.


In Coventry, Home educators work to maintain a good relationship with the local authority but are aware that a simple change in staff could destroy years of hard work.


Due to our support networks, we hear many cases of local authorities pursuing home educators for spurious reasons and continuing that pursuit long after it would have been sensible to stop. One such example is detailed here - https://www.lgo.org.uk/information-centre/news/2019/jul/be-clear-about-visits-to-home-schooled-children-says-ombudsman


Of the recommendations made by the committee in the 2012 report, the only one I believe has been acted on, was a review of the existing guidance. However, rather than ‘adding clarification’ or  'ironing out tensions', the revised guidance was re-written to take an adversarial approach, is designed as a toolkit to force compliance from home educators, incorrectly casts parents as incompetent, untrustworthy, and includes an admission that the guidance pushes the limits of the law, with the DfE welcoming a challenge in court to create new case law.


To fully understand why the replacement guidance is so poor, I suggest the committee read the 2007 and 2019 guidance side by side.


The previous EHEGLA was a single document, comprising 16 pages of plain, easy to understand language, which for the most part was fully accepted by home educators as being fit for purpose. As someone who supports new home educators, I could point parents at this document, they would read it, understand it and know what was expected of them.


It was replaced with two documents, both of which are longer than the guidance they supersede.


The 'Elective Home Education: Guidance For Parents' should not exist; parents and authorities should be working from the same set of guidance. Its primary function is to warn parents against home educating, rather than helping them to do so successfully. The advice given is poor, for example on page 13 it says "you are not obliged to inform the school that he or she is being withdrawn for home education... However, it is sensible to do so, in order to avoid subsequent misunderstandings..."  This is misleading, as failure to correctly deregister will leave the parents liable to prosecution for non-attendance. It would be more helpful if the guidance clearly instructed parents to write to the school, instructing that their child should be removed from the register.


I normally refer parents to the Elective Home Education: Guidance for Local Authorities as the more useful document, as it sets out what they expect of a home educator.


The problem with the guidance starts in the introduction where it incorrectly tells the local authority they share responsibility with parents for a child's education. Let me be clear here - this is not true. Regardless of what the DfE 'believes', the legal duty to ensure a child is in receipt of a suitable education lies with the parents.


* The entirety of section 2 is dedicated to the reasons why parents elect to home educate, and directs local authorities to dissuade parents from home educating, because if the home education never starts it can't fail.


* Section 4 instructs the local authority to ignore data protection law, using any means possible to hunt down home educated children - for example via data-sharing from GPs or hospitals. The guidance incorrectly states this is justified on the basis that there may be a concern about suitability of education which amounts to 'neglect causing significant harm.'


* Section 6.19 addresses the case of where a parent has been prosecuted by the local authority for non-compliance with an SAO but the parent subsequently proves suitable education in court, causing the case to be thrown out. Despite losing, the DfE instructs the local authority to take action to recover costs from the parents, adding insult to injury, wasting further court time and doing nothing to improve relationships between home educators and authorities.


* Section 7 is new to this version of the EHEGLA, seeking to justify why home education is a safeguarding concern, advising on the use of child protection measures against home educators who refuse to comply with local authority demands.



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.


In academic terms, my daughter has not been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, however life has been far from normal. Overnight, we lost access to all group and social activities, many of which have not been able to restart due to the requirement to do so in a COVID Secure fashion.


We have set up video calls so my daughter can maintain contact with her friends, but while better than nothing, she has found not being able to play freely very frustrating.


My daughter is old enough to understand social distancing and we set up small outdoors based playdates over the summer and it is very worrying that further restrictions due to COVID-19 will see these come to a stop.



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


I refer you to the committee’s own conclusions in the 2012 report on Support for Home Education, specifically point 10 on page 27.


"The role of the local authority is clear with regard to home education. 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."


The current guidance from the DfE may no longer agree with this view point, however while guidance for local authorities has changed the law has not, therefore the conclusion of the education committee back in 2012 still applies.


In law, local authorities do not have specific duties relating to the safeguarding of home educated children because home education is not a risk factor in abuse. The government acknowledges this, albeit grudgingly, but issues guidance that the potential impact of educational neglect is serious enough to invoke laws intended to protect children suffering in situations where they are in danger of serious harm. Personally, I disagree. Physical neglect or abuse has far more permanent consequences than a lack of education ever will. Education is not a time limitted thing, we do not reach the magic age of sixteen and stop learning, nor should we.


The DfE might want to look very carefully at its own schools and consider if rating educational neglect on the same level as physical abuse, will open itself to legal challenge from the many hundreds of thousands of adults who did not receive the education they deserved at its hands.


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


I've listened to the arguments for a register over the years and it seems to boil down to:


* we need to know where all the children are,

* we need a register for safeguarding reasons

* and we need it to make sure the children are getting an education


The problem is that there is currently no basis in law for these 'needs'.


* Local authorities have NO legal requirement to know the whereabouts of every child

* there are no specific safeguarding duties regarding home educated children;

* and such a register would discriminate against home educated children and their families as there is no evidence of increased risk due to a child being home educated.

* Finally, the addition of a child's name to a list would not in itself ensure a child was getting an education (or was 'safe') without additional measures.


A statutory register of home educated children would serve no purpose other than to further stigmatise a law abiding group, who quietly educate their children, are doing a good job and entirely at their own expense.


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’;


Any child attending an illegal school is by definition NOT home educated. Stop conflating the legal option of elective home education with those who run illegal schools. If there are illegal schools, shut them down and prosecute those who run them.


Off-rolling is a school problem, caused by schools behaving badly, not parents. The government needs to look at how to stop schools doing this, but not make it harder for parents to home educate and cause unnecessary suffering for children who are not coping in the school environment. Please remember, parents are not the problem here, schools are.


Children formally excluded from school are not electively home educated but fall under the remit of EOTAS (Educated Other Than At School) and the local authority's alternative education provision. It has no place in a consultation on elective home education as they are two different things.


Returning to the issue of home educated children…


The existing legal framework is sufficient to ensure the above if followed by local authorities. Problems occur when local authorities have difficulty in understanding education law and the limits of their powers. I am unwilling to hand authorities more powers until they learn to act within the law.


What might help would be a flowchart explaining local authority powers and clearly telling them to contact children's social services if they have a welfare concern about a specific child.


What does not help is telling the local authority that they have legal powers they do not possess or that they share responsibility with parents as per the introduction to current guidance.



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


Inspection, particularly of the family home, should NOT play any part in the future regulation of home education and would serve no useful purpose to parents or local authorities, but would further inflame tensions between the two.


Schools are inspected to ensure government funds are well spent and to assure parents that a suitable education is being provided. Home Educators do not have recourse to public funds and have no need to be told about what is happening in their own homes.


The only reason to enforce inspection of the family home is that you do not trust parents to carry out their s7 duty or that you suspect neglect or abuse.


Assessing whether the child is in receipt of an education should be possible with a written report describing the education. Little additional information is gleaned during a single hour long visit. If a parent is neglecting or abusing their child, you can be certain they will ensure there is no evidence of that on display during such a visit.


By mandating home inspection, you effectively rank a law abiding group of parents as having less rights to privacy and security of their own home than suspected criminals. The police must after all, have a reason to suspect a crime has taken place before being granted a warrant to enter a person's home to search for further evidence. 


November 2020