Written evidence submitted by Mrs Ratcliffe

I answer this call for evidence as an established home educator and an ex primary school teacher. I have found the school education system to be very poorly funded with policies and initiatives not based on best practice for children’s developmental and educational needs. All too often there is a confusing lack of distinction between the education and child care functions of the system. The school system is a victim of politicization, in a constant state of flux reeling from the latest government initiatives, often instigated by those who have limited classroom experience or expertise. My experiences working within the sector have in part, informed my choice to home educate. I am confident that the freedom from tests, timetables and government initiatives mean I can deliver a better education than that offered by the school system. However, I fear that the government’s current interest in home education, will also lead to it being used as a political football, and or policies being born from ignorance and fear.

It is the experience of home educators at both national and local levels, that home education is often seen as a problem to be solved. It is this prevailing attitude that sets the tone for the relationship between local authorities and families. Recently a local authority even advertised a job vacancy for an Elective Home Education Officer where the job description included ‘The strategic aims are to reduce the overall number of EHE cases in the area…’ [i] It is not within their remit to dissuade parents from making the decision to electively home educate their children. Given that many home educators routinely experience local authority officers overstepping their legal remit and asking for what they are not entitled to, to satisfy their personal feelings is very concerning and makes home educators feel very vulnerable.

I shall now take the specific areas in which you call for evidence in turn.

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

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the legality and validity of home education. It is very disheartening to engage with professionals that do not understand that it is actually the default legal position and in fact parents have to opt into a system to have schools educate their children. It is a parental right to choose how best to educate one’s child. I would stress that it is imperative that all local authority officers have a duty to understand the law and the reaches and limits of their powers.

The local authority already have sufficient powers to determine if a suitable education is being provided. There needs to be protections in place for home educators to exercise their parental rights to make decisions for their children, free from the personal prejudices of officers. Local authorities are notoriously difficult to work with. Home educators are often sent generic letters, often inappropriate to their circumstances or factually incorrect. It is common to suffer long waits for replies or even for correspondence not to be acknowledged. It is common for legal action to be threatened, if their (illegal) demands are not met. My personal experience of communicating with my local authority has been particularly disappointing.

Safeguarding is a reactive role and not an investigative role for the local authorities. While it is absolutely a LA officer’s duty to escalate concerns that arise, it is not within their remit to visit homes and look for concerns. For example, flagging concerns that upon meeting a family where a child appears malnourished requires a reaction. It does not stand however, that all children then need to be seen by the local authority to check them for signs of malnutrition. It is common for home educators to be required to do something in the name of ‘safeguarding’, often with the threat of legal action if they refuse. For example, home educators have been asked to present their children to strangers on their doorsteps during unarranged, surprise visits from local authority representatives because their children ‘have not been seen by professionals.’ This door stepping practice is both rude and farcical. Firstly, there is no legal precedent for children to be presented to professionals on any regular basis. Secondly, it would be very difficult to not meet with ‘professionals’ in the course of daily life. However, I would not expect my doctor or dentist to then inform the local authority that they had seen my child. It is also questionable how ‘professional’ the doorstep callers are. Their credentials are unknown to parents. To those trained in safeguarding, merely seeing a child on a doorstep and ticking a box to say they have ‘been seen’, is questionable safeguarding. Then there is the safeguarding risk of unannounced doorstep callers. Parents have been accused of ‘not engaging’ for refusing to give information or access to their children to unannounced strangers.

‘Assuring the quality of home education’ is being taken on by local authorities as a disproportionate burden. It is not their responsibility to scrutinize and monitor education and collect extensive evidence. If they feel that a provision is not suitable by making the inquiries they currently have the power to make, then they can set in motion legal proceedings. It is not unheard of for parents to be asked to provide information OFSTED would ask for in school inspections. The whole point of OFSTED is to hold schools to account for taxpayers money and their duty by proxy to educate the children in their care. Home educating parents do not need to be held to account in the same way as they have a different job and are not spending taxpayers money.

In a recent meeting of Durham County Council[ii], it was expressed with surprise that home educated children are not compelled to follow the national curriculum or indeed any curriculum. This was met with discernible consternation by those in attendance. Let us focus on the purpose of a curriculum. In a school it serves to organise learning as this is provided within a large organisation with multiple teachers and students. A home educating parent does not need to follow a set curriculum to ensure that World War II is not studied in three consecutive years. It is concerning to home educators when people in power seem so uneducated and ill-informed upon the areas in which they are making life changing decisions. It is because of these narrow definitions and the prevalent idea that home educators should be recreating school at home, that makes home educators reluctant to hand over any more power. Many home educators choose to do so because they want to offer something different to what is provided by schools.

2)      whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required;

No, a statutory register is not required. The money would be better spent providing adequate provision for those whom the education system has failed. There is also the concern among home educators regarding the purpose of the register and how it would be used by people and organisations that already overstep their legal remit and often make decisions based on their personal ideologies. Given that there is no robust method for redress of grievances except via court which is costly and time consuming, additional interactions with local authorities are not welcomed by most home educators.

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

Parents are best placed to know their children and make decisions based on what is best for them. Learning can be truly personalised much more easily than in a school, where this is often a goal worked towards. The benefits of having flexible learning that meets the child rather than almost touches 30 children are undeniable. My child benefits from a much wider and rigorous education than would be provided for in school. In schools, able children are often underprovided for. There is also much time ‘wasted’ on classroom management and waiting for limited resources.

There are very few disadvantages of home educating and none that I can think of that cannot be overcome by creative thinking. There is a widespread misconception that home educated children lack opportunities for ‘socialization.’ This, even in an age of covid-19 restrictions, is untrue. Teachers spend many hours trying to recreate real life situations to use and apply skills. Home education naturally provides opportunities for learning how to be part of society and a community. We must remember that forced association with a large group of similarly aged children, is in terms of human history, a relatively new concept and arguably an unnatural association. In fact many employers lament on the lack of real life experience young employees have on leaving school. I would say that mixed age learning within the community is one of home education’s strengths.  

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 aware of any home educators who feel they have the support of their local authority. I do know of someone who recently contacted their local authority for the purpose of clarifying the rules for educational visits for home educated children during covid-19 restrictions. The local authority said they could not provide any help as they had chosen to home educate and so they were responsible for everything. An educational allowance would always be nice, however I suspect that most home educating families would not be willing to surrender their educational freedom. Personally, I think the money should be spent on improving services so schools are inclusive for everyone who needs them. I know of many home educating families who have been effectively forced to home educate as school provision was unsatisfactory.

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’

It would be beneficial to the academic achievement of home educating students, if registering as an external candidate for exams was easier. Attending an ‘unregistered school’ is not elective home education and so should be dealt with separately. ‘Off-rolling’ and being formally excluded, are also not elective home education and should also be dealt with separately. Greater education among local authority and school staff about the legality of parental choice and the benefits of home education would improve relationships and the wellbeing of home educated children. It can be extremely stressful for families and take a disproportionate effort to deal with local authority communications and prejudice. This is particularly detrimental to those home educated children who are old enough to understand the battles their parents face.

6)      the role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education;

There should be no role of inspection in home education. Legal responsibility remains with the parents to provide an education. It is not the way the legal system works - the onus is not on citizens to prove they are law abiding. There is no common framework that would be appropriate to inspect home educators against. This would be an expensive and unnecessary use of public money.


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

It appears to most home educators that no improvements have been made to support us. The April 2019 revised guidance seems to have caused a fresh wave of local authorities overstepping their remit. The fact councils are advertising for EHE Officers to reduce the numbers of home educated children shows that it is not their agenda to support us.

There needs to be an independent complaints process and a body to hold local authority officers to account for their actions and to ensure that they do not overstep their remit. They need to be compelled to act openly and professionally, as efficient public servants. The focus needs to shift from the agenda being ‘getting children in school’ to actually supporting or at least not hindering law abiding parents from fulfilling their responsibilities.

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.’

Covid-19 and the restrictions have affected everyone on some level. There needs to be understanding from local authorities that mental and physical health are precursors to a good education and the value of investing in these areas at such a time. There should be an acknowledgement that even though childhood development is rarely linear in settled times, huge disruptions to family life such as those experienced during the covid-19 pandemic, will temporarily affect many children’s academic progress.

The most immediate support that could be offered to home educating families during the pandemic, is by providing clear rules for restrictions and specifically what these mean for home educating families. Social opportunities are part of the education provision for our children, so we need a clear understanding of what is allowed. Many hours have been spent trawling small prints and pondering ambiguous rules. It is a shame local authorities have not taken this opportunity to seek and share clarification with families. Local home educating families were also unable to get a clear answer from the Department for Education about what was allowed for educational purposes for their children. It is to the DfE’s shame that a significant group of children have not figured in their communications during the global crisis. This is particularly poignant as local authorities often cite misplaced concerns about the socialization of home educated children as a reason to have them in school.

It is also worth noting that during the school closures of the March 2020 Covid-19 Lockdown, most families were not electively home educating. They were emergency distance schooling with very little warning or preparation time and no choice. The experiences and problems facing these families were very real, but not elective home education concerns.

It is worth noting that school deregistration numbers increased in September 2020. While some families may feel forced to deregister to avoid fines while shielding vulnerable family members, many families reported having enjoyed spending time with their children and being actively involved in their education. Many saw their children become less anxious and blossom in the absence of school pressures. Other families were horrified by the realisation of how little their children had been learning in school. It is worth considering these new higher Elective Home Education rates, not just from the covid-19 fear perspective. 


[i] Job Outline for post 9666, Blackpool Council. https://www.blackpooljobs.org.uk/Documents/3587146.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1A2rKKrdy48dIBEXIXPV0NNaote2rcVsoZXxD4lNDK4oQlVJIz4MNpY_E

[ii]Meeting of Cabinet, Wednesday 8 July 2020 9.30 am (Item 6.)




November 2021