Written evidence submitted by May Ling & Steve Thomas


We are responding to the Committee’s call for evidence as home educating parents.


Support for Home Education was a supportive and balanced document, and we hope that the current committee will produce a similarly measured and supportive response to this call for evidence.


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

- 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 position remains the same as in 2012, when the 2010-15 Committee report stated: ‘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’.


Current legislation allows local authorities [LA] to carry out their duties without the need for new legislation. Where there are concerns about parents fulfilling their duties under S7 of the Education act, LAs are able to act. Where there are safeguarding concerns, LAs are able to act.


The 2019 Elective Home Education [EHE] Guidance for local authorities expressly states that “There is no proven correlation between home education and safeguarding risk.”  There is no evidence to suggest that home educated [HE] children are of greater safeguarding risk than other children in society, so no additional powers are required in regards to home education than those for other members of society.


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


There is no need to require the registration of EHE children.


A register would  in effect, ‘licence’ home educating parents to perform their legal duty as well as adding a layer of expensive bureaucracy to LAs who don’t have the financial resources.


Registration is not the solution to protecting children. It would be avoided by the tiny number of ‘problem parents’ who would work harder to keep their child out of sight, so the immediate effect of a register would be to put those children at most risk at higher risk. No parent determined to hide, abuse or radicalise their child would register. It simply won’t have the desired effect.


Mandatory registration will inevitably lead to calls for greater monitoring/ inspection because registration alone achieves nothing. The DfE knows this will be resisted by the vast majority of HE families, hence their decision not to ask questions about monitoring in the latest consultation (Children not in School).


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


There is no place for inspection in regulating home education. Nor, for that matter any requirement to ‘regulate’ HE!


The nature of home education is that it is tailored directly to the needs of the child. Home educating families each adopt a unique approach to providing a balanced and well-rounded education (or ‘full-time, efficient and suitable’) but those of us who don’t approach HE like ‘school-at-home’ operate on a different time frame, without the national curriculum, or arbitrary targets, in favour of something directly suited to the individual child. Monitoring/ inspection will shut down these alternative pathways (i.e. individually tailored education).  Most home education doesn’t look like ‘school-at-home’ and monitoring by officials who are often deeply rooted in the school system (former teachers with little understanding of widely differing approaches to education) will be problematic. Introducing school-like assessment undermines many of the education methods used by home educators, in particular where parents adopt an autonomous, child-led or ‘unschooling’ approach.

By definition, monitoring/inspection needs to measure to some given standard. What will the government use to determine the standards? If academies, free schools and independent schools can be trusted to know what’s best for the children in their care then parents - as the education provider - not an LA or government official - are best placed to determine what is suitable for their child. As Lord Bingham put it, “The party with the keenest personal interest in securing the best available education for a child ordinarily is, or ought to be, the parent of the child.” (Ali v Lord Grey School [2006] UKHL 14)


Mandatory inspection undermines the parent by implying that the LA has oversight (above the parent) over the education of the home educated child. This is contrary to the UNCRC article 5.


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


The home educated children we see display a wide range of interests, and are curious and interested in the world around them. We see that a high degree of freedom and autonomy produces children who are self-motivated and keen to learn, absorb information and make connections.


Not being in a stratified environment (arranged by age or academic ability) produces children who are mature at a young age, confident, sociable, and able to mix with people of all ages. It’s particularly notable that (in the large HE groups that we attend) there is an almost total absence of bullying and social coercion. Children work and play together with mutual regard - you often see older children helping out the youngsters, for example.


Home educated children tend to develop entrepreneurial and creative thinking and problem solving skills through daily life because they do not need to replicate results in order to pass tests. Self-reliance and the trust to develop their own discernment from a young age develops adults who are able to enter the workforce and use their own initiative from the start, a skill that university students are often criticised for not having. This orientation towards skills rather than knowledge is common amongst home educators, and aligns with the development of technology and the jobs of the future. Home educated children can benefit from an education that is more responsive to new research and developments.


As a parent it’s frequently a joy to be able to witness up-close the developments your children make and it leads to a closely connected and happy family life.


One disadvantage of home educating right now is that we are stigmatised as potential child abusers or terrorists by the government and media, especially the Children’s Commissioner. This means that anyone that chooses to home educate automatically has to defend their choice, and many parents find themselves having to advocate for home education in general. As most parents choose to home educate for the good of their children they don’t necessarily have the capacity or experience or desire to advocate on behalf of an incredibly diverse community, yet they have to. This creates unnecessary pressure and division between parents and communities in general. Because we are very present in our community adults and children are constantly asking our children to justify why they are home educated.


In the last five years HE families in England have been asked to respond to two DfE consultations, this call for evidence and make representations regarding a private bill to introduce registration. It would be lovely to have a break from having to constantly defend the rights of EHE families. We like to give thoughtful and researched responses but most home educating parents do not have the luxury of time to devote to their defence.


- the quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children


We support the previous Committee’s call for improved access to public examinations and for the cost of these to be met by the state. However, any increase of state support needs to be free from compulsion to accept any offered support, advice, registration of monitoring If it’s a choice between the status quo and registration/monitoring with money for exams, we would choose the status quo.


Currently, significant numbers of local authorities are struggling to fund services to vulnerable children, those with EHCPs and SEN. Beyond the cost of examinations any additional financial spending should be directed at supporting LAs in their current statutory duties, without adding the financial burden of registration and inspection.



- 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.’


There has been a lack of clarity in some of the COVID-19 guidelines issued and it would be great if the needs of HE children - in particular with regard to meeting in groups (inside or outside) were considered explicitly when guidance is issued.


The COVID-19 situation should not be used as ‘cover’ to make changes to the legislation or guidelines for elective home 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;


The situation has not changed much since 2012 and few of the recommendations made by the 2010-15 committee have been acted on, in particular the recommendations that Local authorities follow the law, and be seen to do so; that LA Home Ed teams are placed in ‘neutral’ locations; and that the Government place a duty on every local authority to ensure access to local centres for home-educated young people to sit accredited public examinations and have the costs met by the state.


The DfE’s revised guidance (April 2019), far from ‘ironing out any tensions’ instead bakes them in, encouraging LAs to further non-lawful behaviour. The previous guidance was a single 19-page document that closely followed the law. It has been replaced by separate guidance for parents (24 pages) and local authorities (45 pages).   It is recommended (by the guidance) that people read both documents to get the complete picture, which makes you wonder why there isn’t one, single, clear document!


The previous (2007/13) guidelines stated in section 1.3: 'The purpose of these guidelines is to support LAs in carrying out their statutory responsibilities and to encourage good practice...'. It’s an interesting illustration that there’s no equivalent line in the 2019 guidance, instead just a statement in the Summary that ‘[the guidance] has been produced to help local authorities understand their role’. The removal of ‘statutory’ supports the suspicion that the new guidance is designed to make the law less clear and encourage LA's to act beyond their legal powers.


We see frequent examples from the HE community of LAs continuing to act outside of the legal framework by requesting or insisting on home visits, regular monitoring, samples of work, etc.


The EHE Guidance for local authorities and parents is due for review in December 2020. Any changes to these documents should be emphasising the need for LAs to operate within the legislation, but a further review of documents only released in April 2019 would actually be too soon in our opinion.


The government’s response to the 2018 consultation on Elective Home Education gave little in the way of quantitative analysis, despite there being 2681 responses to the consultation from individuals, therefore giving little indication of the depth of feeling in the home education community opposing registration and monitoring and regarding the frequent ‘over-stepping’ of the law seen from LAs.


The subsequent consultation on Children not in School seemed to indicate the government’s intention to press ahead despite the opposition of the HE community. It is now 15 months since that consultation closed and there is no government response (though the guidelines state that a response should have been published within 12 weeks). There is a concerted campaign by a couple of prominent officials such as the Children’s Commissioner (who seems to be against home education on principle) who are pressing very hard for a mandatory register. The government should not be introducing any further changes to the legislation against the wishes of the home educating community.



We propose that the committee:


-  calls for any plans for registration or increased monitoring/ inspection of EHE families to be dropped;

- recommends placing a duty on LA’s to make their schools available as exam centres for HE children to access public examinations, as per the 2012 report;

-  recommends that any new guidelines encourage engagement between EHE families and LAs by encouraging LAs to invite and include HE children in, for example, local music service provision (already happens in some LAs, but this is the kind of thing that ought to be nationwide);

-  recommends the use of current legislation to close down illegal settings, and address safeguarding concerns for children, where they exist, without encouraging LAs to act beyond the law’;

- asks that LAs bring their HE policies into line with the legislation and operate accordingly;

- recognises that learning follows different paths and that, just as independent schools and

academies can and do forge their own path, so can home educating parents;

- recognises ‘Unschooling’ as a form of home educating;

- prioritises radical reform of the state education system to provide an environment where more children are happy, less-stressed and fewer children are removed to be home educated by concerned and loving parents, e.g. ending enforced academisation, tackling bullying, ending cuts to SEND provision, broadening the curriculum and reducing excessive testing, off-rolling, homework levels and early-years pressure;

- emphasises that parents are those responsible for their children’s upbringing and education and that they are the arbiters of the suitability of their children’s education, whether the parent opts in to state school provision or otherwise.


Undermining the rights of parents to home educate freely (as they see fit in the best interests of their children and in line with the current legislation) undermines the fundamental principle that parents are responsible for their children and their children’s education. We believe changes to the current framework would affect all families: as well as eroding rights to privacy and family life this will mean that the state becomes the ultimate authority.


The current legislation strikes the right balance, giving individual families the right to live and educate as they wish, whilst allowing the authorities to intervene when there are genuine concerns. Those calling for reform frequently ask us to think of the children and their rights. Home educating parents are doing precisely that.


November 2020