Written evidence submitted by Dr Francis Sansbury


To the  Education Committee


You recently published a call for evidence regarding home education.  I take it that this means elective home education.  You asked for evidence around a number of points.  Please find my response below.  I am submitting this as an interested private citizen.


May I note first that responsibility for a child’s education lies with the parents.  Section 7 of the Education Act 1996:

Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age.

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—

(a)to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b)to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.


Section 9 of the same Act:

Pupils to be educated in accordance with parents’ wishes.

In exercising or performing all their respective powers and duties under the Education Acts, the Secretary of State and local authorities shall have regard to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents, so far as that is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure.


It is clear that the responsibility is lies with the parent, and not with the government, local authority or other body.  Otherwise” in section 7 clearly includes elective home education.  Parents choose elective home education because they believe it is best for their children, in accordance with section 9.


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


Local authorities can intervene already if they have good reason to believe that a child is not receiving an adequate education, or that a child is at risk of abuse.  Their current powers give a good balance between privacy for the family and child protection.  They do not need further powers.  Wendy Charles-Warner’s 2015 research showed that electively home educated children received disproportionate scrutiny, with double the rate of referrals to Social Services compared with children attending school (~10 % versus ~5 %).  Despite that, Child Protection Plans were in place for ~0.2 % of electively home educated children compared with ~0.5 % of children attending school.  A referral to social services was “3.5 - 5 times less likely to lead to a Child Protection Plan with home educated children than with referrals of schooled children.”  Local authorities have sufficient powers already to fulfil their duties.


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


A mandatory register would give the state unnecessary, unwarranted and disproportionate power over parents.  The responsibility to educate lies with the parents.  It would be a first step towards even more intrusive regulation and monitoring.  It would suggest a lack of respect for article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  It is also worth noting that the parents where there is concern would be those least likely to register.


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


Elective home educators can focus topics on a child’s interests as a way to teach concepts, helping to keep them engaged and involved.  They can adjust the pace of learning as appropriate for the child.  It  is a safe place for those who have experienced bullying at school.  It is also a good way to encourage self-directed study.  That is a useful skill to learn for higher education.  There could be disadvantages if children did not meet other children.  However, the electively home educated children I know have opportunities to meet other children which their parents arrange, so this is not a problem..


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;


Those with special educational needs and disabilities should receive all the appropriate support, whether they are electively home educated or otherwise.  The level of personal attention that those electively home educated receive (often 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 care) is often much better for such people, particularly those denied an EHC (education & health care) plan because their needs do not fit the criteria.  Those I have observed transition from elective home education to further / higher education have done so without difficulties.  Local authorities could help though by ensuring that people can come into local authority facilities to sit GCSE and A level exams etc.


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.’


This question conflates separate issues.  Elective home education is a separate matter to school exclusion, schooling in unregistered schools or off-rolling.  Local authorities already have the powers they need to deal the other matters, and with safeguarding of the electively home educated.  As noted above, the electively home educated receive disproportionate scrutiny.  They receive double the rate of referrals to social services compared to school educated children, but these referrals 3.5 to 5 times less likely to result in a child protection plan.  The ~0.2 to ~0.5 % of teaching staff found guilty of abuse offences (Charles-Warner 2015), this would suggest that on average, a child is better safeguarded being electively home educated compared with one in a school.


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


Councils already have the powers they need to deal with inadequate home education, and there is no evidence that lack of inspection puts children at risk.  (See the comments in answer to 5. above.)  It is the parents, not the state, who have the responsibility for education.  Inspection would suggest otherwise, and would be a sign of state interference in family life beyond what is appropriate.  It would suggest a lack of respect for article 8 of the ECHR, as above.


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.


I am not sure that there have been improvements.  It would be good to see uniformity of approach across the country from local authorities, and in particular, clear support for exams.


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.’


My impression has been that electively home educated children have been able to carry on in better ways than school educated children have.  However, Covid has restricted their educational opportunities, in particular the failure to award exam grades to electively home educated candidates.  I note that in the Republic of Ireland, a judge ruled that this same failure was “was arbitrary unfair unreasonable and contrary to law.”  This needs a resolution across the UK as well.


November 2020