Written evidence submitted by Fiona Nicholson



  1. I am an independent home education consultant. I maintain several websites related to elective home education and special educational needs including http://edyourself.org/ and http://ehe-sen.org.uk/ 


  1. I home educated my now grown up son all the way through the years of compulsory school age and beyond ie he has never attended school.


  1. I regularly collaborate on joint projects with the Home Education Advisory Service https://www.heas.org.uk/ which acted in the recent past as secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education.


  1. I gave oral evidence to a Public Bill Committee in 2010 and to the Education Committee in 2009 and 2012.


  1. Since 2007 I have submitted exhaustive responses to all calls for evidence, public consultations and reviews in England and Wales on matters related directly or tangentially to elective home education.


  1. My first consultation response was in relation to ContactPoint at the end of 2006 while the most recent consultation responses in the past couple of months have included changes to the school admissions system with the aim of better protecting the rights of vulnerable children, and overhauling the definition of what constitutes an independent school for the purpose of being able to register and inspect institutions offering a very restrictive religious curriculum which at present fall outside the regulatory regime.


  1. Other areas under review over the years have included purported improvements to support and access to public examinations; “registering” children on local or national databases; data protection; 14-16 college direct admission; children out of school; out of school settings; regulation of alternative provision; school exclusions; children missing education; pupil registration regulations; high needs block funding reform; informal exclusion/offrolling; in year school admissions and fair access protocols; independent schools' definition and regulation; and last but by no means least special educational needs.


  1. I responded recently to Ofqual's consultation in respect of private candidates' access to exams during covid 19.


  1. I pay close attention to how Ofsted deals with elective home education in its inspection of local authority children's services and its joint visits with CQC to look at local area special educational needs provision. 


  1. I keep an eye on the annual reports from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator which now collects numbers on home education and schools with high numbers of children leaving school rolls. This ties home education into offrolling which I also address briefly at the end of this submission.


  1. I also check national and local level statistics published by the Department for Education on children with Education Health and Care Plans who are educated otherwise than at school.




  1. I monitor all parliamentary questions – oral and written – which could have any conceivable bearing on elective home education or children educated otherwise than at school. 


  1. I maintain a detailed file covering all Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman decisions in respect of complaints about local authority action and inaction in the area of statutory duties related to provision for SEN and duties owed to children unable to attend school under section 19 of the Education Act 1996.


  1. Over the years I have seen a great number of initiatives being proposed which I am compelled to take with the utmost seriousness at the time yet very little ever seems to change in practice.


  1. Alternatively, there may be a substantial change where the impact is meant to be reviewed after a period of time, and yet it seems never to be acknowledged and I still see calls for change in relation to something which has already happened.


  1. An example of this would be the significant revisions made to the Pupil Registration Regulations https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2016/792/contents/made and to statutory guidance on Children Missing Education introduced in September 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/children-missing-education As far as I am aware the government has not formally assessed the impact of the new measures expressly designed to enable more robust tracking of children not in school.


  1. I thought long and hard about whether to submit evidence to this enquiry, since we have been here so many times before, and am now submitting this cursory document on the final day, which can be taken as an indicator of my level of enthusiasm for the undertaking.


  1. On April 2nd 2019 the Department for Education published new non-statutory guidance for local authorities. The guidance suggested it would be good practice for local authorities to review their published policies in conjunction with local home educating families to ensure that procedures and protocols aligned with the new guidance. To no-one's surprise this has largely not been started or has not been completed.


  1. It is highly significant that the new home education guidance was published at the same time as a suite of new documents related to a. registration; b. monitoring; and c. support, as well as a new consultation entitled “children not in school”.


  1. The “children not in school” consultation launched in April last year covered the following 4 areas:  1/ the introduction of a duty on local authorities to maintain a register of children of compulsory school age who do not attend schools of a specified type; 2/ the introduction of a duty on parents to inform their local authority when their child is not attending a mainstream school; 3/ the introduction of a duty on settings attended by the children on the register to respond to enquiries from local authorities as to whether a specific child attends that setting and; 4/ the introduction of a duty on local authorities to provide support to home educating families.


  1. In a manner which distresses but does not surprise, this suite of proposals is often misleadingly referred to as “the home education register” and  any reference to support is usually omitted.


  1. The consultation closed in June 2019 and at the time of writing in November 2020 we await any indication of next steps, bearing in mind that such proposals would require a change to the law.


  1. The present enquiry undertaken by the Education Committee into elective home education asks what progress has been made since the previous enquiry in 2012.


  1. In 2012 the committee urged local authorities to review their material, and to ensure that their policies reflect the guidance available. The government concurred and said local authorities should ensure that their websites do not contain misleading statements about their powers. This is still an outstanding issue.


  1. For other recommendations related to support and somewhere to sit public examinations, the government response was that local authorities should decide their own priorities, and decide for themselves the services or advice they might or might not offer to home educators.


  1. I would still expect this to be the case when and if the government ever responds to the support elements of last year's consultation.


  1. The only thing of note that did change after the 2012 enquiry, albeit because of what was happening elsewhere regarding colleges being able to recruit 14-16s directly for full time provision rather than because of the enquiry per se, was that local authorities ceased to be gatekeepers for funding to pay college places for 14-16s.


  1. This move away from using alternative provision funding over to direct national funding for colleges combined with High Needs Block funding for non-school provision was a double-edged sword  insofar as it levelled the playing field for access to college because it no longer depended on a postcode lottery, but at the same time it removed a source of “new money” for local authorities who used to be able to pay for home education support and then claim it back.


  1. The High Needs Block system in place since 2013 means that the pot is already empty and probably operating in deficit which means it is inconceivable that anything will be left for non-statutory services such as “home education support.”


  1. Local authorities have repeatedly made it clear that they would only be able to offer support if it were funded as “New Burdens.”


  1. Finally, I would like to make a couple of points about “offrolling” because there seems to be no agreed definition of this term and people often seem to be talking at cross purposes.


  1. The term “offrolling” may be used when a pupil is removed from roll without following the process of an official exclusion, or when parents are encouraged to withdraw their child for home education eg to avoid exclusion or because of unmet SEN, despite the fact that the child will no longer be able to access public examinations.


  1. However, sometimes offrolling is used to mean where a pupil is taken off roll towards the end of secondary education before exam results will be counted in league tables, irrespective of the destination or whether the destination is even known.


  1. At other times Ofsted for example will narrow the definition of offrolling to a subset of situations where the removal is judged to be primarily in the best interest of the school rather than the pupil. The school might then be able to get off the hook with Ofsted by saying that a managed move to other provision out of the ambit of the school league table IS in fact in the pupil's interest, even though it also happens to benefit the school.  In other words a so-called “managed move” might or might not count as offrolling, and a school which in some people's eyes is an offrolling school (because of high numbers departing in Y10 and Y11) can still get a good grade from Ofsted.



January 2021