HED0649

Written evidence submitted by Mr Pete Le Bas

 

Education Select Committee - Call for Evidence – Elective Home Education

06/11/20

I am responding as an individual. My experience in this area was as line manager of the EHE Officer in a London LA from 2014 to August 2020 when I retired. At that time I was vice chair of the South East England LA EHE support network and, more importantly, was involved in EHE cases and made many visits to homes. Previously I was also a home tutor history to EHE students in another borough. The responses below follow on from those to the DfE in 2019 for EHE and Children Not in School.

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the following points:

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

The duties should be clear in two major areas: safeguarding and learning. In terms of safeguarding most families are willing to engage with EHE Officers but the problem comes with those who try to stay at arms length from the LA and with those who don’t register their child/ren with the LA at all. From the days of Khyra Ishaq to Dylan Seabridge parents’ rights have been put above those of children to devastating effect.

We received this from a local A&E last year via our MASH (multi agency safeguarding hub):

I have been contacted by MA, safeguarding lead from ** hospital regarding a family she has concerns over.

There is a XX **/**/** who is EHE and on our system but MA says there are two other children at the address that are not known and appear to be missing from education.

These are, XY and XZ

Are you aware of these children? Also do you have any contact number?

MA would be grateful if you could update her.

In all of this case and others the voluntary nature of engaging with LAs around EHE puts these children more at risk.

 

A joined up approach, supported by statutory guidance and legislation providing all LAs the right to visit and make an assessment within government guideline would be welcome. It has no legal grounding in its current form, leaving LA’s open to legal challenge.  

 

It should be noted that the LA is rarely challenged by those who home educate well, it is usually those who are not providing an education or who wish for them and their children to remain ‘under the radar’.  These are often supported by professional well -meaning individuals who are supportive of their human rights but are not aware of the situation of the individual family and/or chose to defend the rights of the parents as a matter of principle, even where this compromises the rights of the child.  It is hard to conceive that they might fully recognise the consequences of their well-meaning actions.

 

To have a clear definition of a “suitable” education would be a good step; the guidance in 2019 goes some way to defining what should be provided and I hoped that Lord Soley’s Parliamentary Bill would in time be recognised as good practice, offering a welcome common sense approach to the issues.

 

The following text is a helpful start:

 

the expectation that elective home education must include provision of supervised instruction in reading, writing and numeracy, which takes into account the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs and disabilities’.

 

It would be useful for Ofsted and the DFE to set out a best practice guide, defining how suitable Education should be measured by LAs.  It is recognised that many home educators may introduce unconventional ways for their children to learn naturally, this is understood and may be completely appropriate, but there must be evidence made available of learning or it is impossible to distinguish this with families in chaotic situations who are unable to provide a suitable structure of learning.

 

It would be helpful for clear guidance to be provided to all local authorities to set out minimum expectations of what the DfE consider that LA support should consist of. 

As a minimum, LAs should be able to:

Academies and schools should better support the process where a family chooses to home educate in that they should work closely with the LA and have access to a named LA officer – in our case currently an EWO -  to be consulted with when schools are first approached by parents seeking to home educate. 

There should be a duty on schools to invite LA representatives to any meetings held with parents who are seeking to remove their children from a school roll to home educate; this should be mandatory, where it is known that the child is supported by specialist children’s services.   Schools should be prevented from removing a child from a school roll until such time that they can provide evidence that such a meeting has taken place, preventing EHE to be recorded as the default onward destination for children.

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

The LA had 263 (June ‘20) children registered as Elective Home Education.  I suggest that current voluntary registration schemes are not effective, in that there will be in every authority an unknown number of children who are home educated and remain hidden from services. 

 

Registration would identify families who previously remained ‘under the radar’ and who have made a conscious decision to avoid engagement with the authorities. Registration would provide an opportunity for the LA to engage with families to ensure such children and young people are in receipt of the education to which they have a legal entitlement.   It cannot be assumed that any neglect to a child’s education or wellbeing will be identified through other professionals, when their existence may not be known.

 

We submitted this to the DfE CME consultation in March 2016:

 

Child A was a pupil at an independent school outside of The LA in another Local Authority X.

The independent school had no concerns about A’s welfare whilst he was with them and his mother engaged well with them. They did not meet the father and thought he was abroad. Child A was withdrawn from the school when the mother said she was going to home educate him and they might be moving abroad to join her partner. Mother did not inform the Local Authority X of her intention to home educate the child. The school did not inform Local Authority X.

Mother was registered by Council Tax dept. as having moved to The LA. The child was not presented for admission to a local school or setting, therefore no one in The LA education of social care depts. knew they were in the borough. There is no requirement for a parent to inform the local authority that they are home educating their children.

Subsequently the family came to The LA’s attention when the mother and children were found dead by police after being reported missing by the mother’s family. They had been murdered by the father of the children. This tragedy might not have been preventable but it raises the issue of ‘hidden’ children.

This case sums up the need for parents to register their children as home educated in the LA in which they reside. The DfE has previously tightened up the Children Missing Education/Pupils Missing out on Education guidance. This now needs to be done with EHE.

With a registration scheme, the LA will have a clearer understanding of the numbers and resource commitment required by the LA to support families who EHE.

Mandatory registration ensures 'all' children's education status is known and will for the first time, enable LA’s to more effectively meet 437(1) Education Act 1996 to intervene and 436A to enable LA’s to identify children not registered at school or receiving suitableeducation.  The proposed changes would also help LA’s in capturing appropriate evidence when the DFE provides clarity as to what 'suitable' education is assessed/agreed to be.

 

Mandatory registration will better enable LA’s to identify children and young people who are not in receipt of any education, who are vulnerable and therefore may require additional support from other professionals.  Compulsory registration would mean parents and families are more likely to engage positively with the LA, which inturn will help dismiss the misinformation produced by some home education groups to discredit LA’s and the positive work they seek to do to support home educators.  There is a whole unregulated  tuition industry, that has built up around the home education community, this group of unregistered education providers understandably have a vested interest in avoiding any external scrutiny of their work with children. In addition the significant growth in home education fuels the growth in unregistered schools several of which have been identified in The LA and referred to Ofsted as required.

 

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

Different countries have divergent views on this. Germany has no official home education, the USA has a very large number and France is seeking to cut it down. Some children benefit from being home educated for certain amounts of time following a poor experience in one school or a family crisis but the fact that they do not receive an equivalent to the AWPU funding that schools get makes it very difficult for families without time and money resources. Disadvantages are mainly the lack of qualifications and withdraw from social interaction. I have seen more parents recently ‘mollycoddle’ their children by declaring EHE and not help them to build resilience.

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;

More of our SEN children with EHCPs were recently able to access a personal budget to help them with their education but support for children with less or previously undiagnosed need is very limited. This includes those with behavioural needs who may have been withdrawn from school to avoid exclusion.

Some schools or academies have a system in place that parents can 'buy' an examination seat. Where a young person is removed from a school roll in year 10 and 11 to be EHE the school should be required to cover the cost of exams, unless that funding has been returned and forwarded on to the LA, in which case the LA would fund these exams.The school should however be required to provide the environment in which the exams can be sat.

 

Where a young person has not historically been on roll of a school, a list of examination centres should be published by the LA, this could be expanded if all future funding agreements for schools required them to host external EHE candidates. If LAs were given the funding that schools would receive (AWPU) they could organise this much better.

 

Transition beyond 16 improved during lockdown as we were able to free some human resource used in schools to support parents and young people with moves to college. It would be good if this could continue in 2021.

 

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’;

As stated above the framework needs tightening up.

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

when our Childrens’ Services were inspected by Ofsted in the LA in July 2018 around support for vulnerable young people the inspector who met with us on the topic of EHE had a clear understanding of the issues and engaged with us constructively. However, the resulting report did not mention the area of EHE. It was almost as if because we knew what we were talking about, there was no need for comment.

All inspections involving young people should have a dedicated section relating to Electively Home Educated children.

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; and

Support for home educators has been limited at a time when the numbers have been growing. We had about 100 EHE children in 2012 and 263 in 2020, in both cases with one EHE officer working a 4 day week. Cuts in resources to LAs have seen this area not receive the support it should have.

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.’

As mentioned above, our resource for Y11s improved in the summer of 2020 with greater connection to the education to employment service in the LA and effective online support from the FE/HE colleges. We were able to link young people to the Oak National Academy, Khan Academy, BBC resources as well as Joe Wicks and other free offers. But as with school students the quality of the IT at home is key.

Some EHE children have continued to thrive except that they haven’t been able to do the visits that they were used to.

More parents have continued to declare EHE for their children in this academic year: 74 in September and October in the LA where I was working but 23 children have gone back into school.

As always, the picture is very fluid.

 

Pete Le Bas

06/11/20.

 

January 2021