Written evidence submitted by Telford and Wrekin Council


Date: 06/11/2020             


As a local authority it is one of our key priorities that every child, young person and adult lives well within their community.   Living well within their community includes achieving well with their education and being safe.


For the majority this will mean accessing a school place.  We respect the rights of parents to educate their child at home and that there are many different approaches to education. We also strongly want to promote positive relationships with parents for the educational benefit and well-being of children.  Equally as a local authority we also hold a responsibility for the safeguarding and welfare of all the children and young people within the borough and as such need to know who those children and young people are that are being electively home educated.


We support the view that local authorities should maintain a register of children who are not registered at specified schools.   Without this the local authority does not have knowledge of the children who have not entered school or those who have moved from one local authority to another.  The crucial premise for a register is to ensure that children are not lost sight of.  It should be of national concern that we do not know how many children and young people are electively home educated, and more importantly who they are. Data from creditable surveys such as the Annual School Adjudicator report and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services survey shows a difference in approximated numbers from 40,000 to 52,000, and that the ACDS survey also suggests that as many as 80,000 children dip in and out of being electively home educated at some point in the school year. That is a significant number of children who are not known about.


In considering the issue of national registration, consideration should also be given to the reasons for opting to electively home educate a child, as well as noting that the key word is ‘elective’ home education. There has been a lot of discussion and usage of the language of ‘home education’ during the national lock downs. This for example is not ‘elective’ home education. Nor is it elective home education when a family are not able to gain a place at a school within a reasonable distance or the school they have been allocated does not feel warm and welcoming to them and as a result they feel they have little other option. 


Many parents feel that they have no other option and elective home education as an option is very easy to take without proper consideration of the responsibilities that the decision brings.   It would be wrong to suggest that schools are as a group deliberately persuading parents to opt for this route but it is clear that for some, both parents and schools, there can be a lack of understanding about the implications, particularly as a child moves towards the point of their education when they would be taking GCSE’s if they were in school.


It is very easy currently for pupils to become home educated without adequate consideration by many parents of how this will be done.  We would like the legislation to include a strong view that before deregistering from a school the Local Authority has an opportunity to meet with the parent and ensure that they understand what they are taking on. Once a child comes off a school roll it is much more difficult to return a child to a school place.  Of equal concern are cases where a child who has been not been receiving a suitable education returns to a school place through whatever route or support from the local authority, only to then deregister again in a matter of a few weeks or months. In such cases the cycle of requesting evidence, and the process of returning back to school has to begin again.


We are also very aware that a significant number of pupils who become home educated do so because the parent perceives that the school cannot meet the child’s needs, including both academic, behavioral and mental health related. Once a child is not in a school place, more specialist assessments, such as through CHAMS become much more difficult as there is not alternative setting such as the school to observe the child in.


In terms of tracing and tracking children that are potentially missing we believe that all local authority registers should hold the same core information and that it is a statutory requirement to do so.   There needs to be clear agreement regarding the sharing of information to support tracking of missing children and children who may be missing from other statutory agencies such as health.  In establishing a register regard needs to be given to the costs of doing this and maintaining this.


If there is a statutory requirement for children and young people to be registered as electively Home educated the legislation will additionally need to consider the responsibilities of parents and the enforcement of those responsibilities.   This would have to start with the expectation that parents must notify the local authority if they leave the area or move address and consideration of how to enforce this.

Where education is not suitable the current legislation provides that an option to local authorities is to begin the school attendance order process.  Whilst we do not wish to criminalise parents it is important that there is a legal route to ensure school attendance underpinning the process.  We have always taken a stance of working with the parent to support them to get the education to be suitable where it is possible to do so. Very often the parent will identify for themselves that the education is not suitable making the return to a school place an easier path. 


The School Attendance Order process is a route that we do pursue but in our experience it can be a very lengthy one in terms of time to return a child into school place. This is particularly so when we will have already worked hard to try to engage the parent before the SAO process begins with opportunities to either provide suitable evidence that the child is in receipt of a suitable education or that the parent is actively seeking a school place. 


Additionally the SAO process was developed as legislation at a point when schools were the responsibility of the local authority, it does not currently take account of the rise of academies. Whilst we have not yet experienced it from our academies locally, we are very mindful that we have less ability to enforce the admission of a child and potentially seeking a direction from the ESFA  adds further to the time a child is not in school. What is important is that we do not lose sight that it is not the criminalising of parents that should be our main focus but ensuring that the child/ren are in receipt of a suitable education and are being educated safely.


For some children receiving education at home has advantages. Some children flourish in smaller groups, and in situations with fewer rules to adhere to.  Some are able to eliminate aspects of the curriculum taught in schools and are as a result more able to focus on specific interest and talents.  Some find a more vocational option when they are aged 14 – 16 is more appropriate to their needs and places them in a better position for future work and career paths.    Conversely we have reports from head teachers that some electively home educated children re-enter school considerable adrift from their peers both academically and socially. We would acknowledge that this is not all, but it is usually the case where the child has not been receiving education whilst not in school or has not received the breadth of curriculum their peers have accessed whist in school. 


Currently when a child reaches the age when GSCE’s would be taken, if they are electively home educated the parents have to provide the funding to enter exams as a private candidate and also ensure that they have an exam centre the child can take the exams in.   Locally we have been well supported by an exam centre at an independent school however there are limitations on the exam centre in terms of what exams a child can be entered for. For example, it has to be a course and board that the exam centre is able to offer. Additionally any course that requires controlled assessments or course work are not accessible due to the exam centre not being able to verify that the work is completed independently.  Our local exam centre reports that those taking oral exams usually find doing so with a stranger more difficult that their own students who have a familiarity with the staff member.   The other group of elective home educated students that can become disenfranchised are those with SEND who would have received for example additional time or need to be able to take the exam away from their peers due to their additional needs. This is because the assessments to enable this are done by school SENDCo’s, and the SENDCo from the school where the exam centre is based is not able to complete those assessments because they have not been working with the child.


This summer, and now this autumn, those elective home educated pupils who wanted to sit GCSEs were unable to do so because there was no course work that the exam centre was able to assess. We know that in 2021 the exam centre will not be able to accept external candidates for the reasons already outlined.   These pupils are disadvantaged in their move onto higher education and employment as they will not have any grades to share to evidence their educational attainment.


Some schools will offer that a Y11 pupil who becomes electively home educated can still be entered for their GCSE’s via the school but this can be a precarious option which the school could renege on.  Nationally and locally the highest cohorts of elective home educated children are those in Y10 and Y11. This is for a variety of reasons.  Something that should be considered is whether schools should be required to include these pupils in their statistics and whether there should be a compulsory requirement to continue to offer GCSE entry to those pupils who leave school in the Y10 and Y11 window.

In addition to considering support for parents to access exam centres and exam entry fees, consideration should also be given to assisting with checks on private tutors. Parents do not have to provide their child’s education themselves, many employ a tutor or range of tutors. It would be a morally responsible approach to support parents with checks however need to come with additional funding means to support this. 


If local authorities were to begin to bear the cost of exam entries rather than the parent there would be a need for not only the actual exam entry cost and the DBS costs, but there would also be a significant additional impact on the monitoring costs.   We would not expect to enter pupils for exams that they were not ready to take. This would require a significant increase in the resources of a qualified teacher who should be visiting regularly to ensure that the child is being appropriately entered.  A qualified teacher would also need to be regularly monitoring the quality of provision provided by any private tutors.

It is equally vital that local authorities are able to track pupils who attend alternative educational settings.  We believe that the local authority should be able to track which pupils are attending which alternative educational setting. It is our experience the pupils might not actually attend regularly although listed as being registered at a provision.  


Currently with the increasing numbers becoming home educated our efforts have been focused on the most vulnerable. Current resources do not provide for a qualified teacher to be able to visit each child/family with regular frequency. Some families do not need this and would be resentful of this intrusion. As a local authority there is some prioritisation of case work related to those who are potentially the most vulnerable, or those working towards being suitable.   We are aware of the potential that this might be to the detriment of those children and families where the education is deemed to be suitable, but where the child may not be making the level or progress that they would be if they were to be in a school.  This is obviously due to our responsibilities being to know the identities of those not receiving a suitable education rather than to ensure that the education they receive is as good as is can be.


In terms of funding our suggestion would be that schools are required by law to give the local authority the pro rata money from the Annual Pupil Weighted Unit for the year in which the pupil comes out from the school which received funding for them. We additionally propose that on pupil census day the local authority s also required to submit a census return and that there is a pupil weighted financial unit which the local authority receives to support the monitoring etc for electively home educated children.

As a local authority we have worked with both families and schools to shape our approach. We have developed a ‘best practice guide’ for our schools as part of an awareness raising and to prevent off rolling. Locally we have developed an agreement that where possible pupils who have become electively home educated return to the school they deregistered from.  This has have some success and schools have generally accepted this. It does however have to be balanced with the rights of a parent to apply for any school place and the efficient working of a Fair Access Protocol placing Hard to Place children.

When children are deregistered from schools there can be very limited information shared with regards to the child and their needs. This becomes an issue firstly when working to establish an appropriate educational baseline and secondly in supporting them on a return onto another school if that becomes the desired path at a later point.   Of equal concern is that the schools internal safeguarding records do not get passed on as the local authority cannot hold them.



November 2020