Written evidence submitted by Mrs Tracy Oldfield


I am writing this submission to the Education Committee as a parent with over 20 years experience of elective home-education, and the online and in-person communities for home-education.  I hope that my contribution here is helpful.  My children have not attended mainstream, full-time schoolWe have followed an autonomous education, ‘unschooling’ style path, up to and including studying for GCSE exams. Three of our four children are now adults, two of those have progressed through university and into full-time employment, the other has returned to home-education after attending college, as Covid-19 has been so disruptive to her studies.  She did gain the highest possible grade in her course this summer.


I have taken the bullet points from the Call For Evidence and assigned them numbers, and my response to each point is numbered accordingly.


  1. The duties of Local Authorities are set out in the current Education Act.  The enactment of these duties must assume that parents are competent, and innocent of the crime of not providing an education.  To do otherwise is to breach the terms of section 7 of the same Act, which states that parents are responsible for providing a suitable education.  We are the experts in our own children, and the persons most invested in ensuring our children are raised to take their place in society at large, as far as possible, and as such, we are the best arbiters of what constitutes a good-quality education for each of our individual children.  Safeguarding risk has, as the committee should be aware from the various previous consultations and enquiries, no correlation whatsoever to home-education, and it is a grave insult to suggest it here.
  2. Who would require a statutory register, and for what purpose?  Parents have the responsibility for providing an education.  Children under compulsory school age are not on a statutory register other than that of births.  Who benefits from the existence of a register?  I do not see any reason why home-educated children should be treated differently to others who are not (yet) registered at a school.  If it is a question of making sure that Las keep track of the children who are known to them, their record-keeping abilities or lack thereof should not be made a problem for home-educators.
    1. Much information has been supplied on the subject of advantages of home-education to previous enquiries.  From my perspective, as a truly elective, philosophical home-educator, there are neither benefits nor drawbacks of EHE, as it is the natural default, the ‘baseline’ position, and school is the opt-in intervention and long-term experiment in human development that should be required to prove itself.  It should be obvious that a child-paced, individually focused education will be of benefit to the child, along with social guidance provided by trusted, loving elders rather than socially inexperienced age-peers
    2. Disadvantages largely arise from stereotypes and misconceptions, assumptions of others based on schools as the norm.  Being quizzed on maths by strangers, being asked about friendships by medical professionals, being called ‘thick’ by children misled into believing that the purpose of schooling is to increase intelligence.  Government (both central and local) information about home-education often emphasises the cost of home-education, but exams aside, much is the same as would be provided by any parent, and costs of uniform, travel and school fundraising are removed.  On the subject of exams, qualifications can be more difficult to access, particularly at the moment (quite why the small number of external candidates could not be allowed to sit regular exams this summer is unclear!) and this has been brought to the committee’s attention many times in the past.  Being unable to access certain interest-driven qualifications, such as the Extended Project Qualification, as private candidates is also a barrier to academic progression.
  4. This point is linked to point 7, which refers to the 2012 report, and I intend to address this in more detail. 
  5. The wellbeing of all children is the responsibility of their parents.  Home-educated children are no different, and when statistics are considered, they are actually at lower risk than their schooled counterparts.  Once again, it is a grave insult to suggest otherwise.  The current framework, and the previous Guidelines strike the correct balance of assuming competence until there are grounds for concerns.  Where LA staff have previously been concerned about their ability to intervene, it has been apparent that they have not understood or applied the framework correctly.  Changing the framework is pointless, training and retaining staff is imperative, as is removing the adversarial attitudes prevalent in many councils.  Unregistered schools and ‘off-rolling’ are problems of school management and inspection, and should not be made problems of home-educators.  Children who have been formally excluded are, by definition, not Electively Home Educated and come under separate guidance.  Conflating all forms of ‘otherwise’ is highly problematic and must be avoided if clear guidance is to be issued.
  6. Elective Home Education is not for government to ‘regulate’ as it is the parents’ decision and responsibility to decide what an appropriate education is for their child.  To continue down this route would be to regulate a child’s diet, clothing, housing…  It is appropriate to regulate and standardise LA activity around EHE, and if this then falls within LA inspection procedures, so be it.  Defining best practice must be driven by home-educators themselves, and a broad spectrum of them, in terms of area, demographics and educational style, to build systems that support and do not seek to control.
  7. As per point 4, I wish to refer to the 2012 report in more detail, this follows this section.
  8. On a personal level for our family, Covid-19 has impacted in-person social interaction, the same as for many other people.  We are privileged enough to have the equipment and knowledge to continue with online socialisation and projects but our 15-year-old has missed her friends greatly, as well as the input and company of highly-regarded session leadersAs we use supposedly ‘extra-curricular’ activities as well as home-education-specific sessions, the restrictions on these affect us more than those attending schools, and seem misplaced when schools remain open.  The absolute debacle of the exam programme in the summer thankfully did not affect us directly, but has put us off studying for GCSEs until the future state of sitting exams becomes clearer.  Our older child at home (the two older ones no longer live here) has returned to home-education after a year at college, it was not worthwhile because of the commute and lack of onsite working time.  (Note:  it has been pointed out to me today, 6th Nov, that while Covid-19 guidance allows home-ed specific sessions of ‘extra-curricular’ activities, such as gymnastics, to be run, if facilities open for us, they cannot claim any grants related to closure.  It is clearly not viable for such businesses and clubs to open just for one or two sessions in a week.  Several junior elite athletes home-educate so that they have greater flexibility for training and are therefore losing their coaching options, again.)



Response to the recommendations from the “Support for Home Education” report from the HoC Education Committee 2012-13 session:


  1. This has clearly not occurred, and in fact the situation has worsened.  My local council’s page regarding home-education sits next to ‘Children Missing Education’ and contains various inaccuracies and prejudicial statements.  https://www.kirklees.gov.uk/beta/schools/elective-home-education.aspx 
  2. Any tensions exist because council staff have a fixed view of education being that which happens in institutions, and/or they believe they have a proactive regulatory role, or in some councils a mandate to ensure that all children attend a school of one kind or another.  Recent job advertisements bear this out, and I am sure other responses will have included such information.  There is an assumption of an adversarial rather than supporting relationship, and this has not improved since 2012, though it may have shifted from area to area.  The 2019 Guidance has not in any way improved clarity compared to the previous Guidelines
  3. “Best practice” is a subjective concept.  For me, it is ‘leave well alone unless we ask you for help.”  For some LA staff, going by online discussions, it appears to be termly monitoring of provision and an expectation of school-like work.  As previously stated, it must be driven primarily by home-educators to be a supportive service and not a policing of parental responsibilities.
  4. See point 3.  The attempt to form an association of LA staff seemed only to function as a lobby group to the DfE.
  5. Transparency is definitely welcomed.  The inclusion of such information in ‘league table’ type scoring of a council’s quality is not.
  6. As far as I am aware, no changes have been made to which section of a council holds EHE within its purview. I suspect that this is because funding for safeguarding is believed to be easier to access than anything else.  Certainly, Kirklees EHE staff are still within the Attendance and Pupil Support section, and meetings that we home-educators have had with them have had an overarching theme of safeguarding, in order to justify them.  Clarity around funding is clearly imperative.  I think the establishment of ‘lifelong learning’ sections, encompassing the usual cultural services and promoting college and community adult education, would then be a good fit for EHE.
  7. I agree, and as above, I fear that the lack of clarity pushes councils to seek funding on the basis of safeguarding. 
  8. This is appreciated but how and where should councils ensure such access, especially within the regulations for exam centres?  Locally, the Pupil Referral Unit was registered for private candidates but the head of school put a stop to that a few years agoPerhaps one option is for councils to operate exam centres for PRUs and those under EOTAS/home-tutoring provision, or for grants or premises to be provided to Community Interest Companies for that purpose.
  9. While this is appreciated, I fear that it would lead to an inferred expected standard of attainment for all EHE children of supposed school-leaving age.  Given the broad variety of EHE, including the terminally-ill, those suffering from school-related trauma, an enormous spectrum of SEN, and those who simply don’t need formal qualifications or feel ready to sit them at 16 years old, I hope you can see how unsuitable this could be.  A step towards state-dictated standards of ‘suitable education’.  I think it would be more appropriate to fund exam centres directly so that they do not have to pass costs of buildings, administration and invigilation on to individual families.
  10. We did not engage with council career services for advice on transition to further and higher education.  The information we used is readily available online, and in particular from other home-educators. 
  11. Access to further education colleges has been appreciated by a lot of home-educators, but provision is still patchy as it is entirely up to the college whether and how they apply the funding.  Some colleges report progress to the council, which seems entirely inappropriate to me as the LA are not responsible for the student’s provision, and the funding for the student does not come from them.  Some colleges have found themselves a ‘dumping ground’ for off-rolled secondary school pupils, and as such have limited or removed any home-education provision.  Our nearest college has been unwilling to admit students under 16, and quite obstructive in communication.  So this still amounts to a postcode lottery.  That said, this nearest college, which has a large, new main building a 15 minute bus ride from our home, does not provide two of our daughters’ chosen course at that centre, but at one in another town, requiring a train journey on top of the bus.  This does mean that we are more inclined to look more widely at colleges in neighbouring areas but is an indicator of the patchy provision of further education generally. 
  12. The ‘postcode lottery’ identified in the 2012 report remains, and in fact grows wider, as cost-cutting measures and contracting out of council services continue.  The DfE position that local offers to home-educators are a matter for each council make little sense when every council has a duty to deliver services that we would benefit from accessing more easily, like schools libraries, museum and art gallery outreach programmes, swimming and other leisure facilities, public transport.  Some of these would fall within the purview of a ‘lifelong learning’ department, as previously mentioned, and then support could be on an even more joined-up basis.  Reducing maintenance services etc reduces the opportunities for work experience and apprenticeships (this is a general observation, not just about home-education.)
  13. While we have no direct experience of council support for SEN, I have observed friends’ frustrations with accessing funding and services, delays, foot-dragging, minimising needs, badly-written reports…  SEN provision requires funding, both for the provision itself but for sufficient staffing and training of staff to support applications.  Given the large numbers of people deregistering from schools because of unmet SEN and health needs, action should be taken very, very quickly to address this.  As a side-note, it is welcome to see that Child Benefit for home-educated young people from 16 to 19 years old has been extended to include those with SEN, regardless of if the home-education started before the young person turned 16.  However, the amendment specifies that this essentially only applies to those with an EHCP, and that the local authority approve the provision.  Given the difficulty and time involved in gaining an EHCP, I believe this should be more relaxed and that any formal recognition of SEN, such as a formal diagnosis, or having had access arrangements agreed for exams, should be acceptable.


I would like to thank the committee for taking the time to consider the impact of Covid-19 on home-educated young people, and hope that the various responses from home-educators, individually and as groups, are illuminating.  The balance of responsibility for all children’s education remains with the parents, even those who choose to delegate it to schools.

November 2020