Written evidence submitted by the Evangelical Alliance UK


Education Select Committee Inquiry on Home Education

Response by the Evangelical Alliance UK



  1. The Evangelical Alliance UK is the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. Established in 1846, today we work across a diverse constituency of over 18,000 individual members, as well as 3,000 churches and 500 organisations. The Evangelical Alliance is the founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, which unites evangelical alliances based in different countries around the world, representing anywhere from 300 million to a billion evangelical Christians. This global reach reflects the influence of evangelical faith, which can also be seen in the huge social and ethnic diversity in British evangelical churches. The Evangelical Alliance has responded to previous Department for Education calls for evidence on elective home education (in April 2018), and on children not in school (in April 2019). These responses focused particularly on the question of registration and inspection of electively home-educated children or the settings which they may attend, and the response below likewise deals with these questions.
  2. The Evangelical Alliance believes that parents are the primary educators of their children, whether the children are educated at school or otherwise. This is affirmed in section 7 of the Education Act 1996, which places a statutory duty on “the parent of every child of compulsory school age to cause them to receive efficient full-time education that is suitable” to that child’s age, ability, aptitude and to any special educational needs, whether by attendance at a school or otherwise. We believe that any new measures on elective home education must be consistent with this fundamental principle. We also believe that on home education the Government must have particular regard to Article 2 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. This provides that the state must respect the right of parents to religious and philosophical convictions in respect of education and teaching. This is reinforced in section 9 of the Education Act 1996 itself, which gives the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.

Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required

  1. The Department for Education consultation on Children not in School proposed a duty on each local authority to maintain a register of home-educated children. While not opposed in principle to such a register, we noted that voluntary registration schemes were already being tested, and so argued that it was premature to introduce a mandatory scheme. Instead, the evidence of the voluntary registration schemes should be assessed in a comprehensive fashion for effectiveness in addressing relevant needs. If such a register were to exist, we argued that only basic information would be needed (e.g. child’s name, address, and date of birth, with a declaration that they were being electively home-educated) and that this should be detailed in primary legislation.
  2. A more concerning feature of this consultation was the proposals to include the “settings” which home-educated children attended, either by placing a duty on parents to report the settings in the process of registration, or for local authorities to require information about home-educated children from those settings themselves. We argued that the first proposal would require home-educating parents to keep extensive records of all settings that the child attended, however briefly. This extensive reporting could have amounted in practice to continual monitoring and tracking, which would then have engaged or even breached Article 8 rights of home educating families under the Human Rights Act 1998. Meanwhile, local authorities requiring information directly from settings attended by home-educated children would appear to undermine the plain reading of section 7 of the Education Act 1996, which places the responsibility on parents to ensure that their children receive a suitable education, at school or otherwise.
  3. The difficulty of defining what counts as a “setting” attended by home-educated children has posed further challenges for these proposals. A broad definition of “settings” that fell within scope could have included a very wide range of activities attended by home-educated children, including religious gatherings. We believe that registering all these groups would have been disproportionate and invasive. Previous efforts to define “out-of-school settings” more specifically have not been successful, and so ambiguity remains around the definition of “settings” which would be within the scope of any proposed registration for home-educated children. We therefore disagree with the attempt to include educational settings in any register.
  4. In the context of previous consultations on registration, we also raised concerns about the prospect of information on any register of home-educated children being shared, given the vital importance of data protection. We noted that broad powers of data sharing in respect of children could be incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as demonstrated in Christian Institute & others v Lord Advocate (Scotland) [2016] UKSC 51. Any register would also need to be fully GDPR-compliant. We therefore urged caution around any new proposals to share data about children on such a register, especially as existing powers on safeguarding already allow for the sharing of children’s private data on a case-by-case basis where there is a compelling need.

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

  1. We oppose a new system of inspections on home educating families. We remain unconvinced that the definition of “suitable” as laid out in section 7 of the Education Act 1996 generally requires seeing the child or the education setting to determine suitability, particularly in the first instance. Instead, in most circumstances a review of the child’s work, and other evidence that could be submitted, would allow for a determination of suitability to be made. In addition, given the concerns about human rights noted above, we noted that local authorities would need to be careful that they could document the rationale for a home or setting visit in each specific case so that they did not inadvertently breach human rights law relating to privacy and family life.
  2. In response to previous consultations concerning inspection, we have argued that the Education Act 1996 already provides a mechanism for when a child is not receiving a “suitable” education, as outlined in section 437 (and subsequent sections) of the Education Act 1996. We also noted that in the Department for Education’s existing guidance on section 437 duties, it is recommended that local authorities pursue informal written enquiries concerning any lack of registration first, and only in cases of deliberate and persistent non-compliance use the section 437 process. We therefore question the need for any new system of inspection.


November 2020