Written evidence submitted by Mrs Alison Sauer


House of Commons Education Committee - Call for Evidence

Alison Sauer F. Inst. Pa

I am a paralegal whose area of law is Education and Children (both public and private law). I am a trustee of The Centre for Personalised Education, an independent family support worker and advocate, and a former home educator of 20 years. I co-own and run a large support group for home educators on Facebook and I have previously trained Local Authorities in home education and the law. I was called as a witness in person for the Support for Home Education Inquiry in Autumn 2012.

This is my personal submission.

Home education, in law, is equal to school education. It is not treated that way. At every turn home educators are scrutinised and criticised in a way that is deeply prejudicial. This leads to draconian and deeply damaging actions by local authorities, who have little understanding of home education practice, the law or their duties. Added to this the media, spotlighting sensation like the carnivals of old, perpetuates the myth that home education is odd, fosters odd children who can’t socialise, implies that some home educators can be secretive, devious and even dangerous to their children. People and organisations that should know better add fuel to this; at every opportunity the Children’s Commissioner calls for more regulation and more scrutiny and the NSPCC publishes the occasional smear piece falsely identifying home education as a safeguarding risk. None of these actions, reports and calls for regulation are evidence based.

Currently legislation exists that can adequately safeguard children. All children. The Children Acts do not only apply to school children. I’m unsure what it is that makes a local authority or the NSPCC think that as soon as a child turns five his parents become uniquely risky to him because he doesn’t attend school. Serious Case Reviews that have home education as a feature are falsely claimed to have home education as a cause. When social workers fail to protect a home educated child they point to home education claiming it disallows scrutiny, which is a nonsense. In child protection conferences, of which I have attended a great many, moves are made all the time to get a home educated child into school. Home education is seen as universally unhealthy regardless of individual circumstances or evidence to the contrary. The delightful add on to this is that we are seeing more and more LAs punishing home educating families for not complying with their intrusive, overbearing and ultra vires policies (such as compulsory visits) by reporting them to social services. As I am sure the committee appreciates a section 47 (child protection) inquiry is far from a benign experience and the iatrogenic effects of social services involvement may take years to recover from. I know families who ten years on are still suffering from the brutality they experienced at child protection conferences.

We do not inspect to check that children are fed, even though parents are not expected to be nutritionists or chefs. So why the call for monitoring of home educated children just because they are not in a professionally run learning environment? If LAs were supportive, which almost without exception they are not, there would be a working relationship between their staff and families. Unfortunately most LAs take a forceful, demanding, if not aggressive, stance, make demands that are unlawful from the very outset and when their demands are refused by those who know they are unlawful, they start to threaten. If LAs understood the law and practice of home education better this would not happen. Throw into the mix that many of these families have begun to home educate because the system has already failed their child in one way or another and one can see that the approach is neither productive nor professional. We have families on our support group that attend court to fight off unjustified School Attendance Orders every year like clockwork or who remain on a child protection plan simply because they refuse to meet in person with the home education officer but would rather write a report (a perfectly legal stance). During the lockdown some local authority staff have taken to WhatsApp to communicate with home educators and I have seen more than one legal notice to satisfy attempted via text on WhatsApp!

If LAs understood their duties, were required to undertake relevant CPD and ceased to be aggressive I am utterly sure we would see that the current system can work. Home educators also desperately need some protection from the rogues too – currently there is nowhere to go to complain, no impartial third party who can look at a case and make a judgement.

None of the recommendations of the 2012 report have been implemented or even attempted, most of those recommendations would have improved relationships between LAs and families and would have improved, therefore, the lives of the children and young people.

With regards to a register I have to agree with the stance of many others that it is the gateway to licensing and monitoring. It would create more unnecessary bureaucracy and expense where a targeted approach would be far more efficient. I also see no tangible benefit to having a register and evidence from overseas shows that a register has no positive impact on outcomes for home educated children.

In simple terms the advantages of home education are that the education can be utterly personalised, traumatised children can heal (bullying, school attendance difficulties etc) and unmet SEN can finally be met.

Most of the disadvantages relate to the systemic discrimination the families are subject to and the trauma so often caused by interaction with the LA. One particularly egregious habit of LAs is to deny access to any equipment used by SEND children whilst in school once they are deregistered.  Also there is no formal access to work experience. In addition, access to GCSEs and A levels is difficult, expensive and becoming more impossible since the debacle in the summer regarding private candidates. I am hopeful that our upcoming meeting with Ofqual will help to ease this.

Unregistered schools and off-rolling are not home education problems and should not be conflated with home education. The current laws and regulations are sufficient regarding these things and authorities should not be hesitant to investigate as they are afraid of being labelled as discriminating against minorities, as they have historically.

Lastly with regards to the impact of COVID we have seen a huge rise in numbers of home educating families – not generally because they are anxious about the disease, but because they’ve had a tiny taste during lockdown schooling and have decided to take the plunge. Guidance has been woolly at best regarding whether home educators can run their normal groups as the groups tend not to have specific educational goals and so may be perceived as social only. COVID has caused problems with access to exams and we are yet to see justice for those private candidates who have missed out, and are still missing out. The most surprising impact of COVID however has been the extra energy some LAs have put into attempting to inspect and scrutinise home educators at a time when Ofsted inspections and school standards were relaxed.

November 2020