Written evidence submitted by Mrs Esther Reeves


For information I am a home educating parent of one child, I also have one in school and my partner is a teacher so I see most sides of education. As well as home educating myself I also advice people new to home education and considering doing it on a regular basis.

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


The benefits are quite large in that education can be truly child led rather than curriculum lead, allowing the child and family to choose to focus on what they find important, allowing the child to follow their passions which in turn develops strong independent learning abilities and a passion for learning which will take them thought out their life, something that school struggles to do for most.  It is often easier to meet any SEN needs can be met as you are focusing on the individual.

It also allows them to learn more natural social skills, learning from mixing with a wide range of ages in normal situations and learning from older kids and adults rather than children of their own age who have no better social skills than they themselves do !  Few home educators stay sat at home at a desk, instead they go out and do a mix of activities with others at least in none covid times.

In our case it is also a massive improvement in mental health, being able to do things at our own pace (faster for some things, slower for others), not having to deal with large numbers of people and the sensory overload that school causes, time to build resilience and personal coping strategies and building those as he gets older.  

1b) Disadvantages

These are mostly around things like attitudes towards home education, both from government (national and local) and the general public where it is seen as weird and suspect for no reason other than we do something different. Most people are so programmed to see education for children as school they do not understand how it is possible to do it on other ways even when they themselves spend their adult lives learning new things independently by a variety of methods.

Not everyone fits in the same size and shape of box and indeed we would never expect everyone to be good at the same type of job so why do we expect everyone to fit the same sort of education environment?

Exclusion from policy making decisions on education and other areas that effect us, instead often self appointed “professionals” and local authorities are listened too and home educators feel ignore and even treated with suspicion or condescension.  

Discrimination over access to other services like child mental health which even though it is health is often accessed through education and barriers are put in the way of home educators, sometimes they are even told they have to register at school to access it which is just unfair and wrong on so many levels especially for children for whom school is bad for their mental health in some way.

Lack of access to exams like GCSEs, we are lucky in my area in that we have a private exam centre based here but for many home educators accessing exam centres is hard and for some subjects the requirement to have practical work signed off by a teacher makes that subject practically impossible to do an exam in it.

Finally where colleges do allow 14-16 home educators to study at them it tends to be only functional skills rather than a wider range of courses.

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

2a) safeguarding

The law clearly states that home education is not on it's own a safeguarding issue, so local authorities duties in this regard are the same as for any other children which is to say reactive not proactive. 

There is a narrative that home educators are “under the radar” and therefore to be suspected of abuse. This is not based in fact and indeed what research has been done seems to show home educators are less likely to end up on “child in need “ than the general population even though they are more likely to be referred to social services. So home educators are more checked and less of a risk, not the other way round.  To my knowledge all the child deaths reported as being home-educated were already known to social services and other officials so not at all “under the radar” just because those authorities failed to protect specific children does not mean home educators in general should be seen as more of a risk.

There is already plenty of laws and systems in place to report, investigate and support families and children who are in need, Money and time spend on monitoring home educators just because they make a legal education choice for their kids means it isn't being spent helping the kids who really need it and we all know such services are very stretched as it is.

2b) assuring the quality of home education

Again this SHOULD be a reactive duty, that is what the law says, the local authority should only need to investigate if they have reason to believe a family might not be providing education.  Indeed your report from 2012 clearly states “. It is not the role of the local authority routinely to monitor whether a suitable education is being provided, and local authorities should not act as if it is, or cause parents to believe that it is “

Which leads to the next question you asked

3) 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’;

While the law is clear that education of children is the legal responsivity of the parents the change in guidance last year has gone from a generally light touch to being worded such that many local authorities have taken it as evidence they should make parents prove they are providing an education which the local authority considers suitable rather than accepting the parents view on suitable. 

Given that this guidance was written primarily with input by the same local authorities they have in effect tried to give themselves more power than the law says they have.  The guidance is now quite adversarial against parents in tone and specifics which is not at all helpful in developing a  trusting and supportive relationship.

Currently a significant number of local authorities are overstepping their remit in various ways, such as insisting on extra steps before they will process a de-registration, acting as if they are the ones legally responsible for deciding the child's education provision rather than the parents, refusing to accept any educational style unless it looks like school work ie sat at a table doing worksheets, insisting on samples of work even though the guidance clearly says they have no right to do so, up-to including issuing school attendance orders to virtual every home educator in their area.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee says in the announcement of this review “ A parent will always know what is best for their child” where as the experience of many home educators is that they are treated as if they are assumed guilty of education neglect unless they jump through multiple hoops to prove otherwise. 

If anything the current framework for dealing with parents need striping back to being more in line with the law and making it clear once again to local authorities that they are meant to be reactive and only insist on evidence when there is real concern that education is not happening.

3a) To touch on the last part of this question “ including where they may attend unregistered schools, have been formally excluded from school, or have been subject to ‘off-rolling’;”  

Children attending unregistered schools are NOT home educated and illegal schools should be dealt with by giving OFSED and local authorities the power to do so. Perhaps working with home educators to define what is and isn't a home education setting might help as how we organise such things does not seem well understood, which is understandable as its wide and varied but it rarely includes leaving children for long periods with out parents being around.

My understanding of children who are formally excluded from school is that the local authority still has a duty to provide education so again not home educated. Their parents may find that the child is at home with no education being provided and so therefore try and do so themselves but they are not truly home educated and the local authority is at fault for failing to support and help such families.

Similarly any child who is off-rolled by a school is being failed by that school who is acting illegally. This is not helped by the fact that many academy schools seem to have little if any oversight as the local authorities have no real say in what they do and frankly most parents find it almost impossible to get any resolution to any complaints about being pressured or threatened with fines to get them to remove their child. 

You should not be looking to home education to solve this but to the schools system which frankly needs a lot of looking at, there you will find the reasons why home education numbers are going up not by monitoring home education.

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

In a word NO.

To elaborate, it is a waste of resources unless you have a reason to have a register so the first question is what is the register for?   Generally registers are for one of two reasons..
a) To show someone has a professional qualification or are in some way authorised to do something, well that's not relevant here

b) Because the people on it are in some way dangerous and need monitoring, such as the sex offenders register. Well I truly hope you don't believe this to be true of parents taking a perfectly legal decision about their child's education.

There is a massive warning flag here, historically people have been put on registers as a first step to taking away liberties or in other ways othering them, think carefully before you support a register just for the sake of having nice numbers to count, especially one which you would legally require people to join.

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


As I have stated before parents have the legal responsibility for education and you start the review with the premise that parents know what is best for their children so what role does inspection have? Why would you need to inspect anyone to check they are for-filling their legal and parental duty as a matter of course?  

Schools are inspected because they are providing a service to parents, that is literally OFSTED's job to report to parents that the schools are doing what they should be doing because the parents are not there to see for themselves. It is not the state's place to take on parental responsibility except in those few cases where a court have proven the parents are incapable of doing so.

6)  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;

Generally there is no support at all and local authorities generally make that abundantly clear.  In many areas there are even barriers put in place of any families not using the schools system to access things such things as mental health support and disability support even if those are run by the health service which is frankly discriminatory, often families are told they can only be accessed for things like ASD diagnosis if they are at school or that mental health support can only be accessed via a school. I have even heard of cases of things like equipment needed for communication being taken away from children if they leave school where as they should still be supported with that regardless of their educational style.

We are lucky we are in a local authority who try their level best to be supportive rather than authoritarian but even they are very clear they have no legal requirement to provide support and therefore no funding but they will help with information and signposting as much as possible.  I know of two authorities which pay for some exam costs but it's vanishingly rare.

Most local authorities focus purely on covering their own backs in terms of what they see as their responsibilities to make sure children are getting an education and that often results in an atmosphere that could never be considered supportive as it is purely about jumping through their hoops or you get nasty letters and threats of school attendance orders.

7)  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;

Very few and indeed in many ways it has gone backwards. There is less funding to local government now than there was then, in all sorts of services even things like libraries which home educators tend to use a lot.

The postcode lottery is still alive and well across the country with some local authorities such as ours in Coventry trying hard to work with the home eduction community and build a trusting supportive communication  to places like  Portsmouth who are extremely aggressive, demanding and frankly deceitful and however much proof most families provide it never seems to be enough. 

I would say your point 2.11 about local authorities misleading home educators has got worse not better especially in the last few months with a combination of last years guidance changes and extra de-registrations due in part from covid. 

Point 2.15 has happened to an extent though it certainly feels like only local authorities were listened to and from a parents perspective the new guidance is a step in the wrong direction at least if you wish the relationship to be equal and respectful after all local authorities are already in a position of power and the new guidance has given many of them the excuse to be domineering and aggressive in their aims.

Recent job descriptions for home education officers in several areas have been worrying, many ask for little qualifications, very few feel the need for knowledge of home education or differing educational styles or SEN (which is a common reason to home educate). Most mention visits as if they are required rather optional.

A recent one read like a description of a truancy officer and looked for someone with the skills to “persuade parents to do things they do not want to do “ but required virtually no qualifications. 

Another very recent one from Blackpool talked about “ The strategic aims are to reduce the overall number of EHE cases in the area “  and again in the job outline “To develop strategies and a working approach which contributes to reducing the number of Blackpool resident children who are receiving EHE “  as well as “To follow the agreed processes to monitor and where required to challenge parents about appropriate provision. This will include identifying alternative placements and / or initiating non-attendance or School Attendance Order processes “   These are very worrying as it is not their place to actively try to reduce the number of people choosing to home educate and it is overstepping their remit to actively monitor parents as standard and indeed to jump straight to bureaucratic ways to get the kids back to school rather than supporting parents to improve in the first instance. This speaks volumes about their attitude toward home educating parents and is very likely to result in an antagonistic and unpleasant relationship not a supportive one.

8) 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.’

The biggest impact has been that in normal times most of us would be out of the house regularly going to activities, having social meetings and so on.  These stopped completely in lockdown and even this term few are running because until literally this week with the Nov 5th rules we were pretty much not mentioned in any of the guidance.  Most home education activities are run by parents who are understandably risk averse to being fined and there is the added complication most are run in community buildings which in the main are still not open for similar reasons that they are run by volunteers who are worried about being able to do risk assessments and getting fined.

The other huge issue is GCSEs, many more home educators do GCSEs than the government seems to realise as they only go on local authority figures and most LAs have no idea who does private exams in their areas.  There was NO help for private candidates this year and so far no indication there will be this coming exam year either if exams have to be cancelled.  As well as possible issues finding places willing to take candidates.

We have more people home educating then ever which is in part from an inflexibility from the government over insisting all children should be physically in school regardless of family situations, mental and physical health and other concerns. Schools are often struggling to accommodate SEN and mental health needs around covid rules and they were already struggling before.

November 2020