Written evidence submitted by Not Fine in School
Not Fine in School (NFIS) was established in November 2017 by parents working in partnership to offer support and guidance to other parents and professionals experiencing school attendance difficulties. In addition, NFIS also works to raise awareness of barriers that affect school attendance.
Our online support group was created in reaction to the growing number of children who are struggling to attend mainstream school, and the difficulties parents experience in finding understanding and support for their children. Whether their struggle is related to anxiety, trauma, unmet Special Educational Needs & Disabilities, physical illness, bullying or academic pressure, many children are experiencing increasing difficulties within education systems in the UK, and in other countries around the world.
Our Facebook parent support group now has over 13,000 members. A closed Facebook professionals group, Facebook public page and website ( www.notfineinschool.co.uk ) allow us to share stories and articles of interest with a wider audience.
Our particular perspective considers:
Reasons why parents say they electively choose to home educate:
Reasons why parents said they felt forced to home educate:
These children have been let down by schools, Local Authorities and the Government. Their parents have turned to home education as a last resort, usually after repeated attempts to request and arrange the support their children desperately need.
These findings are corroborated in the ADCS 2019 report which cited health/emotional health and general dissatisfaction with the school as 2 of the top 3 reasons for parents deregistering.
Covid-19 related reasons why parents are deregistering their children
In recent months our membership has extended to include parents who are in a very difficult situation that is being ignored by government. These are families who have people classed as extremely clinically vulnerable in regard to Covid-19 infection. Attending school for children in these families is exceptionally stressful as they fear contracting the virus, bringing it home and possibly causing the death or severe illness of a close family member. These families are being forced to deregister because the DfE, local authorities and schools are not offering them alternative forms of learning to avoid this anxiety and potential harm.
Our answers to the consultation questions
1. The duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education:
Home educated children are not at greater risk of harm
Safeguarding is no more an issue within the home educating community than it is amongst children at school.
There are already procedures and measures available to investigate welfare concerns. Current guidance is more than adequate, however problems occur when local authorities do not use their powers correctly and appropriately.
We take issue with the presumption that parents might be deregistering to cause their children harm. In fact many ‘non-elective’ home educators opt to deregister because the mainstream education system is causing their child significant harm.
It is unfair and hypocritical to be overly concerned with the quality of home education, when the quality of education and educational support in schools is severely lacking, and is failing large numbers of children.
Safeguarding has been linked to school absence, meaning that many families are subject to social services referrals solely because their child has barriers preventing attendance that are not supported with our education and health systems - this is unfair and inappropriate.
It is the duty of parents to decide upon an educational approach which is individually appropriate to their child, there is absolutely no need for anyone to assess the quality of such a provision – this idea of inspecting educational quality stems from ensuring consistency within the mainstream education system which has a different purpose to that of home education by families.
2. Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required;
No there is no need for a register of home-educated children
Any implementation of a register and the likely ‘strings attached’ or developed as a result, are highly likely to be detrimental to the core benefits of home education - the flexibility and freedom to tailor to individual needs will be lost.
Statutory registers are used for sex offenders, and proposed for domestic abusers. No other law abiding citizens are required to be registered nationally based on the choice they make in order to fulfil their moral and legal parental duties.
3. The benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face;
For many families the choice to home educate is made once they become aware that it is a valid option, or once they learn more about the experience by making contact with home educating communities
Some parents chose to home educate as a last resort, usually after repeated requests for support from schools and local authorities are ignored; when they have a child experiencing severe mental distress; and/or when they face legal action for non-attendance.
Many parents note that after leaving school, their children’s health and emotional wellbeing improve significantly and after a period of recovery, they are well and able to learn again.
Once deregistered, many parents express a strong regret at the time they have wasted battling systems for help, and making children attend when they are severely distressed and struggling. Sadly consultations such as this seem to focus on the safeguarding risk of home education, rather than the harm and neglect that too many children and young people are experiencing at school.
4. 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;
There is little support currently available, financial or otherwise
Optional support should be available including:
5. 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’;
Unregistered schools and off rolling are being added into the mix with home education to confuse the issue
Unregistered schools should not be linked to home education
The DfE and Ofsted are aware of off-rolling practices, and of schools being ‘exam factories’. Numerous governmental and organisational reports have highlighted the crisis in SEND provision, the crisis in CAMHS, the rise in exclusions and off rolling, and the devastating effects of cuts to school funding. These issues are further impacted by the total lack of accountability for schools and local authorities who do not comply with legislation. We suggest that attention should be focused upon regulating and resolving these aspects, rather than on home educating families.
Offering options for families who have recently been off-rolled could be relevant. In this situation families may benefit from support to understand the options available to them, such as a negotiated return to their previous school, or admission to an alternative school - with assurances that their child’s needs will be adequately supported.
The current framework is sufficient, although it would be more efficient and effective if local authorities had training in legislation and home education practices
6. The role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education;
There is no need for change to the regulation of home education
LAs should only become involved with families when there are legitimate concerns
A register would be a considerable waste of already stretched funding which would be spent on unnecessary monitoring of law abiding home educators, whilst abusive parents and those who run unregistered places of learning will be driven further underground.
This money could be far better spent - for example in improving school provision, alternative provision, and making it easier for home educators to sit exams for the qualifications they need.
A greater number of ‘EHE Inspectors’ would need to be employed as EHE numbers rise. Are these people likely to understand what home education really is or how to evaluate what they see. Few children’s social workers or teachers are trained and qualified in SEND, including autism, ADHD, and mental health conditions. It is doubtful that ‘EHE Inspectors’ will fully understand or be experienced in the range of SEND, differing learning styles and curricula that are present within home educating families. Would they be skilled enough to legitimately make fair and valid judgements about a wide variety of home-based educational provision?
A general systemic and political distrust of parents and families has been creeping in over the last few decades. There is an assumption that all families who deregister are doing so with the intention of abusing and harming their children, and that outside inspection is needed to protect them. The alternative is to trust families unless concerns arise. If concerns already exist there are already existing processes in place to protect children BUT they are not being funded and used efficiently at the moment.
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; and
– we refer to evidence and evaluation offered by Education Otherwise (2020):
We urge all local authorities to undertake a swift review of their own material, including websites, and to ensure that their policies reflect the guidance available. We also saw evidence of inconsistency across the country, leading to a ‘postcode lottery’ for home educators:
Only 20 LAs in England have policies (or online information) which are fully compliant with legislation and guidance.
The development of a more formalised professional association of, and/or annual conference for, home education officers could be a welcome step in terms of sharing best practice nationally.
This has occurred but is ineffective save as a vehicle to lobby Government.
Local authorities might also improve their relationships with home educators by ensuring officers dealing with these issues are placed in a dedicated or neutral team: locating home education officers with those working on, for example, attendance, children in care or safeguarding gives an unhelpful impression:
This has not occurred. Still under ‘safeguarding’.
We also recommend that the Department for Education carries out an audit of local authorities’ performance regarding home education:
There is no evidence to suggest that this has occurred.
We recommend that the Government places a duty on every local authorities to ensure access to local centres for home-educated young people to sit accredited public exams:
This has occurred only in some LAs.
We further recommend—given the contribution that many home educators make through their taxes—that the costs of sitting public examinations (to an appropriate level of entitlement) be met by the State:
This has certainly not happened.
Local authorities should produce ‘local offers of support’, stating what services are available to home-educating families, and the Department for Education should support pilots for such a scheme. Only a tiny minority of LAs offer any support whatsoever.
We also look forward to the outcomes of the Department’s investigations into allegations of malpractice around young people with SEND or health needs who are home-educated: we heard some worrying evidence that provisions were not being fully met as they would be for schooled children. If anything, this situation has worsened.
It is clear from the evidence we received that many parties, both home educators and local authorities, have made real efforts to engage, to understand each other’s motivations and constraints, and to ensure more constructive relationships and better support. We acknowledge that there is some way to go, and look forward to seeing a more consistent approach to home education across the country.
The postcode lottery continues unabated and parents feel as if they are fighting a constant battle to constrain LA illegality.
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.
Impacts on home educated children:
Home education groups, learning activities and informal meet ups are an important part of the community and they haven’t been able to happen.
Tutors have been withdrawn temporarily
The lack of consideration of 2020 examination grading for home educating candidates has caused significant stress and difficulty
Allowing home education bubbles would be helpful
Allowing parents to provide transcripts as evidence of learning, and home educated candidates to be assessed virtually
Many home educators, and certainly the newer cohort of ‘non-elective’ home educators, would welcome access to a national framework of educational tools and materials if required.
New legislation ensures that any child self-isolating or shielding under Covid-19 guidance is entitled to immediate remote provision that matches the hours and curriculum they would be receiving in school. Sadly, this provision has not been offered or ensured if any child is unable to attend for other reasons. We have direct evidence of a significant cohort facing barriers to attendance before the pandemic who have always struggled to access educational provision even after 15 days of absence for medical reasons (as per Department for Education guidance).
November 6th 2020