Written evidence submitted by Mr & Mrs Randall and Mary Hardy

The House of Commons Education Committee

Home Education Inquiry: Closing date 6 November 2020

From Randall and Mary Hardy

1 Introduction

We are parents of six adult children; the younger three were all electively home educated [EHE]. All our children fulfil responsible roles in society and are known for their conscientious and hard-working approach to the varied activities of their lives. We have eleven grandchildren, ranging in age from twenty to newborn. The majority of these are, or will be, EHE.

We had very little interest in the politics of education until 2009 when then Secretary of State Ed Balls asked Graham Badman to carry out a review of EHE. We participated in various initiatives to challenge the flawed basis of that report. As a result we were commended[1] by our MP, the Rt. Hon. Owen Paterson, when he participated in the record-breaking mass presentation of Parliamentary Petitions against, in his words, "the iniquitous recommendations of the Bad-man Report."[2]

Between 2010 and 2017 when Lord Soley tabled his Private Member’s Bill, we kept a watch on the political atmosphere concerning EHE. We did this being aware that those who distrust parents would make further attempts to undermine the balanced position in English legislation. Our education laws continue to recognise the natural and historic responsibilities of parents, which are also enshrined in international Human Rights laws.

For the last three years we have found ourselves increasingly engaged in monitoring the hostile environment which now exists in regard to EHE.

2 Support for Elective Home Educators is rare, whilst ill will towards them has increased

         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;

         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;

We very much hoped to begin our submission with examples of the many benefits that the majority of children receive from EHE, but the current hostile environment[3] makes it necessary for us to start by addressing the above two areas of your inquiry.

The 2012 report has proved a total failure, the most obvious issue being the initiative in response to the fourth recommendation:

4. The development of a more formalised professional association of, and/or annual conference for, home education officers, driven by those in the profession themselves, could be a welcome step in terms of sharing best practice nationally, and in turn might consider issues such as accreditation and improved training for local authority officers. (Paragraph 21)

The launch of the Association of Elective Home Education Professionals [AEHEP] took place in the Gladstone Room, Palace of Westminster, on February 26th 2015, with the then Education Committee Chair, Graham Stuart MP, presiding. The most extensive record of that meeting and what is known of the workings of AEHEP since then, is available in a series of posts on Fiona Nicholson’s EdYourself website.[4]

When we searched in 2018 for information about AEHEP, especially of the type one would expect for a properly constituted professional body, there was none. No office address, no list of members and no records of any proceedings.

In January 2018 Fiona Nicholson posted information about a Freedom of Information request made by A Thurstan, on 30 November, 2017.[5] Lancashire County Council replied on 15 January 2018 and Nicholson worked through the many pages of emails to summarise the discussions between Lord Soley and members of AEHEP which had taken place between 4 September and 20 December, 2017.[6] We recommend that members of the Committee read these exchanges to see how an initiative which was intended for the support of EHE families was turned against them.

Further examples of this change in AEHEP’s objectives we reported by the HE Byte.[7] This website cites an annual report for Somerset County Council,[8] dated December 2016, in which John Riches, then Service Manager, Education Welfare Service wrote, “4.7 The Service Manager for the Education Welfare Service is now a member of the Executive Committee of the AEHEP which is lobbying government to review existing legislation.

Later Riches commented, “5.4 The lack of support from the LA to home educating parents means that many do not see the benefit to them of cooperating with request for information. This leaves the EWS with the legal intervention of a School Attendance Order to require the parent to enrol their child at a named school.” Comments like these from LA staff are familiar to EHE families, and this results in a high level of suspicion that offers of support are actually nothing more than a lure employed by LAs in order to pry into private family life.

This fear was highlighted in September 2018 by David Bishop, Head of Services (Alternative Provision, Attendance and Independent Schools), Birmingham City Council at a Women and Equalities Committee hearing. On that occasion he told MPs that, in connection with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, [Q455] “The approach of drawing people to honey we have found very successful not only with our GRT work, but also in the work we do with elective home education.”[9]

Perhaps it should come as no surprise to Committee members that support for EHE families has been far from forthcoming in the last eight years. Indeed, the last four years have seen a significant rise in pressure being put on the Government to introduce registration for, and monitoring of, EHE children.

This has come not only from LA officials and their representatives bodies such as the Local Government Association[10], but also from high level civil servants such as the previous and present Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectors of Schools, and the Children’s Commissioners for both England and Wales. Many of their comments are documented on the HE Byte website.[11] Over the last three years the press and several lobby groups (e.g. Humanists UK[12]) have joined in this open season on conscientious parents, and rarely has any elected politician stood up to defend their honest efforts!

We can say without fear of contradiction that EHE children and parents are weary of being the target of unmerited suspicion and endless rumour.

Regretfully we also have to point out that members of the present Education Committee have been drawn into similar suspicion without apparently checking the facts first. A very recent example occurred at the last Accountability Hearing with the Children’s Commissioner[13]. First, Jonathan Gullis MP asked Ms Longfield what changes she thought were needed “in the system of home schooling to ensure we can safeguard children and ensure that the parents or carers who are in charge of that child’s learning are acting in an appropriate and responsible way.”

We recognise that amongst MPs’ constituents EHE families are something of a rarity, but wonder if any MP ever pauses to think what effect their words have on hard-working and responsible parents, many of whom, along with their children, have been failed by the school system? We would be interested to know if the lack of trust in parents embedded in this question was based on evidence or rumour.

We further regret the follow-up question concerning “stronger inspection” from the Chair of this committee, which also evinced a lack of trust in parents. This factor is one of the most damaging mindsets which has arisen in the educational system since it was effectively merged with child protection services.

We wonder whether, given your declared interest in EHE, members of this committee have made any efforts to seek out genuine EHE families in their constituencies? Have you sought any opportunities to meet them? If so, you should have first-hand evidence about how worn down many are by the endless scaremongering from all corners of the Westminster village.

We are sure many parents of children with special educational needs, disabilities, mental health issues, or caring responsibilities will catalogue the various failures of the state’s education system to meet their child’s needs. We have no direct experience, so we simply observe that the endless stigmatisation of EHE only adds to the troubles and frustrations of such families.

3 What Elective Home Education is and what it certainly is not

         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’;

The current regulatory framework is sufficient to ensure that the state can meet all its responsibilities to genuinely EHE children and their families.

We draw the Committee’s attention to a letter written in 2006 by Lord Adonis, Under Secretary of State for Schools at the time.[14] Lord Judd had put forward an amendment to a Bill which would introduce a simple statutory “right to education” for every child. On advice from his Department’s legal team, Adonis stated that the amendment would introduce a level of “legal uncertainty.” The Minister then added, “that it might perversely have the effect of jeopardising or qualifying the well-established rights to education which are now very well embedded in case law.”

Continuing, Adonis described the “fourfold foundation” of British education legislation, highlighting the importance of its first principle, the primary place of parental responsibility. This he emphasised by a citation from a court ruling earlier that year. In the judgement concerning Ali v Lord Grey School [2006] UKHL 14,[15] Lord Bingham observed:

“This fourfold foundation has endured over a long period because it has, I think, certain inherent strengths. First, it recognises that the party with the keenest personal interest in securing the best available education for a child ordinarily is, or ought to be, the parent of the child…”

The last decade has seen a persistent onslaught by those who do not respect the natural and historic primacy of parental responsibility in raising children.

This important responsibility has been surrendered by a majority of parents without realising it. Wrongly believing that their children already have a positive right to receive an education from the state, they have abdicated their parental responsibilities. So much so that when we last met with him, our MP told us that at one local secondary school, teachers have to visit several pupils’ homes every school-day morning to ensure that the parents have made the effort to get their children out of bed!

The best way to make people irresponsible is take their responsibilities from them and to give them to the State!

Clement Attlee’s promise that a national health service would look after citizens “from the cradle to the grave” has suffered from gross mission creep. It has become an ideology which extends far beyond the provision of health care.

We find it hard to believe that when Parliament passed the Children’s Act in 2004, the majority of those who voted for it understood that it would be used to impose state parenting on every child in the country. Yet, through constant references to “LAs safeguarding responsibilities” for every child, this is now the de facto mindset amongst Children’s Services across the country and amongst national and local politicians.

This is a policy which has not only led to an increase in ultra vires actions by LAs in regard to EHE families, but has also through various means undermined the basic building block of any stable society, the family unit. Providing care and education from the cradle to the grave has been a concern of families throughout human history. A report from July last year by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, concerning unjustified treatment of a EHE parent by Leicester City Council, is perhaps the best documented example of the institutional hostile attitude now prevalent in most LA’s.[16]

EHE families are very aware of the dangers of enforced state guardianship of all children, and many will not consent to the State abusing the social contract by which it governs.

If the state does not restrain ideological idealists from demanding increasing intrusion into family life without just cause, then they should not be surprised if a large number of caring and determined families seek to safeguard their children from the state and its employees.

One such initiative which fell short of legality was the Scottish Government’s “Named Person Scheme” introduced as part of the GIRFEC legislation. We can do no better than quote Lady Hales’ words from the Supreme Court’s Judgement:[17]

“The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.”

It is not the state’s responsibility, as the above request for evidence implies, “to ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children is safeguarded” from their parents, but it should restrain its own reach into the private lives of all families. This principle is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Human Rights Act, Article 2 Protocol 1[18] which, significantly, is phrased as a negative right - that is, something which a state should not deny its citizens.

“No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.”

It is the duty of all elected politicians, including members of this Committee, to ensure this provision is upheld.

There is much more evidence which we could supply in this respect, including legal opinions provided to the Manx and Welsh governments in March and October of last year.[19] Both are examples of the quality of evidence which should be sought concerning EHE responsibilities and rights, rather than the fear-mongering, unevidenced rumours built on a small number of cases wrongly identified as the abuse of “unknown children.”

The second matter we must highlight in this area of inquiry are the problems created in recent years by the conflation of a wide range of illegal practices, as well as other styles of education, with Elective Home Education. The Committee has contributed to that in their wording of this Call for Evidence, despite being told by the then Education Secretary in June last year at an Accountability Hearing:[20]

“I want to - correct would be the wrong word - guide you a little bit, if I may be so bold, on the terminology. We talk about home education as a catch-all term. We should not. We should talk about children not in school.”

Furthermore, the title of this Inquiry is not “Elective Home Education,” but “Home education.” Was the omission of “elective” accidental, or is this a request for evidence about children whose parents have been coerced, and sometimes bullied, into taking their children out of school? As the then Minister explained, home education should not be used as a catch-all term.

Unregistered schools are not EHE - they are illegal; children excluded from schools are not EHE - they are failed by the promise of suitable state education; off-rolled children are not EHE - they are victims of schools acting illegally. (Alternative Provision is not EHE either, though it can achieve good results if done well because it responds to the needs of individual students.)

In regard to misleading language, we have to ask why no politician pointed out to the Children Commissioner after she published her report, “Skipping school: Invisible children”[21] in February last year that EHE children are not truanting as she implied, and that they are not invisible. Where home education is genuinely chosen by their parents, they are being lawfully educated within the context of their family, and usually in the surrounding community too.

Finally in this respect, the last year has seen a significant change in how the majority of children experience education. Commonly referred to by the Americanism “home schooling,” lockdown learning, with parents supervising work set by teachers, has been constantly in the headlines.

This practice has led to confusion, resulting this autumn in significant numbers of parents thinking the same arrangements would continue if they kept their children at home out of concern about COVID-19.

On 20 October an article appeared on the DfE’s blog, “All you need to know about home-schooling and elective home education (EHE).”[22] The Department then defines “home schooling” as what has been happening this year whilst schools were mostly closed, and carefully distinguishes it from EHE.

This welcome distinction appears to have been lost on Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, who referred in a written answer on 2 November to lockdown schooling as “home education.”[23] On the other hand, Guidance in regard to the current total lockdown (updated 3 November)[24] uses the phrase “For those who are home-schooled,” which is equally unclear. Please can the Government and all politicians make it their business to distinguish truly elective home education from all the other reasons why children are not in school.

4 Educational Casualties of the Government’s response to COVID-19

         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.’

Our final point is about the Government’s response to the 20,000 private candidates, many of who were EHE, who were not awarded grades in the summer, and about the lack of concern for the impact this has had on their futures. We trust this Committee will receive a large number of responses from EHE students and parents affected by this failure.

We believe that Ministers and others have failed to engage properly with the problems this has caused.

Ministers have regularly brushed the needs of these young people aside, whether speaking in Parliament or to the media,[25] saying, “Exams will be... in the autumn.”

When asked to consider a similar failure in the Irish Republic,[26] a High Court Judge ruled that the exclusion from the calculated grades process breached the rights of EHE students, being “arbitrary, unfair, unreasonable and contrary to law.”

Given that there is a serious concern that the failure to award grades to EHE candidates this year may be an infringement of their rights, we are surprised there is no record of the person charged with being “the ‘eyes and ears’ of children in... the country as a whole,”[27] speaking out on their behalf in this respect. The Children’s Commissioner for England’s failure in this respect is matched by that of her counterparts in the other home nations.

As recently as 5 November, the head of Ofqual replied to the Education Secretary[28] regarding arrangements for next year’s exams, but made no reference to any work being done to ensure private candidates are awarded grades should examinations be cancelled again.

With the high probability of examinations not taking place next summer, we ask this Committee to make it their concern to ensure that no EHE candidates are disadvantaged if that happens.

Regrettably, at the three most recent Accountability Hearings,[29] there was just one question asked about EHE students not being awarded grades, and the point was not pressed.


In closing we wish to state that genuine electively home educating families would greatly appreciate it if members of this Committee would occasionally speak out in support of them, rather than following the political zeitgeist of calling into doubt their intentions and abilities for simply exercising their responsibility to provide their own children with a suitable education.

Time and space preclude further comment on all aspects of this Inquiry, though we very much wanted to do so.

We would therefore be happy to speak with members of this Committee, collectively or individually, if they felt we could help them better understand the motivations and feelings of ordinary parents who want nothing more than the best for their children.

R & M Hardy, 8 November, 2020

Education Committee Call for Evidence, Home Education - Submission by Randall & Mary Hardy - Page 7

[1]Owen to Present Petition | Owen Paterson MP


[2]Presentation of the Petition to Parliament, Tuesday, 8 December, 2009 | No Nationalisation of Our Kids


              House of Commons Hansard Debates for 08 Dec 2009 (pt 0032)


[3]Will the Lessons of Windrush be Applied to Home Education? – The HE Byte


[4]AEHEP Launch Post 1 | edyourself


[5]Home Education bill communications - a Freedom of Information request to Lancashire County Council - WhatDoTheyKnow


[6]Correspondence various LAs Lord Soley Home Education Bill | edyourself


[7]Freedom of Information Request – Lord Soley and AEHEP – The HE Byte


[8]Annual Report on the Delivery of Commissioned Elective Home Education (EHE) support by The Education Welfare Service on behalf of Somerset County Council - 9 Dec 2016


[9]Oral evidence - Tackling inequalities faced by the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities - 12 Sep 2018


[10]Government urged to toughen up home education plans | Local Government Association


[11]Michael Wilshaw – The HE Byte


              Amanda Spielman – The HE Byte


              Anne Longfield – The HE Byte


              Sally Holland – The HE Byte


[12]Government commits to updated guidance on home education in light of concerns over unregistered religious schools » Humanists UK


              Humanists UK welcomes compulsory home-school register as move to shut down illegal schools » Humanists UK


[13]Education Committee Oral evidence: Accountability hearings, HC 262


[14]Lord Adonis letter to Lord Judd, 13 October 2006


[15]Ali v Lord Grey School [2006] UKHL 14


[16]Be clear about visits to home-schooled children says Ombudsman - Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman


              REPORT 18 010 117 Leicester City Council - PDF


[17]The Christian Institute and others (Appellants) v The Lord Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland) [2016] UKSC51


[18]European Convention on Human Rights and its Five Protocols


[19]Quinn Legal Opinion on home education proposals in the Isle of Man - March 2019


              Advice for ‘Protecting Home Education Wales’ by David Wolfe QC on Welsh EHE proposals (pages 10-14) - October 2019


[20]Education Committee Oral evidence: Accountability Hearing, HC 341


[21]Skipping school: Invisible children


[22]All you need to know about home-schooling and elective home education (EHE) - Education in the media


[23]Written questions and answers - Written questions, answers and statements - UK Parliament


[24]New National Restrictions from 5 November - GOV.UK


[25]Home Education: Grades/Covid-19 - Hansard


              Home Educated Candidates Ignored but Not Quite Forgotten – The HE Byte


[26]Q&A: What does court ruling on calculated grades mean for Leaving Cert students?


              Home-schooled student wins challenge against calculated grades system


[27]About the Children’s Commissioner for England


[28]Letter from Glenys Stacey to Gavin Willamson, 5 November 2020 - GOV.UK


[29]Education Committee Accountability Hearings 16 September, 6 October & 20 October 2020





November 2020