Written evidence submitted by Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA)

 

Education Committee Call for Evidence: Home Education

Submission of written evidence by IPSEA – November 2020

 

About us

 

  1. IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) was established in 1983 and currently advises over 4,000 parents and carers of children with special educational needs and/or a disability (SEND) every year.

 

  1. We deliver two free and independent telephone advice services to parents/carers and young people. Our Advice Line provides legally-based next step advice on any educational issue that relates to a child or young person's SEND eg exclusion from school, discrimination and the process for securing additional support. On our Tribunal Helpline we give next step advice on appeals and disability discrimination claims to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability), more commonly known as the SEND Tribunal. This is also the gateway to our Tribunal Support Service through which we represent parents who are making appeals or claims to the SEND Tribunal. The Tribunal hears disputes between parents and local authorities regarding educational support for children and young people with SEND, as well as claims of disability discrimination against schools.

 

  1. Our helplines and Tribunal Support Service are largely delivered by volunteers, which enables us to provide our services to parents free of charge. The range of services that IPSEA delivers across England places us in a unique position to identify trends and common issues.

 

  1. As well as training parents and carers on the SEND law framework, IPSEA also regularly trains other bodies including SEND Information, Advice and Support Services, education professionals and local authorities.

 

  1. Our views are based on evidence from what the families we support tell us and our experience whilst supporting them. This written evidence has also drawn on previous evidence submitted in response to the call for evidence and revised Department for Education guidance on home education, submitted in July 2018[1] (‘the 2018 response’) and in response to the Department for Education consultation on children not in school: proposed legislation, submitted in June 2019 (the 2019 response’).

 

  1. We do not require our response to be anonymous.

 

The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the following points:-

 

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

  1. The duties of local authorities regarding home education starts much earlier in the process by ensuring that those parents who choose to educate their children at home are exercising a real choice.

 

  1. In our 2018 response we set out the issues which we regularly see through our advice services that result in parents removing children from school and electively home educating.  While philosophical reasons are a major factor, there is evidence which suggests that a growing number of parents who are home educating are doing so as a result of the failure of schools and local authorities to meet the needs of children with SEND.

 

  1. Through our helplines and training we know that many children are being denied support in schools due to a lack of resources. There is considerable pressure on high needs budgets due to significant cuts to school funding combined with increases in the number of children and young people with the most complex needs, an increase in the number of children and young people with EHC plans and more children and young people being educated outside the mainstream system.

 

  1. This means that supporting children with SEND is becoming ever more challenging for mainstream schools. Although all mainstream schools are expected to be inclusive of children with SEND, this is not happening consistently. Unless there is a culture change towards better inclusive practice among certain schools and a more supportive attitude towards parents from certain local authorities, we anticipate that the practice of encouraging parents to withdraw children from school under the guise of ‘home education’ will increase. It’s also likely that more parents will feel they have no choice but to home educate because of the negative impact of a poor school experience on their children.

 

  1. Another factor as to why parents might choose to educate their children at home is the threat of, or an actual, exclusion.  Through our helplines and training we know that too many children and young people with SEND are excluded unlawfully. Common examples include parents or carers being asked to keep children at home from school without proper notification that it is an exclusion, and schools actively encouraging parents to deregister their children from school under the threat of formal exclusion.  If a school deems a child to be challenging or low achieving, then it might threaten to exclude the child unless the parents take the child out of school to educate them at home. Research carried out by the Children’s Commissioner[2] found evidence of children being coerced into leaving their current school, either to move to another school or to be educated at home, under threat of permanent exclusion thus resulting in parents deregistering children. Some parents fear there is a stigma attached to children having a formal exclusion on their school record and will take this action to avoid a formal exclusion. IPSEA has encountered cases where parents have deregistered children from school, on the school’s advice, to prevent prosecution for non-attendance in situations where the school is not meeting the child’s needs and/or where the child is being subjected to repeated exclusions from school. The practice of unlawful exclusion is widespread and has been the subject of a number of studies[3].

 

Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required

 

  1. We support a statutory register of home educated children to ensure that there is an accurate picture of the number of children and young people with SEND outside of the formal education systemIn our 2018 and 2019 responses we recommended that local authorities for maintained schools should be compelled to provide a breakdown (to the Department for Education (“DfE”) and to Ofsted) of all pupils in each year group removed from schools in their area for home education. This should include details of whether those children were on the SEN Register or had an EHC plan whilst they were at school. Academy schools could provide this information directly to the DfE and Ofsted. As well as making sure that home schooled children are safe, the information provided could also facilitate further scrutiny where there are concerns that some schools have higher numbers of parents deregistering children.

 

  1. In our 2018 response we highlighted the lack of oversight of children who are unable to go to school for extended periods because of physical or mental health problems, or because of exclusion (lawful or otherwise). Local authorities have a legal obligation to provide suitable, full-time education for all children who are out of school under section 19 Education Act 1996. This obligation is widely not known about or ignored. As a result, there is a cohort of parents who have not elected to home educate. We consider there needs to be greater safeguards in place to stop children ending up without educational support when this is not what they or their parents want. We know from our advice services that local authorities regularly fail to fully deliver on this obligation. For example, they may offer only online education, regardless of whether this is suitable for the needs of the child. Where there is face-to-face tuition, this is often only part-time, for one hour per day or even less.

 

  1. It is our preference that any register needs to include children who are being educated under these section 19 arrangements[4] and also flexi-schooled children (ie those who are educated at home or elsewhere for some of the week during school hours but are also on the admission register of a state-funded or registered independent school).

 

  1. Including these children on a statutory register will enable the government to obtain a more accurate picture of the number of children out of school and highlight those areas where there are a concerning number of children out of school.

 

The benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face

 

  1. We have concerns that not all parents of children with SEND who take their children out of school because they feel the school cannot, or will not, meet their child’s SEND, or have been pressured into withdrawing their child, understand the legal consequences of doing so.

 

  1. For pupils with Education, Health and Care (“EHC”) plans, the Children and Families Act 2014 (“CFA”) creates an absolute duty on that pupil’s local authority to secure the special educational provision set out in their plan. However, if a parent chooses to home educate their child, the local authority is relieved of its obligations on the basis that the parent is making ‘suitable alternative arrangements’ under section 42(5) of the CFA. Sadly, this means that some local authorities encourage parents to home educate when it is proving difficult to find a placement which works for their child. Parents are often not aware that by doing so they are giving up their entitlements to support from the local authority.

 

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

 

  1. See paragraph 17 above in relation to the cessation of local authority obligations for children with EHC plans whose parents choose to educate them at home.  This is a concern for those children with SEND who have been withdrawn from school by their parents as a consequence of the school and local authority not meeting their needs.

 

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’

 

 

  1. As detailed above we support the introduction of a statutory register of home-educated children to ensure there is an accurate picture of the number of children and young people with SEND outside of the formal education system.

 

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

 

  1. Our belief is that local authorities should provide information on those pupils in each year group that have been removed from all schools in their area for home education including details of those pupils receiving SEN Support or with EHC plans.  We believe there is a role for Ofsted in scrutinising those institutions that have higher numbers of parents deregistering children.

 

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

 

  1. This is outside our area of expertise.

 

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

 

  1. We are currently seeking information and collating evidence from our volunteers and parents/carers using our services of the impact COVID-19.

 

  1. As we have stated previously, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that prior to the current challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the SEND system was widely recognised as being in crisis. Further financial pressures on government departments and local authorities as a result of the pandemic are likely to have a further detrimental impact on those children who rely on the system the most. This in turn may lead to an increase in children with SEND being educated at home but not as a result of any meaningful choice.

 

IPSEA

November 2020

5

 


[1] https://www.ipsea.org.uk/News/home-education-not-always-what-it-seems

 

[2] See https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/2019/02/04/huge-increase-in-children-disappearing-from-schools-to-be-educated-at-home-childrens-commissioner-for-england-calls-for-a-compulsory-register-of-off-the-grid-children/

 

[3] For example see https://justice.org.uk/our-work/administrative-justice-system/challenging-school-exclusions/

[4] https://www.ipsea.org.uk/getting-temporary-education-put-in-placegs