Written evidence submitted by the Centre for Social Mobility, University of Exeter
Written evidence submitted by Joanna Merrett (EYPS, Centre for Social Mobility, University of Exeter) and Anna Mountford-Zimdars (Professor of Social Mobility, Director (academic) of the Centre for Social Mobility, University of Exeter). The Centre for Social Mobility at the University of Exeter is a joint practitioner-academic centre set up to advance social mobility through robust research and evidence-based policy and practice.
1 Provides a voice of the experienced home education (EHE) community - an estimated 54,656 children (ADCS 2019) were home-educated prior to the Covid-19 enforced school closure. The actual number of home educated children is largely unknown, the figures are derived from school children deregistered, however if parents have not applied for a school place for their child they are not counted in the numbers.
2 Is based on research undertaken from experienced home-education parents (EHE) between 25.03.20 – 08.07.2020. Our study resulted in 52 interviews and 401 completed surveys 100 parent accounts of exam cancellation impact. Totalling 553 participants who responded in our research; this would have been even higher had we not been required to close the survey to meet an Education Select Committee submission deadline. This already makes us the largest and most comprehensive study of EHE ever conducted in the UK (Rothermel, 2002 secured 419 participants, Pattison, 2016 had 400).
3. This report simply provides the voice of home-educators as voiced in our research. It is not an academic article analysis or a policy implementation or policy gap study.
1 Our research findings demonstrate that parents who electively home educate are typically striving to best meet the need of their child and have a child centred, consent based approach centralising the child’s wellbeing. This our research found is distinctly different for the parents who did not electively home educate and felt forced into home educating their children because they had exhausted state education opportunities or felt the state was not supporting them to thrive, many parents with children with SEND fell into this category.
2 Continuation of the ‘postcode lottery’ in the local authorities practice with regards to home education.
3 Parents perceptions that a voluntary register is sufficient and majority would oppose a mandatory register of home-educated children.
4 Parent report the benefits of happier children and better quality of family life and education gained from Home Education, and the disadvantages of systematic discrimination they reportedly face with Exam cancellation.
5 Inequalities in accessibility of support available for home educators and their children, including those with special educational needs, disabilities and, mental health issues.
6 Current regulatory framework exists and is sufficient if used correctly
7 Inspection would be unwelcome by the majority of Home Educators and difficult to regulate due to the non standardised characteristics of Home Education practice.
8 Little improvements have been made to support home educators since the 2010-15 Education Committee published their report on ‘Support for Home Education’ in 2012
9 The significant and detrimental impact COVID-19 has had on home educated children; Inequity issues raised by the policy of cancelling exams which excludes the needs of home-educated children.
Our research explored the perspectives of ‘experienced home educating families’ during the effects of Covid-19 enforced school closures, restrictions on movement and assembly and government enforced lockdown protocols.
An estimated 54,656 children were home-educated prior to the Covid-19 enforced school closures (ADCS 2019). However, they are often a hidden sector within education and their voice and experience are not routinely considered or represented in government decision making and policy.
This is important research potentially changing the landscape of Elective Home Education (EHE) and fulfilling an advocacy gap for two reasons: we might miss some learning that would benefit all parents schooling from home now or in the future, we might miss important aspects of EHE experiences that would benefit from policy consideration now. Our research exceeded expectations for policy demands and learning from the EHE community.
We knew from our other rapid response research at the Centre for Social Mobility at the University of Exeter that parents with children with SEN reported lower wellbeing than other parents, and we expected this group to face additional challenges in providing education to their children. We wanted to understand how parents experienced in home education were developing and changing their learning practices during this period of school closures and government restriction on movement and assembly.
The research project gained ethical approval from the University of Exeter and took place between 25th March to 8th July 2020. A mixed-methods study was undertaken, consisting of a largely open-ended questions survey, with 401 respondents and interviews with 53 respondents followed by 100 written accounts form parents about the impact of exam cancellation. This study sought to understand the impact on school closures and a changing policy environment on families who have chosen to electively home educate their child/children for at least 12 months prior.
The vast majority of survey respondents, two-thirds had been home-educating for between one and six years (Table 1).
Table 1: Length of home-education
Of the Survey participants a high number of parents reported a postgraduate level of study; 191 participants out of 454 (see Table 2) but it is noteworthy that home-educators are a diverse community with parents having a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds (see appendix 1 Job Sector Category). Of the participants 55.1% of families reported no children with special educational needs, compared to 45.4% that did have at least one child with special educational needs. 25% of respondents were educating one child at home, 16% were educating four or more children at home with the majority of parents educating two (38%) or three (20%) children at home. The reasons for choosing to home-educate varied as discussed in appendix 2 (Reasons for choosing to home educate).
Table 2: the educational profile of EHE in our survey
Our Survey had a wide reach across the UK (see table 3), with a broad range of diversity within home educating families across the United Kingdom; location and areas; curriculums; ethnicity and diversity; educational background; socioeconomic circumstances; level of family income and job status
Table 3 Map of areas participants responded from
Section 1: Findings: The duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education.
The duties on the local authority
1.1 According to our research parents felt that the duties of Local Authorities (LA) were clearly laid out in the DfE guidelines for Local Authorities including duties and responsibilities in safe-guarding and assessing if an adequate education is taking place as it related to EHE. In addition existing safe-guarding policies already exist which encompass all children including those home-educated. But parents felt that local authorities where frequently mis interpreting or mis using the guidelines. This included confusing children ‘out of education’, ‘children missing education’, ‘Off rolling’ and ’illegal schools’ none of which feature as characteristics of Elective Home Education
Home Education and safeguarding:
1.2 Parents were consistent in our survey that Elective Home Education (EHE) is not a safeguarding issue. Our Survey revealed that parents felt they ‘had to know their rights’ when dealing with Local authorities and other organisations regarding the law and home education
1.3 The Main Safeguarding policy and law that is relevant to Home Educated children (accessed via wwwgov.uk):
1.4 Our Survey did not explicitly ask about the organisations that children attended as part of their education. Despite this almost every participant (unprompted) mentioned the various groups, clubs, classes and organisations their children regularly attend as part of their education enrichment. All of these organisations or professional individuals (music teacher, swim teacher, tutor etc) carry a responsibility to fulfil any safeguarding concerns by following the relevant reporting procedure.
1.5 Any member of the public can report suspected abuse or neglect to the police or the local council/ local authority or to the NSPCC (https://www.gov.uk/report-child-abuse) and will be directed to a local safeguarding team who have existing procedures to follow for all and any children regardless of education choice.
1.6 In our research participants where clear that they wanted local authority and government to stop conflating Elective Home Education with safeguarding.
Quality of Home Education:
1.7 Our research participant perspective was that the quality of home education should not be expected to mirror a school standard. Two main issue raised by participants here are 1. local authorities do not understand how home education works or what it looks like, 2. they already have a school model of education in mind when they visit families.
1.8 Participants reported the issue is further compounded as most home education officers have little or no training about home education practice or culture and are often ex social workers or ex teachers (Mukwamba-Sendall, F. 2019). So participants felt education welfare officers are ill equipped to assess education as it appears in the context of home education and come with a lens of safeguarding rather than education provision.
1.9 Participants responded to the question regarding their relationship with the local authority with a majority overall of a negative experience. Participants responded that they wanted to see a more uniformed approach that was supportive and not ‘anti’ home education
1.10 Parents called for greater support and less discrimination explaining they are not anti-school but pro education otherwise.
Section 2: Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required;
2.1 Participants in our research where generally opposed to a register, some where not opposed to a register per se but had concerns over what that would lead to, referring to concerns over monitoring or control and loss of freedom in how they practice. Others raised questions over how a register would help protect vulnerable children (frequently referring to those NOT electively home educating)
2.2 Participants overall responded with a strong voice that working together with Local authorities was the way forward with all issues regarding EHE but wanted to have their choice respected.
2.3 Parents where not opposed to being ‘known’ acknowledging they are known to many professional bodies and organisations that ‘see’ their children, but did not want the ‘strings attached’ monitoring or regulation that they felt would distract from usual home education practice.
2.4 Many reported a strong desire to ensure vulnerable children were protected but saw no reason to penalise home educators and many pointed out that safeguarding measures and procedures are already in place for any such cases. Many also pointed out that school children are also at risk of abuse and neglect and safeguarding issues and that registering at school or being ‘seen’ at school did not increase protection for them, home educators called for wider support and funding for social services to tackle the known cases they already have and not focus so heavily on home educators.
Section 3: The benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face
3.1 Benefits that parents discussed as part of their motivations for home educating at the beginning of their home education journey including reasons for continuing home education. The following are the results from our research:
3.2 Our research revealed systematic discrimination of EHE young people relating to the Exam Cancellation Policy. The disadvantages raised by participants in our survey spoke directly to being excluded from policy making that affects them. Home Educating families experienced further negative impact for their children due to the predicted grades policy as their children rely on self-funded examinations taken independently at exam centres to access higher education. Participants reported Local Authority support relating to SEND needs reduced or stopped as a result of covid19 policy.
3.3 Participants in our research refer to these main disadvantages of EHE:
Section 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.
4.1 Our research asked an open-ended question to participants about what LA’s could do to improve services for EHE. The answers where categorised into the 11 main responses, with some parents giving more than one improvement suggestion (See Table 4).
Table 4. Q: Is there anything your local Authority could do to improve services for EHE
4.2 Out of the 401 survey participants, over 100 participants mentioned specifically wanting exam support from LA’s including access to exam centres, support with material and funding for exams.
4.3 In addition of the 100 accounts we collected of families directly impacted by Exam Cancellation policy and missing grades participants expressed stress and anger over the variation and expense of paying for Exams with some quoting a cost they had to meet of up to £500 per subject.
4.4 Some parents describing how their child’s SEN had not been given access to agreed special exam arrangements that they are entitled to.
4.5 In response to our survey question about provisions that participants would like to see from the LA the top answers were:
Section 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’
5.1 If existing frameworks for education settings, childcare provision and safeguarding are correctly used it is clear that Unregistered schools or off-rolling are issues that have to be dealt with within the frameworks available and are not an Elective Home Education issue and regulating, inspecting or monitoring EHE will not address these other types of alternative or illegal education. It is clear from the Survey that Elective Home Education is a lifestyle choice where families want their child to grow and flourish and be given the opportunity to reach their full potential in a positive and enriched environment.
5.2 Our research showed participants did differentiate the difference in elective and non-elective home education with Elective home Educators and ‘off rolled’ families both responding that these are distinct groups within home education and have different needs with regards to support and practice.
5.3 There is a distinct difference between EOTAS (education other than at school), illegally off rolled children and Elective Home Education (EHE). These should not be grouped together as they are very different situations and the needs and expectations of these different groups need to be looked at individually. The progress, support and issues of each group cannot be resolved satisfactorily if they are all ‘lumped’ together under one heading.
5.4 If a Local Authority supports providing education of the child and can support section F in the EHCP, this can be when a provision is inappropriate to be in an education setting; for example if a child has school refusal or school anxiety they may be more suitable to receive EOTAS rather than EHE. If Electively Home Educating the Local Authority is under no obligation to provide any of the provisions laid out in Section F where a child has an EHCP.
5.4 This points to an urgent need for more robust measures for schools off rolling pupils particularly where a parent does not wish to home educate. “School were illegally 'off rolling daughter' refused to make her go to a different school so she left” (participant No AA087). There is a clear and important distinction between EHE – a choice the parent and child have made and “off-rolling” - where it is not the parent and child’s choice and they have been forced to home educate.
5.5 Additionally some participants raised the need for better signposting and access to support for families being illegally off rolled to find a suitable placement or support for EOTAS where no school placement is suitable or available. “Never wanted to home educate but had no choice” (Participant No AA091)
5.6 The postcode lottery continues unabated and parents feel as if they are fighting a constant battle to constrain LA illegality. Many parents reported the behaviour of LA as illegal; “Awful. Intrusive. Sometimes Illegal” (participant No AA212) from local authorities, though the extent and reasons where not detailed in every participant response that mentioned ‘illegal’ LA behaviour directly. Others reported better experiences “very good due in large part to several experienced home educators spending a lot of time with them building communication and making sure they follow the law in a supportive not combative way” (Participant No AA196).
Section 6: The role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education
6.1 Inspection of Home education poses an impoverished view of home education practice and disregards the implications that home education context and family life co-exist. Our Research has highlighted how EHE vary in approach, style and education philosophy which would pose further issues for inspection as there is no uniform structure from which to measure performance or achievement or standards against. However, there is potential to support ‘good standards of practice’ in curriculum material or resources available that home educators would like to see provided by LA or to have access to (see table 1, see point 4.3
6.2 Inspection with the current framework of school inspection given the agenda of the current framework of school as the learning environment would not work for the home education context.
6.3 It is important here to clarify the distinction between existing methods of understanding school structure and curriculum context and delivery for inspecting education institutional settings versus the Learning, cognition, and understanding that are central to home education practice where the content and context are co-created between parent, child and the home education community they are part of.
6.4 This poses several problems for inspection according to our research for the following reasons:
6.4.1 The cultural norm of home education is to conduct a significant amount of education outside of the home
6.4.2 Is conducted in conjunction with other members of the local and wider community
6.4.3 Is child led and child centred rather than curriculum centred
6.4.4 Does not in the majority of cases follow a specific or any formalised curriculum
6.4.5 Does not have the same frameworks of written evidence or teacher assessed work as evidence of learning as a school based framework.
6.5 Inspections ‘role’ in this context would then become a co-creator of the learning environment of home education which threatens the existing culture and practice of home education and the very essence of EHE as child led, child centred and personalised to each individual child (near unanimous in our survey responses and interviews).
6.6 Our research shows there is as much variation in home education practice as in parenting style itself.
6.7 Participants reported a blended approach that made differentiation between ‘home’ and ‘work’ difficult with the majority of participants explaining: “The learning happens all the time” (Participant No AA313).
6.8 Inspection or standardising home education is an incomplete understanding of the relevance of learning and educational experience in EHE which occurs in its naturalistic setting of the family home. Such intrusion to family life in this way was acknowledged and deeply opposed by many participants in our study.
6.10 Our research suggests that inspection could play no more of a significant role in inspecting families homes for their parenting style than they could for inspecting home educators homes for a ’standard’ to measure home education.
6.11 Examples of different approaches to EHE as practiced by the participants in our study. These varied between being fully structured, semi structured and unstructured with an overall majority responding with a mixture of semi structured approaches that became more structured as the children approached GCSE stage. These include but are not exclusive to :
Section 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
7.1 Following the recommendations for improvement that had been made to support home educators since the 2010-15 Education Committee published their report on ‘Support for Home Education (2012) our research highlights that a postcode lottery remains in local authority policy and practice. Parents varied in their response to questions about their relationship with the local authority with an overwhelming majority reporting a negative or hostile relationship with their Local Authority.
7.3 The ‘Support for Home Education’ (2012) recommended that the Government should ensure that local authorities are providing high-quality advice, through their home education services or websites, to those who request support. Parent responses suggest this has not improved.
7.4 The ‘Support for Home Education’ (2012) commended government giving colleges the power to admit 14 to 15-year-olds directly however participants in our survey suggest that access to college and treatment by colleges varies and can be difficult to access.
7.5 The ‘Support for Home Education’ (2012) concluded Local offers should be developed in consultation with home educators and their families. Some families reported working with the local authority others reported not having any contact.
Section 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.’
8.1 The policy of cancelling exams excludes the needs of home-educated children.
8.2 There is a significant and detrimental impact on home educated children due to take exams as private candidates in 2020 and 2021 and beyond. Typically, home educated students sit exams as independent candidates at schools or exam centres, leaving many now without either an exam or a predicted grade. The policy of cancelling examinations without offering suitable substitutes risks failing a generation of home-educated children from the educational progression into post-16 and post-18 education they would normally access.
8.3 The policy context for our findings is that home-educated children are often not eligible for predicted grades. This is what the OFQUAL consultation found: “…we could not identify any reliable way to calculate grades for private candidates...”(Ofqual. 2020. Publishes Initial Decisions on GCSE and A Level Grading Proposals for 2020 [article], May 2020). Ofqual observed that “There was broad support for our proposal to only allow exam boards to issue results for private candidates for whom the Head of Centre is confident they can submit a centre assessment grade and include them in the centre’s rank order….Most of those who disagreed were students who are private candidates themselves and their parents or carers.” (Ofqual [news story] 2020).
8.4 The exam boards estimate about 20,000 private candidates were planning to enter for exams this summer (Ofqual, 2020;pg52) while Chris Spraggett, chief executive of Tutors and Exams told the BBC they had received about 38,000 enquiries from "displaced" candidates - not all homeschooled - within 48 hours after exams were cancelled. There are no official figures for the number of home educated students due to sit exams (BBC ‘Homeschooled Pupil “in 5 Limbo” over GCSE Move’, 2020). The Government document explains “A third category of students will have studied independently. The exam boards are considering whether some of these students, whose progression will be hindered if they do not receive a grade this summer.“ (Ofqual, 2020;pg52).
8.5 Home educators college and university places are being jeopardised as well as apprenticeships and vocational courses. Many have been left without a solution.
8.6 Parents are urgently trying to negotiate with local providers in the absence of exams which are impacting on EHE children’s future education opportunities.
8.7 Home educators are not able to mark their children’s work for a predicted grade nor have they sat marked Mock Exams so cannot use mocks as a form of predicted grade. Each exam centre interpreted Ofqual guidelines differently creating a lottery of opportunities for EHE children.
8.8 In interviews, home-educators explained that private candidates ‘were not always part of a ‘cohort of students’ at a centre so were largely left without hope of a grade’ (interviewed home educating parent with two children both GCSE candidates). A Centres cohort can be school children taking re-sits or studying at the centre as part of course towards exams. Ofqual guidance did not take into account Private Candidates who studied independently and whose first contact with the exam centre is to sit the exam.
8.9 The policy of cancelling examinations without offering suitable substitutes for home educated children who are usually not eligible for predicted grades risks failing a generation of home-educated children from the educational progression into post-16 and post-18 education they would normally access.
8.10 Families have been left out of policy making with nonspecific policy regarding their continuing education outside the home. Families reported that home education is widely practiced in the community and as part of social and learning groups with significant time spent at activities organised outside the home (see section 4). The Covid 19 response Gatherings Policy and Education Outside of School policy poses little in the way of clarity for Home educators to continue informal community meet ups for shared learning.
8.13 A significant number of EHE young people face re-sits next year delaying their current education plans, some face having to add English and Maths to their college course (adding extra strain to their workload pressure not comparable with their schooled peers). Some are still in limbo without a resolution to their child missing out on their Exams.
8.14 Some exam centres simply said NO private candidates at all. Some got OFQUAL requirements confused with CAIE (Cambridge Assessment International Education; an exam provider) and put an age limit or time limit on submitting acceptable work and interpreted the guidance differently. One home educating parent and tutor reported “I was a tutor for about 25 CAIE students who were affected. Only about 8 or 9 were able to have me submit portfolios for them, because each centre made up its own rules. Some just said NO private candidates at all. Some got the OFQUAL requirements confused with CAIE and put an age limit or time limit on acceptable work. It was truly a shambles, and I’m remembering which centres went out of their way to help home educators”.
8.15 Participant No AA404 explaining the impact of covid19 exam cancellation policy and aftermath which led to the closure of the two exam centres in Cornwall (there have been many other exam centre closures UK wide). Leaving EHE families in the country no choice but to travel out of county, posing significant access issues particularly for those on low income and reliant public transport to get to exams starting at 9am.
Appendix 1: Parents Profession by Job Sector Category
Parents Profession by National Statistics Job Sector Category (Standard Statistical Regions (December 2005) Names and Codes in England, n.d.) *additions of 3 categories: stay at home parent/full time home educator, unemployed, retired.
Appendix 2: Reasons for choosing to home-educate
The Survey showed some common ground in approach to home education. The most common in nearly all respondents was “child led”.
a) Home education families describe a common belief in being able to provide a holistic education provision, they felt enabling better preparation to continue education effectively during lockdown.
b) EHE reported education should be focused not just on outcomes, exams and attainment, instead having a fully individualised focus on the child development as a whole person.
c) Parents chose to focus on life skills and coping skills they felt would benefit the children learning during lockdown that they wouldn't have learnt otherwise.
d) Families ranged in number of children and reflected a wide range of parent professions including many teachers and NHS key workers.
e) Some families came to home education after delaying school starting age, through leaving school, as a lifestyle choice, as a viable alternative to school, or because they were home educated themselves.
f) Concerns over a lack of Special Educational Needs support in school was a common reason for families deciding to electively home educate. “Dissatisfaction with the structure and content of the current education system, particularly in the context of delivering special needs/neurodiversity in the classroom and making appropriate adaptations. Worsening mental health and lack of accommodations meant I decided to take responsibility for their education and cater to their needs. Home Education Parent with 4 children and 6 years of EHE experience.
g) Some home education families suggest informal exclusion and ‘off-rolling’ by schools informed decisions to electively home educate.
h) Children had faced bullying in school or been labelled ‘behind’ as well as gifted learners being held back by age expectations.
i) Most expressed disagreement with the ‘one-size fits all’ school system and preferred the personalised, individualised approach of home education.
j) Availability of more online resources also helped parents and children to provide a continued provision.
k) Many families view the national curriculum as ‘too narrow’ and felt they could offer wider and more diverse teaching and learning opportunities though home education.
l) Most families valued the multicultural community aspect of home education and the emphasis on a wide range of interests that were shared through peer social groups organised by home educating families.
m) Most reported a significant increase in quality of life, freedom of education, individual and family happiness.
n) Home educating families would like to see a deeper understanding of home education practise and an acknowledgement of home education as a viable, respected, successful and healthy choice for families by schools and government both nationally and locally.
Association of Directors of Children’s Services (2017) Summary Analysis of the ADCS Elective Home Education Survey October 2017, Executive summary. Association of Directors of Children’s Service, Retrieved 19 July 2020, from https://adcs.org.uk/assets/documentation/ADCS_Elective_Home_Education_Survey_Analysis_FINAL.pdf
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Mukwamba-Sendall, F. (2019) Policy interpreted: the effect of local authority administration and officer perception and practice on national home-education policy implementation. Lancaster University. Retrieved 21 July 2020 from https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/people-profiles/fe-mukwamba-sendall.
Ofqual (2020). Exceptional arrangements for exam grading and assessment in 2020. 68.
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Ofqual publishes initial decisions on GCSE and A level grading proposals for 2020. (n.d.-b). GOV.UK. Retrieved 21 July 2020, from https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ofqual-publishes-initial-decisions-on-gcse-and-a-level-grading-proposals-for-2020
Department for Education. (2020). Protective measures for out-of-school settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. [guidance]. GOV.UK. Retrieved 14 July 2020, from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/protective-measures-for-holiday-or-after-school-clubs-and-other-out-of-school-settings-for-children-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak/protective-measures-for-out-of-school-settings-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak
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Parliament Education Committee. (2012, December 11). House of Commons - Support for Home Education - Education Committee. Https://Publications.Parliament.Uk/Pa/Cm201213/Cmselect/Cmeduc/559/55902.Htm. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmeduc/559/55902.htm
Tobias. L (2020) Where Can my Home Schooled Child Take Examinations? (n.d.). Retrieved 21 July 2020, from http://www.ahomeeducation.co.uk/where-can-home-schooled-child-take-examinations.html
 Malcolm Richards (PhD candidate, Centre for Social Mobility, University of Exeter) supported some data collection for this report.