Written evidence submitted by [a member of the public]


[Note: This evidence has been redacted by the Committee. Text in square brackets has been inserted where text has been redacted.]

As a home educating parent of [a number of] children for almost twenty years I feel well placed to be able to comment and contribute evidence to the government’s Education Committee Review on Elective Home Education. 

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 says: “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education... either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”  Home education falls under “otherwise”.   As a parent I choose to home educate my children because I believe it is best for them and it is my right to choose what is best for my children as parents are primarily  responsible for the education of their children.  In schools, teachers are educating on behalf of parents, not the state.

As things currently stand, Local authorities already have powers to intervene if they believe a child is not being adequately educated or there is risk of abuse.  This approach strikes a good balance between family privacy and child protection.  Giving overstretched local authorities more responsibility regarding safeguarding home ed children would only result in them becoming more risk adverse.  To protect themselves for criticism, they would find themselves under pressure to interfere in the affairs of law-abiding families.  This would in turn distract from children who are genuinely at risk.

The question of whether a mandatory register is needed for home educators has been raised and as a home educator and someone it would directly affect, I say no.  There is no evidence to suggest that a register is necessary or would be effective.   A mandatory register gives the state unwarranted powers over parents and why should parents need to register with the state to teach their own children?  It would further be a worrying sign of state interference in family life. It is of grave concern that this sort of mandatory registration could lead to more intrusive monitoring and regulation.  Local authorities are already overstretched, and it seems that this sort of monitoring would be a waste of their already limited resources.

Again, there is no evidence that inspection in necessary and there is no mandate for it.  As has already been pointed out, Councils already have sufficient powers to intervene if there are safeguarding issues or to address inadequate home education.  Inspection would be an intrusion into the home and a worrying sign of increased state interference in family life.  This sort of intrusion can also be very detrimental to children.  The idea of a stranger coming into the family home to inspect it would be stressful for a child. 

In recent years, elective home education has been unhelpfully linked to illegal or unregistered schools, with exclusions and off-rolling.  These are issues which certainly need dealing with and to do so requires some focus, but not on elective home education.  It is quite worrying that home education seems to be associated with child abuse or child protection issues.  These are separate issues which local authorities have the powers to deal with.  The truth is that many families are choosing to home educate to protect their children from bullying, an alarming increase in sexual harassment and abuse that has been well documented in schools.  I have heard of many parents taking their children out of school because of anxiety and deteriorating mental health.  These conditions improve dramatically once the child is removed from school.  School is not a happy place for many children.  Home ed children tend to be more assertive, confident, self-reliant, self-motivated and well adjusted.  These are qualities that should be lauded and sought out in a healthy society.  The current regulatory framework allows these children to blossom and attain their educational goals and so I see no evidence that there is any need to change it.

Having chosen to home educate my children I am aware of the pros and cons associated with this educational model.  No child is the same and home education allows for a bespoke program to meet the needs of each individual child.  It is also unique in that it allows children to purse their own interests and provide child led education where appropriate.  An example from my own experience was during lockdown.  We live near the beach and had access to lots of rocks.  So, one of my children started painting them.  She went on the computer and researched how to do them and came up with some great ideas.  She did stained glass, silhouettes, cartoons and so on.  We bought special pens and varnish and gave them as gifts to elderly relatives to decorate their gardens with.  The younger children soon joined in and started doing all the national flags -even the county flag of our own county which I did not even know existed.  One thing can quickly springboard into something else and learning becomes creative and fun.  Children can work at their own pace and take things slower if they’re struggling or speed up if they are gifted.

The biggest concern for people outside the home education community about home education is the perceived lack of socialisation. I always found this a strange thing to be the number one objection for elective home education, but it is overwhelmingly the case.  The truth is that home educated children have so many opportunities for socialising that it can be a struggle to get some of the book learning done - if indeed you choose to educate in that format.  In the last 20 years there has been a huge improvement in HE group activities and a recognition in the wider community has meant access to a huge array of educational resources.  Home Ed children can have access to historic properties, zoo’s, aquariums, musical performances, exhibitions, museums, farms theme parks and so much more.  With the advent of social media, it is extremely easy to connect with other home ed families.  There are many online groups that organise lessons as a one off or by the term.  You could literally spend every day out doing something educational, fun and social if you chose to.  Home ed is incredibly social and this is a myth that needs dispelling.

My children have grown up with each other and spent a lot of time in each other’s company.  Most children spend 14 years of their life in school -away from parents and siblings.  Having my children at home with their parents and each other has really contributed to a strong family unit and a nurturing environment.  My children are well adjusted, happy and productive members of the community.  Some are older and no longer home educated, and I am pleased to say that I am very proud of the people they have become.  My two eldest have achieved higher degrees -one of them working on a MA – my next two are working on going to university in the next year or so. 

The biggest draw back to home education must be the toil it takes on the parents.  Most home ed families are single income and there is a lot of physical work in juggling school and home life.  Parents who home educate accept this challenge as part of their parental responsibility.  It is a sacrifice that parents are happy to make because they see how it benefits their children and those are the greatest rewards.   Every family got a small taste of the challenges faced by home educators over the Covid lockdown and I dare say many people had their eyes opened to both the challenges and joys it brings.  It’s not a choice for everyone, but if it is my choice, I should be able to do so unhindered.

Any support that the government wishes to provide to home educators should be entirely voluntary.  Not requesting support or declining advice must not be looked at with any concern.  Home educators are also often looked at with suspicion by local authorities rather than supported.  I myself had an anonymous letter put through my door from social services because someone had reported that my children were not in school!  It was very unnerving and there was no follow up to the letter.  I must admit that it did feel discriminatory.  There could be better support for parents with children with special needs by making existing provision better.   Finally, the provision of financial assistance for exam fees or help with exam centres are areas in which home educators could be supported.  The cost of exams as outside candidates can be prohibitive.  It does seem hugely unjust that no school child has to pay for exams and yet home educators do.  This is an area where a child could become disadvantaged because parents may not have the financial wherewithal to pay for all exams.

November 2020