Elective Home Education Evidence The Christian Institute


Introduction to the Christian Institute

The Christian Institute exists for “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom” and “the advancement of education”. We are a nondenominational Christian charity supported by individuals and churches throughout the UK.


We believe that, both in moral and legal terms, responsibility for decisions over education rests with the child’s parents, not the state. We want to ensure that law and policy on home education involve the minimum possible interference in family life.


Summary of Evidence

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


“Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required”


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


“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 role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education”



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


Safeguarding and educational quality are distinct


It is unhelpful to combine the issues of safeguarding and ‘educational quality’. One risk of doing this is that educational quality to be seen as a safeguarding issue.


This is a problem because educational quality is not an objective matter. Whether children are at risk of abuse is an objective matter. Anyone can agree on what constitutes a safeguarding threat where clear evidence exists: it is obvious that a child who does not have food or clothing, or has contact with adults who have a history of physically or sexually abusing others, is at risk.


On the other hand, it is highly debatable whether a child who is, to take an extreme case,unschooled by home-educating parents who have reflected carefully on that decision is in any sense at risk. If they are at risk, the risk is only that they receive a less than adequate education. It is clear, though, that they are not at risk in the same sense, or to anywhere near the same degree, as a child with neglectful or abusive parents. But because there is heated debate over the appropriateness of these educational styles, it is easy to see how conflation of safeguarding and educational quality could induce heavy-handed enforcement in such cases.


Secondly, safeguarding is a much more serious issue than failures in educational quality. Consider what the results would be if failures in teaching quality in school were treated by Ofsted as equivalent to failures in child protection. These things are treated as distinct because one is a much more serious failure than the other.



Problems with ‘educational quality as a criterion


Educational suitability is the criterion currently applied by LAs when judging the appropriateness of home education, and is a good way of judging the success or failure of home education. This is the standard established by the Education Act 1996.[1] It is a subjective standard: the judgement is based on the match between the education provided and the needs of the child. Many parents choose to home educate because their child’s needs are not being adequately met by the schooling available to them, often in situations where the child has complex needs. So this standard judges the success or failure of parents in terms that parents can easily understand and endorse: how well they are catering for their child’s unique needs.


This approach is reflected in the way that the law is framed. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 requires that parents ensure their child “receive[s] efficient full-time education suitable...to his age and ability, and... to any special educational needs he may have”.


Educational quality, by contrast, is not a helpful way of measuring the success or failure of home education. Firstly, because it is difficult to apply an objective standard in the widely differing circumstances of home educators; secondly, because educational quality implies an external standard by which the education is judged. Applying an external standard to home education undermines the adaptability of home education, taking the focus away from the childs needs. It begs the question of what that standard is, given the widely differing conceptions of what constitutes educational quality, even amongst educationalists. In the context of home education, it is particularly inappropriate to apply a single external standard.


The very use of the terminology educational quality suggests a move in the direction of applying Ofsted standards to home education. This would be a mistake. Home education is a good option for some because it is different.



The present situation strikes a fair balance


The present situation strikes a fair balance between family privacy and child protection – local authorities already have substantial powers to intervene when they have a good reason to believe there is a problem with the suitability of home education, or alternatively because they believe children have safeguarding needs.


Giving overstretched local authorities even greater responsibility for safeguarding home-educated children would make authorities increasingly risk-averse. Local authorities would be under pressure to interfere in the lives of completely innocent families to protect themselves from criticism.



Summary: diversity threatened, local authorities burdened


It is a strength of home education that it can be tailored to the individual child. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires, under Article 28, different forms of secondary education to be available. Article 31 recognises the right of children to be able to enjoy a range of activities. Home education delivered by committed parents opens up many more avenues for children to be able to enjoy these rights.


But the natural diversity that individually tailored education produces makes assessing home education difficult. Local authority (LA) oversight of home education will either result in a loss of the diversity of approaches which is a strength of home education, or be entirely unworkable. LAs are already overburdened; giving them responsibility for home education burdens them with extra responsibility for which they are not obviously equipped.


Ultimately, parents committed to their child’s attainment are best placed to know what works for their child.



Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required

The Government has said that the purpose of a register is to “prevent vulnerable young children from vanishing under the radar”.[2] This is clearly related to concerns about abuse.



Is there evidence of abuse in EHE families?


Evidence that children in elective home education are at risk of abuse is limited. In 2014, the NSPCC released a report which examined Serious Case Reviews from across the country that related to home-educated children.[3] Each case review took place between 2008 and 2014. The report was able to present seven cases across this time period, but did not explain the link between these cases and home education.


In 2018, a number of FOI requests were submitted to local authorities relating to the relationship between home education and abuse. The responses are tabulated below.




Home Educated Children Interaction with Local Authorities and Social Services 2018

Local Authority

Home educated children

Home educated children (suspected of) being subject to abuse*

Serious Case Reviews or Joint Area Reviews involving home educated children

Home educated children on a Child In Need plan

Home educated children put into LA care

Home educated children previously in school education

Barnet Borough Council







Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council







Bath and North East Somerset Council







Birmingham City Council







Derbyshire County Council







Haringey Borough Council







London Borough of Barking & Dagenham







London Borough of Bexley







Northumberland County Council







Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea







Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council







Staffordshire County Council







Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council







West Sussex County Council







Westminster City Council








*including abuse, neglect, forced marriage, sexual exploitation, radicalisation or domestic servitude.

**22 children recorded as having had a ‘risk factor’ of neglect and 26 of sexual exploitation.

The Data Protection Act 2018 sets six as the lower limit for disclosure of statistics relating to personal data not belonging to the information requester.



The response from LAs indicates that there is no clear correlation between home education and abuse. It is not clear that there is a problem for registration to solve. Creating powers for any state body runs the risk of those powers being misused. It is irresponsible to create powers if there is no clear mandate to do so.


Abuse in schools

It is also worth considering that abuse is an established problem in schools. To take one example, a report by the Women and Equalities Committee in 2015 highlighted a YouGov poll which said that almost a third of 16 to 18-year-old girls had experienced sexual assault in school.[4] ONS data for 2013-2018 also suggests a high prevalence of bullying, with around one-sixth of pupils affected.[5] More than half of these suffered physical bullying.[6] This is certainly a substantially higher prevalence of abuse than in the homes of home educators. It would be a better use of limited local authority resources to focus on this issue, rather than on inspecting home-educating families.

Setting this issue aside, even if there were a problem with home education acting as a front for child abuse, registration can only achieve the aim of preventing abuse if there is some way of determining which children are vulnerable. This would necessitate some sort of inspection regime.

An inspection regime would be dangerous. Some local authorities have shown a clear bias against home-educating families.[7] In some cases particular local authorities have shown a tendency to threaten home educators who are reluctant to allow local authorities access to their homes.[8] There seems to be a presumption on the part of some LAs that such families must have something to hide. This amounts to a bias against privacy.

We must also consider whether a register will capture the sort of families who require state intervention. Families who have something to hide seem unlikely to register, especially if that means being inspected. But registration will place an additional requirement on families who do not need any kind of intervention.


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

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



Children are diverse. What works for the majority is not necessarily suitable for every child. Home education allows a healthy diversity of approaches.

Self-control is a strong predictor of adult success.[9] Home education allows for a greater degree of self-direction, and so offers the opportunity for children to develop this kind of self-control. Progression in home education is in accordance with a child’s ability. Schools, by contrast, cannot cater individually for every child’s rate of progress.

Home education also democratises the education system: those who cannot find local provision which fits their children’s needs, or their own financial capacities, always have the option to remove their child and educate them in a way which does suit the child’s needs.



One disadvantage that home educators have faced through the Covid-19 pandemic is lack of access to public qualifications. We know of a number of exam centres that had agreed to take external students but then refused to issue centre-assessed grades after exams were cancelled. This was despite official guidance having been issued setting out criteria for evidence that could be used in such cases. From anecdotal reports, this seems to have been a widespread problem. Home-educated A-level students have thereby been prevented from obtaining grades with which to apply for entry to university. This has been an appalling failure. The Government should make every effort to prevent this from happening again.

It is widely acknowledged that many parents choose to home educate because school provision for children with SEN is poor. There is research available which proves this point, not least that detailed by Ofsted in its report Exploring moving to home education in secondary schools (2019, page 12). It is important to note in relation to the broader conclusions of this report that Ofsted says, “This research is based on self-report methods. We cannot confirm their accuracy.”[10]


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’

Whether children have been attending unregistered schools, formally excluded or subject to off-rolling is irrelevant to the issue of elective home education. It would be disproportionate to introduce a regime of registration and inspection to combat the problems presented by unregistered schools, exclusion and off-rolling because:

a)      This is inconsistent with policy in other areas. We do not have the power for example to check every house for trafficking victims, although the consequences of not having such powers is a great deal of human suffering;

b)      We have no idea how prevalent these phenomena are. We risk an intervention for the sake of an ‘unknown unknown’.

In any case, unregistered schools are already illegal. Operating them is a criminal offence and the police are therefore already free to make enquiries and to take action, if necessary in conjunction with Ofsted’s illegal schools unit. Changing the law on home education makes no difference to this.

There is also a question about how a regulatory framework could deal with the problem of illegal schools. Formal inspections of home educators are unlikely to tackle the problem, since parents sending their children to illegal schools are likely to be aware of their illegality and capable of hiding their activities from inspectors visiting the home. The best way to tackle illegal schools is through the development of intelligence derived from members of the community, not by increasing the pressure on the vast majority of home educators who are completely innocent of wrongdoing.


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


Problems with inspection

It is not obvious that home learning environments are any more risky for children than schools: there is no clear mandate for regular inspections. The Children’s Commissioner has said that inspections should be termly. This is typical of the unmerited suspicion directed towards home educators. Schools are only inspected every four years.


i) A chilling effect on home teaching

There would be a significant chilling effect on effective school leadership if schools were inspected termly, or even annually. Effective leadership requires space to be creative, without constant interference from others who might prematurely scorn new ideas. In the home education setting, regular inspections might have the same chilling effect on the quality of home education. The mere presence of inspectors will put pressure on parents to ‘play it safe’ in their approach, putting priority on allaying the doubts of inspectors, rather than doing what is best for their child. This would undermine a key strength of home education.

Focus is often on parents in the discussion of further regulation of EHE. But we should not underestimate how intimidating it could be for home-educated children themselves to have their situation regularly inspected. Mandatory inspection will put pressure on the whole family. Inspection risks being an intervention to solve a problem the existence of which is not supported by strong evidence.


ii) Hostile officials and a climate of suspicion

The obvious suspicion that officials have shown towards home education in the past exacerbates the risk that inspection will have a chilling effect on home education.

Research carried out in 2015 found home-educated children in England were two to three times less likely to be subject to a Child Protection Plan than schooled children, despite being twice as likely to be referred to social services.[11]

In addition, an inspection regime, particularly one which is more frequent than that applied to schools, would also only provide implicit support to the assumption that home educators are suspect. Why else would home educators need to be regularly inspected?

This atmosphere of suspicion already seems to affect the attitude of state employees in Scotland to home educators, as reported by the Times Educational Supplement in 2019.[12] In some cases, parents have been told that it is ‘illegal’ to home educate their children, and have been otherwise harassed by local authorities. Parents believe the situation has become considerably worse since safeguarding was enhanced under the Getting It Right For Every Child (Girfec) policy.[13]

The mere existence of special powers could generate undue suspicion. There are examples of this problem elsewhere. The police, for example, frequently inspect licensed premises; indeed police have the power to enter licensed premises at any time unannounced. Police can use force to secure entry, and refusal to admit them is a criminal offence (and will inevitably result in loss of licence).[14] This undoubtedly creates an air of suspicion around licensed premises. There is an assumption that such premises are more likely to be sites of criminality than tanning parlours or corner shops. Why else would these powers exist? This is turn motivates police to pay greater attention to such premises in expectation of finding criminal activity.

The very purpose of introducing an inspection regime is to detect abuse and poor quality teaching. Both inspectors and parents will assume that the purpose of inspection is to find fault. This will create a vicious circle of distrust between home-educating families and inspectors.


iii) Diversity is hard to inspect

One of home education’s strengths is its adaptability to the child. This produces diverse approaches. But that creates a problem for a putative inspection regime: an inspector has to be competent to analyse approaches that can be radically different from one another.

Ofsted inspectors are able to draw on an established view about how schools should teach. In the same way, teachers are competent to assess the professional competence of other teachers, because there are established frameworks of professional competence. Any inspection regime for home education has two choices. First, to develop such frameworks, and risk limiting the natural diversity of home education. Second, to inspect without reference to a common standard. In this second case, either inspection will ultimately be pointless, or else arbitrary. Arbitrary assessment of educational quality will create maximum scope for abuse of powers by LAs.


iv) Who does the inspecting?

There are two obvious choices for an inspecting body for home education. The first is local authorities. The problems with this have been outlined elsewhere in this response. The second is Ofsted. There are significant problems with relying on Ofsted as an inspecting body of home education.

The risk of inspection having a chilling effect on the diversity of home education was highlighted above. In The Watchmen Revisited, a recent report by Policy Exchange, the authors expressed concern about Ofsted’s one-size-fits-all approach to inspecting teaching. Ofsted had acknowledged, they said, “that they are using the National Curriculum as a benchmark under the new Framework when assessing academies”.[15] They emphasised:

“We consider it important for inspectors to recognise that the National Curriculum is neither a minimum standard nor a preferred approach, and that... Ofsted should equip its inspectors, when examining academies or independent schools, to consider each curriculum on its own merits, without prejudice to how similar or dissimilar they are to the National Curriculum.”[16]

The same Policy Exchange paper also records instances of bias by Ofsted in favour of a secularist approach to education. The authors write:

“…there have been too many occasions when a secularist bias has been displayed. It is also important for Ofsted to recognise that, however unintentionally, some of the language they have used has created a perception amongst some faith communities that Ofsted has a secularist agenda. The term ‘muscular liberalism’ was repeatedly cited to us as a concern by individuals of many different faiths, as was the perceived suggestion by Ofsted that freedom of religion should be limited to the private sphere.”[17]

There are two reasons given here that should rule Ofsted out as an inspecting body for EHE. Firstly, there is already a widespread perception that Ofsted is hostile to approaches to education which deviate from the norm. This will be real concern for home educators whose approaches to education are diverse. Furthermore, Ofsted has shown a clear inability to be creative in its approach to inspecting schools that do not stick closely to the National Curriculum. This suggests it would not be competent to assess home education, and that parental concerns are well founded.

Secondly, Ofsteds clear secularist bias will also undermine its credibility, and heighten the risk that families which choose to educate their children in line with their own religious and philosophical convictions will be unfairly assessed. In summary, parental trust in Ofsted will be low, and Ofsteds competence to inspect EHE is doubtful.


Existing powers are sufficient

The two concerns which are often expressed in relation to the safeguarding of home educated children are:

  1. The protection of children from abuse
  2. Ensuring that children are provided an education of sufficient quality

In the case of protecting children from abuse, existing powers strike the right balance between protecting children and preventing unnecessary intrusions into private family life.

It is doubtless that a certain number of children under school age are abused in their homes. However, it would clearly be excessive to subject parents to mandatory regular inspection just to check their children are not being abused. This is why families with young children can refuse health visitor visits without sanction. Perhaps there are families who appear normal, who refuse health visitor visits, who are abusing their children. Nonetheless, we do not seek to impose what essentially would amount to universal surveillance of families against their will to prevent this from happening; it would be disproportionate.

This does not mean the state should not provide support to the parents of very young children. Indeed, the service of health visitors is an important part of post-natal care, but crucially one which can be refused by families who do not want or need it. Voluntary local authority support is welcomed by some home educators, but only because it is voluntary.











[1] Education Act 1996, Section 7

[2] The Guardian, 24 February 2020, see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/feb/24/children-schooled-at-home-up-13-despite-fears-over-lack-of-regulation as at 6 November 2020

[3] ‘Home education: learning from case review’, NSPCC, March 2014, see http://www.home-education.org.uk/articles/nspcc-scr-review.pdf as at 6 November 2020

[4] Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools: Third report of session 2016-17’, Women and Equalities Committee, September 2016, page 5

[5]Bullying in England, March 2013 to March 2018: Analysis on 10 15 year olds from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, Department for Education, November 2018, page 3

[6] Loc cit

[7] The case of Lilian Hardy is illustrative. For example, The Guardian, 13 February 2018, see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/feb/13/parents-matilda-stage-star-lilian-hardy-council-home-schooling-row as at 6 November 2020

[8] Loc cit

[9] To our own surprise, our 40-year study of 1,000 children revealed that childhood self-control strongly predicts adult success, in people of high or low intelligence, in rich or poor, and does so throughout the entire population, with a step change in health, wealth, and social success at every level of self-control.” From:  Moffit et al., Lifelong Impact of Early Self-Control, American Scientist, see https://www.americanscientist.org/article/lifelong-impact-of-early-self-control#:~:text=To%20our%20own%20surprise%2C%20our,every%20level%20of%20self%2Dcontrol as at 6 November 2020

[10] Exploring moving to home education in secondary schools, Ofsted, 2019, page 12)

[11] Charles-Warner, W, Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric, 2015, see http://www.personalisededucationnow.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/home-education-and-the-safeguarding-myth-signed.WCW_-1.pdf as at 6 November 2020

[12] TES, 28 May 2019, see https://www.tes.com/news/petition-claims-harassment-home-educators as at 6 November 2020

[13] Loc cit

[14] Licensing Act 2003, Section 179

[15] The Watchmen Revisited, Policy Exchange, 2020, page 8

[16] Loc cit

[17] Ibid, page 9