Home Education - Education Select Committee inquiry

Pearson written evidence submission

 

About us

Pearson is the world’s learning company providing content, assessment and digital services to learners, educational institutions, employers, governments, individuals, and partners globally. We have extensive experience of the UK education and skills system and as a learning company and awarding organisation provide a broad range of products and services. In relation to home schooling, we provide solutions for online schools, such as Harrow School Online, and have supported provision in the United States for many years now. Our response to this call for evidence, focusses on the topics where we can most usefully comment.

Summary/Key points

 

Q. What should the duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education be?

 

  1. Even before the pandemic, more families were turning to home education for a personalised schooling experience for their children; COVID-19 has simply added health and safety to their list of reasons for choosing home education. The 21st century home education phenomenon merits an updated approach from the policies of the past.

 

  1. Pearson would recommend that local authorities have the same duty of care for learners in their region, regardless of how parents have decided to educate their child(ren). Providers of home education services should be statutorily regulated and inspected in accordance with the approach to all schools. This would include providers reporting safeguarding concerns to their Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).

 

  1. Home education services may fall into two categories: Complete online schools that students may enrol in for their complete provision, thus becoming no longer home educated, even if they are attending at home; and those services intended to supplement a family’s own provision.

 

  1. Whilst families choosing home education should not be required to use a service provider, those home-education families who do choose “approved” service providers – those that have passed inspection and met other regulatory requirements should be free of further regulation beyond registering with their local authority.

 

Q. Is a statutory register of home-educated children is required?

  1. Yes. We can see no valid reason as to why a register is not statutory. It should encourage parents to state how a child is being educated, including whether an approved home education service provider is being used.

 

Q. What are the benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face

  1. For an increasing number of children, the traditional schooling method is not appropriate and it is plainly failing them. As well as the numerous health and well-being reasons as to why a child does not succeed in a regular school, there is also the important fact that not all children make learning progress at the same speed. Depending on the circumstances, some children only need a short break from their regular school, but for others it is a longer-term, and increasingly permanent, need.

 

  1. At Harrow School Online, a complete online school, we have a large cohort of children who were previously educated in a regular school, but who left the formal system a number of years ago due to health and well-being issues, or because they are high attaining, or because they are pursuing passions in sport or the arts. We would argue however, that online schools be regulated and that attending one should not be part of the home-education category.

 

  1. We do recognise however that, without a wider, statutory regulation oversight of the home-education market, society risks a number of, particularly vulnerable children, falling through the cracks and into a life of under-privilege.

 

  1. Additionally, the lack of access to government funding for exams for families who have chosen home education is detrimental to a child’s future social and career opportunities. The current system risks creating a burgeoning under-class of children who are unable to access university and thus for whom many future career paths are closed, because their families could not afford to cover the costs to take Level 2 or 3 qualifications independently.

 

Q. What is 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. Government funding for a child’s education should be universal, with the spending tied to the child, however they are educated. Thus, parents electing to home-educate their child should receive access to the same funding level as their child would benefit from in a maintained school. This allocation could be tied to a statutory register of home-educated children, which should include a description of how the parents will provide for their child’s education. Given the growth in online schooling, we would argue that DfE accredited online schools should receive access to the same funding levels as maintained schools, including Pupil Premium.

 

  1. We have found that parents of students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are often drawn to home education, and particularly to online schooling, because they believe the flexibility of time and environment will benefit their child[ren]. Yet the choice to step away from a mainstream school environment requires families to forego the supports that might have otherwise been prescribed by their child’s education, health and care plan (EHCP). The government’s commitment to meeting SEND needs might require additional funding for provision of services in a home education environment – for example, through online speech therapy or counselling.

 

  1. At a minimum, every child, regardless of the nature of their education provision, should have access to full government funding for their Level 2 and 3 qualifications. This funding should fully cover both the examination fees and the fees charged by private candidate centres. Consideration should be given by the government to provide a minimum payment threshold to cover the cost of centre fees.

 

Q. Is 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. A more comprehensive approach to ensuring well-being and learning outcomes for students in home education – through a encouraging parents to register with the local authorities; through regulation/inspection of home education service providers; and through funding of home education provision – must be predicated on home education being an elective choice for families. The government must guard against involuntary relegation of students into home education by their mainstream schools, whether through formal exclusion from school or the too-common practice of ‘off-rolling’.

 

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

  1. We would argue that a key change should be a focus on inspecting the providers of home education services. While the previously proposed accreditation scheme for online schooling providers was voluntary, we would continue to recommend that the government upgrades the proposal to be a statutory requirement. Given the significant growth in this market in the past year, and its role as the sole provider of a rapidly increasing number of children – many of whom are in the vulnerable category – we believe that a voluntary scheme provides neither sufficient guidance nor protection for families.

 

  1. A statutory requirement for accreditation of providers of home education services would also provide a mechanism for the government to assign funding to parents to support their choice of home education method.

 

Q. What impact has COVID-19 had on home educated children, and what additional measures might need to be taken in order to mitigate any negative impacts.’

  1. COVID-19 has driven a rapid growth in online learning. Much of this has been led by teachers from regular schools making outstanding efforts to switch their instruction to online. But we have also seen an explosion in demand for places at online schools which were specifically established to deliver a full-time online curriculum, including rich programmes of extra-curricular activities.

 

  1. We continue to propose that a statutory regulation of the full-time online schooling market would be in the best interests of all parties, particularly families, who are seeking a reliable and trustworthy online partner for the child[ren] while self-isolation and lockdowns continue to spread. We have seen this September how many children who had had their first experience of online learning during lockdown made a deliberate choice to continue attending a full-time online school, rather than return to their regular school which was not entirely suitable to their individual needs. We believe this trend will continue and so parents should be supported with a formal regulatory and inspection framework of providers. And children should be protected via a statutory home-education register.