Written evidence submitted by Southend borough council


Home Education, Call for Evidence

Please find below the information that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council wishes to submit in response to the Education Select Committee’s Call for Evidence in relation to Home Education. The response is presented in line with the key lines of enquiry.


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


Legislation identifies that parents have a duty to ensure that their children of compulsory school age are receiving efficient full-time education suitable to their age, ability, aptitude and SEND (where it be at school or otherwise, such as home education).


Legislation identifies LA’s duties for home education as:


in addition to the above, the DfE also identify expectations and recommendations for LA’s in responding to their duties within Elective home education departmental guidance for local authorities, April 2019.


Unfortunately, both legislation and statutory guidance is both non-specific and open to interpretation. This is true for local authorities interpreting guidance differently and having inconsistencies dependant upon post cost but more importantly, interpreted differently by parents and the courts regarding what LA’s can reasonably do to carry out their duties.


This is highlighted by the fact that there is currently no legal definition of efficient full-time education or what is deemed to be suitable. Neither are their powers allowing LA’s to see the child to gain their views on their current education and welfare, unless the LA has reason to have concerns for welfare or safeguarding. LA’s are reliant on parents to engage and share information and examples of their child’s learning to assess suitability of education and whether they are making expected progress. Some parents refuse to provide access to their child’s learning environment (often the home), access to and sight of the their child, and also deny access to their educational achievements and progress. For those that do provide evidence, there is no prescribed baseline (no national curriculum) in which to assess suitability.


Unfortunately, both locally and nationally, EHE parent groups often promote that parents should not engage with LA’s and not share any information about their children or their learning and its suitability. Unless a child was previously known to a LA from attending a school or EY’s provision in their area, it is likely that a child would be unknown to the LA unless the parent volunteers information or another agencies curiosity identifies them as potentially missing education to an authorities CME officer. This is because a parent is not required to register their child with the LA at the point of compulsory school age onwards when they decide to home educate. Changes to the Pupil Registration Regulations tightened awareness of children home educated by making it a duty for schools to inform LAs when they remove a child from roll, however those that move from borough to borough can easily fall through the net, if they leave without informing of onward addresses.


Southend would welcome changes to both legislation and statutory guidance to enhance and specify both the duties of LA’s and parents in defining an efficient full time education in which to assess against and providing that parents must register with LA’s when home educating and work with officers to allow sight and voice of the child and evidence of education and their progress.


Currently it is far too easy for a parent to deregister their child from a school, with little or no preparation, ability and understanding of how they intend to do this. This ability has also been abused by schools in the past who have coerced parents to remove their child from the roll, by threatening exclusion or other sanctions. Off rolling, as identified by Ofsted, has been a significant factor in the increased numbers of parents turning to EHE over recent years.


In relation to safeguarding, Southend remains concerned that some home educated children remain hidden from the usual protective services such as school, who have oversight of a child’s welfare and are able to gain a child’s views. Where we are aware of concerns we of course respond but for many, home educated children remain unseen, as are their individual needs. Within Southend our policy states that for any child either currently or previously known to children’s social care, who become home educated, that enquiries are made to assess whether the change in educational provision is likely to increase any risks for the child and decrease protective factors from their last assessment or plan. This may result (where appropriate) in a new assessment for the child’s welfare. Schools are also asked to complete a deregistration safeguarding form at the point of removing from roll to assess any additional needs or vulnerabilities of the child and immediate family.


Whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required;


Southend is in full support of a statutory register for all children of compulsory school age who are home educated. Southend Council currently has a voluntary registration scheme and holds two lists of children that are known to be home educated: registered EHE and those known to be EHE but where parents decline registration. To date 51% of known home educated children in Southend remain unregistered. Of course, we do not know how many unknown children there are and continue to work with health, alternative providers and other services to identify children who they believe to not be in education at school.


By making it a requirement to register with the LA, it also supports the message that parents and LA’s need to work in partnership to support their ongoing education and its suitability. It also provides further safeguards for those travelling from borough to borough in increase informed information sharing between LA’s of children arriving in their areas, particularly if education was previously deemed unsatisfactory.


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


Southend, along with individual contacts with families to review their educational progress (annual conversations), prior to COVID 19 also held termly EHE events. These events were designed to provide a platform for parents, children and young people from home educating families to come together, gain information and advice, share ideas and good practice between families and celebrate learning achievements.


From these events we have been privileged to share in the diversity of individual achievements that a child’s home education has provided them. For some, EHE allows a child to focus and develop a specific skill or interest at a much-concentrated level than at school. Equally, some families have developed a far less structured learning style to advantage their child’s experiences which may lend to their particular learning style or special need, often outside of the constraints of a typical school environment. This can aid, stimulate and motivate some children in a far greater capacity than the structure of the school system and some will thrive under this model.


However, home education is not financially supported through Government and so some families may be at a disadvantage and unable to access resources that are available to children in school. although there is a growing number of online resources these are often not free and does not suit all learning styles. In addition, to access formal examinations such as GCSE’s can be costly and parents and children are limited to those exam centres offering GCSE subjects. Some parents and children find themselves travelling great distances to take GCSE’s due to their not being exam centres in their local area offering the exam of their choice.


Children not in school also have the potential to miss out on other aspects such as school nursing, vaccinations, career advice, SEND support and expertise. Southend tries to remove these barriers by incorporating these experiences in out EHE events and newsletters but are conscious that many families do not attend or respond to the opportunities that we promote.


Another area that has increased risk of disadvantage is the social development of children and young adults. For some home educators thay regularly attend EHE groups and ensure there children have every opportunity to socialise with others. However we also have other families who find themselves very isolated from both meeting other children and the wider community and although we aim to engage families to meet together not all are able or comfortable to do this.


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;


The availability and access to some support is significantly reduced when a child is home educated. Although a child with an Education Health and Care Plan will continue to access the statutory annual review process and the advice, support and guidance that this is able to offer, a child with SEND not under this process has no regulated support other than those accessed through health. Access to funding, specialist advice and knowledge and regular review of SEND specific progress is not necessarily available to families who are unable to access through their local offer.


Where a school identifies that a child is a young carer in their home and can access support for the child and family, this could easily go unnoticed for a child educated at home. Similarly, other environmental factors impacting a child such as substance misuse, domestic abuse, exploitation, mental health needs for either the child or family member, have a higher risk of being identified and early help put in place when in school. there is higher risk of these concerns remaining unsupported unless reported by the child, parent or a concerned other.


Equally, as mentioned above, schools provide a platform for access school nursing advice and vaccinations, career advice, sex education, access to different political views and understanding and British Values which a child may not experience if subjected to just one view point.


All LA’s are required to record the post-16 destinations of all young people and Southend ensures a September Guarantee for all, providing educational opportunities for young people regardless if they were at school but only where they are known. Due to the risk that currently parents do not have to register a child as EHE, children could be missed if not known to the authority. All young people who are known to be home educated at the time that they are due to complete their compulsory schooling phase are offered careers advise and a September guarantee through the engagement of Southend’s Adult Community College that offers a thriving 16-19 provision.


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’;


No LA can under current legislation ensure that either a child’s academic achievement is sufficient/satisfactory or ensure their wellbeing is safeguarded. This is due to no regulatory power to insist upon actually seeing the child and hearing their voice regarding their views of their education and wellbeing, nor the regulatory power to assess a child’s access to learning and achievements.


We would welcome an introduction for a defined minimum educational standard in reading, writing, comprehension and numeracy, where parents must submit examples of learning and achievement on at least an annual basis to be able to measure progress. Legislation requires amendment to clearly define efficient, suitable and full time education, to allow authorities to assess if education is suitable.


Equally, there is currently no regulatory oversight of alternative provisions, tutors, unregistered settings or home ed groups that operate under 18 hours a week or where they claim that they do not provide all or substantially all of a child’s education. This is a growing safeguarding concern and one that Southend takes very seriously. We have needed to bring in regulatory services to ensure that building are safe and not placing children at risk of harm where it is known that children are attending settings that are unsuitable. We have however found the current legislation for unregistered settings limiting, as providers soon learn to operate just outside of the requirements (ie under 18 hours, stating that parents remain responsible to deliver on a key aspect of education), or where children are attending in excess of 32 hours a week but due to the majority of hours being religious observance every day, again they fall outside of the protection of the law.


It is our believe that all provisions where children of compulsory school age are attending learning and activities whether it be tuition, alternative provision or otherwise during the ‘normal’ school day/term should be registered, be inspected by a regulatory body on a regular basis to give a quality judgement and have a requirement for ensuring a single central record where all adults are checked against an enhanced DBS on a regular basis. Equally, any person or body providing tuition for children should also need to register and undergo inspection and DBS checks. Parents would then be empowered to access a list of registered tutors in the knowledge that safeguarding checks have been undertaken and that the provision has a quality judgement.


In relation to a LA’s duty to return a child to education through powers available to them such as a school attendance order (SAO) is in need of urgent review. The process is lengthy and often does not result in a child being returned to school. More often than not, if the case goes to Court because a SAO did not affect change in the child being enrolled at school, the Magistrate will simply inform the parent to place on roll. It is very rare that any other sanctions are applied and these do not compare to non-attendance penalties which can range from higher fines but also put in place parenting and community orders.


When a case has been to Court, the process then needs to start again if the parent doesn’t follow the instruction. Change is needed that actually places a child on roll with a school and is not reliant on a parent actually applying for a place or their child turning up at the identified school.


It is our recommendation that the SAO ‘process’ be amended so that, as soon as a local authority issues a formal School Attendance Order requiring a parent to enrol their child at a school named within the Order, the relevant school be required to immediately place the pupil onto their school roll. If parents then fail to send their child to the relevant school, the local authority should then be in a position to take action, under section 444 1A Education Act 1996, and seek to prosecute those with parental responsibility for their failure to ensure the regular attendance of their child at school.


This removes the need to prosecute parents for their ‘breach of a School Attendance Order’, continues to prevent a parent removing the child from the school at a later date (unless the LA are in agreement) and would allow LA’s to use sanctions already in place for non-school attendance.


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


Parents and unregistered tutors and provisions should all be regulated and inspected to ensure that children have access to a safe, efficient and suitable education. If LA’s are given powers to ‘inspect’ such provisions, then specific qualifications and national training is required to ensure consistency across the country.


School Ofsted inspections should include contacting a sample of parents where their child has left the school for EHE to include in their findings when looking at possible indications of off rolling.


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;


Southend has gone to great lengths to try and engage home educating families to provide support and signposting to areas usually available for children attending school. This proves to be a challenge where there remains in some groups, animosity towards all statutory bodies. We have procedures in place to contact any new family identified as home educating within 5 working days and aim to meet with them within 10. We also (where parents permit) have at least one annual review through a conversation and sharing of information to assess educational progress. For those with an EHC plan they are encouraged to attend termly meetings to review progress (as with schools), as all families encouraged to attend EHE events.


We have also prior to COVID begun to unpick some of the community negativity in engaging with eth LA and involves our voluntary sector in reaching out to EHE groups to gain parental feedback and support the coproduction of parent information packs and guidance.


There is no specific funding identified for LA’s to support the needs of EHE children outside of the High Needs Block (DSG).


There remains huge inconsistencies from area to area regarding the LA response to EHE. Clearer statutory processes with amended legislation and dedicated budgetary resources from Government are needed to ensure these children are given the same opportunities and protection as children that attend school.


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.’


Southend has seen a significant rise in the number of children who have been de-registered from school to be home educated since schools reopened in September 2020. Many parents have cited that anxiety relating to COVID 19 as the main reason for this action.


Since the 1 September 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, there has been on average 134.5% increase in children deregistering from school for EHE.


In addition, due to COVID we have been unable to operate the EHE events since March 2020 and for majority of families have only been able to communicate via telephone or email. We have risk assessed our most vulnerable and regular contacts continue with those open to children’s social care, where they have an EHC plan or specific concern for vulnerability, but for the majority, we have even less oversight than previous. We also aware that many of the groups where families did meet up to socialise and for children to learn have ceased to operate placing this community at greater risk of isolation than previous.


With the huge impacts of increased numbers of home educated children, Local Authorities are already under great strain to keep up the growing numbers and remain in contact. With additional resources and powers it remains challenging for LA’s to mitigate against any negative impacts.


Southend has in place a localised 10 day protocol where schools will not remove from roll allowing an officer to make contact with the family and ensure that they are fully aware of their commitments prior to embarking on EHE. Is also allows where barriers are identified to offer a meeting in school rectify and remove barriers allowing them to return without their place being lost.


We are also encouraging schools to meet with parents and look at alternative options where anxieties or barriers are the main driver for pursuing EHE. Where families are open to services they also take a role in this and encourage parenst to seek resolution before removing from roll.



November 2020