HED0923

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.]

 

Submission by [name], home educating parent of 2 children aged [ages] for the last [time period], administrator for the largest regional home education group in [county].

 

 

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

 

The responsibility to educate a child rightly lies with the parents or legal guardians.  Whilst most parents choose to discharge this duty by sending their child to school, this is currently a choice and should remain so.  Education is not restricted to the National Curriculum and nor should it be.  With the economy and scientific progress developing so quickly, it is no longer the case that we go to school, choose a profession or a trade and then get a job for life.  The current generation of children are going to face a very different economy than the one their parents and grandparents experienced and many of the necessary skills (problem solving, great communication, decision making, project managing) can be taught far more effectively at home.  Giving local authorities the duty to assess the quality of home education is not appropriate when so few of the staff employed have any understanding whatsoever of home education and what a good example looks like, particularly when you factor in the very many different methods of educating at home.

Safeguarding is a completely separate issue.  We have laws in place to protect children, and Social Services are well equipped (although dangerously underfunded) in both experience and understanding to carry out this duty.  We do not have systems in place to routinely check on children in the school holidays, after school hours or before children reach school age.  We do instead have doctors, nurses, health visitors, opticians, pharmacists, dentists all with a duty to report concerns about safeguarding, as well as members of the general public - family, friends, neighbours etc.

The Police have no right to enter someone’s home to search it just in case there are any stolen goods - why would we allow the local authority to enter someone’s home just in case there are children facing safeguarding concerns?  The bar for triggering an investigation is incredibly low at present - anyone can report a parent to social services with no evidence other than their own words.  The harm done to families, especially children, by local authorities insisting that they have a right to interview children without parents present, threatening parents with school attendance orders and demanding entry to their homes is significant and entirely unnecessary when we have procedures in place to both identify and address safeguarding concerns.

 

 

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

 

What would be the benefit?  Unless you are going to use the list to monitor home education provision (see comment above as to why I disagree with this), why do you need a list?  We do not have a central list of all children in the country, neither the police nor social services have a list of everybody living in their area - we have the right to only be investigated when there are justifiable grounds for doing so.  Why should this be any different for home education?
 

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

 

The benefits of home education are many and varied.  In the case of my children, they are able to devote time to areas of interest not covered in school, we have built close, supportive relationships within our tight knit family, they are learning skills not encouraged or facilitated in school - how to manage a budget, how to run a home, how to think critically about what they read or see in the media, how to use the internet safely, how to be independent.

Many of the disadvantages stem from the lack of structures in place for home educated children - exam centres often being challenging to find (many schools will not accept external candidates) and far away.  The current lockdown restrictions are a great example of home education not being considered and/or understood.  There have been very few guidelines issued specifically relating to home education and they have all been unclear.  Many of the guidelines talk about OOSS (out of school settings) being able to run sessions for home educated children but the kind of informal meets, classes and groups arranged by home educators are not included.  We are still also being asked by local authorities to report how our children are getting sufficient socialisation.  There seems to be very little joined up thinking involved.

 

 

       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;

 

Support for home educators is all but non-existent.  Getting an EHCP for a home educated child is incredibly difficult with parents often told that they cannot even be assessed because there are no teacher reports for them to use as evidence of challenges faced by the child.  In terms of financial support in general, there is none available but that seems reasonable when the responsibility for educating a child rests with the parents/legal guardians.  Going to school has expenses involved (uniforms, trips, equipment, transport etc) and so does home education (exams, curriculums and tutors if you choose to use them, trips etc.)

 

       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’;

 

Off-rolling is a significant problem in our local area and it definitely needs to be addressed.  Allowing academies to be exempt from much of the local authority scrutiny is a mistake in my opinion and makes it significantly easier for parents to be left with the responsibility for a home educating their child against their wishes. 

In terms of the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children, yes I do think the current framework is sufficient.  In the vast majority of cases, parents are heavily invested in and care for their child’s wellbeing.  They are best placed to observe their children, to know and understand their interests, abilities, preferred ways of working.  For those cases where the parents are not ensuring their children are loved and supported, we have a very low threshold for being able to trigger a social services investigation.

Academic achievement is not the best criteria on which to assess the success of education - we need lots of different trades people, athletes, artists, carers and being able to support our children to follow these paths if that is where their interests and abilities lie is an added benefit of home education.

When did academic achievement become the sole measure of educational success?

 

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

 

I don’t believe there should be an inspection of home education provision, in the same way that we have no inspection of parenting provision or caring for the elderly provision (at home - obviously different when children or vulnerable people are being cared by outside agencies).

We have systems in place that, when used correctly, protect children suspected to be at risk of harm from their parents already - including in terms of education.  I absolutely do not want to see a situation where parents are presumed to be doing their children harm unless they can prove otherwise.  That goes against the very foundation of our justice system with the presumption of innocence.
 

       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; and

 

I have seen no improvement in support since the report was published.  The only time I have seen an improvement in relations between the local authority and the home education community is when we have fought hard to be consulted on how they engage with us and managed to build better relationships.  The guidelines produced in April 2019 have not improved the situation and nor have the current very heavy handed tactics we are now seeing (undoubtedly due to the significant increase of families choosing to home educate their children during the COVID-19 pandemic).

 

       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.’

 

These have been significant.  We have seen a huge increase in the number of families choosing or considering home education and the restrictions around meeting with others have brought a halt to the vast majority of home education groups and activities.  With unclear guidelines, or indeed no guidelines covering home education at all, it has been incredibly difficult to know what we are allowed to do without risking a heavy fine. 

On the flip, we are seeing a great many families deregistering their children from school because the lockdown period has shown them that they are in fact capable of home educating their children and/or that their children are so much happier and learning so much more when they are not in school.  As someone who understands how much of a relief it is to see you child relax and recover once they have left school, I think this is a very good thing.

There is a huge crisis of mental health issues in children connected with going to school.  More families feeling able to take their children out of that setting, and getting to see them thrive once the stress and challenges of school are no longer a part of their daily lives is a real joy.

November 2020