Written evidence submitted by NSPCC


NSPCC Home Education Select Committee Inquiry:

November 2020

The NSPCC is the leading children’s charity fighting to prevent child abuse in the UK and Channel Islands. We help children who have been abused to rebuild their lives, protect those at risk, and find the best ways of preventing abuse from ever happening. To achieve our vision, we:



Local Authorities and schools have specific duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in their area as described in the Working Together[1] and Keeping Children Safe in Education[2] guidance.

In mainstream schools, evidence of a child receiving a safe education might be revealed by external inspections or via an ongoing relationship between the Local Authority and the school. When a child is home educated current guidance states Local Authorities can intervene if there is evidence that the education provided is unsuitable or insufficient[3]. In practice, it remains difficult for Local Authorities to retrieve this evidence as Local Authorities do not have the powers to see the child and assess the suitability of their learning.

The current guidance results in local variation and an inconsistent service and differing expectations with regards to engagement between home educating families and Local Authorities[4] and ultimately a post-code lottery of support for families.

We recognise education is a fundamental right for all children and young people and we support parents’ right to educate their children at home[5]. In line with this core principle, we support the Department for Education’s proposed register of children not in school and a duty on Local Authorities to populate this register as an initial step to identifying all children who are home educated. A register would help enable Local Authorities to discharge their safeguarding responsibilities by providing an initial picture of a child’s education at home and, using the information provided, establish whether further support is required. This will assist in establishing consistency across both Local Authority provision, and in parental expectations of Local Authorities responsibilities.

It is important to note that the register alone will not enable Local Authorities to effectively determine the safety of children receiving an education at home, and they will need additional support as to how they can use the register to better carry out their existing safeguarding responsibilities.

To support them with this duty, we feel Local Authorities should be monitored and provided with tailored support and guidance to support consistent practice in maintaining the register. Given the year-on-year increase of home educating families[6], appropriate support and adequate funding must be offered to ensure they are not struggling in their capacity to carry out their safeguarding duties.

To do this effectively, it is important for Local Authorities to take a relational approach with families of children not in school when carrying out their registration duties. Local Authorities should ensure parents understand the rationale for the register, and what role the Local Authority plays


We recognise education is a fundamental right for all children and young people and we support parents’ rights to educate their children at home[7]. The state has a duty to support parents who home educate a child and home education does not in itself heighten a child’s risk of being abused or neglected. However, without formal registration, a child can remain unknown to the Local Authority which reduces their visibility and chances of receiving professional support if they require it.

We are aware that there are increasing numbers of home educated children. The number of children who are home-educated in England has gone up by almost 13% in the last year and in the context of COVID-19, the number is thought to be much higher[8]. Ofsted reports Local Authorities are experiencing an increase in the number of home education requests as schools reopen, with more than a third of schools visited seeing a rise in pupils being home-educated because of parental anxiety over the pandemic[9]. The precise figure receiving an education outside of mainstream settings remains unknown due to the lack of registration requirements.

The introduction of a register is a necessary first step in identifying children who are educated outside of school. The register would provide an initial profile of home educated children and would act as a good indicator of the needs of these children. In turn, this information could be provided to Local Authorities and Government to paint a local and national picture which would enable better support and planning to be provided to home educating families.

A register would also act as a facilitator for Local Authorities to offer support following a child’s exit from mainstream settings. A register which includes information such as reasons for leaving mainstream education would help identify any additional support a child will need to receive after leaving mainstream education, as well as provide evidence for the schools and the Department for Education on the need for additional support for pupils with similar needs who remain in school and how to support children returning to mainstream education.

To effectively capture the safety of a child’s home education, Local Authorities will need to be proactive in identifying these children. Local Authorities should be prepared to share information from their register in instances where a child is at risk of harm or in need of additional support. Information sharing is an essential component of an effective safeguarding strategy: it helps to ensure that a child receives the right kind of support at the right time. This would help ensure the local system is consistently safeguarding the welfare of all children in the area. We are mindful that better information-sharing, clear referral pathways and joined-up multi-agency working is needed across the board, not just regarding home education.

Where a child has never attended a mainstream setting, it would be difficult for the Local Authority to identify these children in the first place. The Local Authority must be proactive in identifying all children who come within scope of the register, including exploring how information from service providers such as local GPs, hospitals and dentists can support the development of the register. Government must give clear guidance to Local Authorities regarding the process they should follow to populate the register and mitigate the risk of children falling through the cracks - particularly given there are likely to be regional differences in numbers of home-educated children. They should also consider guidance to other data holding agencies, such as health services, to promote data sharing to ensure the local authority is aware of children living in the area.



The motivations for parents to home educate are varied. As a result, we are aware that home education can take on many forms and can be a positive decision for children. Different reasons for wanting to home educate can include: religious or cultural beliefs, different pedagogical approaches or tailored SEN teaching. It may also reflect negative experiences of mainstream education[10]. In this regard, home education has the potential to be tailored and designed to fit the specific needs of the child.

Conversely, home education can often be viewed as a last resort. Reasons can include: school’s failure to meet a child’s socio-emotional needs; bullying; a breakdown in relationship between the school, family and/or Local Authority; or via exclusion, either legally or by way of ‘off-rolling’. It is clearly a matter of concern that some of the most vulnerable children included within this cohort should end up out of school by default.

In some cases, the decision to home educate may be taken by entirely at the behest of a child’s parents. However, the Children’s Commissioner report[11] puts a spotlight on decisions driven by school itself, such as ‘off-rolling’. In this instance, parents report they were unaware they were signing up to home-education, as this was not properly explained nor were they provided sufficient time to decide. Schools should be supporting children with a range of needs and parents shouldn’t feel undue pressure to educate their child at home, given that in some cases, families may not have the emotional or financial capacity to do so.

Given the diverse range of factors that drive families to educate their children outside of the school setting, Local Authorities must be equipped to provide a wide range of forms of support and to differing degrees for these families.


At present, without introduction of a register, we are unable to comment on the quality and accessibility of support available. We therefore would like to reiterate the need for a statutory register to be implemented so that Local Authorities are provided with an initial picture of the provision available and therefore better positioned to offer consistent, tailored support if requested. In turn, this would act as a good indicator of the needs of these children and would provide Local Authorities and Government with a local and national picture of home education provisions, enabling better support and planning to be provided.

It is important that children who are home educated have access to a range of support outside of the academic curriculum in line with what children attending mainstream education would receive.

Therefore, we recommend a duty on Local Authorities to provide support, preferably co-created with local families who educate their children at home. Positive engagement between the Local Authority and home educating families is key in creating a complete register, positioning the Local Authority as an appropriate source of support and promoting the welfare of the child. As part of this duty, we suggest the following as offers of appropriate support:

Signposting to accredited tutors

Local Authorities should produce an accessible list of local tutors and education bodies with robust safeguarding practices. This would include private tutors in their area, or agencies supplying tutors who have completed all relevant employment checks.

Curriculum advice

The roll out of statutory RSHE this year represents a real opportunity to ensure all young people receive consistent, high-quality information on what constitutes abuse or maltreatment and understand how they can speak out and get support. It is vital that children educated at home should also have access to this key learning. Similarly, provisions should be made to ensure that when aged 15, children can approach the Local Authority directly for support and advice on RSHE without parental involvement. This would mirror children’s right to opt into RSHE three terms before their sixteenth birthday in mainstream schools.

Outside initiatives

Local Authorities should ensure families are aware of the range of initiatives and support that exist outside of schools, such as local youth clubs and early help services in children’s centres. Local Authorities should also ensure all families know that Childline is an anonymous 24/7 service for all children and that there is helpful information for parents on child development and keeping children safe, on and offline, on the NSPCC website. Evidence suggests some home-educated children are taken out of school because the school is failing to meet their socio-emotional and learning needs, it is therefore crucial that families are aware of wider support available in their local area.

Exploring other options

The Children’s Commissioner report highlights instances where parents may feel obliged to accept home education, such as in instances of ‘off-rolling’[12]. In these instances, it’s vital that Local Authorities ensure that independent advice and support services are known to families, and can provide information about alternative education options, such as special education provision. Similarly, the Local Authorities should make families aware of the available support if they choose to educate at home. It is important these families are aware of possible alternatives which may be able to provide appropriate facilities and support.



As mentioned, the lack of adequate and clear statutory powers and guidance constrains the capacity of Local Authorities to ensure the safety of children receiving a home education. As a result, it remains a concern that home educating families are not legally obliged to engage with local authorities at any one point and that there is no measurable framework in place to assess Local Authorities’ capacity in ensuring the wellbeing of these children, nor their consistency for engaging with home educating families.

In instances where a child may attend an unregistered setting, the most recent Ofsted annual report states[13] the current legal framework does not provide sufficient clarity or powers to ensure that all children are kept safe while attending an educational setting. This concern is echoed in the latest ADCS survey[14] which highlights instances where families claim to be within the home educating category but very few engage with the Local Authority to ensure the education provided is sufficiently safeguarded.

Evidence from Ofsted suggests an increasing number of settings, which can and are taking place in unsafe environments, delivered by staff without relevant employment checks, leave children at greater risk of significant harm[15]. Without amending the current registration requirements, identifying unregistered schools and the children in attendance, will remain difficult.

We welcome the proposals as set out earlier this year by the ‘regulating independent education institutions’ consultation. Widening the scope of registration would ensure all ‘’full-time’’ settings are subject to a set of minimum standards, to ensure a fuller picture of the education provided and compliance with safeguarding requirements. This will help ensure settings that are providing education, are not able to continue to avoid registration by structuring their provision in a way that does not meet the minimum threshold, while they are in fact the child’s main source of education.

We recommend that these proposals are developed in alignment with the proposals for the register of children not in school to be held by Local Authorities. This would enable Ofsted and Local Authorities to work collaboratively in gathering enough information to ensure all settings that provide education for children, not enrolled in school, are doing so safely and prevent a child from falling through the gaps.

As part of this proposal, we support placing a duty on proprietors to supply information to Local Authorities as proposed by the Children not in school consultation, as this would help the Local Authority to create a complete picture of the education provision for children not in school in the area. To identify all children not in school, we recommend that all settings that form part of a child’s education come within scope of the duty.

Placing a duty on proprietors is crucial for ensuring information is joined up. How other agencies engage with the register and share information is key to mitigating the risk of any child falling off the radar. Proprietors should provide information on the suitability and safety of the education provided, as well as whether the child has additional health or disability needs.

Linking the registration requirements would provide a list which can be inspected against by Ofsted, via the new registration requirements if they have concerns about a particular setting. This would enable Ofsted and Local Authorities to coordinate information and ensure all settings that educate children outside the home, meet the necessary safety requirements.

At present, it remains difficult for Local Authorities and Ofsted to evaluate the reasons for pupils moves to home education as families are under no obligation to engage with the Local Authorities once they have exited mainstream education. A register which records the reasons for taking up home education would help facilitate Ofsted’s commitment to tackling off-rolling. The register should enable parents to report their reasons for wanting to home educate to identify instances where the school may have influenced the decision to withdraw the child.


A register would provide Local Authorities with information about a child being educated at home and enable them to establish whether further assessment is required based of the information provided.

In this regard, a register in and of itself will not enable Local Authorities to effectively determine the safety of the child receiving an education outside of mainstream schooling. Instead, registration should act as a first point of contact for these families and Local Authorities will need additional support to enable them to use the register to better carry out their existing safeguarding responsibilities.

As part of their duties, we recommend Local Authorities request a home visit at the point of being notified that a child is being home educated, to foremost ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child, but to also offer and support and guidance to the family should they need it. In instances where families refuse a home visit despite it being necessary to check the safety of the child, Local Authorities must feel confident in their duty to uphold the law and make further enquiries. Therefore, Local Authorities must be resourced to firstly ensure all children not in school are known via the register, and secondly, feel suitably equipped to act where a home visit is necessary, in line with their current responsibilities.

For this to work, transparency between the Local Authority and families is central to creating a mutually beneficial relationship. This would help Local Authorities create a complete register which is necessary to assess the safety of the arrangements provided, and enable them to better position their support to children and their families. Ultimately, a good relationship would assist the Local Authority in identifying children not in school, without extending their current safeguarding capacities.  As part of this, we recommend consistent engagement with home educating groups to form supportive and engaged networks. These networks could provide Local Authorities and Government with a local picture of home education, which in turn, would enable better support and planning to be provided to these families.



Without statutory powers and clear guidelines in place, interpretation of the guidance for Local Authorities is inevitably varied and produces a post-code lottery of support for families[16]. Noting that while some Local Authorities are trying to deliver a good service, without a statutory framework or necessary funding in place, inconsistent support and engagement between home educating families and the Local Authority remains the same.  Given this framework has not changed during this time, we are unable to assess or generalise whether any improvements have been made since the report’s publication. 


The pandemic has proven a difficult and disruptive time for all and we are aware that there are a number of children not returning to school due to parental anxiety over the pandemic, in addition to an increase in requests to electively home educate[17]. We are mindful that during this time, the reasons for doing so will vary. We are aware that for some families, the brief opportunity to home educate presented a positive opportunity. For others, reasons include the threat posed by the pandemic by their child attending school.

We also know that it is not just parental anxiety surrounding the return to school. Since stay-at-home measures were introduced, children and young people turned to different forms of support, one of which being our Childline service. Childline is the UK's free, 24-hour helpline for children and young people, providing children and young people access to confidential support when they need it.

During this time, children and young people who contacted Childline have shared their experiences of returning to school following lockdown. Throughout September, the month where children were due to return to school, Childline carried out 670 counselling session where the main concern was school and/or education problems, making it the 5th top concern for children and young people at that time. During these contacts, some young people shared how overwhelmed they felt about going back to school. One girl, aged 14 reported that on her first day back at school, she ‘wanted to cry and never go back’ and said she was ‘feeling too scared to go back the next day’. Others reported that they were worried about catching COVID-19 and making themselves and/or family members ill, particularly where a family member was vulnerable. Using public transport to get to and from school was also a concern.

It is therefore more important than ever that registration be required and as part of that, provide a record of the reasons for wanting to home educate given the increased potential of home education to be chosen by default, due to fears over the pandemic. 


November 2020




[1] Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2018

[2] Keeping Children Safe in Education, 2020

[3] Elective Home Education, Departmental Guidance for Local Authorities, 2019

[4] Elective Home Education Survey, ADCS 2019

[5] UNCRC Article 28, 1989

[6] Elective Home Education Survey, 2019

[7] UNCRC Article 28, 1989

[8] Elective Home Education Survey, 2019

[9] COVID-19 series: briefing on schools, Ofsted 2020

[10] Elective Home Education: Call for Evidence, 2018

[11] Skipping School: Invisible Children, 2019

[12] Skipping School: Invisible Children, 2019

[13] Oftsed Annual report, 2018/19

[14] Elective Home Education Survey, 2019

[15] Ofsted Annual report, 2018/19

[16] Elective Home Education Survey, ADCS 2019

[17] Elective Home Education Survey, ADCS 2019