16th November 2020

Dear Education Select Committee,

On Radio 4 this morning, Robert Halfon who heads the Education Select Committee was interviewed on the Today program. In that interview he talked about the inquiry he is heading and said that he was happy to receive more submissions to that inquiry’s call for evidence. For that purpose, here is my submission.

The Government Consultation and this Education Select Committee call for evidence have placed a lot of focus on the duties of Local Authorities with regards to home education and the quality of home education. Prior to 2019 the government guidance on home education said that the Education Act 1996 s436a does not apply to home educated children and that there is no legal basis for monitoring of home education on a routine basis. It seems that there has been a complete U-turn on this in the last 18 months and I find it very difficult to see the reasons for this. Home education remains the default position for education in this country and it is not on it’s own a safeguarding issue yet this is often given as the reason for monitoring and registration. If monitoring were put in place with the aim of assuring the quality of home education then I would argue that this remains the duty of the parent and not the Local Authority.

It is with this in mind that I would argue that a statutory register of home-educated children is not required. The fact that it is being raised as a viable option is both insulting and discriminatory. Mandatory registers are only required for sex offenders, or those involved in dangerous or legally restricted pursuits such as using firearms, or running a licensed premises. Any other form of registration is voluntary. I believe that the government consultation last year and this Select Committee call for evidence has received hundreds of responses from home education parents who are against the creation of a home education register and their voices do not appear to be heard. If a register were acceptable, which it is not, it would be imperative that the information collected was minimal and restricted to the information required to record the educational setting of a child and not shared with any other agency. Parents are quite rightly concerned that theirs and their children’s data should be kept confidential. In schools, data may not be shared with other agencies unless there are sufficient safeguarding concerns to merit Children Act 1989 s47 intervention. The same expectation around data sharing should apply to the Local Authority. My main concern around the implementation of a register is that it will lead to an increasing number of families declining to use health visitor, GP and other NHS services, for fear of unwarranted data disclosure, unwarranted referral to children’s services and other oppressive actions being taken. When stringent regulation caused illegal immigrants to avoid seeking NHS care, the government changed those regulations on the basis of risk to those individuals be being afraid to access care. Why are home educating families not treated with equal respect? These families are already stigmatised by the suggestion in publications by the DfE, statements by MPs and the published guidance, that their children are at increased risk of harm (In research with information provided by 132 Local Authorities in England Home educated children were found to be disproportionately scrutinised, being approximately twice as likely to be referred to Social Services at 9.39-10.19%, as were children aged 0-4 years at 5.24% and children aged 5-16 who attended school at 4.39%. Despite that double referral rate, Child Protection Plans were in place for only 0.17-0.24% of home educated children compared to 0.69% of all 0-4 year olds and 0.49 of 5-16 year old schooled children’[1]), if these families thought that accessing health care would risk their data being shared and their details added to a register they would avoid doing so. They are law abiding families and are not child abusers or fraudsters.

There are many benefits to home education; it creates rooms for a lifestyle and education which is tailored to the child, their need and their interests. It gives them the opportunity to learn at their own pace and with a parent or carer facilitating that education in a way suited specifically to that child. Children undoubtedly benefit from this attention and tailored education, often being more confident and less anxious. The children have access to many resources in and outside the home and visits to places which supplement their education can take place at times when they are not so busy, giving the child more opportunities to interact with the learning experience, e.g. museums, libraries, English Heritage sites, parks, woodland, coastal walks. There is a great support network within the home education community which allows for children to interact with children from a range of ages and backgrounds. This creates a greater awareness of others and working together within a community. This is counter to the disadvantage of home education which is often quoted: socialisation. It is assumed that school offers the best opportunity for children to socialise. In reality schools are an almost unique institution in society. Nowhere else do you find an homogenous group of individuals of the exact same age, grouped together to complete the same task, each often working in isolation to the others in the group, with one person (the only one of a different age present) in control of the process. Why should it be wise to remove children from society, place them in an environment with little input from adults and call it socialisation? The social skills learned in such a place are of little use to them in other settings. The only place school socialises children for is school and perhaps other institutions. If you want to socialise children for life in their community children should be educated in their community. Because learning within the community detaches the concept of learning from institutions it promotes a sense of personal responsibility to education and life generally along with an attitude to learning which encourages lifelong commitment to self-improvement.

When deciding to home educate it is important that parents are prepared to take full responsibility for their child’s education including financially. There is a great deal of support from the home education community but I don’t believe there is any available from the Local Authority, or certainly, none I have come across.

In the consultation last year and in this select committee call for evidence there appears to be a conflation between home education and unregistered schools or illegal settings. The issues with these settings, and indeed with off-rolling, are not home education issues and should have their own inquiry.

Both the consultation and this inquiry have raised the issue of inspection or monitoring in regard to home education. I find it had to think of  a legitimate reason why this is necessary. Schools are inspected by Ofsted who is working for parents to ensure the setting they have chosen for their child is providing a suitable education. In the case of home education parents already know that the education is suitable as they are the ones providing it. Local Authorities should only deal with families where there are legitimate concerns which meet the threshold of safeguarding concerns to merit the Children Act 1989 s47 intervention. Within the home education community there are many cases of Local Authorities abusing the powers given to them by the State e.g. issuing SAO’s without first giving parents the opportunity to demonstrate the suitability of their education provision, refusing to give parents ‘permission’ to home educate or adding a child’s name to a school register without parental consent. This ultra vires and offensive behaviour of some Local Authorities means the working relationship between Local Authorities and home educating parents is currently not in a position of mutual trust and means home educating parents are very hesitant to engage. There is no evidence that home educated child are at greater safeguarding risk, the suggestion that they are in insulting to parents) there is certainly nothing which suggests the implementation of a register and draconian monitoring and inspections are warranted or helpful. In fact such measures only further alienating the home educating community based only on them making the legal choice to not elect to send their children to school.

The lack of working relationship between home educating families and Local Authorities is exacerbated by the lack of training for Elective Home Education officers in home education. There is no continuity of job title, description or qualifications for the role across Local Authorities. Job adverts and descriptions suggest that many in such roles lack the qualifications that parents would expect for someone who is to judge their provision and the suitability of the education they provide. The job description for the role of Senior Inclusion Officer - Elective Home Education at  Surrey County Council says  of the applicant: “You should have a good standard of education and excellent communication skills, verbal and written, relevant experience and evidence of recent career development.” The vagueness as to the level of education and training those doing these jobs creates suspicion in the home education as to their suitability to make judgements about them. The wording on some of these job descriptions also suggest the of the EHE Officer and therefore the Local Authority, is to get children back into school rather than assisting parents. For example, this job description from Blackpool Local Authority for an EHE Officer from October 2020. “To develop strategies and a working approach which contributes to reducing the number of Blackpool resident children who are receiving EHE.” This shows a complete disregard for the philosophical choice of the parent to home educate and their lifestyle. The advert also says of the applicant: “You must have the ability to assess the reasons for each referral and the potential safeguarding circumstances” and further in the job description it says: “To liaise with social workers to support improving outcomes for EHE referrals”. The suggestion here is that home education implies a safeguarding concern when education on it’s own is not a safeguarding concern and is therefore discriminatory towards home educating families. It suggests that data would be shared with social workers and that if a home educating family were to be known to the Local Authority there would be a push towards Social Services involvement. As said above, this threat would prevent home educating families from accessing support from the Local Authority or health care providers if there was the suggestion that to do so would lead to unwarranted intervention and involvement with Social Services. The wording of some job descriptions suggest the Local Authority with act ultra vires and monitor the education provided when there is nothing in law which allows for Local Authorities to monitor provision, for example the job description for an EHE support and advice officer at Brighton Local Authority from October 2020 says: “The role will involve home visits, telephone and email contact, monthly drop-ins and report writing”.

All of these examples of job adverts and descriptions are recent and from County Councils across the country. The wording in them only further estranges the home education community and make them hesitant to work with Local Authorities. While this cynical relationship exists, introducing any further monitoring or registration would be counterproductive. It could also be dangerous as it would prevent parents seeking support for fear of further repercussions in the way of referrals or Local Authority and Social Service involvement.

              Today the Local Government Association published a report on children missing education. This is the reason I believe that Robert Halfon and the Chair of the LGA were interviewed on the Radio 4 Today program. Unfortunately the figures he quoted were taken out of context; chair of LGA “We think there’s something like 282 thousand children missing out on formal education in the UK, at the moment, but that could be as high as 1.1million…” True data direct from Local Authorities on 1st October 2020 suggest there are 69,499 home educated children. The huge difference in numbers appears to come from the fact the LGA are including ‘pupils having to stay out of school and self-isolate’ as well as children who are excluded and those who are off-rolled as well as those who are registered at school but not attending all day or every day. The children are still registered at a school and are being provided work by the school so are not being home educated. The report including home educated children under the title ‘Children Missing in Education’ is insulting to the home education community who’s children are being educated, just not in a school. The language used in the report and the suggestion that our children are not receiving an education creates further divide between parents and the State.

              The measures being suggested by the LGA report and the views of Richard Halfon on todays’ Radio 4 interview being “My own personal preference, is that children do go to school because, it’s not just about the education but also the support networks, the socialisation that they get and all the other benefits.” Are not only draconian, they also don’t allow for the best interests of the individual child and their right to a private family life. I really hope that Robert Halfon’s expressed biased opinions about home education do not cloud his judgement on the Select Committee and that the committee is able to weigh the evidence presented by the home education community in a fair way.

 

Yours sincerely

Mrs H Brown


[1] Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric. Wendy Charles-Warner, February 2015.