Written evidence submitted by Sean McDougall


Education Select Committee Inquiry into Elective Home Education


Having watched the second witness session this morning, I am writing to supplement the evidence that I provided in response to the consultation.


  1. Education as a vehicle for social and economic advancement. I happen to be quite an admirer of Michael Gove’s time as Education Secretary and I fully understand that traditional, classroom-based and academic study can be seen as progressive if it helps children to rise up in society. Equally, overly liberal approaches may result in children not achieving as much as they might otherwise have done.

    That said, I disagree that more children would be helped if formal, full time academic learning and age related assessment came to characterise home education as well. It must be clear that school cannot work for every child at every stage of their development. Equally, there must be room for people to try to do better than school. My advice is to understand that home education is a pluralistic, deeply personalised and above all innovative approach that is actually influencing how school education happens. In almost all cases, parents have withdrawn their children from school in order to improve their chances of succeeding in life. 
  2. You asked why home educated children should not be subject to SATS. The answer is that Standardised Aptitude Tests are not designed for children who have not had a standardised education.

    This is such an important point – home education is not school at home and for most people it does not resemble school in any way. For it to have any meaning, home education must be different to school in form and approach and that means that SATS based on school are completely inappropriate.

    In this context, I beg you to consider that the approach advocated by the ADCS (formal, full time education with regular assessments) will have the effect of making it impossible to implement a great many successful and alternative approaches that are incompatible with the developmental timeframes adopted by British schools. These include self-directed learning, world-schooling, project-based learning, experiential learning and even correspondence courses.

    If you want to know about educational outcomes, I assure you that the research exists but is routinely ignored by LAs. Dr Harriet Pattison of Liverpool Hope University will be able to help with acquisition of learning under different timeframes and registrations for school aged 14 or 16 will reveal how many home educated children go to school for their GCSEs and A Levels.
  3. One of your committee members queried the accuracy of Ms Charles-Warner’s statistics on the number of children in home education. As a trustee of a sister charity, I happen to know that her work is based on a 100% response rate to freedom of information requests sent to every English LA. The figures are accurate to January 2021.
  4. Local authority compliance with the law. Local authorities are required to provide information on home education on their websites but less than half of English represent home education law accurately.
  5. I think it was you who asked why more School Attendance Orders have not been served given the rise in numbers of children in home education. One possibility is that the rise is actually reducing the proportion of children who are not receiving a suitable education. Another is that local authority staff have not been doing their job properly during lockdown. As an example, we sent in a report on our own home education practice more than five months ago but have not had a response.

    Please be advised that, since Baby P, the number of social service investigations has risen by 300% but there has been no corresponding increase in the number of children found in need of a care order. In fact, the convictions rate has fallen dramatically, possibly due to social services becoming overstretched, and that means that children in need are getting less attention than before. I think the same will happen in home education if a register is introduced and LAs are asked to conduct annual inspections of 80,000 children.
  6. Unregistered schools and off-rolling. One of your committee members asked about off-rolling but then turned the question into one about unregistered schools. The reason why home educators think that off-rolling is a problem for schools is because it is carried out by schools on people who are encouraged to home educate under false pretences. The correct solution is to ask LAs to ask people whether they were led into home education by the school and to guarantee that their child can return to the school if that is what meets the parent’s choice of suitable education.

    Illegal and unregistered schools are an entirely different matter and they really should not be confused under any circumstances. Once again, we heard someone from OFSTED imply that there were up to 700 unregistered schools in England. To clarify, I submitted an FOI request and the result showed that three quarters of “potentially unregistered schools” visited by OFSTED turn out not to be schools at all. 95% of the remainder comply with demands to register or close. My understanding is that, of the 700 “schools” presented, just four have been subject to legal proceedings. In total, they will have perhaps 100 students. So there really is no problem that needs to be solved by placing 80,000 children on a register and visiting them at home every year.
  7. Misrepresentation by local authorities. During the first witness session, a member of the Local Government Association told your committee that “up to” 75% of children “new” to home education “could” be missing education. No evidence has been supplied to justify this figure, which has been literally made up and presented to you as reasonable. Closer investigation reveals that the definition of “new” means anyone who has entered home education in the past five years – which happens to be the average time spent in home education. So the LGA thinks 75% of all home educated children could be missing education but is unable to say why and there is no evidence to back it up.

    I ask you to consider the likely consequences if three-quarters of all home educators were neglecting their children in this way. Doctors, librarians, youth club leaders, neighbours, relatives and other home educators would be queuing up to report the children.

I wish you luck with the remainder of the Inquiry and trust that the next witness session will include an academic expert in home education learning patterns and/or an actual home educator who does not engage in school at home.


Yours sincerely

Sean McDougall


April 2021