5.1 As outlined in the previous section, local authorities were much criticised by home educators in their responses to this review, for their perceived lack of understanding of the various methodologies and approaches within home education and their manner of engagement with the parent and/or child. On the other hand, local authorities often expressed considerable anxiety for the wellbeing and progress of some children and the failure of some parents to respond to what they regarded were quite legitimate requests for information about the suitability of education. They have expressed in response to questionnaire and in interview their dissatisfaction with the current legislative position and guidance, which many find unworkable. In particular, the absence of a more precise definition of what constitutes a “suitable” and “efficient” education militates against benchmarked attainment and being denied access to the place of education, and the opportunity to speak with the child, prevents them from fulfilling their current statutory duties referred to previously.
5.2 That said, I have been greatly impressed in my visits and conversations with local authorities by what has been achieved through partnership and the fostering of good relationships. Partnership not just with home educating parents and children but also with other agencies. This partnership approach strengthens the local authority’s support to home educators and increases their knowledge of the progress and wellbeing of the child or children.
The following case studies demonstrate the commitment and ingenuity of local authorities. This list is by no means exhaustive. Implicit within the following examples is the importance of mutual respect, regular information and the celebration of the achievements of many home educated children.
North Yorkshire County Council organises a regular ‘drop-in day’ whereby home educating parents and children can meet each other as well as professionals from the local authority who can discuss issues, ask advice, share resources and discuss plans for the future direction of education, such as routes into college or university. It is also a ‘fun day’ with interactive sessions such as ‘brain profiling’ or simply playing computer games. Crucially, parents and children are asked to complete an evaluation form to feedback what they liked and didn’t like and what they’d like to see at the next session.
Staffordshire County Council, like many local authorities, publish a booklet for home educating families which provides clear information in ‘parent friendly’ language to all parents thinking about home educating their child/ren. It clearly sets out the legal requirements including the rights and responsibilities of parents and the role of the local authority. It also prompts parents into considering what home education entails whilst also offering them support, a list of useful resources and contacts with local home education groups. The overall tone of the information is supportive, respectful and demonstrates a clear understanding of the law and also the variation within home education. The material also clearly provides the name and contact details of the local authority officer leading on elective home education within the authority as well as details of complaints procedures.
Somerset County Council ensures there is effective and ongoing contact with the local Connexions service for all electively home educated youngsters aged 13 to 16. It ensures that Connexions are in contact with electively home educated young people and that appropriate support is offered. The County Council have worked extensively with the local home education community and further education establishments to secure better access for electively home educated young people to both vocational and academic courses. Somerset has also offered to pay for examination entry and administration fees for individual home educated students who have been registered with the local authority for two years leading up to the examination. This arrangement will be agreed on an individual basis with an Elective Home Education Officer. Somerset has offered workshops to home educating families on literacy, numeracy and storytelling. They have also run a residential experience at a local activity centre for Year 5, 6 and 7 pupils on their elective home education register for the last two years, and a third residential is planned for this September.
West Midlands local authorities’ regional home education forum. The purpose of these termly meetings, convened by a local authority in the West Midlands, is to provide participating authorities with a forum to discuss and debate common issues and concerns that are either of a local, regional or national interest. A further key objective is to strengthen authorities’ understanding and shape consistent practice/delivery. Representatives from home education groups are invited and this interaction with the home education community is seen as crucial in helping to build mutual respect and break down barriers and misconceptions.
The above exemplifications of good practice are in total accord with the demands and recommendations of The Children’s Plan and fit well with the developments of Children’s Trusts. However such practice must not be left to chance.
That the DCSF should bring forward proposals requiring all local authorities to report to the Children’s Trust Board making clear how it intends to monitor and support children and young people being educated at home, in accord with Recommendation 1.
5.3 Furthermore in accord with Recommendation 5 above, given the variety and complexity of elective home education, I recommend:
That local authorities should, where appropriate, commission the monitoring and support of home education through the local Children’s Trust Board, thereby securing a multidisciplinary approach and the likely use of expertise from other agencies and organisations, including the voluntary sector.
5.4 To properly exercise the functions listed above and given that requirements of registration detailed in Recommendation 1, I believe that further changes in regulation are required:
The DCSF should bring forward proposals to change the current regulatory and statutory basis to ensure that in monitoring the efficiency and suitability of elective home education:
*That designated local authority officers should: – have the right of access to the home; – have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer. In so doing, officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.
*That a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the effectiveness of elective home education as determined in Recommendation 1.
*That parents be required to allow the child through exhibition or other means to demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.
5.5 Such new powers will still depend upon, and be more effective, where there are good relationships and mutual trust, respect and open communication between the home educating family and the local authority. The home may well become the place of education but it is first and foremost a home and many home educators maintain that given the nature of elective home education it is impossible to separate education from the normal, everyday life of the family. This contention is supported by the research of Jane Lowe and Alan Thomas (14) and one that I accept absolutely. I therefore recommend, contingent on the acceptance of this report, that within revised guidelines:
That reasonable warning of intended visit and invitation to exhibit should be given to home educators, parents and carers, not less than two weeks in advance. A written report of each visit must be filed within 21 days and copied to the home educating parent and child. A suitable process for factual correction and challenge to the content must be in place and made known to all parties.
5.6 Developing this new regime of monitoring and support will not be easy and will require a range of skills and understanding. The commissioning of services through the Children’s Trust
(14) Lowe, J. & Thomas, A. (2002) Educating your Child at Home, London
will bring new professional disciplines to bear in some cases and crucially, bring about third sector engagement, particularly in support of home educated children and young people who have special educational needs. Nevertheless training will be necessary not least to dispel the firmly held conviction amongst many home educators that current monitoring arrangements are too often framed from a schooling perspective.
That all local authority officers and others engaged in the monitoring and support of elective home education must be suitably trained. This training must include awareness of safeguarding issues and a full understanding of the essential difference, variation and diversity in home education practice, as compared to schools. Wherever possible and appropriate, representatives of the home educating community should be involved in the development and/or provision of such training. It is recommended that all officers be trained in the use of the Common Assessment Framework.
5.7 The good practice referred to earlier is illustrative of the attempts of many authorities to extend a range of opportunities to young people educated at home but again the picture is not universal. Many home educating parents, for reasons outlined earlier, having rejected the schooling system, do not re-engage for fear of further requirements or restrictions, yet they remain tax payers who contribute to the education system in the normal way. Many simply accept that “that’s the way it is” but it seems to me perverse to articulate concern about thousands of young people yet cut them off from services that would be rightfully theirs if they attended school. I shall return to this issue in the final section of this report. In the responses from home educating parents, there was no overall consensus as to the support they would like or seek but there was almost universal support for free access to the public examination system. I believe this to be fair and arguably a natural extension of the state’s desire to secure appropriate outcomes for young people.
That all local authorities should offer a menu of support to home educating families in accord with the requirements placed upon them by the power of wellbeing, extended schools and community engagement and other legislation. To that end local authorities must provide support for home educating children and young
people to find appropriate examination centres and provide entries free to all home educated candidates who have demonstrated sufficiently their preparedness through routine monitoring, for all DCSF funded qualifications.
That in addition to Recommendation 10 above, local authorities should, in collaboration with schools and colleges:
*Extend and make available the opportunities of flexi-schooling.
*Extend access to school libraries, sports facilities, school visits, specialist facilities and key stage assessment.
*Provide access to specialist music tuition on the same cost basis.
*Provide access to work experience.
*Provide access to post 14 vocational opportunities.
*Signpost to third sector support where they have specialist experience and knowledge, for example, provision for bullied children.
5.8 I wish also to give some consideration to the impact and availability of information and communication technology (ICT) to home educated children and young people. This could be a report in itself but suffice it to say that the importance of ICT in learning, access to knowledge and information, communication and employment is self evident. Many home educating families, perhaps the majority, already make good use of the national infrastructure to support their child’s education as well as facilities for networking within home educating community. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to add to the menu of opportunities and suggestions listed above so that every effort is made to prevent a home educated child being in any way disadvantaged. I therefore recommend that:
*BECTA considers the needs of the home educating community in the national roll out of the home access initiative.
*That local authorities consider what support and access to ICT facilities could be given to home educated children and young people through the existing school networks and the use of school based materials.
*That the QCA should consider the use of ICT in the testing and exam process with regard to its impact on home educated children and young people.
5.9 As I trust the foregoing makes clear, I believe that local authorities have a vital role in supporting elective home education and by so doing, assuring themselves of the attainments of the many young people so educated. From my analysis of their responses, visits and discussions I am confident of their ability to rise to the challenges implicit within this report. Nevertheless in pursuit of more uniform provision and action I recommend the following:
That local authority provision in regard to elective home education is brought into the scope of Ofsted’s assessment of children’s services within the Comprehensive Area Assessment through information included in the National Indicator Set (Recommendation 25), the annual Local Safeguarding Children Board report (Recommendation 21) and any other relevant information available to inspectors.