4.1 At the risk of stating the obvious, in seeking evidence as to how the current system operates it begs the question – what system? The differing approaches of local authorities and extraordinary range of practice amongst home educators defy simple categorisation. Indeed, one of the major concerns of home educators within the current system was the inability of some local authority officers to appreciate and understand their practice. I shall return to the role and remit of local authorities in a later section, but I believe it is important to try to capture the views of the many home educators who contributed to this review.
4.2 In the main, home educators in their responses through questionnaire, email, letter and interview were fiercely defensive of their rights and actions. There were some who welcomed the visits of local authority officers and the support offered through drop-in centres, resources and materials and some argued for more regularised monitoring and intervention. However, there were those who wanted nothing from the local authority nor any contact with it.
4.3 The range of response principally outside the public call for evidence varied enormously from:
“…no one from the LA [local authority] would in my opinion be on my child’s intellectual level or they wouldn’t be working for the LA.”
to the more measured:
“I would be happy to discuss my children’s education with my local authority, but would expect the LA representative to have a good understanding of the law relating to EHE [elective home education], the principles underpinning the law, how children learn and in our case, special educational needs”.
To the above could have been added literally dozens of other quotations.
4.4 They constitute a heady mixture of pent up rage, frustration, resentment and a rejection of third party judgement. In seeking to understand such responses it is important to examine the reasons why elective home education was chosen by parents in the first place. A study commissioned by the then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in 2007 concluded:
“Reasons for home education vary and the decision to home educate is often due to a combination of factors that may be subject to change over time. Common reasons cited for opting to home educate include bullying, discontentment with the quality of education provided in school, or parents’ religious, cultural and ideological beliefs. Risk of prosecution for non-attendance and inadequate provision for special educational needs are increasingly cited as reasons to educate according to some local authorities.” (12)
These findings are endorsed by a small scale research project by the National Foundation for Educational Research (2006) (13) which placed further emphasis on parents disillusionment with schools and their inability to meet their child’s needs as they saw them.
4.5 My own conversations with individuals and groups of home educating parents would confirm the above with the addition of a significant number who chose this route for ideological and philosophical reasons or simply because they believe they “can do it better”.
4.6 Whatever the reasons, I believe it is important for local authorities both to analyse and consider why an increasing number of parents are choosing elective home education both for the betterment of children services as a whole and the monitoring and support of electively home educated children.
That all local authorities analyse the reasons why parents or carers chose elective home education and report those findings to the Children’s Trust Board, ensuring that this analysis contributes to the debate that determines the Children and Young People’s Plan.
4.7 There were, of course, some contrary views to those summarised above, from local authorities (considered later) and others. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in its response to the call for evidence, was quite clear in its opposition to the whole basis of elective home education as currently defined:
(12) Hopwood,V.,O’Neill, L., Castro G. & Hodgson, B. (2007) The Prevalence of Home Education in England: A Feasibility Study, DfES, Research Report 827
(13) Kendall S. & Atkinson, M (2006) Some perspectives on home educated children, NFER
“The NASUWT maintains the existence of a right to home educate is anomalous with the clear emphasis in Government policy of ensuring that all children and young people can benefit from educational provision where teaching and learning is led by qualified teachers in well resourced and fit for purpose modern educational settings.”
4.8 The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) does not go as far in its argument but raises fears about ensuring a system that does not harm children. The British Humanist Association raised concerns in their submission to the review as follows:
“some of those who choose to educate their children at home for religious reasons may not be providing schooling that is adequate, either according to the Every Child Matters agenda or the principles of Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
And the Education Division of the Church of England states its concern:
“that children and young people not in formal education are missing the benefits and challenges of learning in community with their peers. Children who do not go to school may not experience the social and cultural diversity encountered there; they will not learn how to deal with the rough and tumble of everyday life; they may never meet people with different faith and value systems. All such encounters, even the difficult or painful ones are enriching. We are concerned not only with the five Every Child Matters outcomes, but also with the spiritual well-being of all children and young people. Spiritual well-being arises not only from being cared for in a loving family and/or faith community, but also in encounters with people of different opinions and backgrounds; in learning to listen to a variety of opinions; to encounter diversity and the riches and life-enhancement it can bring. Spiritual well-being depends on living and taking a full part in community life. Children and young people in schools learn about and from the five major religions. This may be a difficult part of the curriculum for home educators to provide, yet it is vital for the Government’s community cohesion agenda that all children learn in a balanced way about the variety of religious values and practices, and to be encouraged to question their own beliefs and practices.”
'Education Otherwise’, a home education group, in a detailed set of proposals, listed recommendations they would wish to see as a consequence of the review. However, this evidence apart, what I believe to be of significance was that the immediate response of many other home educators was to disown any such series of proposals and distance themselves from the arguments put forward.
4.10 Herein I believe lies a fundamental problem, namely the absence of a representative voice for home educating parents and home educated children. The Government of Tasmania supports a system that not only gives elective home educators a voice in policy determination but also a role in the monitoring and support of other home educating families. Having raised this notion with both groups of home educators and individuals, such a structure at this time may be a step too far but I do believe there is need for a representative body at a local level so that there is a regular exchange of views and transfer of knowledge between local authority and home educating parents and children. I do not underestimate the difficulty of creating such a representative body but believe it to be essential if the recommendations in this report are to be effective in giving greater assurance to the state about the wellbeing and education of a significant number of children, and affording the freedom to educate their children that many parents have sought. If nothing else such a body should promote understanding and bring about the dissemination of good practice.
That the local authority should establish a Consultative Forum for home educating parents to secure their views and representative opinion. Such a body could be constituted as a sub-group of the Children’s Trust with a role in supporting the development of the Children’s Trust, and the intentions of the local authority with regard to elective home education.