1.1 The review of elective home education, as the terms of reference (Annex A) make clear, has been triggered by a range of issues and representations, not least being the quite proper concern to ensure that systems for keeping children safe and ensuring that they receive a suitable education are as robust as possible.
1.2 During the course of the review I have been struck by the passion and commitment of many parents who either as a result of deeply held convictions or absolute necessity as they see it have chosen to educate their child or children at home. Indeed for many it is quite clear that this course of action is not without personal cost, often financial and professional. I have met some extraordinarily accomplished young people who have prospered as a consequence of elective home education of whom their parents are justly proud, but I am not persuaded that I could argue this to be a universal picture, any more than the same argument could be applied to the schooling system, but the same checks and balances do not apply.
1.3 I have read the many submissions made by home educators who argue their case from almost as many standpoints as there are children in elective home education – indeed to attempt to categorise the views of home educators or regard them as an homogenous group would simply be wrong.
It is a cause of concern that although approximately 20,000 home educated children and young people are known to local authorities, estimates vary as to the real number which could be in excess of 80,000. I will discuss this later in this report.
The degree of individualism exhibited may well be a strength but it militates against securing representative opinion and has led to factions within the elective home education community that actually distort the strength of philosophical commitment, achievement and need. I shall make recommendation in this regard.
1.4 I have taken account of the views of local authorities who are strongly of the opinion that the current guidelines are unworkable in that they are contradictory and confer responsibility without power.I agree with this view and will recommend accordingly.
However, I also recognise that despite the excellent practice of some, there are local authorities who do not discharge their responsibilities properly, make effective use of current statutory powers or use the ingenuity referenced in the good practice illustrated later in this report.
Good relationships and mutual respect are at the heart of the engagement of local authorities with home educating parents – this is evidenced in many authorities but such is the number of children now within elective home education that the development of these relationships cannot be left to chance or personality. The current disparity in practice across local authorities cannot continue – there is a need for a common national approach locally applied.
1.5 Few would argue with the assertion that parents are the prime educator within or outside of a schooling system. There is a considerable body of research evidence that points to this conclusion – parental attitude, support and expectation are the key determinants of educational success (2) .
Indeed, as the national Children’s Plan makes clear it is “Parents not Government that bring up children” (3) and there is nothing in this report which sets out to contradict or modify this contention.
However, there has to be a balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child. I believe that balance is not achieved through current legislation or guidance, and the imbalance must be addressed. Not to do so could result in the concerns for a minority being applied to the vast majority of caring, motivated home educating parents.
(2) See for example, Desforges, C & Abouchaar, A (2003) The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievement and Adjustment: A Literature Review, London, Department for Education and Skills, Research Report No 433.