LONDON: THE STATIONERY OFFICE
Return to an Address of the Honorable the House of Commons dated 11 June 2009 for the Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England
© Crown Copyright 2009
The text in this document (excluding the Royal Arms and other departmental or agency logos) may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium providing it is reproduced accurately and not used in a misleading context.
The material must be acknowledged as Crown copyright and the title of the document specified. Where we have identified any third party copyright material you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned.
For any other use of this material please write to Office of Public Sector Information, Information Policy Team, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ISBN: 9780102961133
Graham Badman, Institute of Education University of London, 20 Bedford Way London WC1H OAL
Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT Friday 29 May 2009
Dear Secretary of State,
In January, you asked me to review the arrangements for home education in England. In particular, you asked me to look at whether there are any barriers to local authorities and other public agencies in effectively carrying out their safeguarding responsibilities in relation to home educated children.
You also asked me to investigate suggestions that home education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse.
Finally, you asked me to look at whether local authorities are providing the right support to home educating families.
I enclose my report which I trust accurately reflects the wide variety of information provided to me over the course of the review.
As you will gather, I conclude that changes in the regulatory and legislative frameworks are necessary and I suggest in my report that you pursue this at the first available opportunity. I also conclude that home educating families should be better supported through improved access to services and facilities.
I hope you find the report useful.
Graham Badman CBE
I wish to thank all of the home educators and their children who extended to me the courtesy of explanation and who contributed to this report through questionnaire and letter.
I wish to thank also all of the local authority officers who did the same and my colleagues in the reference group for their advice and counsel.
But I wish to reserve special thanks and praise for Elizabeth Green of the DCSF who has worked tirelessly throughout this review with unfailing good humour. Without Elizabeth’s advice, diligence and intellectual precision securing this report in the limited time available would simply not have been possible – she is a credit to the service.
“ The need to choose, to sacrifice some ultimate values to others, turns out to be a permanent characteristic of the human predicament 1 ”
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.
2. Conduct of the Review
2.1 The terms of reference stated the scope of the review was to be limited to practice in England.
2.2 The review was conducted by means of structured interview with a range of stakeholders including home educating parents and children, visits to local authorities and home education groups, a public call for evidence and a questionnaire to all top tier local authorities in England.
Over two thousand responses to the call for evidence were received, more than three quarters of which were from home educating parents or children. Ninety responses to the local authority questionnaire were received, which equates to a 60% response rate.
2.3 The review was further informed by a literature review and consideration of practice and legislation in other countries.
A list of the organisations and local authorities I consulted and from whom I took evidence is at Annex B. A copy of the questionnaire used in the public call for evidence is at Annex C. A copy ofthe questionnaire to local authorities is at Annex D.
Current Legislation and Regulation
3.1 As my introductory comments make clear, I am not persuaded that under the current regulatory regime (4) that there is a correct balance between the rights of parents and the rights of the child either to an appropriate education or to be safe from harm. That being said I am not in anyway arguing that elective home education is intrinsically wrong or that within the elective home education community there is not exemplary practice. Indeed, there is a strong argument to commission further research to better inform understanding of “personalisation” as an element of student progression and achievement. I shall return to this issue later.
3.2 The question is simply a matter of balance and securing the right regulatory regime within a framework of legislation that protects the rights of all children, even if in transaction such regulation is only necessary to protect a minority.
3.3 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives children and young people over forty substantive rights which include the right to express their views freely, the right to be heard in any legal or administrative matters that affect them and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Article 12 makes clear the responsibility of signatories to give children a voice:
“Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
Yet under the current legislation and guidance, local authorities have no right of access to the child to determine or ascertain such views.
3.4 Furthermore Article 28 of the UNCRC recognises the right of the child to an education. Education is compulsory in England and it can be provided at school “or otherwise” (5) . The responsibility for the provision of a child’s education rests with their parents who also have a duty to ensure that any education provided is “efficient”, “full time” and ”suitable”. This is set out in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 which provides that:
(4) The current legislative and regulatory framework is outlined at Annex E.
(5) Section 7 Education Act 1996 3. Current Legislation and Regulation
“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable – (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
3.5 The terms “efficient” and “suitable” education are not defined in law, despite the detailed prescription of expectations in schools. Case law (6) has broadly described an “efficient” education as one that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”.
A “suitable” education is one that: “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so”.
3.6 This poses a further problem for local authorities charged with a statutory duty under section 437 (1) Education Act 1996 in that they are required to intervene:
“If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education”.
Additionally local authorities have a duty (7) which requires them to:
….. make arrangements to enable them to establish (so far as it is possible to do so) the identities of children in their area who are of compulsory school age but— (a) are not registered pupils at a school, and (b) are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.
(6) Mr Justice Woolf in the case of R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (12 April 1985)
(7) Section 436A Education Act 1996 inserted by section 4(1) Education and Inspections Act 2006
3.7 Within current guidance local authorities are “encouraged to address the situation informally” (8) . Such an approach may or may not be sufficient. How can local authorities know what they don’t know with no means of determining the number of children who are being electively home educated in their area, or the quality of what is provided, without rights of access to the child? For many, perhaps the majority of home educating families, this approach may be sufficient. However, I do not believe that such arrangements are sufficiently robust to protect the rights of all children.
3.8 The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 2 of Protocol 1 states: 3.8
“No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”
3.9 This Article is much quoted by home educators in defence of their rights as parents to educate their children as they see fit. However, case law on the ECHR challenges any claim that home education is a fundamental right:
“The second sentence of Article 2 [of Protocol 1] must however be read together with the first which enshrines the right of everyone to education. It is on to this fundamental right that is grafted the right of parents to respect for their religious and philosophical convictions. …Furthermore, respect is only due to convictions on the part of the parents which do not conflict with the fundamental right of the child to education” (9)
And: “The Commission notes that the first sentence of Article 2 of Protocol No 1 .. enshrines the fundamental right of the child to education. This right by its very nature calls for regulation by the State, regulation which may vary in time and place according to the needs and resources of the community and of individuals.” ( 10)
(8) Department for Children, Schools and Families. Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities (HMSO, 2007)
(9) B.N and S.N v Sweden no 17678/91
(10) Leuffen v Germany no 19844/92
3.10 In addition, in one exchange of emails during the course of this review one parent, in arguing the case for the freedom of home education, cited the words of A.S. Neill:
“The function of the child is to live his own life – not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best.” (11)
This quotation could equally well be applied to home educating parents as to the schooling system that A.S. Neill challenged with the curriculum and methodology of Summerhill School.
3.11 This review does not argue against the rights of parents as set out in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 outlined above, nor their deeply held convictions about education. I believe it would be wrong to seek to legislate in pursuit of an all embracing definition of “suitable”. However, such is the demand and complexity of 21 st Century society and employment that further thought should be given to what constitutes an appropriate curriculum within the context of elective home education. Such a curriculum must be sufficiently broad and balanced and relevant to enable young people to make suitable choices about their life and likely future employment.
Article 29 of the UNCRC states that:
“State Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.”
It could be argued that adherence to Article 29 would demand further definition of the term “efficient”.
(11) Neill, A.S. (1960), Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, New York, NY: Hart
3.12 As stated previously, the term “efficient” has been described in case law as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”. On this basis there surely can be no argument against those who choose to educate their children at home being required to articulate their educational approach or ‘philosophy’, intentions and practice and with their child demonstrate its effectiveness. Indeed many do so already.
This is not an argument for prescription; on the contrary it is simply an argument that the rights of parents are equally matched by the rights of the child and a recognition of the moral imperative of securing education for all children commensurate with their age, aptitude, ability and any special needs.
In the light of the above I therefore make the following recommendations:
That the DCSF establishes a compulsory national registration scheme, locally administered, for all children of statutory school age, who are, or become, electively home educated.
*This scheme should be common to all local authorities.
*Registration should be renewed annually.
*Those who are registering for the first time should be visited by the appropriate local authority officer within one month of registration.
*Local authorities should ensure that all home educated children and young people already known to them are registered on the new scheme within one month of its inception and visited over the following twelve months, following the commencement of any new legislation.
*Provision should be made to allow registration at a local school, children’s centre or other public building as determined by the local authority.
*When parents are thinking of deregistering their child/children from school to home educate, schools should retain such pupils on roll for a period of 20 school days so that should there be a change in circumstances, the child could be readmitted to the school. This period would also allow for the resolution of such difficulties that may have prompted the decision to remove the child from school.
*National guidance should be issued on the requirements of registration and be made available online and at appropriate public buildings. Such guidance must
include a clear statement of the statutory basis of elective home education and the rights and responsibilities of parents.
*At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.
*Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.
*As well as written guidance, support should encompass advice from a range of advisers and organisations, including schools. Schools should regard this support as a part of their commitment to extended schooling.
*Where a child is removed from a school roll to be home educated, the school must provide to the appropriate officer of the local authority a record of the child’s achievement to date and expected achievement, within 20 school days of the registration, together with any other school records.
*Local authorities must ensure that there are mechanisms/systems in place to record and review registrations annually.
That the DCSF review the current statutory definition of what constitutes a “suitable” and “efficient” education in the light of the Rose review of the primary curriculum, and other changes to curriculum assessment and definition throughout statutory school age. Such a review should take account of the five Every Child Matters outcomes determined by the 2004 Children Act, should not be overly prescriptive but be sufficiently defined to secure a broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated curriculum that would allow children and young people educated at home to have sufficient information to enable them to expand their talents and make choices about likely careers. The outcome of this review should further inform guidance on registration.
Home educators should be engaged in this process.
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.”
4.9 In addition there were of course detailed responses from elective home education organisations (see Annex B) which have proved invaluable in the course of this inquiry.
'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.
5. The Current and Future Role of Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts
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.
6.1 It is a matter of some concern that despite a number of research studies and reports, it was not possible to identify with any degree of accuracy the number of children and young people currently educated at home. Our own data concurred with the DfES (2007) report, that there are around 20,000 children and young people currently registered with local authorities. We know that to be an underestimate and agree it is likely to be double that figure, if not more, possibly up to 80,000 children. I have no doubt that the vast majority of these children and young people are safe and well but, that may not be true for all.
6.2 ContactPoint will record the place where a child is being educated, where that is known, including where a child is being educated at home. (15)
6.3 Registration proposed within this report should complete the picture and offer further evidence of their wellbeing and educational progress. This information will complement the duty on local authorities to identify children not receiving a suitable education (16) . But because of the importance to local authorities of knowing the number of children and young people within the elective home education cohort, to assist in their commissioning of school places and to their understanding of why children were withdrawn from school, I believe it is important to report such information to the Children’s Trust, together with data concerning their use of current statutory orders, whether to supervise education or direct attendance at school.
That the DCSF require all local authorities to make an annual return to the Children’s Trust Board regarding the number of electively home educated children and young people and the number of School Attendance Orders and Education Supervision Orders as defined in the 1996 Education Act, issued to home educated children and young people.
6.4 While home education may sometimes be considered to be a better option for some children than mainstream education, parents should never be placed under pressure by schools to remove their children from school under threat of permanent exclusion or prosecution. I have heard evidence to this effect. The first priority of schools should always be to discuss with
(15) Further information on ContactPoint is at: http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/contactpoint
(16) Revised statutory guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education, DCSF, January 2009
parents what support can be provided to keep their child in school and to ensure they behave well and attend regularly.
That the DCSF take such action as necessary to prevent schools or local authorities advising parents to consider home education to prevent permanent exclusion or using such a mechanism to deal with educational or behavioural issues.
6.5 There are some electively home educated children and young people who may wish to return to school. Many home educated young people do return to school or college, a number post 16 or earlier, to pursue vocational or academic courses. However, local authorities have advised that such a return is sometimes a problem, particularly if the only school place available is at a school where the child was previously registered. For a small minority I believe it is important to give local authorities powers in common with those held for looked after children to direct beyond planned admission numbers. Such powers must not of course be used simply to avoid the normal admission arrangements and local authorities would clearly only use this discretionary power when it was absolutely clear that the needs of the child or young person could not be met otherwise.
That the DCSF bring forward proposals to give local authorities power of direction with regard to school places for children and young people returning to school from home education above planned admission limits in circumstances where it is quite clear that the needs of the child or young person could not be met without this direction.