Thursday, December 20, 2012

AND another one.

OK, just when you English peeps thought, "Phew, well that's all sorted then," we have another newly announced consultation on the yet another draft guidance on Children Missing Education.

What have Children Missing Education got to do with home educators, you would rightly ask? Well it's all a question of how Local Authorities set about finding children missing a suitable education. Should HEors have to submit to routine checks in order to ascertain whether the education they provide is suitable or should they only come under scrutiny if others raise the alarm bell? 

The question has huge constitutional consequences.  Think about it for a second.  Asking LAs to routinely check for a suitable education means that without doubt, the state is responsible for determining the nature of that education.   The state becomes the ultimate arbiter in the matter.  Not very British, all a bit scary, open to abuse, the easy road to totalitarianism.  Far better that in the first instance, the nature of a suitable education be determined by individual families and the state only steps in when this situation has demonstrably failed.

Given the current constraints on the public purse and the natural (or more cynically subsequent) preference for small state politics of the Tory party, the drive towards localism, (devolving power to those whose lives are directly affected by the influence of that power), seems to be gaining ground in government circles. The whole thrust of Elizabeth Truss's  testimony in the recent Education Committee , with her insistence that parents are responsible for a child's education, seemed to be going this way. 

The draft guidance here seems to suggest the current preference for localism, suggesting, in effect, that HE families get on with it, and are only investigated when alarm bells are rung.  In the meantime, LAs can get about alerting professionals such as GPs and the police to the issue of CME.

All this seems eminently sensible to me as it saves time and public money not screening bundles of healthy HE families, and instead allows resources to used where they are needed.  

So yep, will be responding to the consultation  (click on Response Form on the upper right (you will need Word), or else send a response to an email) to tell them as much. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Report on Home Education from Education Select Committee

....published today, concludes: 

"58. We share the view of our witnesses—home educators and those from central and local Government— that a parent clearly has, and should have, the right to home educate their child(ren) if they so wish. We note that a significant body of evidence to our inquiry makes clear that many parties, on both sides, have made real efforts to engage, to understand each other's motivations and constraints, and to ensure more constructive relationships and better support.
59. At the same time, though, we acknowledge that there is clearly some way to go, particularly in terms of raising the quality and consistency of support, and ensuring that all local authorities are compliant with Government guidance. We hope to see improvements concerning the wide variety of practice and performance across local authorities, which we do not consider acceptable, and we look forward to seeing the development of local offers of support, a national association to share best practice and professionalise home education officers further, increased Government monitoring of local authorities, and other mechanisms to ensure a more consistent approach to home education across the country."
Yep, that all makes very good sense.  
The Guardian has this take on the report.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Secret of Education....whatever works!

Autonomous home educators have been saying it for years, but it seems the rest of the education system may finally be catching up.  The secret to successful education is to respond creatively to the interests and needs of the individual child.

Ofsted have given Springfields School an outstanding rating, and this probably because they simply had to.  The results have been superb.
And all because the headmaster is prepared to seek the spark and be creative in response to need.  
On this BBC documentary, he even says words to this precise effect:
"The future of education lies outside the classroom".

OK, so not every child will change their entire future playing football at altitude with dust and mossies at 30 degrees C, but for some,

 it is a godsend.

If the spark can be sought for all manner of different learners (and not just those who would benefit from the sort of learning the army offers), then who knows where we could end up! 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Welsh Proposals for Home Education: What to do next.

(Posted with permission:)

What the Welsh Government is proposing and if you are living in Wales, what you can do now the consultation has closed: 

The Welsh Government proposes:

*Changing the law in Wales to permit compulsory registration and routine annual monitoring of home educated children.

*Using existing powers to develop statutory guidance on best practice for LAs working with home educating families.

*Future consultation on definition of "suitable education" in context of variety of educational approaches used in home education, to be "covered in statutory guidance and consulted on separately."

*Qualified expert assessment of suitable education in cases where home educated child has special/additional needs.


*Constituency Meetings are held on Mondays and Fridays. Get appointment booked before the Christmas Holiday.   Welsh Assembly members are in Cardiff mid-week and tend to be available in their constituency offices on Monday and Friday.

The Assembly Member website gives full contact details here .

Go and see your Assembly Member: The Senedd in Cardiff is closed for a month from Thursday December 6th. Try for a meeting in the constituency on Friday 7th December or the following week, when your AM might be catching up with constituency business before the holidays. Otherwise you can book now for an appointment in the early New Year.

It should be possible to email all five AMs (constituency and regional) to ask for an appointment for a small group from your local area. Note that a full postal address within the AM's constituency is required, even in email as they'll only deal with their own constituents.

Opening your conversation with Assembly member.

1. Our children are home educated because...

2, We have been home educating since...

3. In our home education we have had support from...

4  Our experience of the council has been...[if not known, can say what friends' experience has been]

5  We feel very strongly about the Government's plans for home education because...

6  Our family would be affected by the proposals in the following ways...

7 Current Government Guidelines already cover welfare/safegarding/standards/diversity 

This can be sent to your Assembly Member as a web link and as an email attachment. You can also copy and paste from the web page here into the body of your email.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Petition for Wales....Sign NOW

The petition to protect freedom of education in Wales closes midday tomorrow - 6.11.12.  Please sign. You don't have to be in Wales to sign to protect HE as we know it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tablets but no Teachers...will Ethiopian children learn to read?

They have clearly already learnt a great deal, but it is early days yet.  Will these children in remote, illiterate communities be able to teach themselves to read with just a tablet?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Broad and Balanced" versus "Suitable".

With the Department of Education asking things of Home Educators that are over and above the law, ie: home educators should 

"deliver a broad and balanced curriculum that is suitable for the age, ability and aptitude of each of their children", 

home educators must do our utmost to point out that, under the 1996 Education Act, the broad and balanced bit only applies to schools AND, what's more, this law presents all parents with yet another reason why education law is far from perfect, and this because "broad and balanced" may well not be suitable for some children.  

And this is putting aside any (HUGE) quibbles about what "broad and balanced" actually means.  From observing the learning of a child who pursued a series of apparently obsessive interests to the apparent exclusion of all other activities, it has transpired that though this study he has gained a wide range of transferable skills at the same time as developing huge competence in the area of study.  Perhaps a better way to go after all? 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Badman in the TES on the Welsh Situation.

NB: he may be a prof of something or other, but as far as any of us are aware, there isn't such a thing as a professorship in home education and to most home educators I know, he is still far from an expert on the subject.

The comments are instructive.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Fiona N's Briefing Paper on the Welsh situation.  Yep, it really is as bad as one suspected.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Report from Bridgend Research Project

...which can be accessed through here. 


1. In response to the 2008 National Behaviour and Attendance Review commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government, the Behaving and Attending Action plan included an intention to ‘scope the current issues for elective home education’. The Badman report to Westminster in 2009, with its suggestion of greater regulation, registration and monitoring of home educators and its particular emphasis on safeguarding issues, evoked a strong response from the home educating (HE) community and made the need for this exercise even more urgent.

2. The Welsh Assembly Government became aware of the early stages of a research project being developed in Bridgend between the Local Authority and the home educating community, based on an independent listening process and originally initiated by a HE parent willing and able to help facilitate broad discussions about developing mutual relationships.   An open, listening and fully collaborative process was deemed essential, recognising that a general culture existed of deep mistrust of state involvement on the part of some home educators and the problem of educational responsibility without authority expressed by some LA officers. The research scoping study would therefore aim to elucidate the underlying reasons behind such an impasse. The Bridgend project was described to other LAs and WAG agreed to expand the exercise to develop a clearer overview of the situation among elective home educators in Wales and their relationships with local authorities, beginning with a small group of relationally well connected authorities with a shared community of home educators.

3. Originally the main consideration of the project was to describe the different motives behind the choice to home educate and aim to clarify if and where such decisions are reactive to unhelpful school situations rather than philosophically driven.  It would also explore ways whereby effective partnerships between LAs and different kinds of home educators might be developed, enabling fresh approaches to be considered where home education is not an ideal solution for the children and families, while at the same time effecting greater communication with, and understanding of, committed home educationalists.

4. With the greater involvement of the Welsh Assembly Government which has formally adopted the UNCRC as the basis of all its work, the project was also asked to consider the right of children and young people to express an opinion and to have that opinion taken into account on any matter that affects them, as well as any potential conflict between the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the parental right to home educate their child.

5. The project was then developed as a series of interviews and surveys, guided by the same questionnaire outline (developed in collaboration with home educators as well as WAG), firstly to elicit responses from both Home Educators (parents) and, separately, Home Educated (children) concerning the reasons for home educating, their educational practice, their understanding of the role of the local authority, their understanding of UN Convention on the Right of the Child and any potential conflict with the parental right to home educate, and their view of what process needs to be followed where safeguarding concerns arise or where it is clear a suitable education is not being provided.

6. Secondly it would survey across a small number of local authorities current arrangements for working with EHE, with a view to identify quality standards for local authorities in relation to this area of provision.  In particular it would aim to identify ways of developing closer partnerships between local authorities and the home educating community. Finally, it would aim to identify and report on safeguarding issues for vulnerable children and young people on roll as EHE.


7. Motivations for Home Education: a spectrum
Broadly, from the responses gathered at this stage, the motivations of the Home Educating community can be seen to fall into four categories on a spectrum and, in this description, in no order of percentage choice.

Behavioural or unresolved attendance issues: encouraged to opt out or avoiding prosecution Reacting to curricular or structural difficulties Special social, emotional or learning needs not being met, being caused or aggravated; bullying Political, religious, cultural or lifestyle proactive choices

Response to behavioural /attendance issues
The extreme stance expressed by some authorities that the majority of HE parents choose HE to avoid prosecution when they and/or their children simply disengage with education is not endorsed by this initial scoping, but it is the primary experience of the EWS in relation to HE and, as such, is perceived to be a much more significant motivation than it is in actuality.

Lifestyle choices
At the other end of the spectrum, the political position of some home educators is that the family unit and not the state has primary responsibility for the education of the child and therefore that education is most suitably and efficiently delivered in the family context. Other ‘alternative’ lifestyle choices include those of the traveller communities, or various religious perspectives.

Curricular/structural issues
Between these two poles are children and families opting out of the mainstream, not to disengage from education, but after struggling with, and giving up on, the curriculum or structural difficulties of school life, be it the size, the length of day or the interaction with some teachers.

Special social, emotional, health or learning needs
Towards the choice of HE as a lifestyle are those opting out of the mainstream because of social, emotional or other learning challenges, delicate health issues, difficulties with transition, or, most particularly, the experience of bullying. This appears to be the largest group in the spectrum. Many of these, though originally choosing reactively away from school, do seem to find HE particularly suitable to meeting, or allowing for, those particular needs and come to embrace this alternative educational experience as a proactive and positive decision.

It can be concluded that much of the inherent mistrust evident between the HE community
and local authorities is particularly generated between the two most extreme positions of the spectrum. The specifically pro-family position of the committed and effective home educator believes her/himself misjudged by the authority figure simply dismayed at the vulnerability of challenging children and dysfunctional families threatening to disappear from help or support into ‘HE’. The two rarely, if ever, meet and the stereotypical understanding is never challenged.

The help given by some home educators (usually positioned in the two more central categories) in facilitating conversations via the survey and email connection with other members of the HE community who prefer to opt for anonymity was an early indicator of a potential way forward. It recognises the pragmatic and philosophical need to guard the choice of non-engagement by some home educators with the authorities, while offering a relational connectivity with the community which may allow for further conversation and initiatives over common concerns.

The educational practice

The learning style is mainly described as ‘child led’ or ‘autonomous’. Time flexibility is important, so children can follow through with their own study and interests.  This personalised learning is further resourced by the various local networks of home educators sharing their experience and resources and where families socialise together. At this early stage, the range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds seems interestingly broad. Outings and trips are arranged (including an educational trip to Bulgaria). Families make use of adult learning courses, evening classes, (interestingly, some parents engage in the courses with their children and themselves gain fresh qualifications) private tutors for extra specialist help and the internet is key. Most children mentioned their involvement in other community clubs such as scouts, orchestras and sports clubs. Mental health support is accessed where necessary, funded by Comic Relief in one instance.

Understanding the role of the Local Authority

There is a general understanding both among Home Educators and LA officers that the accepted role for the LA is monitoring HE families to ensure the ‘suitability’ of the education the children receive. Questions of how that monitoring happens need to be addressed as outcomes of autonomous learning are not measurable by curricular or key stage academic standards and the annual report requested of HE parents can easily be seen “as nothing more than a box-ticking exercise”.

There is perceived to be a serious ambiguity over whether monitoring educational standards is simply (or even equally) an excuse to view the children in a safeguarding exercise which urgently needs addressing.

Addressing motivations not in the best interests of the child, towards targeted help and effective reintegration into mainstream education where desired.

The increasing numbers of de-registrations for reactive and potentially ill-considered reasons is of concern to both LAs and the HE community. It is suggested that a ‘mentored learning period’ be introduced for students arriving close to an impasse with the school authorities, as an expansion of alternative provision, and as a period for a cooler consideration of the options.  It is not in the interests of the HE community to persuade families to engage in home education who are not suited to it, but their own experience could give realistic information about it.  As one said, “I’m not here to convert anybody, but to help families going through hell.”

While some children may attend a phobic group, or try a personalised learning package out of the PRU, some families considering HE could be mentored by another HE family for a period, attend the local HE group and get a clearer idea of the not inconsiderable challenges and demands, as well as the benefits of this approach.  A more measured and considered integration into alternative provision, including HE as an option within that, or re-integration into mainstream must be in the better interests of the child.
Targeted Help

It is the conclusion of much research that, for children who are not coping with mainstream education, help targeted to the most basic root cause of their discomfort is the most effective means of re-engaging them in education. In all the three LA areas covered by this scoping exercise there is a growing emphasis on early identification of social, emotional and learning needs and relevant interventions for younger children, which is to be encouraged, and among which a period of HE or flexi-schooling, with their particular emphasis and developed skills particularly in special needs, could be considered as a further option.

The problem of curricular difficulties for older children is a more difficult one, especially in today’s context of financial cuts when most vocational level 1 and 2 courses attract no funding, and where the provision of such courses has already been cancelled in one area surveyed. From the interviews with older children in the HE community, the opportunity to focus on particular areas of interest, to follow practical and / or correspondence / internet courses, adult education or evening classes at their own pace and to discover other related activities which enhance their study (e.g. archaeological digs), seemed to answer well to the problem of their discordance with the school curriculum, again suggesting that HE might contribute a valuable alternative to the difficulties with curricula . Opting for HE as an older student is however more complex, as developing self motivated learning habits can be more difficult for many reasons.

It is equally evident from many comments received that were there a greater provision of more alternative curricular courses available, some HE students, along with others presently struggling with curricular difficulties would definitely opt back into such vocational or flexible educational provision.  Numbers considering HE have greatly increased in one area where the alternative curriculum has been cut. There is a significant argument that the provision of relevant, alternative curricular courses would reduce the numbers of families leaving mainstream education at key stage 4 and probably facilitate the reintegration of some HE older students.

Issues concerning safeguarding

It is to be noted that the question “What would you advise when Home Education is clearly not in the best interests of the child?” caused the most reaction.  Even before the interviews, its inclusion in the questionnaire provoked strong reaction.  This reaction appears to be towards the spoken and unspoken belief that HE children are more at risk of abuse than other children, placing the home educating community under a cloud of suspicion which they obviously find extremely distasteful and unjust. Greater clarification is needed about why non-attendance at school is a quoted as a key indicator in detecting abuse (“warning signs of neglect in children” include being “frequently late or missing from school” on the Child Abuse and Neglect webpage of for example.) However, even while it may be true that abusive families pragmatically do tend to avoid school attendance, it is certainly not true that all those who do not attend school are in abusive situations. Better training and discussion within local authorities would be helpful towards recalibrating this unqualified and misinterpreted view as it applies to the HE community at large.

The very high response rate to questions of safeguarding pleads for a much clearer distinction between educational support and interaction with the authorities (usually via the co-ordinators) and a ‘policing’ or welfare role (drawing on the EWS or Social services distinctly and only when appropriate). The former is considered helpful and desirable by many, but the latter offensive and unjust.  Most recognise that safeguarding children is something which concerns us all, but that there is a major and discriminatory imbalance in applying it to the HE community which must be addressed if more open and equitable relationships are to be pursued. If such relationships are not developed more deliberately and consistently, the early indications from this scoping exercise are that the most challenging families, about whom there may be shared concerns, who are officially ‘home educating’ as an avoidance tactic, will be even more difficult to access or even find.  In the area where the LA officer was the most stringent and eager for stronger regulation, the level of suspicion among home educators is definitely higher and more protective of their anonymity.  Where there is already a measure of partnership between the LA and the HE community, via a creative, shared co-ordinator role, there is also a shared concern for families that are not on roll, and families where the relationship with the authority has broken down are being helped and supported educationally by the HE community.

Responses from both within the local authorities and the HE community emphasise that increased regulation towards HE provision would be counter-productive as it would increase suspicion and resistance to even basis interaction as well as being unwieldy to apply. Most also recognise that increased collaboration with HE networks would lead naturally to greater visibility of the community to the benefit of all, and effective networking with those responsible home educators who are more likely and easily in contact with disaffected, newly de-registered families who may be more at risk, is likely to be a more constructive and practical way forward.

Registration and funding of individual pupils not in mainstream education.

It is not surprising that registration per se is not an issue for those interviewed (70% of those who are already known to the authorities have no problem with registration) while 100% of the survey responses (from those who have opted for an anonymous involvement in this exercise) have a distinct reluctance about the possibility. Equally the former group most commonly express the equity argument that their children are still being educated and the families are still paying tax towards that, so some capitation funds released towards extra courses, trips etc would be both helpful and just.  The second category, keen to guard their independence, see funds associated with control and prefer to accept neither.


In the light of the tensions about regulation, monitoring and statutory obligation, it is not surprising that questions concerning the UNCRC also provoked a suspicious response. Most families were aware of it but were concerned about how it might be interpreted to their disadvantage; none of the children questioned knew anything about it, but responses to a question about whom, other than their immediate family they could talk to about important things gives confidence that they are not isolated or cut off from having their voice and opinions heard. All their responses on surveys or in interviews expressed their own consent and contentment with their present situation; many were extremely thoughtful and articulate and most expressed their extreme relief.

LA attitudes towards and arrangements for HE

The ambiguity referred to in para 9 is nowhere more evident than in LA staff perceptions of their own roles with home educators and suggests a very urgent need for new and creative clarification of LA involvement with HE. Three distinct attitudes were clearly definable in even so small a sample, as supportive, aggressive or conflictual, and the departmental positioning of the HE co-ordinator potentially marks the emphasis.

Toward best practice

Developing an agreed and clarified best practice therefore is a matter of urgency. The clear evidence so far of this early exercise is that mutually supportive and respectful partnership with appropriate representatives of the HE community at a local level is effective, both so the distinctive skills and expertise within the community can contribute to the social, emotional and educational needs of all the children in the area and that otherwise, the threat and suspicion between the LA and HE will continue to contribute to a vicious cycle of increasing regulation and corresponding invisibility.



Towards a Culture Change

The suggestion to come out of these interviews is to ask how an effective partnership between Local Authorities and the Home Educating community could be developed practically in order to address jointly some of the issues they have in common. It is suggested that HE be re-imagined as an integral part of alternative education provision, affording both greater transparency of their own practice and offering particular skills and experience to others both within and outside of mainstream provision, as well as to those in the process of withdrawing either temporarily or permanently.

It must at the same time be emphasised that the need to keep very clear structural and legal distinctions between the LA and the HE community is paramount. The HE community is a strongly networked and communicative community with a commonly owned allegiance to their educational beliefs, which is in itself a considerable strength behind their educational practice and strategy.  It would be extremely counter-productive to damage this identity, or even risk seeming to ‘divide and conquer’. There must be scope in the collaboration for any who choose not to be involved to guard that space and freedom without being excluded. Any partnership with sections of the HE community must therefore be developed relationally and co-operatively, rather than contractually.

Examples of joint working would be many. Given that the majority of reasons given for choosing HE would very clearly fall into the middle of the spectrum and particularly into the need to attend to special needs and sensitivities, it is not surprising that the HE community is developing some very helpful interventions for addressing these.  A local HE group could also function as an extra provision for the socially anxious and offer the potential for first stage re-integration with other children in a situation “built on kindness, generosity” who understand and are gentle with those suffering the same difficulties. There is a desire among some home educators to shift their own position from ‘outside’ of the educational establishment to “show what HE looks like and how it can look. We need to dispel the myths that HE children sit in front of TV all day.  We have to come out of our bubble and celebrate our successes.”

There is indeed need of more data about the qualifications achieved and the training and employment opportunities explored by HE students over the long term.  Without a move towards the necessary culture change, the suspicion evoked by suggesting any such data gathering (involving registration and record keeping) would be entirely counter-productive, but a move towards greater co-operation would equally make such information much easier to glean and benefit from.

Equally, where children newly de-registered following a breakdown with the school authorities cannot be easily tracked by those in the system they are rejecting, connections with others ‘outside’ the system could potentially offer a means of support, one which the LA could effectively ‘subcontract’ in a meaningful collaboration. This would require a high level of trust in the context of confidentiality and the need to guard anonymity, and expectations would need to be very clearly negotiated.  Information might not always be shared (the boundaries would be co-operatively defined) but the sense that someone is at least involved in the situation would give added confidence, and the difficult issues of safeguarding become a shared, transparent responsibility rather than a conflictual barrier.

It has to be said that this desire is more keenly expressed in an area where relationships have already been negotiated and developed and where the LA has been very positive in making some supportive services available. There is, understandably, still considerable reluctance to engage in dialogue where an LA officer is perceived as being “potentially dangerous” in his desire for more regulation to address the likelihood of abuse in HE families. Here they express anxiety at the “naivety” some HE parents display in their willingness to be part of a voluntary registration process. It highlights the need for an openness to change equally within the Local Authority staff and structures as for some home educators.

It would be unwise to imagine that such a cultural shift would happen easily, especially in the light of the disturbance expressed by some in the HE community even about such a scoping exercise as this one. Nonetheless the present impasse and misunderstanding that exists generally is unhealthy for all and the signs of willingness to engage among some are hopeful.

To create the capacity to define best practice for sharing information, concern and resources for all children and families in and/or between local authority areas where desired.

Collaboration involves sharing information and resources from all sides, but the extent of this collaboration will need more and careful negotiation. Particularly, further research, networking and listening is essential to hear clearly from the wider national HE community that is not already involved in discussion, or is strongly convinced against any further involvement with the statutory authorities, of the reasons for their disquiet and genuine initiatives taken towards understanding such differences.

The culture change necessary to the collaboration could involve several practical suggestions, all of which have been mentioned in the interviews.

· Identification of and information about practical, local, cost effective resource sharing, e.g. an HE mother finding resources and support from local school for the moderate  learning difficulties of her two children, because of “their can-do attitude”.
· Open discussions (chat room?) towards recommendations about the “monitoring” process which recognises different measurement, possibly looking at an evaluation strategy around the wellbeing agenda.
· A series of collaborative forums, independently facilitated, with strategic HE representatives, LA co-ordinators and senior EWOs to share perspectives and stories; notional case studies dilemmas towards shared solutions.
· Better training and more strategic selection of HE co-ordinators, with a clarification of their role as supportive and advocative; clearer advice and guidance to be made available about resourcing HE and other provision available to EOTAS children (eg career service, school counselling service).
· Clearer guidance to LAs concerning the departmental positioning of the HE co-ordinator to resolve the present postcode lottery of the nature of the relationship offered, whether it is located in EWS (conflictual), Pupil Services (once HE, not technically pupils, so minimal), Access and Inclusion (potentially more collaborative).


The key recommendations based on the findings from this initial scoping exercise are two-fold:

To investigate the possibility of reconfiguring home education as a valid alternative educational provision, of relevance to, though different from, other EOTAS provisions, with skills and experience to offer as well as being able to draw on appropriate support. The difference will be marked by safeguarding the rights of any members of the HE community to have as full independence from the educational system as they choose.

To investigate ways of facilitating a cultural change in attitudes concerning home education and the relationship between the HE community and local authorities.

The practical steps recommended to begin to confirm, adjust and move towards these goals are the following:

To initiate further research in the following areas:
To scope the HE experience of another group of areas to confirm, broaden or adjust the initial findings
To investigate fully the opinions and reservations of national HE influencers to inform the key issues to be discussed at a strategic level
To evaluate the use and language of ‘not attending school’ as a key indicator of abuse and suggest ways to address the confusion re home education

To begin a series of collaborative forum discussions
Independently facilitated, with strategic HE representatives, LA co-ordinators and senior EWOs to share perspectives and stories; notional case studies dilemmas towards shared solutions and best practice
A series of ‘listening conversations’ between HE practitioners, school EWOs and LA co-ordinators at a regional level, around the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of elective Home Education towards increased awareness and broader perspectives

To implement training and shared learning experience
For HE co-ordinators towards a co-operative and supportive role, drawing on the particular success of the Bridgend model
For all families considering the HE option, with significant involvement and collaborative leadership from the HE community, including children.




Opening comments.

While this research began as an organic development of LA provision in Bridgend for ‘EOTAS’ children, when it became known among a wider cohort of home educators in Wales, a sudden and unexpected response was triggered with the following effects:
It confirmed and highlighted an even broader undercurrent of suspicion than the one referred to in the project specification as “the present background of mistrust of state involvement on the part of some home educators”;
It had a major effect on the willingness of some of the home educating community to participate in the research and involved extensive email contact and explanation with home educators beyond the local and relational connections we had envisaged;
It evidenced the strong, corporate identity of many in the home educating community and the effectiveness of their communication and networking.

Despite the disturbance of relationships and expectations, local home educating parents and some of the support networks proved wonderfully co-operative, as were the local authority co-ordinators, who also engaged in the process of discussion and persuasion which allowed this project to go ahead. The following effects can be noted from this part of the process:
There is within the HE community at present very good will towards opening up discussions for a creatively new approach. The researcher experienced remarkable openness among home educators who showed a keenness to engage with the deeper issues raised by the sudden waves of communication and questioning. Some interviews lasted up to three hours and several participants spontaneously expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be heard at length;
It is also noticeable that where collaborative approaches are more advanced, there is already a greater degree of trust evident than in areas where attitudes either in the home educating community or the local authority are clearly more confrontational or suspicious; here we were able to arrange less access to interviewees and received no survey responses. Further scoping exercises will need to draw heavily on national networks of relationships in the HE communities.
In the midst of attempts to engage in conversation with families outside of mainstream education, the enthusiasm of children willing to participate was notable. Their responses are as individual as they, but the confidence of the majority was remarkable.

While discovering a wide range of responses and opinions about local authorities among the home educators was expected, discovering a similarly wide range of attitudes to home education among the comparatively few LA officers interviewed was more surprising.  The difference in levels of support, the stance of the co-ordinator role and attitudes to regulation, even across only three authorities, was quite marked and suggests the following:
“The problem of responsibility without authority expressed by some LA officers” referred to in the project specification is a real experience for them, which evokes
A need for much greater discussion towards clarification of roles and/or responsibilities for de-registered or non-registered children.
The urgent need to address issues of definition and appropriacy where educational, welfare and policing roles seem to overlap unhelpfully.

The Process

A process of considerable discussion undergirded the development of the interview questionnaire both with long-term home educators aware of the political sensitivities of some of the community and with WAG representatives.  In the course of this discussion we also addressed the issue of reaching the views of home educators who do not wish to be identifiable and so included the use of surveys, to be handed out and returned anonymously via the HE network of relationships. I was also encouraged to include the opportunity for email discussion should any wish to take the discussions further. This was an initial attempt to engage with those normally outside of such conversations and offered some very interesting comparable data as well as exploring potential means of developing further collaboration.

A total of 23 interviews were conducted, comprising 10 with adults educating 13 children in total, 5 children being educated at home (different from the previous 13), 3 LA co-ordinators, 3 members of the Educational Welfare Service and 2 leaders of Home Educating Support networks. Information was then further collected from the surveys, which differed only from the questionnaires in the opportunity for secondary questions and complexity of reply. These were returned by adults representing 10 learners and 7 children different from the 10. As mentioned in the opening comments, these survey responses were finally only available from the one area in which a good level of collaboration has been built. Lengthy email conversations also became a source of information with 7 further members of the HE community in Wales.

The Data

Background and reasons

Interviews with HE adults

· Out of the 13 children represented, 3 had never been schooled
· Of those previously schooled, 53% had had very stressful school experience (either with phobia, difficult teacher or peer bullying)
· 62% had additional learning needs (including 1 ‘gifted and talented’)
· For 31%, HE was either initially or developed into a proactive philosophical choice.

Were the other educational experiences good or difficult? In what way?
Good to start with; mixed ok but frequent trouble getting him to school and after school; He seemed very bright but was socially stressed…
He was v. disturbed going to school, lost, confused, distressed; the his health affected – developed food sensitivities, leaky gut, deficiencies led to chronic fatigue
They were torrid; he could already read and write but judged by other styles of learning… was allowed limited choice of reading because ‘couldn’t hold a stencil’; learning disabilities;
She was bullied since nursery. I believed the school till the knife incident … nothing done, too serious to leave her at school

What would you identify as the MAIN reason you have chosen to educate at home?
His unwillingness to go; I physically couldn’t get him in/out of car
Impasse in confronting his difficulties (because of an increasing compensation culture). School did not bring L to his full potential, so we had to
No choice! My child was traumatised, bullied by teachers. The teacher humiliated her charges.
At comp, fine at beginning but couldn’t cope: too noisy, scary.
Not putting my son with a particular teacher. Only for 1 year originally (I’m very compliant/conventional) to avoid her, but then meeting so many home edders – realised school NOT essential to child’s development. Then H said she wanted to try it.
Right point for parents to make the lifestyle choice; development of family relationship first priority; experience of raising children to be made with them.

HE Children’s interview responses

80% had previous school experience
80% expressed their stress at school in relationship to teachers, 20% found the day too long.
100% had a sibling or a friend whose learning difficulty was the primary cause of the family choosing home education, and who joined them.

What did you find good about the other ways, and what did you find difficult?
Socially, it was good,  surrounded by friends, but teachers’ attitudes towards children and learning was awful: mean, rude, mean about your work; they overlooked bullying
Being with my friends was good, but work and days too long; maths was dreadful (a little bit better now)
They tell you you’re going to fail

What would you say is the MAIN reason you have chosen to be educated at home?
J coming out because of Aspergers, he got no help; I was fed up with school because they moaned a lot
All my brothers and sisters were coming out and I didn’t like school; I was unpopular.  So glad to come out.
I don’t like school. My sister was coming out and I could too.

HE Adult survey responses

20% had no school experience, 20% had been privately tutored
88% with previous educational experience had found it unsatisfactory
40% are reactive to bad experience
60% either began as or developed into philosophical choice.

Were the other educational experiences good or difficult? In what way?
Failed to address special needs
School changed my children; peer pressure , values changed, they lost confidence, always criticised by teachers, couldn’t go to the toilet, stupid rules enforced for no reason
Most tutors don’t seem to understand how home educated children learn and do so of their own initiative

What would you identify as the MAIN reason you have chosen to educate at home?
I wanted my children back
The system failed to educate my child
Suits my child. Dislike of humanist/secular stance
Tried, liked it so chose to continue
Freedom, religious reasons, peaceful children
Pupil survey responses

57% had previous school experience which was unsatisfactory
100% mention the problem of bullying, even those never schooled
86% are aware of ‘lots’ of learning difficulties in the HE community and understand the conditions; ‘lots of autistic people at the group’; ‘some people are autistic, some people are in wheelchairs, some are asthmatic’;

What did you find good about the other ways of education, and what did you find difficult?
Both home ed & school take time to get used to but school is stressful because of bullies
Difficult to learn to read and write because teachers wouldn’t teach us and just tell us to do it.
Being pushed to the brink of death by bullies abusing me to starve myself

What would you say is the MAIN reason you have chosen to be educated at home?
I have the opportunity to make new friends and go places; Because I choose my own lesson times and I can do more stuff that I couldn’t have done in school like climbing trees, writing books
I didn’t like school because the teachers shouted at me because I couldn’t do some things
Because J (sibling) was being ill treated

Relationships with Authorities

Interviews with HE adults

85% found the local authority/school very inflexible and unhelpful towards their stress and needs
This disappointment/dissatisfaction carries through to their low expectations/rejection of the LA’s ongoing role or responsibility towards those now outside of the mainstream system.
69% expressed appreciation of the present supportive co-ordinators in contrast with previous arrangements
69% are still looking to LA for greater help and support

Please can you tell me how you feel about the Local Authority?
EWO ‘threatening’; school was pressuring and then didn’t want to know. Inspection was due and my child was ‘an embarrassment’
Exists to create/fill jobs for itself not the children; Adjustments/changes made for its own sake
School was a massive anxiety! No back up or help except an ‘assembly on anti-bullying’! EWO only activated when the situation was already too bad
They have treated us with respect within the parameters I have set; they respect my choice, but they could do more to encourage and resource rather than fear the negative

What role or responsibilities do you understand the Local Authority to have for your child or children?
Just to monitor that receiving suitable education for age and ability; surprised how little monitoring
They can check on us because we’ve told them; we don’t have to provide anything. When LA take over your kids in school, they answer to you as a parent – it’s your tax money!
None; it has become an adversarial situation. Understanding and empathy must be reintegrated but resources are limited, so understanding of individual is also limited. But ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work.
I thought they would act in loco parentis, provide safe environment and provide education; they failed drastically.
To help my children have a suitable education! If they are saving money by not educating my children, why can’t they release some?

54% knew little or nothing of UNCRC, while 66% were very alert to it; responses to it included a criticism of schools’ abilities to fulfil its demands and a philosophical disagreement with it.
“It includes children’s rights to a safe environment, not to be punished; this was not upheld at school! Some teachers are not fit”.
“As a school governor, I was aware that children knew before their parents (about the UNCRC) and parents were undermined by that. Rights that parents must look after them? This undermines love and responsibility & supersedes the role of a child to learn from parents”.
70% express varying degrees of positivity towards registration and visibility. “I think there should be!  The children are still there!” “Better communication all round must achieve change” and “we see ourselves as in the system and would like respect shown to ‘micro school’
23% are on balance rather more against the idea as “information gathered from us in the past has been used against us…The gloss is always to find wrong rather than celebrate what is good.”

HE Children’s interview responses

60% had clear views about the role of school / local authorities and well constructed answers
40% had nothing at all to say

Can you tell me how you feel about schools in general?
Not monitored enough, too big, bullying; teachers don’t seem to like children and not enthusiastic. Have to fit in or be bullied. If schools were better monitored, more professional and flexible, we might have stayed.
They should spend more time with people who really need them.  I feel they are suspicious of the worst.

Why do you think the people from the local authority want to know how you are getting on?
I understand that they want to see our work etc for our welfare and wellbeing, but not good that they demand to come. Happy to meet and discuss.
Yes, checking up that we’re getting a good education

HE Adult survey responses

80% express a clear disappointment with both past and present involvement with local authorities
(20% express appreciation of LA involvement only because it is so little)
80% strongly express that the LA has no responsibility for HE children
80% are alert to UNCRC: and some comment on HE providing the said right to education, emphasising free choice and the necessity to judge school education by same standards, which they consider ‘not able to provide these rights’
100% are very suspicious about a hidden agenda in registration:’very wary; suspicious; doesn’t sound like the way forward’

Please can you tell me how you feel about the Local Authority?
I don’t like them because they interfere and want to poke their noses in, but if you ask for help they say no, you made your bed now lie in it.
Good. They are very hands-off.
Lack of understanding, patronising, blaming, coercive; no expression to individuality

What role or responsibilities do you understand the Local Authority to have for your child or children?
None. Education is my responsibility now
None – the responsibility to educate a child is the parents, not the state legally.
None; it’d be nice to have help, but not responsible – that is the parent

Pupil survey responses

86% commented on the difficulties with school, all of which mention bullying, either in their own experience or having heard it from others in the home educating community
29% are aware of LA visits as checks for abuse, compared with14% as educational monitoring; 43% didn’t know why
None had any awareness of UNCRC, and their comments about the Children’s Commissioner role were diverting! “Yes, you can talk to them about your worries and they will help you and they don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want them to”; “Yes they give Frisbees out”; “I have heard of the Children’s Commissioner, but am in the dark as to what they do.”

Can you tell me how you feel about schools in general?
I think it would be very big, not good, not bad. There are bullies there, because people have told me. Lots of people come to the home education group because of bullies
He thought his job was to get us into school when it wasn’t

Why do you think the people from the local authority want to know how you are getting on?
Because he might think mum took us out of school to hurt us
Because they want us to be educated
Because they are paranoid about my parents abusing me

Attitudes to the Safeguarding issue

Interviews with HE adults

85% clearly expressed the need to distinguish education from welfare issues. A further response evidenced a sense of fear of being suspected of abuse simply by choosing to home educate, leading to desire to avoid contact with the authorities. It leads to a cycle of invisibility and further suspicion.

What would you advise in circumstances when the choice to Home Educate seems clearly not in pursuit of the best interests of the child?
It’s not an educational issue; it’s for the authorities or social services if unsafe.
Safeguarding issues are difficult, but a) it is not any better within the system and b) regulation does not really help anyway.  What regulation for the rare circumstance would achieve is out of proportion with the freedoms for others it would circumscribe. Separate criminality from educational issues.
I’m reluctant to answer because though there may be families like that, I don’t want to have the book thrown at me! I’ve lost confidence totally in the professionals, and so has my 12 year old.
There should be more checks; sometimes you get a bit lazy (educationally) and a few more rules would help.  Social service involvement is appropriate in extreme welfare cases.
If it’s a social service welfare problem, they should deal with it.  Separate welfare and education.
If it’s a welfare case, social services should get off their backside.  It’s something that drags HE name in the mud, so we would appreciate help with extreme cases. But abusive parents usually prefer to appear normal, so put the kids IN school.

HE Adult survey responses

90% of these responses illustrate acute sensitivity about the implications that home educators are more likely to be abusive than the rest of the population.

What would you advise in circumstances when the choice to Home Educate seems clearly not in pursuit of the best interests of the child?
Typical question about home ed as though we are all abusers. My health visitor comes and tells me she must see the children in case there are bruises on them. I have never laid a finger on them, but she says they’re not in school, she must see them. I don’t know why she’s not checking all the other children that go to school all day; don’t abused children go to school??
In no way could Home Ed not be in the best interests of the child. What would constitute to the LA that a child cannot be educated? This question is ambiguous.
Same as those circumstances when school is clearly not in the child’s best interest.
Hard question as it’s not my judgement to make unless there is physical or mental abuse, but then that isn’t really a home education problem.
No Comment! That is a leading question.

Views from within the Local Authorities (EWS and LA HE co-ordinators)

These interviews were unstructured (no questionnaire format) but the discussions centred around the following subjects;

Primary reasons for HE

1:  To avoid prosecution.  The EWS view obviously begins with this point of involvement. All commented on the increase in numbers nationally discovering their right to choose HE to avoid a prosecution which strengthens the view that “these parents must be monitored”. It is suggested that “some schools recommend this right” to the parents to avoid difficult behaviour in class. Most EWS advice is that HE should not be recommended; “it is your parental right, but… this is what is expected by the LA … we try to discourage it” and EWOs in school are encouraged not even to mention it.

2:  Because of curricula difficulties. As with other EOTAS children, there is a curriculum issue at KS3 which causes some children immense difficulties and the lack of alternative, usually vocational provision in some LAs is perceived to be behind many of the de-registrations of older children.

3:  “Family or other issues” leading to a ‘victim’ mentality or ‘difference’. This seems to subsume both experiences of children being bullied or having social or learning difficulties such as Aspergers. One EWO response to accusations of bullying from families deregistering their children was unexpected in that he gave them no credibility at all; “every school has anti-bullying strategies in place”.  Consequently, his suspicions of the choice of HE and his desire for further regulation were even more heightened. Another mentioned “unidentified special needs”. It also includes parental reluctance to deal with school issues; those who feel talked down to and would rather withdraw and “one or two dysfunctional families” where early identification and intervention would avert the need to opt out.

     Given that, at the moment, most LA involvement with the home education option begins with the above mentioned crisic situations, it is not surprising that they make no mention of the 31% of the HE adult interviews or the 60% of the adult surveys which identify the positive social and educational benefits as the primary motivation for this choice. But the conflict of perspectives, though understandable, does add to the wall of suspicion which we should seek to address.

Role and management

It seems that the Educational Welfare Service takes the point initially in relating to families opting out of mainstream into home education, and the local co-ordinators are structurally positioned in relationship to them. From three interviews with the EWS, there are three opinions, which underline the clarity needed about interpreting their role.

     The first is supportive: “to advise, assist and befriend”. The legal responsibility is to explain to the parents their rights and role and persuade them to do “the best thing for the child”. He is perplexed when they opt out and still expect the co-ordinator “to come and tell me what to do”. The support is limited to an information booklet, a termly visit and an annual report. He identifies the present regulation / use of SAO as “a grey area of usefulness” since only 35% of those prosecuted return to school.  Even then, after a couple of days in attendance, if they disappear again, “the whole process recommences”.

58. The second is aggressive: “we need to get in there!” Social service involvement with families is long and drawn out, but on an ‘education ticket’, education and welfare can visit together, 2 together on health and safety grounds. He is keen for increased regulation to give access to homes; “if they’ve nothing to hide, they should let you in”.   The use of educational monitoring as an excuse for primarily taking the safeguarding / policing role is overt.

59. The third explains the dilemma: “It is a conflictual role. The EWO has a big stick relationship with parents… the school based EWO is associated with the school system / has identity as ‘police’ of school, so it’s not easy to come as support or advocacy.” The suggestion here is “where regulation is necessary, separate it from the support level.” He feels intuitively that the advocacy support role would be more effective and the conflictual nature of the role must be structurally resolved.

60. The conflict continues to be felt by the co-ordinators. The first contact after de- registration in one area is a letter with information of “authorities’ duty to monitor”, which, if following on from an unresolved crisis in the school situation, could seem inflammatory. They see their own ongoing role as ambivalent; “Visits are really negotiated space. The grounds of the relationship are unclear even in the WAG document. We have a responsibility to see the home educators but no authority.  They don’t have to see us, but feel it might influence opinion against them if they don’t.”

Regulation and safeguarding

Again three positions were expressed in the interviews:

     The first is pragmatic. As in school, “if (during visits) we see something that causes us concern, we must refer it to Health and Social Services.  We are responsible, but have no direct powers.” An added comment is that some HE networks are so “aggressively anti-local authority” that LA involvement is further undermined and politically difficult.

     The second is also pragmatic, but safeguarding-biased. “We need more specifically targeted regulation to see the education, otherwise you can’t get in to see what’s going on… All the recommendations about safeguarding are about joint working. We need to use education as means of entry to see the welfare.”

     The third takes a broader view: “We need clear guidelines for where HE is a thought through and responsible position as different from where it is not competent. The middle zone is always a potential safeguarding issue, even educationally, so more regulation is needed to give good oversight.”

     The co-ordinators’ responses confirm the difficulties in negotiating the different positions. One asks what else to do when there is no response to letters or requests for a meeting; another re-iterates her willingness to “keep an eye out (for safeguarding issues) but that it is not the primary role of an educator, and one suggests that a good ‘monitoring tool’ for the HE environment would be “not an academic issue, but a wellbeing agenda” which could as equally inform the safeguarding issues appropriately as the educational.

     Given that resources for support and encouragement are indeed limited and that ongoing involvement with home educating families is finite and, at present, negotiated, it would seem strategic to focus on the most effective and mutually beneficial means of relating together, including attending to the safeguarding issues.

Views from Home Education network facilitators

These interviews were also unstructured. For comparison’s sake the main comments are reported within a similar framework.

Primary reasons for HE

1: Special needs: 1/3 of one home educator’s network group have additional learning needs that were not properly catered for in the mainstream; “the vast majority” of these have Aspergers, so high IQ, needing high attention. Another large group proportionally is of 14-16 year old girls who have lost confidence, “who couldn’t cope with extreme emotions” and most of all of them have really low self esteem as a result of or being particularly vulnerable to bullying experiences.

2: Learning style choices: Child-led learning, personalised learning, time flexibility, “90% of elective home education is autonomous learning”, are the main descriptors of what is the ‘why’ of HE compared with the ‘what’ of curriculum based difficulties mentioned above.  “When the kids forget school patterns, (after a ‘de-schooling’ period)… a voracious appetite to learn returns,” and going so far as to say, “If mainstream education offered a ‘thematic’ approach, half our kids would go back…”

3: Some families have withdrawn in crisis. “They often choose HE because there is no alternative; some are encouraged by schools because they are disruptive.”

Role and management

The facilitators are soon in touch with families who de-register and echo the need for a ‘supportive’ role with them; “Where families have withdrawn in crisis, you can’t bring in an LA ‘officer'… They need someone in a befriending role”; they suggest collaborative and alternative help could be offered before the families take a reactive or crisis choice to deregister where the involvement of experienced Home Educators could help “give a realistic view of HE”.

     They comment equally on the ‘aggressive’ stance and its effect. In the light of the Badman report and the subsequent suspicion this research has aggravated, they comment on the adverse effects of talk of more regulation, ‘monitoring and policing’ as “I’ve never seen anything like this before… At present there is a draconian attitude to HE.” They refer to it building “a militant extremism against registration” among some Home Educators and feeding “conspiracy” theories.

This again recognises therefore the conflictual nature of LA engagement with Home education.

Regulation and safeguarding

While an LA officer is quoted above as being pressured by “aggressively anti-local authority” HE networks, here the comment was heard that “a highly politicised cohort (within one Education Authority) is using safeguarding issues” to intimidate home educators; that police truancy sweeps have seriously traumatised some HE children who were held by officers who “had never heard of Home Education”. (As a result, a Home Educating charity has issued a card that HE children can carry to explain their rights not to be in school.) Such conflictual positions are not easily resolved, for while we are all aware of the need to address the issues of truanting, it should surely not be at the risk of not safeguarding the emotional wellbeing of other children.

      Interestingly, in contrast with the majority of HE parents who clearly expressed the need to distinguish welfare safeguarding from educational issues, the opinion expressed here was that “no education is a welfare problem (one of neglect), but a SAO is a blunt instrument because ‘evidence’ can be made up anyway.”

     A very satisfying aspect of this research has been to discover the great deal of thought, enquiry and training that has been undertaken by the HE community and their willingness to become part of the solution to these dilemmas.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Next Education Committee Session

Next Education Committee Session:

Subject: Support for Home Education.  

Date:  17th October 2011.  

Time:  09.45  

Wondering who's been asked?  Presuming it will be LAs.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Welsh Government seeking the views of HE children and young people.

From the Welsh Government:

"The Welsh Government believe the current legislation surrounding elective home education has shortcomings because there is no legal requirement on the parent to tell a local authority that a child is receiving education at home. Without this requirement, it is very difficult for local authorities to carry out their duties to ensure that all compulsory school age children in their area are receiving a suitable education. 

For these reasons we are proposing the introduction of a registration and monitoring scheme for home educated children. We want the scheme to promote a more supportive and constructive relationship between all home educating families and local authorities, with them working together to ensure children receive a suitable education.

A consultation seeking views on the proposals is currently open and responses are requested by 23 November 2012. 

In addition, a small number of facilitated events aimed at seeking the views of children and young people will be held on:

18 October 2012 10:30 at Royal Welsh Showground, Powys
26 October 2012 10:30 at All Nations Centre, Cardiff
30 October 2012 10:30 at Conwy Business Centre, Conwy
These events are also open to adults. Each event will last approximately two hour with light refreshments available on arrival.

To book a place at one of the events please email:  "

Meanwhile, from Home Education UK, a list of documents that may be useful when responding to the Welsh consultation.