Memorandum submitted by the National Children's Bureau

 

1.0 Summary

NCB believes that the terms of reference for the independent review into elective home education were appropriate and the methodology sound. However, bearing in mind the complexity of the issues, we would have welcomed a longer time period for the review.

The subsequent report of the independent review was in our view thorough, and set out a clear rationale for the recommendations made.

NCB supports the recommendations of the review, including the call for recommendations 1 (compulsory national registration scheme), 7 (regulatory framework for monitoring home education), 23 (information sharing) and 24 (refusal of registration on safeguarding grounds) to be introduced as soon as possible.

Should the recommendations be implemented, we would hope that local authorities take a measured and partnership approach which minimises the need to use enforcement powers against parents and where the best interests of the child are paramount.

NCB is supportive of the parental right to home educate. However, we believe that this should be balanced with a child's right to an effective education in a safe environment and for the child's views to be taken into account.

We believe that the current legislative and regulatory framework is not sufficient to ensure that all parents educating their children at home provide an effective and suitable education within a safe environment. Any new framework should, however, allow for a flexible approach, balancing professional judgement with regulatory measures, reflecting the fact that home educating parents are not a homogenous group.

Any new framework should ensure a greater and more consistent level of support to home educating parents and their children. Local authorities should make greater use of Education Supervision Orders (ESOs), which are predicated on the holistic needs of the child and the notion of partnership between local authority and parent.

We are concerned by the fact that there is currently a lack of accurate data on the numbers of children who are home educated and their outcomes.

 

2.0 About NCB

2.1 NCB has a vision of a society in which all children and young people are valued and their rights respected. We are dedicated to advancing their health and well-being across every aspect of their lives. As a membership and infrastructure support agency, participation and partnership are at the heart of everything we do. NCB not only hosts the many networks, fora, councils and partnership programmes that operate under our charitable status, but also provides essential information on policy, research and best practice across the sector as a whole. Undertaking around sixty projects a year enables us to truly claim that we cover every aspect of children's lives.

 

2.2 NCB has a history of policy, research and practice development work aimed at promoting the learning and welfare of all children and young people.

 

 

3.0 NCB involvement in the independent review

3.1 Following an initial stakeholder discussion on 19 February 2009, NCB was invited to join the Expert Reference Group convened to inform the review.

 

3.2 NCB's Chief Executive and/or the Principal Officer, Vulnerable Children and Families, Schools and Communities were in attendance at meetings of the review's Expert Reference Group on 26 March, 27 April and 19 May. We were also given the opportunity to comment on drafts of the final report.

 

3.3 NCB did not make a written submission to the consultation carried out as part of the review.

 

3.4 NCB's position on elective home education, reflected in all our contributions to the review, is as follows:

 

NCB is supportive of the parental right to home educate. However, we believe that this should be balanced with a child's right to an effective education in a safe environment and for their views to be taken into account.

 

NCB recognises that the motivations for elective home education are many and varied and that home educating families are not a homogenous group. There should be a flexible approach which allows a balance of professional judgement with regulatory measures.

 

It is of concern that we currently do not have accurate data on the numbers of children who are home educated, nor do we have data on their outcomes.

 

The current legislative and regulatory framework is not sufficient to ensure that all parents educating their children at home provide an effective and suitable education within a safe environment. In saying this, NCB does not support the view that home educating parents necessarily represent an increased safeguarding risk or barrier to their child's educational development.

 

In addition to amendments to the legislative and regulatory framework, local authorities should examine, clarify and where necessary improve their practice.

 

NCB recognises the very considerable sacrifices that some home educating families make. We believe that local authorities should provide a greater and more consistent level of support to these parents, particularly for those educating children with special educational needs. There should be further exploration of how this might be provided, possibly through extended schools services.

 

Current legislation is adversarial and is not sufficiently focussed on the needs of the child or the support needs of home educating parent. Where parents are unable or unwilling to cooperate, the current process for enforcement is through the use of a School Attendance Order (SAO)[1]. This order is wholly focused on whether the parent has failed in their duty to ensure the child receives an efficient and suitable education[2], rather than on ensuring that the needs of the individual child are met. Upon failure to comply with an SAO, parents may be subject to criminal proceedings[3]. In our view, the local authority could and should make greater use of Education Supervision Orders (ESOs)[4] in such cases. The ESO is predicated on the holistic needs of the child and the notion of partnership between local authority and parent. The ESO is particularly useful where there are a range of concerns about a child's welfare. We would envisage, however, that the use of enforcement measures would be a rare occurrence.

 

NCB appreciates that there are many different philosophical approaches to education and judgments regarding safeguarding are often complex. It is essential, therefore, that professionals involved at any point during the process have an appropriate level of skill and expertise and a thorough understanding of educational philosophies and the legislative frameworks in relation to education entitlements and safeguarding. This can be achieved through a multi-agency approach, involving a number of professionals.

 

 

4.0 The conduct of the review and related consultations

4.1 We believe the terms of reference for the independent review were appropriate and long overdue and that the methodology was sound.

 

4.2 However, the timescale for the review was quite short, and, bearing in mind the complexity of the issues, it may have been useful to have had a longer period of time.

 

4.3 Despite the short time available, we believe that the breadth of the consultation as recorded was extensive.

 

 

5.0 The recommendations of the review on elective home education

5.1 In our view, the report of the independent review was thorough and provided a clear rationale for the recommendations made. We are in broad agreement with the report and recommendations, and we believe that our issues and concerns were adequately reflected.

 

5.2 We support wholeheartedly comments made in the report (paragraph 5.5) regarding the importance of mutual trust. The way in which any new powers and accompanying guidance are operated in practice by local authorities will be crucially important and should wherever possible reflect a partnership approach that has the interests of the child as paramount. Should the recommendations be implemented we would hope that local authorities take a measured approach which minimises the need to use enforcement powers against parents, but which involves robust and prompt action where there is clear evidence of a need to do so.

 

5.3 We welcome the emphasis throughout the report and recommendations on establishing a clear local authority/children's trust approach. We anticipate that this would, by providing greater scrutiny, improve practice and consistency in the way that local authorities exercise their duties and powers in relation to children and parents.

 

5.4 We also support the concluding remarks in the report that call for the following recommendations to be introduced as soon as possible:

Recommendation 1 (the establishment of compulsory national registration scheme);

Recommendation 7 (the bringing forward of proposals to change the current regulatory framework for monitoring home education);

Recommendation 23 (requiring local authority adult services and other agencies to share appropriate information with those charged with monitoring of elective home education); and

Recommendation 24 (changes to the legislative framework to enable local authorities to refuse registration on safeguarding grounds).

 

 

September 2009



[1] Section 437, Education Act 1996

[2] Section 7, Education Act 1996

[3] Under section 443, Education Act 1996

[4] Section 36, Children Act 1989