Memorandum submitted by the Institute of Education (IOE), University of London

 

This response draws on evidence from colleagues at the Institute, in particular the work of Dr Alan Thomas (Visiting Fellow) and Professor Mike Apple (Visiting Professor). We thank them for their time and input.

 

Our comments are based on the second strand of the inquiry - the recommendations made by the review.

 

1. Summary

1.1. We think that it is important to have some form of register of whether children are being educated at school or at home.

1.2. We have concerns regarding the specific registration process described in the Review and would want assurances that all information collected as part of the registration process was relevant.

1.3. Specifically we think that collecting information on the home educator's 'approach to education' and 'planned outcomes for the child' are problematic as this may contradict the very approach undertaken by the home educator, particularly if the approach taken is one of more autonomous and informal learning.

1.4. It is also unclear what the purpose would be of the school providing data to the LA regarding the child's current and future expected attainment.

1.5. With regard to the recommendations around monitoring, we think that it is appropriate for the LA to visit the home of the home-educated child but that the LA should not have a legal right to enter the property against the wishes of the parents/carers.

 

2. Registration

2.1. In principle we think that a register (in some form) should be kept. We think that it is important for LAs (Local Authorities) to know where children under their jurisdiction are being educated - i.e. at school or through elective home education (EHE). However, having a separate register for EHE seems to be duplicating much of the data which will be in the ContactPoint database.

 

2.2. Whilst we agree that the LA should be aware of children in its area who are being home educated and are therefore not on a school roll, we believe it is also important to ensure that all the information collected is required, useful and appropriate. There are concerns that, if registration was undertaken in the way described in the report, there is the potential for the process to become a licensing operation for parents being 'allowed' to home educate. There are concerns that this could curtail the freedom of home educators to follow their own educational philosophy and individualised curriculum.

 

2.3. The DCSF should explore the Tasmanian Home Education Advisory Council as an example of an effective registration and monitoring process (http://www.theac.org.au/). In Tasmania the registration process is undertaken by the THEAC rather than the LA. The THEAC is made up of a balance between members nominated by home educators and those nominated by the Minister from the wider Tasmanian community. Whilst there is good practice taking place in England in some areas, there is a concern regarding the consistency of the knowledge and understanding of LA staff regarding home education. Consequently it may be more appropriate to refer to an advisory body - as happens in Tasmania - as this would promote greater consistency and also promote more confidence within the home education community.

 

2.4. The numbers of children being home educated appears to be increasing in England (Badman, 2009; Hopwood et al., 2007) as well as the USA (Apple, 2006). Although it is likely that in the vast majority of cases parents and carers undertake home education with the needs of their child as the priority, we cannot assume that all home educators are doing so for good reasons. In the US, where there is a much larger home schooling population, there is some evidence of the influence of certain groups (such as the religious right) on home education (Apple, 2006). Although we are not aware of any evidence of this for England, with apparently increasing numbers of children being home educated it is important that possible future developments are considered. Furthermore, we should not assume that the home schooling population is homogeneous (Thomas, 1998; Thomas and Pattison, 2008). There is also the possibility of parents of perpetual truants being advised to state they are home educating their child in order to avoid charges being brought against them.

 

2.5. The statement of 'approach to education' is problematic as this is by its very nature in tension with the autonomous learning approach adopted by many home educators. We would have concerns regarding home educators having to define their approach and programme for the next year as this may restrict home educators' freedom to be flexible and respond to the needs of their child (which is for many the main benefit of home educating), should they feel that they will be judged against their statement from the previous year. This is particularly important for those whose approach is predominantly informal/ autonomous because children are given responsibility for what and how they learn. However, it is important that areas such as literacy and numeracy are being taught for those whose approach is more formal or - in relation to autonomous learners - that opportunities for such learning are provided. Also, due consideration must be given to the child's learning and development needs. It further needs to be borne in mind that most children, whatever approach is adopted, will learn at their own pace and that age-related norms may not be appropriate, as recognised in the current DCSF Guidelines for LAs with regard to EHE (DCSF, 2007). Registration with the Tasmanian Home Education Advisory Council requires that the home education programme has:

clear aims and purposes for the educational program;

opportunities for student development in literacy and numeracy;

opportunities for social interaction; and

strategies for keeping a record of each student's program and educational progress (http://www.theac.org.au/?page=reg).

 

2.6. Similarly, requesting a statement of the 'location where education is conducted' is likely to be problematic. Requesting this information would be at times irrelevant as learning often happens anywhere and everywhere for home educated children.

 

3. Remaining on the school roll

3.1. We agree that it would be useful for the children to stay on the roll of their previous school for 20 days. Where a child has left the school under pressurised and stressful circumstances this would give an opportunity for the parents to consider the decision fully and put appropriate provision in place. However, this should be suggested rather than mandated.

 

4. Attainment

4.1. The current consultation on the recommendations on the Review mentions a requirement for schools to provide the LA with achievement and future attainment data (though this is not mentioned in the Review). We are unclear of the benefits of this. This information could be helpful for the parent if not the LA. Furthermore, it is unclear how the school can provide the LA with 'future attainment data' - at the most they could perhaps provide 'potential future attainment expectations'.

 

4.2. Home educators often choose to avoid or move away from the age/ability framework of current national curriculum levels and move towards more autonomous and exploratory learning. Accordingly, we envisage that for home educating parents a short narrative about the child's learning and achievements would be preferable to 'attainment data'. The use of the 'future attainment data' is not outlined but the most apparent reason to collect this data would be to use this as a benchmark against which the child (and the parent/carer) would be judged in the future. Making this judgement would not be appropriate as the goals and objectives for the home educator are not necessarily likely to coincide with that of the school/national curriculum.

 

4.3. We also think that a process whereby home educating parents produce a short narrative could be very useful for reflective and pedagogical reasons. However, this should not be mandated.

 

5. Home education monitoring and safeguarding

5.1. Evidence suggests that the school is an important site in terms of identifying abuse or neglect (Featherstone and Evans, 2004; Wallace and Bunting, 2007). Therefore, for those children who are not at school, this potential opportunity for reporting abuse or neglect is missing. However, LAs already have a duty to investigate where there are safeguarding concerns, so it seems that no change is needed to enable LAs to fulfil their safeguarding role.

 

5.2. The LA should visit the premises where home education is taking place. However they should not have a legal right of entry into the family's home as a matter of course. It is noted that LAs already have powers to investigate if there are substantial safeguarding concerns. If there is no concern of any abuse taking place then it seems to be in contradiction with the legal system to give LAs the legal right to enter a house without permission of the residents. The police do not have the power to enter someone's property unless they have evidence suggesting that a law is being broken. We suggest exploring the current approach used for health visitor visits as a possible model.

 

5.3. If the LA has substantial safeguarding concerns then it already has the power to intervene under its child protection duty. If the LA has concerns about the safety of the child then it has a duty to investigate and act in the best interests of the child.

 

5.4. With regard to monitoring visits and interviews, it is important to note that the incidence of home educated children with special educational needs is high and that for some the very process of having an interview or monitoring visit may be very traumatic. If it is considered necessary to have an interview with the child (in the presence of their parent or carer) then we recommend that this takes place in a neutral place.

 

October 2009

 

6. References

Apple, M W (2006) Educating the 'right' way: markets, standards, God, and inequality, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

 

Badman, G (2009) Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England London: TSO.

 

DCSF (2007) Elective Home Education: Guidelines for Local Authorities DCSF: London.

 

Featherstone, B and Evans, H (2004) Children experiencing maltreatment: who do they turn to? London: NSPCC. Online at: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/Findings/childrenexperiencingmaltreatment_wda48264.html

 

Hopwood, V, O'Neill, L, Castro, G and Hodgson B (2007) The Prevalence of Home Education in England: A Feasibility Study DfES Research Report No. 827. Online at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR827%20r.pdf

 

Thomas, A (1998) Educating Children at Home Cassell: London.

 

Thomas, A and Pattison, H (2008) How Children Learn at Home Continuum International Publishing Group: London.

 

Wallace, I and Bunting, L (2007) An examination of local, national and international arrangements for the mandatory reporting of child abuse: the implications for Northern Ireland NSPCC Northern Ireland: Belfast. Online at: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/publications/Downloads/mandatoryreportingNI_wdf51133.pdf