Memorandum submitted by Home Education Advisory Service (CS 40)

 

 

1. Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS) was founded in 1995 and was registered as a charity and as a company limited by guarantee in 1997. It exists to provide information, advice and support to families and to others who are interested in home education.

 

2. After consultation both with the organisation's subscribers and with other home educators HEAS wishes to register strong objections to the proposals for a compulsory registration and monitoring scheme as outlined in Schedule 1 of Clause 26.

 

A legal anomaly

 

3. The primary duty of parents which is expressed in Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 [1] has been present in education legislation ever since education became compulsory in this country. The provisions in Clause 26 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill will remove the duty to educate from parents and place it in the hands of the State. HEAS believes that the registration and monitoring proposals will create a conflict in the legislation.

 

4. If parents must seek the local authority's approval before they are allowed to educate their children at home they are no longer able to exercise their primary duty to provide education 'either by regular attendance at school or otherwise'. It is neither logical nor reasonable to have to seek permission to fulfil a legal obligation.

 

The consequences of compulsory registration and monitoring

 

5. The provisions in Schedule 1 of Clause 26 make the parent subordinate to the local authority from the very beginning of the registration process. This requirement amounts to a licensing scheme which removes the right of parents to have recourse to the courts if they are treated unreasonably by the local authority. If home education cannot begin until registration has taken place parents will no longer have the opportunity to demonstrate to the court that the education which they are providing is efficient, full-time and suitable to the child's age, ability and aptitude. Hitherto the legislative position has reflected the status quo by giving parents the right to meet and to challenge the local authority on equal terms via the courts but Clause 26 will put all the power in the hands of the local authority.

 

6. We know that the children who are most in need of home education are the ones who will suffer most if the registration and monitoring arrangements are adopted in their present form. The proposals have the potential to cause immense suffering and anxiety to children who have already been traumatised by bad experiences in school. These children need to have the reassurance that their parents are in a position to protect them from being sent back to school.

 

7. Over many years HEAS has given advice to parents whose children have become suicidal as a result of severe and sustained bullying and other issues at school and these children are extremely vulnerable. We believe that removing the right of parents to determine their children's educational provision will cause significant harm to these unfortunate children in particular.

 

Attitudes of LAs have not been investigated

 

8. During the review of home education HEAS representatives informed the review team of cases where local authority officials had imposed unreasonable demands upon families. It is deplorable that these incidents were not investigated. The review was heavily biased towards the views of local authorities and any legislation which is based on its findings is bound to be be flawed.

 

9. While we know that there are many sympathetic and respectful local authority staff HEAS has also observed many instances of institutional prejudice towards the concept of home education in over 15 years of working with home educators. These attitudes are entrenched and they will not be overcome by improvements in training. The powers given by the Bill to local authorities will leave parents defenceless against those local authority officers who believe sincerely that all children should be in the local authority's schools.

 

10. HEAS has noted with concern over many years that some local authorities have adopted elective home education policies and procedures that are legally unsound. We have had to make strong representations on behalf of parents in order to persuade local authority staff in some areas to treat families fairly.

 

11. Further, during the last six months we have become aware of a number of local authorities' EHE departments that are basing their procedures upon the review recommendations as if they already had the force of law. This is an indication of a fundamental problem: policies may be drawn up without any checks and balances to ensure that local authority officers are acting in accordance with the law. The present legislation will exacerbate this problem because it will shift the balance of power significantly in the direction of the local authorities.

 

Compulsory registration and monitoring - or a voluntary scheme?

 

12. Both the Secretary of State for Education and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools have stated that the purpose of the registration and monitoring scheme is to ensure that home educated children receive a good quality education. It has also been acknowledged that the vast majority of home educators do a good job [2]. Thus the number of problem cases make up a fraction of a community which is itself a tiny minority of nearly 5 million children in this country.

 

13. Investigating every home educated child would not be a proportionate response to the concern that some might not be receiving a suitable education; further, compulsory registration and monitoring plus the requirement for plans to be submitted in advance would destroy all hope of achieving improved relationships between home educating families and the local authorities.

 

14. HEAS contends that registration and monitoring should be not compulsory but voluntary. A voluntary scheme would not only avoid considerable waste of public funds but it would also avoid unnecessary bureaucratic interference with thousands of families who are acknowledged to be providing proper education. A system of support which would be analogous with the public library service would enable any struggling home educators to seek support, while those who wished to remain independent would be able to do so.

 

15. Some of the funding which would be needed for the proposals in the Bill could be used far more effectively to appoint specially-trained and impartial home education teachers in each local authority area who could be available to families who had chosen to register and take part in a voluntary scheme. This would enable good relationships to develop between these families and local authorities in due course.

 

16. Much attention has been drawn to the fact that the numbers of children in home education are not known. The need to know this information has been cited by its proponents as a significant reason for having compulsory registration and mention has been made of the need to know numbers in order to plan resources. The argument for registration for the purpose of resource planning is a circular one because it would only apply if all families were obliged to register.

 

17. There are two reasons why registration is not necessary from a financial standpoint. First, the resource implications of the present system are minimal. Second, if the Government is planning to offer support to home educators the cost could easily be determined by a voluntary registration scheme. If those families who wish to apply for support were required to register with the local authority in order to receive it, it would be perfectly feasible to carry out financial planning based on the numbers who registered.

 

The cost of the proposals: matters that have not been considered in the Impact Assessment

 

18. First, if registration and monitoring were to become compulsory, the new requirement to register would need to be publicised far and wide. Clearly it would be unacceptable to penalise parents for not registering if they did not know that registration was compulsory. Every parent in England would therefore need to be notified that if he or she were to decide on home education for their child they would be required to register with the local authority.

 

19. HEAS knows that after any media publicity there is a flood of enquiries from parents who want to know more about home education and many of them go on to become home educators. If the Government were obliged to make it clear to all parents that registration is compulsory for home educators, and if it is known that parents choosing this educational option will be entitled to support for their provisions, it is very likely that there would be a massive rise in the number of home educators as a direct result of the Government's essential publicity about the option of education at home. We do not believe that the Impact Assessment's costings have taken this scenario into account.

 

20. Further, the need to ensure that every parent in England is fully aware of the requirement to register for home education would have the unintended consequence of publicising the right to educate children at home universally and far more effectively than any of the home education support organisations has ever been able to achieve. Is this really the Government's intention?

 

21. Second, the experience of HEAS as a membership organisation over many years has shown that there is a high turnover of home educating families. We know that there are valid reasons why very many families educate at home for short periods of time, sometimes only for a few weeks. The assumption has been made that there will be initial costs in the first year and lower costs thereafter, but the fact is that the cost of initial registration and monitoring of a steady number of children who are only to be educated at home for a short time will inflate the ongoing costs considerably.

 

Problems with the data: the Government's arguments are unsound

 

22. Three arguments, based on the independent review data, have been advanced to cast doubt on the efficiency of home education and to justify the need for all families to be registered and monitored. It is claimed that:

o in the population of home educated children there are twice the number of children with child protection plans (CPPs) than are found in the national population of all children

o around a quarter of home educated Year 11 leavers are NEET

o around 20% of home educated children may be receiving an inadequate education

 

23. All of these arguments are based either on inadequate data or are mathematically unsound and are therefore inadmissible.

 

24. First, Mr Badman's calculations are incorrect on the matter of children who are the subject of a CPP. In his letter to Barry Sheerman MP dated 9 October his figures [3] show 51 children out of a population of 11,700 electively home educated children in the 74 local authorities who responded to his question, which gives a proportion of 0.4%. He compares this with the proportion of all CPPs (10,025) in the national population of children (4,712,200) which yields a proportion of 0.2%. This comparison does not take any account of the fact that the the local authority figures do not represent the entire population of home educated children. If, as the review itself also claimed, the local authorities only know about half of the total population of home educated children the proportion with a CPP would be about the same as the national average (51 children out of an estimated population of 23,400 in the 20 local authorities who answered the question). Although not all home educated children are known to the 20 local authorities, there cannot be any unknown home educated children with CPPs in these areas because the existence of their CPP proves that they are among the home educated children who are known to the local authority. This point has been missed in the second paragraph of Mr Badman's letter dated 28th October 2009 to Barry Sheerman MP, Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee [4].

 

25. Second, the claim that 22% of Year 11 home educated leavers are NEET is incorrect: freedom of information requests made by home educators have shown that the data supplied by local authorities is extremely unreliable. Many of the local authority respondents were perfectly open about the impossibility of providing the information that was requested. Not only are the local authorities unable to obtain accurate information even about the destinations of home educated young people who are known to them, but they are also unable to know anything at all about the outcomes of the young people who are not known to them. It is simply impossible to make any kind of statement about the proportion of home educated young people who are NEET without a proper programme of research into the outcomes for home educated leavers.

 

26. Third, Diana Johnson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, states in her letter to Graham Stuart MP [5] that around 20% of home educated children known to local authorities may be receiving an inadequate education. This statement does not agree with the figures presented by Mr Badman on page 5 of his letter to Mr Sheerman dated 9th October 2009 [op.cit.] which is cited as the source of the data.

 

27. These figures state that 9.3% of the 22.2% are families who have not yet given information to the local authority and another 5.8% are not cooperating with monitoring. It would be a grave injustice to assume that the children in these categories may not be receiving an adequate education; the most that can be said is that the quality of their education has not been assessed. Further, no enquiry has been made about the accuracy - or otherwise - of the local authorities' judgements in these cases. Our experience leads us to believe that some of them may have been assessed unfairly either as a result of prejudice or as a consequence of using school-type criteria when judging the educational arrangements.

 

28. HEAS contends that it would be iniquitous to use these three arguments to justify the need for a universal registration and monitoring scheme costing millions of pounds when there is no real evidence of a problem that requires these measures to fix it.

 

29. HEAS accepts that the local authorities know of some families who claim to be educating their children at home and who are struggling. The fact remains that the local authorities know who these families are. The vast, costly and intrinsically damaging panoply of universal registration and monitoring has been advanced as a solution to a 'problem' that has not been shown to exist. Although the three non-arguments that are outlined above show home education in the worst possible light they do not stand up to scrutiny.

 

30. HEAS urges the House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Children, Schools and Families Bill to reject Schedule 1 of Clause 26 in its entirety. Not only would this legislation serve no useful purpose, but it would have a devastating effect on the thousands of hard-working, dedicated home educators who are committed to providing a good education at home for their children.

 

January 2010

 

References

 

[1] Education Act 1996, Section 7

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts1996/ukpga_19960056_en_2 - pt1-ch1-pb3-l1g7

[2] Press notice 9th October 2009: Diana Johnson announces a new support package for home educating families

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/_download/?id=6668

 

[3] Letter to Barry Sheerman MP Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee dated 9th October 2009, page 4

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/_download/?id=6671

 

[4] Letter to Barry Sheerman MP Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee dated 9th October 2009, page 1

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/_download/?id=6737

 

[5] Letter from Diana Johnson MP to Graham Stuart dated 30th December 2009

http://www.grahamstuarteducation.com/other content/Letter re Home Education Impact Assessment.pdf