The Review of Elective Home Education - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


8  IMPROVED SUPPORT

Existing provision for home educating families

151. The Badman Report makes clear the raw deal that home educating families currently receive from the education system. Local authorities are not under any legal duty to provide financial support to parents who decide to home educate their child. As we discuss below, there appears to be some confusion as to the funding that local authorities are able to obtain in relation to these children. Where authorities have obtained larger amounts of funding for the purposes of providing services to home educated children they have typically done so indirectly—for example, by establishing a virtual school catering for both school and home educated children.[170]

152. A submission from a home education advisor outlined the range of provision for home educating families in her local authority: advice prior to de-registration; referral to the local home educators' network; a local authority support group for home educators that meets twice a term; monthly and weekly drop-in sessions; distribution of resources to help families reflect on their provision; an annual home education 'ideas fayre'; provision of exam centres for sitting GCSEs; and coverage of costs of Criminal Records Bureau checks for tutors employed by home educators.[171] In other local authorities the offer will be more limited. In some instances it is the local home education group rather than the local authority that takes the initiative in building relations between the two parties and in initiating discussions about possible support. The biggest complaint from home educators as regards support and services was the difficulty that they have in accessing examination centres and the fact that local authorities do not cover the cost of sitting examinations.[172]

The Badman Report recommendations on improving support

153. The Badman Report arguably pays as much attention to the problem of poor support for home educating families as to registration and monitoring. The relevant recommendations are listed below.

    That all local authorities should offer a menu of support to home educating families in accord with the requirements placed upon them by the power of wellbeing, extended schools and community engagement and other legislation. To that end local authorities must provide support for home educating children and young people to find appropriate examination centres and provide entries free to all home educated candidates who have demonstrated sufficiently their preparedness through routine monitoring, for all DCSF-funded qualifications (recommendation 10).

    That in addition…local authorities should, in collaboration with schools and colleges:

    —Extend and make available the opportunities of flexi-schooling.

    —Extend access to school libraries, sports facilities, school visits, specialist facilities and key stage assessment.

    —Provide access to specialist music tuition on the same cost basis.

    —Provide access to work experience.

    —Provide access to post 14 vocational opportunities.

    —Signpost to third sector support where they have specialist experience and knowledge, for example, provision for bullied children (recommendation 11).

    That BECTA considers the needs of the home educating community in the national roll out of the home access initiative.

    That local authorities consider what support and access to ICT facilities could be given to home educating children and young people through the existing school networks and the use of school based materials.

    That the QCA should consider the use of ICT in the testing and exam process with regard to its impact on home educated children and young people (recommendation 12).

Also with a view to improving support, the Badman Report makes recommendations to improve communication between local authorities and home educating families. Mr Badman explained:

    I have also tried to give elective home educators a voice. I recommended that they be engaged in the process of determining what is efficient in education, that they be involved in training [local authority officers], that they be involved in all the things that follow, and that, crucially, local authorities create a forum whereby they regularly hear from elective home educators about the services that are provided.[173]

The consultative forum, the Badman Report suggests, might be constituted as a sub-group of the Children's Trust with a role in supporting the development of the Children's Trust, and the intentions of the local authority with regard to home education (recommendation 4).

154. The Report also makes a series of recommendations intended to improve support for home educating parents of children with special educational needs (SEN).

155. At present, if a child who has a statement of SEN is educated at home it remains the duty of the local authority to ensure that the child's needs are met. It is the local authority's duty to undertake an annual review of the child's needs. This review includes assessing whether the statement is still appropriate, requires amendment or might cease. If the parent's arrangements are suitable then the local authority is relieved of their duty to arrange provision directly for that child.[174]

156. The Badman Report calls on Ofsted to give due consideration to home educated children in its ongoing review of SEN provision. It recognises that this could lead to changes in the SEN framework and legislation (recommendations 17 and 18). As for more immediate action, it asks the Department to reinforce in guidance to local authorities the requirement for authorities to exercise their statutory duty to assure themselves that educational provision in these cases is suitable and meets the child's needs. It suggests that local authorities should conduct a review of the home education provision at the outset of that provision (recommendation 18). It further suggests that where a child without a SEN statement has been in receipt of 'School Action Plus' support, local authorities should give due consideration as to whether that support should continue once the child is educated at home (recommendation 20).[175] The Report also notes the relevance to home education of the then ongoing Lamb inquiry into SEN and disability information.[176] The Lamb Inquiry was established as part of the Government's response to our predecessor Committee's Report, Special Educational Needs: assessment and funding.[177] It investigated a range of ways in which parental confidence in the SEN assessment process might be improved.[178]

Response among home educators and local authorities

157. Some home educators were sceptical about the recommendations on improving support and access to services. There were suggestions that these recommendations were 'tokenistic' or mere 'window dressing'. Others saw the offer of greater support as having strings attached—following the Government's agenda for home education—and stated that they would rather go without or pay for services themselves. Others still simply doubted that the necessary funding would be available.[179] While a small number of home educators did not believe that consultative forums would be workable—the home educating community being too diverse—it is the case that some local authorities already have such forums in place.[180]

158. The response to the recommendations in relation to home educated children with SEN was generally one of disappointment. Of the Badman Report as a whole, the National Autistic Society commented:

    …we had hoped to see a stronger and more detailed focus on the particular needs of children with SEN within the review, and were disappointed that recommendations on how local authorities should meet the needs of these children were not clearer and more explicit, in particular ensuring that local authorities meet their statutory duties, professionals working with these children have a strong understanding of their particular needs, that the monitoring system takes account of the needs and experiences of these families and that families can access specialist support as required.[181]

As indicated earlier in our report, some parents pointed to the lack of knowledge and skills of some local authority officers in working with SEN children. Others drew our attention to the fact that local authorities can offer, even impose, inappropriate services on these families.[182]

159. Local authority officers generally welcomed the recommendations outlined above on the basis that they could result in greater funding for their work with home educating families. Many of the officers that we spoke to were frustrated at currently not being able to offer these families access to more services.[183]

The Department's proposals for taking forward the recommendations

160. The Department has indicated its intention to take forward most of the recommendations on improving support and access to services for home educating families, and to make available additional funding to that end.

161. The Department has so far put forward only general estimates of the likely costs of an improved support package for home educating families. It suggests that this will cost £21 million in the first year rising to £22 million in subsequent years. This is based on an estimated cohort of 25,000 home educated children who all seek additional support. As we have noted, other estimates of the size of the total population of home educated children are much higher. The Department does acknowledge that its own estimate "may be too low". It states that it will adjust its funding commitments as local authorities "get more clarity over the numbers of home educated children and the services they may seek".[184] Many home educated children may wish to access some of the services listed in recommendation 11 of the Badman Report (e.g. music tuition) and/or to take GCSEs as private candidates (rather than through attending college courses) but will not otherwise receive significant levels of support from the local authority. The Department will count each of these children as 0.1 for funding purposes—allocating one-tenth of the Dedicated Schools Grant value per child. It does not outline how it arrived at this figure, though it states that it will keep the level of funding under review.[185]

162. We note the poor access that home educating families have had to related support and services. The recommendations in the Badman Report that are concerned with improving this situation are to be welcomed, as is the Department's acceptance of those recommendations. However, the possible costs of any such support package are still not clear, and we highly doubt that the funding levels suggested by the Department to date will be sufficient. The Department should set out the assumptions on which the figure of one-tenth of the Dedicated Schools Grant value per child was arrived at.

163. The Department has also stated that it will provide clarification with regard to the funds that local authorities are already able to access in relation to home educated children. On funding to cover the costs of young people taking GCSE and vocational courses at college without being registered with a mainstream school, the Department states: "We believe…that local authorities can already draw down funding for this through the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG)".

164. Some of the local authority officers with whom we met were sceptical about this claim.[186] This was reflected in the following observation from a local home education group:

    Currently, if a family wishes to access funding for [college courses for a child under the age of 16] they need to find a secondary school willing to take their child on to the school roll, but to be educated off site. This is a most unsatisfactory position for both the school and the family to find themselves in. For the school, it will often interfere with its GCSE league table results and home educators find themselves trawling around individual schools trying to find one willing to help them.

    Colleges often don't understand how the funding works and a number of home educating children have found themselves being accepted on college courses, only to have their places cancelled at very short notice when the college realises that they have no funding, unless parents are able to pay.[187]

165. Judging by the evidence that we received, clarification on the funding that local authorities are already able to access in relation to home educated children is long overdue. The Department should explain why it is only now that it is taking steps to provide clarification on this matter.

166. With regard to the recommendations on improving support for home educated children with SEN, the Department is to issue a guidance letter to all local authorities. This will confirm the statutory responsibilities of local authorities towards children with SEN statements and how authorities should work with home educating parents to ensure that the needs of these children are met. Any significant change would come later, after the Ofsted review of SEN provision has reported in the summer of 2010. On the basis of the findings of that review the Department will consider whether any changes to the SEN framework would provide more support to parents who are home educating children with SEN.[188] On funding for SEN children, either with a statement or who have significant needs not formally recognised through a statement, the Department states that: "…our policy is that home educated children can be included in the 'Alternative Provision Return' for DSG purposes".

167. Action is urgently needed to make clear local authorities' existing responsibilities in relation to home educated children with special educational needs and to improve practice in line with those responsibilities. Issues covered by the Lamb Inquiry will also be relevant to some of the concerns expressed by home educating families in their evidence to our own inquiry, particularly those concerning the training of local authority officers, partnership working between local authorities and parents, and transparency in communications. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of Ofsted's review of SEN provision, due to be published next year, and the Department's response to that review in relation to home education.

168. On the recommendation that local authorities establish consultative forums for home educating parents, the Department envisages that statutory guidance issued following the introduction of any registration and monitoring arrangements for home educating families would require this of local authorities.[189]

169. We welcome the recommendation in the Badman Report that a consultative forum for home educating parents should be established in every local authority, particularly as a means of assisting local authorities in shaping their service provision to best meet the needs of home educating families. We urge all home educators to respond positively to the opportunity that these forums should offer for improved dialogue between home educating families and local authorities.


170   Annex 2 Back

171   EHE 126, section D (Mary Mullett). See also, Atkinson, M et al, Support for Children who are Educated at Home, NfER, 2007.  Back

172   e.g. Q 72 (Simon Webb); EHE 14 (A J Hazell); EHE 106, paragraph 7 (Home Education Local Contact in Cumbria)  Back

173   Q 2  Back

174   DfES, Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, 2001. Back

175   Under School Action Plus the school asks for outside advice from the local authority's support services, or from health or social work professionals. This could be advice from a speech and language therapist on a language programme or an Occupational Therapist's suggestions or a medical diagnosis and report giving recommendations as to how to work differently with the child in class. It might be information about the child's home circumstances that explains the changes in the child's behaviour and attitudes to learning which can then help the school to work with others to resolve the situation. See, www.teachernet.gov.ukBack

176   Badman Report, paragraph 7.6.  Back

177   Education and Skills Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2006-07, Special Educational Needs: assessment and funding, HC 1077. Back

178   www.dcsf.gov.uk/lambinquiry Back

179   Q 67 (Fiona Nicholson); EHE 48, paragraph 22 (Central London Home Educators) Back

180   Annex 2 Back

181   EHE 155, paragraph 15  Back

182   Ev 60 (Carole Rutherford) Back

183   Annex 2 Back

184   HC Deb, 3 November 2009, col 947W. Back

185   DCSF, DCSF Response to the Badman Review of Elective Home Education in England, October 2009. Back

186   Q 130; Annex 2 Back

187   EHE 106, section 7 (Local home education contact in Cumbria) Back

188   DCSF, DCSF Response to the Badman Review of Elective Home Education in England, October 2009. Back

189   DCSF, DCSF Response to the Badman Review of Elective Home Education in England, October 2009. Back


 
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