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


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Profile of the home educating population
  
1.We believe that a child who is de-registered from school to be home educated should be nominally kept on his or her school's roll for 20 school days. This would offer much greater scope for resolving problems where parents had any unease about the prospect of home educating their child. We ask the Department to confirm that the child's absence from school during the 20 days would be treated as authorised absence. (Paragraph 23)
  
2.We welcome the Badman Report's emphasis on local authorities examining the reasons why families in their area choose to home educate. The Badman Report suggests that local authorities address any issues that this process reveals through their Children and Young People's Plans. We suggest that this recommendation should be strengthened: where a parent takes the view that a school has failed his or her child and that his or her only option is to withdraw the child from the school there should be an independent assessment of why this was so, with the school asked to respond to the findings of that assessment. (Paragraph 25)
  
3.The Badman Report is right to recommend that the Department take action to prevent local authorities and schools from encouraging parents of 'difficult' pupils to de-register their child from school, practice that represents a failure of duty towards the child in question. However, we are not convinced that the Department's proposed response of simply strengthening existing guidance on exclusions is sufficient; the Department should investigate what is driving this practice on the part of local authorities and schools, bearing in mind some of the findings of this Committee's recent inquiry into school accountability. (Paragraph 26)
  
Evidence base for the registration and monitoring recommendations
  
4.Given the lack of information on the actual numbers of home educated children, we suggest it is unsafe for the Badman review to have reached such a strong conclusion about the relative risks of a child being home educated or school educated. We believe that any intervention should start from the educational needs of the child. (Paragraph 47)
  
Registration
  
5.In our view it is unacceptable that local authorities do not know accurately how many children of school age in their area are in school, are being home educated or are otherwise not in school. The main argument for a registration scheme, as we see it, is to help to provide this information. Given that existing databases could not provide an equally efficient and secure means to that end, we believe that a separate registration system for home educating families should be put in place. This would assist local authorities in knowing which children were in school, which were home educated, and which were not known to be in either category. The Government should review and, where necessary, strengthen the duties on local authorities, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (as the holder of records of eligibility for child benefit) and other agencies—including NHS trusts and police forces—to share information relevant to this task. (Paragraph 63)
  
6.We believe that registration would encourage local authorities and home educators to recognise that it is to their mutual advantage to have a clear record of children who are being home educated. Any registration system for home educating families should be light touch. In view of the concerns expressed by home educators about compulsory registration, we suggest that registration should be voluntary. Local authorities should publicise the benefits of registration, including the resources that will be available to registered families. The success of a system of voluntary registration (combined with improved information sharing) should be reviewed after two years. If it is found not to have met expectations—in terms of assisting local authorities in identifying and working with the families of children who are being home educated and those of children not otherwise at school—we believe that a system of compulsory registration would need to be introduced. (Paragraph 64)
  
Monitoring—safeguarding
  
7.The law relating to the duties and powers of local authorities with regard to home educated children has become very complex and difficult to interpret. This is reflected in the Department's existing guidelines on home education. The Department should take the opportunity provided by the Children, Schools and Families Bill to provide a definitive, succinct statement of the applicability of the Children Act 2004 and the Every Child Matters outcomes to home educated children. The Department should then provide guidelines that better enable local authorities to translate the law into practice, especially in relation to the safeguarding of home educated children as well as children with no record of school attendance. (Paragraph 74)
  
8.We do not believe that annual home visits by local authority officers to home educating families would represent an improvement on existing safeguarding legislation. However, the wider evidence that we received illustrated the potential value of the requirement for annual meetings between home educating families and local authority officers for the purpose of supporting home education provision. We believe that local authorities need a guaranteed means of engaging with these families. (Paragraph 81)
  
9.Accordingly, we recommend that home educating families be required to meet with their local authority officer within three months of the child's home education commencing and thereafter on an annual basis. (Paragraph 82)
  
10.The Children, Schools and Families Bill does not stipulate that meetings between home educating families and local authority officers have to take place in the family home, unless that is the only place that a child's education is provided. We are not convinced that these meetings need take place in the family home under any circumstances. We believe that two weeks is sufficient notice of a meeting. (Paragraph 83)
  
11.As is already the case with many voluntary arrangements between home educating families and local authorities, the primary purpose of these meetings should be to offer guidance and support to and gather feedback from families, not inspection or to impose school-based frameworks. Local authority officers should focus on matters of educational provision, but be trained to be able to identify signs of harm and know who to refer the family to in such instances. (Paragraph 84)
  
12.We do not believe that local authority officers responsible for liaising with home educating families should be given the right to interview a child away from the child's parents. That right should be reserved for colleagues who have primary responsibility for child safeguarding, including social care services and the police. A parent's or child's refusal for such an interview to take place should not be included as grounds for revoking registration to home educate. Any related concerns on the part of the home education team should be passed to social care services. (Paragraph 90)
  
13.It is not clear from the Badman Report, the Department's registration and monitoring proposals or its full response to the Badman Report that sufficient attention has been paid to the conduct of monitoring where a home educated child has special educational needs. The Department must set out how its proposals around the training of local authority staff and commissioning of expertise from other agencies would encompass the particular concerns of these families. (Paragraph 94)
  
14.Given the evidence that we have received and the nature of the registration and monitoring proposals presented in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, we do not believe that the Department has put forward a realistic appraisal of the likely costs of those proposals. (Paragraph 99)
  
The right to refuse or revoke registration on safeguarding grounds
  
15.We believe that local authorities should have the right, on safeguarding grounds, to refuse or revoke registration to home educate. However, this should only be where a child is already subject to child protection measures, not solely on the basis of unsubstantiated safeguarding concerns. There is also a strong case for requiring any decision to refuse or revoke registration to be subject to approval from an independent person or body, rather than have responsibility rest with local authority home education advisors. We recognise that in some instances a child being subject to child protection measures would not necessarily preclude home education. (Paragraph 107)
  
16.If local authorities are to be given the right to refuse or revoke registration to home educate on the basis of safeguarding concerns then we agree that home educating families must have right of appeal. It is disappointing that neither the Badman Report nor the Department's response to the Report included discussion of an appeals process. While it is right that the Children, Schools and Families Bill provides a right of appeal, the Department should give more details of the proposed appeals process before the House considers the Bill. (Paragraph 108)
  
Monitoring—educational provision
  
17.We have some concerns regarding the extent to which the existing research evidence on the efficacy of home education fully reflects the profile of home educating families in England. (Paragraph 120)
  
18.We note that in the case of school education the quality of teaching is thought to be the key factor in pupils' learning and attainment. In which case, the same must apply to the parents and others who are responsible for the education of home educated children. Yet, little is known about the home educating community as a whole within the research evidence. (Paragraph 121)
  
19.In addition to its proposed work to investigate outcomes for home educated children in general, we call on the Department to fund research into the outcomes of autonomous education among a fully representative sample of home educating families. (Paragraph 122)
  
20.It is surprising that neither the Badman Report nor the Department have provided much idea of what the statement of educational approach might look like. This has engendered much hostility from some home educators who might have been reassured by confirmation that only a short general statement would be required. (Paragraph 129)
  
21.We are supportive of the principle of requiring home educating families to submit a statement of educational approach on the basis that such a requirement would strengthen the rights of the child and the responsibilities of the parent. We recommend that such a mechanism be introduced. If the statement essentially served as a record of dialogue between the home educating family and the local authority officer it need not be regarded as onerous or restrictive. (Paragraph 130)
  
22.We recommend that at the point of registration families should need only set out their reasons for choosing to home educate and to outline in broad terms how the education would initially be provided. We suggest that three months is a more reasonable timeframe for families to submit a fuller statement than the eight weeks proposed in the Badman Report. From that point onwards families should be required to submit a statement on an annual basis, which includes a brief record of the child's achievements and progress. (Paragraph 133)
  
23.The annual meeting with the local authority officer would provide the opportunity for home educating families to reflect on their child's progress over the preceding 12 months in relation to the family's current statement. (Paragraph 134)
  
24.We are concerned that any monitoring of home education provision should not undermine the flexibility and freedom currently enjoyed by home educating families in relation to the child's learning and development. On autonomous education we recognise that, when overseen by a responsible parent who is committed to his or her child's education, this approach might work well for a child. However, we also recognise the difficult balance between protecting autonomous education and ensuring that all children have the prospect of gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills and of gaining an awareness of the full range of fields of knowledge open to them. Without such skills and awareness a child could not hope to thrive, let alone achieve his or her full potential and access a choice of careers. (Paragraph 146)
  
25.We agree that there should be a more precise definition of what constitutes "suitable" education. The definition must be established prior to any registration and monitoring proposals being introduced. (Paragraph 147)
  
26.The specification of "suitable" education must enable local authority officers to tackle situations where the child has no prospect of gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills efficiently or where there is no breadth to their education. It must, then, encompass a positive expectation in relation to, at least, the acquisition of basic skills. That some pupils still leave school without these skills is no argument, in our view, for essentially permitting the same outcome for home educated children. (Paragraph 148)
  
27.At the point at which a child is de-registered from school to be home educated the school should provide the child's parent with an up-to-date record of the child's attainment. A copy should be given to the local authority so that it has a broad outline of the child's education to date. This information should not be used as a benchmark against which to monitor a child's subsequent progress, unless requested by the parent. (Paragraph 149)
  
28.Given the concerns of some home educators that, on occasion, local authority officers are unsympathetic to more unstructured educational approaches, we welcome the Badman recommendation that officers receive training in this regard. However, we emphasise the need for thorough training that will equip officers with an understanding of a range of learning theories, child development and educational philosophy. We point to the difficulties of, for example, assessing without such knowledge the progress of a child who has moderate or even mild learning difficulties. (Paragraph 151)
  
Improved support
  
29.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. (Paragraph 163)
  
30.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. (Paragraph 166)
  
31.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. (Paragraph 168)
  
32.   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. (Paragraph 170)
  


 
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