ANNEX 1: NOTE OF INFORMAL MEETING WITH
HOME EDUCATING FAMILIES
19 October 2009
These notes are a general account of the opinions
expressed by a group of home educating families who met members
of the Committee for an informal discussion.
Reasons for choosing to home educate
The majority of those present had sent at least one
of their children to a maintained school and later de-registered
the child from school. Several of these parents, some of whom
were qualified teachers, cited the impact of testing on their
child's learning and well-being as a factor in their decision
to home educate. One parent also remarked on the large class sizes
that she had encountered even for her very young child. There
was a general sense among these parents that the pace of teaching,
driven by testing, was "too much", or that provision
just "felt wrong" for their child. More positively,
these parents had at the same time been attracted to the idea
of home educationfor example, due to the space that this
approach offered for "learning through experience".
One parent had also been impressed by the vibrant home education
community in her area and the many activities it organised, such
as sports days.
Another family had initially enrolled their children
at a small semi-parent run private Christian school, but later
turned to home education as a different means of educating their
children in line with the family's religious faith.
One parent who had never sent his children to school
had chosen to home educate due to general concerns about the nature
of school provision and about the background and behaviour of
some of the school pupils he had encountered in his time as a
social worker. He did not trust the Government "to do the
best for his children" and did not want a Government that
had "made such a mess of schooling" to interfere with
his children's education. He was impressed by the relatively strong
academic performance of home educated children, as demonstrated
by various research studies in the United States.
Two home educated children commented that they had
not felt challenged or stretched at school and had been bored.
One had experienced bullying and related stress.
The nature of home education
The home educated children spoke of how their time
was essentially their own, and how they filled their time with
studying, hobbies and socialising. Studies were generally shaped
by the child's interests and might take the form of, for example,
long projects. Otherwise, studies were determined by the examinations
that the child had decided to sit.
It was commented that few home educating families
adopt a purely structured or purely autonomous learning approachthat
families typically offer some guidance to the child or take advantage
of following the child's interests within a more structured framework.
Among the families present the level of direction offered by the
parents varied. In one case the siblings were educated together
by their parents, who set work and marked that work. In another
the child had taught herself to read at age 7 with little input
from her parents. Apart from covering English and mathematics
twice a week she followed her interests. In another case the child
had put together her own timetable where she felt it would be
helpful to her. Her parents had insisted that she study a language
in order to broaden her education beyond her preferred subjects
of science and mathematics.
Some families made use of external tutors. In one
case the child attended Latin classes at a local sixth-form college,
which the parents paid fees for. He also attended a chemistry
module that his father was teaching at a small local private school.
Many of the children had sat examinations, typically
GCSEs and A-levels. Sometimes they had sat them a year or two
early, sometimes within just eight weeks or so of taking up the
subject as opposed to the usual two years.
It was commented that home educated children usually
had plenty of opportunity to socialise with other children and
adults, particularly other home educating families. Younger home
educated children are dependent on their parents for transport
to and from social events.
Asked if they knew of any home educated children
who were unhappy with being home educated, the children present
said that they did not. They spoke strongly in favour of home
education. They valued being able to follow their interests and
enthusiasms. They welcomed not needing to perform in tests or
to others' expectations. They prized not being subject to the
"forced regime" of the school day or to teachers' "hypocrisy"
and "abuse of power". One child suggested that, as a
result, home educated children were generally more "content
and confident" than their school-educated peers. Several
parents and children noted how, for them, school had eroded their
love of learning and drained their motivation.
Registration of home educating families
Not all the families had made themselves known to
their local authority as home educating. One parent asked why
she should register to do something that she has a duty to doensure
that her child receives an education. On the same basis she resented
the prospect of otherwise law-abiding families being criminalised
for not registering as home educating.
The parents were adamant that local authorities already
have sufficient information to be able to identify familiesthrough,
for example, the Electoral Roll, General Practitioner/Health Visitor
records or ContactPoint.
Parents disliked the way in which home education
was being identified as a cause for concern and one parent asked
why their children should be targeted merely for reaching school
They were concerned that registration would be coupled
with regulation. Some were certain that registration "would
not stop at registration", that the Government would "add
in more and more conditions", and that this would prevent
them from exercising choice as to how to educate their children.
One parent cited the example of Tasmania, where the Government
"had not been able to resist" making adjustments to
the registration requirements.
The home educating families were asked if they would
like to be allocated the funding that the local authority would
receive if their child was in school. Views were mixed. One parent
equated the choice to home educate with the choice to purchase
a private education and felt it right that families did not get
funding in either case. Another stated that she did not want money
from her local authority on the basis that she did not want contact
with the local authority. Another commented that as a taxpayer
he would like to receive the funding, but that in return he would
not want to be audited by agencies that he did not trust.
Home visits by local authorities
Some of the parents present recounted difficult dealings
with their local authority. One family had been 'door stepped'
by a local authority officer, having received no notice of the
visit. The mother had reluctantly let the officer into her family's
home and reluctantly showed them some of her daughter's work.
She found the visit intimidating on the basis that local authority
officers "have power over you" and "could take
your children away from you". She compared the arrangements
for school accountability, whereby Ofsted inspects the school
and reports to parents, with that for home educationwhere,
in her view, it would make no sense for the parent to become accountable
to inspectors for a duty that they have not delegated.
Another parent talked about instances where local
authority officers had "over-stepped their powers" (e.g.
asking to see a child's marked work, a request made worse by the
fact that the family had only recently taken up home education).
This parent argued that such practice meant that local authorities
could not be trusted with more intrusive powers.
One family commented that most local authority officers
who staff home education teams have come through the school system,
have often worked in that system, and typically have no knowledge
of home education. These parents stated that they would not be
happy to have a local authority officer in their home, assessing
their provision, if they had not had some input into that officer's
traininga point with which others agreed. They also pointed
out that with home education the level of activity and learning
fluctuates considerably. In their view this meant that home education
could not be assessed through snapshot visits. They stressed the
need for "patience and tolerance on both sides" and
for local authorities to be "responsive to home educating
families" in refining their practice with regard to home
visits. Another parent concurred that it "took years to understand
home education". In his view it was not possible to learn
about home education merely by taking a training course.
The home educated children present were largely resistant
to the idea that a stranger could come into their home to interview
them and assess their work.
One parent commented that home education and parenting
are essentially indistinguishable. He resented the prospect of,
in effect, having his parenting inspected.
Protecting home educated children who are at risk
The parents were generally of the view that the recommendations
contained in the Badman Report were "looking in the wrong
place" as far as safeguarding children is concerned.
One parent remarked that home educated children are
not hidden, but seen by a range of professionals as well as acquaintances.
She added that home educated children are in fact particularly
conspicuous, being out and about during the school day.
It was felt that if a parent was determined to hide
their child registration would not solve the problem. One parent
pointed out that most Serious Case Reviews show that the child
in question was known to social services. He also noted that indicators
of harm are often identified by professionals from services other
On this matter many parents and children also challenged
the record of local authorities and schools in managing instances
where school children experienced bullying or were at risk of
harm. A number of the children cited their own difficulties at
school or instances where their school had responded unsympathetically
to a peer's difficulties. Both parents and children noted instances
where they had alerted a school-educated child's parents or social
care services to problems that that child was experiencing.
On being asked if there was anything about the Badman
review that they liked, one parent pointed out the paragraph at
the beginning of the Badman Report that emphasises that it is
parents who bring up children, not government. Another noted how
Mr Badman states in his Report that he does not seek to modify
this, but suggested that Mr Badman had done exactly that with