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


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 education—for 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 approach—that 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 do—ensure 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 families—through, 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 age.

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 education—where, 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 training—a 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 of harm

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 than schools.

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.

Concluding comments

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 his recommendations.



 
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