ANNEX 2: NOTE OF INFORMAL MEETING WITH
LOCAL AUTHORITY OFFICERS
4 November 2009
These notes are a general account of the views expressed
by a group of local authority officers who met members of the
Committee for an informal discussion.
The purpose of the meeting was to hear from local
authority officers about their experience of working in the field
of home education.
The nine local authority officers who attended the
meeting together represented a cross-section of eight local authorities.
All the officers had a responsibility for home educating families.
The majority liaised directly with these families as part of their
role. Some had a professional background in education, some in
safeguarding. A small number were former teachers or head teachers.
The discussion was led by the Committee. The contrasting
professional backgrounds and current rolesand current 'case
loads'of the officers shaped their responses to the questions
put to them by the Members of the Committee.
The notes are structured in line with the key issues
to emerge from our inquiry.
Profile of home educating families
The size of the known home educating population across
the local authorities represented at the meeting variedfrom
around 150 to about 500. The officers pointed out that the number
fluctuated throughout the school year. One officer was confident
that she knew of the majority of home educated children in her
area, which numbered about 700. Her authority used its 'children
rising age five' list and its secondary school applications lists
to identify those children not in school. The other officers believed
that the total number of home educating families in their area
was at least double those who were known to them.
One of the officers differentiated between two groups
of home educating families. The first group she characterised
as having initially chosen home education as a lifestyle choice,
or as having subsequently developed it as such, and as providing
a good education for their child. She suggested that this group
comprised around 80% of home educating families in her local authority
The second group, she explained, had often chosen
home education for negative reasons, usually as a result of poor
relations with the child's school, or where the family had not
been successful in obtaining a place at their chosen secondary
school. These families, she noted, sometimes had little idea of
what home education involved before they took it up and in some
cases requested a lot of support from the local authority. This
might be in relation to educational provision or, for example,
The officer noted peak times for families to take
up home educationYear 9 (age 13/14), and Year 11 (age 14/15),
where a child is withdrawn from school prior to taking examinations.
Several of the other officers suggested that this
picture reflected the situation in their area.
One officer cited the wish to educate a child in
line with the family's religious faith as an additional factor
in some families' decision to home educate.
The officers also elaborated on instances where home
education is chosen for negative reasons. They noted that, in
their experience, most home educated children have previously
attended school. They were well aware that some families find
themselves home educating having been encouraged by their child's
school to withdraw the child, whether for reasons of poor attendance,
behaviour or educational attainment. In such cases it is only
once the family has formally de-registered their child from school
that the local authority learns that the family previously had
no intention to home educate.
Some officers suggested that particular groups were
placed at risk through their being home educated. For example,
two officers cited instances of Gypsy and Traveller families home
educating their children but not providing their daughters with
an education beyond Key Stage 2 (age 11).
Local authorities and home educating families
The officers also noted that, at least among the
home educating families who were known to them, the majority welcomed
contact with them and were happy to meet with them on a regular
basis. One stated that of the 50 home educating families that
she was in contact with, five had refused to meet with her. Another
referred to the very close relationship that she had built up
with some of the home educating families in her area in the course
of her work as a home education advisor.
The officers did recognise that some home educating
families were worried about contact with a local authority, and
that this was often due to the teaching background of many home
They emphasised that they regarded home education
as a legitimate choice and that their priority was to work with
families to help ensure positive outcomes.
Some noted their additional training in, for example,
child development. A small number had either home educated their
own child for a short while, or had considered doing so. Those
that had were very positive about the freedom it had offered for
their child's education.
One officer emphasised that she viewed going into
a family's home very much as a privilege, and not a right. She
was willing to meet families in neutral settings if that was their
preference. She stressed that she would never make an unannounced
visit on a family.
More generally, the officers were keen to work with
home educating families co-operatively and positively, and aware
of the need to build respectful relations with these families.
They emphasised that the way forward was partnership working between
the two parties. One noted his authority's forum for home educating
parents, which had been established to support such partnership
The officers reported that the one-to-one education
that home education typically offers works well for many children.
They also noted provision that troubled themfor example,
where a family had a narrow view of education.
One referred to instances where children move between
home education and school on a fairly frequent basis.
The officers noted the challenges of implementing
a School Attendance Order (SAO) and Education Supervision Order
(ESOs) where this was necessarywhether due to issues of
access to the family, the existing definition of "suitable"
education, or lack of space within the schools system.
One noted how his local authority was exploring ways
of deploying a wider range of support services through ESOs, such
as parenting support advisors and youth workers.
One officer took the view that the 2004 Children
Act gave local authorities a duty to safeguard the welfare of
all children in their area and that this included home educated
children. She suggested that existing legislation and guidelines
prevented local authorities from fulfilling this duty. Others
concurred that, while it was not right to assume that a child
was at risk, as local authorities have no right to see a child
they were not able to gauge if action might be needed.
Other officers noted that the hard cases were "always
going to be there". One explicitly stated that the role of
home education teams was to safeguard children in the officers'
line of work and to pass on any concerns to social care services.
As a home education advisor, she did not want to be held solely
accountable if a home educated child came to harm. Another similarly
commented that safeguarding was a "secondary duty" for
home education teams, but that she was happy to refer relevant
evidence to other services. She emphasised that her role was to
support a family's educational provision, not to pass judgement
on family life.
These officers again emphasised that they understood
that some home educating families did not want local authority
officers in their home.
One officer noted that the 2007 guidelines on home
education issued by the Department were not statutory; she called
for clear statutory guidelines that better enabled local authorities
to translate law into practicein relation to educational
provision and safeguarding.
The officers explained that local authorities draw
down funds through the Pupil Level Census and that, because home
educated children are not registered on the Census it is not possible
to draw down funding for them in the same way. They also suggested
that where a child is withdrawn from a school to be home educated
the school retains the funding for that child's education.
They referred to some instances where a local authority
had been able to obtain significant amounts of funding for home
educated children. This had been done indirectly: in one case
the local authority had established a virtual school and virtual
register for school and home educated children, through which
funding could be drawn down as for school pupils.
All called for clarification from the Department
with regard to the drawing down of funding for home educated children.
Officers' views on the Badman Report
One officer, who had participated in the Badman review
process, commented on the professionalism of the review teamand
on the searching questions that the review team had asked her.
Another officer broadly welcomed the recommendations
contained in the Badman Report on the basis that it would make
local authorities take responsibility for supporting home educating
families. Other officers described their frustration at not being
able to offer these families much by way of services at present.
They did, though, offer mixed views and some reservations
in relation to specific recommendations in the Badman Report.
Several officers remarked that they would like a
means of knowing who and where home educating families were in
Others noted the possible difficulties in operating
the proposed registration system. One commented that her local
authority, as with others, had families moving in and out of the
area, and in and out of the country, all the time. She commented
on the potential for child benefit claims information to help
local authorities identify families.
Another pointed out that the requirement for a family
to register and state their reasons for home educating their child
would enable local authorities to better address areas in which
schools were failing these children.
The officers generally welcomed the recommendation
that schools be required to keep a pupil on its roll for 20 days
following de-registration. They welcomed this 'cooling-off period'
for two reasonsto allow families more time to assess their
options, and to give local authorities more time to resolve any
problems with regard to the child's schooling where that was the
family's wish. One noted her preference for the arrangements in
Scotland, where families apply to their local authority to home
educate and thereby have the opportunity to voice any concerns
to the local authority as well as to school staff.
Many doubted that the proposed monitoring arrangements
would deal with the "hard cases". One commented that
"people who have things to hide will run" and that there
was a danger of making the life of genuine home educating families
difficult in the process. Another questioned whether home education
teams should have right of entry to a family's home.
Interviews with the child
Several officers recalled instances where a home
educated child had clearly not been free to speak in front of
his or her parents. One felt strongly that every child had the
right to air their views freely without intimidation. She emphasised
that officers would only see a child away from the child's parents
if appropriate. She maintained that in some instances it
would be appropriate.
Another took the view that officers did need to see
the child, but not necessarily away from the parent. She stated
that she would only interview a child away from his or her parents
in extremis and would anyway want a social worker present. A further
officer suggested that giving officers this right would not help
in managing 'difficult' cases, indeed, that insisting on seeing
the child alone might make matters worse. Another felt that seeing
a child alone should not be in the remit of home education advisors,
and that this right should be left with social care services.
The majority of the officers did agree with the recommendation
in the Badman Report that home educating families be required
to submit a statement of educational approach. Similarly, they
all wanted to see introduced a more specific definition of "suitable"
education. One emphasised that local authorities have sought to
find a definition that is more specific than the existing one
but that does not exclude autonomous education.
All wanted more details on exactly what the recommendations
in the Badman Report might meanfor example, what information
the statements of educational approach would require families
They were also concerned that many of the recommendations
had not been fully thought through, especially in terms of their
potential resource implications.