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


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 roles—and 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 varied—from 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 area.

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, child development.

The officer noted peak times for families to take up home education—Year 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 education advisors.

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 working.

Educational provision

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 them—for 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 necessary—whether 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 practice—in relation to educational provision and safeguarding.

Funding issues

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 team—and 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 their area.

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 reasons—to 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.

Educational provision

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.

Resource implications

All wanted more details on exactly what the recommendations in the Badman Report might mean—for example, what information the statements of educational approach would require families to provide.

They were also concerned that many of the recommendations had not been fully thought through, especially in terms of their potential resource implications.

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Prepared 16 December 2009