NSPCC Response to DCSF Consultation on
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Children (NSPCC) is the UK's leading charity specialising in
child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children. The
NSPCC aims to end cruelty to children by seeking to influence
legislation, policy, practice, attitudes and behaviours for the
benefit of children and young people. This is achieved through
a combination of service provision, lobbying, campaigning and
The NSPCC believes that, given the will, all
cruelty can be prevented. In order to achieve this, it is vital
that all children, whatever their needs, have a range of services
that are flexible and offer them support and protection. The NSPCC
has a range of services in the UK and the Channel Islands. These
services aim to:
Prevent children being abused by working
with parents and carers in vulnerable families to improve their
knowledge and skills in safeguarding, and giving children and
young people someone to turn to through the provision of our Listening
Protect vulnerable children and young
people from abuse by providing direct services in a number of
settings, including schools and young people's centres. We also
protect them by providing Listening Services for adults to ensure
they have someone to turn to with their concerns; by ensuring
that abused children and young people are identified and effective
action is taken to protect them, and by working with young people
and adults who pose a risk to children and young people to reduce
the risk of abuse.
Help children and young people who have
been abused overcome the effects of abuse and achieve their potential.
The NSPCC recognises that parents choose to
educate their child at home for a variety of reasons and that
in some cases this has been because of a child's negative experience
at school including the child's safety and well-being within the
school environment. Irrespective of where a child is educated
it is their right to be safe. We know that abuse can take place
in a number of settings at school, in leisure activities and at
home and that children are most at risk from those known to the
child and it is important that the child is safeguarded wherever
they are educated.
In preparing this response we have borne in
mind the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
Articles 3: All organisations
concerned with children should work towards what is best for each
Article 9: Children should not
be separated from their parents unless it is for their own good;
Article 12: Children have the
right to say what they think should happen, when adults are making
decisions that affect them, and to have their opinions taken into
Article 29: Education should develop
each child's personality and talents to the full. It should encourage
children to respect their parents, and their own and other cultures.
Research on the prevalence of child maltreatment
published by the NSPCC in 2000 showed that a significant minority
of children suffer serious abuse or neglect. This study
of the childhood experiences of 2,869 18-24 year olds found that:
6% of children experienced frequent and
severe emotional maltreatment during childhood.
6% of children experienced serious absence
of care at home during childhood.
31% of children experienced bullying
by their peers during childhood, a further 7% were discriminated
against and 14% were made to feel different or "like an outsider";
43% experienced at least one of these things during childhood.
Three-quarters (72%) of sexually abused
children did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time. 27%
told someone later. Around a third (31%) still had not told anyone
about their experience(s) by early adulthood.
A quarter (25%) of children experienced
one or more forms of physical violence during childhood. Of this
25% of children, the majority had experienced `some degree of
physical abuse' by parents or carers.
1. Do you think the current system for safeguarding
children who are educated at home is adequate? Please let us know
why you think that.
No. The NSPCC has previously called for a review
of the law around elective home education.
The law currently requires parents to notify a school only when
they decide to withdraw a child from a school roll and choose
to educate them at home. There is no requirement to notify anyone
if a child has never been enrolled.
We recommend that there should be consistency
with a requirement that all parents should be required to notify
a local authority if they decide to educate their child at home
(a formal registration scheme).
There are several reasons for this. Currently
local authorities have a duty to establish which children are
not receiving a suitable education, and if they are not aware
that a child is being educated at home, they will have to spend
time checking on the child's circumstances. With a registration
scheme, whilst other powers apply, the local authority would be
able to focus on those who are genuinely missing from or not receiving
ContactPoint when it is fully live will mean
that there will be some record of children being educated at home,
because the child's place of learning will be recorded. As there
is a requirement for all children in a local authority area to
be recorded on ContactPoint, there will in effect be a record
of children being educated at home. We are advocating a registration
scheme because it would set out clearly for everyone what is expected.
There is variation in how local authorities
meet their legal obligations and support home educators.
This inconsistency is unhelpful. It would be helpful if Government
was to facilitate discussion between home educators and local
authorities in order to identify examples of good practice which
can be disseminated and used as a means of developing consistency.
Local authority staff involved in home education,
given their legal requirement, have tended to focus on children's
educational attainment. We do not have a view on this, but believe
it is important that all staff involved should be competent and
confident in identifying issues of safeguarding and child protection
and be able to manage them appropriately.
2. Do you think that home educated children
are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes?
Please let us know why you think that.
Yes. The concern of the NSPCC is that children
who are educated at home should be safe from abuse, just as all
children should be safe from abuse. Most parents will do as much
as they can to ensure their children are safe, healthy, happy
and well. We would not seek to differentiate children who are
educated at home from children who are educated at school. We
do know that a number of home educators make a choice to take
children out of school, because they are not achieving or because
their child is being bullied. They feel that their child would
be safer and more likely to achieve their potential if educated
at home, rather than in a school setting. It is not the educational
setting per se that enables a child to achieve the five outcomes
and to be safe; it is the quality of the relationships and the
learning they are supported to experience that are key, as well
as being attuned and responsive to the individual needs of the
3. Do you think that Government and local
authorities have an obligation to ensure that all children in
this country are able to achieve the five outcomes? If you answered
yes, how do you think Government should ensure this?
Yes. This is clearly stipulated in Section 10
of the Children Act 2004. Local authorities and Government have
a role to facilitate this through the provision of support to
children and their families. We therefore take the view that children's
services have a role in ensuring children are safe, irrespective
of where they are educated.
Processes that focus on support tend to be more
successful in engaging with the majority of families and are more
likely to lead to improved outcomes, than a focus on monitoring
and prescription. However, local authority staff involved in this
process must be trained to identify signs of abuse and know what
to do if they suspect it, or if a child discloses abuse. For example
child protection awareness programmes enable those who have contact
with children through their work or leisure activities to gain
the confidence to act upon concerns about children and play a
role in preventing abuse.
4. Do you think there should be any changes
made to the current system for supporting home educating families?
If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no,
why do you think that?
Yes. It is clear from the correspondence from
home educators to us, that many have had very poor and negative
experiences with the local authority and in some cases this has
been very traumatic for children.
The needs of home educating families are very
diverse and so any support needs to be personalised to the family.
If support is to be meaningful, and taken up then it will require
genuine partnership working between the local authority and home
educators. In this context the community development approach
may be helpful. This approach is about working with communities
(in this case communities of interest) on agendas set and led
by them. It has been used successfully both by groups who have
wanted to become organised and by agencies to engage with various
5. Do you think there should be any changes
made to the current system for monitoring home educating families?
If you answered yes, what should they be? If you answered no,
why do you think that?
In looking across the UK we noted that Scottish
government guidance says "We recommend that authorities should
ordinarily make contact on an annual basis with those families
they know to be home educating in their area. This annual contact
is not a statutory requirement. However, it is a suggestion as
to how authorities may reasonably inform themselves in order to
fulfil their duty to serve a notice on any parent who is not providing
efficient and suitable education". Whilst the Welsh Assembly
guidance stated, "whilst recognizing that there is no legal
framework for the LEA to regularly monitor provision of home education,
does recommend that the authority should ordinarily make contact
on an annual basis".
We do not agree that the status quo should be
maintained and do think that monitoring should be strengthened.
We are concerned that the child's safety and welfare should be
paramount and that there is nothing in the current guidance or
framework that would prevent children being abused by people who
may claim to be home educators. The current guidance on Elective
Home Education says that the local authority can investigate if
they have a concern about the child's education, but they do not
have the powers to visit or meet the child. The guidance (paragraph
2.15) refers to the ability to see a child under s47 of the Children
Act 1989. In order for a professional to use s47 they "must
have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives or is
found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant
harm". If a child who is being abused is not afforded opportunities
outwith the house, then the slim chances of them being identified
become even smaller than they already are. In such a situation,
because there is no education concern, the local authority does
not investigate, as there are no grounds to do so. If a member
of the public sees the child (and this would need to be regularly)
then they are unlikely to contact an appropriate body. It then
becomes a Catch 22 as no concern is raised, because the child
or the environment in which they are cared for is not seen.
That is why we have concluded that some form
of monitoring is necessary and that this should be on an annual
basis. What form the monitoring should take should be decided
on the basis of tasking a working group of relevant stakeholders
including home educators, and former home educated children.
In our discussions some have suggested that
a registration similar to child minders should be introduced.
This does have a superficial logic in that a childminder may look
after children including, sometimes, their own children in their
own home and home educators educate children in their own home.
Childminders currently need to be assessed by Ofsted in order
to register and are then subject to inspection. However, our view
is that this would be disproportionate for what it will achieve
and so is not an option we would favour.
Another element is to ensure that home educators
are afforded opportunities to be supported. We have earlier focused
on the need for support and an ability to see the home and the
child. If good support is provided, then we would hope that a
relationship model would develop that is similar to the one that
most families have with GPs or health visitors.
We noted earlier, it is the skills (especially
in engaging with parents and children), and the knowledge about
children, that are important rather than the professional background.
The NSPCC believes that all personnel involved with children should
have a knowledge of safeguarding which is appropriate to their
role. One way of doing this is to ensure that there is a capable
workforce and one which can develop trust with home educators.
Another is about being able to set out a range of supports that
can be made available to home educators and their children to
assist them in achieving their goals. The Welsh Assembly guidance
is quite helpful. In para 3.2 it states "Education authorities
should provide parents who are, or who are considering, home educating
with a named contact within the authority who is familiar with
home education policy and practice and has an understanding of
the relevant legislation and a range of educational philosophies.
The named contact's role could include liaising on a regular basis
with already-established local groups of home educators or developing
new groups where these don't already exist".
6. Some people have expressed concern that
home education could be used as a cover for child abuse, forced
marriage, domestic servitude or other forms of child neglect.
What do you think Government should do to ensure this does not
The NSPCC is represented on 60% of Local Safeguarding
Children Boards in England and Wales and Area Child Protection
Committees in Northern Ireland. We are aware, from our representatives
on LSCBs, of a small number of child abuse cases where home education
has been a factor. For example, a member of staff working directly
with children and young people said to us:.
In a case with which we were involved, one of
the siblings was sexually abused by her adult brother. There were
a number of vulnerable children in this household, all of whom
were adopted. They were all home-schooled by their mother.
Both parents were resistant to undertaking any
work with the Local Authority or NSPCC to assess the safety of
the children in the home. In this family, all the children had
little contact with the outside world and no social interaction
with other children. There was no external monitoring of the children's
social skills or behaviour.
The home education worker who attended child
protection conferences did not see the children on his own as
his main focus was on the children's educational progress and
he relied on self-report from their mother on how the children
were progressing in other aspects of their lives. This inability
[to undertake] any external monitoring did, in our view, leave
the children at risk following the children's names being removed
from the Child Protection Register.
Clearly one approach is through a better registration
and monitoring, as detailed above. Another approach is through
ensuring that children who are home educated know where to turn
so that they are aware of services such as ChildLine and able
to call in confidence.
Through our Helplines and projects we are aware
that there have been instances where a young person has been withdrawn
from school for the purposes of forced marriage. In this context
it is important that schools do consider whether non-attendance
is out of character and take follow up action in line with the
guidance issued on forced marriage.
The work of our Safer Communities Project has
demonstrated the willingness of communities to engage in safeguarding
if they are afforded the opportunity to learn about it. Faith
groups especially are more likely to be aware of such children,
and if they have a good understanding of how the child protection
system works, along with good relationships, they are more likely
to come forward to report a concern.
34 UNICEF -summary of UN Convention on the Rights of
the Child. Back
Cawson, P, Wattam, C, Brooker, S and Kelly, G (2000) Child maltreatment
in the United Kingdom: a study of the prevalence of child abuse
and neglect. London: NSPCC. Back
NSPCC response to the Revised statutory guidance for local authorities
in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education-Department
for Children, Schools and Families. Back
Guidance for Local Authorities on Home Elective Education-DCSF. Back
Summary of responses to DCSF consultation statutory guidance in
England to identify children not receiving a suitable education.
Feb 2009. Back
The Community Development Challenge-DCLG 2006. Back
Data from our adult helpline shows that people will take on average
two to three months between starting to be worried about a child
and taking the action of phoning our helpline. Back
More about our views on forced marriage can be found in our response
to the Forced Marriage Statutory Guidance Consultation Paper (Foreign
and Commonwealth Office/Home Office, 2008). Back