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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 131)



  Q120  Mr Stuart: Would you support the idea that a sum—whether it is the full amount allocated to the local authority for that child's education or a lower amount—should be available as a right for home educators to use to support the education of their children? As you may have heard, one of the earlier witnesses talked about spending £1,000 just to pay for his child to sit GCSEs, which seems quite wrong.

  Peter Traves: If we had a registration process that told us exactly how many children were in the authority, we would hopefully be funded by government for all children in our local authority for their education. For those children who were not in school, we could use that money both to support those parents and engage with parents as to how that money could be spent.

  Chairman: Paul, do you have a view on that?

  Sir Paul Ennals: As I understand it, that is part of the package that was proposed by the Minister this week—that a small proportion of age-weighted pupil unit be allocated not direct to the parent but to the service, to enable better support that has been sadly lacking in most authorities up to now. I think that is probably the right model.

  Mr Stuart: Can I press on that?

  Chairman: No. I will call you if we have the time. Paul has been waiting patiently for his question.

  Q121  Paul Holmes: The home educators we had earlier had some wide, divergent views on different things. What they all generally agreed on was that, with a few shining exceptions, most local authorities were very bad at providing support for home educators. Is that a true and fair assessment?

  Sir Paul Ennals: I would probably sway it slightly the other way. I think it is a very mixed picture. We have Staffordshire and West Sussex, and we are hearing that Somerset and North Yorkshire are very good. A number of authorities are very good, but a number are pretty poor as well.

  Q122  Chairman: Do you want to name them?

  Sir Paul Ennals: No, I don't think so, Chairman.

  Q123  Chairman: Why is it that everyone wants to name the good ones but never the bad ones?

  Sir Paul Ennals: For very good reasons—partly motivational reasons.

  Q124  Chairman: Philip, do you want to name anyone or do you have a comment on that?

  Philip Noyes: No, I couldn't, if I wanted to.

  Chairman: Peter, I am not asking the same question. Just answer Paul's question.

  Peter Traves: I think it's a mixed picture at the moment. To be honest I don't think it has consistently had a high enough profile in local authorities. I don't think enough resource has consistently gone into it. Clearly, there are authorities which do very well. I wouldn't dare name other authorities and probably wouldn't be in a position to know. We have had to work hard in the local authorities I have worked in to catch up on this issue. If this is going to work, it goes back to my original point that I do think some statutory guidance or even legislation would help us, but it won't be the answer unless we actually increase the expertise within local authorities and, most important of all, engage in a positive dialogue rather than a dialogue of suspicion with home educators.

  Q125  Chairman: Should Ofsted find out who is good and who is bad? Don't bury your head in your hands.

  Peter Traves: Chair, you are asking us to name authorities. Without having a really complex process of analysing each individual authority it is really hard to give a name. That is part of the reason why I don't think that would be a proportionate response, to be frank.

  Q126  Chairman: Peter, Hansard didn't pick up the fact that you buried your head in your hands. What about my mentioning Ofsted caused that?

  Peter Traves: If parents find it intimidating—and some parents do—that a local authority officer goes in, I think the idea of an Ofsted inspector going in—

  Chairman: Going in to you to find out if you're working well with them.

  Peter Traves: Sorry, Chair. That is perfectly reasonable and I think Ofsted is planning to do so.

  Ellie Evans: They have started already.

  Chairman: Ah, so you misinterpreted my point.

  Peter Traves: Yes, I did entirely.

  Ellie Evans: With regard to the Ofsted side of things, it is very difficult if we do not have an idea of suitable education. I would be very interested in the criteria that Ofsted come up with. I haven't seen them, as yet.

  Q127  Paul Holmes: Peter, you touched on this point before the last bout: if the Badman recommendations lead to all local authorities having to look again at support for home education, how is it going to be funded? The Minister suggested on Monday, and DCSF has suggested, that the money is already there but local authorities aren't using it. If you are going to have proper training for everyone who is involved; if you are going to provide more support and more access to facilities; if you are going to pay for exam entries and all the rest of it, is the money already there but you're just not spending it?

  Peter Traves: It depends what you mean by the money being already there. Local authorities spend the money that they are given, as you know, Paul. It would be up to local authorities, if there were no additional resources, to vire money from one part to another out of existing resources. One point about knowing precisely how many children are educated at home is that it would give us a much better idea of how much resource we ought to allocate to that issue.

  Paul Holmes: But DCSF has said the proposal would be cost-neutral.

  Peter Traves: It is not unusual for the DCSF to say that. I understand that.

  Chairman: It would say that, wouldn't it?

  Peter Traves: We have clearly reached a period of significant financial constraint. If the figures are anywhere near as high as Graham Badman is suggesting, local authorities will need to look at their current allocation of resources and say that they need to vire resources according to that.

  Q128  Chairman: But you're missing out at the moment, aren't you? The money flows with the child to the school—90% of it to the school now. Presumably, you are saving a lot of money if those people do not pitch up and ask for education, are you not? Or the Government are.

  Peter Traves: Yes, but we don't know how much at the moment, Barry.

  Chairman: It's £150,000, which is a lot of money.

  Peter Traves: If that is right.

  Q129  Paul Holmes: What about something simple that I don't really see would cost money? Home educators are incensed about the difficulty of finding an examination centre. Why is that so difficult?

  Peter Traves: I don't see why it should be so difficult. To be honest, that doesn't cost huge amounts of money, and there is no reason why we couldn't—we already have schools and other places where we run exams. We have colleges that run exams. I don't think that's impossible. Do you, Ellie?

  Ellie Evans: We could certainly look at also using alternative providers that register as examination centres. But going back to costing, there was an indication that money is already there, but you have to draw it down. It is not the case that we are already getting money for home-educated children. We are not. The money has to be drawn down. Therefore, you would effectively be going back to the central pot and drawing the money down.

  Q130  Paul Holmes: But if home educators keep going to local authorities and saying, "I want help to pay exam fees," and the local authority by and large says, "You can't have it," why are they not drawing down the money, if it is there?

  Ellie Evans: I think that is something that needs to be explored, but the actual inference is interesting. I noticed in the response from the DCSF that said that they `believe' that the money is already there. That is different from saying that the money is already there.

  Q131  Chairman: But you agree it is wrong, is it not? The gentleman said that he had to pay for all the examinations. Why on earth would that be justifiable? It wouldn't, would it? We are drawing stumps in four minutes. Is there anything we haven't asked you that you wish you had been asked, or is there anything you want to tell the Committee before we wind up?

  Ellie Evans: Local authorities are standing there and getting some criticism and what have you because the money is there but they have not actually allocated resources, but the must-dos, indicator sets and so on are the things that they have to focus on within the financial constraints that they find themselves working with. A legislative framework around this would make it a must-do. That is something that needs to be considered.

   Chairman: Paul, last word?

  Sir Paul Ennals: No.

  Chairman: Peter?

  Peter Traves: I think the must-do is that we are already responsible for all children, and for those five outcomes. That ought to be driving the approach on this. We already have a responsibility for those children in broad terms.

  Chairman: Philip?

  Philip Noyes: No.

  Chairman: Peter, may I apologise and say that you have been a better witness than I could ever have expected from the person who was supposed to be here. Keep in touch. This is a short, sharp report, but we want to make it a good one. If we can draw on your expertise, we will remain in communication with you. Thank you very much.

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Prepared 16 December 2009