NSPCC Response to the DCSF Proposals for
the Registration and Monitoring of Home Education
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 number 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.
This response draws on the experience of NSPCC
staff involved in direct service provision as well as those involved
in working with LSCBs on improving processes for safeguarding.
Our interest in this subject is for one reason
and that is our mission to end child cruelty. Our concern is that
children are safeguarded effectively in all settings, including
in the home. Our expertise is in child protection, not in education,
and our comments therefore focus on the safeguarding aspects of
The following anonymised quote from a girl who
called our ChildLine service in 2008/09 provides an insight into
why it is important that the legislative framework must be fit
for the purpose of establishing that children are safe when they
are being educated at home: "My dad is hitting me and I am
scared. He is touching me in naughty places. My mum gone to heaven.
Dad is saying he will rape me if I tell anyone. My dad has kept
me away from school last two years". (Girl aged 10)
1. Do you agree that these proposals strike
the right balance between the rights of parents to home educate
and the rights of children to receive a suitable education?
Any proposals should be rooted in the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child. Articles 12 (fulfilling children's rights
to have their voices heard) and 29 (their right to an education)
are of key relevance. For many home educators it does seem that
they are asserting their rights as a means of protecting their
children's rights. This is understandable, but the difficulty
is ensuring that the views of a parent do not prevent a child
from achieving their rights.
This balance is always going to be hard to achieve. The proposals
go some of the way towards this goal and we therefore support
2. Do you agree that a register should be kept?
As noted in the Badman Review: "It is a cause for concern
that although approximately 20,000 home educated children and
young people are known to local authorities, estimates vary as
to the real number which could be in excess of 80,000". (para
1.3). With the movement of families it is relatively easy for
a child to "disappear ", especially if there is no knowledge
that the child exists. As one home educator commented "When
I moved house to another local authority, no-one knew about my
child because I did not have to notify". (evidence to Children,
Schools and Families Select Committee 14 October 2009).
We are also aware that home educators have been concerned
because their local authority has contacted them because they
believe the child is missing from education when in fact the child
is being educated at home. A registration scheme would make this
much less likely.
ContactPoint will hold information on where a child is being
educated and home educators can choose to have their home address
recorded under that field. Local authorities will be able to identify
the numbers of children in home education (where recorded) and
those where no education establishment is recorded. So in essence
there will be data on numbers of children recorded as being home
educated and those who are missing from education (because no
education establishment is recorded).
However, the legislation under which ContactPoint operates
means it cannot be used as a register.
We therefore support the need for a simple register with
clarity for parents and local authorities about registration requirements.
Registration should be a process that is two-way and one
includes providing information about the rights of and resources
available to parents and children (see below).
3 Do you agree with the information to be provided for
We have not ticked any of boxes above as our response does
not fit any of them.
The register does not need to be extensive and so basic information
is all that should be required (Name, date of birth, gender, names
of parents/ carers, and contact details).
In essence we see the purpose of a register as providing
the relevant local authority with enough information to ensure
it is clear about the population of home-schooled children, to
be able to separate home-educated children from those who are
missing from education and to enable local service provision (in
line with other recommendations emerging from the Badman Review).
It would also be helpful for there to be a process which
in addition places a duty on local authorities to inform children
of their rights, parents of their obligations, and both parties
of the range of resources available for them, for example home
education groups and ChildLine.
4 Do you agree that home educating parents should be required
to keep the register up to date?
It would be reasonable to expect that the data held should
be confirmed with parents on an annual basis to ensure it is accurate.
If registration is kept simple (as we suggest in Q3) then this
is not an onerous task.
This would be similar to other requirements to confirm registration
with a GP, or for the purposes of the electoral record to confirm
that the information held about an individual is correct.
5. Do you agree that it should be a criminal offence to
fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information?
We noted in our submission to the Badman Review that offering
meaningful and relevant support would be the most effective way
of engaging and developing good relationships with families.
In our experience criminalising parents is not the best approach
and compliance should be achieved through other means. However,
this would clearly need to be kept under review; we recognise
that in exceptional cases it may be the only means left for a
local authority to ensure compliance.
6(a) Do you agree that home educated children should stay
on the roll of their former school for 20 days after parents notify
that they intend to home educate?
6(b) Do you agree that the school should provide the local
authority with achievement and future attainment data?
7. Do you agree that DCSF should take powers to issue statutory
guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home
It is important that any approach is consistent across England.
One of the valid criticisms to date has been the inconsistencies
between different local authorities and their activities in relation
to home education. It is important that children in all local
authorities should benefit from the enhanced safeguarding potential
of registration and monitoring. To achieve this guidance would
need to be statutory.
8. Do you agree that children about whom there are substantial
safeguarding concerns should not be home educated?
Any decisions about a child need to be based on the specific
circumstances and concerns about that child.
Where there are substantial safeguarding concerns relating
to parents/carers of the child, then as part of any decision making,
one would expect there to be clear consideration given of the
most appropriate and safe place for the child to be educated.
Where this is a child being home educated, then it may be appropriate
to say that education cannot continue at home or until such time
that the situation is satisfactorily resolved with all parties
However, it would not make sense to require a child to end
home education, in cases where: the risks to the child are not
related to their parent/carer or where the parents/carers are
assessed as being capable of protecting the child.
For example, it may be an abusive parent who is not living
at home and not involved in providing the home education but sees
the child regularly. In that case the risk is not at the home
and so it would not be reasonable for the home education to stop.
9. Do you agree that the local authority should visit the
premises where home education is taking place provided 2 weeks
notice is given?
From the education point of view, this seems to be reasonable
notice, but we would defer to others.
We take the view that the two week notice is not relevant
if there are concerns reported about a child. Local authorities
and their partners will have processes in place which they will
use if they have a concern to decide what action to take and when.
In working through this issue it is important to separate
out the processes set 1989 around child protection and children
in need, and the processes in relation to home education. In our
reading of the consultation document, we read the two weeks as
being of relevance to the provision of education and not of relevance
in relation to safeguarding concerns.
There are two issues, the first being whether the child is
"safe"; the second being where they are receiving an
"education". To obtain good answers to both questions
relies on skilled and experienced staff being able to engage with
both children and parents. We know that home educators have, for
good reason, frequently cited very poor experiences of engaging
with local authorities. So there is an understandable wariness
and distrust. In our response to the review we noted that "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".
We know from the correspondence and discussion with home
educators that a key issue has been the experience, skills and
knowledge of the staff involved. We agree with recommendation
22 which is about ensuring that staff with appropriate knowledge
and training undertake this work.
In discussions with our staff it is clear that home visits
are important, and they should take place. We note however that
for these to be meaningful and helpful the staff undertaking them
need to be skilled and competent, including in identifying possible
signs of child abuse or neglect. The key issue for the NSPCC is
ensuring the skills and competence of the staff involved.
10. Do you agree that the local authority should have the
power to interview the child, alone if this is judged appropriate,
or if not in the presence of a trusted person who is not the parent/carer?
The practice of our staff highlights the importance of speaking
to children alone unless that creates distress for the child;
we therefore agree that local authorities should have this power.
We would also note that there should be a clear record which notes
reasons also for not seeing the child alone.
As with Q9 it is crucial that staff have the pre-requisite
skills to communicate with children and know what to do if a child
raises an issue, be it about not wanting to be home educated or
about abuse. The NSPCC has developed a number of resources for
a range of organisations and professional groups on safeguarding
and child protection. For example we have developed EduCare which
is a set of modules to support people developing an understanding
of child protection and knowing what to do. We would be happy
to offer our support in developing resources or training for staff.
We note the concern expressed by some home educators, that
their children have been traumatised by their past experiences
of the education system and this would lead to further traumatisation.
Depending on the circumstances and how long ago it happened, it
may be insensitive to expect a child to be seen alone, but decisions
should be made in discussion with parents. However, most children
(who have not had traumatic experiences) are resilient and it
would be reasonable to expect them to be able to cope with meeting
an unknown adult and handle some discussion about their learning.
11. Do you agree that the local authority should visit
the premises and interview the child within four weeks of home
education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, at the anniversary
of home education starting, and thereafter at least on an annual
basis? This would not preclude more frequent monitoring if the
local authority thought that was necessary.
We have not ticked any of boxes above as our response does
not fit any of them.
There does need to be engagement between the family and the
local authority. Getting the approach right first time is vital
as that sets the agenda for future working.
The model suggested of within four weeks, then six months
and then annually sounds reasonable. Rather than prescribing a
visit to the premises within the first four weeks, it may be better
to require that one of those first three visits should be to the
premises. Meeting initially on neutral ground may be more beneficial
for some parents/children and once there has been some engagement
it may "feel" safer for the parents/child to allow them
into the premises of learning.
There does need to be clarity about the nature of the assessment
and this is best managed by such an assessment being developed
collaboratively between home educators, educators and government.
Any records should be shared with children and their parents.