2 Relationships between home educators
and local authorities |
The role of local authorities
in home education
10. The role of the local authority is clear with
regard to home education.
They have two duties: to provide support for home educating families
(at a level decided by local authorities themselves), and if families
wish it; and to intervene with families if the local authority
is given reason to believe that a child is not receiving a suitable
education. It is not the role of the local authority routinely
to monitor whether a suitable education is being provided,
and local authorities should not act as if it is, or cause parents
to believe that it is.
11. Despite this clarity in Government guidelines,
though, we heard evidence suggesting that a number of local authorities
are currently acting outside the law, or at least making misleading
statements with regard to home education; this, in turn, jeopardises
relationships between local authorities and home educators. Educational
consultant Alison Sauer told us that she had completed "a
survey of all the local authority websites and [found that] there
are only 30 that do not have ultra vires requirements on
their websites30 out of 152".
Ms Sauer further notes that the most compliant local authorities,
based on their websites, are also those which "either have
had ongoing input over a period of time from local home educators
or have a strong knowledgeable member of staff",
suggesting the importance of co-operative working with home educators,
to which we shall return.
12. Local authorities
have a responsibility to follow the law, and to be seen to do
so. Considering evidence that only thirty do not currently have
ultra vires statements on their websites, regarding
home education, we urge all local authorities to undertake a swift
review of their own material, and to ensure that their policies
reflect the guidance available.
Tensions in existing guidance
13. Whilst the publication of misleading or inaccurate
information is not excusable, it was suggested by other witnesses
that tension in existing guidance is part cause for this, particularly
in two areas. Melissa Young, responsible for home education in
Warrington Borough Council, explained the first of these:
There is no definition of what is suitable education.
There is no definition of what is efficient. So because home education
varies so much in educational philosophy and parents are doing
it for so many different reasons, it is open to interpretation
on the part of the local authority as to whether that meets the
This was echoed by several other local authority
officers, who attended a seminar hosted by the Committee in July
guidance, meanwhile, notes that whilst certain terms have not
been defined in legislation, case law has provided such definitions:
An 'efficient' and 'suitable' education is not defined
in the Education Act 1996 but 'efficient' has been broadly described
in case law as an education that 'achieves that which it sets
out to achieve', and a 'suitable' education is one that 'primarily
equips a child for life within the community of which he is a
member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole,
as long as it does not foreclose the child's options in later
years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so'.
14. Other witnesses argued that guidance needed further
clarity around the issue of interventions. As noted above, local
authorities can only intervene in home education if there is evidence
that it is either unsuitable or inefficient. In a school situation,
such evidence might be revealed by accountability tables, Ofsted
judgments, or local intelligence, but this cannot apply to home
educators for obvious reasons. However, guidance is equally clear
that local authorities do not have the power "to enter
the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring
the provision of elective home education".
Wigan Council, in its submission to our inquiry, argued that this
creates a real tension:
It is very difficult to be able to ensure that the
children receive a 'suitable' education or to ensure that they
are being protected when, without reasonable justification that
the child is or is likely to be suffering significant harm, there
are no grounds to insist on entry to the home for a monitoring
believe that the case law definitions of 'suitable' and 'efficient'
education are sufficient, and encourage local authorities to use
these as required. However, some aspects of existing guidance
require clarification, and we recommend that the Department for
Education undertake a review of the guidance concerning home education,
working with local authorities and home educators to iron out
Variation in local authorities'
behaviour and practices
16. A review of existing guidelines, whilst useful,
is unlikely to iron out the apparent inconsistencies in local
authority practice across the country on its own. The phrase 'postcode
lottery' was raised throughout our inquiry, with reference both
to local authorities' behaviour and to the support which they
providea theme to which we return in subsequent chapters.
17. There are clearly examples of outstanding practice,
where local authorities have made real and concerted efforts to
improve their behaviour, structures and accessibilityaside
from the quality of the support providedand in particular
where local authorities have come together to iron out inconsistencies
across arbitrary administrative boundaries. Three North-Western
local authorities have developed a 'home education shared service',
the many advantages of which were described by Melissa Young:
Fantastic opportunities for all three of us to share
good practice; very minor cost efficiencies; consistency of approach
to benefit families. We have quite a lot of cross-border movement,
and if a family knows they are going to see either the same documentation
or similar practice if they are moving across, I think they are
more likely to remain in contact with the local authority. It
is a shared ear for me and my colleagues. It has allowed us to
develop extended suppor [...] it is just a way of building a service
that benefits us and benefits families and just gets rid of the
lack of consistency [...]
18. Lack of consistency between local authorities
is also being addressed by a different model, described to us
by Elaine Grant from Croydon Council:
I am part of a cohort of 22 local authorities that
meet every term. Originally, we were called the London Home Education
Officers, but Northampton has joined us, Essex has joined us,
Sussex has joined us.. we meet once a term and we share good practice;
we share negative experiences [...] So it is very much like what
Melissa was saying has worked well [...] I think to have that
consistency may be a useful way forward.
A similar idea, a "free national conference
where local authority representatives would have the opportunity
to explore a range of positive examples in more depth", was
proposed in written evidence.
Such a move might also help to improve the training officers receive,
which evidence again suggested to be patchy. In Cumbria, for example,
"great attention" was apparently "paid to the training
of new personnel" following a restructure,
but the Home Education Centre, which works across several counties
in the South-West, reported that lack of available funding for
local authorities means that training is "often" insufficient.
19. Such arrangements might particularly benefit
smaller local authorities where, as parent and educational consultant
Fiona Nicholson explained, home education does not provide "a
full-time job for the person who does it": two thirds of
local authorities, according to Ms Nicholson, have fewer than
100 home-educated children "on their books".
Professor Bruce Stafford, meanwhile, argued that training alone
was not enough:
There is also a case for a registration scheme for
Elective Home Education officers in order to improve the quality
of the information, advice and support they provide. The current
arrangements and levels of training are not fit for purpose.
Officials dealing with home education need to demonstrate accredited
professional competence (knowledge and skills) and, to ensure
compliance by local authorities, staff should not be allowed to
practice unless registered. The opportunity should be taken to
involve home educators in determining the knowledge and skills
that staff should possess.
are pleased to support innovative models such as joint local authority
services and associations of home education officers, which aim
to share best practice and to achieve more consistency between
local authorities with regard to home education. We believe that
these models have significant potential to lessen the 'postcode
lottery' which was described to us, and we encourage more local
authorities, especially smaller ones, to develop shared services,
and to join existing networks of home education officers.
21. The development
of a more formalised professional association of, and/or annual
conference for, home education officers, driven by those in the
profession themselves, could be a welcome step in terms of sharing
best practice nationally, and in turn might consider issues such
as accreditation and improved training for local authority officers.
22. The Minister responsible for home education,
Elizabeth Truss MP, saw little role for central Government in
ironing out such inconsistencies:
There are clearly local authorities that have better
practice than other local authorities, as there are in many areas,
and one would hope that the best local authorities share their
best practice, so that other local authorities follow up on that.
The Minister had not seen, she said, any "significant
evidence that [...] having more central control would have a beneficial
witnesses, however, disagreed. One local authority officer at
the Committee's July 2012 seminar suggested that 'minimum standards'
ought to be developed which local authorities would work to; another,
in oral evidence, said there was "absolutely" a role
for organisations such as the ADCS
and LGA in ironing
out variations. Home
educators' own national support groups also agreed unanimously
that there was a role for central Government in monitoring local
authority practice, as did independent home education consultants
Fiona Nicholson and Alison Sauer in their oral evidence.
23. It is worth noting that local authorities themselves
did not seem averse to further scrutiny; several, indeed, welcomed
it. One officer explained how her authority has already taken
this upon themselves, by asking home educators to complete questionnaires
on officers' performance and behaviour, and there was a general
feeling at our July 2012 seminar that greater monitoring of local
authorities' home education services would improve relationships
with home educators as well as transparency.
24. Central Government has a national perspective,
as well as tools and resources, which can never be fully replicated
by an individual local authority, and we therefore disagree with
the Minister in her view that central Government should play little
role in ironing out variations between local authorities.
We recommend that the Department for Education carry out an audit
of local authorities' performance regarding home education, and
the information they make available on their websites and elsewhere,
and publish the results, ascertaining which local authorities
are performing well with regard to home education. We consider
that, far from damaging the Government's localism agenda, this
review would fit well with the Department for Education's transparency
Placement of officers within local
25. Just as witnesses reported variation between
local authorities' understanding of and adherence to the law,
we heard evidence of similar variation in the quality of the officers
charged with home education within the local authority structure.
In some areas, such as Cumbria, there are clearly outstanding
The person who takes the lead role for home education
[...] has a good understanding of many forms of alternative education
and the law relating to home education. Following recent spending
cuts, Cumbria LA lost three out of four of its home education
'consultants' and the department underwent a major reconstruction.
Home educators were kept up to date with changes [...] the result
has been a remarkably smooth transition.
However, as that witness went on to note, this is
not "the norm".
One parent, Susannah Matthan, told us:
The new jobs created to support EHE families [...]
consist largely of ex-teachers (with a fundamental belief that
school is the best place for children) or social services worker
who aim to steer families back onto the school pathway [...] LAs
are not at all interested in recruiting qualified and/or experienced
home educators to these advisor posts. This is no different to
excluding a disabled person from a role which involves offering
experiential support to people with disabilities.
26. Other witnesses suggested that the location of
officers within their local authority structure could give out
an unhelpful impression, as explained in written evidence from
the Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS), a national advice
and support charity for home educators. HEAS argued that "institutional
prejudice" against home educators stems "mainly from
the fact that home-educated children are dealt with by the same
departments which are set up to deal with children with problems".
Developing this theme in oral evidence, HEAS argued that such
co-location of services (specifically citing behaviour and attendance
and welfare teams) "immediately [...] puts [the home educating
family] in the 'problem' category".
27. We saw evidence of this during our inquiry. Of
the nine local authority officers invited to our seminar in July
2012, one was situated within a division looking at school attendance;
two were from children's services units; and a fourth was titled
'Virtual Headteacher for Children in Care'.
Other posts encountered by the Committee used words such as 'teacher'
and 'virtual school' which may not be appropriate for many of
the models of home education which exist.
28. The Minister, when asked about the issue of placement
within structures, argued that "it is up to local authorities
to carry out their duties in the way they see fit".
Others, however, felt that local authorities should be encouraged
to restructure, which in turn could improve relationships. HEAS
proposed that officers should be located in a neutral location,
such as information or library services,
which was immediately heralded as "a brilliant idea"
by another witness,
and was supported by other representative bodies.
The team within which local
authority home education officers sit can give out an important
message about that authority's view of home education. For example,
it is inappropriate for such officers to be located with those
working on attendance, children in care or safeguarding. Local
authority officers dealing with home education ought to be situated
within a dedicated team, or sit within a neutral location such
as learning or library services.
7 The DCSF Guidelines 2007 are the key reference point
on this. Back
See DCSF Guidelines 2007, p. 5 Back
Q 4. In her written evidence (Ev 73), Ms Sauer notes that "the
worst offender, South Gloucestershire, makes or implies 15 UV
demands". Ultra vires is generally used in legal terms to
mean 'beyond power'. Back
Ev 73 Back
Q 119 Back
A note of the meeting is annexed to this report. Back
DCSF Guidelines 2007, p. 4, citing Mr Justice Woolf in the case
of R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte
Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (12 April 1985) Back
DCSF Guidelines 2007, p. 6 Back
Ev w93 Back
Q 173 Back
Q 177 Back
Ev 45 Back
Ev 54 Back
Ev 51, Ev 64 Back
Q 2 Back
Ev w37 Back
Q 229 Back
Q 227 Back
Association of Directors of Children's Services, the "national
leadership association in England for statutory directors of children's
services and other children's services professionals in leadership
roles" (http://www.adcs.org.uk/) Back
Local Government Association, the "national voice of local
government", aiming to "support, promote and improve
councils" (www.local.gov.uk) Back
Q 183 (Melissa Young) Back
See Q 69 (Shena Deuchars, Alison Sauer, Fiona Nicholson, Anne
Brown and Jane Lowe) Back
Ev 54 Back
Ev w77 Back
Ev 40 Back
Q 13 (Jane Lowe) Back
A note of that seminar is annexed to this report; attending local
authorities are listed, though not the names of representatives. Back
Q 229 (Elizabeth Truss MP) Back
See Q 13 (Jane Lowe) Back
Q 78 (Hannah Flowers) Back
See Q 15 (Shena Deuchars, representing Education Otherwise) and
Q 78 (Zena Flowers, representing the Home Education Centre in