Support for Home Education - Education Committee Contents


4  Provision of services and other support for home education

35. Whilst, as demonstrated in the previous chapter, provision of funding for home educators divided opinion, significant evidence called for greater provision of services. These fell into a number of key areas, which we consider separately below.

Examinations

36. Government guidance is clear that, when parents decide to home educate, they should expect to cover all the costs therein, and specifically includes public examination costs within that.[57] The Badman Report recommended that local authorities should "provide entries free to all home-educated candidates who have demonstrated sufficiently their preparedness through routine monitoring, for all DCSF-funded qualifications", which the report of our predecessor Committee broadly welcomed as part of a package of increased support, although it raised several concerns about monitoring of home education.[58] The Badman Review also recommended that local authorities should take steps to help home educators find appropriate examination centres.[59] Broadly, these two areas—access and cost—were also the central issues around examinations which were raised in evidence to our own inquiry.

37. We heard some examples of individual schools and local authorities offering support to home educators in finding examination centres which would accept external candidates. Gateshead home educator Karen Thirlaway wrote:

There is excellent support from a high school in a neighbouring authority, whose staff are very flexible and helpful with regard to exams for external candidates, access arrangements and in-house assessment where necessary, and investigating other exam opportunities outside of their remit where applicable.[60]

Anne Brown, meanwhile, had made arrangements with a local independent school and suggested that there was further potential in such a model, as independent schools "have a duty to be of some good to the community to keep their charitable status".[61] (Mrs Brown also noted, however, that her neighbouring local authority is more supportive in terms of accessing exams than her own, suggesting once again the clear 'postcode lottery' from which home educators suffer.[62]) Other local authorities, such as North Yorkshire, provide "a place to sit selected GCSEs".[63]

38. However, these positive examples appeared to be few and far between. Fiona Nicholson shared with us the results of her "nerdish survey of all local authorities in England and their support for access to exam centres for home-educated children this year":

I have found that only one in eight are doing anything in the way of even signposting to a local exam centre in a school. There are 8% who are using a pupil referral unit, but they might not be able to continue doing that in the future. A similar proportion are pointing to a further education college. It is the number one thing home educators will say all the time [...] 'Could you help with exams? Could you tell me where I can sit exams locally?' The councils are saying, 'It is nothing to do with us...' It is a really difficult area and the support is really, really patchy [...][64]

Jane Lowe agreed that the present situation is "damned difficult",[65] supported by examples from written evidence we received. One parent, for example, reported travelling "over 200 miles in order to facilitate one of [our] children to sit one GCSE",[66] whilst another, having received no support from her local authority and been refused access at all local schools, finally found a centre which would accept her child only for the provision to be subsequently withdrawn.[67]

39. Whilst Fiona Nicholson argued that mandating local authorities to provide access would be difficult,[68] other witnesses disagreed. The Home Education Advisory Service argued that "certainly [...] there should be a duty [on local authorities] to provide exam facilities",[69] and it was supported by representatives of local home education groups who emphasised that "we should at least allow children who choose to to access exams",[70] and that "schools should be required to make public exams available to the general public", not just home-educated young people but adults as well.[71]

40. Local authority officers also supported free access to exams for home-educated students: those present at our July 2012 seminar broadly agreed with this, as did our three oral evidence witnesses from local authorities, though they noted that "the practicalities would be something that needed to be looked at",[72] not least because of the implications of coursework and the potential unwillingness of certain schools.[73] Fiona Nicholson intimated that the expansion of the Academies programme (where schools are outside local authority control) has been cited by some local authorities as an issue in this regard.[74]

41. We also heard from several witnesses that the costs associated with home-educated children taking public examinations can be high and at times prohibitive. Louise Kerbiriou summarised concerns about the unfairness of the present situation:

Despite the fact that we all pay our taxes into the education system that we do not utilise, when it comes to taking the exams that are free to children in school we have to pay for these ourselves at considerable expense and this greatly limits the number that can be taken in low income families.[75]

Some witnesses cited costs of several hundred pounds, or more, for a suite of GCSEs alone.[76]

42. The Minister responsible for home education said she wanted to be "very careful about upsetting the current balance"[77] and said she was "reluctant to intervene [...] when the evidence suggests that home-educated children, whilst it might be difficult to get to examinations, are succeeding in getting to examinations".

43. It does not seem reasonable to us that home educators in some areas have such a struggle accessing examinations centres for their children. We recommend that the Government place a duty on every local authority to ensure access to local centres for home-educated young people to sit accredited public examinations.

44. As noted previously, we do not believe that the State ought routinely to finance home education. That said, many home educators do contribute to the education system through their taxes, and yet still have to meet the costs of sitting public examinations. We do not consider this to be fair, and therefore recommend that the costs of sitting public examinations be met by the State. The Department for Education should work to establish the appropriate level of entitlement, and to which examinations this ought apply.

Transitions to further education

45. Two national home education support and advice organisations differed markedly, in their written evidence, when discussing home-educated young people's transition to post-16 education. Education Otherwise argued that "there is very little LA support for the transition to further and higher education", citing a number of specific issues including funding, access, examinations and changes to Open University fee arrangements.[78] The Home Education Advisory Service, by contrast, painted a much more positive picture of the current situation:

HEAS has not found any evidence to suggest that home-educated students have experienced difficulties in progressing to further and higher education. There is a wealth of information on the internet and feedback from families indicates that once the hurdle of GCSEs has been overcome, A levels and college or university entrance are relatively straightforward matters.[79]

46. Despite this difference of opinion, it is clearly important that home-educated young people are able to access post-16 education easily when they, or their parents, choose to do so, and therefore we recommend that the Government monitor, as part of the audit previously recommended, local authorities' current provision of advice regarding transitions to further education for home-educated young people. The Government should ensure that local authorities are providing high-quality advice, through their home education services or websites, to those who request support.

47. The Minister explained a new policy which might benefit home educators:

From September 2013 further education colleges will be able to admit 14 to 15-year-olds on their own say-so rather than via local authorities. So that will make life easier, I think, for home educators who seek further education for their children later on in their educational career.[80]

We congratulate the Government on giving further education colleges the power to admit 14 to 15-year-olds directly, and welcome this policy move, which we hope might benefit home educators as well as others.

Local offers of support

48. As with local authority officers' behaviour and practices, discussed in Chapter 2 above, our evidence suggested that local authorities' service provision for home educators and their families is equally patchy: there is clearly significant variation in the quality and accessibility of such provision from one authority area to another.

49. We heard many examples of good or helpful practice. Sutton Music Service, for example, "waived the requirement for children to be at school before they can access instrument hire",[81] whilst Somerset circulates "details of EHE residential courses and activities" in which families might be interested.[82] Although Anne Brown's own authority caused her some concerns, she noted that if she lived "sixteen miles down the road [...] I would pay less council tax, I would get extra library books, I would get access to exam centres—some very nice goodies."[83] This was confirmed by another witness, from Mrs Brown's neighbour authority, who spoke of Hampshire's support in science lab provision, educational psychology and visual impairment services.[84]

50. Written and oral evidence made it clear that, in the words of one witness, "it is very much a local offer or non-offer"[85] or, as another put it, "provision is a postcode lottery".[86] Some local authorities are making significant efforts, particularly given current budgetary and personnel savings, but others clearly offer far less support for those home educators who request it. As one witness argued, despite "contributing financially to the education system by way of [...] taxes", families sometimes "receive nothing of the help that would be advantageous to our children and is free to thousands of others".[87] That parent cited the example of leisure services: swimming lessons, which are free to school children, cost her £352 a year. Despite proposing "a mutually beneficial scheme whereby home educating families gained a reduced rate of entry, meaning that they would come more often, bring their friends and increase revenue", that home educator found the local authority unresponsive.[88]

51. The responsible Minister at the DfE thought that such provision "would be a decision for the local authority".[89] Ms Truss went on to argue that the DfE does not have a significant role to play in improving the consistency of provision:

Getting consistency is not necessarily the right objective [...] I think the right objective is trying to get the best possible service, but that is an objective that does not lie in my hands in the Department for Education. That lies in the hands of local authorities, and it is for the leaders of local authorities to tell this Committee how they see themselves measuring up to the best [...] I think we have to be careful in all this that we do not think that the Government doing things is a panacea that is going to solve problems on the ground or going to deal with issues on the ground.[90]

52. Whilst we agree with the Minister's view that local authorities, and not central Government, must be responsible for service provision in their area, we do not consider it acceptable that home-educated young people receive such different levels and quality of support dependent purely upon their postcode. Local authorities should be expected to produce a 'local offer of support' for home educators, stating what services are available, how these differ from those for parents of schooled children, and enabling home educators to compare with practice elsewhere. Critically, local offers must be developed in consultation with home educators and their families. We recommend that the Department for Education support pilots for such a scheme, and play a role in monitoring the quality of local offers and the adherence applied to them by local authorities.

Home-educated young people with special educational needs and disabilities

53. Government guidance says that, whilst a parent's right to educate a child at home "applies equally where a child has SEN", where a child "has a Statement of SEN and is home educated, it remains the local authority's duty to ensure that the child's needs are met". Edward Timpson MP, the DfE minister with responsibility for special educational needs policy, confirmed during our pre-legislative scrutiny on SEN that the new Education, Health and Care Plans will have the same legal status as Statements,[91] and we therefore assume that the responsibility for ensuring the provisions are met will remain unchanged and with the local authority. The same Minister further confirmed, in answer to a written question, that local authorities cannot refuse to undertake assessments for home-educated children with SEN on grounds of non-registration at school.[92]

54. In view of this clear guidance, we were concerned to hear some of the examples of poor practice around SEN and health provision recounted by home educators. One parent of a boy with High Functioning Autism and with a Statement, for example, wrote that, following their decision to home educate, "the LA robustly refused" to contribute anything towards special teaching, suggested that the Statement might be withdrawn to avoid home visits, and has provided "no other support" at all.[93] Other witnesses recounted similar concerns: Zena Hodgson explained that for pupils who were on School Action or School Action Plus, and then become home-educated, "a lot of the links to occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and those kinds of services are cut straight away".[94] We also heard evidence of poor join-up between education and health teams, and of unacceptable waiting times: one parent of a child with mobility problems spoke to officers in a number of teams but, eight months on, had "heard nothing" concerning the provision of the powered wheelchair recommended by his occupational therapist.[95]

55. The responsible Minister, Elizabeth Truss, confirmed that "this is wrong", and re-emphasised that local authorities are required "to make sure that child is provided for and that they have an education that meets the need". [96] She stated that if local authorities are not providing adequate resources "that is a problem". [97] The Minister further agreed that provision for young people without a Statement "should be looked at".[98]

56. Furthermore, our evidence suggested that the Pathfinder projects established to trial the Government's proposed reforms around SEN and disabilities have not engaged with home educators;[99] one witness told us:

I wrote to all of them and said, 'What is your policy with home-educated children?' and two-thirds of them are saying, 'You do not fit the criteria.' Another said, 'That is a good point. I do not know.'[100]

That witness described the pathfinders as "hopeless",[101] whilst another argued that they were getting "terribly bogged down in procedure".[102]

57. We are pleased that the Minister confirmed, in her evidence to us, that local authorities remain responsible for ensuring that provisions in Statements are met, and were equally pleased that she agreed the issues relating to home-educated young people with SEN or complex health needs, but without Statements, should be investigated. We look forward to the outcomes of the Department for Education's investigations in this area. In the meantime we urge local authorities to comply with statutory guidance and ensure that home-educated young people with SEN or medical conditions are not being discriminated against.


57   See DCSF Guidelines 2007, p. 4 Back

58   CSF Report 2009 Back

59   Ibid. Back

60   Ev w7 Back

61   Q 60 (and see qq. 61- 62) Back

62   See Ev 70 Back

63   Ev 73 Back

64   Q 59. The use of PRUs has caused some concern: one home educator wrote to us that, as the venue's name "is displayed prominently on examination certificates", using a PRU "may be prejudicial when the certificate is shown to a prospective employer of college" (Ev w43). Back

65   Ibid. Back

66   Ev 54 Back

67   Ev w29 Back

68   See Q 59 Back

69   Ibid. Back

70   Q 93 (Zena Hodgson) Back

71   Q 92 (Jayne Richardson) Back

72   Q 211 (Melissa Young) Back

73   See qq. 207-211 (Elaine Grant, Helen Sadler and Melissa Young) Back

74   See Q 59 Back

75   Ev w7 Back

76   See for example Ev w19; Ev w29; and Ev w51 Back

77   Q 245 (Elizabeth Truss MP) Back

78   Ev 38 Back

79   Ev 40 Back

80   Q 230 Back

81   Ev 49 Back

82   Ev 51, Ev 64 Back

83   Q 51 Back

84   See qq. 78 and 110 (Julie Barker) Back

85   Q 51 (Fiona Nicholson) Back

86   Ev w81 Back

87   Ev w17 Back

88   Ibid. Back

89   Q 249 (Elizabeth Truss MP) Back

90   Qq. 254- 255  Back

91   See uncorrected transcript of oral evidence before the Education Committee, 6 November 2012, Q 251. The Committee conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the Government's draft clauses pertaining to the reform of provision for young people with SEN, published in a Command Paper (Cm 8438) on 3 September 2012.  Back

92   HC Deb 26 November 2012, col. 7W Back

93   Ev w94 Back

94   Q 108 Back

95   Ev w99 Back

96   Q 236 (Elizabeth Truss MP) Back

97   Ibid. Back

98   Q 237 (Elizabeth Truss MP) Back

99   The Committee has taken wider evidence concerning the new Pathfinders, during a one-off oral evidence session on SEN in June 2012, and as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny as noted above. Back

100   Q 57 (Fiona Nicholson) Back

101   Q 56 (Fiona Nicholson) Back

102   Ibid. (Jane Lowe) Back


 
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Prepared 18 December 2012