Annex: Note of the Committee's seminar
with local authority officers, 11 July 2012|
This note offers a record of a seminar held by the
Committee with nine local authority officers responsible for home
education in their area. The seminar was the first session of
the Committee's inquiry into support for home education, and was
held in private at the House of Commons. Local authorities were
chosen to be geographically and demographically representativedrawn
from a range of regions, and representing both rural and urban
areasand were invited to nominate the official who they
felt would best represent this area of work, or who had overall
responsibility for elective home education. The local authorities
represented were Liverpool, Norfolk, Surrey, Gloucestershire,
Trafford, Wandsworth, Central Bedfordshire, Lancashire and Kingston
Members in attendance: Graham Stuart MP (Chair),
Neil Carmichael MP, Pat Glass MP, Ian Mearns MP, David Ward MP,
Craig Whittaker MP
The Chair welcomed local authority officers and thanked
them for joining the Committee, before opening discussion on a
range of themes across the inquiry's terms of reference. To begin,
officers were asked what they would change about the current guidelines
around home education, and the situation in their own areas, and
the general picture was a fairly positive one. Some officers argued
for greater clarity in guidance, particularly around the definition
of 'suitable' or 'full-time' education, and another called for
greater clarity around funding issues, particularly for young
people with special educational needs. Although recognising that
most home educators provide a high standard of education and care,
an officer noted that a small minority are extremely difficult
to engage with and do cause concern, whilst another argued that
compulsory registration would bring some benefits. Overall, however,
there was consensus that the current situation did not present
major concerns, and officers emphasised their own considerable
respect for the home educators with whom they engaged.
It was noted that there are many reasons and motivations
leading to home education (not always elective), and that across
the board relationships with LAs had tended to improve since the
adoption of a more supportive and less interventionist mindset
and behaviour. One officer argued, though, that the range of home
educators encountered, and their differing philosophies, meant
it was very hard to speak of one group.
Some officers provided examples of schools compelling
parents to home educate, intimating that this was more common
with Academies: this was usually where a child had been causing
difficulties at school. Such parents understandably wanted considerable
engagement with, and support from, the LA, whereas others, who
had chosen to home educate, did not. Another officer argued that
her concern was the small core of families who were not providing
suitable education or care, by any definition, and that stronger
lines of accountability were needed in those cases. A colleague,
however, argued that safeguarding issues were separate from those
of home education, and should not be dealt with by the same teams.
Officers expressed some concerns that they were unable
to have a full picture of children in the area, due to lack of
registration for home-educated young people, but there were similar
views that compulsory registration would be "heavy-handed"
and would damage relationships between home educators and LAs.
It was also suggested that registration was pointless unless it
came with other powers, such as for increased intervention, about
which both home educators and LAs had reservations. However, the
'numbers situation' did concern some officers: one said that they
knew of two hundred home-educated young people in their area,
but suspected there were five or six hundred.
On the related issue of de-registration, it
was suggested that a formal period following a child's deregistration,
but before the child officially left the school, was helpful,
as it allowed officers to engage with parents who were not fully
aware of what their home educating responsibilities might be.
Some officers suggested this should be ten days; others, twenty.
Officers did report some instances where schools were de-registering
students without full parental consent, which was unanimously
seen as unacceptable and needed clamping down on.
Officerswho represented a wide range of authoritiesagreed
that there was huge regional variation in LA practice around home
education (indeed, some noted that the seminar had provided an
unusual opportunity for them to meet their counterparts elsewhere).
One officer suggested that minimum standards might be developed.
Discussing funding issues, the opinion was expressed
that home educators might receive funding only if they registered
or took pains to engage with the LA. Others argued that local
authorities should be responsible for these decisions in their
area, although this would perpetuate the 'postcode lottery' elements
in terms of LA behaviour and support, already discussed. Another
officer suggested that service provisionfor example, of
access to examinations, libraries and music serviceswas
of more consequence to home educators than financial support,
which most accepted was their responsibility. Specifically, officers
broadly agreed that access to examinations should be free for
home-educated young people.
A third officer, however, suggested that this was
not the major concern facing home educators in her experience,
but rather that showing LAs were trustworthy was of top priority.
Inspection, the officer argued, should look closer at these teams
in authorities, and that LAs had to take responsibility on themselves
for ensuring good practiceand specifically for ensuring
that they understood and obeyed the law around home education.
Home educators were invited, in one authority represented, to
feed back on advisers' performance and engagement, which was supported
as a good move by others present. There was general acknowledgement
that better scrutiny would not be unwelcome. It was noted that
high turnover of LA staff in the field was very bad for relationships,
which took some time to build up.
There was some discussion of flexi-schooling, which
was working well as an option in some authorities. However, a
number of concerns existed, including the possible impact on headteachers
and other learners in the school, and the cost-effectiveness of
Officers were unanimous in their view that the vast
majority of home educators provided a good quality of education;
that they respected parents' right to home educate, and were keen
to engage in the ways most useful to home educators; and that
they felt relationships were improving.