Under the law, parents have a duty to ensure that their children receive a suitable education, whether that be in school or ‘otherwise.’ This report focusses on elective home education (EHE), where families choose to discharge that duty by educating their children at home. EHE is distinct from the remote schooling which many children have received during the covid-19 pandemic. We know that when schools partially closed during the pandemic, many parents found the process of supporting their children with remote learning extremely challenging.
Nine years on from our predecessor Committee’s report on Support for Home Education, and in the context of increasing numbers of families choosing EHE, we needed to update that work. The Department for Education does not collect national figures on the number of children in EHE. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services projected that as of October 2020 more than 75,000 children were being educated at home, an increase of 38 per cent from the previous year. It is simply not good enough that we are only able to make a best guess at the number of children receiving EHE, especially when the Department for Education itself acknowledges that there is “considerable evidence” that many children may not be receiving a suitable education. As it currently stands, the Committee is of the view that the status quo does not allow the Government to say with confidence that a suitable education is being provided to every child in the country.
The Committee remains deeply concerned that we cannot support children who may have been ‘left behind’ during the pandemic without knowing who they are and how many of them there are. The Centre for Social Justice recently calculated that 93,514 school pupils missed more than 50 per cent of their sessions in Autumn 2020. This is deeply worrying, and a topic which the Committee is likely to return to in the future. We recognise that these 93,514 children are not the same as children who have formally left the school roll to pursue EHE, or who have never been on a school roll. However, the very fact that we have these figures contrasts strikingly with what we know about children who are electively home educated. Because these 93,514 children have been marked absent from school, we at least know that they exist, and have a starting point from which to make further inquiries. Without a national register for EHE, we have no equivalent intelligence about the impact of covid-19 on the participation in educational activities of the full range of children receiving EHE.
During the inquiry hundreds of parents that home educate their children told us about the benefits they see from EHE. Their view was that children were receiving high-quality education and achieving impressive outcomes as they moved into work or further study. Nevertheless, it does not follow that just because these home educators are providing children with a good education, all home educators must be. Indeed, without data, we cannot know how many children in EHE are receiving a suitable education. Our report therefore makes the following key recommendations.
We are convinced that a statutory register of children who do not receive their principal education in a mainstream school, including home-educated children, is essential. We expect the Government to reaffirm its commitment to a register shortly—possibly even before this report is published. We call on the Government to implement this as soon as possible, and note that compared to many other European countries our approach is relatively permissive. During our inquiry, we were concerned to hear that there is a lack of reliable data on EHE. We do not even know for certain how many children are being electively home educated at present. Without this data, we cannot be sure that all children are receiving a suitable education, despite the assurances we received from the EHE community. Neither can we know that support is getting to all those who need it. As a consequence, we believe that a statutory register of children outside of school is necessary. Once the register is up and running, we expect the Department to collate, analyse and publish anonymised annual data on the number of children out of school so that stakeholders are better able to understand trends and create effective policy in response to them.
We do know that for some families EHE is not truly ‘elective’, especially those where children have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and do not get the support they need from the school system. No-one should be forced into educating at home through lack of support—instead the Government must act to ensure that schools are able to provide proper support for SEND in the first place. To ensure that families who are considering EHE receive the right information at the right time to make the best decision for their children, we call for the Department to reconsider the creation of an independent, neutral advocate which has the responsibility for co-ordinating all statutory SEND processes and could support families where a choice about EHE is being made. Our predecessor Committee also recommended the use of independent advocates in cases where a pupil is excluded from school for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year. Again, we call on the Department to reconsider this recommendation, which could guard against coercive off-rolling and provide families considering EHE with neutral guidance.
With regards to children with SEND in particular, we expect the long-anticipated SEND Review to address the need for consistent and sufficient support for children with SEND, no matter where they are educated.
Local authorities must be able to assess the educational progress of children who are home educated at least once a year, in order to take reasonable steps to reassure themselves that EHE is providing a ‘suitable’ education. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (HMCI) Amanda Spielman told the Committee that some level of assurance that children were being educated was “a real national priority” in her opinion.
We recognise that assessment is potentially more challenging territory than simply understanding who is being home-educated and why, and we heard from many home educators that formal assessment was inappropriate for families who have chosen to home educate precisely because the formal school system does not work for them. However, as a minimum, home-educated children must have equity of access to the next stage of their education, work or training with their schooled peers. This means attaining essential standards of literacy and numeracy, while also taking into account the different paths that children with SEND might follow.
The Department should provide local authorities with a set of clear criteria against which the suitability of education can be assessed, taking into account the full range of pedagogical approaches taken in EHE, as well as the age, ability and aptitude of individual children, including where they may have SEND. Without clear guidance and effective training for local authority staff, relationships between local authorities and parents are doomed to fail. At the moment the Department’s guidance states that local authorities should ordinarily make “contact” with home educating parents on “at least an annual basis”. While we know that a number of local authorities do more than the bare minimum, local authorities must have the ability to see children (at a venue of the family’s choosing) and evidence of their progress as appropriate, even where educational content and style varies widely from the school curriculum. The Department must also take responsibility for collating and analysing data about children receiving EHE so we can better understand the diversity of their needs and achievements.
In law, the duty is to secure “efficient full-time education suitable” to age, ability, aptitude and any SEND. Without large-scale, objective data, our understanding of the educational attainment and outcomes achieved by EHE children remains largely anecdotal. We cannot know whether their education has been ‘suitable’ in terms of giving them equal access with their schooled peers to the next stage of education, training or employment. We heard that children’s voices were missing from research, and that the vocal home education community “tends to be led by people from White and/or middle class backgrounds” meaning that “the voices of people with lower levels of literacy or education tend not to feature in public debates”, and preventing “proper analysis of the structural issues and barriers that lead to more marginalised people opting for elective home education.” Greater collection and analysis of data is needed about a whole range of issues, such as the reasons why parents electively home educate—including whether or not racism, bullying and differences of opinion about special educational needs between parents and authorities play a role in that decision.
We therefore recommend that the Department urgently commissions and publishes longitudinal research on the life chances and social outcomes of EHE children in England, working in partnership with the full range of EHE communities and measuring ‘hard’ outcomes such as literacy and numeracy as well as ‘soft’ outcomes. These ‘soft’ outcomes could include less quantifiable factors such as mental wellbeing.
We heard that lack of provision for home-educated children to receive examination grades in Summer 2020 caused huge challenges for children and families. It also served to highlight pre-existing inequity in access to examinations. We want to see a level playing field for EHE children and young people when it comes to public examinations, with those in EHE extended the same access to further educational and work opportunities as their schooled peers. For that reason, we repeat our predecessor Committee’s recommendation that the Government must place a duty on every local authority to ensure that home-educated children and young people have fair access to centres where they can sit accredited public examinations, with the Government meeting the entry costs for those exams. The Department for Education must work to establish the appropriate level of entitlement, to which examinations the entitlement will apply, and the additional funding the Department will commit to support this, in order to help EHE children gain the qualifications needed for the future education, training and employment that will allow them to play active roles in society.
1 The Centre for Social Justice, , accessed 29 June 2021
2 Oral evidence taken on 10 November 2020, HC (2019–21) 262, [Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Ofsted]
3 Education Act 1996,