Strengthening Home Education Contents


1.This report is a short follow-up to the 2010–15 Education Committee’s report on support for Elective Home Education (EHE).4 We decided to look again at home education given the apparent rise in the numbers of home-educated children since 2012, and the impact of covid-19 on those had been due to take public examinations in Summer 2020.

2.Our predecessor Committee’s report acknowledged in 2012 that parents should have the right to home educate their children, but that quality and consistency of support for home educators needed to improve.5 The Government published a response to the report which largely rejected calls for it to take a more proactive role.6 Nine years on, our inquiry’s written submission from Education Otherwise, a charity supporting EHE, described a lack of progress, including a “postcode lottery” of Local Authority online policies.7 Other organisations and individuals shared similar frustrations.8

The Committee’s inquiry

3.Our inquiry focussed on EHE rather than the ‘home schooling’ or ‘remote learning’ that many children who usually attend a school 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 while also working themselves extremely challenging. The inquiry sought not to debate the desirability of EHE, but rather to explore the extent to which current arrangements provide sufficient support for home-educated children to access efficient, full-time and suitable education, and to establish what further measures may be necessary in order to facilitate this. It also examined the impact of covid-19 on EHE, and any needs arising from the pandemic that need to be addressed.

4.Our inquiry received over 900 submissions, many of which were from parents who passionately and eloquently set out the benefits that children can gain from being educated at home. We held oral evidence sessions in November 2020 and March 2021 and took oral evidence from the Minister (Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System) in April 2021.

5.The option to EHE can be particularly important for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). While we would hope that children with SEND will be given the support they need in school, we recognise that some children thrive in their home environment. However, no family should be forced into EHE for lack of the right support in the school system, and children with SEND should have the equity of access to assessments, support and Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) along with their schooled peers.

6.The State should not view those who make the perfectly legitimate choice to home educate with automatic suspicion, nor should it put unreasonable barriers in their way. However, as a society we must seek to balance the right of families to make the best choices for themselves with the responsibility to promote good outcomes for all children and young people, whether or not they go to school. It is not unreasonable to seek some reassurance about the suitability of the education received by children who are electively home-educated.

7.The Committee’s primary concerns centre on those children who are currently missing education. Indeed, our understanding is that children receiving an efficient, full-time and suitable education at home would not fall under the Department’s definition of that category.9 We believe that a more consistent approach to EHE would allow us to more easily identify those children who are at risk of missing education. With a clearer picture of who is receiving EHE, local authorities should be better able to target resources at those who need the most support. This is preferable to the current situation whereby home educators feel unfairly targeted as a wider group. The Committee wrote to the Secretary of State with our emerging conclusions in December 2020 (Appendix 1).10

The legal framework for Elective Home Education (EHE) in England

8.Parents in England have a legal duty to secure the education of their compulsory school age children “either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”.11 Those who choose to home educate are responsible for ensuring that the education provided is efficient, full-time and suitable to the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any Special Educational Needs (SEN).12 According to Government guidance, parents are not required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, follow the National Curriculum, or aim for children to acquire specific qualifications.13 However, the education should aim at:

enabling the child, when grown-up, to function as an independent citizen in the UK—and furthermore, beyond the community in which he or she was brought up, if that is the choice made in later life by the child.14

9.We agree that any suitable education should enable children to function, as far as possible, as independent citizens. However, we are concerned that the current guidance is not specific enough about what this means in practice, limiting its usefulness. As of 2016, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that there were around nine million working aged adults in England with low literacy skills, numeracy skills, or both.15 The OECD stated that “weak basic skills reduce productivity and employability, damage citizenship” and are “profoundly implicated in challenges of equity and social exclusion”—pointing to the challenges facing young adults who have not attained the literacy and numeracy skills which are essential to play a full part in social and economic life.

10.When the Department’s guidance is next revisited, it must indicate what level of numeracy and literacy is sufficient, in its view, to enable an adult who received EHE as a child to “function as an independent citizen in the UK.”

11.Guidance for local authorities specifies that approaches such as autonomous and self-directed learning should be “judged by outcomes, not on the basis that a different way of educating children must be wrong”.16 Education at home should also not directly conflict with Fundamental British Values, as defined in government guidance (appendix 2).17 Parents must be prepared to bear full financial responsibility, including the cost of any public examinations, although local authorities may make discretionary support available.

12.While home-educated children are not usually registered at any school, parents are able to make arrangements for them to receive some of their provision at a school, sometimes known as ‘flexi-schooling’.18

13.Local authorities do not have formal powers or duties to monitor the provision of education at home. They must make arrangements, however, to identify children not receiving a suitable education and intervene if this is the case.19 Following a consultation on home education, in 2019 the Department for Education launched guidance on EHE for both parents20 and local authorities.21

14.Compared with our European neighbours, the English model is relatively permissive. A 2018 survey of systems participating in the Eurydice network found that “home education at the request of families is possible in a majority of educational systems.” However, in a dozen countries—including Germany—“it is possible only in exceptional circumstances” and “in many cases, parents have to ask for authorisation from top level or local authorities.” Furthermore, students’ progress was “monitored and assessed everywhere except in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom”.22

Table 1: Top level criteria defined for home education in primary and lower secondary education in a selection of countries, 2018/19


Exceptional circumstances

Students must pass examinations

Educational supervision and assessment of child’s progress

level of education is
required for those providing education

teaching qualification
for those providing education

Authorisation: local
school level

Authorisation request:
top level/
top level authorities/




Northern Ireland

























Source: Eurydice

Why do parents choose to home educate?

15.Parents choose to home educate for a variety of reasons, including ideological or philosophical views which favour home education, dissatisfaction with the school system, and perceived lack of provision for special educational needs in school.23 We heard from parents that EHE was a “really positive choice for the vast majority of families, with children thriving, and growing up to be successful, contributing members of society”.24

16.Dr Amber Fensham-Smith, Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies at the Open University, told the Committee that home educators are “a highly heterogeneous group” and that “push and pull factors” may change depending on the length of time for which the child is home-educated.25 Victor Shafiee, Deputy Director, Unregistered and Independent Schools at Ofsted, agreed that:

The spectrum is far too wide for us to think about just one type of home educator and a couple of reasons why parents take their children out of school. We need proper data to make proper analyses and make proper policy as a result of that.26

17.Wendy Charles-Warner, a Trustee of Education Otherwise, said she had observed over the years that parents variously believed home education was “better than school, they are dissatisfied with the school system and, worryingly, […] their child’s special needs are not met in school”.27

18.Submissions from home educating parents and the organisations that support them told us that EHE could deliver a more personalised, individual education which moved at the pace of the child. We heard from parents who had observed huge improvements in their children’s mental health after being removed from schools where they were not kept safe from bullying, and from those who relished the opportunity to spend time together as a family, providing their children with a wealth of experiences outside the relatively narrow school curriculum:

I voiced my concerns several times with the school, but the issues were never resolved […] My child now has been able to heal mentally and over time has regained confidence in their own learning abilities.28

19.The Committee unanimously supports the right of families to opt for EHE, provided it is in the best interests of the child and the education provided is of a suitable standard to meet the needs of the child. In the eyes of the law, the duty to secure an education for a child rests with parents. It follows that the choice to home educate should be afforded the same respect as the choice for children to attend a state or private school. However, without data on outcomes we cannot know how many children receiving EHE are getting a suitable education. For that reason, it is reasonable that local authorities have the ability to assess the suitability of education.

20.The next iteration of the Government’s guidance for local authorities and parents must set out a clearer vision for a ‘suitable’ education - including the levels of numeracy and literacy which it would usually expect students to have achieved before they move on to later education, training or employment. This vision should take into account the different paths that children with SEND might take.

4 Education Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2012–13, Support for Home Education, HC 559-I

5 Education Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2012–13, Support for Home Education, HC 559-I, para 59

6 Education Committee, Fifth Special Report of Session 2012–13, Support for Home Education: Government Response to the Committee’s Fifth Report of Session 2012–13, HC 1013

7 Education Otherwise (HED0063)

8 Home Education Advisory Service (HED0727)

9 ‘Children missing education are children of compulsory school age who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school’, Department for Education, Children missing education: Statutory guidance for local authorities, September 2016

10 Education Committee, Letter to the Secretary of State for Education, 3 December 2020

11 Education Act 1996, section 7, HL15415 [on pupil exclusions], 10 May 2019

12 Education Act 1996, section 7

13 Department for Education, Elective home education: Departmental guidance for parents, April 2019

14 Department for Education, Elective home education: Departmental guidance for parents, April 2019

16 Department for Education, Home education: Departmental guidance for local authorities, April 2019

18 Department for Education, Home education: Departmental guidance for local authorities, April 2019

19 Home education in England, Standard Note SN5108, House of Commons Library, July 2019

20 Department for Education, Elective home education: Departmental guidance for parents, April 2019

21 Department for Education, Home education: Departmental guidance for local authorities, April 2019

22 European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, Home Education Policies in Europe: Primary and Lower Secondary Education, October 2018

23 Department for Education, Home education: Departmental guidance for local authorities, April 2019

24 Member of the public (HED0655) (and see, for example, Member of the public (HED0712), Member of the public (HED0681), Member of the public (HED0690))

28 Member of the public (HED0633)

Published: 26 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement