Strengthening Home Education Contents

4Outcomes, assessment and exams for children receiving EHE

100.In this chapter we consider outcomes, assessments and exams for children receiving EHE. During the inquiry, we heard about a lack of robust data on the outcomes for them as a group. Witnesses told us that assessing the quality of education provided at home brought challenges. The difficulties faced by private exam candidates during the covid-19 pandemic shone a light on the pre-existing inequity they face in accessing public examinations.

101.Mrunal Sisodia of NNPCF told us that “moving into the sphere of starting to gauge success, what a successful home education is, and assessing attainment” was heading into “slightly rockier territory”153 than a register, not least because many children receiving EHE would be doing so precisely because their family had decided that “the very narrow rigours of an academic education is not right for them”—especially those with SEND.154

What do we know about outcomes?

102.The lack of robust, independent data on the number of children receiving EHE and their academic and social outcomes limits opportunities for constructive conversations about what good outcomes might be. Dr Fensham-Smith highlighted the gaps in empirical research studies of UK home education. She noted that the research had on the whole “not sufficiently represented or addressed the needs, voices and experiences of EHE children”, and that “family-based” interviews tended to “prioritise the perspectives of parents.”155 Dr Fensham-Smith also said there was no “single, systematic and longitudinal study in the UK that has mapped the long-term experiences and transitions of previously EHE young people”, capturing the needs, voices and experiences of EHE children and young people from different socio-economic and minority ethnic backgrounds. Instead, individual success stories were primarily self-reported and found in discussions of community groups. Dr Fensham-Smith concluded that it was important to develop a “more comprehensive representation of home education,” working with EHE young people to “shape the policies and decision-making that is likely to affect them”.156

103.With the literature on children’s experiences “sparse” according to Dr Fensham-Smith, longitudinal research that “looks over time at how those children and young people have experienced life in a variety of different ways” was needed.157 The Traveller Movement’s submission noted that:

The home education community is a vocal one and tends to be led by people from White and/or middle class backgrounds. Consequently, the voices of people with lower levels of literacy or education tend not to feature in public debates. This is an unfortunate omission which obfuscates the lived realities of people with less social, political, or educational capital. This in turn prevents a proper analysis of the structural issues and barriers that lead to more marginalised people opting for elective home education.158

104.Dr Fensham-Smith’s noted that there was not enough evidence to determine how EHE affected children’s life-chances:

Overall, there is no sound empirical evidence to substantiate the claims that children who receive EHE in the UK as a short-, medium- or long-term intervention have ‘better’ or ‘worse’ life chances and social outcomes in comparison to children who have received a formal schooled education throughout the ages of compulsory education. Any future attempts to measure the relative benefits and/or potential disadvantages of EHE should be broad and encompass a range of short-, medium-and long-term self-report experiences and ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ outcomes’ […] Longitudinal projects (co-produced with and for the EHE communities) will serve to better inform the current and future needs of EHE children and young people.159

105.Home-educated young people, and those who had been home-educated in their own youth, told us that home education had been an extremely positive experience for them, and that they were grateful for their education. In some families, EHE had been the choice for consecutive generations.160


106.Little is known about the educational or other outcomes for the EHE cohort. Despite this, there was resistance to the idea of applying the kinds of standardised assessment used in schools to EHE. A number of home educators believed that standardised assessments were an accountability measure designed to understand how well schools, having been delegated the role of providing education by parents and taxpayers, were “providing an education”.161 Wendy Charles-Warner told us that it was “disproportionate” to apply the same level of accountability to individual families that were applied to schools. She said that “the whole point of home education is it is home education; it is not school.”162

107.There was broad agreement that a one size fits all approach to assessment would not be appropriate for the EHE cohort. Exams were not appropriate for some of them, particularly for those with “really quite serious health, mental health or other sorts of disabilities.”163 We were told that what mattered was that children had equity of access to jobs and further or higher education alongside their school-educated peers.164 As HMCI Amanda Spielman put it to us in June 2021:

We do not attempt to impose uniformity within the school system, let alone outside, but there is a very clear default that the expectations for home schoolers should be the same as if those children were in school.165

108.In Ms Spielman’s opinion, “simply saying they should be getting national average numbers of GCSEs or whatever it might happen to be might not be the right expectation for the individual child”, but that the “same principle” should apply. Her colleague, Victor Shafiee also told us that EHE children should “absolutely” have some kind of assessment but that “the frequency of that, how it is done and whether it looks at progress, these are issues for the Department.”166

109.Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, told us that there was currently no proposal to introduce formal assessments for home-educated students “outside of the requirement for a suitable education or the delivery of education that is in accordance with an EHCP plan.”167

110.Without large-scale, objective data, our understanding of the attainment and outcomes achieved by EHE children remains largely anecdotal. Despite assurances from the EHE community, we therefore cannot be sure that all EHE children get an education ‘suitable’ to prepare them for the next stage of their lives. Children’s voices are lacking from research. We understand that assessment is more challenging territory than simply understanding who is being home-educated and why. Home educators told us that assessment was stressful for some children, especially those who have come to EHE precisely because a formal system does not work for them. We heard that EHE children might take exams such as GCSEs on a different timetable to their schooled peers, and that some who initially struggled with reading or writing went on to excel when allowed to go at their own pace. Furthermore, exams are not the only measure of positive educational or life outcomes. However, we expect that, as a minimum, home-educated children must have equity of access to the next stage of their education, work or training. All EHE children should have the opportunity to take GCSEs, A-Levels and vocational exams as appropriate.

111.The Department must urgently commission and publish longitudinal research examining the life chances and social outcomes of EHE children in England (as a short-, medium- or long-term intervention), compared with those who have received a formal schooled education. This will need to include a range of short-, medium-and long-term self-reported experiences, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ outcomes’, and work in partnership with the full range of EHE communities. ‘Hard’ outcomes to be measured will include ability to demonstrate the skills in literacy and numeracy that are essential to future work or training. Soft outcomes could include less quantifiable factors such as mental wellbeing.


112.Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, we have been concerned about the considerable impact that the cancellation of exams has had on all children. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the inequitable access that home-educated children have to public examinations. The lack of provision for those who did not have an existing relationship with an exam centre to be awarded grades in Summer 2020 has meant that the impact on those who are home-educated has been particularly acute.168 Our inquiry has highlighted examples of young people who had rung a helpline “in tears” because they had lost college opportunities and job opportunities, including one young man who had deferred for a year as a result of being hospitalised and was told by his college that they could not hold his place any longer.169

113.Jenny Coles of ADCS told us that:

there needs to be an equal opportunity for those children who are home-educated to have the same standards and qualifications. How you put that in place is more complex. All children should have access to the same qualifications and career pathways, whether they are home-educated or in school.170

114.Dr Fensham-Smith agreed with this assessment. She said that the status quo was “highly unfair”, with some local authorities providing subsidy towards GCSE costs but not others and that this “really disadvantages single-parent children and children from families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.”171 In addition, we heard from Jane Lowe that the provision of funding for examinations had the potential to “improve relations between the local authorities and families”.172

115.With no independent assessment on which to base a grade in summer 2020, many home-educated children would have to take exams in the autumn or delay until 2021—unless they were tutored by a qualified teacher who was able to submit evidence to the exam board on behalf of the student.173 HEAS expressed the hope that “the needs of private candidates studying alone who don’t have teacher assessments on record will be recognised” as planning for exams in 2021 moved forward.174 On a more positive note, we heard that bodies representing home educators had “developed much stronger relationships with Ofqual, with the exam boards and with members of the DfE dealing with exams”, helping ‘achieve greater engagement and greater understanding”.175

116.Julie Swan, Executive Director for General Qualifications at Ofqual, told us that it was difficult to know precisely how many private candidates receiving EHE had been impacted, “because private candidates come in many different shapes and forms and have different experiences behind them”.176 Nevertheless, the best data available to Ofqual suggested that about 3,300 private candidates got an A-level grade that year – fewer than in a normal year.177 Jenny Coles of ADCS suggested to us that one purpose of a register would be to provide data when young people are coming to sit exams.178

117.Simon Lebus, acting Chief Regulator at Ofqual, was asked about Summer 2021 arrangements for private candidates who might not have the same bank of evidence as their schooled peers. He responded that they would have to “work with centres to come up with something that will allow them to demonstrate what they have learned and what they are capable of so that they can be awarded a grade.”179 Ian Bauckham, Acting Chair at Ofqual, added that the challenge was “making sure that every candidate can find a centre through which to work, and work is in hand to make sure that is achieved as far as it possibly can be at the moment”.180

118.On 10 March 2021, in a response to a written Parliamentary Question Nick Gibb, Minister for School Standards, said that recent proposals to fairly award all pupils a grade in Summer 2021 would:

include a clear and accessible route for private candidates to work with a centre to receive a grade this year, at the same time as other candidates. Exam boards will provide centres with clear guidance on the evidence they can use to assess a private candidate. A list of available centres will be published shortly, and we are working with the sector to ensure there are sufficient centres available and at a similar cost to a normal year.181

119.In April 2021, the Joint Council for Qualifications, a membership organisation including eight UK qualifications providers, published guidance on the determination of grades for A/AS Levels and GCSEs for Summer 2021.182 That guidance stated that “Private Candidates will be assessed this year on a range of evidence, in a similar way to other students” and with “considerable flexibility to determine the appropriate range of evidence” in order to reflect students’ “particular circumstances.” Centres would need to understand how the private candidate has studied, what evidence they have already generated, and how much of the specification content they have covered.

120.That assessment could be made through a “short interview”, possibly remotely, or a short questionnaire so that the centre could determine “what types of assessment might be most appropriate […] whether pre-existing evidence is available and whether any reasonable adjustments or access arrangements are required.” No additional charges should be made where a centre has agreed to provide reasonable adjustments, and centres should “clearly” communicate their assessment approach to potential private candidates before agreeing to make their entry. If the centre did not teach the subject, “it may wish to consider engaging third party subject expertise to conduct the assessment process”.183

121.We welcome the Government’s announcement on 15 March 2021 that a private candidate support grant would be made available to support approved exam centres to meet costs associated with the additional demands of assessment for private candidates this year, and avoid those extra costs being passed on to candidates.184 Yet while the Government has offered funding to assist exam centres in their support of private candidates this year, this does not change the fact that many children receiving EHE pay for their public examinations, contrary to the recommendation made by our predecessor Committee in 2012.185 When asked how the Department could justify this unequal access to exams, Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System. said that in choosing EHE, “parents take on the responsibility for educating their children”.186 However, cost is not the only barrier that private candidates face in taking their exams, with some students living long distances from centres that would accept them.187

122.The Government needs to act on the longstanding issue of inequitable access to exams for those children receiving EHE. The cancellation of exams in 2020 has had a massive impact on all students, but a particularly acute impact on those receiving EHE. With a register in place, it may well have been easier to identify those children who would have been affected. If better relationships between home educators and local authorities are to be developed, it makes sense to provide ‘carrots’ as well as ‘sticks’. Removing barriers of cost and distance to exam entry for EHE children would put them on a level playing field with their schooled peers and improve our knowledge about their educational outcomes.

123.For that reason, we repeat our predecessor Committee’s recommendations with regards to public examinations. This seems reasonable in order to help EHE children gain the qualifications needed for future education, training and employment.

124.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 also 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.

155 Dr Amber Fensham-Smith (Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies at The Open University) (HED0917)

156 Dr Amber Fensham-Smith (Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies at The Open University) (HED0917)

158 The Traveller Movement (HED0380)

159 Dr Amber Fensham-Smith (Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies at The Open University) (HED0917)

160 Mr & Mrs Randall & Mary Hardy (Retired at None) (HED0717)

165 Oral evidence taken on 15 June 2021, HC (2021–22) 82, Q841 [Amanda Spielman]

167 Oral evidence taken on 29 April 2021, HC (2019–21) 262, Q710 {Baroness Berridge]

168 Department for Education, Taking exams during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, 27 August 2020

173 National Network of Parent Carer Forums (HED0968)

174 Home Education Advisory Service (HED0727)

176 Oral evidence taken on 2 September 2020, HC (2019–21) 254, Q999 [Julie Swan, Executive Director, General Qualifications, Ofqual]

177 Oral evidence taken on 2 September 2020, HC (2019–21) 254, Q999 [Julie Swan, Executive Director, General Qualifications, Ofqual]

179 Oral evidence taken on 9 March 2021, HC (2019–21) 254, Q1311 [Simon Lebus, Acting Chief Regulator, Ofqual]

180 Oral evidence taken on 9 March 2021, HC (2019–21) 254, Q1310 [Ian Bauckham, Acting Chair, Ofqual]

181 UIN 154845 [on Home Education: Coronavirus], 10 March 2021

184 Department for Education, Private candidate support grant, 19 April 2021

185 Education Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2012–13, Support for Home Education, HC 559-I, para 44

186 Oral evidence taken on 29 April 2021, HC (2019–21) 262, Q707 {Baroness Berridge]

187 Member of the public (HED0504)

Published: 26 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement