Strengthening Home Education Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Introduction

1.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. (Paragraph 19)

2.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. (Paragraph 20)

What do we know about children who are home-educated?

3.The Committee heard from home educators that home-educated children are not ‘invisible’, and that safeguarding has failed children who were already known to local authorities. However, the relevant authorities cannot begin to reach any children who may be at risk without a consistent and accurate method of knowing who they are. The context has changed dramatically in the last decade, as the number of children receiving EHE has grown. At present, local authorities may only know about home-educated children who have been withdrawn from school, and may lose touch with these children when families move. (Paragraph 38)

4.The Committee’s view remains that a statutory register, serving to more consistently identify children outside of school, is absolutely necessary. This would aim not to remove freedoms from those who are providing an effective education for their families, but to better target support to those who need it. The register should have a national reach but be administered locally. Rather than only targeting EHE children, it must cover all those who do not receive their principal education in a mainstream school. It may well be that the Government announces a statutory register ahead of this report being published. In any case, it must adhere to the principles we outline. (Paragraph 39)

5.There is no single definitive figure for the number of children and young people being educated at home. The numbers that are available are likely to under-report as parents do not have a duty to tell local authorities that they have chosen EHE, and studies often rely on Freedom of Information responses, which raise questions about data accuracy. This situation is unacceptable and must change. We also believe that collecting more data about children receiving EHE would give the Department a true picture of the level of SEND resourcing needed by local authorities. There is also general consensus that the number of children in EHE has increased dramatically since the 2010–15 Education Committee’s report. (Paragraph 40)

6.Covid-19 appears to have driven a further rise in EHE numbers, the long-term impact of which is not yet known. During the covid-19 pandemic, some may have found that educating at home worked better for them. However, some parents may have chosen EHE without a full understanding of the responsibilities it involves, risking a negative impact on their children. This highlights the ongoing need for parents to have the right support when making the decision to EHE—or to transition back into school, should they wish. In 2018, our predecessor Committee’s report Forgotten children recommended that “when a pupil is excluded from school for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year, the pupil and their parents or carers should be given access to an independent advocate” to help them navigate the process. (Education Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, Forgotten children, HC 342, para 47). We believe that such advocates could also play an invaluable role in supporting families who are considering EHE, and ensuring that they make an informed choice that is best for their families. (Paragraph 41)

7.Once the statutory register of children outside of school is up and running, the Department for Education must make use of it to collate, analyse and publish anonymised annual data on the number of children out of school so that the Department, local authorities and others are better able to understand trends and create effective policy in response to them. (Paragraph 42)

8.When a pupil is excluded from school for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year, the pupil and their parents or carers should be given access to an independent advocate to help them navigate the process. Families considering EHE should also have access to these advocates, to ensure that they have the information and support they need to make an informed choice for them and their child. (Paragraph 43)

9.There is clearly a distinction between those families who make a free choice to EHE, and those for whom it is not truly ‘elective.’ We understand that many home educators do not see off-rolling, exclusion or illegal schools as a problem of EHE. However, the fact remains that some families—especially those where children have SEND—feel forced into what should be a free and informed choice. We therefore repeat the following recommendation from our predecessor Committee’s Report on alternative provision and exclusions. (Education Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, Forgotten children, HC 342, para 64). (Paragraph 54)

10.Schools should publish their permanent and fixed term exclusion rates by year group every term, including providing information about pupils with SEND and looked-after children. Schools should also publish data on the number of pupils who have left the school. (Paragraph 55)

11.Some children in those illegal schools prosecuted so far have been nominally home educated, with families misled by providers. Without the consistent and robust data on children outside school that a register could provide, we cannot know the true impact of off-rolling and illegal schools on children nominally receiving EHE. We welcome the Government and Ofsted’s efforts to clamp down on unregistered schools and await the outcome of the consultation on independent educational institutions with interest. It cannot be right that settings where children receive their principal education escape regulatory scrutiny by exploiting loopholes in the law. (Paragraph 56)

12.Many children with SEND may be happiest educated at home, but this should absolutely not be a choice that parents are forced to make for lack of the right support. We accept that what begins as a negative choice can become positive over time, but support must be in place so that families do not have to make that forced choice in the first place. Our predecessor Committee’s report on Special educational needs and disabilities recommended “that the Department for Education explores the potential for creating a neutral role, allocated to every parent or carer with a child when a request is made for a needs assessment, which has the responsibility for co-ordinating all statutory SEND processes including the annual review, similar to the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer for looked-after children.” (Education Committee, First Report of Session 2019, Special educational needs and disabilities, HC 20, para 52). We believe that an independent, neutral role such as this would also be invaluable in ensuring that children with SEND are not forced into home education for lack of adequate school support, and that families who do choose EHE for children with SEND receive the support and information they need to make that choice. (Paragraph 57)

13.In light of the evidence we heard on children with SEND, the Department must reconsider the potential for creating an independent, neutral role, allocated to every parent or carer with a child when a request is made for a needs assessment, which has the responsibility for co-ordinating all statutory SEND processes including the annual review, similar to the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer for looked-after children. This role would support families with the choice to EHE, and help ensure that any such choice was made in a truly informed way, and in the best interests of the child and their family. (Paragraph 58)

14.We urge the Government to publish its SEND Review without further delay, and will look forward to scrutinising any proposals it makes. (Paragraph 59)

15.The SEND Review must address the need for consistent and sufficient support for children with SEND, no matter how they are educated. Access to Education, Health and Care Plans and the support they offer should not depend on being on roll at a school. (Paragraph 60)

Elective Home Education: Local Authorities and support

16.Local authorities told us that they lack sufficient powers. It seems to us that the grey area in the Departmental guidance—where there is no legal duty for parents to respond to enquiries about EHE, but the local authority is entitled to conclude that education may not be suitable should those parents not respond—cannot be conducive to constructive relationships between EHE parents and local authorities. (Paragraph 71)

17.Without a clearer definition of what a ‘suitable’ education is and what the threshold might be for intervention, local authorities have to rely on their safeguarding powers. We understand that, where powers are seen to be used inappropriately, there is a negative impact both on individuals and on relationships with the wider EHE community. It may be that the current ‘grey area’ is encouraging the use of School Attendance Orders where more informal approaches could be more beneficial for all concerned—or it could be that councils now have better understanding of the options available to them and are using their powers effectively and appropriately. Without better data, we cannot know whether the growth in SAOs reflects concerns about provision of education in the home, increased activism on the part of councils or a combination of both, The Committee is not opposed to SAOs per se, but we do need better information regarding the growth in their use and whether they are being used appropriately. (Paragraph 72)

18.When the Department responds to the 2019 consultation, it must clearly set out the expectations on LAs, other parts of the public sector (including health and social care) and parents with regards to EHE. It should supply case study examples so that EHE families and local authorities have a clear and shared understanding of what may constitute a ‘suitable education’, and what the thresholds for intervention should be—including for the serving of SAOs. The Department for Education should also track, publish and analyse data on SAOs at a national level on an annual basis. (Paragraph 73)

19.Although we were pleased to see that Keeping Children Safe in Education was updated during the inquiry, we heard that key guidance documents on safeguarding did not recognise EHE. It is therefore hardly surprising that that local authorities and others vary hugely in their approach to EHE families. EHE is a legally recognised choice, and as such must be recognised in guidance so that professionals across education, health and other services understand what it is, and how to respond appropriately when they come into contact with EHE families. Guidance must be consistent so that both families and local authorities know where they stand with regards to sanctions like SAOs but also the processes which professionals and parents will need to follow. (Paragraph 75)

20.The Department must revisit and revise key statutory guidance such as Working Together to Safeguard Children as soon as possible, so that they explicitly contain EHE within their scope, and contain clear and consistent messages for families, local authorities and others. (Paragraph 76)

21.We heard that there is a lack of consistency in the approach local authorities take to support EHE. Departmental guidance is ambiguous and does not provide the necessary clarity on what is expected of them. Ofsted told us that for it to inspect home educating parents would be disproportionate. However, Ofsted did say it would be open to considering additional ways it could support EHE oversight. (Paragraph 87)

22.The Department must assign Ofsted a role in quality assuring the delivery of local authority support for EHE and adherence to EHE guidance. This will require the creation of an inspection framework, based on the clarified guidance for local authorities and EHE families that we also expect the Department to produce. (Paragraph 88)

23.On the whole, local authorities did not see themselves as potential ‘inspectors’ in the Ofsted mould—even though the former Children’s Commissioner called for “at least a once a year, if not once a term” inspection. However, some local authorities would like more powers to see children and to establish whether they are receiving a suitable education. We heard that local authorities would not make “intrusive visits if we don’t feel they are necessary,” and that children would not have to be seen in the home. By contrast, home educators emphasised to us that the fact of being home-educated did not constitute a safeguarding risk. However, we conclude that it is reasonable for local authorities to seek reassurance that EHE is suitable, and that they must have clear abilities to do so. The former Children’s Commissioner and the Local Government Association were among those calling for more oversight of EHE. (Paragraph 89)

24.HMCI Amanda Spielman told us it was “very un-joined up” that children who were on a child protection plan and experiencing harm could be withdrawn into home education. We share HMCI’s concerns and call on the Department to ensure that children subject to a child protection plan are educated in a suitable setting to ensure that they are properly protected. (Paragraph 90)

25.The Department must clarify and strengthen the expectation in its 2019 guidance that local authorities make contact with parents on at least an annual basis, so that local authorities have the ability to see a child in person (at a venue of the family’s choosing) in situations where this is necessary to establish the suitability of the education they are receiving. The Department must make any necessary statutory changes to enable this, and make clear that:

26.The Department should provide local authorities with a set of clear criteria against which 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. (Paragraph 92)

27.We heard that parents receive more support from networks than they do from local authorities, but without the robust data that a register would provide we cannot know for certain whether everyone who needs support is able to access it. Furthermore, the evidence we received indicated a lack of mutual understanding between home educators and local authorities, and a lack of consistent training in local authorities that encompassed the full range of EHE approaches. This undermined the support that local authorities could and should provide. More consistent and informed training would address the problem of local authorities acting beyond their powers. Better mutual understanding is in everyone’s interests—not least those of home-educated children themselves, who should at all times be our focus. (Paragraph 98)

28.Given the rise in EHE numbers and lack of consistent support from local authorities, the Department should commission and roll out a national training package for all local authority officers with responsibility for EHE—developed with a wide range of stakeholders—so that those officers have a thorough and consistent understanding of the duties of and guidance for local authorities. That package should explain the various EHE approaches—possibly in the form of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). All local authority officers with responsibility for EHE must be expected to complete that training as part of their job. (Paragraph 99)

Outcomes, assessment and exams for children receiving EHE

29.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. (Paragraph 110)

30.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. (Paragraph 111)

31.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. (Paragraph 122)

32.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. (Paragraph 123)

33.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. (Paragraph 124)




Published: 26 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement