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National register will be established to prevent home educated children missing out on education

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Commenting on a new report today (24 Nov) by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), which shows that the number of children and young people being home educated during 2020/21 rose 34% from the previous year,

Paul Whiteman 100x100

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“The government must find out the reasons behind so many more families choosing home education. The concern is that many appear to have chosen home education because they have lost faith in the government’s approach to school safety during the pandemic. A combination of high case numbers in schools and the government’s decision to remove safety measures could mean that we see this trend continue unless the government does more to reassure these parents.

“NAHT has long called for an official register of home educated children. Currently there is no legal obligation for a parent to provide any notification to a school about the withdrawal of a child to be home educated, and no way to check the quality of education that child is receiving.

“This is a clear safeguarding concern and could lead to a child at risk being missed, with neither school nor local authority knowing for certain what has happened to them. Without an officially maintained register, there remains the risk of children becoming lost outside the system.”


Elective home education: Government response to Education Committee’s Strengthening Home Education’ report 

4th Nov 2021: The Education Committee has today (4 Nov) published the Government’s response to its report on elective home education.

The Committee’s report Strengthening Home Educationwhich was published in July, called for the establishment of a statutory register of all children out of school, following an acknowledgement from the Department for Education (DfE) that there is ‘considerable evidence’ that many home-educated children are missing out on a proper education.

While the Government says in its response that it is committed to ‘a form of’ statutory registration of children not in school, it fails to give a timetable for a register and instead says that further details on this, as well as on proposals for supporting home-educated children, will be in the government response to the Children Not In School consultation, which will be published in the coming months.

The Committee’s report also made a number of recommendations relating to more support for families who home educate children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and greater powers of oversight for local authorities.

The Government rejects the Committee’s call for the creation of an independent role to help families with children with SEND through the process when applying for an assessment of their child’s needs and where a choice about home education is being made. Furthermore, there is still no firm date for the publication of the Government’s SEND Review.

The recommendation to issue new guidance to local authorities on assessing the suitability of home educated children’s education is also rejected – although the responses notes that the Government will revisit its guidance on elective home education ‘in due course,’ taking into account recent developments.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“I welcome the Government’s response to our report. One of our key recommendations was to establish a register so that the Government know and are able to assess the outcomes of home-educated students. The Secretary of State confirmed that further details on this will be set out by the end of the year, but we urge the Government to go further in the meantime, by issuing guidance to local authorities to ensure that home-educated pupils are annually assessed in Maths and English.

“It is our hope that with the SEND Review due to be published in the first quarter of next year, the Government will take up our recommendation that pupils with special educational needs should be provided with an advocate to ensure that they and their families can access the help they need and avoid having to wade through a treacle of unkind bureaucracy.

“We are pleased that the Government has adopted our recommendations and look forward to working with the Department for Education in the coming months.”


New Home Education report is ‘narrow minded’ and could ‘damage children’

27th Jul 2021: Liverpool Hope University academic responds to the Commons Education Committee’s ‘Strengthening Home Education’ report: 

These are narrow-minded policies that do not consider the collateral damage they will cause to children.

I am incredibly disappointed but not surprised by the Select Committee’s recommendations. These are the same tired old ideas which were suggested and then dismissed over a decade ago as unworkable and inappropriate. It is incredibly disappointing that the Select Committee has failed to engage with stake holders, with research and with the opportunities that there are to build innovative partnerships and co-operation between children, families, schools and Local Authorities. 

They have not taken the views of home educators into account. They have not listened to a single home educated child or young person. We could be building education that is personalised, flexible and meaningful for all children – harnessing the best of school opportunities and the freedoms of home education. Instead, these are narrow-minded policies that lack forward-thinking and which apparently do not consider the collateral damage they will cause to children.

A register for children ‘out of school’ implies that all children out of school are being put into the same category. The Select Committee has clearly not listened to home educators who have tried to explain to them the difference between home education and children missing education.  It should be inconceivable that a compulsory register of a law abiding minority group be implemented without a careful consideration of the implications for civil liberties. No such consideration has been made.  This register would be the second compulsory register in the country; the first being for convicted sex offenders.

Most home educated children have been withdrawn from school because school has failed to provide for their needs. This includes large numbers of SEND children.  Schools have had the chance to advocate on behalf of and provide for these children and have failed to do so. Many of them are traumatised by their experiences in school and now Local Authorities are being given a green light to pursue them into their own homes.

Local Authorities receive no statutory training on home education. It is completely unclear how they would or could competently assess progress in educational programmes other than the National Curriculum.  Asking for samples of work immediately shows a gross misunderstanding of how much education outside school operates. It makes no sense to use standards from the National Curriculum for children who are not following that curriculum because, instead, their education has been tailored to their interests, aptitudes and abilities in ways that mass provision cannot provide. I offered to speak to the Select Committee about my work on literacy among home educated children; that offer was not taken up. In other words, the research that exists was not considered and has not informed these suggestions.

Better data on outcomes would be welcome however, the research which does exist has not been used to inform these recommendations. The Select Committee needs to make clear how this data would play into future policy. Indeed, should this go ahead, it needs to be made clear how these recommendations in their entirety would be embedded into the policy cycle.

Finally, the recommendation on exams is welcomed and indeed answers, at least in part, the need for data on outcomes.

Dr Harriet Pattison, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood at Liverpool Hope University and a Home Education specialist


National register needed to prevent home educated children missing out on education, MPs say 

27th Jul 2021: More data must be collected and a national register must be established to ensure all children out of school get a suitable education, MPs say today. This follows acknowledgement from the DfE that there is ‘considerable evidence’ that many home-educated children are missing out on a proper education.

Key findings include:

  • A statutory register for children out of school ‘essential’
  • ‘Astonishing’ lack of data risks young people missing out on learning
  • More support needed for home educated children with SEND
  • Government should meet entry costs of exams for home educated children
  • More consistent support needed for home educating families, along with greater assessment of children

The law states that parents have a duty to ensure that their children receive a suitable education, whether that be in school or ‘otherwise.’ However, the Education Committee’s report Strengthening Home Education highlights how an ‘astonishing’ lack of data means the Government is unable to say with confidence that a suitable education is being provided to every child.

It also warns how some families face being forced into home schooling due to a lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and the practice of off-rolling.

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In addition to a statutory register for children out of school, the report makes a number of recommendations including greater support for families who home educate children with SEND and greater powers of oversight for local authorities.

It calls for assessment of progress in numeracy and literacy. These skills are essential to ensuring home educated children have access to future opportunities equal to those of their schooled peers. Such assessment would allow for the different paths that children with SEND may follow.

The rise of elective home education

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. The Covid pandemic is likely to have increased the number of families choosing to pursue home education. The Local Government Association has set out how the number of elective home education registrations has risen in some areas.

Problems

‘Astonishing’ lack of data on number of children in home education and lack of support

The Department for Education does not collect national figures on the number of children in elective home education. Numbers are likely to be underreported as parents do not have to register their children with the local authority as home educated.

The DfE itself acknowledges that there is ‘considerable evidence’ that many children may not be receiving a suitable education.

Inadequate support for home educated children with SEND

A report from the former Children’s Commissioner in 2019 noted how many families had made the choice to remove their children from school as a result of their children’s needs going unmet at schools. The National Network of Parent Carer Forums told the Committee that home education was ‘not elective for many or even a majority of young people with SEND’.

Lack of powers for local authorities and clarity on ‘suitable’ education

The Local Government Association told the Committee that there is no mechanism for a council to insist on speaking to a home-educated child without a specific safeguarding concern. The Committee also found lack of clear criteria against which the suitability of education can be assessed.

Shortage of data on outcomes

Understanding of attainment and outcomes remains largely anecdotal and there is no certainty that all electively home educated children get a suitable education to prepare them for the next stage of their lives.

Restricted access to exams

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 a relationship with an exam centre to be awarded grades in 2020 has meant that the impact on those who are home-educated has been particularly acute.

Covid aside, electively home educated children already faced barriers as private exam candidates. Cost is not the only one, with some students living long distances from centres that would accept them.

Solutions and recommendations

A statutory register for children out of school

A register of children outside of school is ‘absolutely necessary’. It would not remove freedoms from those providing an effective education but would allow support to be better targeted to those who need it. Children who may be at risk cannot be reached by authorities there to support them if there is not a consistent and accurate method of knowing who they are.

Collecting more data about children receiving home education would also give a true picture of the level of SEND resourcing needed by local authorities.

An independent, neutral role supporting home educated children with SEND and independent advocates for excluded pupils

Every SEND parent or carer should have an independent person allocated to them when applying for an assessment of their child’s needs. This person would have 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 neutral 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.

Independent advocates should also be available to families of pupils excluded for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year. They could guard against the practice of off-rolling and give guidance to families considering elective home education.

Local authorities to make contact with parents at least once a year and more consistent support

The former Children’s Commissioner and the Local Government Association were among those calling for more oversight of EHE. In its submission to the Committee, Ofsted expressed support for greater oversight of home education, although stressed that formal routine inspections would not be proportionate.

Local authorities should contact families at least once a year and should be asking to see examples of children’s work. They should be assessing children’s progress from one year to the next, especially in areas such as literacy and numeracy.

The DfE should provide local authorities with a clear set of criteria to assess suitability of education. A ‘suitable education’ should specify 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, to allow them to ‘function as an independent citizen in the UK’. This vision should take into account the different paths that children with SEND might take.

The DfE should introduce a national training package for local authority officers with responsibility for elective home education so more consistent support is available, including for children with SEND.

Better data on outcomes

The DfE must properly and with speed examine the life chances and social outcomes of elective home educated children, compared with those who have received a formal schooled education.

A level playing field on access to examinations

Every local authority should ensure home-educated children have fair access to exam centres, with the Government meeting the entry costs for those exams to help EHE children gain the qualifications needed for future education, training and employment that will allow them to play active roles in society.

Robert Halfon 100x100Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“For too long now, an unacceptable level of opaqueness has clouded elective home education, meaning we know little about either the number of children learning away from school or the type of education they are receiving. This fog has acted as a roadblock to saying with any confidence at all that every child in the country is getting access to a suitable education and the skills they need to succeed.

“It is frankly astonishing that we are only able to make a best guess at the number of children being educated at home, particularly when the Department for Education itself concedes that there is considerable evidence that many young people are missing out on the teaching and support that they are entitled to. Some parents are providing their children with a high-quality educational experience, but those against greater oversight must realise that it does not follow that all home educated children are in the same boat.

“Getting a grip on the number of young people not being taught in school with a national register for children outside of school must just be the first step in shaking up the status quo. Local authorities must also keep a much closer eye on how home educated children are progressing to ensure they have equality with their peers from school when it comes to moving on in education, training and work. Financial and practical support should be given to ensure home educated children can take exams.

“Teaching at home must also never be a fall-back option for parents forced into it as a last resort after exhausting all attempts to access they support they need for their children, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities. Every parent or carer should have an allocated person to help them through the process when applying for an assessment of their child’s needs and where a choice about home education is being made. The DfE also needs to bear down on coercive off-rolling, to ensure excluded pupils do not slip into education away from school by default. There should be no forced choices when it comes to home education.”

Education Select Committee’s Home Education Inquiry 

The inquiry will seek to understand the extent to which current arrangements provide sufficient support for home educated children to access efficient, full-time and suitable education, and establish what further measures may be necessary in order to facilitate this.

It will also explore the impact of COVID-19 on home education, and any particular needs arising from the pandemic that need to be addressed.

The deadline for making written submissions has now passed. The Committee has held two oral evidence sessions, one in November 2020 and one in March 2021.

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