Education select committee – Response for evidence.

Schoolhouse SCIO

1 Victoria Road, Dundee DD1 1EL

Schoolhouse is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation SC026965

Submission in response to the Call for Evidence

by the Westminster Government’s Education Select Committee

Overview:

  • Home education is highly efficient and effective.
  • It is the primary duty of parents to decide the education of their children, not the government or local authority.
  • The local authority’s role is to act only when it appears that a child is missing education or failing to receive a suitable education. There is currently no legislative framework that supports the routine monitoring of all children.
  • There is no need for registration.
  • LAs do not have an overarching duty to safeguard. This applies in conjunction with specific duties.
  • OFSTED has a duty to inspect LAs. It could usefully use this role to prevent LAs from over interpreting the current legal framework. It should also work to prevent discrimination against home educators since many LAs clearly do not treat this educational option as equal in status to school education.
  • LAs could play an important role in providing support for home educators but that would require rebuilding trust and developing relationships built on mutual respect.
  • Covid-19 pandemic has enabled many families to discover that home education works better for their children.

Advantages of EHE (the benefits children gain from home education, and the potential disadvantages they may face)

Education at home, ‘otherwise’ or ‘by other means’ predates compulsory education and has been shown to be highly efficient and effective. Elective home education in the UK is thriving. More families are choosing this approach and with greater the numbers, it becomes easier for children to meet up and learn in groups, and for parents to share resources and support one another.

Schoolhouse SCIO has been supporting home educating families in Scotland for over 20 years. We hear endless reports of children thriving and achieving through being educated outwith the school system. We also support many families through the process of withdrawing children from school when the school system is failing those individuals. Consequently, we hear many painful stories of the detrimental effects of school on children’s physical and mental health, their general wellbeing and ability to learn. Many children, particularly those with special educational needs, are unable to thrive in the school system but flourish once educated in ways that are suitable for their individual strengths, weaknesses and interests.

Current Legal Framework (The duties of local authorities with regards to home education, including safeguarding and assuring the quality of home education, whether a statutory register of home-educated children is required)

Education is a parental duty as set out in the 1996 Education Act. This is consistent with human rights legislation that requires governments to provide education in accordance with parents’ wishes. It is important to note that if primary responsibility for education were to rest with government rather than parents then the political system would no longer be a ‘free’ system. It would become by definition a totalitarian regime.


The UNCRC is explicit in stating that a child’s rights should be championed by parents/guardians in order to hold governments to account. They should not be used by government as an excuse to invade the privacy of family life. David Wolfe QC has written about this potential abuse of human rights legislation in response to the 2019 consultation on Welsh Statutory Guidance. (See Appendix of this response.) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IAyXNE44VZOsSqx04wEVK7Z7XBbN9hKU/edit

A child’s right to education and a parent’s duty to educate are not in conflict. Families do have a right to privacy and also a right to freedom of association. Most importantly, all families should be presumed innocent unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise. 
If a local authority (LA) has concerns, they should be communicated to the family in writing and the family allowed to address those concerns in any way that they find most convenient.


The relationship between parents, schools and local authorities is set out in case law:

It is plainly intended that every child of compulsory school age should receive appropriate education in one way if not another, and that responsibility rests in the last resort with the LEA.

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldjudgmt/jd060322/Ali.pdf

With respect to home education, the role of the LA is only to intervene when there is evidence to suggest that there is a problem. This was confirmed by parliamentary question last year.

https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2019-04-29/HL15415

This role should not change, although it is perfectly legitimate for LAs to offer support, providing that the ‘support’ is not a euphemism for unhelpful interference.

While LAs have no statutory right or duty to monitor or assess the suitability of education, neither do they have the right to see the child or right of access to the home environment unless there are child protection issues. 
Their power to see or question children on “welfare” or “safeguarding” grounds only exists “where there are grounds for concern” and home education itself cannot be a ground for concern since parents have a right to home educate under s7 Education Act 1996.

Many LAs seem to believe that they have an active duty to discover if they need to take action to “safeguard” children but the primary people responsible for keeping children safe are their parents and carers, not the LA.

Often s175 Education Act 2002 is cited as a justification for “safe and well checks”, it states:

(1) A local authority shall make arrangements for ensuring that their education functions are exercised with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

Since there is no duty to routinely monitor EHE, there is no attendant duty to safeguard.

Supporting EHE families (Support for EHE (the quality and accessibility of support (including financial support) available for home educators and their children, including those with special educational needs, disabilities, mental health issues, or caring responsibilities, and those making the transition to further and higher education)

If government is truly interested in the best interests of children then they should be seeking to develop positive relationships with parents/families, actively engaging with local groups and national charities and working to provide the types of support that home educating families want. Local stakeholder groups are a good way to encourage mutual respect between LAs and parents. Few EHE officers have the time or resources to encourage such meetings but they should be a priority rather than wasting resources on attempts to monitor/oversee education.


LAs should be able to provide information on the various options open to home educating families and enable access to peripheral services such as ASD assessments, speech therapy, etc. LAs could provide grants to fund public exams, and schools and colleges could be incentivised to make provision for external exam candidates.

LAs could choose to allow enhanced library access, subsidized access to sports facilities, provide venues for groups to meet or run educational workshops for local families. This would be a more effective use of resources particularly if organized in conjunction with local stakeholder groups.

All too frequently the ‘advice and support’ currently available is experienced by families as unwanted and unhelpful interference. It is important to clarify that parents have the primary responsibility and LAs should respect their decisions.

In England, the vast majority of local authorities provide misleading information to parents and the government has been complicit in allowing them to do this. The DfE has encouraged this postcode lottery and encouraged worst practice among LAs.

Many home educators are treated unfairly by their LAs. This is an equality issue which needs to be addressed urgently. Within LAs, there is also evidence that some families are treated more favourably than others, depending on postcode, class and race. The government should not condone nor encourage LAs to misrepresent/disregard the law and/or intimidate minority groups.

The Future (whether the current regulatory framework is sufficient to ensure that the wellbeing and academic achievement of home educated children is safeguarded, including where they may attend unregistered schools, have been formally excluded from school, or have been subject to ‘off-rolling’;the role that inspection should play in future regulation of home education;what improvements have been made to support home educators since the 2010-15 Education Committee published their report on ‘Support for Home Education’ in 2012)

As with all recent government consultations, these topics/questions are chosen with LAs in mind. It is about their role and their convenience and the actual wellbeing of the children does not seem to feature at all. The assumption is that LA intervention is always positive and that is sadly not the experience of far too many home educating families.

Where is the evidence demonstrating the need for a change of approach to regulating EHE? Where is the evidence showing the benefits or otherwise of increased intervention from local authorities?

From our perspective, there is no evidence to suggest a problem with the current legal framework but numerous examples of LAs abusing their powers and being effectively unaccountable unless families resort to legal action which is prohibitively expensive. LAs must become accountable and the mechanism for this must be equally available to all people.

This consultation is taking place before the Government has published its report based on the previous one. Why? Is this efficient use of time and resources?

Pandemic measures (the impact COVID-19 has had on home educated children, and what additional measures might need to be taken in order to mitigate any negative impacts.’)

For established home educators, the lockdown and ongoing restrictions have considerably narrowed the range of educational experiences available but allowed other types of learning and social interaction to flourish.

The impact of the pandemic will generally have a negative effect on the wellbeing of all children (home educated and schooled alike). Living with uncertainty and fear damages everyone’s mental health.

Closing the schools earlier this year provided an opportunity for many families to experience home based learning. For the vast majority of those who have contacted Schoolhouse as a result of the government measures, this has been a positive experience and many have chosen to continue with education outwith the school system as a result. For these families, their children are learning more easily, special needs are better met, and mental health issues have subsided. Some people had been considering home education for a long time but are now able to provide it since working from home has become normalised. For all these families, the enabling and normalising of home education has been very beneficial.

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