20,000 Private Exam Candidates without Grades, but still pushing for a HE Register – what an oxymoron!

Liberal Democrat peer uses statement on school reopening and qualifications to press for EHE register due to “[unknown] learning.”

What’s been said?

On 1 September 2020 Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson made a statement in the House of Commons concerning the 2020 qualification results and full reopening of schools. The following day a discussion surrounding this statement took place in the House of Lords.

During this debate, Liberal Democrat Lord Storey raised his concerns about “children (who) have fallen further and further behind, particularly disadvantaged pupils” and “what the loss of learning (has been).” He went on to list his “three areas of concern” including “children and young people who were excluded from school (during school closures) – they were not on any register because they were excluded” and “the question of the 60,000 home-educated children.” He continued by stating that he “strongly (believes), as I suspect the Minister does, that now is the right time to introduce a policy to ensure that home-educated pupils are registered so that we know what is going on in their learning.”

Yet, having just opined that there is a ‘need’ to know “what is going on in… learning,” Lord Storey appeared to contradict himself by stating he “was concerned to see that [20,000] external, home-schooled students have been informed by their institutions that they will not receive [an A-level or GCSE] grade this year.”  By way of example, he highlighted an “incredibly worrying” case where a HE young man with a university place was not able to get a grade.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Department for International Trade, Baroness Berridge responded that “on home education specifically, yes, we are particularly concerned” and commented that “the autumn series of resits in all subjects will be so important” for HE students. The latter was reiterated by Nick Gibb, Minister for School Standards, who stated in response to a Parliamentary Question specifically referencing a fifteen-year-old, that “private candidates who were entered for the summer series…are eligible to enter the autumn series. The candidate’s age is…not relevant.”

Baroness Berridge also referenced last year’s consultation in England “on whether to have a register with local authorities and whether to pay exam fees for home-educated students because we are concerned about the rise in the number of home-educated students.” [Emphasis added] She continued “some who are in home education are potentially not getting the education they deserve, but we do not have the data,” adding that she would “update the House as soon as I can on what is happening with that consultation.”

Why does it matter?

It is important that home education has been raised in Parliament in the context of public examinations. We recently examined the issue of grades not being awarded to many HE exam candidates and the claim of Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield that “no one knows how home educated children do academically, last year of eleven thousand GCSE aged home educated children, only two hundred and sixty three were known to have sat exams.”

It should be enlightening therefore for HE critics to learn that twenty thousand private candidates were unable to receive grades in 2020. Even allowing for some of this number to be self-study adult  or A-level retake students studying at home, twenty thousand is a far cry from Anne Longfield’s two hundred and sixty three! It is also worth remembering that some HE young people were able to receive grades this year, so the total number of private candidate students will be higher than that noted in Parliament.

Although it has been very stressful for those who have been unable to receive grades this summer, it ought to be dawning on MPs and Lords simply by the sheer number of EHE students who are taking exams, that EHE children are receiving “efficient full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude!”

The fact that Lord Storey has again linked EHE with unrelated problem areas is frustrating, but no surprise. The Liberal Democrats have previously stated that they wish to see home educators subject to two home visits each year and that children should be educated in line with the national curriculum. However, Lord Storey is not the first to remind the government about the consultation-proposed register. On 16 July 2020 Lord Watson of Invergowrie submitted a written question asking when [the Government] expect to publish a response to the [2019 English] consultation on children not in school.” Baroness Berridge reiterated the Government’s commitment to publishing its response and anticipated “the formal publication…. will come in autumn [2020].”

What can I do?

Remember that twenty thousand private candidates could not receive grades this year; it may be a useful point to bring up with your MP should the prospect of a register to “know what is going on in [HE children’s] learning” be raised once again.

Be alert that the prospect of a compulsory register and monitoring of all home-educated children has not disappeared, and that a few players, such as Lord Storey, continue to lobby for their introduction. Similar issues are at play across the UK.

Be prepared to defend your freedom to home educate your children without interference. Educate yourself on how you can do this – the HE Byte team will do its best to keep you informed on this, and other, developments but you can remind yourself of the issues at stake by looking through the Action section of this website.


Addendum:

After this article was drafted, it came to the Team’s attention that the Commons Education Select Committee has launched an inquiry on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services and is collecting evidence. The inquiry brief includes “the effect of cancelling formal exams, including the fairness of qualifications awarded and pupils’ progression to the next stage of education or employment.”

If your child has been adversely affected by not being awarded a grade this summer, you may wish to contribute to this call for evidence. Details for submissions can be found here and the closing date is Wednesday 30 September 2020.