A Change of Tune?

What’s been said?

In a House of Lords debate convened by Baroness Armstrong on 13th December on challenges facing young people, Lord Storey made an interesting observation. After commenting on various 21st century issues already under discussion, he concluded with the following comments on education:

“The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, raised two issues. I agree with him entirely about school exclusions. It is rather interesting that at one end there are huge numbers of school exclusions—something like 45 schools have excluded 20% of their pupils—and at the other end a huge and increasing number of young people are in home education. Schools are off-rolling their pupils to private companies, which they pay so that those children are not in school. That cannot be what our education service is about.” [Emphasis added]

Why does it matter?

Storey’s words illustrate rather graphically a spectrum which has become increasingly evident over the last year, and is the backcloth against which all current deliberations about home education should be viewed.

A brief overview of reports from the same week as Lord Storey’s intervention serves to illustrate the range of problems being faced by increasing numbers of parents with children in school, who are now considering home education.

Tes News, 14th December, “Surge in parents appealing over special needs provision” highlights an increase in SEN tribunal appeals against local council decisions, and how interminable delays in getting education and health care plans put in place are causing parents to opt for home education.

A Hereford Times report from the same day subtitled “A Mum fears for her daughter’s wellbeing and education after claiming her school has done little to address bullying” quotes Leah Grinnell-Cousins as saying, “I begged the education department and the school to help me to get her home-schooled. But I was denied everything… I want the school to help me educate my daughter and to do it in a way to make her feel safe.”

On 10th December an Express & Star article about parents in Staffordshire “choosing to home-school children to avoid absence fines” reported that Philip White (Staffs County Council cabinet member for learning & skills), was urging Ofsted to challenge schools “if too many pupils are leaving to avoid sanctions and be home educated.” The report claimed there was anecdotal evidence suggesting that “some schools were encouraging parents to make that decision” and cited a local enquiry which “also found parents in the county were home educating because their child had emotional or behavioural difficulties in school, or because a pupil was close to exclusion.”

Although each account must be tested carefully for accuracy or bias, they do appear to highlight an increased willingness to admit that rising numbers in home education have some connection with problems faced by schools. (This is not the place to discuss the reasons for these, except to note that even the most dedicated and hard-working teachers are increasingly facing pressures which their predecessors did not have to address.) Do reports like these indicate a significant shift in perception away from home education itself being viewed as a “problem”, used as cover for “radicalisation, trafficking and abuse”?

What can I do?

If this is becoming a significant factor in the debate around home education, then it needs to be taken into account, not only by the DfE and LAs but also by the wider HE community. Those being thrust into home education not of their own volition, and without prior preparation, will need more support than traditionally motivated home educators. Their plight however should not automatically result in mandatory registration and assessment for all. LAs may need assistance in giving such matters careful consideration, and it is to be hoped that any new DfE Guidance demonstrates an awareness of these important differences.

Keep abreast of reports pertaining to education like those listed above, and try to think through the implications of what you hear.

If you find yourself in a situation where the freedom to HE is being criticised, be prepared to point out that significant numbers are now turning to this option because schools are failing to provide their children with an education suitable to their “age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs they may have.”