New report examining research evidence on elective home education and other alternatives to school finds in favour of protecting parental responsibility for education.
What’s been said?
A report entitled “A Suitable Education For Every Child” has just been published by the Centre for Self Managed Learning and the Primacy of Parents and Children in Education Association.
Both organisations have become “increasingly concerned about the seeming lack of regard for fundamental education legislation” by a number of state bodies, including the Department for Education, the Children’s Commissioner, Ofsted and the House of Commons Education Select Committee. Through evidenced research, the report counters the “growing narrative … [which] disregards the fact that parents are responsible, in law, for the education of their children.” It also observes that this narrative overlooks the fact that children have rights on both expressing views on their education and those views being taken into consideration. A similar narrative is also “supported by many in the media.”
The document is divided into two parts: the first examines “issues raised specifically about Elective Home Education (EHE); while the second shows ways in which “many children are failed by the school system” and that also, for some pupils, “long-term harm results from attendance at school.”
Crucially, the report rebuts the inaccuracies found in official, and public, perceptions of EHE by comprehensively addressing issues such as:
- the narrative which confuses EHE with school-related matters – for example, persistent pupil absence from school, pupil exclusions or Alternative Provision;
- conflation of EHE with safeguarding issues, including those which have emanated from Serious Case Reviews, “erroneously implicating EHE when this was factually incorrect or not a significant factor in the case.”
- the use of fear-mongering and emotive language, which have “successfully convinced the average person… that a child in school is ‘safe’ and that those being educated within their family are ‘in need of safeguarding.'”
Having examined issues surrounding the EHE narrative, the report makes three recommendations under the headings of:
- a lack of evidenced-based justification for a register of children who are educated otherwise than at school, outlining concerns which would be inherent in a registration scheme;
- the local authority role regarding EHE parents and children needing to maintain the balance established through the 1944 Education Act, recognising, respecting and acting in the knowledge that both ‘education at school or otherwise’ have equal standing;
- the responsibilities and rights of parents who electively home educate should be recognised, along with access to a wide range of learning resources including part-time settings.
Why does it matter?
The report reiterates the legal framework for the education of children, namely that
“there are two equal options. A child (of school age) either goes to school or is educated ‘otherwise’. It is very important to note that this choice is a matter for parents;the alternative, or ‘otherwise’ option is completely legitimate and should not be considered as inferior to school.”
Parental knowledge of their children “as individuals” results in learning tailored to each child; this very tailoring would be severely undermined by any attempt to use “standardised metrics to evaluate a non-standard, personalised education.” Thus one of the report’s conclusions notes that the attempts to give “more power to the state could actually reduce the chance of a child getting a suitable education.”
The authors assert that “proactive parents who aim to provide a suitable education for their children outside the system and raise them to be capable, independent, thinking adults unsettle the system.” The report also notes, “only around 1% of children are categorised as EHE,” and therefore “the greater national problem lies with schools.” Yet, despite this low percentage, “a great deal of energy is devoted to criticisms of home education (by) state agencies.”
The debate, as witnessed in Parliament and frequently featured in a media briefed by those agencies, is often fundamentally confused – and confusing. Categories are unhelpfully conflated. For example, education and welfare – with the “increased emphasis on safeguarding,”- have in effect been amalgamated. This has “contributed to the pressure for representatives of the state to justify (and demand) increasing levels of intervention in the lives of families.”
In addition, the report draws attention to the significant flaws contained with the Schools Bill 2022, which was being discussed in the House of Lords during the report’s drafting stages. If you are unfamiliar with how legislation contained within the Schools Bill would have affected EHE, a summary of issues are helpfully listed on pages 45-46. However, it should be noted that, although the Schools Bill has since been withdrawn, the threat to EHE has not diminished; sections of the Bill relating to registration and oversight of EHE and children attending legitimate unregistered educational settings continue to be actively pursued by MPs and other agencies.
Although in the current climate “there is a broader societal acceptance that the state should have more oversight of parents,” there are at least a few in power who question this narrative. Nick Fletcher MP raised this very issue in the Education Select Committee recently, advocating for reduced state involvement in families, rather than the more common calls for increased surveillance of family life.
What can I do?
Read the report and circulate to home educating families that you know. It is a very useful source to quote in discussions with family and friends about HE or other part-time educational settings.
Note the list on page 45, showing problems that were contained in the Schools Bill 2022 – these issues will be raised in Parliament again!
Draw your MP’s attention to this important report; provide them with a copy and refer to it in conversations with them.As MPs tend to be very busy people, encourage them – as a bare minimum – to read the report’s Executive Summary, Recommendations and Conclusion. Unless home educators engage positively with them and can present them with facts and the benefits of EHE, MPs will only hear about EHE via state agencies and a largely hostile media.