Education Committee Call for Evidence – Grasp the Opportunity

Education Committee Call for Evidence – Grasp the Opportunity

Inquiry is an open door to tell MPs how badly schools, the Department for Education and their own Committee have failed home educated children and their families!

Previous Bytes in response to this Call for Evidence:

Subsequent Bytes in response to this Call for Evidence:

What’s been said?

In this third comment we focus on the following three areas of evidence requested by the Education Committee’s Inquiry into home education. (The numbering is from our own document which groups points of a similar type together.)

4    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;

7    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; and

8    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.

Talk of offering support to HE families is increasingly common, but many in our diverse community fear such moves are in fact a honey-trap. At a Women and Equalities Committee hearing in September 2018, David Bishop, Head of Services (Alternative Provision, Attendance and Independent Schools), Birmingham City Council, told MPs that, in connection with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities,

“The approach of drawing people to honey we have found very successful not only with our GRT work, but also in the work we do with elective home education.” Q455 [Emphasis added]

Wisdom and caution are therefore required in responding to offers of state support for elective home education. Politicians and their officials often understand “support” for EHE to implicitly involve “monitoring.”

Why does it matter?

The first of these three areas of evidence provides opportunity for pointing out the negative impact of government policies, especially in regard to SEND children whose parents have felt no option but to educate them at home because they were not being provided with a suitable education in school. We encourage every family who has made such a decision to relate your journey to the Committee, even if you now see your decision to deregister your child as the best choice you could have made for them.

Many families also find it difficult to access specialist support services once they remove a child with additional needs from school. If this is your experience, then here is an opportunity for you to put your difficulties on record. If a significant number of families state their negative experiences, then there is a strong probability that other MPs will be made aware of them when the report is published.

This is also a good section to document your views on the difficulty of finding centres for HE children to take national examinations, and the excessive administration charges some of them add to the entry fee. (We suggest point 8 would be the better area to register your comments about the near impossibility of obtaining grades in this summer’s examinations.)

The opportunity to comment on the “improvements” since the 2012 report by this Committee, should not be overlooked either.

If you are unsure how the findings of this present Inquiry will be reported, reading its twenty-five page predecessor will be beneficial in helping you appreciate to the style of what will be published. (It is also worth noting that in addition to the eighty plus page annex in the above PDF, there is a much wider archive of all written evidence submitted to the Committee at the time on Parliament’s website.)

Emphasise that the earlier report, focused as it was on “Support for Home Education” has proved a total failure!

As every HE family is aware, the intervening years have witnessed no sustained improvements in relationships between LAs and home educating families; the very opposite is the case, with suspicion levels being pumped up in town and county halls across England. We reported on a notable example just over a year ago. In this instance, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman ruled against Leicester City Council’s “unjust” dealings with one HE parent. The findings in this case need to be impressed on the Committee!

Another failure of the previous report concerns its fourth recommendation (p.25):

“4. The development of a more formalised professional association of, and/or annual conference for, home education officers, driven by those in the profession themselves, could be a welcome step in terms of sharing best practice nationally…”

The “organisation” formed in response to this took the name “The Association of Elective Home Education Professionals.” (AEHEP) Five years later it had no traceable office or accreditation. However, a Freedom of Information Request revealed that its members were actively advising Lord Soley on what to include in his Bill. It appears that a majority of self-selected members of this group were never interested in supporting HE families, but were intent rather on robbing them of their historic freedoms!

As the successors to the 2012 Committee, current Members should be brought face to face with their failures to support EHE children and parents.

The final aspect we are highlighting in this Byte is the effect of the Government’s response to COVID-19 on HE children. Please don’t be tempted to rush straight on to the point about the failure to award grades for EHE candidates, whilst ignoring the other impacts which lockdown and the continued restrictions are having on your family. Make it clear that life has been far from “normal” for your children. Explain how many of their educational opportunities have been off limits and how they have been prevented from socialising with other children and adults.

No doubt other areas of loss will come to mind with very little effort on your part. If your children have been able to cope well with the disruption, we suggest you don’t forget to comment on their adaptability too.

Many families will want to tell the Committee how the Department for Education has failed their children in regard to national exams.

If your children were unable to obtain grades this summer, then spell out the consequences! If you went to extraordinary lengths to obtain grades for them, let them know what hard work this was and how much extra it cost you! Make clear that it was unacceptable for Schools Minister, Nick Gibb to repeatedly use the excuse that private candidates could obtain grades in the autumn – which was far too late in many cases for them to progress their education! An example of Gibb’s lack of concern can be found at the end of this Byte from September. Information about the estimated twenty-thousand candidates left without a grade is available here.

Students and parents may also wish to point out that in Ireland, home educated Elijah Burke successfully challenged the Minister of Education in the High Court for the failure to provide him with grades. The judge stated that the policy “was arbitrary unfair unreasonable and contrary to law.” In the light of that judgement, point out that there is no record of the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, pressing Government to provide grades for EHE candidates. What happened to her mandate to speak up for children’s rights in this instance?

The need to take action now in regard to exam grades is made even more urgent by the Scottish Government’s decision on 7 October to cancel National 5 exams in 2021 – these are the equivalent of GCSEs elsewhere. They are to be replaced by teacher assessments and coursework. What will happen to EHE candidates now? What if the other nations of the UK follow suit? The DfE trying hard not to do so in England, but schools are saying that cancel exams is the only wise option. If the EHE community does not raise its collective voice now, we will fail our children!

This is a good time for EHE citizens to speak out loudly and clearly!

What can I do?

Determine to stand up for the good of this and future generations of EHE children.

As we have previously recommended, start now to draw up the list of points through which you want make your experiences known to this committee.

See this Call for Evidence as an opportunity to defend EHE freedoms and to call politicians to account for their failures to provide the support they so often speak about, but rarely deliver.

Be firm, but polite, whilst making it quite clear that if they genuinely want to support HE children, there must be no honey-traps or strings attached!