Home Education – a “Problem” that won’t Go Away

Home education continues to feature in parliamentary business

What’s been said?

This Byte reviews references made to HE in parliamentary business since the beginning of the year.

On 7 January Lord Pearson of Rannoch, (UKIP) submitted a Written Question, asking Her Majesty’s Government [HMG] “what plans they have to remove the restriction on Ofsted’s inspection of schools which teach for less than 18 hours a week.”

Responding on 16 January, Lord Agnew of Oulton, (Con) said these are not registered as schools nor subject to inspection. Part-time settings, he said, “should be considered to be out-of-school settings… and cover “a large, broad and diverse sector, ranging from settings offering… supplementary education to support mainstream or home education and religious settings offering education in their own faith, to extra-curricular clubs and activities… as well as uniformed youth organisations.”

On 14 January, Lord Storey, (LibDem) posed another Written Question, asking HMG “what progress they have made in introducing a register for children not in school.”

Lord Agnew answered as follows, on 28 January:

“In the spring of 2019, a consultation was held on proposals for a mandatory register of children not attending state or registered independent schools to help local authorities carry out their responsibilities in relation to children not in school. The consultation closed in June 2019. Responses to the consultation have been considered and a formal government response document setting out next steps will be issued in due course.”

29 January saw a Westminster Hall Debate on Gypsies & Travellers and the Planning System.

In a passionate speech addressing several aspects of the discussion, Andrew Selous, (Con, SW Beds) reported that constituents of his who volunteered at Food Banks had told him adult Travellers receiving food commonly said they could not read or write.

“We may think that Traveller children might get home education,” said Selous, “but how will that happen if the parents are illiterate, through no fault of their own?” In the interests of “good life chances” for all children, he advocated that in his view, Traveller children should “be in our schools and having the amazing opportunities that all our children should have.”

A further Westminster Hall Debate took place on 29 January, on Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding, in which Munira Wilson, (LibDem, Twickenham) explained how “a challenging funding environment” was causing unacceptable delays in assessments for Education Health and Care Plans [EHCPs].

She noted that, “Last year, four in 10 EHCPs were not finalised before the statutory 20-week deadline… Many parents are resorting to home schooling because they have given up waiting for a placement in an education setting.”

Steve Reed, (Lab, Croydon N) cited an instance of a seven year old who “had to be educated at home for more than a year because none of the three special schools that were close enough for him to attend had a place to offer him.”

The Education Spokesperson for the LibDems, Layla Moran (Oxford W & Abingdon), had already expressed concern about potentially unfit settings. Recognising that schools often did not want to exclude children but ended up doing so due to other pressures, she returned to her earlier theme, saying that a child: “…might go somewhere else, but that provision needs to be fully registered and fully inspected. If the child is to be home-schooled, that needs to be up to a standard.”

She also pressed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education Michelle Donelan, (Con, Chippenham) about “what happened to the consultation on children not in school. We were meant to have a response by the end of the year. That is an important part and we have not seen it.”

Moran later urged Donelan not to allow her concerns with consulting on SEND-related issues to overtake the progress of the Children not in School consultation: “We should be seeing the results of that before we launch a new consultation that might be linked to it.”

Munira Wilson reiterated this same point in her summing up.

Why does it matter?

Now that Brexit preoccupations have reduced in intensity, it is plain that home education has not departed from the minds of parliamentarians, and remains, for the majority, a matter which “needs something doing about it.”

Agnew’s answer to Pearson’s question about unregistered settings reflects a similar concern – a felt need for more government control within that “large, broad and diverse sector” into which home education has been bundled. More stringent regulation was mooted in 2015, but public reaction had been adverse. Hence a different approach, involving “measures aimed at enhancing the safeguarding of children” and local pilots to “test different approaches to multi-agency working.” It is unclear at this stage how this might affect HE groups.

As Agnew’s response to Storey indicates, his sympathies clearly lie with local authorities who “need help to carry out their responsibilities in relation to children not in school.” All we can glean for now is that a government document “setting out next steps” is in the pipeline.

The SEND Funding debate was sensitive and wide-ranging, and is worth reading in its own right. It illustrates how home education has become embroiled in a complex slew of issues including rising demand, council deficits, EHCP delays and the resulting strain on families, not to mention exclusions and off-rolling – all high profile “problem” areas which Members wish to see addressed. Once again, we sense that home education is viewed as an unfortunate corollary to some of these.

Remember that it is the official policy of the LibDems that there should be more stringent monitoring of home education. Note too LibDem insistent demands for follow-up to the Children not in School consultation. It is clear that parliamentarians remain unsatisfied with the status quo.

What can I do?

Given the negative view of HE prevailing amongst many Westminster parliamentarians, we must all persevere in the task of “re-educating” those within our sphere, be that MPs, local councillors or others.

Anyone in the LibDem party or living in Layla Moran’s constituency could approach her.

More widely, the media and opponents of parents taking responsibility for their own children’s education have successfully created an unfavourable narrative, with HE being regarded at best as a stopgap, a second-rate solution in a system that is under huge strain. Think about how to counter this effectively.