Home education confusion reveals more worrying questions; urgent need to respond to Call for Evidence.
Please note: Government guidance in England changes frequently and is currently area-specific. We believe this article is correct at the time of publication. However, it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for checking the law yourself.
What’s been said?
Education is exempt from the COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings (the ‘rule-of-six’). The Explanatory Memorandum §6.10 to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 exempts gatherings which are “reasonably necessary for the purposes of education.”
This legislation refers to education as a whole, including home education.
Home education has equal legal status to school, thanks to the Education Act 1996 (Section 7), which requires education to be received “at school or otherwise.”
EHE does not have its own section in the government guidance on COVID-19. It is, however, mentioned within the section on out-of-school settings (OOSS). Out-of-school settings are “providers who run community activities, holiday clubs, breakfast or after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school provision for children.”
To be clear, most self-organised home education gatherings, where parents are present and retain responsibility for their own children, are not out-of-school settings. That said, home educated children may attend these settings. The guidance asks that “where a child who is home educated takes part in an out-of-school setting, this guidance will apply.” It also asks that the OOSS guidance should be followed “as far as possible” when attending an EHE activity in someone else’s home.
After seeing that self-organised gatherings for the purposes of home education were not specified in the guidance, several home educators wrote to their MPs. As a result, at least two written questions were tabled.
“To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, whether educational activities for home schooled children are exempt from the requirements of the covid-19 rule of six.”
An answer was supplied on behalf of the Cabinet Office by Penny Mordaunt (Paymaster General) on 6 October 2020.
“The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No.2) (England) Regulations 2020 exempt all gatherings reasonably necessary for the purposes of education or training.”
“To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020 restricts children from gathering in groups of more than six for home-schooling; and if he will publish guidance on gatherings for home-schooling.”
An answer was supplied on by Nick Gibb (Minister of State for School Standards).
The answer repeated a section of text from the guidance stating that home educated children may attend out-of-school settings, and finished by stating that “The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020, permits gatherings that are reasonably necessary for purposes of education or training.”
Why does it matter?
There are two issues here. The first is simple reassurance, while the second and arguably more important issue is the question of why this reassurance was needed.
Many home educators have been reassured by the reiteration of the exemption provided by the legislation. It is relatively clear that the phrase “all gatherings reasonably necessary for the purposes of education” includes gatherings organised by home educators.
However, the second issue is the climate of doubt revealed by this need for reassurance. The COVID-19 legislation refers to education. Why was this not enough? The prevailing confusion points to a worrying lack of confidence in the status of EHE, and a widespread doubt as to whether home education activities are legitimate in the eyes of the law.
Part of the worry may stem from the fact that home educators often refer to their self-organised groups as social groups. With parents and siblings present, these tend to be semi-structured or unstructured, allowing children to do art and craft activities together, play freely outside, hold discussions, or sometimes present or debate what they have learned elsewhere during the week. Despite the description of these groups as social, their purpose is not purely to socialise, and is usually recognised by home educators as a necessary part of their children’s education.
Humans are social creatures, and learning with others is recognised by many educational theorists as an important part of how humans learn. However, without seeing home education spelled out in the guidance, doubts emerged. Many seem to forget that the guidance was not intended to re-classify education, but to prevent virus spread.
Worries may also be exacerbated by the current hostile environment to EHE, and the seemingly constant overreach by LAs and schools in their communications with parents.
However, do home educators really want to be asking for detailed prescriptions in government guidance before they trust that their activities can be categorised as education? Have they lost confidence that the word “otherwise” in the Education Act 1996 (Section 7) applies to them?
Some home educators argued that no-one should be meeting, in case they were fined or attracted bad press. Others suggested they should re-classify such events as support groups, hobby clubs, or set up as charities. If home educators themselves do not trust that their activities can be defended as reasonably necessary for education in the current climate, this is a much more worrying trend.
The current Call for Evidence is a timely opportunity for home educating families to challenge the hostile environment to EHE, and to draw attention to the ways in which LAs and schools are overstepping their remit, intimidating home educators and contributing to this climate of doubt and fear.
What can I do?
Inform yourself on the basic laws around home education, refresh your understanding of some theories of learning, and trust in the current law which leaves the ultimate responsibility for a child’s education with their parents.
Resist and redress the climate of fear and doubt when you notice it among fellow home educators.
Reassure others that home education is legitimate, and children learn in many different ways.
Respond to the Call for Evidence for the Education Committee’s Inquiry into home education.
Stand your ground! Respond!