Home Education, School Refusal and Parenting

What’s been said?

On 18 March 2019, Devon County Council’s Children’s Scrutiny Committee held a meeting which included discussion about the annual Children with Special Educational Needs Education Report. This exchange [video] precipitated Devon Live’s headline “‘Something wrong’ with parents who home school children who refuse to go to school.”

Home education was raised by Councillor Christine Channon who said, “There are parents that have been going for home elective education [sic]. The most common cause is that they want to take their children in and out of school when it suits them. They ask for agreed absence and if they aren’t getting it they are deciding to home electively educate [sic].” Admitting she gets “on a bandwagon about this”, she went on to question parents’ credentials, educational expectations and her opinion of “need[ing] to know who these people are who are educating their children”.

Cllr Channon continued, “It is far too soft to say ‘my child doesn’t want to go to school today’ or ‘it’s not easy to get them there’.”

At this point Cllr Emma Brennan angrily interjected, “Some parents are dragging their children kicking and screaming and they don’t want to do that. That’s such an ignorant thing to say.”

Cllr Channon then asserted, “There must be something wrong with their parenting”, which was furiously opposed by Cllr Brennan.

Cllr Brennan was subsequently given the opportunity to clarify school refusal and she set out an impassioned, reasoned argument:

“School refusal doesn’t just mean a kid wakes up in the morning & says ‘I don’t want to go to school today’ & the parent says ‘OK I won’t take you.’ We’re talking about children that have high anxiety or autism or other things where the parent desperately wants to take them to school. We are not talking young kids who don’t want to go to school, but older children whose anxiety is such that they can’t even get in the car. Or the parent is standing outside the school door trying to get the child to go in and they can’t.

“And it’s nothing to do with the quality of the parenting. That parent is trying desperately to get that child to school to give them an education, but the child is screaming or crying. And if that was your child your heart strings will be pulling every single day for weeks or months until you finally make that decision ‘actually maybe I’ll home educate because this school is not letting me do this flexibly’.”

Why Does It Matter?

Firstly, Cllr Channon, a former Portfolio Holder for Schools and Learning for the authority, is making sweeping statements on an issue about which she clearly has little or no comprehension.

Her assertion that parents “take their children in and out of school when it suits them” shows a staggering lack of understanding of the complex needs of children who struggle in a school environment. Likewise, it shows contemptuous disregard for parents desperately trying to encourage their children into school but who, in despair of any alternative and for the sake of their child’s health, decide that they have no option but to home educate.

This is certainly not a failure of parenting. It is parents making the best choice available for their children.

Parents are being criticised by an official who is part of the system that has failed their children. Cllr Channon’s demand to know “who these people are”, “what credentials they have” and “what their expectations of their child’s education are” is deeply disrespectful. This matters. Families require compassionate, practical support for their child, not accusations of poor parenting from one of the people whose role it is to oversee facilitating that support.

Secondly, some children are becoming home educated by default as schools are increasingly unable to meet their needs. This was succinctly summed up by Emma Brennan earlier in the meeting, “Not all parents who [EHE] are doing it from choice. They’re having to do it because they don’t have the option of keeping their child in school because they’re not being supported…”

Cllr Brennan also laid out a sensible range of practical options which would help, such as flexi-schooling or a place within school that a stressed child could use as a bolthole.

Whilst there are many benefits in home educating, it is important to remember that not every parent would choose this route if their child had the right support in school.

What Can I Do?

Elective home education will be discussed on 10th June at the next Children’s Scrutiny Committee. If you live in this authority, contact your local councillor and explain the benefits of home education, especially if he or she is on the Committee.

Highlight Cllr Brennan’s practical suggestions for children struggling in school. Your councillor may have little or no knowledge about EHE and have been informed only by media or council reports. If you are able, it would be good to meet your councillor and talk face to face. Contact details are on the website.

At the meeting several councillors were asking genuine questions about home education and Committee Chair Rob Hannaford was also asking for councillors’ thoughts on parents choosing HE due to pressured school environments, exam/testing regimes etc. He also wanted to know if there is any analysis or national conversation about why this is happening.

It would be beneficial if those thoughts and conversations are informed by home educators as much as possible! There are links to UK & international research here.