Independent Views

What’s been said?

The topic of home education has received consistent coverage in various sections of the Independent. Their Education Correspondent Eleanor Busby published two articles on 2 April.

The first, headed All home schooled children to be registered amid radicalisation fears under government plans is a factual round-up of news and comment on the day the government response to the 2018 consultation and call for evidence was published. It confirms that day’s announcement about the launch of “a compulsory register of all children not educated in school.”

After citing Damian Hinds’ view that the term ‘home education’ has become “a catch-all phrase now used to refer to all children not in a registered school”, comments from a range of other agencies follow: Ofsted, Anne Longfield [Children’s Commissioner for England], the Chair of the Local Government Association [LGA] and, to represent the home educating community’s concerns, Mike Wood of Home Education UK.

Busby’s second item appears in Independent Minds, entitled “How concerned should we be about the rise in home schooling?” This notes the doubling of number of children being home schooled “in the space of four years”, but points out that the number of HE children actually suffering from abuse or radicalisation is “unknown”.

Busby defends the motivation of parents who have withdrawn their children from schools due to mental health issues or bullying, given that their children feel “less safe in mainstream education.” [Emphasis added] She is sympathetic to the need for more stringent regulation in the case of off-rolled youngsters so they “do not miss out on an education altogether”, but is at pains to distinguish between parents coerced into HE through difficult circumstances and those who have “voluntarily opted out of the mainstream system with a plan in place.” It is important, she says, “not to tarnish all home educators with the same brush.”

Her concluding remarks are incisive, and definitely hit the ball back into the government’s court:

“The large rise in home schooling is a concern – but not because thousands of children are at risk or radicalisation or other dangers. The growth in home education is a worry because it reflects a significant dissatisfaction with the state school system.

A register is a sticking plaster to a much bigger problem. Greater funding and reduced pressure over exam results is needed to stem the flow of children out of state school education.”

Why does it matter?

The first article demonstrates the overwhelming agreement on the part of influential bodies from the DfE downwards that:

  • all children not educated in school are at some form of risk;
  • councils need help in their safeguarding task.

It’s the perceptions and parameters of what this task entails that are worrying, because they keep shape-shifting.

Busby articulated Hinds’ concerns thus: “to help councils identify when they [all children not educated in school] are at risk of harm or if their education isn’t good enough.” Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, similarly, spoke of knowing all children are safe and “receiving the education they deserve”. Amanda Spielman, for Ofsted, opined that a new register “would make it easier to detect and tackle the serious problems of ‘off-rolling’, as well as illegal schools.” Antoinette Bramble [LGA] also protested the need for councils to have the powers “to check a child’s schooling”, though she was more realistic about probable funding constraints.

But all these ideals will be translated into practice by local authorities, and this is where the newly revised guidance will be put to the test. It is highly likely that the balance between parents’ rights to determine the manner and content of their children’s education will collide with the duties of local authorities as they perceive them.

Busby’ second piece shows how registration cannot possibly be the magic bullet for the range of problems revealed by the variously motivated exodus into home education. Though the Government response to last year’s consultation did briefly acknowledge the need to set its own house in order, a more profound and considered appraisal of the issues is needed.

In Busby’s opinion, “greater funding and reduced pressure over exam results” would encourage more parents to keep their children in the system; whether or not you agree with her, it’s important that the HE community takes note of her well-reasoned observation that “A register is a sticking plaster to a much bigger problem” and applies itself to seeking more constructive ways out of this conundrum.

What can I do?

Try to filter out and note down the important issues from the sea of words in the media.

If you feel your local authority is overstepping its remit either in what it publishes or in its dealings with you as an individual family, say so. Say so politely but firmly, in a reasoned and informed manner. If you need further help, contact Mike Wood, Fiona Nicholson or one of the other EHE support networks.

Keep talking to your MPs and local councillors about the issues raised by Busby’s opinion piece. Give them copies of it, pointing out how myopic it is to apportion resources to scrutinising home educating families when evidence for that need is lacking, and those resources could be used more productively to help rectify those issues within schools which are causing children to be withdrawn.