Education Committee’s desire for safeguarding guidance on home education partially fulfilled in double-quick time!
What’s been said?
A previous post highlighted the unacknowledged narrative in the Education Select Committee’s Report, “Strengthening Home Education” of supplanting parental primacy in education by state supervision of all children. This comment seeks to illustrate how this agenda is also being advanced through the narrative of “safeguarding.”
Paragraphs 74 to 76 of the report (page 25) are found under the heading “Visibility of EHE in wider guidance.” This section opens:
“74. We heard that EHE was invisible in key guidance on keeping children and young people safe. For example, Working Together to Safeguard Children, the statutory guidance on inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, does not mention home education. Victor Shafiee of Ofsted told us that ‘this should be reviewed.’ Currently, the guidance is ‘silent on home educating children’ and ‘predicated on children who are being educated in school.’ In his view, while Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) provides detailed guidance on what should happen to protect children when they are in school, something similar is needed for children who are not in school.”
The Committee’s conclusion on this matter states:
“76. The Department must revisit and revise key statutory guidance such as Working Together to Safeguard Children as soon as possible, so that they explicitly contain EHE within their scope, and contain clear and consistent messages for families, local authorities and others.” [Emphasis added]
Why does it matter?
To understand the significance of this point, which could easily be overlooked in the frustration of how the inquiry was conducted, readers are encouraged to ask themselves if the long-standing omission of EHE from safeguarding guidance is simply the result of incompetence in the Department for Education, or if there has previously been good reason for it not to be included. No matter what your opinion of the inefficiency of the Civil Service is, it is very difficult to imagine that through repeated reworkings of statutory guidance, they overlooked the need to reference EHE children.
Ofsted’s Shafiee referenced two connected but different aspects of statutory guidance in his comment to the Committee [Q77]. The first “Working together to safeguard children” is the overarching guidance relevant to the wide sphere of “inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.” This has been revised five times since it was first published in March 2015.
The second is “Keeping children safe in education.” This has gone through eighteen versions in the same period, the most recent in September this year. Its purpose is clearly spelled out in its description, “Statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children and safer recruitment,” which in the past meant it was completely irrelevant to HE students unless they enrolled on rare but not unknown part-time courses especially designed for them, or of course used a school or college as an exam centre. Since September that is no longer the case.
In the new guidance there is now a section on page 42 headed, “Elective Home Education (EHE).” This contains four paragraphs (165 to 168) providing guidance to schools on how they should respond should the topic of EHE be brought up by a parent.
165 Opens with the now familiar, “Many home educated children have an overwhelmingly positive learning experience.” But quickly adds, “However, this is not the case for all, and home education can mean some children are less visible to the services that are there to keep them safe and supported in line with their needs.” §166 Reminds schools that they must inform their LA of any child that is removed from their roll.
Paragraph 167 puts statutory authority behind the informal guidance in a letter to LAs circulated in November 2020, under the title “Elective Home Education (EHE): Your duties, our expectations.” Clarifying the letter, the updated guidance recommends that when parents first mention that they are considering EHE, “LAs, schools, and other key professionals work together to coordinate a meeting with parents/carers where possible.” It then adds, “Ideally, this would be before a final decision has been made,” and stresses that this is especially important “where a child has SEND, is vulnerable, and/or has a social worker.”
Finally, in §168, schools are told that they should “be familiar with” the 2019 DfE guidance for local authorities on Elective Home Education, which sets out the role and responsibilities of LAs and their powers to engage with parents in relation to EHE. It is this non-statutory guidance which has resulted in several LAs, for example Portsmouth, pushing parents beyond the established, finely-balanced and therefore uncomfortable relationship between parents and the State in regard to responsibility for a child’s education.
These additions to the increasingly high-profile KCSIE guidance should therefore be of significant concern to every EHE family. It is a reminder that recent years have seen a growth in safeguarding legislation being used to justify State intrusion into family life. This direction of travel must be resisted, driven as it is by the view that parents simply cannot be trusted despite the majority of them having their own children’s best interest at heart.
What can I do?
The most important thing EHE families can do as we seek to preserve our educational responsibilities and freedoms, is to understand that over recent decades there has been a broadening of the arguments around home education. Over two years ago we highlighted how the death of ‘Baby P’ in 2007 had paved the way for the 2009 Badman Review, based on “safeguarding” concerns. Since then the entirely manufactured institutional hostile environment against educational choice has spread, and it is now safeguarding not educational legislation which is being used to impose registration, monitoring and assessment.
Secondly, keep yourself informed about what is happening across the UK and elsewhere, and support those who are on the front line. As mentioned above, families in Portsmouth are currently under the spotlight. In Wales a group of families have come together to challenge the Children’s Commissioner’s interpretation of the UNCRC to demand the registration and monitoring of HE children. Remember too that internationally, educational choice has been recently taken away in France, and restricted in Portugal.