Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

What’s been said?

On 24 June David Drew (Lab/Co-op, Stroud) submitted three Written Questions [268354, 268355 & 268357] in the House of Commons. Firstly he asked about the number of children withdrawn from school over the last five years to be home educated in Gloucestershire, and what proportion of these have had an Education, Health and Care Plan.

Secondly he sought to establish “how many children (a) are on the home education register and (b) have been removed from school by their parents… in each local authority area in the South West in each of the last five years.”

Finally he asked for an estimate of “the number of children who are being educated at home but who are not listed in the Home Education register in each South-west Authority in each of the last five years.”

Regular readers will spot some familiar themes in Anne Milton’s combined answer to all three (27 June):

“The information requested is not held centrally. Data on numbers of children educated at home or those removed from school for that purpose are not collected by the department. Consultation on proposals for the creation of  a mandatory register of  children not enrolled at state-funded or registered independent schools closed on 24 June 2019. If the proposals were to be brought into effect, they would make such data available.”

The Islington Tribune followed a similar trend in the local press when it reported increased numbers of children coming into HE;  Islington parents pull their children out of classrooms (28 June). Citing FOI figures to confirm that “the number of pupils removed from the mainstream education system in the borough and schooled at home has increased by 65 per cent in the past seven years,” and featuring Michelle Clarke and her son as a case study, the familiar point was made that “A rising number of parents are deciding to home-educate their children due to fears that Islington’s cash-strapped schools are unable to meet pupils’ needs.” [Emphasis added]

Why does it matter?

David Drew has already probed the connection between schools’ inability to make adequate provision for SEND and parents withdrawing such children into HE, and is to be commended for his perseverance on this. In his recent round of questions he is clearly trying to get a handle on rising HE numbers and the breakdown within that cohort.

However, merely knowing how many children there are in these various categories does not in itself provide a quick-fix solution to the complex issues brought into the spotlight by the increased uptake of HE. Anne Milton’s answer demonstrates her belief that a register would provide clearer information.

Tony Buttifint, Islington branch secretary of the National Education Union, appeared to be under a somewhat different illusion, when he was quoted as saying, “We would be greatly concerned if decisions to home-educate were being driven by parental concerns about cuts in education funding that have taken place, in particular the funding and provision for SEN pupils in our schools.”

Unfortunately the solutions are not quite as straightforward as any of the above imply. Space constraints prevent detailed analysis, but the following pointers may help you to think along broader or more productive lines:

  • Where problems originate with schools, they should be held accountable and encouraged to set their own houses in order.
  • HE officers should receive thorough awareness training about HE
  • Rather than a knee-jerk reaction about getting as many children as possible back into school, there is a need to acknowledge that the classroom setting is not the ideal learning environment for every child.
  • Home-based family learning is a valid model in today’s British society, and the DfE, parliamentarians and LAs need to hear well-reasoned and confident assertions of this from home educators.
  • HE should be viewed as one option amongst many others on a diverse but level educational playing field

Unfortunately though, a combination of government consultations, difficult engagements with ill-informed LA staff or the prolonged negative media portrayal of HE have left a large part of the HE community defensive, fatigued or without hope.

Could public thinking about HE really be turned around? Could a negative stereotype become a thing of the past? Once again, we refer readers to the thinking of the Labour Home Educators. They at least have the courage to believe that they have something to offer in the new parameters of twenty-first century education; “Home educators in the UK have been implementing this approach for decades, and can become a valuable example and a source of learning for the NES,” and they advocate positively for alternatives to one-size-fits-all educational provision: “A culture that values and supports education should be fostered by drastically increased funding for a range of flexible and inviting educational services for all ages.”

What can I do?

Remember – despite what you read, the issues around HE are about much more than just the rising numbers.

Think through some of the pointers above. You may not agree with all the LHE’s suggestions, but use them to stimulate your own thought processes, and raise the issues in local groups.

Remember that change happens when people are willing to invest time and effort in bringing it about.

As opportunity arises, do all you can to reverse the negative stereotype and re-image HE as a valid and positive educational option in a fast-changing world, rather than an implicit problem in need of control.

At a personal level, befriend and support those who have come into HE unprepared and need a bit of help finding their feet.

With your MP or local councillors, press for proper training of HE officers and for schools to be held accountable and take responsibility for their failures as well as their successes.