What’s been said?
David Drew, Labour & Co-op, Stroud, is a former teacher. He submitted a Written Question about off-rolling which was answered on 26 November 2018. On 30 Jan 2019 he secured a Westminster Hall debate on school funding in Gloucestershire, in which his opening “four quick quotes” clearly express the urgency of the problem.
As the latest updates on his website evidence, he is very concerned about problems faced by parents of children with SEN due to schools’ lack of funding. On 12 Feb he participated in a Westminster Hall debate on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Funding (see previous Byte), where Sir Vince Cable succinctly introduced the key issues, speaking of “the conflict between two sets of pressures: an irresistible force and an immovable object.” Drew’s input may be viewed on his website; note both men’s rather dismissive attitude towards HE.
Drew pursued his campaign, asking during Prime Minister’s Questions on 6 March “for SEN funding to come ring-fenced from government and not be taken from school budgets.” HE was not mentioned on that occasion, but featured twice in the first five minutes of his interview on the James Whale Show later that day.
However the relevance of the SEN funding crisis to HE is stated most clearly in a local press report from 5 March entitled “Calls for investigation after rise in home schooling.” Opening with the statement, “The numbers of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) being withdrawn from Gloucestershire schools by their parents has rocketed,” the report goes on to speak of “school budgets stretched to breaking point”. Figures then demonstrate the rising number of home educated children, SEN and otherwise.
As Drew explains, “Schools now have to meet more of the costs of providing SEN support from their own budget… Schools face funding pressures from every direction which means that children with SEN miss out but also that resources for the whole school are depleted. Schools, and their pupils, are penalised for inclusivity.”
He expresses concern that “there may be parents who feel they have no option but to home educate their children. Home education is a valid choice, but parents should not be in a position where this is their only option.”
The report concludes with a plea for “fair funding for our schools and for all children.”
Why does it matter?
Drew makes some very valid observations. All children in a school, not just those with SEN, are indeed affected by austerity, and it is wrong for schools to be effectively penalised for inclusivity. Other contributions to the debate on SEND funding confirm that such concerns are widespread.
Viewed as a whole, the above items shed light on matters which are important for HE parents to understand. They demonstrate how HE has become a factor in debates about much wider issues, as well as revealing the complex and interwoven nature of challenges being faced at government and local authority level.
Although parents are responding more frequently to various problems within schools by withdrawing their children to home educate them, it is still common for HE to be spoken of disparagingly and viewed as an inferior alternative by those in authority. Passing comments during the James Whale interview illustrate the assumption that children withdrawn for home education are expected to end up back in the system sooner or later – potentially under-skilled for re-entry.
At the same time, the rise of home education has triggered further anxiety about registration & monitoring amongst politicians and bureaucrats because of the increasing numbers of children potentially outside their supervision. In a climate where welfare and educational issues have become inextricably conflated and parents’ primary responsibility for their child’s education has been all but forgotten, the idea that home education could be a positive move is viewed with incredulity.
What can I do?
There remains a great deal of re-education to be done in terms of people’s perception of HE.
It’s vital for HE parents to keep abreast of topical issues in schools such as the funding crisis affecting SEND provision, because home education is inevitably getting drawn into such discussions.
If you live in David Drew’s constituency, you could thank him for his advocacy for families with unmet SEN needs. Arm yourself with research demonstrating the many benefits of HE, emphasising to him that HE can be a proactive choice with very positive outcomes, rather than simply a last ditch solution to problems within the school system.