The Basis for Changing the Landscape

What’s been said?

The detailed Government consultation response to the 2018 EHE Call for Evidence was amongst several documents published on 2 April. The opening four sections on pages 3-10 (Introduction; Summary of responses received and the government’s response; Main findings from the call for evidence; Conclusions and next steps) merit careful study. Much of the remainder of the document consists of Annex A, which takes the form of a question by question report on main response themes, followed in each case by a brief government response.

Because of the quantity of submissions received – the text of responses to the open questions totalled around 3.4m words – the government engaged York Consulting LLP to produce an analytical report, and claim that this “has been drawn upon extensively in writing this government response document.” Thus it can supply a useful (and comparatively objective) overview of key themes expressed by contributors from vastly differing standpoints.

Space constraints prohibit great detail here, but emphasis has been added below to highlight significant points worthy of consideration.

§1.2 reveals that wider concerns already existed prior to the consultation, “Although focussed on home education, the context for the consultation was the duty of local authorities to make arrangements to identify, so far as possible, children in their areas not receiving a suitable education. It has been apparent to local authorities for some time that the number of such children is increasing, for a variety of reasons. Although some of the children deemed to be educated at home are within that group, there are others being educated outside mainstream schools who are also of concern.

§3.3 features data submitted by local authorities about the numbers of children in their areas known to be educated at home. The estimate (acknowledged as likely to be lower than the true figure due to unknown children in HE) was 57,600 children of compulsory school age in England. The comment on this reads, “the government believes that this poses a significant policy challenge, given that this estimated total is now well over 0.5% of the relevant age group – and moreover, appears to be increasing by over 20% per annum.

Finally, part of §3.6 reads, “Despite the lack of a consensus on the need to alter the framework within which home education operates, the government believes that there is a basis for changing the landscape for children not in mainstream school education in order to help achieve the aim that every child should receive a good education.

Why does it matter?

Even from the limited extracts above, it should be clear that the playing field is now, in the government’s mind, much wider than elective home education and has been for some time.

The rising numbers outside mainstream school for varying reasons are perceived as a “significant policy challenge”, requiring action on the part of the authorities. This theme is developed further in §4.3, which speaks of the factors leading to a significant proportion of the children now receiving education at home being “more negative”.

The above, coupled with the government’s stated intention of ensuring that every child should receive “a good education”, make “changes in the landscape for all children not in mainstream education” both justifiable and inevitable in their view. (Note, §3.6 closes with notional reassurance for anyone disturbed by this approach: “At the heart of any change would be the need for proportionality, parental choice and respect and recognition of the diversity of education settings.”)

But this is the area where boundaries begin to get very blurred. Where does registration stop? Where does monitoring start? What does it say about parental responsibility to ensure that every child receives a good education? Is it acceptable to corral genuinely elective home educators into registration in order to flush out those in other settings currently causing concern? All this entangled with the issue of safeguarding, which featured over a dozen times in the consultation response.

Like it or not, elective home educators are caught up with a bundle of other issues and problem areas for which there is no one size fits all solution. §4.1-4.2 expresses the quandary in which the DfE finds itself:

“4.1 Many of the respondents… are passionate defenders of the right of parents to educate their children at home. The government has no wish to alter that basic right. It recognises that those… supporters of this approach to education take on a very significant task in doing so, and often produce very good results.

4.2 If children in such families were the only children who were deemed to be home-educated, there would be a strong case for leaving the present legal framework untouched – to be operated as efficiently as possible and with the aim of ensuring that there is only minimal oversight of children being educated at home.

4.3 However…”

What can I do?

Read the first ten pages of this document to grasp the overall picture for yourself. Think carefully about the issues highlighted, and discuss them in your local networks. It is clear that those “others being educated outside mainstream school” are an area of major concern for the government. Is there a way to alleviate these concerns, whilst still maintaining freedom for elective home educators?

With regard to the monumental efforts put into the last consultation by the EHE community, it does seem that their concerns have been heard to some extent at least – see §4.1-4.3, noting too the acknowledgement about the government’s need to “address… concerns about school provision.”

It’s now vital that HE parents take on board the present situation, rather than continuing to fight yesterday’s war. We cannot afford to be nostalgic. Objective information about the government’s response to what we submitted last time is now available. We need to study this and build upon it, seeking constructive and forward-looking strategies.