What’s been said?
“I hope the findings in this report will be of use to the Secretary of State, his Ministers and their officials, local authorities, faith bodies, academy trusts and school governing boards,” wrote Shan Scott (Chief Adjudicator) in her introduction to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator [OSA] Annual Report, Sept 2017-Aug 2018, (published December 2018).
Gripping reading? Maybe not at first sight but despite not being listed above, HE parents will find worthwhile and factual information about LAs’ views of EHE in sections 6, 63 & 86-95.
S63 gives three reasons cited by LAs for a school place being required in year, with the third one being “encouragement by schools to parents to remove a child as an alternative to possible exclusion”, with parents saying that “they have been ‘advised’ by their current school that a new start at another school – or even elective home education – might be a good idea.”
S86 confirms the total number of children LAs reported as being EHE was 52,770 children across all 152 English local authorities as on 29 March 2018.
One hundred and twenty local authorities chose to comment on EHE (S87). One observed, “The majority of cases which are EHE (electively home educated) have elected to do so to suit their own individual lifestyle choice.” Scott observes however that comments of this type were in the minority, “They were distinctly outweighed by others raising concerns that the education being provided by these means to at least some children in their areas was not appropriate and not in the best interests of those children.” [Emphasis added]
S88 highlights LAs’ concerns at increasing numbers of children being HE, with one commenting: “many of these [new registrations] are instantly identifiable as inappropriate.” Most had welcomed the DfE Consultation & Call for Evidence and were awaiting the issue of Guidance for parents and LAs.
Seven reasons for choosing HE given to LAs by parents (S89):
- failure to secure a place at their preferred school
- hoping EHE may give chance of getting into preferred school
- seeking to avoid exclusion/prosecution for poor attendance
- worries about child’s unhappiness at school (frequently bullying-related)
- concerns about unmet special educational needs
- concerns about standard of education provided
- anxiety about school (older students)
LAs’ had concerns about children removed from school when the school “was seeking … to address a child’s poor behaviour or attendance or because the school had suggested that the child be electively home educated.” They were “worried that many of these children were unlikely to receive sufficient education at home.” 78 per cent of one LA’s unplaced children were “those seeking to return from what was ostensibly elective home education.” (S90-91)
One authority felt it was “too easy for parents to elect for Home Education.” Scott reports on some LAs’ attempts to ensure that children were not removed from school in haste, to support families who were home educating, and to ensure a smooth return to a school if necessary. She cites many authorities’ belief that “a requirement for home educating parents to register with the local authority would do much to safeguard children.” (S92-95).
Why does it matter?
Shan Scott’s introductory words (S6) reflect an increasing official interest in HE as well as an increased uptake: “This year I also asked about numbers of children educated at home… including the reasons local authorities consider lie behind the decisions of some parents to remove their children from school for home education and the consequences of such decisions.”
Overall, the points noted by Scott reveal the mixture that now exists amongst HE families, with an increasing proportion of refugees from schools which have failed their children for whatever reason, as well as many truly elective home educators.
Note how all seven of the reasons cited in S89 were school-related. It is important to press this point in any contact we may have with officialdom, reminding them that their attention should be focussed on those who have been failed by the school system, rather than on those who are electively home educating.
Although the tone of LA feedback to the OSA survey is generally suspicious of HE and desirous of more powers to monitor it, Scott’s concluding remarks do offer some balance: “Local authorities did also recognise the important right of parents to do what they think is right for their child. As one said, ‘No parent should feel that they have no choice but to home educate if a school is not meeting their child’s needs. However, every parent has the right to home educate and the local authority want to ensure that both factors are adequately supported.'”
What can I do?
If you are an elective home educator who is more than happy to plough your own furrow with informal support from the local HE network, make clear to anyone from the LA who shows interest in “investigating” your educational provision that they have no authority to do so unless they have legitimate reasons to suspect your children are not receiving a suitable education.
If you feel you have been coerced into educating one or more of your own children and are finding it harder than you expected, speak with the LA’s Education Department. If they won’t listen, tell the local media of your experiences.