Home Educated Candidates Ignored but Not Quite Forgotten

In the uproar over national exam results, there is a little encouragement for excluded HE candidates

What’s been said?

In recent weeks attention has been focussed on examination results, as governments across the UK have U-turned on grades awarded by algorithms. Much energy has been spent on both congratulating successful young people whilst at the same time lambasting politicians for allowing confusion to reign.

It would be no surprise in the midst of this media frenzy if EHE young people who have not been awarded any grade whatsoever were totally forgotten, but their cause has been not been completely overlooked. There has also been encouraging news from the Republic of Ireland, where a High Court Judge ruled on 19 August that the Department of Education was wrong not to award an eighteen year old home educated student Leaving Certificate grades.

As far back as 29 April a report in The Times warned, “Exams loophole leaves home-schooled children in limbo.” The article stated “There are 20,000 home-schooled pupils taking their GCSEs and A levels this year, many of whom need their grades in August for university or sixth-form college places.” The injustice of abandoning these young people and not finding a way to reward their hard work seems to be have lost on Ofqual and the Education Department. At no point did they make any serious effort to provide a means for “private candidates” to obtain grades.

Concerns were raised again on 7 August when Exeter University published the results of research under the heading, “Home-educated children left without qualifications as exams replaced with teacher-predicted grades.” The researchers surveyed four hundred and one EHE families, finding a belief that “the Government and Ofqual’s response to the pandemic had ignored the home education community and unfairly disadvantaged their children’s academic progress and opportunities.” They added, “Some described this as ‘discrimination’ towards those educated at home.” Again The Times reported on this injustice, as did the scientific news service Science X on its phys.org website. Whilst the findings were highlighted by the Scottish Home Education Forum, the majority of the mainstream media ignored them.

In the week of the GCSE results PA News (formally The Press Association) provided a story about three “homeschool” A Level candidates precluded from moving forward as a result of Ofqual’s indifference. These were not traditional EHE young people, but students who had decided to retake their exams in the hope of improving their grades. They had not returned to college, but had studied at home, at least one with the help of a private tutor. One had not been awarded any grades; the other two claimed the grades they received were not based on this year’s work. Whilst this report was ready and waiting for media outlets to carry, it appears that only three British (Express & Star, Yorkshire Live & Kent Live) and two international ones (The News [Pakistan] & MSN) ran it.

The media in Ireland woke up to the injustice faced by HE students when Elijah Burke’s case arrived in court. Several outlets carried reports when this was first presented, including The Irish Times and RTÉ. Interest was far greater a week later when the judge quashed the Education Minister’s refusal to provide Elijah with a calculated grade. See, for example, The Irish Times, The Irish Examiner and The Journal.

Why does it matter?

It is unclear on what basis The Times estimated in April that twenty thousand HE candidates in England have lost out, but this number contrasts strongly with claims made previously by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England. Most will remember her “Skipping School: Invisible Children” report, published alongside Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, “Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids” on 4 February last year. In the closing few minutes of the broadcast she claimed, “No one knows how home educated children do academically, last year of eleven thousand GCSE aged home educated children, only two hundred and sixty three were known to have sat exams.”

In the light of such comments, is it any wonder that Ofsted didn’t consider HE candidates of any significance, and that their plight has been largely ignored by mainstream media? This is a very different response to the crocodile tears reporters shed when they think they have mud to sling at home educating parents. Who can forget the torrent of alarmist media coverage which gained fresh momentum across the UK in the wake of Lord Solely’s 2017 Bill, and the way politicians queued up to demonise EHE parents?

This is an imbalance which only EHE families can fight to correct, and we encourage you to keep doing so.

The ruling in the Irish High Court is a clear example of the benefits of standing up and being counted. No doubt Elijah was supported by his family and others, but he did step up and take on the politicians! It is difficult to know how significant this ruling is for the various UK jurisdictions, but it may have established a precedent which is relevant here. The Irish Times quoted Mr Justice Charles Meenan as saying he was:

“satisfied to make a declaration that that the refusal to provide Elijah with a calculated grade in circumstances where the teen had been home schooled by a parent, and thus had a conflict of interest, was arbitrary unfair unreasonable and contrary to law.”

Whilst the law in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland is not identical to that in the RoI, justice everywhere is only justice if it is not arbitrary, unfair, or unreasonable.

It may be too late now for many HE students to progress to their chosen paths this autumn, but it’s not too late for the injustice they have suffered to be recognised so that it is not repeated.

What can I do?

The most important thing for EHE families at this time is not to allow ourselves to be worn down by the negative attitudes we encounter from others. These will not go away unless we tackle them head on.

When an opportunity arises to be proactive rather than reactive in the fight for educational freedom, then take it – or at least do all you can to support those who are putting themselves at the sharp end. Let Elijah Burke’s example inspire you that it is worth raising your voices.

Remember too the example set by the family behind Protecting Home Education Wales in frustrating plans to introduce registration and monitoring there. Whilst it was the response to Covid-19 which finally caused the proposals to be abandoned for this parliament, without PHEW’s efforts these could have already been on the statute books by the start of this year.

Stop Press:

After this Byte had been written, on the morning of 24 August, Schools Minister Nick Gibb was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today Programme [starts 2hrs 15min, available until 22 September] about the reopening of schools. Surprisingly, at the end Justin Webb raised the question of the twenty thousand private candidates who have not received grades. You can listen to Gibb’s full answer below (or read a transcript), but in essence he simply repeated Ofqual’s position that finding a way for these candidates to receive grades was too difficult a problem for them to resolve.

If you are a EHE student in England who has not been awarded a grade, we encourage you to write to your MP making clear the injustice of you not receiving a grade like other young people your age. Quote Nick Gibb’s interview and the Irish ruling, asking your MP to pass on to the Prime Minister your disappointment that his Schools Minister has failed to do what he should have done to ensure you received appropriate grades. If many of you do this, it should make quite an impression. Let us know about the reply you receive from Boris Johnson.