Clearer sight on home education
Robert Halfon MP, chair, Commons Education Committee
Monday, November 29, 2021
Register will enable councils to target support, but they need help to assess pupil progress, says MP.
Across England, tens of thousands of children are being educated away from school. Many will be receiving a high-quality education and achieving impressive outcomes. But worryingly, many may not be.
The Department for Education acknowledges that there is “considerable evidence” that many children may not be receiving a suitable education while a report from the previous children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield found that children being removed from school risked missing out on education.
The fact is that we just do not know because of a lack of data on either the number of children learning outside school or the type of education they are getting.
If a child is withdrawn from a school’s admissions register, the school must inform the local authority. However, if a child has never attended school, there is no legal duty for the family to inform the local authority of their decision to home educate.
In July, the education committee called for the establishment of a national register of children outside of school as a first step to removing the fog that surrounds home education. In response to our report, the government has now reaffirmed its commitment to a form of registration, with the Education Secretary pledging to publish further details by the end of the year.
The Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and Ofsted have all called for a statutory register in some form. There is a consensus for action.
Ofsted has told us that a register should be national, with a consistent system designed by the DfE and administered by local authorities. In Ofsted’s vision for a register, some information would be mandated – including whether the child has an education, health and care plan – whereas some could be added voluntarily. Ofsted stressed that there should be clear limits about how this data would be used. We do not believe that the cost of a register should be prohibitive, should technology be deployed effectively.
There are some vocal opponents of registration. Parents should be assured that a register would not remove freedoms from families providing an effective education. Instead, it would allow councils to know more about the children that need support and provide help.
A register on its own will not be sufficient to ensure a suitable education for all. The government must go further in boosting support and making sure that no young person misses out on opportunities to advance.
The committee heard that elective home education is not truly elective for some families, for example where children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have been unable to access the right support in school.
It is disappointing that the government has failed to see the merit in the creation of an independent, neutral advocate which would have responsibility for co-ordinating all statutory SEND processes and who could support families when a choice about home education is being made.
The DfE’s response to our report points to existing ways that families of children with SEND can access support. As the wait goes on for the long-promised SEND Review, it should ask itself whether it is doing all it can.
We called for the DfE to ensure that local authorities have the power to assess children’s progress from one year to the next and make contact with families at least once a year. Children should attain essential standards of literacy and numeracy no matter where educated.
Without baseline standards, we risk denying children equity of access to the next stage of education, work or training. The DfE may think that existing arrangements and guidance are sufficient, but it should provide local authorities with a set of clear criteria against which suitability of education can be assessed.
Many children may be in home education precisely because a more formal system does not work for them. However, the government must place a duty on every local authority to ensure that home-educated children and young people have fair access to centres where they can sit public examinations, with government meeting the entry costs.
For far too long home education has flown under the radar, shrouded in a fog that means we know little about the attainment of too many children. Ministers clearly recognise the problems that persist. They now must act to ensure that every child has the chance to climb the educational ladder of opportunity, wherever and however they are taught.
Strengthening Home Education, Education Committee, July 2021; and government response, Nov 2021
Elective Home Education survey, ADCS, Nov 2021
Children not in school consultation, DfE, April 2019