Memorandum submitted by Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted)
1.1 The review highlights the main weaknesses which exist in the current legislation around elective home education.
1.2 The recommendations have the potential to improve the education and safeguarding of home educated children, while retaining the right of parents to home educate.
1.3 More information is needed about:
n the extent to which some parents may feel that they are put under pressure to educate their child at home rather than at a school
n what constitutes 'successful' home education
n the views of a range of home educated young people
n the destinations of home educated young people.
1.4 It is intended that these areas will be explored in Ofsted's forthcoming survey on this subject.
2 The conduct of the review and related consultations
2.1 Ofsted has no comments to make on the conduct of the review.
3 The recommendations made by the review on elective home education
3.1 Balance between the rights of the child and the rights of parents
3.1.1 Ofsted agrees that, under the current regulatory regime, there is not 'a correct balance between the rights of parents and the rights of the child either to an appropriate education or to be safe from harm.' (Review of elective home education, para 3.1).
3.1.2 The current legislation and resulting system does not take sufficient account of the needs of the child, the rights of the child, or the safety and well-being of the child. The proposals within this review have the potential to introduce much-needed rigour into the system.
3.1.3 While the 2004 Act places a duty on local authorities to take into account the child's wishes and feelings with regard to the provision of services, this does not apply to home education because it is not provided by the local authority. This balance needs to be redressed.
3.2.1 It is essential that a register is kept in order to strengthen safeguarding arrangements and improve the quality assurance of home education.
3.2.2 Currently, local authorities are unable to retain a reliable record of children being educated at home or to track their whereabouts; under current legislation and guidance (Guidelines for Local Authorities, Department for Children, Schools and Families 2007), parents are not required to register or seek approval to educate their child at home. This raises safeguarding issues. The requirement to register would be an improvement. However, it is not clear whether this would cover children who have never been registered at a school, and if so, how this would be tracked and enforced. Moreover, if a child educated at home moves authority, this cannot currently be tracked. It is unclear whether this will be addressed by the current proposals.
3.2.3 All the information suggested in the review and the subsequent consultation paper should be provided when a child is registered to be educated at home. However, we would like to see the following added:
n In the 'statement of approach to education', details should be given about: the intended outcomes of the education being provided, for example, whether qualifications will be taken, and if so, which ones; the way in which each of the Every Child Matter outcomes will be achieved, for example, how the child will be given access to sufficient physical activity; and how social skills will be developed and friendships facilitated.
n Part of the definition of 'suitable' under the 1996 Education Act is that the education 'primarily equips the child for life in the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child's options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so' (Education Act 1996). Conversely, schools have a duty to promote community cohesion. This is potentially contradictory. We suggest that this aspect of the law is reviewed, and that parents should who choose to educate at home should be required to provide an education which equips their child for life in the national and global community.
n Current guidance states that parents may employ other people to educate their children and that parents are responsible for 'ensuring that those whom they engage are suitable to have access to children'. Registration would not of itself prevent those who have a conviction for offences against children, including parents, step-parents or privately-employed home tutors, from home educating children. Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks should be a requirement of registration.
n The views of the child or young person should be included on the registration form, and should be followed up during a home visit.
n Work experience is not a statutory requirement. However, the Government's objective is for all Key Stage 4 pupils to undertake work experience in the last two years of compulsory schooling. Over 95% of Key Stage 4 pupils go on placements each year but children educated at home have no entitlement to participate in work experience under the arrangements made by a local authority. Where the young person is aged 15 plus, this should be clearly stated on the form, and parents should state the arrangements they intend to make for work experience, and whether they need help from the local authority to arrange it.
3.2.4 All this information should be provided before the child is removed from the school roll. Where assistance is needed, for example in the question about work experience, this should be completed during the initial home visit - again, before the child is removed from roll (see response to question 11).
3.2.5 Ofsted agrees that the Department for Children, Schools and Families should take powers to issue statutory guidance in relation to the registration and monitoring of home education. This should include the following:
n The support which the LA should give to any family who may feel that they have had no choice but to home educate (for example, where relationships with a school have broken down) in order to help get a child back into a school as appropriate.
n The steps the local authority (LA) must take to ensure the safety of the home-educating arrangements
n The steps the local authority (LA) must take to ensure the suitability of the education
n The way in which they should seek the views of children and young people, and the steps to take if the child does not wish to be home educated
n The support which LAs should offer to parents who home educate
n The way in which education at home should be monitored, and the frequency of such monitoring
n The importance of ensuring that the person doing any monitoring has a full understanding of the different needs and wishes parents may have for their child's education, the different reasons for home educating, and the different models of home education which LA staff may encounter
n The training which any person monitoring should receive (to include the above)
n The additional responsibilities for children with a statement of special educational needs.
3.3.1 The review recommends that changes are made to the legislative framework to enable local authorities to refuse registration on safeguarding grounds and that local authorities should have the right to revoke registration should safeguarding concerns become apparent. Ofsted's view is that under no circumstances should children about whom there are substantial safeguarding concerns be home educated. Serious case reviews (where children have died or been seriously harmed) have mentioned children who move and go missing, and those who have been missing from school, including occasionally those who have been taken off-roll by their parents to be home educated (Learning lessons, taking action: Ofsted's evaluation of serious case reviews April 2007 to 31 March 2008).
3.4 Home visits
3.4.1 Ofsted agrees with the recommendations relating to home visits. It is essential that both the parents and the LA are clear about the parameters of the visit. It should be ensured that an appropriate person from the LA visits and that this person is well informed about the different philosophies of home education. They should also have appropriate training in safeguarding, and should be skilled at speaking with children and young people, bearing in mind that a certain proportion of young people educated at home have special educational needs, and some will have had a negative experience of school.
3.4.2 An initial home visit should be carried out before the child is removed from the school roll to determine the safety and suitability of the home education.
3.4.3 Where there are concerns, the child should be seen by two members of local authority staff, not with the parent or carer, so they can give their honest views and opinions. This would be consistent with inspections of schools, where children and young people would usually give their views without school staff being present. It would be essential that this did not come across as any kind of 'test' for the child, but was approached positively and sensitively.
3.4.4 These procedures will have significant resource implications for local authorities, which need to be considered.
3.4.5 In order to gain further information about the views of children and young people who are home educated, consideration should also be given to setting up some focus groups and regular surveys of young people educated at home, in the same way as currently happens for looked after children (these are run by the Children's Rights Director for England, at Ofsted).