The Review of Elective Home Education - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


SUMMARY


Summary

Parents have a duty to provide their child with an education suitable to the child's age and ability. One way in which parents can fulfil this duty is to home educate their child. Estimates suggest that there are now somewhere between 45,000 and 150,000 home educated children in England.

The question of if and how home education should be regulated has been the subject of a series of consultations and research studies commissioned by the Department, which has culminated in the Badman review.

Debate has centred on the tension between, on the one hand, the absence of prescription in relation to home education and the ability of home educating families to refuse contact with their local authority, and, on the other, the duty on local authorities to ensure that every child in their area is receiving a suitable education.

Much of the controversy surrounding the Badman Report concerns its recommendation that registration and monitoring be introduced for home educating families, recommendations that the Department has taken forward through the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

What has been striking about the Badman review is the dearth of information on home educated children in England, not least basic data about the number of these children. Research to establish baseline data for home educated children, especially regarding the outcomes of home education, is much needed. This work should plug the gap in the existing research evidence, which has not reflected fully the profile of home educating families.

We suggest that local authorities need improved means of identifying and differentiating between the children in their area who are in school, who are being home educated, and who are otherwise not in school. We also take the view that parental responsibility in relation to the provision of home education should be strengthened.

We therefore support the proposals to introduce annual registration for home educating families. In view of the concerns expressed by home educators about compulsory registration, we suggest that registration should be voluntary. Any registration system should be accompanied by better information sharing between local authorities, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and other agencies—including NHS trusts and police forces—to help identify which children are in school, which are being educated at home, and which are in neither category. The success of a voluntary registration system and improved information sharing should be reviewed after two years. If it has not met expectations, we believe that a system of compulsory registration would need to be introduced. Much of the Badman Report was about dramatically improving the help and support local authorities provide to home educated children, and we welcome this emphasis on the benefits of registering as home educators.

We also believe that home educating families should provide some form of statement of their intended approach to their child's education. We believe that these requirements should be supplemented by meetings between home educating families and local authority officers on at least an annual basis. These measures also need to be underpinned by a more precise definition of what constitutes a "suitable" education. The definition should not undermine the flexibility that home education currently offers, but, in combination with these other measures, must better equip local authority officers to address instances of home education where there is little prospect of the child in question gaining basic skills efficiently or getting a broader education.

Where we believe that the Badman Report and the proposals in the Children, Schools and Families Bill run into difficulty is in their conflation of education and safeguarding matters.

We are disappointed at the less than robust evidence base that the Badman Report and the Department have presented with regard to the relative safeguarding risk to school and home educated children. Furthermore, we suggest that existing safeguarding legislation is the appropriate mechanism for the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of home educated children, and that the proposed addition of annual visits would offer little direct safeguarding benefit over and above this. In our recommendations we have strongly discouraged the notion that local authority home education teams should be given a more overt safeguarding role.

Key to local authorities being able to work more effectively with home educating families will be the ability to offer suitably resourced support and services. The effectiveness of more robust arrangements for monitoring home education provision will rest on the knowledge and skills of local authority officers. We do not believe that the Department has paid sufficient attention to these areas, and we question the estimates that it has put forward regarding the cost of the registration and monitoring and support-related recommendations contained in the Badman Report. In particular, we fear that the Department underestimates the training needs of local authority officers.

The way in which the Department has handled the Badman review has been unfortunate—from the way in which it framed the review, through to its drafting of legislation prior to publication of the related consultation findings. We trust that the Department will learn from this episode as it takes forward other such reviews in future.





 
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Prepared 16 December 2009