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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 559 -i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Support for Home Education
Wednesday 5 September 2012
Shena Deuchars, Jane Lowe, Anne Brown, Fiona Nicholson and Alison Sauer
Julie Barker, hannah Flowers, Zena Hodgson and Jayne Richardson
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 113
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Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 5 September 2012
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Mr David Ward
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Shena Deuchars, Trustee, Education Otherwise, Jane Lowe, Trustee, Home Education Advisory Service, Anne Brown, Administrator, A Little Bit of Structure (Online Forum), Fiona Nicholson, Independent Home Education Consultant, and Alison Sauer, Educational Consultant, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning. Thank you very much for coming and giving evidence this morning to the Education Committee on the subject of home education. I know you have a number of different perspectives and experience to share with us, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to come. Can I ask you first about local authorities and the way they behave? The evidence we have received suggests great variability, from a lot of praise for the quality of officers and support in some places to others who act in a way that is ultra vires and unsupportive. What could be done by central Government to increase the consistency and the likelihood of positive and appropriate support for home educators across the country?
Anne Brown: I think it is a matter of getting the information right, both for the sake of home educators and for the sake of local authorities. At present, where there are cuts quite often you are getting home education picked up as a job by somebody who has no knowledge of it and probably did not want it, which is not helping. If they then go to their website and that website has information that is not right, they are on a hiding to nothing before they begin. They then pass on the wrong information, relationships go downhill and the outcome is not particularly pretty. So I think it is information.
Q2 Chair: Thank you. Before I ask someone else to answer that, I meant to do this at the beginning of the session, but I will do it now: I am the Chairman of the AllParty Parliamentary Group on Home Education, which is not a registrable interest as such, but I think for the public record I should probably let people know that. Who else would like to come in on that?
Fiona Nicholson: To pick up on what Anne has said, I have done a lot of research into facts and figures about local authorities and home education. A really significant thing for me is the fact that two thirds of local authorities have fewer than 100 home-educated children on their books. So this is not a fulltime job for the person who does it. It will be picked up by somebody who is passing through, who comes from behaviour, attendance, dysfunction-some sort of problem area-and is dealing with children who are outside school for all kinds of negative reasons.
Q3 Chair: So what could central Government do about it?
Fiona Nicholson: I have absolutely no idea, because you have 152 local authorities and some of them are six square miles and some of them are several thousand square miles.
Q4 Chair: Alison?
Alison Sauer: You have put me on the spot.
Chair: Well, you have a lot of experience working with local authorities.
Alison Sauer: Yes, a lot of experience working with local authorities and I do find that personality makes a huge difference. We have had a lot of changes recently, a lot of good experienced staff have disappeared, and we have been left with a hole that has been filled, as has been said, by people who have come from different areas. I do think often they do not understand the law. I do think often there is a huge amount of pressure from directors of children’s services and education. I do not know what can be done apart from keeping a better eye on them, because, as I put in my submission, I have done a survey of all the local authority websites and there are only 30 that do not have ultra vires requirements on their websites-30 out of 152.
Q5 Chair: There was the 2007 Elective Home Education guidance. There was the Children Missing Education guidance that came out in 2009. I have some sympathy with local authorities feeling that there is a tension between the duties they have, and they get frustrated they do not have the powers. The question is: do we need new guidance, although we have had prior submissions that have said, "Seeing they do not follow the law now, why would we believe they would in future if we changed the guidance to them?" What are your thoughts on that?
Jane Lowe: I think one of the issues is that people cannot find it. We were involved with helping in a local authority where there was a big issue between parents and the local authority over doorstepping families, and the whole question of their policy came up. We discovered that they had based their policy on a document that was a very early first draft. If you Google "home education guidance", this comes up at the top of the list, but it never saw the light of day; it has no resemblance to the document we have today. So there is a basic problem with access to information.
On the question of the supposed tension between the two sets of guidance, there is none really, because it is stated very clearly in the Children Missing Education guidance that, if anyone who is a home educator is discovered in the course of enquiries, the local authority is told that they should follow the guidance given in the 2007 guidelines. So immediately the statutory guidance points to the Elective Home Education guidelines, thereby de facto statutory. So there is not really any conflict. The two sets of guidance were originally conceived to do two different things. I was involved with discussions when the first draft was made of the Children Missing Education guidance, and the civil servants who we were dealing with assured us that this was not something that was being designed to entrap home educators. They assured us that the whole point of that exercise giving the statutory guidance on section 436A was to find children who had completely slipped through the net who were not receiving any education at all. It was not designed to target home educators in any way, and the first version of it said explicitly that this guidance does not apply to children who are educated at home. They are two separate things and they should not be confused.
Q6 Chair: Does anybody think there is a tension in the different guidance?
Anne Brown: I think there can be misunderstandings that lead local authorities to think that, which brings us back around to the need for training and clear guidance. This may be a simplistic way of looking at it, but I wondered whether or not we could have a system similar to a pub, where you have a menu and then you have a chalkboard with the day’s specials. If the menu on local authority websites referred to the Department for Education’s guidelines, they would then be at perfect liberty to say, "Today’s specials are: we are doing A, B, C, D, E as an extra." It is probably very simplistic, but you could then make sure that everybody had the right information.
Shena Deuchars: Part of the problem has been that there have been huge amounts of time and public money wasted by local authorities writing their own interpretations of those guidelines, and they could be encouraged to use the guidelines as they are written, rather than doing their own thing, because interpretation is always going to be a problem. You are always going to get some sort of gap between what was written and how they are applying it. So I would certainly favour the idea that they ought to point to the guidelines as issued by the DfE rather than writing their own, especially if somebody is doing it as a parttime job and does not really understand what they are looking at. Huge amounts of time has also been spent by home educators on going round to local authorities and asking them to fix their guidelines and change their documentation and not send out letters that say, "I will be visiting you on Thursday at three o’clock and want to see your children lined up ready to do maths," or whatever.
Alison Sauer: Which does happen.
Chair: Yes. So nobody thinks there is a case for issuing new guidance from central Government then. Excellent.
Q7 Neil Carmichael: When we started this inquiry what was very obvious was that there were loads of different reasons for people to consider home education as an option. I do not think it is very easy for us, at this stage of the inquiry, to calibrate exactly what all of those different reasons are and to get a grip on just how many people are involved and the different sections, because I have already started looking at this in my own constituency of Stroud. My first question follows on from Graham’s, to a large extent, about the guidance. How can you really have effective guidance for such a wide range of different reasons for doing something in the first place?
Jane Lowe: The one reason why people home educate is that it is permitted in law. The thing that led up to their deciding to home educate is really irrelevant. It is not an issue as far as the guidelines go. The fact is that home education is part of the law. It is a legal option; it is one that parents may avail themselves of. Whether they did it because they have a child who is disabled or because they have a child who is so bright that they want to take A Level maths at the age of six is immaterial. It is really the issue of it being the parents’ option to do this.
Q8 Neil Carmichael: What I am really getting at, though, is the question of the parents deciding to go down the route of home education and the loads of different reasons for them to do that, so how are they going to be signposted in appropriate ways to get the right kind of support that they think is necessary?
Shena Deuchars: If the local authority has appropriate, legally accurate guidance on their website and the members of staff with whom the parents may or may not come into contact are also prepared to give accurate guidance, then I would tend to agree with Jane on the reason for deciding to home educate. Another way to look at it is to say that the primary duty of education is that of the parent, so in fact it is the parent who puts their child into school who is deviating from the norm, if you like, in law, because education does not start until five. But I do not think anybody would suggest that a child is not learning anything before five, so the parent is the primary educator and, at some point, the parent may decide to delegate that responsibility to a school. If you like, home educators are in the natural state of parents educating their children, as per section 7.
Q9 Neil Carmichael: The problem with that answer, though, is, of course, most parents would assume, I would have thought quite properly, that their responsibility is to send their children to school during schooling age. We are really asking parents, aren’t we, to make a choice about an option that they may or may not know enough about?
Anne Brown: I do get what you are saying, because I came to home education not as an ideological choice but in response to a lack of provision, because I have two children who are both autistic and gifted and, basically, they do not fit anything on principle. I think what we need to remember is that within the education system we have a variety of provision; within home educators we have a variety. The diversity is a strength, and what matters is that we can all find somewhere where we belong. We can all explain what we are doing if we are asked to by the local authority. It is not a legal requirement to put information forward. It is a legal requirement to respond. If you are asked to describe it, you should. It is up to local authorities to listen, but I think it is also up to home educators to be prepared to say, "I am doing this because...". If you want to gather data, I would not dream of speaking for another home educator. It is a running gag on the forum I administer that, if you put 10 home educators in a room, you will have 11 opinions, because people will listen and one person will change their mind. That is our strength; it is our diversity.
Q10 Neil Carmichael: Picking up on that strength, as you call it, there is the issue about the variance between the performance of local authorities, and how many local authorities have we now?
Alison Sauer: 152.
Q11 Neil Carmichael: You could argue that all of them have different strengths and so forth.
Anne Brown: Yes, but they are bound by the law.
Q12 Neil Carmichael: Yes, but I am just simply picking your point and reflecting it before I ask my next question, which is, essentially, do you think it would help you in terms of home education if all local authorities rose to the best standards?
Fiona Nicholson: I am not sure if this is what you are saying, but I think it would be very helpful to be able to point to generally agreed models of good practice and to say, "This is somewhere where they seem to be managing it. They do not seem to have a problem here. This seems to be working quite well here at the moment"-places such as Lancashire council, for instance, which has a very large number of home-educated children. It does not mean that you could port that to a council with 15 home-educated children and say, "Just copy this exactly," because there would be reasons for doing things completely differently in a local area, but there is a vacuum. Local authorities do not really know, in a lot of instances, what they are meant to be doing to home educators, with home educators, for home educators, and I think the questions we have been asked have made that clear.
When we are talking about home education guidelines, I think there are two things. I felt that what you were saying was information for parents about home education: "If you were thinking about home education-is it legal, how might you go about it-here are some people you could talk to about it; school is not the only option." But the home education guidelines for local authorities that we have been talking about-it has "local authorities", I think, in the title-say, "In the hope of developing better relationships, we will set out the law, we will summarise the law, on home education and telling local authorities what they should be doing," because that is the relationship that home-educating families have with Government. They do not have a dialogue with central Government. It depends which local authority you fall under as to which local government person you are talking to about your home education.
Neil Carmichael: What would be the perfect local government officer to talk to? How would he or she be described by Jane?
Q13 Chair: What we do is we conduct inquiries, we write reports, we make recommendations to Government and Government is obliged to respond. Notwithstanding an interest in a better understanding of these things, I would very much like to keep you channelled on what needs to change. You can be equally clear there is nothing, as you were on the guidance, but let us stay focused. What recommendations for change or for keeping things the way they are-things that you think are sensible? Let us be clear about that, because that is the business end of what we do. We are not a university having a seminar.
Jane Lowe: Here is a practical suggestion that has been growing in my mind for many years. It has been 24 years that I have been seeing the same problems happening over and over again in local authorities, and I am convinced that a lot of it is because of the involvement of the behaviour and attendance, education and welfare-whatever you choose to call it-departments. It is attendance improvement in some places. I cannot see why it is a routine procedure that-let’s call them education welfare officers because I think we all understand that term-an education welfare officer is the first person to contact a family who decides that they are going to withdraw a child from school. Immediately it puts it in the "problem" category. To my mind, if there were somebody located in the library service, say, who was the person to whom the local authority gave the notification that a child had been withdrawn from school it would locate it in "information" rather than in "problem". I am convinced that is where a lot of this trouble comes from, because education welfare officers are working all their working lives with people who have difficulties in one way or another with the school system, so it is going to be their mindset. If that is something that could be considered as a policy, it would save money too.
Q14 Neil Carmichael: You are saying you want a positive reason why home education should be promoted, and that officer should be effectively dedicated to supporting anybody who is interested in home education.
Anne Brown: I would not want support as such. I would say "tolerated", because what Jane is saying, better than I could, is that, coming into it from an SEN point of view, quite often when you come out of the system, because you have fought so hard to try to get the system to work, you have a reputation for being awkward squad, because you have done everything you can to make it work. So before you get there they go and hide behind the filing cabinet when they hear your name, but by putting it in library services it is saying you are not a problem. If there is a problem, it should be looked at, but starting from the presumption that, because you are not going to school to learn there is something wrong, is not-
Q15 Chair: Okay, sorry to cut you off, but you agree. Shena was nodding.
Shena Deuchars: Yes, I would agree as well. We need to not be seen as a problem. We need to be seen as a service user, perhaps, if we choose to use local authority services, but it should be lodged somewhere that can give information, help, resources-perhaps an educational resource service, something like that-but not as something that is a problem.
Q16 Neil Carmichael: So a specialised department to facilitate, but nothing more.
Shena Deuchars: Yes. Sorry, I was going to pick up on the point you made about it being full time. I think in a lot of authorities it is certainly not going to be a fulltime remit, but there is somebody who should be viewing it as their job to give information and to help people, rather than to police people. I went to a meeting about 10 years ago now, and I have not seen much evidence of change, where I was talking to education welfare officers about home education. There were people sitting there who deal with behaviour and lack of attendance and so on. They could not see the difference between parents who had elected to home educate a fiveyearold, and a 15yearold who was refusing school and doing graffiti and vandalism and whatnot. It did not meet with their world view at all.
Q17 Chair: So, if nothing else, we have unanimity on the panel on the belief that where the officer is based is tremendously important and that they are, therefore, positive, rather than coming in and seeing automatically that there is a problem.
Fiona Nicholson: Also, wherever you put home education, you have a problem even before you get to that point, because there is quite a widespread practice of giving the person who is driving around talking to families with problems the first contact with home-educating families. I know quite a few local authorities where the home education department, if and when you ever get there, is absolutely fine, but there is a gatekeeper system, if you like, where education welfare or behaviour or attendance or multiagency support will go out with a questionnaire and they do not have the concept of an optional form. There is this piece of paperwork that has to be filled in-every single box has to be filled in-and they are the people who can then tick a box and say somebody saw the family. You do not change that by changing where you put home education. You step back and say, "Where does the journey start?" If you are taking a child out of school, what happens? What forms do you get sent? Is there any indication that you do or do not have to fill them in? Who is going to come and collect the form? Who is looking at the form? How is that data going to be processed? Where is it going to be shared? All that boring stuff.
Q18 Mr Ward: Isn’t it a case, though, of not one or the other but both? I sense frustration at a lack of a supportive environment for those who exercise their right to home educate, but there is also a safeguarding issue, potentially, in that situation, and is it not a case of both of those needing to be provided in home-education situations?
Alison Sauer: Could I first ask you to clarify what you mean by "there is a safeguarding issue"?
Q19 Mr Ward: Children who are in school are observed. They are obviously seen day in and day out, so if there are any issues that arise in respect of the family, they can-but not always-be picked up. That is clearly more difficult in a home-education situation.
Alison Sauer: I have been through every single serious case review that I can possibly find where a home-educated child has been the victim, and there is not one single case anywhere where multiple agencies were not already involved-not one. There is no issue to fix here; there is no safeguarding issue.
Q20 Mr Ward: That is a problem, because many of the requests for home education are rejected on the basis of observations-
Alison Sauer: There is no permission for home education in this country. It is a straight right; you just deregister.
Q21 Mr Ward: There are approaches that are made to the authority giving a reason why that child is not attending school. You must be aware of Gypsy and Traveller families, the Roma and many communities who are looking to avoid school, and an assessment is required to see whether the quality of the education that is provided is in the interests of the child. It is the interests of the child we are talking about, not the parent.
Alison Sauer: But, again, in those cases there are agencies already involved, and educational neglect is not the same as home education. Just not attending school is not an option in law.
Q22 Mr Ward: Which is why I mentioned the safeguarding issue. I did not say it was neglect to not go to school. It is simply an assessment of the home situation. Anyway, you do not see there is any need for that.
Alison Sauer: Absolutely none. There is no evidence to suggest that home-educated children are at more risk. In fact, the most at risk group of children in the country is around about the under-twos, and there are no statutory assessments of under-twoyearolds in this country.
Q23 Craig Whittaker: I just want to labour this point a little bit further. I understand what you said, Alison, about there being no evidence, and, Jane, you mentioned EWOs, but local authorities have had a huge amount of pressure with things like Baby P and Climbié and all the safeguarding issues. Surely, from another point of view, you can understand why EWOs would want to be used as part of that process. I accept they do not have to be the first person to come in the door, but surely as part of that process they have to make sure that they are safeguarding themselves as well as the children.
Jane Lowe: Surely, if there is a known problem with a child who has been withdrawn from school, you already have agencies involved, so where is the need to assume that every home educator, every parent who withdraws a child from school, is potentially a risk to their child? That is what has happened. It has turned on its head.
Q24 Craig Whittaker: But what happens when a child is not known by the local authorities?
Jane Lowe: There are many children who are home educated, as my children were, right from the start, for whom the local authority is not involved at all, and there are not thousands of cases of children being murdered or abused by their families.
Q25 Craig Whittaker: My point is that I can fully understand the ethos in local authorities as to why that is the case, because of the pressure on local authorities. All I am saying is surely the solution must be around how do you, as home educators, work towards waylaying that fear without it becoming uppermost in everybody’s mind?
Shena Deuchars: But there is not an issue. There is no evidence that there is and, of course, if we add Khyra Ishaq to the three cases you have just cited, the four cases that have been most high profile in the last few years had nothing to do with home education. Baby P was under school age anyway.
Q26 Craig Whittaker: That is not what I am saying and I do not think that is what my colleague was saying. I think it is more about the ethos around the pressure on local authorities to make sure that children are safeguarded, because that is the paramount thing. If you go into any local authority in the UK at present-I know because I have been a lead member for children’s services-it does not matter that we educate 39,000 in my local authority, for example. The big issue and the thing everybody talks about is safeguarding.
Alison Sauer: Are you talking about the moral drive or the legal drive?
Q27 Craig Whittaker: I am talking about the ethos that currently exists in local authorities because of the issues and the blame culture that has been put down onto social workers and local authorities.
Alison Sauer: As far as the law is concerned, the law regarding safeguarding and children who are not taking part in a service provided by the local authority-for example, home-educated children are not in receipt of a service by the local authority in that respect-there is no active duty to safeguard those children. There is a passive duty; there is a reactive duty, so if there are any concerns they must respond. However, there is no investigative duty or active safeguarding duty as there is when a school acts in loco parentis, for example. Of course, there is a very different duty in that respect because that child is there under the supervision of the school, and they must do everything they can to ensure that child is safe and well.
Fiona Nicholson: Am I being disingenuous? I do not see a contradiction between what we said before and what we are saying now. If you make the provision of information about home education a neutral service and you locate it in information rather than in some sort of judgmental welfare place, you would have welfare to deal with welfare problems. But if you send out welfare-and we all understand why they do it-straight away saying, "You must body scan everybody just in case we find one of those things that we should be panicking about," then to treat everybody as though they have to pass a test to make sure they are not going to be problematic is not going to solve either problem.
Q28 Damian Hinds: We expect GPs to make routine checks on children and, if they see something they think might be a cause for concern, to therefore flag it up. That does not mean that every mother who visits a GP with their child is being suspected of doing something wrong. These are just sensible safeguards and, I suppose, with children in general-and I accept that you have different views of the state-one of the key ways that the state interacts with children is at school. If you take that away, there are that many fewer opportunities just to have an interaction and, if there were a problem, to identify it.
Shena Deuchars: One of the big differences there is that, when you go along to your GP, you do it voluntarily. As Fiona just said, you are partaking of a service. You went there because you had a specific purpose. The GP then has what Alison described as a "passive" duty; if he thinks there are any other issues, he or she can get other people involved. I think it is about 12 years since my children last saw a GP, because they have not been ill. Nobody is saying, "You have not been to a GP, and therefore there must be a problem."
Q29 Damian Hinds: If you have a child, you see a midwife and so on and, if you go to the GP, in some cases you will be asked questions about home life and if there are problems and all the rest of it. It is not threatening. It does not mean that the expectation is that there is a problem. These are just ways of flagging up if there is one.
Shena Deuchars: That is because in the natural course of your life there has been some reason why you have had to go and see the GP or the hospital or whatever-
Damian Hinds: Such as childbirth.
Shena Deuchars: For example, yes, but after the age of five there is no statutory medical service that we have to partake of.
Alison Sauer: Or before five either.
Shena Deuchars: Yes, it is not statutory before five as well, as Alison has just reminded me.
Q30 Neil Carmichael: What I wanted to look at next was whether you have been thinking in terms of talking with the Local Government Association, for example, to raise some of the issues that you have raised in the last half hour or so. Of course, that body represents all local authorities and local authorities do have variants: you have raised those issues, so what sort of contact have you had with that body, for example?
Jane Lowe: I do not think any of us have had contact with the LGA. We have talked to MPs and we have talked to individual local authorities and this Committee.
Q31 Neil Carmichael: There is the example of Warrington, Knowsley and Wirral, where home education services have been brought into a federalised authority area. How does that work and do you think that is something that should be practised elsewhere?
Alison Sauer: I have a comment about that and it is one that I would have made a little earlier as well, in that there is a certain amount of almost cloak and dagger stuff that goes on sometimes with certain local authorities. Whether it is on purpose or not, there are some misleading things that go on. This particular federated service, as you call it, I first came across about five months ago, I reckon, when it first started up, and it looked like a home education support page and it still does. It does not look like it is local government, and it should do. It is not lying, but it is misleading. We want some honesty. We want some sticking to the law. We want them to be clear about what they are doing. We want them to stop hiding home education because people might want to do it, and I have heard that very often.
Q32 Chair: I am sorry, I do not understand. There are three authorities who came together and they created a page that, instead of sounding officious and bullying, looks like a home education support service. I would have thought that would be something people would welcome.
Alison Sauer: It could be supportive without making it look as if it was an independent, neutral service. It is not an independent, neutral service. It is a local government service and it should look like that, but of course be supportive and things like that. It is just very difficult to figure out.
Q33 Chair: What about the principle? We talked about very small authorities, very small numbers, and the difficulty of having anyone other than people who go around looking at problems coming around to knock on your door and thus looking at you as a problem. If it was federated, could you have a properly constituted service where the person who knocks on your door does not turn up thinking, "Ooh, you are not at school, therefore you are a welfare risk," or "Ooh, you are not at school, therefore you are at some other kind of risk," but turns up thinking, "How can I help you educate your child?"
Jane Lowe: A very important point with this one is that, if it were something that was like a library information service, a lot more people would be far more inclined to engage with it. How are we ever going to break down this culture, which has been touched upon by a couple of the members of the Committee, where people should not have to feel that they are automatically under suspicion of doing something dreadful to their children? If it were neutral, people would engage with it.
Chair: Sticking with the federal point, I am just trying to get the idea about whether this bigger scale thing could provide the trained officers with understanding of the law and everything else, who could be more sympathetic and could knock on your door. We are looking at what we could do to make the system better. That is what I am trying to tease out.
Q34 Neil Carmichael: There is a tension here that I have picked up, which is that the five of you are, effectively, one way or another, expressing the desire that you really want to be away from local authorities, allowed to do what you want to do in home education, because it is positive and all the rest, but that there is a need to relate to the local authority, for whatever reason-for guidance or for support libraries and access. So automatically there is a tension, which could become a serious one in certain authorities or with certain attitudes. So can you describe which end of the scale you want to be?
Anne Brown: Could I ask a question? Why do you think that there is a need for home educators to automatically engage with the local authority? Some of us will want to. A definition of "support" is "to approve of". This came up on one of the home education lists, and I thought it was a very, very good point. If there is a problem, then, yes, it must be addressed. I do not believe anybody here would say anything else. But sometimes, for whatever reason, whether it is a negative past or just simply that you have children who do not want to do that, the best support you could have would be for people to back off and to have a desk in the library, because people get to a point; I know I did. I fought to try to make school work for three years. By the end of it, I loathed the sight of some of the people I dealt with and I am sure they felt the same way about me. The last thing I wanted was to go back and to be forced into a relationship.
Q35 Neil Carmichael: You have described the tension very well and I get the drift of where you are coming from: you want less contact, obviously.
Anne Brown: No, I want useful contact.
Neil Carmichael: Or more useful contact.
Q36 Chair: I want to know about the federal structure. Is having a federal structure something you think you would like this Committee to be warm about or suggesting that there are downsides? I would just like to get a feel specifically on that.
Anne Brown: For small local authorities, yes.
Fiona Nicholson: Small local authorities are a problem.
Anne Brown: Yes.
Q37 Neil Carmichael: One last question. If, for example, it was compulsory for you to register with your local authority, but that was effectively all you had to do-just so that the local authority knew that children within its territory were being educated somehow-would that be something that a lot of you would be happy with or content with?
Jane Lowe: This idea of a simple notification system is a real Trojan horse, because you know a child’s name and address, but you know nothing else about them. The only way for that information to be meaningful is to know more. It does not help anybody to know that John Smith lives in Elm Gardens, because you do not know anything. All you have is a line on a database somewhere. The problem with any kind of system of registration is it immediately turns the whole legal principle on its head, in that the parent is responsible for the child’s education according to section 7 or whatever form of that section has always been in the law. It immediately then creates a situation where a parent has to do something in order to exercise their duty, which is preeminent-that is where it all starts.
Q38 Chair: Okay, Jane, I think you have made that clear. Are there other views on simple registration, so at least the local authority knows the numbers? Yea or nay?
Fiona Nicholson: Absolutely not. There are other ways to find out numbers and I am absolutely against registration. I can tell you the numbers now. You ask the local authority; they keep a record because they are required to do that under the Children Missing Education guidance. They have a record; they could sum the total. They tell me the numbers. They could tell you the numbers. That is not a registration scheme. We do not need registration.
Q39 Charlotte Leslie: Is that children missing education?
Fiona Nicholson: Children who are known to be home educated by the council.
Q40 Charlotte Leslie: That is home educated rather than neglect of education. This is just a simple question because I do not know. How does a local authority who sees a child is not at school know that child is being home educated or just is not getting an education? They do not know.
Alison Sauer: They do not unless they ask.
Q41 Charlotte Leslie: So, in fact, we only know the numbers of children who are not at school being educated and we do not know what is happening to those children. Is that factually correct?
Fiona Nicholson: What we know is the number of children listed as in elective home education in each local authority in England, which is just over 20,000.
Alison Sauer: But we do not know the unknowns.
Fiona Nicholson: We do not know what we do not know.
Q42 Charlotte Leslie: Perhaps I am being very ignorant and I should know this, but how does the local authority know that they are in elective home education?
Anne Brown: Well, they could ask. In the vast majority of cases, because the child was in school and the parent wrote to the school saying, "Please take my child’s name off the school roll because I am taking responsibility for his/her education," the school then has a duty to report that to the local council. The local council then goes, "Oh, another one to put on this list of home-educated children," and then they send out their mobile questionnaire, support or whatever.
Q43 Charlotte Leslie: So it is the parent at some point, when they take them out, saying, "You are not going to educate this child; I am going to home educate them," and that goes into a database somewhere in the local authority.
Fiona Nicholson: Yes.
Q44 Charlotte Leslie: Again this is just a simple question because I perhaps should have done my homework better. If you decide to home educate your child from scratch, does that process ever take place? Is there ever a point when the child reaches school age and you say, "They are not going." So the local authority, if they were to understand if they were home educated, would have to ask?
Alison Sauer: That is why my children are unknown, because I have never sent them to school.
Jane Lowe: My two went right through the system; both are graduates, both in work. No local authority has ever been involved with them and I never had any support, never wanted any.
Q45 Charlotte Leslie: So the numbers on home-educated children would not include those from scratch.
Jane Lowe: That is correct, because it is the parent’s primary duty to educate the child, not the local authority’s. The local authority is a service provider for people who would like someone else to do it for them.
Q46 Chair: Do you have any ideas on numbers, because the previous Committee concluded that there were 20,000 registered and that there were probably a minimum of upwards of 45,000 who were home educated. I was on that Committee, but I cannot remember on what basis we came to that number.
Jane Lowe: There was a lot of nonsense at the time.
Neil Carmichael: Why am I not surprised?
Jane Lowe: This is really funny, because we were told about the number of unknowns. Well, how do you know anything about an unknown?
Damian Hinds: Politicians do.
Q47 Chair: I think estimates were made by various people, weren’t they?
Jane Lowe: Guesses.
Q48 Charlotte Leslie: One final thing, just going back to Neil’s question. Quite understandably, there is a tension between people choosing to home educate because they do not want anything to do with local authorities, but there is a very understandable need to have support when it is needed and accessed. Is there any appetite or capacity amongst the home-education community for a twotier registration service, if you like: a very voluntary registration service that, if you do choose to sign up, then gets these, perhaps, access points more readily, for those who do feel that they will err on the side of contact with the authority and those who want to err on the side of less contact with the authority? Is there any appetite for that?
Chair: Very rapidly. I am chairing this very badly.
Alison Sauer: Allegedly, we have that already, because you can make yourself known to the local authority. The problem is that as things stand at the moment you do not know what you are going to get. You go and register, but you do not know whether your special needs child is going to get speech and language therapy. You do not know what you are going to get, so it is difficult to say.
Q49 Charlotte Leslie: So there is not a set list of things that you will get if you register. So it is not: if you register you get this, this and this, and if you do not, it is perhaps up to discretion.
Alison Sauer: No.
Q50 Ian Mearns: I think what is quite clear from my experience is that home educators are all very, very different.
Alison Sauer: Absolutely, absolutely.
Q51 Ian Mearns: The thing is, with that difference, some will want to be completely independent of everybody and just do it and get on with it and be left alone to do it. There will be others who will want, if appropriate and from time to time, to dip into a menu of support mechanisms. For those who want to dip into that menu of support mechanisms, do you think the range of support and the breadth of support is adequate or nonexistent or what?
Anne Brown: It is an incredible postcode lottery. Again using my own experience, I come from a small unitary authority with not the greatest expertise in the universe. Sixteen miles down the road is a brilliant home education authority, Hampshire, who you are going to be speaking to representatives from in a few minutes. If I lived there, I would pay less council tax, I would get extra library books, I would get access to exam centres-some very nice goodies. Because I live where I live, I do not get any of them.
Fiona Nicholson: It is very much a local offer or nonoffer.
Q52 Ian Mearns: So it is completely discretionary in terms of where the local authority is. Where it exists, do you believe the different levels of financial support are appropriate depending on the needs of the child, or again is that a postcode lottery?
Anne Brown: It depends on whom you speak to, even within an authority.
Fiona Nicholson: I have done a lot of research on the funding and only one in five local authorities are making any use of the funding that is there to claim from central Government. Four out of five are not doing that.
Shena Deuchars: For some of them it is a policy decision not to claim it. I have asked my local authority in the last week, because I knew they had to have a discussion about it, and I was told yesterday that the policy has been decided at director level that they will not be drawing down any of that money that was made available.
Q53 Chair: Which local authority?
Shena Deuchars: Swindon.
Anne Brown: Poole has the same policy.
Fiona Nicholson: There are quite a lot.
Q54 Ian Mearns: It is now three years since our predecessor Committee looked at this whole question. Have you seen any significant improvements in any range of services or is it just exactly the same?
Alison Sauer: No. In fact, I would say the opposite.
Q55 Ian Mearns: It has got worse.
Alison Sauer: Not got worse through them deliberately making things worse, but it has got worse because the experienced staff have left and cuts in local authorities have meant that expertise has not been passed on. They are not having the regional conferences that local authorities used to have with each other, and the amount of training that they have been partaking in has dropped off dramatically.
Chair: I know Alison would declare an interest.
Alison Sauer: I would.
Fiona Nicholson: The point I made in my submission is that I talk to a lot of local authorities and have for a number of years. I enjoy talking to them and feel that they are saying to me they do not really know what they are meant to be doing. I look at the searches on my website and they are: "Every child matters; what is here instead; when is this going to change; when will school leaving age be raised; how will it affect home educators?" On really key issues it does seem to be bizarre that Capita is looking on my website, because there is so much information about what is meant to be happening people cannot process it, filter it down and work out how that affects home education and what they are meant to be doing. They are standing completely still or going backwards because they are still waiting to see what is meant to be happening.
Q56 Chair: And the SEN pilots?
Fiona Nicholson: Hopeless.
Anne Brown: That is the feedback I have had.
Jane Lowe: They are getting bogged down. I am involved with one in my area and they are getting terribly bogged down in procedure.
Q57 Chair: So you have been able to get involved, because I had also heard that some pilots were saying, "No, we do not want to deal with home education. That is one complication we can do without."
Jane Lowe: I am not there as a parent of children with special needs. I am there as an observer.
Fiona Nicholson: I wrote to all of them and said, "What is your policy with home-educated children?" and twothirds of them are saying, "You do not fit the criteria." Another said, "That is a good point. I do not know."
Shena Deuchars: You were asking about areas in which perhaps you could make recommendations for change. It might be an idea to start with recommending some things that are relatively easy and clearcut. My submission suggested access to out-of-school services on the same basis as school-educated children, for example, and not instead saying, "This is restricted to children who are enrolled in a local authority school," for example, which some of the authorities do.
Q58 Pat Glass: What kind of out-of-school services are you talking about?
Shena Deuchars: For example, out-of-school music services, sports services-those sorts of extracurricular things that can be difficult or expensive to access-or being able to have, for example, a home educators’ group doing swimming lessons on the same basis as the schools would be able to use the leisure services in that area, which is something that is really difficult. Normally we are paying on the basis of individual families and it can be extremely expensive.
The other very obvious area is exams. When young people get to 14 to 16, they may well want to access exams. One of the things that the 2009 report complained about was that we do not access exams, and one of the reasons for not accessing them is because it is horrendously expensive. My daughter did do one GCSE and it cost us about £70, plus the travel to a centre at a distance and an overnight, because she needed to be there at 9 o’clock in the morning, and so on. I can see no reason for that, particularly for the core exams such as maths and English, where all it involves is an extra child or two taking up a seat in an exam hall. It does not require extra costs for invigilation, leaving aside any special needs of course. It does not require any extra costs at all. I really do not understand why that cannot be made easily available.
Q59 Chair: Indeed, Badman’s recommendations. Should there be a statutory duty to ensure the availability of access to exams or should we go further and have it paid for by the local authority? Any views on that?
Jane Lowe: Certainly I think there should be a duty to provide exam facilities, because it is not just home educators; it is adults as well who want to add a few qualifications. It is damned difficult, so really it should be possible to do this.
Fiona Nicholson: I have done a nerdish survey of all local authorities in England and their support for access to exam centres for home-educated children this year. I have found that only one in eight are doing anything in the way of even signposting to a local exam centre in a school. There are 8% who are using a pupil referral unit, but they might not be able to continue doing that in the future. A similar proportion are pointing to a further education college. It is the number one thing home educators will say all the time. If they want to talk to a local authority, they will want to say, "Could you help with exams? Could you tell me where I can sit exams locally?" The councils are saying, "It is nothing to do with us. We cannot make schools take you in," or they will say it is academies or, "We do not have a policy. We can affect anything that happens in FE colleges. It might cause problems with pupils at the PRU if you sat it as well." It is a really difficult area and the support is really, really patchy, but then I do not think there could be anything that mandated more. It is just a matter of trying to point to models of good practice.
Q60 Chair: You could impose a statutory duty on local authorities that they would have to work in partnership with academies as best they could or put on provision. If we have a situation where home-educated children-a legitimate choice-cannot access exams, with a Government that is so keen on getting people to be able to pass them, that would seem like something that we could change through law.
Anne Brown: May I make a suggestion here? Private schools have a duty to be of some good to the community to keep their charitable status. Would they like us?
Q61 Chair: That is a good idea.
Anne Brown: That is how I am doing it: I am having £600 for nine for my daughter and they are perfectly happy to have her because they can then say, "We are doing some good for the community." They are happy, I am happy; we are getting the exams.
Q62 Chair: Is there an issue around the grades counting towards their targets?
Anne Brown: No, I am an external candidate. It does not cost them what she does.
Q63 Ian Mearns: Graham has mentioned the Badman recommendations, and one of the things that Badman recommended was that local areas should establish consultative forums with home educators. I think you have already mentioned about local and regional meetings falling to bits and that. Is that the same thing that we are talking about?
Alison Sauer: No, the regional meetings I was talking about were local authorities themselves-the officers exchanging good and bad practice in a forum. As for local forums, I do not think they have got particularly any better. They come and they go and they only ever normally form because a lot of home educators in the region get bees in their bonnets and storm the council house.
Jane Lowe: I think the thing that Mr Badman did not understand is that you cannot systematise home education. You cannot treat it as a community. It is not a community. It is 20,000 little schools, if you like. It is not a unity, and we cannot make it so and we should not try.
Q64 Ian Mearns: That is right. Having exerted fierce independence, independence from each other is equally important, I would think.
Alison Sauer: Oh yes.
Jane Lowe: Imagine in a local area, if you have a strong individual with strong views who thought, "I know, I can sort this out," they could go in there, negotiate with their local authority, and set up something that was absolutely awful because they had not talked to everybody else. There are too many problems.
Q65 Damian Hinds: We are overrunning quite a lot, so one very simple question from me. How do you think technology changes all these challenges? For example, we were talking about access to information. It seems odd to me that you would do that through dozens and dozens, or hundreds even, of local authorities. Teaching resources increasingly are online and it has revolutionised the way teachers go about planning. A lot of schools say they are getting rid of textbooks-we could have a different discussion about that. How does technology change all this and will some of these problems naturally go away?
Anne Brown: I think they could be helped to go away by the use of technology.
Shena Deuchars: The thing that technology has done is that it has made it easier for home educators to access the syllabus for various exams, for example. In the last eight to 10 years or so, there has been a sudden explosion in home educators networking and talking about exams. That is because the internet is there and we are able to talk to each other about it, instead of people doing their own thing, but also, because all the exam boards have the information available, it is as easy for a home educator to get access to the information as it is for a school. It is not necessarily as easy to, say, access the exams then or to access appropriate teaching for the exams.
Q66 Damian Hinds: Although exams themselves may change in future. If they do the KeyMath, for example, an American exam, you do that on a computer; you could do that anywhere.
Shena Deuchars: Yes, so it does make it easier for us to be aware of what we could be asking for, if nothing else.
Alison Sauer: The Open University uses computers quite a lot, don’t they? They do online testing and things, so there is no reason why we could not spread that out a little bit more.
Fiona Nicholson: It has made more peer support a lot more effective as well, so there is not just emotional support now. You can find home educators and say, "I want to do this specific thing." You will find somebody who has gone before. They can point you to something. They do not need to come round to your house and lend you a book. They give you some website addresses and you are off, and you are then selfstarting; you just get going. You just need to be pointed in the right direction.
Anne Brown: On the forum that I administrate, we have a resources blog where we all share our best finds. My son, for instance, loves maths from NASA, where he can get to be an air traffic controller. Because we all support each other, the diversity of the groups, as I said before, is our strength and, to me, all that matters is that everybody finds somewhere where they belong.
Shena Deuchars: There are now several home-educating parents who are running effectively distance-learning courses for specific GCSEs. Again, that has been made much easier by technology. For example, you can get a taught GCSE in certainly chemistry, biology and English through home-education circles. So if anybody pops up and says, "My child would like to do this," we have places that we can put it to. That is definitely an advantage of the technology.
Q67 Chair: It is a big, difficult subject and hard to do it very quickly, but we have no time: the transition to FE and HE, and the difficulties around that.
Alison Sauer: There is no assistance, no knowledge out there.
Q68 Chair: Bearing in mind my initial strictures on recommendations to make it better, is there anything we could do?
Fiona Nicholson: My local authority in Sheffield has run a pilot. It is now the second year of the pilot and I was helping them with it. The children who took the exams last year have, as far as I know, done well in their exams. Their specific reason for paying for exam courses for home-educated children under the age of 16 was to facilitate transition to further education at 16, because they saw it as part of the duties that they would have when the participation age was raised. That has made a lot more dialogue between home educators and the council and the college. People have become a lot more aware of what they will need in order to progress to college and the qualifications they will need and the way that they can get those qualifications. So I do think that is a good system.
Q69 Pat Glass: Can I ask you about the role of central Government? I am going to be very quick because we are running behind. Does central Government have a role in this? Should they be monitoring what local authorities are doing, either directly or through something like Ofsted?
Shena Deuchars: Yes.
Alison Sauer: Yes.
Fiona Nicholson: Yes.
Anne Brown: Yes.
Jane Lowe: Yes.
Q70 Pat Glass: The DfE says it is still considering its position on home education. Jane and Shena, have you had any contact, any engagement, with the DfE?
Jane Lowe: Not lately, no.
Alison Sauer: Not specifically to do with that, no.
Q71 Chair: Would it be helpful if local authorities were able to access a percentage of the funding that went to schools, for instance, for home-educated people, who would have necessarily to register, on a voluntary basis, but where they did so they got additional funding? So basically there was an offer from the local authority, and you could access it if you came and registered with them, with all that carries with it. But with only voluntary registration, would the local authority be able to bring reasonable sums down? Would it create a balance where they would try to serve the home-education community, have the funding in place to have the kind of people we want to see trained, understanding and supportive, and create the right balance, so their income was dictated by the engagement and involvement of home educators? Could that be a way of getting a better balance, or is it opening the door to something dreadful? Fiona looks like she thinks the latter, but I will go to Anne first.
Anne Brown: Yes, I think it would work. The one thing you have to remember is it cannot be top down; it has to be bottom up. I would like to see a system almost like when you tender for a contract; you could go to your local authority, and you could say, "My little Jimmy wants to do this." Then you could sit and talk like two reasonable sets of adults about how you would show you were giving value for money, because it is important, in what you would do, but what you do does not apply to anybody else. I come to this because I have two children who have never met a normal principle, so anything from the top down does not fit them.
Jane Lowe: I was thinking if there were some kind of payment by results it would motivate the person to go out and try to get as many people in as possible. I do not know that that would do much for relationships with families. If families could approach the local authority for funding if they wanted to, in my mind that would suggest to me that they would no longer be home educators, because they would be receiving funding for their course, and that would be like being in school and being funded as a pupil in school, wouldn’t it? Do you see what I mean?
Alison Sauer: It could be funding for textbooks and resources.
Jane Lowe: I thought Graham was meaning more serious funding, like FE college funding.
Q72 Chair: I was picking a number off the top of my head-10%. When Anne goes to speak to a local authority now, they will say, "It is all on your shoulders; we have no resource; there is nothing we can do." On the other hand, if they said, "Yes, this triggers this much"-not that much, but whatever it is, £500 per year-how would you best like that to come to you? Is it in the form of vouchers? Is there a group of you that want to pool it to get a tutor for something? I do not know. I am trying to work out whether we can get a balance and get that engagement in a way that is controlled by home educators and does not feel like they are going to be corralled.
Fiona Nicholson: They absolutely ruled out the 10% in December 2010, because the Secretary of State said they did not have enough money to do it. There was a consultation and two thirds of the people said this would be a pretty good idea, and then in December 2010 Michael Gove said, "There is not enough money." If there is more money now, that is great.
Q73 Chair: The first thing you do in politics is decide what it is you want and think is right, and then keep going at it; eventually you will get it if you get everyone to agree.
Fiona Nicholson: It has been rejected, I think I am saying.
Shena Deuchars: I was not entirely sure how the money was going to go to the local authority and how they were then going to put it back out. Anecdotally we have been hearing that the money from the DSG is being used to boost the income of local authorities, because they are drawing down the money that is available but they are not necessarily passing it on. For example, they are artificially capping the amount of money that is being allowed, say for a young person that goes on to a college course: if the college course is £2,000 a year, they are drawing down all the money that is available on the DSG, keeping a wodge for themselves, and saying, "Okay, we will give £1,500 to the family," and the family then has to find the additional money to allow the young person to attend the course. I do not think that was really what was intended.
Q74 Chair: If you have any specific evidence on that, it would be interesting to see it.
Alison Sauer: Yes, we have some specific evidence of that.
Q75 Chair: Thank you all very much indeed for giving evidence today. Please do stay in touch. If you have any other thoughts reflecting on today, on any recommendations, things you particularly fear that we will get wrong, then please do write again and let us know.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Julie Barker, Co-ordinator, Fareham and Gosport Home Education Group, Hannah Flowers, Co-ordinator, Carshalton Home Education Group, Zena Hodgson, Trustee and Support Advisor, Home Education Centre, Somerset, and Jayne Richardson, Local Contact for Home Educators, Cumbria, gave evidence.
Q76 Chair: Good morning. Thank you for joining us as well. We on this Committee admire independence of spirit, and it is our job to question Government, so it is a pleasure to have you with us. You heard the last session. Any immediate reflections on that, bearing in mind what we do, which is make recommendations to Government? Julie?
Julie Barker: I am a Home Education Co-ordinator in Hampshire, and I also work with the Somali home-educated community in Southampton. We have managed over the last couple of years to work with Hampshire to try to develop relationships successfully between the local authority and ourselves, with the benefit that they are indeed going to provide some of the things that have been mentioned. For example, they are funding college places for 14 to 16-year-olds, and also a package of exam funding, which is very good news, to a large number of home educators who want it. That is not to everybody, and we have to accept that some people do not want that funding, even if they are doing exams; they want to do it on their own.
I have been working with Southampton for the last year, up until Friday, with limited success. Amazingly the news that I am coming here today has made Southampton offer to pay for examinations for their Year 11s, which is good news for the home-education community in Southampton, particularly the community that I work with. It can happen successfully.
Chair: So all home-educated children currently known?
Julie Barker: They have obviously got to be known. In South Hampshire this is a new policy, so in order to benefit the policy will be in future that the young people have to be known and registered for a year. This year, because it is obviously new, they have access for all comers, so anybody who wants to be given funding via the APG has to be on the census, so they will have to come forward now. In the future they will have to be known for a year.
Q77 Chair: If you move in halfway through the year-
Julie Barker: Obviously exceptions will have to be made. We will accept they are not trying to be unreasonable. Hampshire does not currently have a particularly difficult relationship with many of its home educators; it does not insist on home visits, and so we have been working together.
Q78 Chair: They cannot, of course, insist on home visits, except in ultra vires ways.
Julie Barker: They cannot, but they happen to try to insist on home visits. They have understood that it is perfectly acceptable to provide evidence in other ways, and that works perfectly well. I home educated my child for 12 years without ever having a home visit, and we also have use of the science laboratory in a pupil referral unit for twilight sessions. We have made progress, all credit to Hampshire. Hopefully the same situation will eventually prevail in Southampton.
Zena Hodgson: I am from Somerset. They have been very supportive for a number of years, and have been paying for exams for home-educated children for quite some time now-quite a number of years. They have maintained the same sort of rule, which is that they want you to have been registered for two years, i.e. the sort of start of what would be your GCSE course. They have had to restrict it to only Year 10 and Year 11 pupils through a limited budget. They do not feel they can justify a budget for younger children, where maybe it would be a more risky business than doing GCSEs. Possibly, if they have a lot of people applying for it and, again, on a tight budget, they will restrict it to core subjects.
Somerset have historically been very supportive and, echoing the earlier session, their foundation is a more neutral basis. They started life with the EHE Department in the Equalities and Diversity section of the council. They are dealing with small minority cultural groups, and right from the beginning when we approached them many years ago, their question was, "How can we understand who you are, so that we can help you?" As they came from that basis, straight away there was a very positive open dialogue. I am not sure which department they are now under. They were temporarily under a virtual schools system, which has since gone, and they have been floating about. But the team themselves are the same, and they have come from that basis. Therefore, the dialogue has always been neutral and open, and that has been its real strength.
Hannah Flowers: To go back to your question, and particularly the responses given earlier, the thing I picked up the most was the suggestion of the service being provided from the library, or something like that, a neutral location. That is a brilliant idea, and I think it is much more likely that people would take that up. When you are talking about the GPs, obviously GPs have a responsibility to pass on any concerns, and most parents have no problems with that, I am sure; the same would apply to somebody who voluntarily went to a library to access a service. There is no problem with people who are in that role having that duty to pass on any concerns. If it is voluntary, it sounds fine, and the same with registering for support.
Q79 Chair: GPs, of course, will target and write out specially to people who are in high-risk groups. It would be fair to say that home educators find it rather irritating, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that they are seen as a risk welfare group, when there is nothing to suggest that they are.
Hannah Flowers: I agree there appears to be no evidence that there is an at-risk group here.
Jayne Richardson: I am in Cumbria, and I would consider us to have a good local authority; they have a good relationship with home educators in general. Up until last year we had four home-education consultants within the local authority, who dealt with home educations. The person who took the lead on that has been in post since 2006, so it is a very stable relationship. Unfortunately, following the cuts we lost three of the consultants and kept the leader. They were planning to go back to their old system of having all the School Improvement Officers deal with home education, which had been a bit of a disaster.
Our home-education leader in the local authority has done a stunning job with training up 24 home-education consultants, who were all new to home education; they had not really dealt with it. We have heard very few complaints, although there have been a few niggles. I feel we have a very good two-way relationship with our local authority. I can go to her if a family comes with specific problems. If there is, say, a divorce and there is a dispute between parents, I can go to her and say, "Look, there is a problem here. Can you help support this family in their home-education decision?"
In the same way, if she finds a family that she thinks needs more specific support from the home-education community and she wants to help them do a good job with home education-say, if she feels there is somebody who has not had a particularly good educational background-she can phone me up and say, "Can I put this person in touch with you? This is the problem. Can you point me in the right direction?" That is really good. I feel that we are on equal terms with our local authority.
Q80 Chair: The 10% unit of school funding coming to local authorities where home-educated people engage with them was rejected in 2010, but can be revisited again. Do you think that would be a good idea? Would providing that kind of funding triggered by engagement by parents be a good way to get a little more support, while recognising the independence and the choices made by parents to home educate?
Jayne Richardson: If a family approaches a further education college for their child to enter pre-16, it would be great if the college could assess that child as an individual, and then draw on the funds themselves. It is a relationship between the family and the college, with the college having access to the funds if that was deemed necessary. When you get more and more people involved in these funding issues, it invariably gets very complicated, and it is hard work.
Q81 Chair: Has anyone tried to use the free school concept yet? I know we have got flexischooling, which has been a way of home-educated children being able to go into school at certain times and then be home educated the rest of the time, and the school gets the whole funding. There is an excellent flexischooling conference later this year being put on. What about the free school model? Have you heard of anybody trying to use that as a way of setting up some alternative educational centre?
Julie Barker: No. Our local home-education group runs a sort of tutorial session once a week preparing children for exams, and it was suggested that perhaps we might wish to go towards the free school model, to which the answer is definitely no. I would not think that anybody in their right mind would like to get involved with all the legislation and work there.
Chair: That is a clear answer.
Julie Barker: I do not know whether drawing down money from a free school is what you mean. Going back to the original thing, 10% of a school budget is not very much. The funding of college places and exams that are being done through the APG, or whatever you call it, is a much bigger pot, because college funding is not going to be paid for; some of the colleges are charging £4,000 for their 14 to 16, and that is not going to come out of the 10% budget.
I think that many families would welcome any financial support for younger children, but logistically I could see that it would be layers of extra administration and deciding how to distribute it. But I do think that to an extent all local authorities should be looking. Fiona’s survey showed that only one in five was accessing APG funding. Why is not everybody doing that? For all these local authorities that are worried about home educators not being known to them, while I am not saying it would solve all their problems, I am sure, just as Hampshire has found, that if they are offering something, more people will come forward.
Zena Hodgson: Money is certainly an issue for Somerset, because Somerset have got quite a good rate of people engaging with them. Again, over the last couple of years their services have dropped off, and it is about money. It is not about willingness.
Q82 Chair: If being a good local authority, and engaging with people in a way that builds trust and involvement, costs them more and brings no more money in, for those who are not like that, straightforwardly with a whole lot of pressures on them, you are asking: "Why do you not get involved in this?" You get a whole load of people demanding services from you for which you will get no more money. Just looking at it crudely, I can see why they would not put it at the top of the list.
Zena Hodgson: Somerset have reacted in another way. I was talking on the telephone to our EHE team leader yesterday; she enjoys her job and hopes her department stays, because she enjoys what she does and engaging with other people. They have had a much tighter budget, and the Director of Services has said "No" to things she has asked for, and things they would have been able to do before they have not been able to do now. But because they enjoy their job and still want to provide a good service, they are trying to find ways around it. It is making them work harder too.
Instead of the advisers having so many home visits and lots of travelling, they are having home drop-in centres, so they can see many more people of those who want to come in. She is also having more personal engagement with families, speaking to them on the phone if they care to, and getting to know them in that way. She has had a 25% increase in engagement this year, even though she has had less money, because she is making more effort to make it more personal, and to say, "We cannot offer much, but we are here should you need us."
Q83 Chair: You are making an excellent argument for doing more for less. The Government side of the room will be cheered by that.
Zena Hodgson: The other side of it is previously where they have given monies to groups, ours included-and on some occasions we are talking thousands of pounds for us to buy computer equipment, sports equipment, sites equipment, which many families were able to use-that has now all stopped, and that is a shame. There are new groups not starting up, because they simply cannot afford to; they cannot afford to have equipment. Those things have stopped. They have a series of laptops for loans for home-education families; those laptops are starting to break down and they have no money to replace them. There is a downside to it, and there are certain things that are now falling away at the edges, which is a shame, because it is not through not wanting to provide them.
Chair: The unit of funding following somebody getting involved with the local authority-yea or nay?
Julie Barker: Possibly.
Jayne Richardson: Given the history in recent years, I would be very, very worried, because there is a deep mistrust of Government motives at the moment.
Chair: As long as it is voluntary. I know there is mistrust.
Zena Hodgson: It is how you can ensure that. Does it start down a road of something and then a few years on it is not voluntary? A choice of some sort of voucher scheme; yes, in principle I quite like that idea, but there can be an element of: "Well, you have not chosen to take this up. We have got vouchers for swimming and music, but you have not taken it up, so is your education up to what it should be?" These are the concerns. In principle, if we could really remove those concerns, I quite like the idea, but it would have to be set in stone that there is a non-judgmental voluntary element to it.
Q84 Mr Ward: You mentioned the funding of free schools. Do you see a contradiction? Home education seems to be the ultimate in a free school. It is a free school, but without the funding.
Jayne Richardson: The problem with a school is that you need to have a structure to it, and that structure might not suit every child. I have had three children; they all learn in completely different ways, and it is about their education being individually tailored to their needs. That is the beauty of home education, and you can swap courses easily. As soon as you start bringing it into some sort of organisation, you spoil that.
Q85 Mr Ward: But the Government’s agenda, of which I am not a supporter in terms of free schools, is to do away with that, by definition almost-to remove many of the controls, constraints, requirements. It seems to me that applies even more so to home education, but without the funding going directly to support it.
Jayne Richardson: Even a free school is not going to be as sensitive to a child’s individual educational needs as a loving, caring parent. You can move lunchtime to 11 o’clock if you need to; you can individually tailor a day, an hour-anything like that-and that is the beauty and the freedom of home education.
Q86 Charlotte Leslie: You have answered the question I was going to ask, which is: in general, how is your relationship with local authorities, and where it is good, what are the key elements of good, and where it is bad, what are the key elements of bad? I think you have covered that. Are you able to give me a couple of bullet points?
Jayne Richardson: I would say the key element for a good relationship with our local authority is attitude. There is an underlying issue within our society as a whole about attitudes towards parenthood now.
Q87 Charlotte Leslie: Is that something that the whole panel would agree with?
Zena Hodgson: Yes. I reiterate with Somerset it is because they came originally from Equality and Diversity and said, "How may we help you? Let us understand you." That is a very different starting point to a council that is under Education and Welfare saying, "Why are you not in school?"
Hannah Flowers: I am from the London Borough of Sutton, and I would say that at the first point of contact it is quite bad at the moment. There are signs that there may be some improvements, but there is very much an attempt to persuade people not to take their children out of school, or to persuade them they should have visits, or to persuade them of all kinds of things for which there is no legal basis. If you then say that you know the law, they back off.
We have accepted visits. The person who has visited us is very nice and there have been no problems with that, but the initial contact was extremely off-putting. I can imagine why that sort of thing makes people not want to be known to the local authorities.
I also have concerns about the website. First of all, it is very hard to find anything about home education. You have to click on about seven different things to find it. If you do find it, it is very misleading and contrary to the law on many points. Although there may be individuals within the service who are very friendly, helpful and so on, the initial contact is very negative. In terms of support, I do not think there is any, apart from Sutton music service.
Q88 Charlotte Leslie: To what extent do the panel think that a lack of clarity of what the law is, and a lack of understanding from local authorities of where the law actually is, is a major contributor?
Jayne Richardson: I find it very disingenuous that local authorities who deal with education do not know the law regarding education. I am a layperson, and we all know the law regarding home education. I do not know why local authority personnel cannot educate themselves properly on the law. I would expect any service provider to understand it thoroughly; they should know it in more detail than we do. We have to know it, because we have to protect ourselves from them. It should be incumbent on them to train their personnel properly. They are a service provider and they should treat us with respect.
Julie Barker: Two things: I think that in Hampshire the powers that be certainly do understand the law, and do seek to apply it, but, as said in the previous panel, we have had problems with educational welfare officers being the first contact. That has been a thing that we have been working on with the local authority to change, because what happens is that in most cases anybody who has been in contact with a home-education group beforehand refuses EWO visits, so that does not achieve anything, and anybody who has not been in contact with a home-education group beforehand has a visit, and some of them have been misleading and unhelpful. Again, we are looking at that, and we now have a dedicated home education co-ordinator in the local authority employed by Hampshire, who is meant to be the first point of contact. We still have EWO visits, but anybody in the know says no anyway, and what can you do? It does not achieve anything in that sense.
The success in Hampshire has been because of dialogue. I live in East Hampshire. One of the home educators in North Hampshire and I have run a series of meetings over the last few years, where we have invited members of the local authority staff to meetings with home educators. We have invited them to our activities. They have been along to see what we are doing. When they see what we are doing, they realise we are all doing the same thing: we are working towards providing a high standard of education for our children. That has been the beginning of that dialogue.
There is still a long way to go, and I am sure there are lots of other things-special educational needs-that we need to be working on, but I do not think it is education in that sense. I think they know the law perfectly well, just like we do.
Q89 Charlotte Leslie: Would you say that you are acting as the consultative forums that the Badman Report recommended?
Julie Barker: If you are asking me, I think that is a bit of a loaded word. At the end of the day I am an individual, and I am the co-ordinator of a big local home-education network of about 200 families, but I cannot say I speak for all of them. We are hugely diverse and the report I wrote read, "What we are doing, not what everybody thinks." There are people in Hampshire who live a more alternative lifestyle than me who do not want anything to do with the local authorities, so they are not involved in that consultative process. Those of us who are have been involved with training the local authority consultants. We are in constant contact. We complain. When they get it wrong, we moan, but I would not like to call ourselves a forum; we are today’s home educators. It may be different in five years.
Q90 Charlotte Leslie: Tell me if I am completely wrong, but one of the difficulties that home educators face is there is both a need and a desire to be very diverse, but also in dealing with local authorities, and dealing with Government in order to get what you need and want, there is also a need to be quite cohesive and speak with one voice of what you want, and there is an obvious tension there. Do you think there is a need, and/or a desire, for more formal setups, like what you are talking about but in a more formal capacity, to be replicated in each local authority, and for an expectation that will happen, which may make the lobbying voice for diversity stronger?
Zena Hodgson: I would never presume to speak on behalf of home educators in Somerset, let alone in the rest of the country. It is so broad and diverse I would not ever want to do that. I know what I know about some of the families within my group, who happen to agree with me; some of them do not. I think it has to just go back to the basics of the guidelines and the law-that it is your right to home educate-and that is where it ends.
Q91 Charlotte Leslie: If the law was applied both accurately and sensitively, and with a positive attitude, things would be more or less okay. Is that what you are saying? Or do you think there is a specific change to the law that needs to be made?
Jayne Richardson: I think current legislation and guidelines are more than sufficient to protect both the freedoms of families to choose the way they educate their child, and for local authorities to take action should any problems occur. We live in a country where the basic principle is that you are assumed innocent until you are proven guilty. It is entirely wrong for local authorities to go in sometimes with the approach of: "You have got to prove to us that you are not breaking the law."
Zena Hodgson: This is back to Jane Lowe’s point in the earlier panel. I agree that the law is sufficient, but what does cause the problems is who is going in first and this idea of the educational welfare officers, as opposed to somebody neutral. That is the problem.
Q92 Pat Glass: Can I come back to the issue of public money? I know there is a disagreement about whether there should be some funding or not, but with any body that gets public money there is a degree of accountability. I am not suggesting that there needs to be a league table of home educators, but is there some form of accountability that can be put in place if home educators are going to access public money?
Jayne Richardson: I personally would prefer to look at access. There is an understanding when you take on home education that you take on full responsibility; that includes your time and your money. The big problem is that I am wasting a lot of my time trying to access things. I have put in my report that as a home educator you used to be able to access some GCSEs via the adult education system. I heard most places would require an adult to be present with the child, but the child could go along and do an adult education class in English or maths and then sit the exam. That was stopped in the mid-2000s I understand; my children were too young for it at the time, so I do not know a lot of the details.
That access to qualifications should be put back in place and, because they are publicly funded, I think schools should be required to make public exams available to the general public. As I have said before, it affects adults trying to improve their qualifications, as well.
Q93 Pat Glass: You can see the difficulty with that, can’t you? You would have 80-year-old ladies going along and doing exams in whatever at schools. If you just made it publicly available, people would just go and take advantage of it.
Jayne Richardson: I do not think they would. Personally we do not find GCSEs very inspiring. We have gone down the Open University route, because the courses are interesting and inspiring. We are only doing English and maths GCSEs, because it is a pragmatic approach in that it will be asked for. The Open University courses are far more interesting, and that is what we are doing instead. I do not think you will have queues of people wanting to sit exams.
When I was at school our sixth form college ran their adult education classes with the sixth form; they came to sixth form lessons, and two or three people joined in. It is not going to overrun the system to open it up to the public; it is a public exam system.
Zena Hodgson: If your child wants to follow a particular path, or is aiming for a particular career, there is no escaping that the society we live in may mean that you have to do a certain amount of GCSEs to carry on with what you want to do. For other jobs, maybe there are other ways around: there are apprenticeships; there is experience. But there are other careers that require you at least to have some of the basics.
The very nature of being home educated quite often puts families in the low-income bracket, or at very best that middle, squeezed income bracket. You have made that decision for one of you-or, if you are on your own, yourself-to be at home educating your children. To be in our society today on one income is tough; it is tough. The situation of having children who are exam ready, intellectually ready, and want to follow these paths and be the best they can be, but with the family saying, "I am sorry, I cannot afford those hundreds of pounds it is going to cost me to give you those two or three GCSEs," does not seem right.
Again, back to this access: we should have access and at least allow children who choose to to access exams and take exams. It should not be, because you are on low income, you cannot do that for a child.
Jayne Richardson: I think when you could access it via adult education it was free to the under-16s anyway, and it was that door that was closed.
Q94 Chair: There are two issues there. One is the access; I cannot imagine you would find anyone who would not agree that we ought to fix that and ensure that you can actually access it, and then there is the slightly thornier issue of who pays, and whether you carry on with the principle-
Zena Hodgson: We have such a good local authority, and they have been happy to pay that. If you are following a course, the £60, £70 for you to sit the exam is less onerous for the local authority than for you as a family. If you are on a very low income, that is quite a bit to find.
Q95 Chair: The access thing I can see as being relatively straightforward, and we will see what the Committee decide on that. In terms of the funding, you have then got the conditions that would attach to it. As Pat says, as soon as there is money, there is going to be accountability and there are going to be rules about how long prior to sitting the exam you have to let them know that you would like to do it. They might want to check before they spend their money that you are studying-things like that. Any thoughts on those issues?
Julie Barker: The Government wants value for money; it seems to me that there is an easy way of assessing the value of the APG funding for college places, 14 to 16. The college is responsible for the children’s education, so hopefully that is clear. Likewise, funding examinations by the same method: yes, there may be some fiddling about needing to be known, because obviously you cannot pay for exams for people that are not, and setting in a boundary of the time. Again, it will be evident whether it is value for money in the pass rate. Okay, some children will fail; we entered about 40 children last year for GCSE in our GCSE examinations as a home-education group, and one or two of them failed one or two exams. I think that is a higher pass rate than in many schools.
Q96 Chair: When you say failed?
Julie Barker: Well, got below A to C, to be specific.
Q97 Chair: Not technically a fail then?
Julie Barker: Not technically a fail, but we all know the gold standard of five A to Cs is what everybody is aiming for. One or two of them will not get that, just like one or two will not in my local school, or perhaps higher percentages in some schools. That is why that type of funding-a discrete package of funding for both 14 to 16 college provision and for exams-would make the biggest difference. It would be nice to have some money for books; it would nice to have some money for ice-skating or anything else you like, but for most home educators examination funding and college provision are the two big issues.
Q98 Alex Cunningham: The Chair mentioned very specifically the child’s readiness, or the preparation. Are home educators at a place where they would accept that somebody is going to go in and see what is being taught, and whether that child is in with a good chance of making that exam before they commit their money?
Julie Barker: I would say no. I am a teacher. I would say, "Actually I teach maths. If you send me to a house where somebody wants to know whether they are ready to enter for French, the answer is obviously no." That would be logistically a nightmare, but home educators are educating their children at home; they are setting them up for success, not failure.
Q99 Alex Cunningham: Teachers in schools are doing that surely?
Julie Barker: Absolutely. The point is, logistically, my daughter was ready to take her exams. Are you going to send five different specialists for the year she is taking to judge whether she is capable in chemistry, maths, and in English, etc? Logistically that is impossible, but I do not think you are going to get a rash of parents putting children forward for exams they are destined to fail. My daughter is autistic; I would not have put her in for a modern foreign language, because I knew that she would be destined for disaster. It is totally hypothetical, but trust in the parents; we are doing this because we are trying to educate our children to the best of our ability.
Q100 Chair: I am fascinated to see the percentages; it is very hard to get research, something we have not touched on. When we did our last inquiry, nobody knew anything, so we had recommendations being made and all sorts of strong positions being taken on home education by people whose ideas on welfare and educational outcomes turned out to be ill founded, because nobody really knew. I know people are not registered, they are unknown, they are independent and they are all different, so it is very hard to capture it. Are there any insights? If there is a problem in home education, be it on whichever side, and you can show it, then action would be required. But is there any way of knowing what is going on in home education generally? A lot of people worry that there are a lot of kids not being educated, and they have that fear. If it is shown that, in fact, broadly the outcomes are better than in schools, which is what I suspect but I cannot prove, it might allay fears.
Jayne Richardson: It depends on how you judge educational success. If you have got an academic child, academic success would be a good measure, but equally you have children who are not academic, but they are very bright, and they do not want to take exams, and they do not want to do qualifications, and they go on to have very successful lives, often in self-employment. You often hear stories on home-education forums about children who have never sat an exam, they have never been out of work, and they are supporting themselves as an adult. I think you need a much more broadminded approach to what success is in education.
Q101 Pat Glass: Just a question of clarification. It is a genuine question of clarification; it is not a trick question. I understand why people talk about the Open University. I understand that, but a few people have said, "We want access to college courses." Why is it acceptable for college courses but not for school? I do not want an onslaught.
Jayne Richardson: One of my children wanted to go to college pre-16. He is a very mature child, and would find a school environment, with a lot of the larking that goes on, to be very frustrating for his learning.
Q102 Pat Glass: It is about the culture?
Jayne Richardson: For him, it will be a cultural thing, because if he was going to learn something, he wanted to go and learn it.
Q103 Pat Glass: It is the social culture?
Jayne Richardson: Partly.
Julie Barker: The majority of the children that I know who have accessed 14 to 16 have done so because they wanted to do some sort of vocational course. I have had children in school, and they have been able to access the same sorts of courses; for example, they have gone on and done motor vehicle maintenance, because they want to go that way. They may do GCSEs alongside that, or they may not, but it is the access to vocational courses, which some colleges have specialised in with that 14 to 16 provision. It is not going to college to do GCSEs, which may be the same as a school equivalent; it is something alternative.
Q104 Craig Whittaker: We have heard, not particularly from this panel but from written evidence and our last panel, about postcode lotteries. We have also heard from both panels about the different opinions between home educators themselves. Is there a link between those differing opinions and how local authorities provide services to home educators?
Zena Hodgson: Can I clarify? Are you asking whether it is the home educators’ attitudes that are influencing the local authorities’ behaviour?
Q105 Craig Whittaker: And whether that is influencing the postcode lottery.
Julie Barker: I became involved in Hampshire a few years ago when there was a disagreement regarding a family that had found itself in a difficult position with a local authority, and things had got themselves into the local press. I did not know the family at the time, but I got involved with the situation to try to help the family and the child concerned, and also to try to find out what was happening, because the publicity in our local paper did not look very good; it did not show up the home educators in the right light.
That is how we started. From that, somebody in North Hampshire and I-and other people have been involved as well-have worked with the local authority to try to improve relationships. It is often the case that it is led by home educators to start with, and therefore we have developed a better relationship. If you do not ask, you do not get. In Somerset it is the opposite way around; the local authority went the other way.
Zena Hodgson: In my experience I would say no, because where we live we are on the tricounty border; we have got Somerset, Devon and Dorset. At our home-education group where we meet we have members spread from all three counties. You could argue that because we all meet in one place, we are of a similar mindset as home educators, and the experiences that we have in the different local authorities are very different. I have been in the position of having to help families in the other counties with very difficult situations that have not arisen in Somerset. I would say no; that all came from the local authority.
Q106 Craig Whittaker: As representatives of individual groups, can you do more to break down the postcode lottery in other areas? I know Julie talked earlier about helping down in Southampton.
Jayne Richardson: Cumbria borders Lancashire, and we are talking to home educators in Lancashire, and trying to get them to see that Cumbria has a good relationship with its home educators, so could the local authorities maybe start talking to each other to help improve the situation. There has been a lot of work done in Lancashire. Cumbria came in quite late, but that was an option to get them talking to each other on that level.
Zena Hodgson: This certainly happens, and because we have been identified as an area where there is good practice, in the past we have had EH teams from Gloucester come in and say, "How do you do it? How do we need to approach our home educators, because we cannot get anywhere?" We do make an effort to go to Devon and Dorset counties, and we get invited to some of their things to come and speak to home educators and to liaise with them. We are doing that, but the emphasis should be on central Government itself saying to local authorities, "You need to be doing this."
We are volunteers, we are home educators, and my biggest thing is finding the time, because I am also home educating my children. I am not paid, and I spend a huge amount of my time trying to educate professionals in other local authorities. I am happy to do that if it benefits people within my area, but there is a time limit to this, and I think it should be coming from other places.
Q107 Craig Whittaker: Hannah, can I ask you in particular, because of your online free school idea, how that can help breakdown regional differences? Can you also explain how it works for us?
Hannah Flowers: It is not something that we are doing; it is just an idea that has been suggested within our group. I do not really know yet whether it is workable, but it seems like it might be good to try to make use of the fact that technology is breaking down barriers a lot and allowing us to engage with people all over the country doing the same thing. At the moment it is just an idea; it has not gone further than that, but I think it could work. I think there are people interested in doing it, and perhaps it is something there could be funding for. But it has not gone any further than that.
Q108 Mr Ward: You have covered most of my questions in one form or another. Is there any additional comment on support for home-educated children with SEN or disabilities?
Jayne Richardson: I see no reason why funding cannot be channelled through GPs and stuff like that. If you do not educate your children through schools, why cannot home-educating families with children with special needs easily access it via their GP? I do not know an awful lot about special educational needs; if somebody comes to me with those problems I tend to channel them towards the home-education forums that will support that.
I hear stories where a family has decided to home educate, and they have got a child with special needs, and they have had half of their provision lost, because half of the funding for it came through education and the other half came through health. It is clearly not in that child’s interest, if they need a therapy, to have half of it slashed because they choose to home educate because that is better for their child.
Zena Hodgson: If children have been at school and have had School Action or School Action Plus or something like that happening and then deregister, that is simply no more. A lot of the links to occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and those kinds of services are cut straight away. In some instances that can be okay, because maybe they were very school specific, and maybe a lot of the help with special educational needs was to cope in a school environment, so that is not always needed. But for those families where some of these services will still be required it can be a case of starting all over again, going to a GP, and trying to get a referral. Even when that comes into place and maybe an assessment is done with the child of the needs they have, you are told what the needs are, but then there is nothing to enable you to carry out-
Mr Ward: The process.
Zena Hodgson: Yes.
Q109 Mr Ward: Were you going to say something?
Hannah Flowers: Yes. It is possibly going off at a tangent, because it is not to do with special needs, but it is to do with equal access and going back to the issue of funding. There is somebody in our group who is a single parent trying to home educate, and she has been under a lot of pressure from the local authority to put her child back in school. When she is trying to get jobseeker’s allowance, she is only looking for work from home, and she is obviously getting pressure from there to put her child in school so she can look for other work. If home education is a right in law, it should be equally accessible to everybody, so that is possibly another argument for some funding being available.
Again, I feel like if it was optional to register for it, then that would be fair. I do not know much about things like jobseeker’s allowance and so on, but maybe there is a possibility that if people are home educating, and therefore only looking for work from home, that could be considered to be an acceptable reason for that. I do not know.
Zena Hodgson: There is another issue here, and it is something we come up against, that if a child with some need does go to, for instance, an educational psychologist, the educational psychologist may have no clue about home education, and may not have even really heard of it. Once you start talking down that line, they will say, "Well, that is your problem; it is because they are not getting the socialisation they need," or lots of other preconceived ideas. Certainly something we bang our head against a lot is a lot of health professionals who have absolutely no understanding of home education.
We have spoken to our Somerset EH team about this, and they have put offers of training out to these professionals, and they have not taken it up. They have not got the time or money to be bothered with it. I do not know whether there is somebody, as they were saying about the library service, who could make sure that this information is out there that just being home educated is perhaps not the inherent cause of the child’s needs. I know it is another issue altogether.
Q110 Chair: Fundamentally changing commonly held ignorant attitudes is something I think beyond our recommendation and power.
Julie Barker: There is good practice; one thing Southampton was doing, before the recent decision to support exams, was supporting a partially sighted young man who is being home educated, and they have been very good. I have nothing but praise for the whole visual impairment service. My daughter was autistic; when I took her out of school we got more speech therapy, because we were more flexible. We could go in the daytime, rather than fitting around what suited the teachers.
Hampshire have been funding educational psychology reports, so that children with SEN can get the report done before exams so they can get extra support for exams-extra time, or whatever is needed. That is positive. There is a lot more that could be done.
Chair: Getting more local authorities to visit Hampshire sounds quite a good idea.
Q111 Mr Ward: We have mentioned support in terms of exams, in terms of getting to FE and so on, but is there a genuine concern that increased support would require a trade-off with increased scrutiny and monitoring by a local authority?
Zena Hodgson: Given the history of these relationships, we are sitting here and we have had quite positive experiences with our local authorities, but that is not the greater experience. We are the lucky ones, if you like, or the ones who have managed to work hard but also have an authority that is willing to listen. That is a huge amount of baggage to get rid of-that worry of the carrot and the stick thing, or that any offer of funding or help is going to come at a heavy price, if not immediately. But it opens up doors for more scrutiny-poorly trained scrutiny.
Jayne Richardson: My fear with funding is that it is great for those families that want it, but I would be worried that those families that did not choose to take up that funding would be labelled as the wrong type of home educator, and there is a big danger with that.
Zena Hodgson: That is one of the biggest worries. Who would not say it would be great to have a scheme that would mean I could buy some more learning software or get those music lessons, but does it come at that price? For those families who choose not to, are they saying, "Well, what kind of education are you providing"? That is a big worry.
Q112 Chair: People are understandably repulsed by this hostile attitude towards the local authority and think is a bit odd, until they see that the parent of an autistic child or other child with SEN has spent years fighting the head teachers of the school, the local authority, trying to get services, failing to get them, and home education was not a choice that came to them; it was forced on them as the only way of stopping their child being traumatised every day in the system, and they are not exactly in the best mental place to trust the local authority. The SEN draft Bill has just been published. It is a huge imposition on people who are already struggling-who may give up work to look after the child, to educate them, to work in local groups-to then ask, "Why do you not help us write the legislation as well?" It is a bit of a request, but there is an opportunity there; we are going to be scrutinising this draft Bill looking at SEN, and if so many home-educating parents do so because their child’s needs are not being met, and if there is a way that this legislation can help, while balancing the various concerns, that would be very helpful. We would love to hear from you and anybody else who might read this transcript or watch it who has ideas about what needs to be done so that those parents are better supported.
Jayne Richardson: I think something that could possibly be looked at with home educators as well is the loss of support from the benefit system that has happened over the last few years. If you have taken your child out of school, out of necessity, because they are not coping with school, you can see the benefits that have happened to that child, and then you come under pressure from the benefits system to be looking for work. It would be good if it was recognised that, although it is unpaid, being a full-time parent and a full-time home educator is a worthy job in its own right. Less hostility in the benefits system towards such parents would be very useful.
Q113 Chair: Any thoughts on that would be gratefully received as well, though I think that is an uphill path.
Hannah Flowers: Probably, but if there was some guidance, some training, some raising of the issue, that would be good, because I do not know if there is at all now.
Chair: Thank you very much; it has been an interesting morning. Thank you very much indeed. Do stay in touch if you have any thoughts on SEN or any other subjects you would like to update us on.