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Lords prepare law to monitor home-schooled pupils



A bill to introduce greater monitoring for home-schooled children is in a “good position” to pass into law, according to its sponsor Lord Soley, despite warnings from home-schoolers it will be an “unmitigated disaster” and could “cost lives”.

The Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill demands local authorities monitor the “educational development” of children receiving home education through annual assessments, and requires parents to register all home-schooled children.

The law does not currently require a parent to register a child as home-schooled, although they must alert a school if they are withdrawing their child.

It’s a nightmare. If it goes through, it will be an unmitigated disaster. It’s a huge deal

Soley, a Labour peer, said he is “in favour of home education” but has concerns about the lack of help available for parents, and wants to crack down on the “small minority” who use home education for “abuse of one sort of another”.

“The minority – where they are abusing or trafficking or radicalising – really do need to have some oversight,” he said. “Society can’t just forget these kids.”

However, Mike Wood, a former home educator and owner of the website Home Education UK, insisted there is no evidence of home-schooled children suffering from abuse or radicalisation who were not already known to social services, and said time would be better spent training local authorities to “understand the law”.

If the bill succeeds, home-educators would receive an annual visit from the local authority to check on the progress and wellbeing of the child, and more regular visits if any concerns were raised. The assessment could include interviews with parents and children, or seeing examples of their work, which must include “supervised instruction in reading, writing and numeracy”.

Lord Soley

Wood said that this shows a “misunderstanding” about home-schooling, and that making parents adopt a formal educational structure or risk breaking the law would cause so many difficulties that some children would be forced to return to school.

He warned the bill would “cost lives”, leaving some children suicidal, and said parents who cannot face sending their children back to school but are unable to meet its “impossible” requirements will end up in jail.

“There are a lot of parents who are doing the best for their children but cannot meet these demands. Parents of children with special needs, all sorts of issues,” he said. “It’s a nightmare. If it goes through, it will be an unmitigated disaster. It’s a huge deal.”

Soley insisted his bill was “light-touch regulation” and a better option than any “panic legislation” down the line if it emerged home-schooled children were being abused or radicalised. He believes there is a “60-per-cent” chance that the bill becomes law.

During a House of Lords debate on school attendance on January 24, academies minister Lord Agnew said the government was updating its guidance on home education for local authorities as their powers “often go further than appreciated”.

He said he was keeping an “open mind” about Lord Soley’s bill and would be working with him “collaboratively” on it.

A spokesperson for the DfE said the government had changed the law to make schools inform local authorities if a pupil is taken off their register, and councils already have a “duty to intervene” if they have safeguarding concerns or reason to believe children are “not receiving a safe and suitable education”.



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17 Comments

  1. I think this Bill being proposed is disgusting. It will do nothing to prevent or stop child abuse. Home educators are not monsters yet we are being treated as such. Intrusive assessments in our homes, taking our kids asdide for interviewing which is illegal for a police officer to even do. We took our children out of school because the system failed them and to keep them safe, but now we are being put under the microscope. Annual testing which goes against our rights to home educate as we see fit for our children. Academic, physical, and mental assessments by local authority office workers, not even professional assessments.
    Now lets talk figures. As home edders we save the tax payer £45-£60k per year per child. It will cost the tax payer £900k per year for one local autority figure to visit one family each weekday, (excluding school holidays and weekends). That doesn’t include training, paperwork, extra visits, or holiday cover. There are thousands of home-ed families and the number is growing by the day. Thousands being visited each day will put enormous strain on the budget and still not do anything to stop child abuse.
    What will home edders get out of it? the offer for examinations to be paid for at £200 per exam not including tutoring. so lets add that to the pot. But we don’t care about that. As home edders our children have the right to not sit tests, SATS, or GCSE’s but home edders will have already made provisions for eamxs themselves anyway. We don’t need the help.
    Mandatory visits are just not acceptable. Choice for help is what should be available and nothing more.

    • Ruth O'Hare

      No, no, they’re not offering to ‘pay’ for exams. Note the wording, they want to help us ‘access’ them, maybe by pushing an LA run secondary school to accept external candidates if there isn’t provision locally? Certainly not PAY for them. They want their cake and to eat it, leave families to pay for everything that would have been funded for a school AND be able to tell us what to do.

    • i would just like to say as a concerned Grandmother that i am totally
      opposed to home schooling which is not monitored
      my 2 grandchildren were home schooled for a few years and they
      were taught nothing apart from how to play computer games and
      how not to get up in the morning
      they then were sent to a local school who struggled to help them
      catch up with their other pupils, they are now being taken out of
      school to be home schooled again
      their mother is expecting a new baby at easter and she doesn’t want
      the bother of taking them to school
      and apparently there is nothing i can do about it.
      any helpful advise would be appreciated.

  2. There is no reason home educating families should be treated with more suspicion than families with children below school age (who will likely be next on the line if this bill becomes law). Giving unqualified local authority officials the right to access people’s home without a warrant or any cause for suspicion is a terrible precedent to set, and an infringement upon the right to privacy and a family life of the very children it is supposed to ‘help’.
    Lord Soley has done no costing on this bill, presented no data to support his concern, and admits to having no experience in the field of education. He also does not appear to understand the powers granted by the current legislation, which allows local authority education officials to investigate if concerns are raised about a home educated child educationally, and which allows social services to investigate if there are concerns about a home educated child’s welfare.
    Investigating where there is no cause for concern wastes time and money, increasing the workload of an overstretched welfare service and risking false positives (which can be expected when the training of LA officials on home education is so incredibly poor). The speculated children whose welfare or education are at risk are also the children whose parents are least likely to comply with any registration law, thus paradoxically pushing them further underground and diverting attention to those families who register willingly because they have no problems.
    I agree with Mr Wood. This bill is a travesty, and along with many other home educated children I hope it gets dropped before our rights are eroded in the name of one misinformed man’s (frankly creepy) need to have us monitored.

  3. As a teacher I am concerned about this. Ofsted inspects schools every 3 years, social services cannot demand a visit unless they have reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect, police cannot enter a property without a warrant. Even sex offenders have to register but don’t have to be inspected. I have seen far too many children in school where the national curriculum fails them. They aren’t robots. I’ve seen home educated children flourish, so why so we need this? Because one or two have been abused? Many children turn up at school, obviously neglected, or abused, and nothing gets done about them. Social services may make one visit and all is well on the surface. Making one visit to home educated children once a year not only hugely increases resources needed to do this, who are suitably open minded to all the different ways children learn, but also will not possibly be able to determine the success of home education. Plus, while I definitely agree that academics are important, a persons emotional intelligence has been shown to be a much higher determining factor of success than IQ. Children who are home educated learn on their own timetable,but rarely get to the age of 18 not able to enter the adult world with knowledge of that world, being literate and numerate. They have more opportunity than school children to truly learn, in depth, rather than to just pass exams. I’m teaching teenagers in Year 9 how to pass GCSEs. It’s crazy.

  4. Ian Pritchard

    Lord Soley is barking up the wrong tree here. He made a blatant attempt to manipulate people’s emotions in the Times article by drawing a comparison with the awful things that happen in the US.

    If he is genuinely concerned about a good education for home ed kids he would serve them better by pushing for practical state support with home ed. e.g. removing charges for exam fees, improving SEN support, etc, etc. The list of ways that home edders can be help is huge. This bill will do nothing to support home educated children and everything to dissuade concerned parents from removing their children from failing schools.

    • and neither will it find those who are ‘off grid’ which are arguably the ones they wish to find. Sadly all it will do is drive a further wedge with the big stick between the state and those dissatisfied with the state provision and choose to make their own arrangements.

  5. The Bill writes a blank cheque for the government of the day to do what it likes. If it goes ahead and is implemented with mandatory home visits and inspections, it is likely to harm many more children than it saves. Imagine a child who has been driven to self-harm or has suicidal thoughts after being bullied at school and is recovering from that ordeal in the relative calm of home education. A stranger invades their safe space at home, the child thinks that this person is coming to send them back to school, how is that going to help the child in any way? If this bill is ‘light touch’ I shudder to think what a ‘heavy-handed’ bill would look like.

    • I completely agree, this bill is unethical and dangerous, furthermore it will not find the children Lord Soley “thinks” are at risk. It will push them further underground, if indeed there are any. The bill and discussions demonstrate a vast misunderstanding of home education and it’s about time this approach is given the respect it deserves. Instead we are deemed abusers and imbeciles (an actual statement made in a child services document) when very often we acted to save our children from the hell they experienced in inequitable and non inclusive services within the school system. Those who choose home education from the start do it out of a belief they can provide a better education for their child than what is on offer. Access to our homes, under the assumption they are risk of being damaged JUST because of the educational and life choices we make it tantamount to societal cleansing. The next step will be the under 5s and then the children’s homes during school holidays. This needs to stop now.

  6. Anonymous

    Local Authority freedom of information responses show that no home educated child has been known to be radicalised.

    Local Authority freedom of information responses show that fewer home educated children are abused than any other cohort.

    Local Authority statistical publications demonstrate that the cost of implementing this Bill would be significant, at a time of cuts and schools bewailing lack of resources.

    It is not a ‘light touch’to introduce what is effectively a full child protection assessment for every family that home educates, based on what Lord Soley himself says are not data, or evidence related proposals, but his own brand of ‘common sense’.

    It is not common sense, rather it shows lack of good sense.

    Home educating families weer asked by Lord Soley if they trusted their Local Authority, almost unanimously they responded ‘no’.

    Yet in that light he considers it acceptable to subject those families to routine inspection by people they do not trust, in a manner which is invasive of their privacy, often in cases where the child has been let down by the same department subjecting them to the inspection.

    IF Lord Soley proposed training for Local Authorities to ensure that they comply with the current law, we would cheer him on.

    IF Lord Soley proposed oversight of Local Authorities, with a proper complaints system, to ensure that they comply with the current law, we would cheer him on.

    IF Lord Soley proposed that Local Authorities must ensure that they treat parents and children with respect we would cheer him on.

    Lord Soley does none of those things, instead he pays lip service to respecting home educating families, like a smiling assassin who tells you he cares whilst digging his knife deeply into you.

    I am ashamed that any peer could seek to introduce legislation which he acknowledges to have no basis in fact.

  7. It is astonishing to read that Lord Soley thinks his private member’s bill that has no basis in scientific evidence is 60% likely to go through. he is suggesting that ‘common sense’ is good enough but that is a very poor basis for any kind of change in law. This bill is a long, long way from being supported and the government’s response to it has been to suggest clearer guidelines for Local Authorities but no actual change in law. Clearer guidelines for local authorities may well be a good thing as so many of them try to operate outside of the law in this area and the moment and need bringing back under control.

    Home education is not a safeguarding issue, it is the legal right (and responsibility) of parents in this country to provide an education for their children. We already have good laws that support this right and so far, Lord Soley has not been able to show any evidence of why this needs to change.

  8. Jonathan Ridge

    This bill has some huge fundamental flaws. Lord Soley has said it is about the rights of the child, unfortunately he doesn’t realise that the rights of a child are linked to the responsibility and duty of the parent. It is in the parents hands to take responsibility for their child’s education. Sending a child to school is a choice but is not the default. School is opt in. By very nature the first years of a child’s life are ‘home educated’. When they reach a certain age the parents may choose to pass the responsibility over to the state or to a private school. This bill threatens to over extend the reach of the government and begin to assess the parents ability to home educate. This is a slippy slope to change school from opt in to opt out. No school that I’m aware of has the physical capacity to become an opt out system. Furthermore, the logic of monitoring education only makes sense when it comes to schooling. If my child’s education is my responsibility then if I choose to hand my child to the state to be educated, of course I want it monitored. Hence systems like ofsted. If instead I continue the from-birth-default of home ed, monitoring education makes no sense as the state do not have the responsibility to intervene at that stage. You don’t see mandatory visits for pre-schoolers who are in essence being home educated. This bill is presented as a safe guarding for children. If that were so then it would have nothing to do with home education and everything to do with all children being looked after responsibly. Safety and education are not connected.

    There are seriously so many flaws with this bill and I’d hope a website such as schoolsweek – who I assume are pro education – would be able to see that.

  9. If you want to help, offer help! Telling people “we’ll come and disturb you X amount of times a year to decide if you need help or intervention” isn’t help, it’s a delayed ‘1984’.

    It’s been explained, including in layman’s terms, way too many times that the law is already there to protect children, and the fact that children get failed by the authorities time and again is not due to the lack of HE legislation, it’s due to the lack of proper training and resources.

    Education of our children is the ultimate responsibility of the parents, and this too, seems to have been conveniently and persistently ignored by Lord Soley. To not understand this for someone in Lord Soley’s position is a disaster for the society and ultimately, for the country. It is all the more disappointing (to put it mildly) that the proposed Bill has already wasted our taxpayers’ money and is promising to waste much more, even if it does not end up becoming Law – the money the government could use to improve the very education system whose failures are the major contributing factor to the rapid growth of the home educating community we have been witnessing recently.

    You want to help – help the education system to incorporate the existing vast body of research that says, formal education before the age of 6-7 is too early, too much time within four walls is harmful, school environment kills imagination and does not help develop social skills and confidence, but instead, leads to bullying and all sorts of mental issues – tackle these if you dare! If you want to help, help these kids by making their life better, not by bringing misery into home educator’s lives!

  10. Eve Sacks

    I think the concern here are the children who are being excluded due to parents extremist beliefs, and being denied any sort of (secular) education. Where home schooling is being used as a pretense / front for unregistered religious schools – as in the children aren’t being home schooled at all – rather they are attending relgious schools 60 hours a week.

    Provided those who are making home visits are sensitive to the child who is being home schooled for (say) mental health reasons then overall the impact will be positive.

    • If they’re attending an unregistered religious school then that’s a matter for the authorities to deal with under the legislation concerning illegal schools. It is not a home education matter. Perhaps it should be mandated that all children, regardless of educational status, are to receive an annual home inspection. That way everyone can see what a waste of resources it is. Take the money that would be spent on such things (which is tens of millions of pounds) and direct it where it might do some good.

    • Julie appleton

      I am not happy with the school curriculum. Teachers are there to teach and help children who need help, but the way children are taught today nothing has time to sink in. Schools are too bothered now about Ofsted and keeping up with the Joneses,not the capability of some children who can’t keep up.This is why children with issues or problems are getting left way behind.