Our proposals on home education need not be intrusive

2 Aug 2021, 6:00

home education

MPs understand that if council powers are used inappropriately it will negatively impact relationships, writes Robert Halfon

This week, cross-party colleagues and I on the House of Commons education select committee were delighted to see the release of our report, Strengthening Home Education.

This report brought together the input of experts such as former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield, as well as charities, local authority representatives and many from the elective home education (EHE) community.

The upshot from all that work was one of our main recommendations – that the government should create a national register of children outside of school.

‘Not all home educators are doing it well’

Our inquiry received many submissions from parents who passionately and eloquently set out the benefits that children can gain from being educated at home.

They told us their children were receiving high-quality education and achieving impressive outcomes as they moved into work or further study.

Nevertheless, it does not follow that just because these home educators are providing children with a good education, all home educators are.

The Department for Education has itself said there is “considerable evidence” that some children may not be receiving a suitable education.

The aim of a national register would not be to remove freedoms from parents who are providing an effective education for their families, but to better target support to those who need it.

Without a register – with anonymised information at a national level to ensure every child’s privacy – no one can know how many children are being educated at home to a high standard, and how many may need extra support.

‘Families can choose where to meet council staff’

This is also why our committee advocates a better regime for enabling local authorities to assess families in EHE.

The DfE’s guidance already says that councils should engage once a year with home schooled children and their families.

Although our report called for the Department to clarify and strengthen its expectation, this need not be intrusive.

Our proposal is to give councils the ability to see a child in person, but only in situations where this is necessary to establish the suitability of the education they are receiving, and at a venue of the family’s choosing.

Furthermore, we heard that a register would help “rule out all those children that you don’t need to have worries about”, allowing councils to focus on those in need of support.

‘Clearer criteria and progress markers’

The Department states that education should enable children to grow up and “function as an independent citizen in the UK.”

Our report asked that, when the DfE next revisits its guidance, it indicates what level of numeracy and literacy is sufficient to do this.

These skills are essential to play a full part in social and economic life.

We also recommend that the DfE draws clear criteria that would help set out what a suitable education should entail for children learning at home.

And this should take into account a full range of pedagogical approaches as well as the age, ability and aptitude of individual children – including where they may have special educational needs and disabilities.

Local authorities could then assess children’s progress from one year to the next.

Local authority representatives told us that better mutual understanding between councils and EHE families is in everyone’s interests – not least those of the home-educated children who should always be our focus.

‘Negative impacts to be avoided’

Due to the apparent inconsistency of local councils’ approaches to EHE, we recommended that the Department commission and roll out a national training package for all council officers with responsibility for EHE.

This would be developed with a range of stakeholders, so that those officers have a thorough and consistent understanding of their duties and the various approaches to EHE.

We understand that, where powers are seen to be used inappropriately, there is a negative impact both on individuals and on relationships with the wider EHE community.

For example, without better data it is impossible to know whether the growth in School Attendance Orders (SAOs) reflects concerns about provision of education in the home, increased activism on the part of councils or a combination of both.

We are not opposed to SAOs per se, but better information is needed regarding the growth in their use and whether they are being used appropriately.

The committee unanimously supports the right of families to opt for EHE – provided it is in the best interests of the child and the education is of a suitable standard to meet their needs.

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  1. Jeremy

    The education committee urgently needs a new chair, ideally one who understands the difference between between assertion and evidence and between an inquiry and an outpouring of personal prejudice. The country is ill-served by having this bigoted and ignorant person in such a role.

    • Michelle

      I note you have not included the amount of SAO that are overturned at court where the only available defence is that the child is recieving a suitable education. The few that are upheld proves the LA already have sufficient powers to act when there is a genuine case of an EHE child not recieving a suitable education, but also shows that LA officers overstep and get it wrong the majority of the time as most are overturned.
      A register is not SUPPORT. Over 95% of EHE children are already known by the LA; a register in itself in these circumstances is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and would be a grossly negligent waste of public funds. There is talk about support, but what support do they mean. Many LA’S already do not completely meet their s19 duties when parents who want their child with a complex profile back in school.
      Detail this support you keep uttering ( not just bandy a word around) so that an open and transparent conversation can be had.
      Detail how the committee came to the recommendations they did of the written published responses to the committees enquiry over 75% where against a register, so how has that ended up a recommendation when less than a 1/3 of the responses where in favour of a register.
      Children are not ( or at least they should not be) Just data fodder.
      Literacy and numeracy already have a standard a gcse 4 or equivalent at aged 16, this is not met in every school for every child so WHY are you trying to hold parents acting in the best interests of their child knowing all their circumstances to a higher standard than is expected of school provided education.

    • Jude Saffron

      Sadly at the present time Local Authorities largely have poor reputations for understanding the law around Elective Home Education and regularly overstep their remit. This has caused upset and mistrust for a lot of families who have exercised their legal right to EHE. I have little faith that an increase in their powers would be anything other than detrimental for families.

      Considering the ignorant manner in which this register is being pushed (ie ignoring the masses of data provided by EHE families) I would prefer that the Education Committee scrap the current chair and start listening in a reasonable and open minded manner to those voices which should matter far more than they have, the families who EHE.

      • Lyn Newman

        After finding out about this yesterday and having slept on it, I agree. I don’t see how the home education community can continue to have any kind of interaction with this committee, positive or otherwise, while a so obviously prejudiced person is the chair.

        The issue around this entire movement to invade the privacy of family life and impose data extraction on home educating families is often justified by the anxiety it causes some professionals.

        The anxiety of professionals is caused, as is anxiety for anyone, by their inability to tolerate ambiguity. Here the government is planning to impose measures on home educators simply to gain personal information to assuage the anxieties of others.

        This is entirely wrong. It is not our responsibility to explain ourselves to those who are anxious. Before becoming a home educating parent, I worked in mental health helping to train those in recovery and so I am well aware that when we explain anything, with the intention of helping anxious people become less anxious, they often just move their anxiety to a part of the explanation. Anxiety does not simply disappear in response to explanation.

        It is not our duty to tackle professional anxiety and we can’t. Professionals must tackle their own anxiety and not through using the power of the state to abuse us just because they can.

  2. Nikki graham

    What support?? There is currently no support on offer. The councils only have a limited time to monitor each family on their list.

    There are many parents begging for support and help with the school system but can’t get it. Wheres all this support going to come from??

  3. “The committee unanimously supports the right of families to opt for EHE – provided it is in the best interests of the child and the education is of a suitable standard to meet their needs” – English law, the ECHR framework and legal precedent (UK Supreme Court 2016 Named Person ruling) all state that it is the parents – not the council who don’t even know the child in question – who are best placed to make these choices.

    The entire hearing was a farce. The Chair announced before the hearing began that he supported registration and monitoring, the committee heard no evidence from current home educators and instead continually sought opinion of Ofsted, many of the submissions were not published, the committee refuse to share the briefings the MPs actually were given. Bias from beginning to end.

  4. Samantha Streather

    Every child is different in their own right, as such they progress at different levels, especially when given the opportunity to grow at their own pace rather than being herded along by the school system.
    In mainstream they are told they are lacking if not hitting attainment grades set at a specific age range when they may need additional time to complete work but it isn’t available. They may need additional help or clarification which isn’t available and I could go on. When you have a classroom full of children that are expected to work and achieve at the same pace you are going to get those that are left behind.
    Being home educated- not to be confused with Home Schooling, which it is most definitely not! Yet somehow both terms have been used in this article – allows for that time to be given to meet their personal targets for their ability and aptitude – age should never be a factor.
    Having a meeting with someone from the EHE yearly and them getting to meet the child in question is not going to result in them knowing if the ‘education is suitable’. They can not fully know a child in one meeting, understand their abilities and be able to make an assessment, this is absurd! The same as asking for samples of work, how can you look at samples and miraculously think you can determine whether an education is suitable? How is a register going to help here?
    All students that have been taken off the school roll are known to their local authority. Why the need for a register?
    How are you going to manage the thousands of Home Educators individually?
    There aren’t enough staff to ensure schools are doing what they should, how are you going to manage thousands upon thousands of households?

  5. My son and his needs were disregarded at school.

    He was so traumatised by his teacher he was wetting the bed.

    He was being kept in at lunchtime and break time.

    We were told if we went to CAHMS school would say there were no issues.

    He was melting down at home 3-4 hours a day.

    School did not care.

    I removed him for his own well being when he was 7. At 13 he still describes school as a torture chamber for children like him.

    He is terrified of being sent back to one.

    Please tell us how your proposals safeguard him because you certainly didn’t when he was in school.

    If I had treated him like school did Social Services would rightly have been involved. If I said “well he is fine at home” when they were concerned about him, I’d have been seen as failing to consider his needs.

    We paid for him to be assessed by a therapist last summer.

    High probability ASD, PDA, SPD. We already had all the strategies in place to support him and since he left school we’ve brought him from 3.5 hours of meltdowns a day to around 2 a year.

    His story is not unique.

    Leave our children alone.

    • Hell would freeze over before I let anyone from the LA LEA into our home and he does not want to speak to the people who let him down. You need to focus attention onto how badly LEAs are letting down our children before you try to force them on us.

  6. Alice Gurr

    The biggest problem here is that they have missed the whole point of home education. Most people home educate because they are not satisfied with the quality or structure of education in schools, and the last thing they want is for their children to be held to a series of educational goals imposed by the government. The numbers of children failing in schools is proportionally much higher than the number of home educated children failing, and who sets the definition of success or failure anyway. And schools are way too politicised now to be safe for any child. You don’t need a national register, just provide free resources and examination centres for home educators, no strings attached. A national register is about conformity and control, exactly what drive most home educators to home educate their children.

  7. Marc Painter-Coates

    Who deems an education to be “effective” by which standards? Education is more than sitting in a room being fed information for 18 years then having a test on your memory skills, modern school is not fit for purpose, it’s there to produce obedient little factory workers, a one size fits all approach that fails so many

  8. Robert Halfon suggests a national register to better target support to those who need it. We know will be no support. The government is currently telling councils they need to save money on support for Special Educational Needs. This is the continuation of a policy that has caused many families to remove their children from school, and will likely cause a further increase in home education. A register will just take money away from supporting the children that the government already know need help.

  9. If Mr Halfon and his committee were serious about not wanting the proposals to be intrusive, they would have recommended implementing some form of accountability on local authorities for acting within the law.

    If you read the submissions to the inquiry, you can find many examples of local authorities completely disregarding the law to harass, intimidate, and impose upon home educating families with the intention of unjustly forcing their children back into school. The problem is not just cases where “powers are seen to be used inappropriately”, it is local authorities acting well outside their legal powers, actively breaking the law, and there currently being no recourse for home educating families short of judicial review to try to hold them to account.

    That the inquiry did not address this problem at all in their report shows that it was conducted in bad faith. All home educators, in fact all reasonable people everywhere, support holding law-breakers to account. So to see the committee blithely ignore reports of LA officials breaking the law and instead recommend handing more power to such people with no framework for accountability is an obvious signal that this is about control, not about “strengthening home education”.

    Mr Halfon has brought himself and the committee into disrepute. He should resign immediately, and make a full apology to the home educating community for the harm he has encouraged.

  10. “Although our report called for the Department to clarify and strengthen its expectation, this need not be intrusive.”

    “Our proposal is to give councils the ability to see a child in person”

    How on earth these two sentences fit together I do not know. The word my child heard when she learnt about this VIOLATION , it would be a violation to our children’s rights to HAVE to see someone they do not wish too.

    The select committee purports to care for the children, be doing this for the children, yet failed to engage a SINGLE home educated child, or adult that had been home educated throughout the inquiry, on how they felt about their “right to a private life” being totally disregarded.

    This report is nothing more than a request to ignore a child’s fundamental human rights, dressed up in concern.

    A freedom of information request has gone in to request what this “considerable evidence” that some children may not be receiving a suitable education.” is, and if it is found to not be considerable (remembering that there is not a single serious case review where a judge has ruled that home education was a factor in the case, nor is there a single case of a child involved in a serious case review who was unknown to services) , can we expect a swift apology and rebuttal of this accusation ?

  11. Sam Runham

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck…….by this analogy- the chairperson of the committee is a plonker ( that was much more polite than the word in my head).
    The Select committee seriously need a new, better informed chairperson and need to listen to EHE families and provide support where needed, a register is not necessary and hell will freeze over before I allow any LA bod in my home or anywhere near my children and I really couldn’t care less whether it’s compulsory or not.

  12. Lyn Newman

    I’m not sure anyone has fully thought through the implications of these proposals, least of all Halfon or the teaching unions.

    The linking of the attainment of individual children to the judgement of whether an educator or the education they provide is satisfactory? That is not applied to any other child educated anywhere and we cannot say that is because children in schools are taught by professional teacher because in many school QTS is not required.

    There may be large numbers of children who have special needs, there are many children who meet the desired standards of attainment at KS1 who are part of the third of pupils who failed to reach the standards at KS2 before the pandemic. These children have “failed” in school. Who is coming to take these children away from their unsatisfactory educational provision so they can be placed with a more satisfactory teacher or school?

    Halfon is a liability, not unlike his current boss at the Education Department.

  13. Lyn Newman

    Or could this drive for data collection simply be more grist for the commercial mill. Frankly, if the parents of children educated in state schools knew where their children’s personal data ended up, I’d be surprised if most would consent . Perhaps that is why parents are not asked.

    Still, gambling companies need a ready supply of potential customers so why not your children, eh? I wonder how much they pay for the details of your children’s lives.


    Protecting our children’s personal data is not the reason we home educate but it is one of the reasons why it’s worth making a stand about invasive data collection regardless of how anxious or uncomfortable it may make others.