This has been a controversial and topical subject recently and this blog looks at the legal implications for those who choose to home educate their children, this is outside of the current discussion on unregistered schools which will be the subject of a further post later in the year.
While the government has identified that it is a ‘fundamental right of every child to be educated’, how this is provided is virtually unregulated in the UK. (Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities) s7 of the Education Act 1996 gives every parent of a school age child a duty to educate their children ‘either by regular attendance at school or otherwise’. On the 18th of January the government produced a briefing paper on the subject, to inform both the public and MPs about the present position. It is worth noting that home education while perfectly legal in this country, is not legal in many other jurisdictions i.e. Germany where state or state sanctioned education is a legal requirement for all children of school age. Exceptions are very rare and only really exist in cases of ill health. School is regarded as a training ground for social tolerance and therefore home schooling is not an option. In Greece school attendance is even more tightly regulated and is mandatory with no exceptions. This contrasts with countries such as the USA where home education is much more prevalent than in the UK for a variety of reasons. In the USA over two and half million children are educated at home. (Home School Legal Defence Association)
The present position in the UK allows parent to decide to teach their children at home for the entire statutory education period or only certain parts of it. Parent who chose this option have a duty to ensure that
The education provided is efficient, full time and suitable for the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special education needs they may have. (Education Act 1996) They do not have to follow the national curriculum. The parents of home educated children must be prepared to assume the full financial responsibility, including the cost of public examinations (House of Commons Briefing Paper No 5108)
Local authorities do not have statutory duties to monitor this education or its quality, however they do have to monitor whether children are receiving a suitable education which seems to be a significant contradiction. There appears to be a gap here, as local authorities, as part of their general safeguarding role can insist on seeing children but not seeing them to identify if the education they’re receiving is suitable. Local authorities provide guidance and advise they should acknowledge that learning takes place in a variety of settings, not just classrooms, but where there are concerns they will need to gather information in order to reach a ‘properly informed judgment’ about the suitability of the education provided. However, parents have no duty to attend a meeting or supply information, which suggests the local authority is really hampered in its supervisory role. So under the Education Act 1996 Local Authorities do not a have duty in relation to monitoring the home education of children in their area but they do have a duty to intervene if the education that a child is receiving is inadequate. Surely that cannot be done in a meaningful way if they are not able to monitor the education?
Numbers are very difficult to come by but it is estimated by the government that there are approximately 27,000 registered home educated children in the UK. However, the BBC, using Freedom of Information requests showed 36,609 children are being home educated in 2015 showing a 65% increase over the previous three years. There is no requirement for parents to notify the local authority that their child is home educated. This may account for the lack of reliable data. Differing from where a child is removed from a school they are registered at, then parents must notify. This means there is an unknown number of children that have never been in the education system and there may be no external supervision of their education at all. The NSPCC have raised concerns about these ‘invisible’ children
There is no mechanism to ensure that they continue to receive a ‘suitable education or adequate care without the express consent of the parents/carers. This highlights a major safeguarding flaw with in the home educating legislation which focuses on the parental choice and rights at the expense of the children’s rights, wishes, welfare and protection (NSPPC)
See the very tragic case of Dylan Seabridge, a home educated boy of 8 years old who had no contact with any authorities for the previous seven years and died of scurvy, an easily preventable disease in 2011. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jan/22/concerns-raised-about-boy-who-died-of-scurvy-a-year-before-his-death-leaked-report)
The recent Casey Review, looked at the wider issues of general integration in the UK and identified some risks and difficulties of social cohesion and integration, specifically related to home education including
• The current definition of ‘suitable education’ was not specific enough to meet the governments efforts to build cohesive communities and encourage the adoption of British values
• There is a danger that the right to home educate may be being used to allow parents to place their children in unregistered schools
• Local Authorities may be missing important child protection issues and be completely unaware of a child who is receiving an inadequate and inappropriate education.
Prior to the Casey Report, the Badman Review of home education in 2009 recommended a central register of children who are being home educated and this initially was part of the Children and Families Bill 2014, but this section was subsequently dropped. The suggestion had received a very hostile reception from home educators including comments such as ‘a register would be an unprecedented intrusion into family life’ (Guardian June 6th 2009 Get tough of home tuition to weed out abuse) this seems to support the NSPCC’s view about the focus of legislation in this area supporting the rights of the home educating parents, sometimes to the detriment of their children.
In 2012 The Education Committee identified the inconsistent support offered to home educated children by Local Authorities and indeed referred to it as a post code lottery, with the best performing local authorities monitoring and supporting children in the home education environment, and in the worst performing local authorities the children were almost invisible with little or no external support. While parents assume the full financial liability of home education the best performing local authorities do proved support ‘where resources permit’. In times of austerity, these resources are becoming ever more difficult to find.
Parents can choose to educate at home for a wide range of reasons, parents do not have to give a local authority a reason to home educate but reasons include
• Difficulty accessing schools (3.4%)
• Religious or cultural beliefs (6.2%)
• Philosophical or ideological views (13 % the most common reason in Gloucestershire accounting for 235 of the 641 children)
• Dissatisfaction with the schools available (9.3% In Herefordshire this accounted for 240 children out of a total of 724)
• Bullying (4.8%)
• Short term intervention
• Childs refusal to attend school
• Special educational needs
• Parents desire for a closer relationship with their child
(Department for Children and Families Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities Nov 2007, paras2.1 – 2.3)
And there are many different pros and cons to the choice, including some of the advantages
• Children receive tailored individual attention
• Working at their own pace
• Following their own particular interests
• There is a removal of peer pressure and bulling
Against the practice considerations include
• Cost, it can be very expensive
• Children are not able to develop friendships and learning to cope with others as easily as a child at school
• It’s very demanding for the parents
• It can be disapproved of by wider family and society
• It can create difficulties when applying to university and further education
It would seem that in the UK the wish to home educate is very much alive and well and it is suggested numbers continue to grow. However, the inconsistent resources provided to these families means that while allowed, home education is not supported. The most worrying issue is the lack of supervision which means that there will inevitably be children who are receiving little or no education and may indeed be invisible victims of abuse and intolerance that would be identified if they attended main stream school, or the local authority had a register of home schooled children and monitored their education in a meaningful way.
Government guidance for Local Authorities on home schooling
Home School Legal Defence Association
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
The Casey Review: a review into integration and opportunity
Badamn Review into Elective Home Education in England
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