Registration issue and bad blood


The DCSF Select Committee in its report on Home Education recommended that any registration system for home educating families should be light touch. In view of the concerns expressed by home educators about compulsory registration, it suggested that registration should be voluntary. It added that Local authorities should publicize the benefits of registration, including the resources that will be available to registered families. The Committee felt that the success of a system of voluntary registration (combined with improved information sharing) should be reviewed after two years. If it is found not to have met expectations—in terms of assisting local authorities in identifying and working with the families of children who are being home educated and those of children not otherwise at school— the Committee believed that a system of compulsory registration would need to be introduced.

The Government, however, is not prepared to give ground on this issue. Ministers say that current arrangements already amount to a voluntary registration and monitoring system. Furthermore, the Government cannot understand the logic of making it voluntary for two years given the benefits it  says  it offers to home educated children. And  it feels that it is unacceptable that local authorities do not know accurately how many children of school age in their area are in school, are being home educated or are otherwise not in school.  The Government’s view, and it has no intention of backing down,  is that ‘As local authorities have a duty to identify all children in their area not receiving a suitable education, this duty currently obliges them to seek information from home educating families to ensure that they are providing a suitable education for their children. Where families do not cooperate local authorities waste time and resources establishing whether the standard of education is adequate, and this reduces their capacity to identify children in genuine need of assistance.’

The Government believes that the arrangements it is putting in place ‘ respect the family’s right to privacy, they are light touch, and they are necessary.’  The Government and Home Educators are at loggerheads. Home Educators say that the current system is fine and laws already exist to ensure that local authorities can safeguard children’s interests. They also feel that so-called consultation was a figleaf-the Government had already made up its mind before the consultation process even began and the charge is that the Badman review had a set of conclusions prepared in advance, then set out to find selected evidence to back those conclusions.

The Government seems to be attempting to be conciliatory, but Home Educators  are not convinced, remaining  angry and skeptical. For instance, the Government set out in more details its proposals for the annual local authority meeting  with parents in the Committee stage of the Bill.  For the vast majority of families an informal meeting with the parents and the child, once a year to discuss the progress the child has made and any additional support that might be needed is all that will be required, that is  according to the Government. It says that the statutory guidance will make it clear that the focus of this annual meeting will be on support and encouragement. And the implication is that it  will not be adversarial. The Government has promised that it will take into account the views of the Committee when drafting statutory guidance,  and indeed that it will consult ‘widely’. Home Educators point to lots of previous ‘consultation’ but claim too that their views have been almost entirely ignored. There remains little common ground, it seems, between Home Educators and the Government.

Its hard not to escape the conclusion though that the Government has been heavy handed on the issue of Home Education conflating too many different issues to reach the wrong conclusion It has  ignored its most basic mantra-policy must be informed by evidence, and has been insensitive to the views  and respresenatations of key stakeholders.




Controversy continues as Minister proffers an olive branch


Since education was made compulsory, the implicit settlement was that parents—not the state—had legal responsibility for the provision of education. They may choose of course    to delegate that responsibility to the state, and in most cases do, but that legal responsibility has lain with parents. The role of the state has been only to challenge, where evidence has arisen to suggest that parents were not delivering on their legal duty.

Schedule I of the Children Schools and Families Bill however appears to challenge this status quo. The charge articulated by David Laws of the Liberal Democrats is that   there has been a huge shift in presumption in the Children Schools and Families Bill.

It allows the state to terminate the right of a family to educate a child at home if the education offered is not deemed suitable by the state, envisaging registration and a system to scrutinize Home Educators which they believe is intrusive, bureaucratic and undermines their right to educate their children.

The Shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove said in the Second Reading of the Bill  “I am deeply concerned about the additional bureaucratic burden that will now potentially be placed on thousands of our fellow citizens whose only crime is to want to devote themselves as fully as possible to their children’s education. It is a basic right of parents to be able to educate their children in accordance with their own wishes, and to educate them at home if they so wish. There may be many reasons why parents take that decision: they might be dissatisfied with local provision; their child might have a specific educational need that they feel can be better supported at home; or they might have philosophical objections to the style of education on offer at the local state schools that are easily accessible.”

He went on to say: “Ultimately however, this is a basic human right that every parent should have, and I feel the Bill erodes that right, because, as I read it, it allows the state to terminate the right of a family to educate a child at home if the education offered is not deemed suitable according to regulations that the Secretary of State writes.”

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, believes that the Government have created an unworkable and deeply unpopular policy that ends up implicitly accusing tens of thousands of sincere and honest parents of being potential child abusers at the same time as intruding into their approach to education.

There appears to be confusion, he noted in the Bills Committee stage, over the Governments approach. Is legislation required to tackle potential child abuse by Home Educators or is it about holding home educators accountable for the quality   of their education provision.

Home Educators will now be obliged to provide onerous information along with their registration. For example on “the educational needs of the child, and contain any relevant background information…This may include information about special educational needs, any particular aptitudes the child has”— and “the educational philosophy or approach to be adopted. This might cover the degree of formality of education, any specific curricula that will be followed, or qualifications pursued.”

It is a sobering fact that, against the backdrop of public spending cuts, the costs of the monitoring and licensing system for the estimated 70,000 children who are home educated (20,000 of whom are already registered with Las) will be around £500 million over the next 10 years. New Zealand introduced a system very similar to the one proposed by the Government in this Bill. However, last year it decided to stop operating it because it was a waste of time and money. It found that incidents of poor education were sufficiently small—just around 5 per cent- much less than the educational failure found in its own school system—that it could not justify the monitoring and inspection regime for a system that produced much better outcomes and a far lower level of failure than state schools. In the USA one expert Kelly L. Green quoted in Committee said “To the best of my knowledge, no state demands home visits, and no state requests to interview home-educated children.”. A US study of Home Educated children also found that there was no evidence that their academic performance suffered because they were Home Educated.

There is a feeling among opposition parties at least that the Badman review was highly selective in the evidence it chose to back its findings. There is also a firm belief among many that local authorities already have powers to protect children. The problem is that  either they don’t use them or are seriously deficient in the way they use them. They have a general duty, for example, under section 175 of the Education Act 2002, which provides that they must carry out all functions conferred on them in their education capacity “with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.”

The Government, in the shape of junior Minister Diana Johnson countered, in Committee,  that it  does, in fact , presume that parents opting to home educate “ are acting in the best interests of their child, which is why there is a presumption they will be registered. I also do not accept that we are maligning families by asking them to go through the process of being registered on the presumption that that will happen.”

She added “Registration will be a simple, once-a-year process. The education plan, ……will be simple and able to accommodate all educational approaches. Monitoring will be light touch and will involve one meeting a year. There will be informal discussions with an emphasis on the work that has taken place over the year, plans for the year ahead and any additional support the local authority can give. Children will not be tested or forced to meet alone with a local authority officer.”

The trouble of course is that critics believe that the Badman review was set up with a clear outcome in mind and evidence then sought highly selectively to fit this preconceived view. (where have we heard that before?) It was then rushed through without proper consultation. And the bottom line is that there has been a breakdown of trust in the Government so verbal assurances are not worth the paper they are not written on.

However, one chink of light for the HE lobby is that Johnson confirmed that regulations and guidance will be published “through wide consultation with home educators” and will “ set out the correct balance between making timely decisions and ensuring that they have been carefully thought through. They must be reasonable and not arbitrary.”

So maybe this is where the HE lobby should now focus its efforts. But , as one home educator has  pointed out to me,  there has never been a shortage of  consultation, just an unwillingness  or inability to   listen on the Governments part. She  wrote ” The whole exercise is pointless with this government. In fact, I suspect they already have the policy written and any consultation will be another exercise of cart before the horse.”



Good idea-what about applying it?


At the level of rhetoric at least, the evidence-based policy movement is about challenging old strategies for policy formation, based, as they were, either on ideology or the preferences of elites.  It purports to stand outside the political process, and the subjective whims of officials and politicians giving policy advice based on rational evidence rather than ideology or   informed by sectional and partisan interests.  This aspiration was well captured by Soulesbury (2001) of the ESRC UK Centre for Evidence-based Policy and Practice, when he writes … ‘..there is something new in the air which gives both a fresh urgency and a new twist to the issues around evidence-based policy. To my mind the key factor is the shift in the nature of politics; the retreat from ideology, the dissolution of class-based party politics, the empowerment of consumers ‘

The movement for evidence-based practice, flows from this – prompting enhanced use of research evidence in the work of the professions, which probably started in medicine in the early 1990s. It has grown in influence there, and spread too across a number of other fields, including education. There is a growing acceptance generally that evidence should inform policy but also practice, so that what teachers do in the classroom and how schools are run  is  rooted in sound evidence of what works. That is certainly supposed to be the guiding principle.  The challenge of course is to change the mindsets of politicians in power who have access to public funding and who have their own beliefs, preferences and, sometimes, prejudices to assuage.  The mantra ‘evidence led policy’ is now firmly embedded in the language of politics but it would be foolish to think that all policy, even now, is based on sound evidence.

Remember David Blunkett when he was Education Secretary. Not a day went by without some new announcement from the then DFES about some new initiative or other normally with a price tag attached. Rather too many of these initiatives were quietly dropped or ran into the sand, as they were not delivering results ,dropping into oblivion  in stark contrast to the fanfare that announced them in the first place. Were they evidenced based? Some were but rather too many weren’t.  Sometimes the idea behind the policy was flawed. Other times the idea looked  pretty good on paper  but the ‘deliverology’ as Professor Barber put it, was found wanting.  As some policies failed to deliver the hoped for outputs, there was a creeping realization  in Government circles  that some of the policies were ill conceived , and   based on slender,    flawed or no evidence at all..

Think of the wasted opportunity and money.

The Government, to its credit wanted to do good things, to make a difference, to raise performance and accountability, to improve outputs in schools, putting Education at the the top of the political agenda. Big investment followed. Some of the policies did work-think of the launch of the Literacy and Numercay strategies and its early success.  But in seeking to create the impression it was doing much to address   the big education challenges   its blizzard of initiatives resulted in a huge bureaucratic burden on schools and authorities, wasting hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on policies that simply didn’t  work, leaving the problems the money  was supposed to tackle as just that — problems.

One of the Government flagship ‘big ticket initiatives’ was Sure Start. The ultimate goal of Sure Starts local programmes (SSLPs) is to enhance the life chances for children less than five years of age growing up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. In March 2006, 800 centres were open. By 30 September 2009, 3,109 centres were open and providing services, including 1,706 centres that were providing the full range of services. The Department’s funding for Sure Start increased from £473 million in 2005-06 to £885 million in 2008-09.

It was inspired by the Early Head Start programme in the United States. So far, so good. This was a scheme already up and running, albeit abroad. Indeed it looks to be a good idea with the best of motives, providing joined up support targeted at young disadvantaged mothers and their children bringing welfare, developmental  and educational advantages .

But as Anthony Browne, an adviser to the Mayor of London, pointed out in the Sunday Times  a couple of  weeks ago ,  in the States, Head Start  cost $21,000 per child, but brought benefits of only $4,700 per child. It is not that the money had no positive effect, but spending it on other schemes would probably have had more impact. So there was a warning for us in the evidence from the US.

So it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise that early Sure Start evaluations showed few positive results. Indeed in launching the initiative policy makers and those tasked with evaluating the scheme covered themselves by warning that it would take some time to show results. With a high level of variation in the way the initiative is delivered locally, it  would always have been very difficult to examine and compare centres’ cost effectiveness   The  Audit Commission, in 2006, found that Sure Start Children’s Centres, though valued by most of the families who use them,  also  noted,  rather significantly,  that much more still needed  to be done to reach and support  those in the most excluded groups. (ie the priority targets).

In layman’s terms this  translated to the  reality on the ground  that  relatively well- off mothers  were making the best use of it ,while poorer mothers ,the key target group , were not feeling  the full benefits .

Crucially the NAO also found that the costs of centres, and of activities in centres, vary widely, and that the local authorities and centres that the NAO visited “ needed to understand their costs better and assess whether they were using their funds cost-effectively”. The NAO has always struggled to make a link between the costs and service quality of the various centres. So, by 2007, the scheme had been running since 1998, at  a  cost  to taxpayers of  more than £21 billion and yet we find   the NAO was still  rather incredibly  asking authorities to work out whether their local delivery was cost effective. And officials are supposed to cherish evidence based policy?

What was clear was that Sure Start , despite  shed loads  of investment,  had failed to improve development levels of children entering primary school .A six-year study of 35,000 children by academics at Durham University found that children’s development and skills as they enter primary school  in 2006 were  no different than they were in 2000.

The National Audit Office, in evidence submitted to the Select Committee recently (December 2009), found that despite extra funding intended to help the Sure Start centres reach out to the neediest parents and children,  (granted after the  2006 report) in practice  a “low level” of such work was taking place, particularly  in the most disadvantaged 30% of communities,  with staff spending  just 38 hours a week on outreach work. Remember these are the people the billions of pounds investment are supposed to be targeting as a priority. And guess what- the NAO again found, as it had in 2006, that many of the centres it surveyed could not provide basic data on their expenditure and work, making it hard for researchers to evaluate the scheme’s value for money. In short, not much has changed in the last four years.

Clearly, although there have been improvements and efficiencies and in paricular in  the way that  some centres evaluate their own performance  there were  and still are , failings in this massive investment   . Failings that  should have been picked up much ,much earlier  and  indeed acted on. And the NAO still struggles to determine whether many centres are cost-effective. How many more millions will be spent before they get it right?

So the Government while reciting the mantra ‘evidence-led policy’ has worrying blind spots.

The Early Years Foundation Curriculum also springs to mind, where the Government has simply ignored evidence from some of its own advisers as well as the international  community. It has selected evidence that backs its particular approach and chosen to ignore much evidence that challenges its policy.

On the Home Education front it has little data to go on and failed to properly consult stakeholders before announcing a radical change in HE policy, now in a Commons Bill.

It also, to its shame, ignored evidence from a range of expert studies  in  the independent Nuffield Primary Review. Between October 2007 and February 2009 the Review had  published  31 interim reports examining  matters as diverse as childhood, parenting, learning, teaching, testing, educational standards, the curriculum, school organisation, teacher training and the impact of national policy. The Government issued a blanket dismissal of the Nuffield evidence on the grounds that it was  ‘out of date,’ which astonished the Academic community, as this  was so  patently untrue. The Nuffield Review also had a much broader remit than the Governments own Primary Review, important though that was. Both Reviews included important evidence but the Government gave the impression that it could  not  afford  to give  credibility to the Nuffield Review because it had not been commissioned by the Government  (dangerous thing independence) and many of its papers, of course ,  though by no means all ,challenged  the evidence behind specific  government policy. One of its key observations (presumably out of date?) was ‘The Review finds Englands primary schools under intense pressure, but in good heart and in general doing a good job’

The Government will have to get more from less in the coming years, as funding for public services is reduced.  Programmes should be informed by evidence, piloted wherever possible on a small scale, the pilots evaluated, then rolled out if the evaluation is positive. They should then be monitored closely, with interim assessments to allow for fine tuning. It is also clear that Up- scaling successful pilots does not necessarily guarantee success, so all projects have to be very carefully and continuously monitored. And politicians from time to time should have the moral courage to accept failures and the blame that goes with it. It is possible to make the wrong call when evidence is presented to you or indeed that evidence might be flawed. Progress after all depends on taking risks.  Anthony Browne found that even those projects that are evidence-based often aren’t implemented effectively and if they are implemented effectively it is usually locally rather than nationally.

Browne comes up with an intriguing idea. We should set up a national institute of policy evaluation, answerable to parliament, which would analyse and evaluate the costs and benefits of each policy and guide government on where to spend its money to have the desired outcome. He looked to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy as an example of how this might work. The institute is non-partisan and rigorously and independently establishes the effectiveness of policies, setting out the pros and cons of each, in terms of the upfront cost and the savings made from reducing unemployment, crime and other social ills. On the other hand we could reform and restructure the National Audit Office to ensure that it is less reactive and less focused on presenting historical accounts of failure  and instead fulfills a  more proactive role, similar  to the Washington State body  preempting failure.  Food for thought.




Threat to HE parents or a storm in a tea cup?


The Children, Schools and Families Bill was presented to Parliament on 19 November 2009.

This Bill received its Second Reading debate on 11 January 2010.The  Bill at first sight looks pretty  innocuous to most observers, with some wondering whether it is necessary.  It make provision, for instance, for  pupil and parent guarantees, home-school agreements, parental satisfaction surveys, children with disabilities or special educational needs, school and other education, governing bodies’ powers and school teachers’ qualifications and so on,   but to some, at least, perhaps with a keener eye for detail   it is worrying.

Schedule 1 of the Bill covers Home Education. The Bill introduces a new registration scheme for home educators, with a duty on local authorities to identify all home-educated children and to ensure that they are receiving a suitable education.

Most parents would not make home-based education their first choice. But there are   some parents who believe either that the state has seriously failed their child or that they want to opt out of the prescriptive national curriculum. Currently, this choice is lawfully available to all parents. However it would seem that  if  enacted, the bill would – for the first time – transfer responsibility for a child’s education from the parents to the state. This might be presented as a threat to all parents. It might also conflict with Human Rights law.

The Home Education lobby certainly smells a rat.

They believe that  the 70,000 or so home educated children’s interests are already protected in law. So, a change in the law is unnecessary. The Government is using a   sledgehammer to break a nut. They also believe, and they appear to have a case here , that the Government rushed through consultation in the wake of the Badman Report  on  new measures, and didn’t actually consult  in any meaningful sense, the key stakeholders. They also believe that officials have lumped together genuine home educators ie those who have made a distinct choice for their children to opt out of state education while providing alternative provision for their children, with those parents who don’t bother to ensure that their children go to school either regularly or in some cases at all. This latter group, obviously, present very real grounds for concern.

Parents are already required by law to provide an education suitable to the age, aptitude and ability of their children, and to any special educational needs they may have. Indeed, Local authorities already have the powers too to take action if parents do not do this.

Schedule I  appears to indicate   that local authorities will  be given the power to deny parents permission to home-educate, at any time, unless parents adapt their educational approach to fit in with the requirements of the system.

The Home Education lobby had a letter published in the Guardian (Monday) with a number of significant signatories including Lord Lucas (who describes himself as a libertarian conservative), and Professors Furedi and Scruton ,Graham Stuart MP Chair, all-party parliamentary group on home education,  and others  which  articulated these concerns   and added  that  ‘Schedule 1 contravenes two principles of the government’s own children’s plan: that families bring up children, not governments; and that services need to be shaped by and responsive to children, young people and families, not designed around professional boundaries.’

A recent select Committee report suggested that the Government had precious little data  on Home Education or Home Educators, and certainly  not enough to help inform policy. The report  sent out too some conflicting signals, saying for instance that voluntary registration should be tried and if not satisfactory, then made  compulsory.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered regarding the new arrangements. Its costs, the bureaucracy it will generate, the lack of relevant training in LA staff are but a few. Ofsted are setting out to inspect home education in 15 local authorities and this at a time when some believe that Ofsted has already become too stretched and unwieldy.

In the Commons Second Reading debate on 11 January Ed Balls sought to give early reassurances to Home Educators. He said “The vast majority of home educating parents provide a good education for their children, and I am fully committed to the principle that parents who choose to home educate should be able to do so. It is parents, rather than the state, who are in charge of taking the ultimate decision on how their children are educated.” The Bill also makes it clear that there is no right for a local authority to see the child of a home-educating family on their own, without the parents there. However given the level of distrust and bad feeling between the Government and the HE lobby these assurances will probably not be taken at face value.

Nonetheless lets hope that Parliamentarians from all parties do their duty, holding the Executive to account and properly scrutinize this Bill, seeking the necessary clarifications and assurances through  carefully targeted questions and  probing amendments in the committee stage.




Select Committee report leans towards home educators


What struck the DCSF  Select Committee when looking at the issue of Home Educated children was the dearth of much needed information about the extent of Home Education.

 Whatever happened to evidence based policy is their implicit question. Their report was a bit of a rap over the knuckles for both the Government and local authorities.

 The Committee recommended research to establish baseline data for home educated children, especially regarding the outcomes of home education. This work should plug the gap in the existing research evidence, which has not reflected fully the profile of home educating families. The Committee suggests that local authorities need improved means of identifying and differentiating between the children in their area who are in school, who are being home educated, and who are otherwise not in school. They also took the view that parental responsibility in relation to the provision of home education should be strengthened and that that home educating families should provide some form of statement of their intended approach to their child’s education.

The Committee supports the proposals to introduce annual registration for home educating but with an important caveat- they were keen to take into account the concerns expressed by home educators about compulsory registration , so the Committee said , “ we suggest that registration should be voluntary. Any registration system should be accompanied by better information sharing between local authorities.The success of a voluntary registration system and improved information sharing should be reviewed after two years. If it has not met expectations, we believe that a system of compulsory registration would need to be introduced.”

Home Educators have been fighting a vigorous rear guard action against what they see as heavy handed state interference ,with little consultation and over- prescriptive remedies for non-existent problems. They are also irritated by the fact that some politicians fail to differentiate between those parents who have made a deliberate choice to opt out of state education , but have made proper alternative provision for their children and those (few in number) who just don’t make their children go to school and  so in effect deny them any education. Members of the latter group are self-evidently not Home Educators.

In persuading the Committee against immediate compulsory registration they have won at least a clear  partial victory but the war is not over yet . And Select Committee proposals are, of course, not binding on the Government. A petition campaign has been waged in the Commons to stop Government proposals in their tracks. Badman and Government officials  complain, in the meantime, of harassment by the Home Educators lobby.



A sledgehammer to break a nut?


An estimated 55.000 children are currently being educated at home, with the UK up to now allowing, by international standards , a laissez faire regulatory  regime  .  But Home Educators feel that they are now very much a target of the Government.


The Badman Review, launched in January 2009,   published a hasty Report submitted in a much  telescoped time frame to the Secretary of State at the end of May 2009. Badman concluded that whilst   there has to be a balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child, he believed that that balance was  not  being achieved through current legislation or guidance. He concluded that this imbalance must be addressed


 Ten days after the report was published, the DCSF was drafting a new law in time for the Queens Speech in November 2009.


By any benchmark the Government moved very quickly indeed on this. This was almost certainly because ministers felt under pressure from on-going media revelations of child abuse.


 But their approach nonetheless raised issues over whether  there could be a meaningful public consultation on a matter of policy which had  in effect already been announced as a piece of new legislation –Improving schools and safeguarding children Bill one  which, interlia, will introduce  improved  monitoring arrangements for children educated at home.


 Badmans key recommendation was that home educators must register. He  also crucially recommended that the  DCSF should bring forward proposals to change the current regulatory and statutory basis to ensure  “that in monitoring the efficiency and suitability of elective home education:. That designated local authority officers should: – have the right of access to the home; – have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.”

 The idea is that authorities will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well. Badman suggested that a requirement is placed upon local authorities to secure the monitoring of the effectiveness of elective home education and that  parents be required to “ allow the child through exhibition or other means to

demonstrate both attainment and progress in accord with the statement of intent lodged at the time of registration.” The Government welcomed the recommendations.


This is all too much for home educators, who are resisting the measures.  They worry that the Government is manipulating the current anxiety about child abuse to intrude further into home education, when they have little legal right to do so. Government, both local and national, seem uncomfortable about parents providing education that cannot be monitored, tested or accounted for particularly in the light of  these recent highly publicised child abuse cases and fear that some children who are not at school are slipping through the welfare net. Local authorities are also known to be concerned that the demand for home  education is increasing, which   might suggest a  declining confidence in their education offer and the schools they run.


What is clear is that there is a vibrant expanding community of home educators who share classes and co-ordinate their knowledge base. There is a support network with a    nationwide, lively, online community that shares best practice and experience, and all this comes at no cost to taxpayers .The vast majority of home educators shoulder not only the teaching burden, but the financial one too.


What confuses Home educators, though, is that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 the powers already exist to intervene in cases in which the state believes that a child may suffer harm. So, they ask, why this new initiative? And why, indeed, the  need for new legislation, when  new guidelines had only just been issued ? Its a difficult one, because local authorities and the government have been under the cosh from the media over child abuse, and have to be seen to be doing something. Home educators look to be the meat in the sandwich.


Parents turn to Home education for many reasons, but the overarching reason, of course, is that they believe that the state system has failed their child in some way. A high proportion of those educated at home (around 20,000 of whom are already registered) have special needs. Bullying at school is often a major factor but poor teaching and parents perceptions of   an overly rigid national curriculum  also play their  part. To some schools have become little more than large impersonal  institutions teaching for the tests, and league table positions, rather than providing a rounded education.   Home education is, more often than not, personalised, child- led and free from some of the detrimental effects of curriculum constraints, constant testing and of course standardisation.


It can be the ultimate form of personalised learning, with provision tailored to a child’s specific needs and with a real opportunity for the child’s views and voice to be heard. It also demonstrates real engagement by parents in their child’s learning, which is something, ironically, that the government is trying to encourage more consistently across the national picture, whatever educational setting children are in.


There are downsides too of course. Some might say significant downsides. Separating children from their peer group, removing the complex set of daily interactions with other children and different teachers can be damaging, reinforcing a sense of isolation possibly stunting a child’s social, psychological and emotional development. Education is not, after all, just about what happens in the classroom. The quality of teaching and learning or ‘quality assurance’ can also be an issue, as parents may not be adequate teachers, or have access to sound teaching  or  access to state of the art resources,  including the internet And of course if  a child is out of school it is less easy too to spot possible abuse. Parents (a minority) do not always have a child’s interests at heart and make seek to live their lives though their child or perhaps in extreme cases brainwash the child in support of a particular belief.


But Home educators may well have a point when they claim that this is all over  the top , a knee jerk reaction to media scaremongering . It would have been better to have had a proper period of consultation to identify common ground. The danger is that the new system of regulation will be intrusive and bureaucratic and drive home educators into a defensive laager. The Governments intentions are honourable but they must be careful not to over-react. In the meantime the counter lobby is organising petitions and demonstrations to try and strangle the Bill or rather the clauses affecting home education, before it becomes law. 




 Has big brother got it in its sights?

Parents must now register


In mid January 2009, the Department for Children, Schools and Families launched an independent review of home education by Graham Badman, the former director of children and educational services at Kent county council.

The Badman review was set up for a number of reasons.; To look at the barriers to local authorities and other public agencies safeguarding home-educated children, as well as at ensuring that their safety, well-being and broader development are nurtured along with their academic achievement; the extent to which home education might be being used as a cover for child abuse; at whether local authorities are providing the right support to home-educating families and at whether any changes are needed to the processes for monitoring the standard of home education. On launching the Review, the Government suggested that local authorities and children’s organisations had expressed concern about the current system’s ability adequately to support and monitor the education, safety and well-being of home-educated children.

The Badman Review, just completed, recommended the following:

 • that local authorities should provide more support to home educating families, eg. through helping provide access to the national examination system, sports facilities, libraries and music tuition

 • a compulsory annual registration scheme, in which all parents who plan to home educate have to inform their local authority.

While around 20,000 children are already registered, the actual number being home educated is unknown and could be more than double this number; • at the time of registration, parents being asked to submit a statement of their intended approach to the child’s education including what they aim to achieve over the following 12 months;

• giving properly trained local authority officials the right of access to the home, following a minimum two week notification to the parents. They will check that the child is making progress against their learning statement. They will also have the right to speak to the child, to ensure they are safe and well. A written report must then be produced and shared with the parents and child; and

 • that local authorities can refuse registration to home educate if there is clear evidence of safeguarding concerns.

 The duty to identify children who are missing education, which was introduced by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, was not a duty to identify home educators.

Its purpose was far broader: to identify children who are receiving no education at all. From the outset of the review process the Government emphasised that they had no plans to change parents’ well-established right to educate their children at home. Indeed, the right to educate your child at home is seen as a basic Human Right. The Human Rights Act 1998 for example states: “In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” However, it is also true too, as a Minister recently said in the Parliament (9 June). that every child has the fundamental right to receive an education, and “we need to ensure that that important human right is delivered for every child in the land, even in those rare cases where their parents’ convictions conflict with their right to be educated.” The Government has also been concerned about the threat of abuse to those educated at home. Home Educators have felt for while that they have been under much greater scrutiny, more than ever before and are more regularly encountering social workers, who turn up, often unannounced, to make demands: evidence of class timetables, written work and so on. Home education has in fact been under almost constant scrutiny since the Children Act 2004, which enshrined the Government’s Every Child Matters agenda in legislation. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 introduced new duties for identifying children who were missing education. Yet there was another consultation in autumn last year on children missing education, and all home educators will eventually be tracked down as a result of the controversial ContactPoint database.

Home Educators feel that they are now very much a target. They worry that the Government are manipulating current anxiety about child abuse to intrude further into home education, when they have little legal right to do so. Government, both local and national, seem uncomfortable about parents providing education that cannot be monitored, tested or accounted for.

There is a real fear that the Government, under the banner of child protection are seeking to undermine freedom of choice of home educators. What is clear is that there is a vibrant expanding community of home educators who share classes and co-ordinate their knowledge base. A nationwide, lively, online community shares best practice and experience, and all this comes at no cost to taxpayers because the vast majority of home educators shoulder not only the teaching burden, but the financial one too.

What confuses Home educators though is that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 the powers already exist to intervene in cases in which the state believes that a child may suffer harm. So, they ask, why this new initiative?

Parents turn to Home education for many reasons, but the overarching reason, of course, is that they believe that the state system has failed their child in some way. A high proportion of those educated at home (around 20,000 of whom are already registered) have special needs. Bullying at school is often a major factor but poor teaching and an overly rigid national curriculum are others. Home education is, more often than not, personalised, child led and free from some of the detrimental effects of curriculum constraints, constant testing and standardisation. It is the ultimate form of personalised learning, with provision tailored to a child’s specific needs and with a real opportunity for the child’s views and voice to be heard. It also demonstrates real engagement by parents in their child’s learning, which is something, ironically, that the government is trying to encourage more consistently across the national picture, whatever educational setting children are in.

 There are downsides too of course. Separating children from their peer group, removing the complex set of daily interactions with other children and different teachers can be damaging, reinforcing a sense of isolation possibly stunting a child’s social and emotional development. Education is not, after all, just about what happens in the classroom. The quality of teaching and learning or ‘quality assurance’ can also be an issue, and access to state of the art resources. If a child is out of school it is less easy too to spot possible abuse.

The release of Government guidance in November 2007 on home education to local authorities was aimed at clarifying the situation, bringing more clarity about the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.

But it seems to have in effect polarised views. It is sensible of course that everybody involved in home education – local government, central Government and parents – is clear about their responsibilities and that there are clear lines of accountability with greater national consistency in providing suitable full-time education for all children and to ensure that, where there are problems, safeguards are in place to detect them and to allow the authorities to intervene quickly.

The Government has just announced (11 June) a consultation on the Review but one wonders what the purpose of this consultation is, if Ministers have already accepted the Review recommendations.

 There is a presumption here that the state always knows best, when recent experience suggests otherwise. There is a clear danger that the authorities are using a sledgehammer to break a nut.

There is a strong suspicion that some local authorities want to remove the right to home education, not least because the growing numbers of those opting out of the system is seen as an indictment of the poor quality of service their schools provide. In too many cases parents get no real choice over their child’s schooling and too often the quality of schooling is poor and not tailored to the needs of individual learners, or ‘personalised’, to use the current jargon. Large state schools of over 1,000 pupils can be very impersonal indeed.

There is also a view among some, that the Every Child Matters Agenda , is as much focussed on well-being and welfare issues as on the child’s education and that the Government doesn’t really trust parents any longer feeling that responsibility for children rests not so much with the parents, but with the state.

 We now have in prospect the creation of a large, unwieldy bureaucracy (yet another one) to police the new arrangements.

A proper balance must be struck between the right to Home Education on the one hand and on the other in ensuring that there are means to monitor the quality of home provision and the welfare of the child. There is real danger that this balance will not be struck, and excessive regulation will undermine, longer term, parent’s right to educate their child at home, a right that surely deserves protection.