Elective Home Education Departmental Guidance for Local Authorities; My Thoughts.

I want to have a conversation about the revised elective home ed guidelines that were published on 2nd April this year. This document  has caused uproar and controversy and has been the topic of conversation for many people that I know all week. Even those who don’t home educated have been asking about it as the media hit out with headlines about compulsory registration and monitoring.

I want to go through the new guidelines and explain my thoughts, for anyone to see and comment on as they wish too. First though, I want to point out that currently there is no legislation for compulsory registration and that the proposed register as law will most probably take several years to pass and come into effect.

So what is this document all about then? It is exactly what it says, it is guidelines for local authorities to follow regarding Elective Home Education, and their role in safeguarding children.

Section 1 begins by explaining what EHE is, whilst 1.2 and 1.3 cover further education colleges for 14+, tutors and flexi schooling. So straight away I am left wondering about the real reasons behind the safeguarding concerns here? Because surely these children are not invisible and those who are flexi schooled are in fact on a school role and there for are not EHE.

Section 2 looks at why parents may choose to home educate,  2.3 states “ Whenever possible, local authorities should encourage parents to discuss an intention to home educate children before putting it into effect. They should offer support and advice based on the individual family’s motivations, for example by explaining the very substantial time commitments involved in delivering home education properly and suggesting potential alternatives to home education. This is likely to reduce the number of children who receive unsuitable education at home. Many parents considering the prospect of home education may not understand the extent of the time commitment involved or the costs, such as exam fees.”  Hmmm, this doesn’t quite sit  right with me, whilst on the surface it looks like a fantastic idea to ensure the parents know that there are alternative options and that they are informed, will local authorities really be able to offer personalised advice fitting how unique and individual each family is? Because many of us home educators realise that education is not limited to 9-3 Mon to Fri, and that home education allows for far more flexibility.

2.4 states “ Approaches such as autonomous and self-directed
learning, undertaken with a very flexible stance as to when education is taking place,
should be judged by outcomes, not on the basis that a different way of educating children
must be wrong. ”  
It is brilliant that autonomous, unschooling approaches are recognised, yet impossible to judge these on outcomes without a certain level of understanding. Because with these approaches the outcomes are not always clear, nor can they always be predicted or measured.

On that note I think it is also important to understand how some children may have been masking problems and difficulties while at school. One parent I spoke to explained how her son had come out of school unable to write and virtually illiterate and whilst she had picked up on this the school it seemed had not. Upon deregistering her son it transpired that he had been copying his school work, whoever he had been sitting with he had copied. She had to go back and re-do work from ks1, and while he has made significant progress since being home educated if anyone who didn’t have a clear understanding of these issues had wanted to pay her a visit it could have appeared that he had regressed.

Sections 4.1 and 4.2 do highlight the fact that “There is no legal duty on parents to inform the local authority that a child is being home educated.” However it does expect local authorities to identify and inquire into the educational provision for children of compulsory school age who are not registered at a school. In section 4.4 you will see ” In particular, local authorities should explore the scope for using agreements with
health bodies, general practitioners and other agencies, to increase their knowledge of
children who are not attending school.” This is widely already in place and happening. You may or may not be aware that when a child who attends school is taken to A&E for example, the school nurses are notified, this all feeds into a database that allows a picture to be built around the child for different authorities to flag up any concerns. This has been in place as per the Children Act 2004 to promote multi agency working. When a child is home educated this should be no different. However, all authorities need to be aware that home education on its own is not a safeguarding concern.

Section 5.3 “ There are no detailed legal requirements as to how such a system of oversight
should work, and it is for each local authority to decide what it sees as necessary and
proportionate to assure itself that every child is receiving a suitable education, or action is
being taken to secure that outcome.” 
This worries me somewhat. To me this reads that local authorities are free to determine their own actions in this area. So the current post code lottery remains present with it being pot luck regarding which LA you fall under remains unchallenged.

Its not all bad though, section 5.4 says that each local authority should ” provide parents with a named contact who is familiar with home education policy and practice and has an understanding of a range of educational philosophies”

6.2 mentions “deschooling”. It says that “There is no legal basis for such a position. Any statement along these lines could be an indication that the child is not being properly educated.” This isn’t a new thing. It has long been known amongst home educators that to use the term “deschooling” rings alarm bells for local authorities. Educational provision is expected to be suitable from the offset. However, I wish to mention how thoroughly important and beneficial this period of “deschooling” really is. Many children who come out of school have experienced some form of trauma, whether that is bullying,. SEN not being met or other. They may be experiencing anger, anxiety, depression etc, addressing those issues is crucial and should be priority. It saddens me that despite the “awareness” of mental health, this is still not being addressed or recognised in regards to home education. It is not unreasonable to spend time focusing on life skills, self care, personal social and health education in this time 😉

Sections 6.5 and 6.6 detail informal inquiries into educational provision. whether the local authority is asking for detailed information regarding provision or to meet with the child the law dictates that parents are under no legal obligation to agree to this. However, these guidelines make it clear that failure to comply can result in a notice Under s.437(1) of the Education Act 1996.  “local authorities must act if it appears that
parents are not providing a suitable education. This section states that:
“If it appears to a local authority that a child of compulsory school age in
their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance
at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent
requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that
the child is receiving such education.”  So failure to comply can raise safeguarding concerns? I will await to see how this is enforced, as I suspect that social workers already have large enough caseloads without investigating referrals based on parents executing their legal parental rights. This would not intimidate me into accepting visits from a stranger as personally I would rather have a trained professional contact me to assess a safeguarding concern than be left at the hands of a random LA bod from the education authority.

There then follows details around safeguarding and how ” ‘Harm’ can include the impairment of health or development, which means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development, so the provision of unsuitable education clearly can amount to this.” and the measures taken if parents do not respond to enquiries or if it is believed that educational provision is not suitable.  I would always recommend to fellow home educators that you keep everything, all contact in writing and do not ignore informal inquiries.  Decline any visits and respond with the offer of a full written report instead. There is plenty of help, support and advice on offer to home educators regarding this.

Section 8.3 ” Some parents educate, or attempt to educate, children at home because of
dissatisfaction with local SEN provision.”  This just made my skin crawl, it read as so patronising. Parents who chose to home educated their children who have SEN know that it is not easy, we are parents, we have taken on this task quite often after watching school fail our children. In a number of cases that I personally am aware of, children and parents have been failed several times at a number of different schools before resorting to home education that whilst it is a struggle, the child thrives in their own way. The law states that children must be educated to suit their age, ability and aptitude, if numerous schools are failing in this area then to expect home educators to entrust this decision regarding suitability of education once again into local authorities needs careful consideration and training.

I am trying really hard not to focus entirely on the negative, so this is also not all bad. “Local authorities should not assume that because the provision being made by parents is different from that which was being made or would have been made in school, the provision is necessarily unsuitable.”  (section 8.7)

Section 9.4 (G) “ any assessment of suitability should take into account the environment in which home education is being provided. Most obviously, home accommodation which is noisy and/or cramped is likely to make it very difficult for a child to learn and make satisfactory progress. ”  This appears to be a rather “classist” attitude. Implying that large families or those who live in small accommodation are less able to provide suitable education. This is just one more reason in favour of declining visits. Because homes can be busy, cramped, cluttered and over crowded, because life is happening there! Learning however, happens EVERYWHERE! What is the harm in reading under the trees, or a library? The busiest and noisiest environment that my teenager goes to is also where he does a huge chunk of his learning for his Biology and STEM lessons, and there are few places that I have found that are louder of more cramped than classrooms of 30+ students to 1 teacher!

9.8  The starting point is that there is currently no legal definition of what constitutes ‘fulltime’ education, either at school or in the home. Although there is no need for home
education to replicate school timetables, it may nonetheless be useful for it to be borne in
mind that in state schools, children of compulsory school age normally receive around 4.5-5.0 hours of education a day, for about 190 days a year. The department’s
registration guidance for independent schools sets 18 hours of operation a week as the
baseline for registration of the school. However, in home education there is often
continual one-to-one contact; education may take place outside normal ‘school hours’
and term time, and the type of educational activity can be varied and flexible. 
Shall I look a little bit more into this? It has been done before here , it is summed up pretty well.

Section 10.1 “ if it is clear to the local authority that a child does not wish to be educated at home although the education provided meets the s.7 requirement and there are no safeguarding concerns, it should seek to discuss the reasons for this with the parents and encourage them to consider whether home education is ultimately likely to be successful if their child is unhappy to be educated in this way. ” The double standards here absolutely amaze me. What of all the children (and parents) who complain about the education system in mainstream school? What about the children who don’t want to be in school, who are unhappy there, who feel there is no way out until they commit suicide? Sorry to be blunt, but we know that happens, there has been enough cases reported of such. Are these children routinely asked and parents spoken too? Because from parents who I have met, spoken too and read about over the years, it seems to me that the only time “home education” is mentioned as an option to parents by schools or LA staff is when there are behavioural problems that the schools does not feel equipped or are not prepared to deal with. Not solely because a child states that they are unhappy.

So whilst there is no further legal obligations on us as parents these new guidelines do seem to be opening up doors to allowing local authorities the impression that they have access to further bullying tactics to push their own opinions and agendas. The guidance, if used to implement understanding and training *could* be positive in many areas, I am left wondering where local authorities will prioritise what little funding they receive. I remain doubtful that anything positive will come of these changes, and that the DfE seem to be intent of trying to control home educators while seeming all too willing to hand over control of their state schools to the highest bidder.

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