On 2 April 2019, the Department for Education published their updated Elective Home Education Guidance. The two Guidance documents – one for Local Authorities, and one for parents – make for heavy reading compared to the previous Guidance, at 45 pages 24 pages respectively.
The overall tone of the document for Local Authorities is quite negative, and the changes seem to imply that there will be very little leeway given in respect of satisfying the Local Authority – home educators living in some of the LA’s known for their heavy-handedness will no doubt feel the impact before too long. The introduction states:
“However, where it is clear that parents are educating a child well at home, the need for contact should be minimal and not made more onerous than is required by the parents’ own needs”,
but it is doubtful that home educators in those areas will feel any relief.
So, let’s take a look at some of the other statements in the Introduction which should potentially be challenged:
“However, the past few years have seen a very significant increase in the number of children being educated at home, and there is considerable evidence that many of these children are not receiving a suitable education. There is less well evidenced but increasing concern that some children educated at home may not be in safe environments.”
At no time has this “considerable” evidence been produced, nor the nature of the evidence been explained in a way that justifies the drastic shift in tone of this Guidance. As for the “less well evidenced but increasing concern”, it really makes no difference how concerned people are – concern is not evidence. Someone may be concerned that their car parked in the street may get damaged, but that does not mean it will actually happen. It seems it’s no longer necessary to judge things on facts – the fears and concerns of seemingly well-intentioned, but misguided, individuals will suffice. In contrast, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence (not simply concerns) amongst home educators of children in SCHOOL who were not educated in a safe environment.
“It aims to enable local authorities to identify children not receiving a suitable education, and do something about it. The end result should be that every child is receiving a suitable education in a safe and appropriate setting, whether at home or at school.”
How many parents must wish that this was indeed the case! How many children would like nothing more than to have their educational needs satisfactorily met, and to feel safe and happy in their school! One of the most troubling issues with this Guidance, is its failure to recognise the double standard in respect of what constitutes a “suitable education” – a child can be attending a school, not be in receipt of an education suitable to age, aptitude and ability, or can be the victim of some form of abuse, yet this is all not seen as cause for concern as long as the child is physically in the school building.
“Where necessary – because it is evident that a child is simply not receiving suitable education at home and the use of school attendance powers is not achieving a change in that situation – the local authority should be ready to use its safeguarding powers as explained in this guidance. The overriding objective in these cases is to ensure that the child’s development is protected from significant harm.”
Whereas in the past home educators could argue that education and welfare are two different issues, the Guidance now gives licence to local authorities to act as child development specialists and social workers in determining whether the child is at risk of “significant harm”. However, most local authorities are unlikely to have any specialised knowledge or training in this area, and families may find themselves victims of over-zealous officials who have little understanding of alternative educational approaches, child development, or special educational needs. And once again – would they be willing to apply the same standard to children in schools who are at risk of “significant harm”?
From the Introduction alone, we can see that this Guidance document is founded on a great deal of speculation, and double standards. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states:
“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable –
- To his age, ability and aptitude, and
- To any special educational needs he may have,
Either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
The question that needs to be asked of the Department for Education is: Is this really about provision of a suitable education as stated in the law, or is it simply about being in a school building – any school building – regardless of whether it caters to age, ability and aptitude? Would the DfE force home educated children back into a broken education system, rather than take the necessary measures to overhaul and repair that system?