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Harlow’s MP, Robert Halfon report calls for national register to prevent home educated children missing out on education

Education / Tue 27th Jul 2021 at 07:35am

MORE data must be collected and a national register must be established to ensure all children out of school get a suitable education, MPs say today. This follows acknowledgement from the DfE that there is ‘considerable evidence’ that many home-educated children1 are missing out on a proper education.

The law states that parents have a duty to ensure that their children receive a suitable education, whether that be in school or ‘otherwise.’ However, the Education Committee’s report Strengthening Home Education highlights how an ‘astonishing’ lack of data means the Government is unable to say with confidence that a suitable education is being provided to every child.

It also warns how some families face being forced into home schooling due to a lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and the practice of off-rolling.

In addition to a statutory register for children out of school, the report makes a number of recommendations including greater support for families who home educate children with SEND and greater powers of oversight for local authorities.

It calls for assessment of progress in numeracy and literacy. These skills are essential to ensuring home educated children have access to future opportunities equal to those of their schooled peers. Such assessment would allow for the different paths that children with SEND may follow.

The rise of elective home education (p12)

  • The Association of Directors of Children’s Services projected that as of October 2020, more than 75,000 children were being educated at home, an increase of 38 per cent from the previous year. The Covid pandemic is likely to have increased the number of families choosing to pursue home education. The Local Government Association has set out how the number of elective home education registrations has risen in some areas.2

Problems

1. ‘Astonishing’ lack of data on number of children in home education and lack of support (p12)

  • The Department for Education does not collect national figures on the number of children in elective home education. Numbers are likely to be underreported as parents do not have to register their children with the local authority as home educated.
  • The DfE itself acknowledges that there is ‘considerable evidence’ that many children may not be receiving a suitable education.

2. Inadequate support for home educated children with SEND (p17)

  • A report from the former Children’s Commissioner in 2019 noted how many families had made the choice to remove their children from school as a result of their children’s needs going unmet at schools. The National Network of Parent Carer Forums told the Committee that home education was ‘not elective for many or even a majority of young people with SEND’.

3. Lack of powers for local authorities and clarity on ‘suitable’ education (p22)

  • The Local Government Association told the Committee that there is no mechanism for a council to insist on speaking to a home-educated child without a specific safeguarding concern. The Committee also found lack of clear criteria against which the suitability of education can be assessed.

4. Shortage of data on outcomes (p32)

  • Understanding of attainment and outcomes remains largely anecdotal and there is no certainty that all electively home educated children get a suitable education to prepare them for the next stage of their lives.

5. Restricted access to exams (p33)

  • The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the inequitable access that home-educated children have to public examinations. The lack of provision for those who did not have a relationship with an exam centre to be awarded grades in 2020 has meant that the impact on those who are home-educated has been particularly acute.
  • Covid aside, electively home educated children already faced barriers as private exam candidates. Cost is not the only one, with some students living long distances from centres that would accept them.

Solutions and recommendations

1. A statutory register for children out of school (p14)

  • A register of children outside of school is ‘absolutely necessary’. It would not remove freedoms from those providing an effective education but would allow support to be better targeted to those who need it. Children who may be at risk cannot be reached by authorities there to support them if there is not a consistent and accurate method of knowing who they are.
  • Collecting more data about children receiving home education would also give a true picture of the level of SEND resourcing needed by local authorities.

2. An independent, neutral role supporting home educated children with SEND and independent advocates for excluded pupils (p20)

  • Every SEND parent or carer should have an independent person allocated to them when applying for an assessment of their child’s needs. This person would have the responsibility for co-ordinating all statutory SEND processes including the annual review, similar to the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer for looked-after children.
  • This neutral role would support families with the choice to EHE, and help ensure that any such choice was made in a truly informed way, and in the best interests of the child and their family.
  • Independent advocates should also be available to families of pupils excluded for more than five non-consecutive days in a school year. They could guard against the practice of off-rolling and give guidance to families considering elective home education.

3. Local authorities to make contact with parents at least once a year and more consistent support (p25)

  • The former Children’s Commissioner and the Local Government Association were among those calling for more oversight of EHE. In its submission to the Committee, Ofsted expressed support for greater oversight of home education, although stressed that formal routine inspections would not be proportionate.
  • Local authorities should contact families at least once a year and should be asking to see examples of children’s work. They should be assessing children’s progress from one year to the next, especially in areas such as literacy and numeracy.
  • The DfE should provide local authorities with a clear set of criteria to assess suitability of education. A ‘suitable education’ should specify the levels of numeracy and literacy which it would usually expect students to have achieved before they move on to later education, training or employment, to allow them to ‘function as an independent citizen in the UK’. This vision should take into account the different paths that children with SEND might take.
  • The DfE should introduce a national training package for local authority officers with responsibility for elective home education so more consistent support is available, including for children with SEND.

4. Better data on outcomes (p31)

  • The DfE must properly and with speed examine the life chances and social outcomes of elective home educated children, compared with those who have received a formal schooled education.

5. A level playing field on access to examinations (p33)

  • Every local authority should ensure home-educated children have fair access to exam centres, with the Government meeting the entry costs for those exams to help EHE children gain the qualifications needed for future education, training and employment that will allow them to play active roles in society.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee and Harlow MP, said: “For too long now, an unacceptable level of opaqueness has clouded elective home education, meaning we know little about either the number of children learning away from school or the type of education they are receiving. This fog has acted as a roadblock to saying with any confidence at all that every child in the country is getting access to a suitable education and the skills they need to succeed.

It is frankly astonishing that we are only able to make a best guess at the number of children being educated at home, particularly when the Department for Education itself concedes that there is considerable evidence that many young people are missing out on the teaching and support that they are entitled to. Some parents are providing their children with a high-quality educational experience, but those against greater oversight must realise that it does not follow that all home educated children are in the same boat.

Getting a grip on the number of young people not being taught in school with a national register for children outside of school must just be the first step in shaking up the status quo. Local authorities must also keep a much closer eye on how home educated children are progressing to ensure they have equality with their peers from school when it comes to moving on in education, training and work. Financial and practical support should be given to ensure home educated children can take exams.

Teaching at home must also never be a fall-back option for parents forced into it as a last resort after exhausting all attempts to access they support they need for their children, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities. Every parent or carer should have an allocated person to help them through the process when applying for an assessment of their child’s needs and where a choice about home education is being made. The DfE also needs to bear down on coercive off-rolling, to ensure excluded pupils do not slip into education away from school by default. There should be no forced choices when it comes to home education.”

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