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Home education in England

Published Tuesday, February 13, 2018

This briefing sets out the current position relating to home education in England and provides brief information on recent issues raised concerning home education. It covers England only.

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Current position

Parents have the right to decide to teach their children at home at any stage up to the end of compulsory school age. This right applies equally for the parents of children with special educational needs (SEN). Home education may also be used to meet the requirement to participate in education or training up to the age of 18.

Parents who choose to home-educate their children are responsible for ensuring that the education provided is efficient, full-time and suitable to the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any SEN they may have. They are not required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum and do not have to follow the National Curriculum. The parents of home educated children must be prepared to assume full financial responsibility, including bearing the cost of any public examinations. Government guidance encourages authorities to take a flexible approach to providing financial support to the parents of home educated children with SEN, however, and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice states that authorities should fund the SEN needs of home educated children where it is appropriate to do so.

Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis. However, they do have duties to make arrangements to identify children not receiving a suitable education, and to intervene if it appears that they are not. Intervention could, for example, take the form of issuing a school attendance order, although Government guidance on home education encourages authorities to address the issue informally before serving such a notice. As part of their safeguarding duties local authorities have powers to insist on seeing a child to enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern, but this does not extend to seeing and questioning children for the purpose of establishing whether they are receiving a suitable education.

Proposals for reform and updated guidance

In June 2017 Lord Soley introduced the Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill [HL] 2017-19. The Bill makes provision for local authorities to be placed under a duty to monitor the development of children receiving home education and to conduct annual assessments. The Bill also provides for parents of home educated children to be required to register with the local authority. The Bill is a Private Member’s Bill and, as such, is unlikely to pass into law unless supported by the Government.

The Government has stated that it is “keeping an open mind on the Bill”. It has also, however, expressed a belief that local authorities already have the powers they need to act in cases where children are not being well educated at home, and that the focus initially should be on making the existing legal arrangements work better. In this regard, the Government has announced that it intends to consult on revised guidance on home education for parents and local authorities, with the drafts expected to be produced for consultation “in the next few weeks.”

Unregistered schools

There has been an increased focus in recent years on the potential safeguarding risks posed by unregistered schools. In a series of letters to the Secretary of State raising such concerns, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, also expressed a belief that there was a link between the growth of unregistered schools and an increase in the number of home educated children. Many of those operating unregistered schools, he said, are “exploiting weakness in the current legislation” and “unscrupulously using the freedoms that parents have to home educate their children as a cover for their activities.”

Wood Report

In May 2016, the Government published the report of a review of local children safeguarding boards conducted by Alan Wood. The report cited concerns about “the lack of effective statutory provision about children in unregistered school settings or receiving home education.” It concluded that the current guidance on home education needed to be reviewed to enable local authorities to fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities.

The Government’s response to the report did not explicitly mention home education.

Casey Review

In December 2016, Dame Louise Casey published the report of her review into opportunity and integration. The report stated that parents should continue to have the right to home educate their children, but raised a number of “difficulties and risks” associated with home education including:

  • That the current definition of a “suitable education” runs counter to efforts to foster British values in schools and building cohesive communities.
  • That some people may be misusing the right to home educate their children to place them in unregistered schools.
  • That the current framework means that local authorities have no sure way of knowing the extent of home education or the suitability of the education provided, and also limits the extent to which authorities can be aware of any arising child protection issues.

Education Committee Report

In 2012 the Education Committee published a report on home education. The report cited evidence of a “postcode lottery” for home educators caused by inconsistency in local authority practice, and found that over half of authorities had ultra vires statements on their websites concerning home education.

The report recommended that the Government should review the guidance on home education and that the state should meet the cost of home educated children sitting public examinations. The Government response rejected both these recommendations.

Commons Briefing papers SN05108

Author: David Foster

Topics: Children and families, Local authorities: education, Schools

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