Elective Home Education (EHE) is a well worn path for thousands of parents in the UK, who choose to exercise their duty and responsibility for their child’s education themselves. Some opt out of school settings for part of their child’s education, some for all of it. These choices are protected in law, with parents having the right to educate their children in accordance with their own philosophical or religious worldviews.
The system works well. Parents are not required to inform their Local Authority (LA) about their choice, although in 2016 the law was changed so that schools had to inform the child’s LA of the intended destination (if known) when a child was removed from the school. Some EHE parents are happy to inform their LA that they are home educating and to receive regular monitoring visits; some are not. Some LAs are supportive; many are not.
But that may all be about to change – you can read about the background to these changes in Tim Dieppe’s previous article Home Education: the ongoing story. LAs have a statutory duty to make arrangements to identify children not receiving a suitable education, although ‘suitable’ is not defined. LAs are increasingly calling not only for an increase to their statutory powers for regulation of home education on these grounds, but also on the grounds of safeguarding – you can read about the agenda for that in Home Education and the safeguarding bandwagon which was published on the Christians in Education website last week.
Using the same arguments and quoting just one single example of child in Wales who was home educated (but about whom concerns had been raised), the Welsh government is going to consultation on compulsory registration, after Welsh education secretary Kirsty Williams stated that she was in favour of compulsory registration and inspection.
There are various flaws in these arguments. Any parents who wish to keep their children hidden will still do so. Registration will commence at the point of entry to school, making no difference to children who are harmed during the first five years of their lives. Serious case reviews show that children who are abused or killed have all been known to authorities, are usually in nursery, pre-school or school, and are already the subject of multi-agency concern. So how will compelling thousands of caring parents who opt to educate at home change any of this? And how will their compulsory inspection impact on the stretched time of LAs who need to concentrate their efforts on children already known to be at risk?
If the education provided at home is deemed to be unsuitable (which will probably be the case with many reluctant home educators), all that an LA can do is issue a notice which compels the parent to put their child in school. So parents who have removed their children from schools because they are relentlessly bullied beyond their capacity to cope; because their children have unmet special needs; or because their children are threatened with expulsion, will simply be forced to return their children to schools which don’t want them, or settings which are completely inappropriate for their needs. What will this solve? If LAs have a statutory duty to ensure that every child receives a suitable education, can parents not reasonably expect that LAs will actually provide their child with something suitable, if they are forced into school?
So what is the thinking behind compulsory registration, since it will solve none of the problems of safeguarding or unsuitable provision? One should reasonably assume that it is a further step towards removing parental responsibility from parents and handing it to the state.
The consultation is already planned for Wales, and England is expected to follow suit very shortly. Watch this space, and respond to the consultations when they are announced – it is an important step in defence of your parental freedom.