Open letter concerning the "Strengthening Home Education" report, July2021
This is a generalised open letter to all home education stakeholders. It is based on a letter written and sent to my local MP.
I am writing to you regarding the recently published report from the Education Committee entitled “Strengthening Home Education”. Its recommendations have sent shockwaves of distress, incredulity, and anger through the local home educating community (of which I am heavily involved) and the national community. I am writing to ask you the following:
1. to represent the voices, opinions and rights of your law-abiding home educating constituents
2. to ask that you engage with your local, law-abiding, home educating community to gain a full understanding of the issues and nuances in this area
3. to ask for your voting position on any legislation that may arise as a result of the Education Committee report.
The recommendations of the mentioned report go way beyond the revised Elective Home Education Guidelines from 2019, over which I have already written to you with my concerns.
It seems clear to me that all stakeholders (whether that be Government, Education Committee or parents) want exactly the same outcomes for children; that is happy, healthy, well-adjusted and contributing members of society. Within the home educating community, there are shared concerns, which include, how do we safeguard children from abuse/harm and how do we ensure that children receive suitable education (whether it be via school or otherwise) that allows for these outcomes.
I do not wish authorities and parents to be adversaries; we are not enemies. Collaboration is key. Many home educators have repeatedly offered (and continue to do so) at personal, local, national, organisational levels to collaborate with DfE, Consultations, Education Committee, MPs and more. It is deeply concerning indeed that these offers have been ignored and/or disregarded. In fact, the Education Committee has already demonstrated bias and a lack of impartiality within its own Inquiry. Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP (lead of the Education Committee) announced the conclusions of the Inquiry via the Today programme back in November 2020 before the inquiry even started sifting through the submissions.
Despite cries to the contrary, research and data does exist into a huge number of facets of home education. Some pertinent facts regarding radicalisation, abuse and safeguarding within home education are as follows: Evidence shows that not one single case of radicalisation has been linked to home education; Evidence shows that there is not a single Serious Case Review where home education is a causal factor. In fact, in all cases the children were already known to authorities, who did not act. Evidence exists, due to analysis of referrals and Child Protection Plans, that shows whilst home educators are more likely to be referred, they are less likely to be put on Child Protection Plans than schooling counterparts.
Let’s use the plentiful, available data, evidence and research into home education, to ensure that children are protected and receive “suitable” education as defined in law. Let’s work together to achieve jointly desired goals, without detriment and damage to law-abiding families who choose a different path to secure these outcomes. The answers lie in our ability to cooperate, listen, collaborate and problem solve together.
All parents in England are duty bound by law (Section 7 of the Education Act 1996) to provide education suitable to their child’s age, aptitude, ability and any SEN, via attendance at school or otherwise. This is a legal DUTY (not a right, a duty) on all parents. Home educating parents have the legal bar set particularly high as, unlike schools, they are required to personalise the education they provide for their children. In contrast, school offers a standard model for all children. By its very definition home education is an alternative that is not comparable to schooling. Its children are often on a totally different, alternative trajectory to schooled children. Therefore, attempts to standardise home education, to align with school peers, would actually prevent parents from fulfilling their legal duty as outlined in Section 7. In addition, enforced standardisation would be damaging and detrimental to many children for whom the school system has already been proved to fail.
The question of a home education registration has once again been raised. In law, home education stands on equal status with school. The idea of creating a register for law-abiding citizens that choose not to follow the majority is, in itself, mind boggling. The only other national register that exists is for sex offenders. The cited reasons for this register is to know how many children are home educated and protect children from abuse. Research already exists (contrary to the statement by the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP) that shows 96% of home educators are already known to LAs. It is reported that a register would cost an estimated £500m to implement to “find” the 4%. Any parent already breaking the law by abusing their children would be very unlikely to come forward for registration, rendering this reason void.
Home educating parents not already known to the LA may feel more comfortable coming forward if LAs would build respectful, meaningful, open, trusting, collaborative relationships with their local home educators. I have personally offered to liaise with my local Elective Home Education (EHE) team but, to date, this offer has not been taken up. Many EHE teams are not trained in home education (they are only familiar with schooling), alternative pedagogy, understanding SEN and home education research and data. EHE teams are well trained in the processes required to obtain an SAO (school attendance order). EHE teams are increasingly listing requirements of home educators that are not either legally required or required as part of the revised Guidelines of 2019. This behaviour is in direct contradiction to the DfE recommendation to foster close relationships between LAs and home educators, and serves to undermine relationships, not build them.
It is entirely possible to hone a mutually beneficial system to address real, evidence-based concerns around child safety and education. It is entirely possible to build knowledge, understanding, collaboration, trust and respectful relationships that will be most effective, least damaging and at a minimum cost, and that would allow us all to move forwards to our mutual goal. There is no need to stigmatise and potentially criminalise families who choose to educate at home. There is no need to aggressively undermine the right to privacy, right to the presumption of innocence, the parental presumption to competence which is accorded all parents in England, and undermine the individual freedoms that we as a nation espouse. Yes, children have a right to education, schooling is just one way to educate. A right to education should not be equated to a compulsion to conform to a schooling model and standards that parents believe are detrimental to their children’s chances of being happy, healthy, well-adjusted and contributing members of society.
The more prudent question at this point should be:
Why do parents seek to educate outside the school system? Research and evidence on this is abundantly available, and the home educating community, I’m sure, would be willing to provide more. The reasons generally centre around:
· bullying and abuse in schools by staff and pupils,
· spiralling levels of physical and mental damage caused by the schooling system
· rising suicide rates in schooled children (we have sadly had a number in Horsham in the last few months alone)
· a curriculum that is too rigid, narrow, standardised, inflexible and not related to the real world
· a curriculum that only values 2 or 3 of the growing number of human intelligences being identified
· teaching purely to the test and not to develop real world knowledge and skills
· standards and expectations that are not reflective of research into child development, neuroscience, child and human psychology or learning theory.
· A system that by design fails around 40% of pupils each year. This would account for the 9 million or so cited illiterate adults in the UK, clearly showing that this is a school system issue not a home education issue. I have never yet met, or heard of, a home educating parent where failure for their child was built into their provision.
· Escalating levels of unmet SEN
This last area for me is particularly relevant, and as my previous letter outlined, was the reason we came into home education some 6 years ago. Thousands of parents up and down the country have, like me, fought and failed to secure the provision needed for their SEN children, often at great personal and financial cost. We have watched our children suffer. We have asked, pleaded and begged for help from a system that continues to deny children’s voices and needs. How ironic now that this report states it wants to hear the voices of home educated children, we have been using our voices for years, yet no one has been listening.
My sons are both autistic with variant Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA), a condition typified by the extraordinary need for high levels of personal autonomy in order to feel safe. Only when children feel safe can they learn, grow and then thrive. The PDA Society report “Being Mis-Understood” reported that 70% of children diagnosed with PDA or Demand Avoidant profiles were not in school. This, in itself, is evidence of failure by the school system to meet the needs of these children. For these children, the most appropriate educational philosophy to meet their SEN needs (a parental duty in law) is via self-directed educational (SDE) philosophies. The evidence shows that this is a valid, legal and effective way to discharge Section 7 parental duties to educate. Self-directed education is entirely incompatible with the standardisation and testing proposed by the “Strengthening Home Education” report. Should the state provide access to a provision using SDE e.g. East Kent Sudbury School, then I would gladly consider sending them. Sadly, there is no local state SDE provision currently available, nor to my knowledge, are there any plans for there to be.
It is in all our best interests to work and collaborate towards a mutually acceptable situation that safeguards children, ensures agreed suitable education personalised for the child, and where legal and human rights are not eroded. The current proposals outlined in the “Strengthening Home Education” report will simply serve to drive a wedge between families and LAs. Please, please can we start collaborating?
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