MPs call on the government to act quickly on home education register

The number of children – including children with SEND – who are home educated by their parents’ choice, has increased steadily over the last five years, and sharply over the last 12 months.

We can be fairly certain that this is the case, but we don’t know the exact number of children involved, because no-one counts them.

This was confirmed recently by School Standards Minister Nick Gibb MP in a reply to a parliamentary question on home education from Robert Halfon, the MP who chairs the influential House of Commons Education Select Committee.

To fill the gap, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) provides an annual estimate of the number of children who are being electively home educated, based on a survey of their members. Their most recent survey, published last month, estimates that 75,668 children are being home educated in England.

This is an increase of 38% from the same time last year. We don’t know how many of these children have SEND, although ADCS says that very few local authorities noted an increase in elective home education among children at special schools or with an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

But this still leaves a potentially large number of children with SEND who may have been removed from school by their parents, for reasons that are not collected and documented. Sometimes this is a positive choice for individual children, and sometimes it’s a last resort by desperate parents. Sometimes they may have been ‘advised’ by the school that home education is a “better choice”.

Local authorities emphasise that they cannot be certain of the exact numbers, because there is no statutory register of children who are home educated by their parents’ choice. (Elective home education shouldn’t be confused with ‘education other than at school’, and the difference between the two is explained here.)

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A new register of home educated children?

We know the Government has considered introducing a register of this sort, because they carried out a consultation on it last year. Ministers proposed to introduce a number of potential new legal duties. Local authorities would have to maintain a register of children who weren’t in school and provide support to families who were home educating their child. But we are still awaiting the outcome of this consultation, and ministers’ current thinking on it is unclear.

Home educators largely do not agree, with many opposed to the idea of a register, some vehemently.

In the meantime, the Education Select Committee has begun an inquiry into home education. They think the issue of a statutory register can’t wait. While the committee is still gathering evidence, they have written this week to the Secretary of State based on their early findings and on previous work on SEND, exclusions and alternative provision.

The committee’s letter sets out MPs’ concerns about the growing number of children who may be missing education, and the lack of data on how many children are at home and what’s happening to them:

“As a Committee, we feel that the lack of a mechanism to identify all children of school age who are not in school limits the ability of those with responsibility in this area to understand the extent of any problems and act to resolve them.

We are particularly concerned about those children with SEND who may be effectively ‘forced’ into what should be a positive choice to educate at home. With regards to outcomes, our future work in this area is likely to include the question of what good outcomes for home-educated children might look like. The Department may wish to consider that same question.”

Letter from Education Select Committee

MPs urge ministers to introduce a statutory register of children who are not in school, saying, “There’s no doubt home education can be beneficial for some children and young people with SEND, and some parents choose it freely because they believe it’s the best option for their child.”

Home education is not always a choice

But we know – and the Department for Education knows –that some parents end up home educating as a desperate last resort. It may be because their child is having a miserable experience at school without the support they need, or parents are pressured by the school to remove their child, or they fear their child will be excluded.

This is corroborated by research last year by Ofsted, showing that unmet special educational needs are one of the reasons for the rise in home education. The pandemic has shown that many children with SEND thrived being home educated with some parents deciding to do continue. While of course, many home educators are well organised and offer a fantastic alternative to school, the education committee is more concerned about the children who do not get a good standard of learning ay home. Again, if your child with an EHCP is at home because of no available provision, you should speak to your LA about the provision of EOTAS. If they don't have an EHCP, please apply for an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment

Robert Halfon and his committee think this issue is urgent enough to put to the Secretary of State now, rather than waiting for the wider inquiry to conclude. 

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Catriona Moore
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