There is an ‘astonishing’ lack of data on the number of children being home educated, the education select committee has warned.
More data must be collected and a national register for children out of school must be established to ensure all children not in school receive a suitable education, the group of MPs have said.
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, 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.”
There were more than 75,000 children were being educated at home in October 2020, an increase of 38 per cent from the previous year, according to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, with COVID having contributed to the decision for some families to home school their children.
The Department for Education has acknowledged that there is ‘considerable evidence’ that many home-educated children are missing out on a proper education. The DfE does not collect national figures on the number of children in elective home education and numbers are likely to be underreported as parents do not have to register their children with the local authority as home educated.
While the law states that parents have a duty to ensure that their children receive a suitable education, whether that be in school or ‘otherwise,’ the Education Committee’s report 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.
Some families have been forced into home-schooling due to a lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities and the practice of off-rolling. The former children’s commissioner for England highlighted in 2019 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’.
Understanding the attainment and outcomes of home educated children 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.
Electively home educated children already faced barriers as private exam candidates, including cost and the distance some students lived from centres that would accept them. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the inequitable access that home-educated children have to public examinations.
Furthermore, local authorities cannot speak to a home schooled child unless they have safeguarding concerns about them, the Local Government Association told the committee.
A statutory register for children out of school is ‘absolutely necessary,’ the report says. 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.
There should also be an independent, neutral role supporting home educated children with SEND and independent advocates for excluded pupils – a role similar to that of the Independent Reviewing Officer for looked-after children.
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.
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.
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, the report recommends.
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP added: “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,” he concluded.
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