At the beginning of September I was interviewed as a witness by the Select committee on Support for Home Education. I wrote briefly about the day in this post, but intended to follow up with a more detailed summary of the session. I thought I would be able to come back and write more about it after taking the time to process it, but what has happened really is that I have forgotten a lot of the detail. I could watch it but I have no desire to see myself “on TV” so that’s out. I could read the transcript – I have skimmed through it once, and really meant to come back to it, but it never rises to the top of my to-do list. But I know that some people have expressed an interest in hearing more about it, and I really appreciate that, so I shall do my best.
In July I wrote a written submission in response to the Select committee’s call for evidence, after discussing the issues with other local home educators. I went into a lot of detail on the first point, “the duties of local authorities with regard to home education”, because I believe that many LAs, mine included, don’t have a clear idea of what their duties are and tend to make it up as they go along. I spent several enjoyable hours picking apart our LA’s website, highlighting areas where it misrepresents the law on home education, and fails to follow the Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities (2007.) I then rather hastily put together the rest of the submission at the eleventh hour, but there must have been enough in it that was useful for them to consult me further. Let’s just say that in exam terms I did enough revision the night before to scrape through.
The legal basis for home education in the UK is found in Section 7 of the Education Act (1996) which states that
“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable ;
a) to his age, ability, and aptitude, and
b) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”
It is quite clear that the legal responsibility for the education of children rests with their parents. They may or may not choose to use schools to deliver that education, but there is no legal requirement for them to do so. The 2007 guidelines make it clear that “Parents are not required to register or seek approval from the local authority to educate their children at home.” Many local authority websites directly contradict the law and mislead parents to such an extent that the widespread ignorance about the legality of home education is somewhat understandable.
I think most home educators would agree that innaccurate legal information on Local Authority websites is unacceptable. The issues get more complex, though, when you look at the question of what, if any, support should be offered for home education. There are many in the home ed community who are completely opposed to any form of registration, even if it is voluntary, and therefore do not want any support at all. There are others who feel equally strongly that there should be financial and other support available to all families who wish to home educate. I found it difficult to do anything other than sit on the fence on this issue, especially as I was trying to represent the views of our very diverse local home ed community, but I did find that being involved in the discussion helped to clarify my views a little. While I believe that mandatory registration would be unacceptable, I think that there may be a case for voluntary registration to access support. I know that some home educators believe it would ultimately lead to enforced registration, which is a serious concern. However, I feel very strongly that the right to home educate should be available to all families. I believe that single parents and families on low incomes should be able to make this choice freely, and it should not just be another form of private education for the privileged few.
One thing that came across clearly from the discussion was that there is a postcode lottery, with some LAs adhering to the law and providing useful support and others offering nothing but misleading information. Although there are some examples of good practice, there is such a long history of negative attitudes from many LAs that it is doubtful that support could come from them and be welcomed by the wider home ed community. One of the witnesses suggested that a neutral service provider such as the library service would be a better way of delivering support, and I really hope that this idea will be followed up.
The next session of the committee will take place this Wednesday morning, when some of the LAs will be giving oral evidence. It should be interesting to watch, but if you are a home educator you may find this helpful to get you through the morning. Enjoy!