Thanks to our contributor who wishes to remain anonymous. She works primarily as an advocate for parents who home educate. In this post she discusses the legal framework around home education and how to deal with a referral to children’s services to prevent matters escalating.
Parents have a right to educate their children at home providing they fulfil the requirements of Section 7 of the Education Act 1996, which places a duty on the parents of every child of compulsory school age to cause him or her to receive efficient full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs that they may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
Home-educating parents or carers are not more likely than others to abuse or neglect their children. However, there have been a number of serious case reviews where home education has been stated as a factor. This has led to the parents in these cases being viewed as having removed their child from school to avoid the scrutiny of safeguarding agencies. Despite there being no case in which home education has been found to be a ‘key’ factor, this no doubt explains the suspicion that some professionals may feel about parents who chose to home educate – and why those parents may sometimes feel as if they are under excessive or unfair scrutiny.
The Badman Review of home education (DCSF, 2009) recommended a formal registration scheme of children who are home educated and rights for local authority staff to access the home and interview children alone. This review has been subject to serious criticism from the HE community. They point out that these recommendations never became law but some LA rely upon this review to justify acting unlawfully. No doubt there will be continue to be a tension between those who wish to home educate and those who believe that an essential element of child safeguarding is permitting state agencies access to children.
I have been referred to children’s services because my child is home educated
It is not unusual for a report to be made to childrens’ services, solely because a child is home educated (HE). In fact around 10% of home educated children known to the Local Authority are referred, although HE children are considerably less likely to end up with a child protection plan than those attending school. Quite often this will be by a misguided neighbour, health visitor or GP, equally often it will be by the former school the child attended. In these cases a teacher will often express concern that the parent is not ‘competent’ to educate the child.
In the case of teaching staff, this is generally not malicious, rather it is because they have trained in a system which makes them view HE as quite alien in its practice and approach, to their own view of what education should look like. HE can be successful without formal learning taking place, where it is totally autonomous (Child led), where a parent has little or no qualification and where the child may appear to be ‘doing nothing’.
Most social workers are just as frustrated as you are that they have been caused extra work because someone does not realise that HE is a viable and lawful choice to make. Often their involvement will end with a ‘sorry to bother you and thank you for explaining’ if you approach matters in a reasonable way.
Legally you do not have to let a social worker into your home and there is no such thing as a ‘safe and well check’ for a HE child. This is because the duty of the social worker is to react to concerns, not to proactively investigate whether a child is at risk simply because the parents have made a minority choice. The Social worker must balance child protection needs with only intervening when it is appropriate. It is not appropriate to intervene simply because a child is HE.
What’s the legal position regarding home education?
However, just saying ‘no’ is not helpful to you, it is far better to explain to the social worker that your child is HE and that it is a legal choice for you to make. Do this politely and refer them to the relevant guidelines concerning elective home education for England which are well worth reading to enable you to understand the legal position (guidelines for Wales are currently being reviewed).
In the words of Graham Stuart MP (the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on home education)
…councils often conflate home education with a child safeguarding risk and seek to impose routine monitoring and inspections. These actions are at odds with government guidelines and can be accompanied by misrepresentation of the legal situation both on parents’ doorsteps and in local authority literature’
If you are prepared and knowledgeable, it is much more likely that any such referral is dealt with quickly and without distress to you or your family.
Websites and blogs
Education Otherwise -This site provides information and resources for home educating families and those considering home education for the first time, including guidance on home education and the law, SEN and disabilities; downloadable fact sheets covering many aspects of HE; and links to local HE groups across the UK.
Home Education UK – a celebration of families as places of education and parenting.
Home Education Forums – founded in 2009, an information portal and networking community for UK based home educators
Read why this blogger made the decision to home educate her son.
Information from Serious Case Reviews
The Report from the NSPCC Home Education: learning from case reviews . This briefing is based on seven case reviews published since 2008, where elective home education was highlighted as a key factor.
The Serious Case Review looking at the W Family – which deals with a mother who had chosen home education to conceal her abuse of the children and the implications of this for agencies with safeguarding duties for children.
See also the case of Khyra Ishaq and comments from the ‘No Nationalisation of our Kids’ website:
In July 2010, the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board published a Serious Case Review [SCR], in respect of the Death of a Child which was identified as Case Number 14. Though not named in the text, media reports made it clear that this was the case of of Khyra Ishaq, a seven year old girl from Handsworth, Birmingham who starved to death in May 2008. The full case review was available on the BSCB website but has been removed – click here to read it.
[Also see this article for extracts from the SCR]
The case hit the headlines because the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families at the time of Khyra’s death, Ed Balls, made it his lead example in his argument for imposing regulation on home educating families. Whilst Khyra’s death was widely reported, what most of the public was not told until after the end of the trial of her mother, Angela Gordon and de facto step-father Junaid Abuhamza, was that Khyra had five siblings who were also mistreated and under-fed. Most of the facts of the case had been made known in a High Court care order hearing in relation to the five surviving children. The judgement in this case was given on 6th March 2009 and can be found here.