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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

How serious are we about EHE?

In April the Department for Education (DfE) launched a call for evidence on elective home education (EHE). I don’t know if other colleagues have yet had time to read the consultation paper. It was my badly chosen bedtime reading. I was still awake at 2am asking the question: where is the logic in a system that doesn’t allow parents to take children out of school for a week long holiday, but accepts that we cannot assure ourselves that all children receive a good standard of education, delivered in a suitable learning environment, and that they are safe?

In reading the draft guidance and call for evidence it appears to me that legislative change in this area is unlikely despite the fact that current arrangements were, according to the DfE, “designed for a different age”. My fear is that some will question whether responding to it would be a good use of valuable time.

The government “believes that home education is often good” whilst acknowledging that “there is no assurance that this is always the case”. Is believing sufficient in a country that we agree should be good enough for all children? Would believing that we deliver good adoption services or believing that outcomes for children at Key Stage 2 are good without evidence to back it up be accepted by government? I doubt it.

I certainly don’t know if the current 204 EHE children that I know of in my area all receive a good standard of education at home. Current legislation doesn’t support me in trying to find this out. This is one of the things that keeps me up at night and doesn’t fit with my statutory duty as a director of children’s services. Much more important than that, I just don’t know how many children are invisible; those who’ve never attended school; or move into the area and don’t take up school places. How many are withdrawn from school but don’t receive a good standard of education. This worries me. It’s important to state that I don’t believe that EHE is necessarily bad, but the very fact that we don’t know the exact number of children being home schooled, but we think it to be somewhere in the region of approximately 45,500 children, is not good enough. We also lack the evidence to demonstrate those good outcomes that we want for all of our children.

Two of the most distressing serious case reviews in my career involved serious harm to children who were educated at home. Does that make a difference? Of course it does and the tone of the draft guidance doesn’t assure me children are at the centre of it, where they should be. Rather it focuses on the “rights of parents to educate their children at home”, without the evidence that this works for children. Should that be the focus or should it be securing the best outcomes for all children and ensuring that children and young people are not lost from sight?

Just like in many other local authorities we have also experienced significant growth in our EHE population. Data suggests the increase (of those that we know are home educated), is well over 25%. In the last year, our passionately creative team of two engaged and supported children and families, and challenged concerns about withdrawal, such as “off-rolling”, which emerged. They successfully brokered returns to school in over a third of these cases.

My plea is that we do take the time to submit evidence – not because it will be heeded necessarily, but because we owe it to at least 45,500 children to challenge a weak and chaotic system. I think they’re entitled to more than a belief.

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