Robert Halfon MP: Home education is not always a free choice

Robert Halfon MP · 23 February 2022

In an exclusive article for Prospect’s Education and Services Group, Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, writes about some of the recommendations proposed in his committee’s report into elective home education.

Girl being homeschooled

The Education Committee’s inquiry into elective home education (EHE) received around 1,000 written submissions, making our subsequent report Strengthening Home Education, published last July, one of the most anticipated we have ever produced.

The sheer volume of interest was unsurprising. A survey of local authorities by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services estimated that 81,196 children and young people were being educated at home as of October 2021. We heard that this figure has rocketed since the start of the pandemic, and there were reports that many families had decided home-schooling was the best option for them.

But from the evidence we received, it was apparent that sometimes “elective” home education is not a free choice. For some families it’s a situation they feel forced into, for example, where children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) lack the support they need in school, or where children are bullied and parents take them out for their own safety. The Committee also heard about the continuing and concerning trend of “off-rolling”, where pupils are removed from school without a formal, permanent exclusion, or when parents are pressured to remove their child for reasons that benefit the school.

We remain deeply concerned that we cannot support children who may have been left behind during the pandemic without knowing who they are and how many there are. There is no intelligence about the impact of Covid-19 on the participation in educational activities of children receiving EHE, because no-one knows exactly how many children are being taught at home, or how many are receiving an education that’s suitable for them. Indeed, the Department for Education (DfE) reported there is “considerable evidence” many children may not be.

Picture of Robert Halfon MP

Robert Halfon MP

Register for children outside mainstream education

That is why one of the main recommendations of the Committee’s report – and which ministers have agreed to act on – was for the Government to create a national register of children not enrolled in mainstream education, with the DfE publishing anonymised annual data on the number of children out of school.

I would like to extend the Committee’s thanks to Prospect for being one of the many organisations who voiced support for this register. One of the key aims is about providing targeted support to families who need it. This is not about taking away freedoms from parents who are providing an effective education for their families.

Although many parents provide a fantastic education for their kids, it doesn’t follow that every home-educating family does. We can’t assume that all families have access to the networks and resources needed to provide a suitable education. We must do all we can to protect those vulnerable children.

Whilst I applaud the Government for its work on this, it is disappointing for my Committee colleagues that our other recommendations were rejected.

High up our wish list was for every parent and carer for a child with SEND to have an independent person allocated to them when applying for an assessment of their child’s needs. We also called on the Government to recruit independent advocates all over the country to help families of pupils excluded for more than five non-consecutive days in a year.

Role of councils

As well as knowing who children in EHE are, surely we should have an understanding of whether those children are getting a suitable education. That is why we recommended local councils should have a role in assessing children on their progress from year to year in developing literacy and numeracy skills.

Finally, all children should have the right to sit accredited exams, lest they be held back from getting on the career ladder. We called on the Government to place a duty on councils to ensure home-educated children have fair access to centres where they can sit accredited public exams, with the Government paying the entry costs. Yet the Government commitments fall short of this ambition.

Whilst we wait for the publication of the Government’s SEND review, which we were told should appear by April, the Committee will continue to campaign for the uptake of our recommendations.

Education and children's services

Prospect represents nearly 3,000 professionals in education, children's services, early years, commissioning and children's social care.