It seems to me that the government has asked you to undertake this review because they see home education as an anomaly. It is untidy. It cannot be slotted neatly into the system of assessment, targets, outcomes and league tables. It is uncontrolled. The government sees all this as a problem.
I would like you to consider a shift in perspective. I agree that home education is untidy, but I do not think this means it is a problem. Learning is a human process, a natural and integral part of being human. As such it is bound to be messy, creative, diverse and unpredictable.
Like all natural processes, learning by human children is affected by the environment in which it takes place. For my autonomously educated children, any change in the direction of more control, assessment or regulation of home education would be a damaging restriction of their learning environment.
One of the reasons our family chooses home education is because we do not think compulsory attendance at school, the national curriculum, SATs and league tables offer a free enough environment for children’s learning. Since becoming involved in the home education community in our town, it has become clear to me that the diverse and uncontrolled nature of home education is what makes it a much needed refuge for many children whose needs are simply not catered for by the school system as it is.
English law deliberately and expressly permits diversity in education, and home education is for many parents the only way they can ensure their children receive an education suited to their specific needs, as the law requires. However, many local authorities see this flexibility as a ‘loophole’. Families and educationalists alike have a feeling that home educators are somehow getting away with something. This in itself leads to a lack of easy and honest communication. Home educators often wish to preserve their freedom by staying ‘under the radar’ while local authorities perceive this as unwholesome secrecy.
If the review is to change anything, I would like this atmosphere of mistrust to be broken down. This will have to be a gradual process, but there are several simple things the government and local authorities could do to begin it.
National government should:
- Reissue the November 2007 guidelines on Elective Home Education as statutory guidance.
- Rewrite the statutory guidance for local authorities in England to identify children not receiving a suitable education issued in January 2009, so that the conflict between this guidance and the Elective Home Education guidelines is removed. Paragraph 87 of the January 2009 guidance is directly at odds with the paragraphs in the Elective Home Education guidelines to which it refers. This contradiction must be resolved, and the correct procedures (as set out in the EHE guidelines) should be made clear to local authorities. It is not surprising that local authorities find the law confusing if they are given contradictory guidance. However, the law is quite clear that there is no duty or power for local authorities to routinely interrogate home educating families as to the suitability of their education.
- View work with home educating families as an exercise in offering universal services to everyone on an equal basis, rather than a regime of inspection and assessment. I think it would be a big improvement if this work were done by staff with expertise in Equalities and Diversity, not by education professionals.
- Examine the services they provide to school pupils (such as free daytime access to swimming pools, educational library services for schools, bikeability training, etc) to see if there are ways to extend these services on an invitational basis to home educating families
- Invite local home education communities to advise on policy development, staff training and appropriate service provision.