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Research on visibility and engagement of home educated children within their communities

At Education Otherwise we know that home educated children are highly visible and engaged within their communities.

The following key findings from a dissertation submitted to the University of Derby in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a degree of Master of Arts in Education by Jennifer Alburey in January 2021, confirm this. These findings are reported here with her permission.

How societally visible and engaged are the children of home educating parents who access online home education support groups?

• The study received a response of 567 participants. The scale of this response would indicate that far from being a difficult to reach community, home educators are welcoming of research and keen to share their experiences.

• Many of the participants’ children attend HE exclusive groups and activities with their children, the range of which was as vast and varied as the socialisation opportunities outside the HE community.

• Attendance at non-HE groups was also high. The responses showed a broad range of social engagement opportunities between HE children and wider society as well as within the HE community itself. Most of these engagements were regular and with a high quantity of weekly and monthly groups attended by participants’ children. There were groups which would be accessible by the wider community as well as HE exclusive groups, allowing children ample opportunity to develop peer relationships plus relationships outside their own age group. This appears to evidence a highly sociable and societally engaged community. These large social networks and active calendars were reported by both families known and unknown to the Local Authority.

• Within the social engagements reported, participants’ children were regularly seen by a broad range of professionals with a safeguarding duty of care, as well as members of the public with a moral duty to safeguard.

• There was a substantial prevalence of children with a disability or special need, some of whom were reported as having less social engagement – but a high proportion of the community reported children being regularly seen by health professionals.

• Responses to this study indicated that concerns regarding lack of visibility of this community (Children’s Commissioner 2019, Ofsted & Schooling, E. 2017) are indeed a stereotype. This may be contributed to by a lack of distinction often made between HE and CME. There is no simple solution to determine how CME under the guise of HE could be better identified, but it is clear that CME are not representative of the HE community.

• Better engagement and communication between LAs and the HE community would cause an increase in visibility of children to their local EHE Officers. Such engagement would require a better value-exchange than appears to be currently on offer, with ample opportunities for LAs to create this being available.

• More cohesive communication between LAs to ensure consistency and quality of service and support between areas could potentially increase engagement from within the HE community. The levels of fear and discomfort at LA overstep were striking and not conducive to partnership working between the community and Local Government.

• This justified worry about underlying intentions of those seeking to oversee their educational provision, given the negative experiences of so many within the community, may account for the number of unanswered responses to questions. Trust between the community and LAs is poor, as is communication. This was evidenced by the fact that many participants had never been contacted by their LA to offer a visit or request other forms of contact. For those families where visits had taken place, many were reported as lacking value. Whilst these children are highly visible within the rest of society, their parents are understandably reticent to engage in communication with LAs who have an unfair power balance and were reported as sometimes misusing that.

• Better Local Authority communication with other Government departments, including safeguarding and health, could prevent children from being ‘unknown’ to LA EHE teams as those children are in fact known to Government, but to other departments. It may also help to better identify CME.

• Offering HE families who move area the option to transfer documentation between LAs could also be considered, in the same way that children’s educational records move between schools. In this way, home educators with previously satisfactory visits or reports could satisfy new LAs of their suitable education without needing to re-establish their provision to an unknown, subjective, new standard. The complicating factor for any attempts to create a more objective framework for assessing suitability of provision may stifle the freedom to tailor education based on children’s best interests, or to allow fully child-led learning which is so highly valued by many home educators. It would be more prudent to have a set standard of requirements for EHE officials, and standardised training around the recognition of differing educational styles. Training specifically about home education itself as well as the legislation around it, perhaps designed in partnership with the HE community, could potentially be of huge benefit to LAs.