The decision to establish a register for home educated children was manifestly made prior to consultation and confirmed despite the majority of consultees objecting to the proposal. It is interesting to note that one of the principal reasons cited for a register is the belief that the number of home educated children is on the rise, now a 34% increase.
Let us examine this repeatedly quoted statistical data. The number of home educated children naturally fluctuate throughout the years, consistently during each year for which data is available, as children move into and out of school for a variety of reasons and at a variety of stages. Statistically it is therefore misleading and grossly inaccurate for the ADCS president, Charlotte Ramson to state that the number of home educated children is in the order of 155,000 with a rate of normal increase of 20%, accelerating to 34% over the period of the pandemic.
These impressive figures are being trotted out as a matter of routine in an attempt to make them reality. Suffice it to say that the figures are an exaggeration; they lack qualification in the extreme.
It has been accepted by the House of Commons Library Research Briefing (10th January 2022) that based on freedom of information data provided by all 152 local authorities in England between 1st October 2020 and 7th April 2021 there was a 7.4% fall in home educated children: from 78,184 to 72,394. When compared with the figures being liberally bandied it begs the question as to motive and justification.
An interesting point was made by Ms Ramson, specifically that it is a legal requirement for all children to be registered at birth and when attending school children are also registered. This does not justify introduction of a mandatory register for home educated children, quite the reverse as it means that across the board local authorities know which children are being home educated: simple subtraction. Ergo, perhaps a need for an additional register is a reflection of what would appear to be poor communication between the bodies that make up a local authority and between local authorities.
Legally it is the parent’s ultimate responsibility to ensure that their child is suitably educated according to their needs; this is known and established. Similarly, legally it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that children are in receipt of a suitable education according to their needs, where determination of suitability is the domain of the parents.
The experience of home educators is that registration is as the entry point for local authorities to usurp the legal right of parents to determine ‘suitability’. Further, registration does not ensure that the child will receive an education. We know this for a fact because each year approximately 100,000 children who have completed their school education fall short of the minimum standard that schools ordain. This number exceeds the total number of home educated children in England every single year.
Crucially, the register is being introduced in the face of not only majority of stakeholders’ objections, but also in the face of research which demonstrates that registration does nothing to improve children’s education or safeguarding. A pre-decided outcome with nothing whatsoever to support it save for demands made by those who continually choose to misrepresent data when the actual data does not support their preferred narrative.
The legal reality is that the default situation is that the education of a child rests with parents. Whilst the majority of parents subcontract that responsibility to a third party, namely one or other form of schooling, local authorities need to accept that school attendance is not compulsory and indeed does not deliver for all children.
Unfortunately, over the years home educators have experienced the cut and thrust that result from the chasm between local authority enticing words of support and their actions that focus entirely on getting children back to school at all cost. To no stretch of the imagination can this be seen as being in the best interest of the child.
Thankfully more and more local authority officers are migrating toward a truly child focussed approach, which has the effect of reducing conflict, all-round. It is disappointing that conversely, the ADCS and Government seem intent on driving the divide deeper.