Tag Archives: Home Education


Home education has dominated the education press for the last couple of weeks. That in itself is unusual, as home educators are not normally the focus of much attention. But the maelstrom swirling around parents who just want to be left alone to educate their children as they wish is of epic proportions. It’s indicative of the raging war in government departments.

The arguments started with Lord Soley’s Private Member’s Bill, which has gone from ‘doesn’t stand a chance of making it onto the statute books’ to the noble Lord expressing every confidence that it will become law. That’s when the gloves came off.

Then came the safeguarding bandwagon, but that didn’t do the trick either, because Lord Agnew, Under-Secretary of State for Education, responded to the pressure by saying that there would be no new primary legislation, and anyway, local councils had all the powers they need, they should just use them properly. That’s when the war broke out.

Local councils started to get aggressive – Westminster council has issued a school attendance order for Lilian Hardy, the child star of the West End musical show Matilda. Apparently, learning lines, acting and having the confidence to perform don’t count for much in Westminster, which has its own rules (with questionable legality) and a mission to ensure that every resident child complies with its definition of ‘suitable education’ – again, with dubious legality under Human Rights legislation. Lilian’s parents will not comply with the order, and are prepared to go to prison to defend their right to educate their daughter as they, not the state, see fit.

And although school attendance orders have, in the past, been rare, some local authorities have suddenly started issuing them en masse – 21 in East Anglia alone.  Why the sudden surge in activity from local councils? Probably to prove that they are using their powers in order to nullify Lord Agnew’s repeated assertions that they won’t be getting any new ones.

The Times embarked on a scare campaign, talking about ‘legions of missing children’ which are only ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary is ‘getting tough’, according to an inside source in his department, in an article in which his own department briefed against him. Hinds might do well to take note of Abraham Lincoln’s observation (itself taken from the Gospel of Mark) that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

The BBC aired an interview with Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, whose desire to control every child in the country has been well documented. She was calling for – yes – more powers for Ofsted to deal with unregistered schools, which are allegedly being used to hide home educated children. The public was treated to pictures of filthy, squalid and dangerous rooms, together with footage of a child apparently being hit around the head.

All of these situations are deplorable, if true. But the fact remains, as the Department for Education repeatedly states, all necessary powers are in place. The Department also took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release in which it reflected that it was a pity the BBC didn’t take the evidence to them, instead of airing it on TV. To prove that the system works, police started an investigation the following day.

But still the articles keep coming – more concerns about unregistered schools; an interview with Louise Casey, government tsar, taking her customary pot shot at religion, and ‘Time to take home schooling out of the shadows’  – a scurrilous mix of misinformation, false assumption, and patronising arrogance from Ms Spielman, who sneeringly refers to home educating parents as ‘doing their slightly homespun thing’. Perhaps she should stop indulging in blame shifting and sort out the problems in the state sector which are prompting growing numbers of parents to home educate – bullying; inadequate SEND provision; lack of school places, and the questionable practice of off-rolling. Her organisation should set its own house in order.

So, why this relentless barrage of articles? Lord Agnew is suspiciously quiet in all of this furore and his much-vaunted consultation on home education is not forthcoming. The Department for Education simply keeps repeating its position – that no new powers are needed. It’s therefore a reasonable assumption that the DfE and Lord Agnew are at war with Ofsted and Lord Soley and the latter group is attempting to lobby Lord Agnew into allowing them the power after which they lust.

And home education parents? Well, they face Badman Two, the sequel. But this time it’s being acted out on a much more dangerous stage, because the Soley-Ofsted unholy alliance is playing the extremism card for all it’s worth. It‘s whipping up public opinion against anything other than state control of every child’s education on the grounds that home education is simply a smokescreen for extremist and radical child abuse.

Take note, Lord Soley, of the law. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states: ‘Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their child’. Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says: ‘State Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to … the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential’. You meddle with these rights at your peril.


Kirsty Williams AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education, announced the Welsh Assembly’s consultation on elective home education recently. The inclusion of compulsory registration and inspection was widely expected. In a surprising turn of events, it didn’t happen. Williams revealed that there wil be no compulsory registration, despite calls for this following the death of Dylan Seabridge.

She acknowledged that Wales (and this is also true of England) has the lightest touch legislation on elective home education of any government in Europe. That makes it the envy of many other countries, including America. That light touch may well continue, but don’t be too easily persuaded. Two definitive statements stand in stark contrast in the speech: ‘let me be absolutely clear: we will not be compelling parents to register that their child as being home educated’ (so far, so good) followed by a declaration that ‘the Government has a moral duty to ensure that all children receive a suitable education’ (probably not so good). Williams explained in some detail how this will be implemented. The responsibility will rest with Local Authorities to know where the children in their remit are being educated. To facilitate this, LAs will be required to maintain a database, to which independent schools will be have to contribute.

But that doesn’t mean that EHE parents are home and dry. The Children’s Commissioner for Wales has raised the issue of children’s rights and that is part of a much more sinister trend of governments across the UK to ‘rebalance’ the rights of children against their parents – the Named Person strategy in Scotland is the most overt attempt. The only possible outcome of rebalancing is for the state to assume all rights over a child’s upbringing. With rights and responsibilities removed, parents become nothing more than biological hosts for the next generation of society. It’s also a key indicator of a totalitarian regime.

There is also the issue of who defines ‘suitable education’ – this was described in the debate as a key litmus test. Very few home educating parents have sympathy with the current culture of measurement which values children solely by exam grades. But Williams is clear ‘that local authorities will act on their legal duties to intervene when children are not receiving a suitable education or may be experiencing neglect’. So this isn’t just about safeguarding. In fact, as with all other debates about the rights of parents, safeguarding is only a convenient smokescreen – a useful mechanism for garnering public support. At first reading, it seems like a good deal. On closer inspection, one might reasonably assume that the Welsh government has decided it can’t get away with walking through the door, but it’s certainly intending to climb through a window.

Little is said about the parents of special needs or disabled children who are increasingly removing their children from formal schooling because their needs are simply not being met. Other parents are choosing to home educate because they don’t consider the state offer to be appropriate for their children. Increasingly, there is anecdotal evidence that some schools are themselves encouraging parents to home educate their children, rather than face an expulsion which will remain on their record. None of these children is receiving a ‘suitable’ education from the very state which assumes moral superiority.

So what does this mean for England? Various high profile cases have hit the headlines recently, including mass ‘return to school’ notices in East Anglia, and a similar notice to the child actor who took the role of Matilda in the West End hit musical last year. The bigger picture suggests that Local Authorities in England are pushing hard to ensure that they are being seen to do their duty, but also to demonstrate the urgent need for compulsory registration.

A government consultation is expected in England any day now, so it will be interesting to see whether any notice has been taken of the approach preferred by the Welsh Assembly. Lord Agnew would be well advised to take note of Williams’ answer when asked why she wasn’t making registration compulsory:

a compulsory register that would potentially criminalise parents if they failed to register—relies on those parents to do that. The issue is that that legislation would only be as good as our ability to enforce it, which means you need to know who hasn’t registered.’

Applying the Rumsfold formula to the situation, if you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t take any action. So the very children most at risk of harm, or radicalisation, or neglect, can remain hidden from authorities if parents are determined to keep them so.

During the debate in the Welsh Assembly , Williams made the following statement:

This Government is committed to ensuring that every child and young person receives an education that inspires, motivates and equips them with the skills and knowledge necessary to fulfil their potential.’

Perhaps it might occur to those trying to limit, or oppose, the rights of parents that this is exactly the reason why home educators do what they do, rather than leave their children’s potential and wellbeing to the vagaries of the state.


The safeguarding bandwagon in relation to home education rolled on throughout the Christmas break. Wales announced  consultation on compulsory registration – the significance of which was missed by the national media. Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted’s National Director of Social Care, published an article on more effective safeguarding for home educated children – a thinly veiled attempt to coerce the government to agree to compulsory registration, which hung in the ether and appeared to have no purpose.

Hackney Council was next to jump on the bandwagon, publishing an article on unregistered educational settings (UES) in its borough. The report focuses exclusively on Jewish yeshivas and laments the lack of government urgency in introducing compulsory registration and in giving local authorities powers to inspect home education. The argument goes that because these settings are unregistered, they constitute home education and all home educators must therefore be controlled. Having no education expertise but never a lobby group to miss an opportunity, Humanists UK weighed in, contributing to the report and adding to calls to control Jewish education. They took much of the credit for the Hackney report, presenting themselves as leaders of the national campaign against religious schools and, in passing, accusing Jewish schools of child abuse.

Why is the bandwagon gathering such momentum? Probably because those who want complete control of every child in the country under the guise of safeguarding sense that they may be losing the argument. In a written answer, Lord Agnew (who recently replaced Lord Nash as Under-Secretary of State for Education) not only says that there will be no new legislative powers, he uses Amanda Spielman’s own comments on Ofsted’s success in dealing with UES to prove that existing legislation is effective. He even states that there are far fewer unregistered schools than at first estimated. That’s not what supporters of Lord Soley’s private members bill wanted to hear.

Lord Soley’s bill aims to tighten controls on home education; it received its second reading in November. Adopting a warm, avuncular tone, Lord Soley says he wants to help home educators, as they are a much neglected group, often unsupported and with unacknowledged needs. That’s the warm, cuddly bit.

The truth is a little more ominous. He wants to balance the rights of the child against the rights of the parents, even though home educating parents are discharging their duty and responsibility, not exercising their rights. In his speech, he thanks local authorities, two in particular, for their help in preparing the bill. And an FOI request to one of those authorities reveals, via transcribed emails, what that help actually looks like.

On the elective home education (EHE) lobby: ‘You are correct the EHE lobby is mobilising – already FOI requests…asking for copies of all emails between officers and yourself.’

 On what they want to achieve: ‘gov view is that LA’s need to stretch the guidance and they want case law to be tested’…’ Problem is that this needs to be communicated to EHE community’.‘That’s basically the trouble with all of this. Too much relies on parental permission’. ‘The core issues then are to establish clear statutory access to the children and having full details of all EHE’s’. ‘Hopefully our collective efforts will influence the DfE’s thinking’.

 On removing the words ‘emotional and physical development’ from the proposed wording in order to get legislation past the home ed lobby: ‘the starting point is to get access to educational provision. Looking at provision is firmer ground than trying to tackle emotional development’, ‘words “physical and emotional” could be left out not least because this will distract and allow the EHE lobby to be critical. The important issue is the duty to monitor the child’s “educational’ development”’ ‘Once EHE professionals are under duty to monitor the “educational’ development” of the child by a visit to the home and a discussion with the parent and child, they will be in a better position to detect any safeguarding issues’ ‘the starting point is to get access to educational provision. Looking at provision is firmer ground than trying to tackle emotional development’

 Lord Soley’s concern over the possible role of Lord Agnew: I understand the new Minister is S T A [Sir Theo Agnew] – is that correct? The other problem here is the position of the new minister on this issue. If he is still sympathetic to co-operating with me on getting the Bill into a form that satisfies the Government and myself then obviously I will try and involve the Department at all stages. If there is not a willingness to co-operate then I will have to reconsider how I handle the Bill. Any ideas about this?

On sanctions for non-compliant parents: Where a new statutory duty is created it is usual and good practice to create a sanction for non-compliance with the duty…[include] a provision that makes clear that where a parent fails to register a Local Authority may take this into account in determining whether to issue a notice under the Education Act 1996…case law has established that “if parents refuse to answer it could very easily conclude that prima facie the parents were in breach of their duty”.’

Lord Soley ends one email by saying that he needs to work out ‘how best to enlist public support as the opposition is now growing’. Oddly, I thought that was what living in democracy meant – legislation can be both proposed and opposed. Clearly he has temporarily lost sight of how democracy works.

He also observes that opposition is ‘still far less than it was some years ago’. Watch this space, Lord Soley and make no assumptions about using your power to get ‘clear statutory access’ to other people’s children. Parents are the guardians of their children’s welfare, not the state.