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NiamhMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 05-Feb-19 09:39:03

Guest post: "Home education is a contentious issue. I know there will be parents who may be upset by my Dispatches documentary"

After her Dispatches documentary, Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield looks into home education and ‘off the grid’ children.

Anne Longfield

Children's Commissioner for England

Posted on: Tue 05-Feb-19 09:39:03


Lead photo

"I hope Ofsted will come down hard on schools who are letting down some of the most vulnerable children."

Last night on Channel 4, my Dispatches documentary explored the fast-growing world of home education. It’s a contentious issue, and I know there will be parents who may be upset by it. They feel protective of their right to home school - parents, like Marcello, who appeared in my film and who educates his son at home, who make a philosophical decision to home educate and who put a lot of thought and dedication into providing their children with a high-quality education. These are the traditional home educators and I am not suggesting that they shouldn’t have a right to do so.

But this is not the experience of a large majority of the group of children without a school. I am worried about families who have ended up home educating for other reasons, and whose children are not receiving the good education in school that all children deserve. Many of these families embark on home education as a last resort or stop-gap until things settle and another school is found.

Take 12-year-old Lily, who I met while making the documentary. Lily is autistic and has been to 11 schools in eight years. Her mother, Mandy, says she was told Lily was ‘uneducatable’. As a result, Lily is now being taught at home. Lily is an amazing child - smart, ambitious and clearly capable of doing very well academically - yet she’s been told that no school can teach her.

I also met Sam, who removed her 12-year-old son Baillie after trouble at school. Their relationship with the school broke down and they were made to feel like Baillie was a ‘burden’ and ‘annoying’. Sam is clearly a loving parent, but she admitted to me that she had huge doubts about her ability to be able to educate Baillie in a way that a school could. She was receiving no support at all.

Some children have very positive experiences of home education. Others have told us they feel lonely and depressed, left alone for long periods in unstructured days.

Part of the reason there is so little help is that we don’t even know how many children are home educated, why they have been taken out of school or even if they are safe. Our Dispatches film found that 92% of councils in England do not feel they have adequate powers to assure the suitability of education children who are home-schooled receive, and 93% of councils say they don’t feel confident that they are aware of everyone who is currently being home educated in their area.

Thousands could also be ending up without a school because of ‘off-rolling’. Often these children have special educational needs. In fact, our research for Dispatches suggests one in five children who are home-educated have SEN.

Sadly too, there are some families who are very aware of the lax rules around home education, which are used as a cover to stay out of sight from the authorities – something we know can have tragic consequences for children.

I think there is now an overwhelming case for all parents who are home educating their children to have to register their children with their local authority. They should also be asked why they are home educating and whether they intend for the child to re-enter mainstream education at some point.

On off-rolling, I hope Ofsted will come down hard on schools who are letting down some of the most vulnerable children. There should be financial penalties too for schools who are gaming the system. And school policies also need to acknowledge that poor behavior may be linked to additional needs, such as SEND, and make sure that all children with additional needs receive appropriate support.

Parents who are home educating have told me that they need more support, so within three days of a decision being taken for a child to be withdrawn from school to be home educated, a local authority should visit the child and family to provide advice and support on alternative options, including other schools the child could attend. There should be another visit a few weeks later to see how the family is managing.

I would also like council education officers visiting each child being home educated at least once per term to assess the suitability of their education and their welfare.

Some children have very positive experiences of home education. Others have told us they feel lonely and depressed, left alone for long periods in unstructured days. They miss their friends at school and can become isolated. These are the ‘off the grid’ children I am worried about. They have the right to a good education and childhood, and the system needs to change to make sure they do.

By Anne Longfield

Twitter: @AnneLongfield

Mayonayse Tue 05-Feb-19 09:51:47

How can Ofsted come down hard on schools who off-roll or quietly manage out children with additional needs, when Osted don’t inspect SEN provision specifically, and when the confirmation bias in their feedback questionnaire is so skewed towards “normal” children?

How can Ofsted possibly penalise schools on the one hand for discouringing children with SEN, and then reward the same schools for better results, the rise in which will have been down to the removal of “lower performing” kids?

It just doesn’t make sense. My sons’ school Head makes it quite clear that his school should not be the choice if your child may need additional support. He says openly “we have too many EHCP kids and not enough money.” Apparently he’s allowed to discriminate in this way and meanwhile my sons missed education.

Anne, if you’re reading this, PLEASE put pressure on to properly fund and support additional needs, and change the culture of schools from one of exam results to one of inclusion!

TheEmojiFormerlyKnownAsPrince Tue 05-Feb-19 10:05:51

I think most schools want to support inclusion and are passionate believers in inclusion.

It’s the lack of funding that is the problem. Schools can’t put support in place unless there is money to provide it. And there isn’t any money. It’s the government not the schools who are culpable.

fleshmarketclose Tue 05-Feb-19 11:38:58

My daughter has been out of school for fourteen months now. I am not home educating, I'm awaiting a decision from SENDIST. In the fourteen months the LA has ignored their statutory duty to provide home tuition for a child unable to attend school for eight months. Having claimed compensation for this you would think they would learn but no and since December the LA have stopped tuition again. I have again complained, again they will ignore the complaint despite intervention from the MP and eventually the LGO and will eventually pay me more compensation in about six months time.
This is not an unintentional oversight, it is a deliberate strategy because paying me the £150pw for each week they don't provide a tutor is much cheaper than paying the £50k (their choice of provision) or (£63k my choice of provision) to fund her in a school placement. It's not only schools that off roll LA's do it too.

Mrskeats Tue 05-Feb-19 11:45:03

Why can’t you find your own tutor with that money flesh?

PooFlower Tue 05-Feb-19 11:52:01

Last nights documentary did not do enough to emphasise the problems within our education system.

It felt like propaganda to push the agenda of a compulsory Home education register.

Thousands of children are being failed by our schools. An investigation is needed into why so many parents feel they have no choice but to home educate.

A lack of mental health and SEN support, lack of funding and a ridiculous push for 97% attendance at all costs is a huge part of the problem.

Parents with mentally unwell children or children with SEN are being prosecuted because their children struggle to attend school. Many are told they can avoid this if they home educate. Prosecution under section 444 of the education act was designed for the parents of truants not those of mentally unwell children. Schools and local authorities are using the law to off roll problem children. These children usually have anxiety and school phobia due to a lack of support of SEN.

There needs to be a change in the law. Schools need to do more to recognise and support SEN and child mental health.

Ofstead should be commending inclusive schools and not berating them about the attendance of mentally unwell children.

Put these things in place and there would be a dramatic reduction in parents de-registering from schools.

These is also an awful lot of parent blaming in these situations which is counter-productive. Along with huge waits to get SEN diagnosed. Schools and parents need to work together to ensure good outcomes for our children.

ShannonRockallMalin Tue 05-Feb-19 11:56:30

My son (12) has not been attending school since September due to severe anxiety, amounting to a phobia of school. All through year 7 his anxiety got increasingly worse until even if I could get him into school, he was spending most of the day sat in a room on his own with a reading book. Not once until I stopped forcing him to go in and the school began to threaten legal action was I told that there was a learning support centre within the school where he could have been helped. We sought counselling for him ourselves. By year 8 it was too late, he wasn’t able to even enter the school without having a panic attack.

My husband and I have rearranged our working hours so that we are at home in the day more ( means weekend and evening work for us both) and have home educated our son for nearly six months completely on our own. Although he is still on the school roll, the school will not provide any work for him to do at home as it would be ‘condoning his absence’. Luckily we are educated people with different areas of knowledge so we have been able to cover his education fairly well at home, but it has taken a huge toll on us as a family.

Finally, due to our continued pressure on the school and by doing all the research ourselves, we have funding for our son to attend Red Balloon of the Air, a specialist online provision for children with mental health needs. He starts after half term. But the funding is only for two terms so we will be back to square one again unless things improve.

It seems to me that the education system is increasingly geared to one size fits all, and if you don’t fit, schools would rather be rid of you.

fleshmarketclose Tue 05-Feb-19 11:59:05

MrsKeats because dd needs a tutor with extensive SEN experience and £150pw wouldn't cover it and quite frankly I don't want to be responsible for sourcing and overseeing a tutor when I never signed up for home educating my daughter in the first place particularly when the LA are legally obliged to do so.

Mrskeats Tue 05-Feb-19 12:00:22

But where will the school produce that sort of tutor from?

Crusoe Tue 05-Feb-19 12:01:00

The programme kind of missed the point. So many are forced into home ed because schools cannot meet needs. This is what needs to change first.

fleshmarketclose Tue 05-Feb-19 12:02:52

@ShannonRockallMalin have you started the process of applying for an EHCP? You could then have Red Balloon funded indefinitely or until another provision was found if that is what you wanted.

fleshmarketclose Tue 05-Feb-19 12:05:51

The LA have a team of tutors for just that role. Dd was being supported by a tutor who was very experienced and worked well with dd. Unfortunately she has moved on and LA haven't yet replaced her but "intend to in a few weeks or so"

Blessthekids Tue 05-Feb-19 12:11:45

It seems to me that the education system is increasingly geared to one size fits all, and if you don’t fit, schools would rather be rid of you.

Unless you luck out with a few amazing teachers and a great head, this is very true. My dd1 has dyslexia, we had great support from the SEN staff but some of the normal teachers were very hostile. They acted like she was doing it on purpose to stress them out or something. She survived and dropped most problematic subjects at GCSE but her self esteem took a massive toll.

taratill Tue 05-Feb-19 12:15:54

I felt that, in the case of SEN issues, the tv programme was too focused on the parents' perceived inability to teach their children rather than the core issue of what had led them to take this action in the first place.

Parents whose children have SEN who are not educated at school either through deregistering or through EOTAS are not doing this through choice. This will be the end of a long process of trying to get their child's needs met in school. Many of these children have complex needs which cannot be met by 'inclusion'. There are not enough specialist schools and there are certainly not enough that cater for children with high academic potential who cannot cope in mainstream.

The programme failed to focus on the lack of support in education for SEN due to the lack of funding and the increased pressures upon teacher, who largely speaking are trying their best, despite the fact that they are measured purely on performance not on the child's progress.

It also failed to focus on the lack of health/ support provision available to children with SEND I have contacted the CCG and my MP about the discriminatory decision of our local camhs not to support children with autism with mental health issues by virtue of the FACT that they are autistic. This is discrimination.

Until a child's basic needs can be met they simply cannot be educated. For some they cannot be educated at school , under the current school system. Any education they receive at home where they are safe is better, for those families, than sending them to school where they are unsafe.

Finally conflating Social Care with education is not really acceptable. Where children are neglected by their families this is a failing of social care NOT of education.

I have 2 children who are currently being failed by the school system, not by teachers and certainly not by me. I have had to fight to the core to arrange alternative provision to my eldest who is now 12 , he is autistic and was literally trying to kill himself as he was so scared by the school environment due to his sensory difficulties. There are no schools that can meet his needs to i have had to give up work to facilitate an appropriate education at home.

Perhaps a more supportive approach would have been to say to these parents that there is a statutory right to a full time education and that they did not have to deregister their child for them to be educated in a place that is suitable to them. Perhaps contact charitiies like IPSEA to find out how many parents feel forced into this position through sheer desperation.

Crusoe Tue 05-Feb-19 12:32:48

It was no surprise to me that several of the children featured had ADHD. I’ve come to the conclusion mainstream schools hate ADHD. We were certainly forced out because of it. Definitely not enough specialist schools for academically able kids with SEN. You can’t keep forcing square pegs into round holes. Eventually you damage the peg.

M3lon Tue 05-Feb-19 12:48:54

I think a key point that is missed is that even those of us HE for 'philosophical' reasons likely wouldn't do so if the school system wasn't so poor in the first place.

It is worth bearing in mind that our current school system is so bad at meeting the individual needs of NT children (let alone those with SEN) that it actually makes a difference to GCSE outcomes which month your child was born in!

The system is far far too sink or swim, and those that fall behind are left behind. There is also such an over emphasis on testing that by the time students reach university (where I teach) they are riddled with anxiety and frequently unable to survive the stress of exam periods anymore.

I would appear on the surface to be home educating by choice. But it is the reality of what the school system is doing to our children that is forcing me into that 'choice'.

DobbinsVeil Tue 05-Feb-19 12:51:15

o.k. Let's assume for a minute you're able to prove the school is off-rolling and they are punished. How will you protect the pupil who is at the centre of this? Do you really think there aren't other ways a school can make life intolerable for a pupil it no longer wants?

What of the trend towards schools using isolation? Pupils are recorded as being in school, but depending on how the system is applied, could be spending days/weeks/months in isolation?

When assessing Home Ed, will the education provided by any former school be considered first? So if a child had spent a lot of time out of class and not being taught, how much more would a parent be expected to do, compared to the school that was unable/unwilling to teach the child?

1099 Tue 05-Feb-19 12:51:41

But this is not the experience of a large majority of the group of children without a school
Where did you get the evidence to support this statement when you openly say that LAs cannot be sure how many children are being Home Educated?
The programme was not really about EHE at all, the one person who was actually Electively educating his son was glossed over and given a few moments of airtime, whereas people who had clearly been pushed into it were paraded as if they were the norm. No school was taken to task about why they had failed to provide the support most of those children would have been entitled to in law. you spent so much time patronising the mother whose children were in bed, but if you'd planned your visit better you'd have known that kids that age don't get up early in the morning, your mindset appeared to be that the children should all be sat at desks at 0900hrs whilst their mother lectured them from the front.
The programme didn't have any real balance, your example of the child dying from scurvy, appeared to suggest this wouldn't have happened if he'd been in school and yet Daniel Pelka died whilst apparently attending school regularly.
It shouldn't be about checking on EHE children it should be about ensuring all children are safe.
All too often parents concerns are dismissed by schools, just look at some of the threads on these boards, and they end up being labelled as 'that parent' children who have legal entitlement to support simply don't get it because schools have to prioritise results over support.

DobbinsVeil Tue 05-Feb-19 13:07:29

What do you mean by Lily has been told there's no school can teach her - is that what you're claiming her parents have said? Because she's been to 8 schools and wanted to kill herself - is that not worthy of a mention?

Thesearmsofmine Tue 05-Feb-19 13:07:58

Your issue seems to be the school systems failings rather than home education. Sort those failings out for the families unwillingly forced into home education and then you will find numbers of home educated children drop.

You have said that those home educating for philosophical reasons do a good job so really it is the schools you need to deal with so the families forced into home ed aren’t put into that position.

Somerville Tue 05-Feb-19 13:18:47

The thing is, Anne Longfield, that you’ve identified the problem (schools off rolling children with SEND) but you’re way off the mark with the solution. It’s a massive, complex problem, which needs greater investment in mental health care, educational provision, and societal supports. That’s where the solutions will come. Not by enforcing an administrative burden to home educating parents and a potentially intimidating termly home visit. Instead there should be local authority offers to families who engage - offers to pay the public examination fees, for example. At the moment the situation with schools is too all or nothing - there should be a wider array of options.

steppemum Tue 05-Feb-19 13:26:12

The documentary kept talking about it as if Home Schooling was the problem.
Hone Ed is not the problem, SCHOOLS failing kids is the the problem.

I really wish you had done this documentary from the perspective of families whose kids are out of school due to off rolling and lack of provision. That would ahve been a much more powerful stance to take.

Having a register for Home School families will not help, because once a family chooses to Home School, the LEA/school etc can wash thier hands of the responsibility. The family have chosen to Home School - not our problem.

Same with the issue of unregistered schools, address the issue of unregistered schools, rather than say these parents should register their Home Schooling.

Very poor documentary I'm afraid, and missed the point spectacularly

ShannonRockallMalin Tue 05-Feb-19 13:28:21

@fleshmarketclose I am pushing for an EHCP, but have repeatedly been advised that we would be very unlikely to get one due to not having had the required number of ‘interventions’. The fact that the school messed up by not putting said interventions in place as they should have done doesn’t seem to matter.

grasspigeons Tue 05-Feb-19 13:38:21

I wondered why you focus on the families and not the huge crisis in SEN provision at a local authority level right down to in the class room level..

For instance the idea that within 3 days a LA person should visit a family and tell them what support is available including other schools.

A LA person was in our house within hours of us making the decision not to return to school after a dramatic exclusion caused by failure to support SEN.

There isn't support available or other schools available. It took the LA 6 months to organise a tutor for 2 hours a week. The service is set up to support 30 students and they have 120 on their books. They are still looking for a school for my child and even the secretary of state has suggested that there are too few special school places in this county.

Its laughable to think there are resources to support this and that LA in special measures themselves are going to do anything other than fine parents for the LA's own failings.

fleshmarketclose Tue 05-Feb-19 13:40:14

You need to be in touch with either IPSEA or SOSSEN Don't for a minute think that LAs and schools won't lie or deliberately mislead you in an effort to dissuade you from pursuing an EHCP. The Law states that a child is entitled to an assessment for an EHCP
if the child or young person has or may have special educational needs (“SEN”); and
if they may need special educational provision to be made through an EHC plan. As your child isn't in school and is receiving an alternative provision then you meet the criteria for assessment.

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