Following last night’s airing of Dispatches episode entitled “Skipping School” Mountain Movers, whose trustees have decades of experience working with the home education community, have released this statement.
From the episode title, “Skipping School” and the synopsis of “Should we be concerned for the welfare of home educated children?”, it was clear the agenda was to show home education in a negative light. However, we watched hoping for some balanced and fair representation of the home education community that we have spent so many years being a part of. It did not appear. Language used in the first 10 minutes of the programme set the tone, from the comparison to being “outlawed in Germany” and the comment “they think they can do a better job than school” it was clear the Children’s Commissioner wished to continue her belief that school is the only place for children’s education and to demonize home educators.
Statement Regarding Home Education In Response to Channel 4 Dispatches and Children's Commissioner
2nd February 2019
Overview: The families selected to participate in the show were all new to home education and from backgrounds that are not fully inclusive of the issues of home education. They are, however, representative of the way that home education is being used as a scapegoat for the failing services of state education and social services.
We cannot fathom how the Children’s Commissioner came to the conclusion that the way forward is to invest in new powers for Local Authorities (LAs), enabling them to monitor home educating families, when the whole programme showed repeated and systematic failures of the school system which is forcing many families to feel that they have no other alternative than to become home educators. Why is the Children’s Commissioner not calling for more funding, support and investment into the schools (which are unable to be inclusive due to a lack of funding and human resources)? Schools are increasingly data-driven which makes the duty to put the needs of the children first almost impossible.
Home educating parents are so invested in their children’s education that they often accept a financial loss in order to meet the responsibility of legally providing the education of their children. These are not families which deserve the level of toxic opinion and misrepresentation that is being leveled at them. It is often far easier to send your child to school than to home educate.
The problems with the powers that the Children’s Commissioner has called for is that they are not fair, balanced or reasonable. To insist on a Local Authority representative having the power to enter a family’s home and interview children without a parent present for no reason other than choosing a different education path than the norm, would be to give powers even our police do not have. Our legal rights in this country have always been enshrined in the human right of “innocent until proven guilty”.
The idea is, of course, that being on a register in some way ensures the safety of home educated children. Every single study into safeguarding and home education has repeatedly shown that home education is not a risk factor in terms of safeguarding. If being on a register meant that children were better protected from abuse we would not have the horrific number of deaths and cases of abuse of children (which total in their hundreds every year) whilst being on a school register.
Please compare this with the handful of cases where a child has sadly died whilst being home educated. It was not home education that caused the child’s death. Even the UK government, in their recent consultation on home education, stated that in every case of a home educated child dying as a result of neglect or abuse, the child was already known to the appropriate services.
This is not a home education failing, it is Social Services failing.
Why was this not stated in the programme? Why is the Children’s Commissioner not highlighting the urgent need for more resources and funding into Social Services? After all, these are the people that, if there is a concern about the welfare of a home educated child, have the right and powers to investigate, to see the child and monitor the family. They have this ability right now but in these small number of cases, the lack of resources and the high-pressure which Social Services are under mean they did not properly execute their duties to these families and sadly these children paid the ultimate price for that failure.
These shoes represent the 226 schoolchildren who lost their lives to suicide in 2017 alone - this is risk that the children's commissoners, governments and media should be focused on. Home education has been proven to not be a safeguarding factor in every study undertaken over the last 20 years.
The programme talked about the future and success of home educated children in terms of being put at a disadvantage and yet there is no evidence to suggest this. Even the statistic of NEETS that was used is unreliable as authorities have no rights to the data on home educated children and automatically categorise them as NEETS. In reality, the majority of home educated children go on to live full, happy healthy lives. They achieve GCSEs (mostly International GCSEs which are 100% exam based and are highly respected and valued around the world) and many other qualifications and awards like Duke of Edinburgh, Arts Awards and ASDAN Courses.
They attend college and university, including places like Oxford, studying a variety of subjects.
A University of Durham study into home education, by Paula Rothermel, showed that: “...home-educated children outscored their school counterparts, [and, furthermore,] those from lower socio-economic groups outperformed their middle class peers.
It appeared that a flexible approach to education, and a high level of parental attention and commitment, regardless of their socioeconomic group and level of education, seemed the most important factors in the children’s development and progress” (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1476718X04046650 ). For more published research on how home educated children outperform their school educated counterparts see: https://www.home-education.org.uk/articles/article-research-review.pdf.
Additionally, the program failed to mention the wealth of support and services that have come from within the home education community to support and aid families in providing their children with a full and enriched education.
Whilst we recognize there are some areas of concern with home education being used as a cover for poor school attendance and the practice of “off-rolling”, this needs to be dealt with in a manner that does not unfairly punish genuine home educating families who are providing their children with a full and enriched education.
Mountain Movers has urged the consideration of addressing the Key Stage 4 deregistrations from state schools. This call was made on the basis that there are record numbers climbing higher each year over the past 8 years in this category. These teens and their families rarely engage with the support services within the home education community and, at this late stage, it is incredibly hard for home education to be successful in meeting the child’s educational needs. The reasons for wanting to deregister at this late stage are usually the result of a mental health crisis, avoiding potential exclusion and attendance fines, or conflict between school and home. We would state that Local Authorities should not be absolved of their legal duty to provide these teens with full education appropriate to their needs and abilities and if that means having to provide more EOTAS provisions then that is what needs to happen and funding needs to be provided. Every child has the right to education and home education should not be forced on families.
The lack of suitable and inclusive SEN school environments has resulted in fuelling the rise in SEN home educating families. This needs to be addressed. Over the years though, we have witnessed many families who, although home education would not have been their original choice for meeting their child’s educational needs, have come to love and value home education and would never send their child back to the school system. These parents have seen their children thrive in home education in ways that they know they would never have achieved within a school environment.
We would also urge any families to seriously consider and understand what they are agreeing to when they write the de-registration letter. The letter should clearly state that they are taking full legal and financial responsibility to provide their child with a full and efficient education suitable to their needs and abilities that does not foreclose their future options. If this is not what they wish to do, or feel able to do, then do not write the letter. Seek help and support and fight for alternative provision.
Home education is a choice, a legal valid choice and can be a highly successful choice, but it should always be a choice.
Mountain Movers would urge that partnership working with mutual respect and understanding of the home education community is the best practice for Local Authorities to adopt and has been proven to yield all the desired goals that the Children’s Commissioner wishes to achieve, whilst respecting the rights of the family. This is a more balanced, reasonable and fairly proportionate response than the one proposed by the Children’s Commissioner.
The statistics used in Dispatches, suggested that a significant number of home educating families were indeed known to social services. However, what the program failed to clarify for viewers was that, in the majority of home education referrals to social services, the families had been referred simply because they have a child with a disability or Special Educational Needs (SEN).
Considering the high number of families having to home educate because of the lack of suitable SEN provision in schools, this should have been made clear to viewers. There is a world of difference between receiving support and signposting from Social Services for a disabled child and being on a child protection plan! This was not made clear to viewers, leaving most people with the negative and inaccurate impression that many home educators are abusing their children.
If a child is in school there has to be a safeguarding concern to warrant a referral whereas home educated families are often referred for no other reason than for choosing a legally valid alternative to school. These record high referrals add to the burden on Social Services and can exacerbate an already dangerously overstretched situation leaving families who do need help and support from Social Services with none, due to this waste of resources and time.
It is this continued hostility that leads home educating families to become isolated and withdrawn from society.
Isolation is a real threat to children and campaigns like this do not help.
We urge Channel 4 and the Children’s Commissioner's Office to make an apology to the home education community for the Dispatches program misrepresenting the facts regarding home education in the UK.