Home Education: A Chestnut

20 Apr

I        The law on home (elective) education

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 places the responsibility of children’s education squarely on their parents’ shoulders. Parents are required to ensure that their children are receiving efficient, full-time education suitable to their ages, abilities and aptitudes, including those with special educational needs, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.  This means that they determine where to arrange for their children to be educated – at school/academy or at home – up to the school-leaving age.

Government guidance on elective (home) education, published in 2007, states a parent may choose home education for one or more of the following reasons.

  • Distance or access to a local school
  • Religious or cultural beliefs
  • Philosophical or ideological views
  • Dissatisfaction with the system
  • Bullying
  • As a short-term intervention for a particular reason
  • A child’s unwillingness or inability to go to school
  • Special educational needs
  • The parent’s/parents’ desire for a closer relationship with the child.

Where parents decide to withdraw their child from school/academy and educate her/him at home, they are required to notify the school/academy. The school/academy must, in turn, notify the local authority (LA).  Parents don’t need to notify the LA unless their child has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).  Similarly, parents of a child who has never attended school are not required to inform the LA if they decide to home educate their child.

The rise in suspect practices – leading either to radicalisation and/or depriving children of their right to receive an education to develop all their talents and help them to live full, happy, healthy and productive lives – has alarmed many.   Accordingly, Lord Soley, a former prison officer and current Labour peer, has sponsored a Bill that will introduce greater monitoring for home-schooling (elective education).  Home-schoolers are not happy bunnies – stating that the Bill will be an “unmitigated disaster” and could “cost lives”.

Section 436A of the Education Act 1996 requires an LA to identify children not receiving an education.  An extra provision will now be added after it, requiring local authorities to monitor children receiving elective education.  It will run, as follows.

(1)       Local authorities have a duty to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education in their area.

(2)       Parents of a child receiving elective home education must register the child as such with their local authority.

(3)        Local authorities must assess annually each child receiving elective home education in their areas (hereafter referred to as “the assessment”).

(4)       The assessment set out in subsection (3) must monitor the

  1. educational;
  2. physical; and
  3. emotional development of each child.

(5)       The assessment may include—

  1. a visit to the child’s home;
  2. an interview with the child;
  3. seeing the child’s work; and
  4. an interview with the child’s parents.

(6)       Parents of a child receiving elective home education must provide information relevant to the assessment to their local authority when requested.

(7)       The Secretary of State must, by regulations made by statutory instrument, specify

(a)       the arrangements for parents to register a child with their local authority under subsection (2); and

(b)        the methodology of the assessment.

(8)       A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(9)       In this section “elective home education” refers to education given to a child at home following a decision by her/his parents to educate the child outside the school system.”

Lord Soley, a Labour peer, told Schools Week that he was “in favour of home education” but had concerns about the lack of help available for parents and wished to crack down on a “small minority” who use home education for “abuse of one sort or another”.   He said that there is a minority, who may be abusing, trafficking or radicalising, they “really do need to have some oversight. Society can’t just forget these kids.”

Were this Bill to convert into an Act, home-educators will receive an annual visit from the local authority to check the progress and well-being of the children receiving elective education and more regular visits if there are concerns.  For the local authority to discharge this function well, it must arrange for the nominated officer to see examples of children’s work in English and Mathematics together with a range of other subjects, and interview the parents and the children.

II       Reasons for change of direction

There are three key reasons why Lord Soley is introduced the Bill.

(1)        The first is that some children are not receiving their just desserts and being deprived of their right to receive an all-round education.

(2)        The second is that some children are disappearing into a black hole and being abused or trafficked.

(3)        The third is that several are being radicalised and prepared for a future that is not only destructive to them but also to others.

(a)        Child Abuse

A council survey was carried out in Autumn 2017.  Altogether, 45,000 children were being home-educated in England in the 118 local authorities that responded, 7,500 more than the previous year. The councils acknowledged that the true figure was likely to be much higher. While schools are required to inform their LAs if pupils are taken off their registers, those youngsters who have never gone to school are not counted.  Councils must use existing powers to intervene if children are deemed to be at risk of being abused, radicalised or not receiving a suitable education, but without accurate data or the powers to inspect the “elective” education children are receiving, they don’t have accurate data to do anything.

Take the case of two youngsters who suffered greatly and lost their lives because they were “educated” at home.    Khyra Ishaq (7) was starved to death after a lifetime of beatings, cold baths and abuse at her home in Birmingham a decade ago.  Her parents had removed her from school and taught Khyra at home along with her four siblings.  They caned their children if they gave the wrong answer.  Khyra weighed three stones when she perished.

Dylan Seabridge (8) died of scurvy in South Wales in 2011 after he was withdrawn from his state primary schools by his parents.  Following a 999 call, the child was taken to hospital but it was too late and he died.

(b)        Stunted Development

Nina Williams (42) told The Sunday Times that she was taken out of school by her parents for three years between the ages of 10 and 13.  They were Jehovah’s Witnesses who were worried about the influence other children had on their daughter after they found on her a poem they deemed to be offensive.  Her sisters, however, continued to attend school.   Nina was taught Mathematics, English and other basic skills, but not science and the arts.  When she did return to school, she was out of her depth and found it difficult to make friends.

“I didn’t know what teenage girls were like. I didn’t understand social cues. I was an avid reader but Jane Eyre doesn’t prepare you for life in 1999. I decided as a teenager I was meant to be alone; I was not meant to have any friends.”

(c)        Radicalisation

There are cases of religious extremists exploiting the lax home education laws to expose children to hate-filled materials at several unregistered “schools” and secret teaching groups.  Textbooks that have been seized from these “schools” state that homosexuality is an “abomination”, sodomy punishable by death and that a wife cannot “refuse sexual intercourse without sound reason”.  One document seen by The Times reporter blames rapes on the way women dress.  “If a sweet thing is left uncovered, swarms of dirty creatures are liable to prey upon it and corrupt it,” stated the document.

There are more than 350 unregistered schools in Britain, according to Ofsted – the overwhelming numbers “home educating” pupils.   Robert Halfon, Head of the Commons Education Committee, informed The Times:            “I have huge concerns about unregistered schools and the lack of regulation and inspections. Any school of any kind shouldn’t be unregistered. There shouldn’t be room for grey areas. Even if they have less (sic) than five pupils and are open less (sic) than 18 hours they should be inspected and registered.”

Mr Halfon, a former education minister, said he was supportive of parents who choose to teach their children outside school but his remarks were not welcomed by thousands of responsible home educators who fiercely guard their independence.

Ofsted sent warning notices to 50 suspected unregistered schools and took measures to close 38 operating illegally.  Now, 12 are under criminal investigation. But Ofsted is frustrated with its limited powers.

Izzy Posen, 23, who went to “ultra-orthodox”, illegal Jewish schools in Stamford Hill, north London, from the age of seven, said that he was not taught English until 13. “They have a suspicious view of secular subjects and besides the lack of education, hygiene levels were atrocious,” he said. “There was corporal punishment; no methods were off the table but it was usually a big wooden ladle.”

Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector at Ofsted, has warned that religious hardliners were exploiting home-schooling rules. “If people choose to educate their children at home once upon a time it would have been the Brighton and Totnes brigades doing their homespun thing, but we are seeing the emergence of things that nobody ever contemplated,” she said.

Umar Ahmed Haque, 25, attempted to radicalise 110 children aged 11 to 14 while he planned a terrorist attack on targets including Big Ben and Tower Bridge in central London.  He taught evening classes at the Ripple Road mosque in Barking, east London and secretly groomed boys through terrorism role-play and by showing them beheading videos.  Haque told the boys at the mosque that he was a member of Isis and gathering a large number of fighters to take part in an attack.  In role play exercises, the boys participated in mock terrorist attacks after seeing videos of dead bodies and fighters in Syria.

He also taught at the Lantern of Knowledge, a fee-paying Islamic school for 250 children in Leyton, East London, and admitted showing Isis propaganda to his class.

Under the umbrella of “elective education”, many illegal schools operate in Birmingham, Luton and some London boroughs, 25% of them faith-based.

Half of 70 known extremists in London removed their children from state schools to educate them at home, a confidential police study revealed. The report by the Metropolitan Police in 2015 heightened fears that growing numbers of children were at risk of radicalisation at home and in unregistered and illegal schools. These include unregulated classes in madrasahs: tuition centres linked to mosques, where many home-educated children are sent for extra lessons.

The government plan in November 2015 to tighten the regulations for out-of-school settings was shelved.   Lord Soley has now picked up the gauntlet and with his private member’s bill taken the responsibility that government has ignored.

III     Tailpiece

There is fourth reason why such legislation is necessary, i.e. to make children safe.  Let me explain by describing to you an incident that occurred at the start of 2018 at a primary school in North West London. During the lunch break, a pupil was sent off in a football game because of an argument with another child.  The following day, he brought into school a kitchen knife which he planned to use against the child.   The weapon was discovered. When confronted, he explained that he had been pressured by another child to bring the weapon into school.   After closely questioning him, the Headteacher concluded, on the balance of probabilities, that this was not the case.

He permanently excluded the culprit, subject to confirmation by an ad hoc committee of the governing board.   The Chair of the Committee convened a meeting inviting the mother (there was no father on the horizon) and her friend to attend (together with the Headteacher) to give her (the mother) a chance to make representations.   The pupil was also invited.

However, prior to the meeting, the mother’s friend emailed the clerk to the governing board informing him that he had advised the mother to home educate the child and, consequently, the permanent exclusion should be expunged from the record.   Following a direction from the local authority, that was precisely what happened so that this boy now has an unblemished record.

And the pupil?  Well, he has disappeared. He is free to engage in similar, dangerous behaviour at the peril of other children.

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