The DfE guidance on elective home education has been updated and applies to both schools and local authorities

The number of children educated at home has increased over recent years. Local authorities have important responsibilities towards home schooled children and must make sure they are safe and suitably educated. The new guidance will help local authorities identify children not receiving suitable education and to take action where necessary. However, the guidance is clear, where home educating is going well, the need for contact should be minimal and only as required by the parents’ own needs.

The guidance recognises that there are cases where home education is a last resort and that these families may require more support. It encourages local authorities to discuss home education with parents before putting it into effect, to consider motivations, time commitments involved and potential alternatives. Local authorities are also encouraged to consider trends in a wider strategic context, e.g. identifying issues in school provision, or failures by schools to manage attendance and behaviour properly.

National Curriculum and exams

There are no specific legal requirements as to the content of home education meaning that education does not need to include any particular subjects, or have any reference to the National Curriculum, and there is no requirement to enter children for public examinations.

Minimum steps 

The guidance recommends that each local authority should:

  • have a written policy statement on elective home education;
  • set aside the resources necessary to implement its policy;
  • consider their organisational structures for dealing with home education;
  • offer guidance to all known home-educating families;
  • regularly review its elective home education;
  • provide details of complaints procedures and deal with complaints sensitively and promptly;
  • provide parents with a named contact;
  • make contact with home educated parents on at least an annual basis;
  • have a named senior officer with responsibility for elective home education policy;
  • organise training on the law and the diversity of home education methods;
  • work co-operatively with other relevant agencies to identify and support children who are being home educated.

Local authorities can go beyond this by operating voluntary registration schemes to discharge the responsibilities which they have and the department encourages authorities which do not operate voluntary registration to consider doing so. However, registration is currently not a legal obligation for either parents or authorities. 

When do LA's have to take action?

Under s.437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities must act if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education - "If it appears to a local authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education." 

At any stage, parents may present evidence to the local authority that they have now made satisfactory arrangements for the child’s education. This evidence must be considered, and any order revoked unless the authority is of the opinion, that the parents have not made satisfactory arrangements. If the local authority refuses to revoke the order, parents can choose to refer the matter to the Secretary of State.

Link to safeguarding

The guidance concludes that a failure to provide suitable education is capable of satisfying the threshold that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and trigger safeguarding concerns.

The guidance also recognises the specific issues for children with SEN and notes the following:

  • Home education because of dissatisfaction with local SEN provision.
  • Educating at home a child who has special needs is often more difficult.
  • Local authorities should use the full range of powers available to ensure that education is suitable
  • For children with an EHCP if the home education is suitable, the local authority has no duty to arrange any special educational provision for the child.
  • The authority should continue to check the suitability and if it considers that the home education is no longer suitable, must ensure that the provision in the EHC plan is available.
  • If a school attended by a child is a special school by arrangements made by the local authority, the local authority’s consent is necessary for the child's name to be removed from the register.
  • Local authorities do not have a right of entry to the family home to check that the provision being made is appropriate.
  • The local authority is still under an obligation to conduct an annual review of the EHC plan.

Off-rolling

The guidance also specifies that schools should not seek to persuade parents to educate their children at home as a way of avoiding an exclusion or because the child has a poor attendance record. The practice of ‘off-rolling’ pupils through pressure on parents to withdraw them for home education is thought to be a significant contributor to the increase in numbers of home educated children. Local authorities should discourage pressure on parents to educate children at home and should also consider informing Ofsted of schools where off-rolling appears to be happening.

Need more information?

Please contact our educational specialist,Erin Smart: erin.smart@irwinmitchell.com  or +44 (0)1293 742 733.