Councils in England are being reminded that parents have the right to educate their children at home if they wish. Proposed Department for Education and Skills guidelines on “elective home education” stress that education is compulsory but schooling is not.
Councils should offer support to home educators, and parents must see that their children are suitably educated.
But the authorities have no right to enter people’s homes or make routine checks on children’s progress.
The department has been discussing the issue with several groups representing home educators and with local authorities.
It has decided not to propose any changes to current monitoring arrangements or legislation.
It has dropped plans for compulsory registration of home-educated children.
Instead it is proposing to issue guidelines for the first time, which point out that it is fundamental to the English system that the responsibility for educating children rests on the parents.
That same principle also applies in the devolved education systems in the rest of the UK.
What parents must provide is “efficient full-time education” suitable to their children’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs.
Most do this by sending their children to school, but some prefer home education.
Nobody knows how many. Research commissioned by the education department said it might range between 7,400 and 34,400, while the guidance notes say it might be 40,000 and councils are working with half that number.
The proposed guidance says local authorities now have a duty to try to identify children in danger of missing education.
But it says they have “no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis”.
They could intervene only if they have “good reason” – it stresses – to believe parents were not providing a suitable education.
They could ask parents to provide information. Parents “are under no duty to comply” though it would be “sensible” to do so.
Serving a school attendance order should be “a last resort”.
The aim should be to build a trusting relationship between families and local officials.
This is something that can be lacking at present.
Some parents claim local authorities have told people to educate their children themselves, to evade their responsibilities to provide for those with special needs.
And some local authority officials have said parents sometimes claim to be home educating to hide abuse.
The guidelines accept that local authorities get no money for helping home educators, but say they should at least provide written information and website links.
They say there will be diversity in people’s approaches to education.
“Children learn in different ways and at different times and speeds.”
Consultation on the proposed guidelines runs until the end of July. They have been welcomed by one of the main home educators’ groups, Education Otherwise.
“Confirmation from DfES that they have no intention of changing the existing legal framework, nor to make registration compulsory, is very good news indeed.”
Spokesperson Ann Newstead said they appeared to be “a welcome change to the kind of documents that home educators have seen used in the past by local authorities”.
Details needed to be checked. One of the accompanying documents said registering children educated at home would be made compulsory, but the department had assured her this was an earlier draft, published in error.
“These are the most positive statements that have been coming out from the DfES,” she said.
“It really is so heart-warming to families to have their choices recognised in this way.”