Here we go again: A brief lesson on the compulsory EHE Register in England

In a nutshell

In November 2020 the House of Commons Education Committee held a meeting to hear evidence from stakeholders with regards to implementing a compulsory register for Elective Home Education (EHE).  In listening to this Committee hearing and reading around the subject, it becomes clear that the committee is confusing elective home education with a safeguarding risk and stakeholder services expect this register will help Local Authorities discover cases of child neglect and abuse.

The history

This is not the first time elective home educators have been subject to the threat of government interference in our legal duty as parents to provide a suitable education for our children.  If you have only been home educating since 2009, then you probably missed the Badman Review into Elective Home Education in England.   

Home educators were so angered by Badman’s recommendations that a Select Committee made an inquiry into the Review’s handling and labelled it ‘unfortunate.’  They disagreed with Badman that EHE posed a safeguarding risk.  They disagreed with a compulsory register, though they supported a voluntary one.  They disagreed with annual contact, home visitation, and interviewing children without a parent present.

If you have only been home educating since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, then you may have missed Lord Soley’s Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill of 2019.  Despite the evidence stated above, Lord Soley also recommended regular visits, home visits, child interviews, parent interviews, evidence of children’s work and more.  Thankfully, his bill was buried in parliamentary procedure.

This Education Committee hearing is no different.  The head of the committee, Robert Halfon, has stated publicly on BBC Radio that he believes all children should be in school and if they’re not then they ‘must be inspected for attainment and for progress.’ (Around 6:10) Ironically, the radio host began their interview with, ‘I assume you don’t want to jump to any conclusions…’  I think it’s safe to say that Halfon already has, as this interview aired before all of the submissions of evidence were in and before this first hearing of evidence.  And you only have to listen to the evidence given at the hearing, the naked one-sidedness of the argument, to know that attainment and progress aren’t the only things Halfon wants Local Authorities to inspect.

The present problem

Elective Home Education has skyrocketed thanks to this year’s pandemic.  Figures range from a quarter of a million to a million children in EHE depending on what definition of EHE the government are using.  The government are worried.  And home educators should be too. 

If you can think back to when you first started out on this journey, how scary that leap into the unknown was, how much support you wished you had, how much validation you wanted that you were doing it ‘right.’  There are potentially thousands of new home educators in this position right now, and they’re being enticed by the Committee’s use of the word ‘support.’ 

But let’s be clear.  The ‘support’ the Committee are referring to is not support to be a better home educator.  It’s not support in sourcing resources.  It’s not support in navigating or affording the exams process.  The Local Authority are not educated,  equipped, or funded to provide any of this support.  The support in this case is a checklist which our children and our best efforts as parents will be measured against and will be found lacking.

But if it helps just one child…

As Jane Lowe from the Home Education Advisory Service put it, a compulsory register for EHE will not help services find the safeguarding needles in the haystack – it will only make the haystack bigger.

Personally, I believe the haystack is as big as the haystack is.  Children and family services will see the haystack more clearly, but those needles will be harder and harder to see when they’re looking  I fear they will begin to see perfectly harmless hay as needles the longer they search through the stack without finding the needles they’re expecting.

And they won’t find those needles.  Because empirical evidence shows that Elective Home Education is not a safeguarding risk.  And in countries with compulsory home education/ home school registers, children are still abused and neglected.  In cases of abuse and neglect in this country, when you read through the Serious Case Reviews, the biggest factor in services failing children is not that they can’t enter the homes of EHE families, but that they don’t communicate across services.  Kyra Ishaq, Dylan Seabridge, and the recent case of an unnamed child in Oxfordshire were all known to Social Services.

The bottom line

Social Services needs support.  Children and family services need funding.  Structures need to be put in place to facilitate better information sharing across services.  But these things are messy, time-consuming, and expensive.  A compulsory register for EHE is relatively quick and cheap by comparison.  It looks like the government give a damn about children and their welfare without actually making much of an effort.  In short, we should ALL be fighting this compulsory register because this funding should go where it can actually benefit vulnerable children. 

We should ALL be fighting this compulsory register because it insists that English schools are the benchmark by which we should measure all education, completely missing the fact that EHE is on the rise because this same system isn’t providing all children with a suitable education.  Ann Dusseau says it best in this lovely article:

If policy makers want to stem the tide of “children missing education”, their focus should be on attracting them back, not on pushing a failing model into homes.”

For more information:

Watch the HOC Education Committee hearing here

Join the Home Education Action Group 2020 on Facebook

Follow FairHearing4HE on Twitter

Write to your MP if he or she is an Education Committee member:

  • The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP (Chair), Conservative, Harlow
  • Jonathan Gullis MP, Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North
  • Tom Hunt MP, Conservative, Ipswich
  • Caroline Johnson MP, Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham
  • Fleur Anderson MP, Labour, Putney
  • Apsana Begum MP, Labour, Poplar and Limehouse
  • David Johnston MP, Conservative, Wantage
  • Ian Mearns MP, Labour, Gateshead
  • Lucy Powell MP, Labour Co-op, Manchester Central
  • David Simmonds MP, Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner
  • Christian Wakeford MP, Conservative, Bury South

Thank Jane Lowe for standing, alone, for all of us.

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