Home Education Birmingham Scrutiny Committee

Education and Vulnerable Children Overview and Scrutiny Committee – 20 January 2016 (Wed, 20th Jan 2016 – 2:00 pm)

My scribbled notes (NOT a transcript) 


Birmingham has a small team of 3 education advisors, who seek to provide advice and guidance to parents about home education. Parents have the right to home educate. Home education per se is considered to be suitable in law. There is no stat duty to monitor. Council knows of just over 800 home educated children, number in fact may be higher for those who may never have enrolled in school.
LAs have duty to safeguard and promote welfare, but this legislation clearly doesn’t extend LAs’ function to monitor home education in the home.
Birmingham tries to work collaboratively in partnership, within constraints of law giving very limited powers. The council receives the majority of referrals about home education from schools when a child is withdrawn. Schools HAVE to remove pupil from roll, thats a legal requirement. Birmingham ask schools to retain the place for 20 days while it makes initial enquiries. Where safeguarding issues emerge or where there are collective concerns, the council does take actiion that ensure that education is safeguarded, usually by means of a school attendance order. If the situation is more violent, children’s social care will intervene.
Councillor: there could be a family with 4 or 5 children who never went to school and aren’t social housing tenants, how do we know they exist and that the children are safe?
A: We only know what we know, we would look at what the guidance from social care says.
Councillor: this is a big hole, not condemning home education, but children can be lost in the system, can we check who is not on the electoral roll, whether they have children?
A: Until parents are under duty to register, there’s nothing you can do
Councillor: Maybe work can be done with people who MIGHT know…
Councillor: We are between a rock and a hard place, quite contradictory report, we should do this but we’ve got no right, it is confusing. Most worried about where parents can’t get school place they want, stories that people from the COUNCIL are telling parents you can always home educate…
A: We are doing all we can, councils should NOT be advising parents to home educate on those terms, it is a massive commitment, we are focusing our staff resources on those who are doing it where there is no school place
Councillor: Couldn’t the council provide a charter to give guidance to parents?
A: We do provide guidance, but legally parents are under no obligation to follow the national curriculum, we do indicate what we judge to be suitable education
Councillor: But parents have the freedom to put on whatever kind of education they want and we have very few sanctions?
A: Yes, no legal definition of what suitable education is, guidance says parents can use a range of methods, including letting the child determine what education they pursue
Parent Governor: What about children never enrolled in childcare or school or early years, are they not declared missing? Parents get a letter about enrolling their child in school, isn’t everyone getting those letters, aren’t we tracking responses or non-responses? Also, do homeschooled children have to do SATS GCSEs?
A: In ideal world we would know where all chilren are, but this is not the case. A child might never be registered with universal services. Parents committed to home education might choose to tell us though. How do we know what we don’t know? No rquirement for home ed parents to do SATS or GCSEs.
Parent Governor: what about those letters saying enrol your child in school?
A: Closing date for primary applications was Friday, this week we have been writing to all nursery provision asking heads to identify any child that HASNT applied, we will then target and track that child. We can only do that if the child is in a setting. Also if a parent contacts us and says they aren’t applying for a school place because they are home educating, then we will pass details on to home education.
Parent Governor: Children could be at home not being educated, how would we know about the education if they aren’t doing exams?
A: We only know what parents tell us, such as a philosophical resume or report offered by parents. Parents may not be delivering the education their children need. Until the legislation is changed we are left with that dilemma. Badman was commissioned by the last Labour government, recommendations included compulsory registration, clear definition of suitability of education to enable officers to make sound judgement, various other recommendations designed to enhance the powers of local authorities, but because of lobbying the government didn’t take up the recommendations. The legislation we are left with is not very clear. By and large the vast majority of these parents do a tremendous job, and advisors report back to us that the outcomes for many of these children are exceptional, we are only talking about a minority who may not be committed to home education. If we became aware of family we believed were NOT providing suitable education we would issue a School Attendance Order, we are actively doing that at the moment. But Leeds Council have pursued a case through the courts, and the judge at the court accepted that a parent providing carpentry 1 day a week WAS suitable education.
Councillor: Home educated her son for a while. It’s not easy, big commitment. Concern over those who home ed because not suitable school place. Home education networks support each other, the system of ordinary LA maintained schools doesn’t work for everyone, parents don’t feel it’s right, carpentry one day, maths another day, as long as child safe, well-fed, looked after…Legislation is there so your hands are tied. What about the 48 parents noted in your report who don’t want to meet you, do they still provide you with SOMETHING? or do you have NOTHING to do with them at all? Also do we have any data on outcomes eg if parents have subsequently put children in for exams? Finally how do you measure suitability?
A: With children we’ve not seen where parents have exercised their right to decline to meet, they have submitted plans and information so there is ongoing contact, we consult with children’s social care and care first data system to assure ourselves that there are no safeguarding concerns
for children we don’t see, it must be done sensitively, it can upset the networks, regular monthly meeting where we discuss cases of concern, just to make sure no safeguarding issues emerging for the children we don’t see. We also advocate that schools refer on as well. In terms of suitability of education, it is so vague, if the parent is unwilling to cooperate or provide any information at all, we take action via a School Attendance Order. Until there is a clear defintion and expectation of suitable education we are left in the dark as to what we can judge, that’s why we give the advice and guidance we do, parents are under no obligation to follow our guidance, it’s a balance. Data, we can look into that and report back. We do have success stories.
Church rep: With School Attendance Orders, how many would then register with school and how many go to court, where is the burden of proof if it goes to court?
A: Historically we haven’t taken cases to court. We now have 2 School Attendance Orders in situ. Historically we share information with other authorities and experience has been that the court will throw out any subsequent measures following parent not taking up SAO, parents provide evidence to court. Evidence suggests that courts will accept parents’ evidence, as happened in Leeds.
Councillor: Aware of desperate parents seeing home ed as answer to problems, and the home education team is really clear about what is required and involved, do it for the right reasons, steering parents in right direction. Contrast with the previous report about children missing education and children missing out on education, in home education there are 700+ kids we know about, and the vast majority of parents do engage, the outcomes are mostly successful, mostly responsible parents. Parents are thinking they can do better job than schools, is increase showing dissatisfaction with our schools? whether potential not tapped by school, or special needs or whatever? Interested to know reasons for increase, not WHAT they are doing buT WHY they are doing it.
A: We can try and pull reasons information together for councillors.
Councillor: School Attendance Orders, if not before then why now?
A: Taking a stand and test it in court, even though we are aware of other court outcomes. We have to be clear what we will tolerate and not tolerate, parent not engaging with us despite numerous attempts, we need to safeguard these children’s futures where parents are not meeting children’s needs.
Councillor: Parents providing a philosophy and a plan, how do you assess it? Could it just be a few words or does it have to be specific?
A: You couuld just give us an outline and we would have to accept that. It doesn’t have to be detailed, it can be just a philosophy, as put by national support organisations such as Education Otherwise, even just basic information such as my child is following a certain type of education. Increased numbers nationally would probably correlate with rise seen in Birmingham.
Chair: I’m sure we’ll have you back again to discuss this. Home education and Children Missing Education is NOT the same thing.

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