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Towards the home straight

Clive Soley on his private members bill, regulating home education, which passed its Lords Committee stage today

Today in the Lords, my Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill passed its Committee stage with limited changes – including one I had tabled requiring local authorities to give information and advice to any home educating parent who requests it.

This has various advantages. It enables the parent to seek advice on what additional facilities may be available to assist in the schooling of their child. They might, for example, require some laboratory experience if their child has an interest in chemistry. Or they might need help accessing a centre where their child can take certain exams.

I would ideally, have included a requirement to give support such as additional facilities or financial help to register for exams. But that has implications for resources, which can’t be done in a private members bill. The good news however, is that I have persuaded the government to engage in further consultation and discussions. Ministers have realised there is a real problem that needs addressing.

Home education is not a problem in itself. Many parents do it extremely well and need space to get on with the task. A larger group need support and I have long been concerned that such help is not forthcoming. Home education is expanding rapidly, having doubled in the past 5 years. That is why under resourcing can leave many children vulnerable to a poor education

There are many reasons why people home educate. Some through choice and a strong commitment; others because the school has not been able to give their child the support they need – particularly children with special needs. Then there is a small but very important minority who do it for all the wrong reasons. As a result, ‘home education’ has seen some children placed in an illegal school, radicalised, trafficked or abused.

It is particularly worrying that we have no idea of the real number of children taken out of school. Best estimates suggest 40,000. I have called for urgent, serious research on how well home education is being done and how many children have just simply disappeared. My Bill requires every home educated child to be registered with their local authority and to have at least one annual assessment a year.

In the longer run, I hope we can offer more support to home educating parents. I suspect there will be a continuing growth in this practice so we should be looking at what else will ensure a good outcome and child safety.

I am not against home education and I have always been impressed with those parents who do it really well – an act of commitment and skill that I could not match. But we cannot assume that all children come through this process well. That is why support and regulation is necessary. The Government seems broadly sympathetic and I will work with them and Labour’s front bench to see the Bill proceed through its final stages in the Lords.

Frank Field MP is keen to pick up the baton in the Commons and I have asked Robert Halfon MP, the Chair of the Select Committee to hold an enquiry on the matter. I also await a reply from the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister to my letter asking for help get the Bill into law.

In the long run, I believe this Bill will be a building block for improved practise and support, with the outcomes benefiting children and parents alike.

Lord Clive Soley in a Labour Peer. He tweets @CliveSoley

Published 27th April 2018


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