Home education guidance: consultation analysis
Summary and analysis of the responses received to the home education guidance consultation.
4. Comments on Key Themes
In this section responses have been categorised according to key themes. This section is intended to provide an exploration of the key themes and comments raised within. Numbers of responses under each theme are not quantified as this is covered under section 3.2 of the report. As discussed earlier, a single response may contain multiple themes.
4.1 Respectful relationships
A stated aim for the updated draft guidance was "to encourage local authorities and home educating parents to work together to develop trust, mutual respect and a positive relationship that functions in the best interests of the child."
4.1.1 Several responses expressed a theme of active engagement and listening on the part of the local authority. Respondents noted that focus groups or engagement opportunities can take place in community centres or facilitated by third parties or representative bodies. However, around a fifth of responses questioned why a local authority would need to hear the voices of home educating children and young people, either pointing out that the responsibility to listen to the views of the child belonged to the parent, or that there was not a clear benefit to their views being sought.
4.1.2 The importance of active engagement is further underlined by comments reflecting the facilitative role that local authorities can play for families and home educators in making available relevant information and signposting to resources. Also highlighted here is the importance of local authority teams, or individuals with responsibility for home education, improving their understanding of the range of approaches within home education. Improved understanding within local authorities can support learners to share their views, and support families to maintain constructive links with local authorities.
One respondent commented
"Listen to them and their advocates, follow the guidance set by the government, and approach any questioning of their views and opinions with a non-judgmental, open perspective. Too many "well meaning" people who do not understand or have experience of the home educating way of life come across as aggressive, judgemental, or oppositional which hinders home educated children from speaking their mind on matters." (Individual respondent)
An individual respondent illustrated active engagement in their area as follows
"a small informal group of home-educating parents (myself included) approached the local authority with a view to building relationships […] We hoped this would provide the local authority with greater understanding of the diversity of home ed. As a result, home educators had considerable input into changing the leaflets provided to parents about home education, making them more user-friendly and less draconian. The council also signposted parents considering home ed to the local group for peer support. Subsequently, we were consulted about the local authority's policy on home education." (Individual)
- Scottish Government comment – the current home education guidance sets out to "encourage local authorities and home educating parents to work together to develop trust, mutual respect and a positive relationship that functions in the best educational interests of the child", and Scottish Government notes the continued importance of respectful relationships as raised through the consultation responses.
4.2 Contact with home educators
The updated content for consultation aims to bring the home education guidance up to date with legislative changes that have taken place since 2007 when the guidance was first published. The General Data Protection Regulation as applied in the UK (UK GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 are now in force, and Scottish Government has committed to the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law. These frameworks and duties are to be considered in relation to the roles and responsibilities of parents and local authorities regarding home education.
A key theme raised across the consultation was the balance to be struck between appropriate local authority involvement to enable a local authority to fulfil its legal duties; and the protections of privacy afforded by data protection law and independence of approach that a parent has under section 30 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. The theme of 'contact with home educators' was present in comments relating to the process of withdrawing a child from a school roll and in ongoing contact with a family.
4.2.1 In relation to the process of withdrawing a child or young person from a school roll, several responses reflected a concern that there are 'gaps' in who does not require to make themselves known to the local authority to notify of their intention to home educate.
One local authority stated,
"It is entirely feasible that a local authority may not know of a child or young person in their area, especially if the child has never been enrolled in nursery or school and its consent [to withdraw from a school] is therefore not required. If the local authority is not aware of the child or young person how can they signpost and offer practical support and help?" (organisation).
Concerns were also raised that greater clarity is needed on agreed processes to follow where a family moves across local authority boundaries.
Respondents provided comment on the application of data protection principles during the process to withdraw a child or young person from a school roll.
One respondent noted that parents can feel 'targeted',
"Parents reach out for advice, or to comply with what they are being asked to do, in good faith, only to find they have social workers at the door, or their information has been unlawfully shared (and then used) because a council worker, or doctor, or teacher has reported the fact that they home educate as if it is a crime." (individual)
4.2.2 Several respondents suggested that the draft guidance was not clear on the appropriate steps that a local authority can take to gather information to process a parent's request to withdraw a child from a school roll. A parent contacts their local authority with a request to withdraw their child from the school roll and the local authority must consult its own records to inform its decision.
One local authority commented
"Clarification is needed on whether it is acceptable to seek records from school, or speak to school based staff that know the child in order to inform the authority whether a proposal is suitable and efficient" (organisation).
Another respondent suggested that additional information gathering activity by a local authority should not be necessary as
"If there are any existing child protection issues they would already be known and Social Services would be aware (that being the threshold for sharing information) and act as necessary. (Individual)
4.2.3 Several respondents referred to disparity in the treatment of home educating and school educating children and young people. Several respondents raised within this theme that some stakeholders and individuals felt there was discrimination and unequal treatment of home educators. Ongoing contact with local authorities was described by some respondents as unfairly focused on those who have attended a local authority school, and those who home educated from the start or withdrew from an independent school were seen to be exempt from ongoing contact with the local authority. In these responses the annual contact with a local authority was seen to be a negative consequence of having attended a local authority school and then commencing home education. It was felt that an undue expectation or pressure to provide their views was being placed on home educating children or young people; when a similar ask was not seen of children and young people in school.
4.2.4 Several respondents commented that the voice of the child was not prominent enough within the draft guidance. Respondents suggested that the guidance did not give enough prominence to the rights and needs of a child as the focus was on the roles and responsibilities of the local authority and the parent in each case.
One response stated,
"The focus is on the right of the parent to home educate with little mention of the right of the child to have their views heard and to reach their full potential." (Organisation)
Other responses questioned whether there was enough clarity in the guidance to allow local authorities to fulfil their responsibility to hear the voice of the child or young person.
"We have a particular concern that the lack of a legislative requirement for all parents to notify the local authority of their intention to home school makes it virtually impossible for local authorities to hear the voice of those home educated learners in their area who they are not aware of". (Organisation).
- Scottish Government comment The wider issues raised above will be given further consideration. These issues can be contentious, however in relation to information sharing, Scottish Government notes that local authorities are the relevant data controller and should consider the basis for data processing in each case. Scottish Government has published additional guidance which aims to clarify the circumstances in which information can be shared with another agency, the considerations that need to be taken into account to ensure sharing information with another agency is appropriate, and the importance of involving children, young people and families Supporting documents - Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) Practice Guidance 4 - Information sharing - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
4.3 Equality of access for home educating children and young people to examinations and other support
This key theme encompasses a range of responses which described views on an inequality of access for home educated children and young people through access to examinations, financial support and additional support for learning resources
The existing home education guidance (2007) notes at section 7.2 that there is no requirement that a child or young person will work towards a particular set of examinations. The consultation sought views on access for home educating children and young people to accredited national qualifications, and any barriers there may be that limit access to examinations.
4.3.1 The format of continual assessment in exam subjects excludes home educating candidates. Several responses noted that there were significant barriers to studying for qualifications where there was a requirement for continual assessment that needed to be undertaken at the approved centre or school. Where previously home educating candidates were able to register at an approved centre and sit the final exam, the move towards a greater proportion of the grade coming from continual assessment has meant that a range of subject qualifications are inaccessible to home educating candidates. Individual respondents noted that as a family they had pursued other qualifications which were did not have the same focus on continual assessment.
4.3.2 Cost is a barrier to pursuing qualifications. Several responses suggested that cost was a prohibitive factor for young people pursuing examinations. However it was noted that there is an additional associated cost with this due to there being fewer providers of alternative qualifications across Scotland,
"Home educators are having to pay, per subject, for each exam sat up to about £250 each. Additionally they are usually required to travel across the country, when they could simply be offered a desk at a local school exam." (Individual)
This was a particular concern for rural and island communities, where discussion participants noted compounded costs involved in each exam, taking into account the registration fee for the examination fee, registration fee for the qualification provider, and travel and accommodation costs for each exam. One respondent suggested that it would be more cost effective to travel to England for the exam period for a child or young person to sit GCSEs as a registered candidate there.
4.3.3 Equal access to financial support and additional support for learning resources. Several responses raised concerns that where a parent chooses to home educate their child of young person, certain forms of support become no longer available to the child or young person. Respondents suggested that there was disparity across the country in access to educational assessments for additional support needs. This leads to inequality with schooled peers who are able to access assessments and receive additional support for learning.
One respondent noted that
"financially secure parents would find it easier to withdraw a child with additional support needs from school". (Organisation)
It was suggested that some children and young people with additional support needs may feel as though home education is the only remaining option; if adequate support is not made available through their school or local authority. It was suggested that this leads to support being withdrawn from children and young people in these circumstances, despite the family being reluctant and not well placed to home educate. Some respondents commented that the draft guidance placed a greater emphasis on a local authority's ability to provide discretionary support which would be difficult to manage within restricted budgets.
- Scottish Government comment – The wider issues here will be given further consideration. In relation to additional support for learning, where a child or young person is removed from a school roll the local authority is no longer responsible for their education. The local authority can provide support in a range of forms at their discretion but it is under no legal duty to do so. For children on the school roll, education authorities are responsible for their education and for carrying out a range of duties under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (the 2004 Act). This includes duties to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils and making adjustments to ensure that they get the support they need to fully benefit from education.
- Further, financial support is available through the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and Scottish Child Payment (SCP), where eligible.
4.4 Opinions on a national approach to information management
The consultation asked for the views of the public and stakeholders on a national approach to information management such as a national register. The draft guidance does not propose a national register and this question was included to allow for views and opinions to be captured and to understand the range of public opinion on this matter. Opinions were evenly split on a national approach to data management.
4.4.1 Several respondents commented that a national approach to data management such as a register would be of benefit. Suggestions included that a national record would allow an accurate picture of the number of children and young people home educating and the reasons for home educating, and that it would provide a route for registration with services such as GLOW and access to approved exam centres.
4.4.2 Respondents expressed that a national register would be an intrusion into the privacy of families who have chosen to home educate. Within this some respondents noted that a register would need to record data on all children and young people or none, to avoid discrimination against home educating families, and the purpose and benefit would need to be clearly evident. Further comments noted low confidence levels in the security of data collection, and the potential benefit of a national register would be outweighed by the intrusion into private family life.
One organisation that strongly opposed a national approach commented
"Parents should not be required to register in order to perform any of the responsibilities they bear towards their children - whether it be feeding them, clothing them, or educating them" (organisation)
- Scottish Government comment - A range of public opinion was evident from the body of responses. Consideration of the views gathered will assist Scottish Government to evaluate what role, if any, a national approach to information management may have in the guidance.
4.5 Issues beyond the scope of the guidance.
Issues were raised in some consultation responses which are outside the scope of this publication.
The draft guidance states that flexi-schooling is not the same as home education and is not covered in the guidance (Home education, 1.4) It is recognised that flexi-schooling takes place across Scotland. The consultation invited respondents' comments in relation to flexi-schooling to enable views and comments on practice and approach to be gathered. Responses from individuals and from organisations recognised that further guidance was desirable for flexi-schooling to ensure that a consistent approach was in place across Scotland.
4.5.2 A definition of "suitable and efficient education"
The draft guidance notes that Section 37(1) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 places a duty on a local authority to satisfy itself that suitable and efficient education is being provided to a child or young person through home education (Home education, 2.1) It is not for the home education guidance to provide a definition of a suitable and efficient education – as discussed in the draft guidance, there is some case law on its interpretation but this remains a subjective assessment for each local authority to make taking into account the individual and depending on the specifics of the case.
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback