Elective Home Education
This guidance from the Department of Education from April 2019 describes elective home education as “a term used to describe a choice by parents to provide education for their children at home or in some other way they desire, instead of sending them to school full-time. This is different to education provided by a local authority other than at a school, for example for children who are too ill to attend school”.
The recent case of Goodred v Portsmouth City Council  Ms Cristina Goodred, after a successful crowd-funding campaign, challenged her local authority by way of Judicial Review as she considered they were interfering unnecessarily in the way she was educating her there children out of school and this was tantamount to bullying and indeed was nothing more than an attempt force her to send her children to school despite what she was providing them was suitable. The Councils position was they were just complying with the most recent version of their policy “Elective Home Education” which was issued in 2020.
The difficulties started when the Portsmouth County Council wrote to Ms Goodred in July 2020 to review her children’s elective home education provision. She responded by providing a description of what the children had been doing but this was not seen to be sufficient, and more detail was asked for. Ms Goodred responded by quoting paragraph 2.11 of the above guidance which states when electively home educating:
There are no legal requirements for you as parents educating a child at home to do any of the following:
- acquire specific qualifications for the task
- have premises equipped to any particular standard
- aim for the child to acquire any specific qualifications
- teach the National Curriculum
- provide a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum
- make detailed lesson plans in advance
- give formal lessons
- mark work done by the child
- formally assess progress, or set development objectives
- reproduce school type peer group socialisation
- match school-based, age-specific standards
This did not satisfy the Council and Ms Goodred was served with a notice to satisfy (NTS) pursuant to 437(1) of the Education Act 1996 which places the burden of proof on parents to demonstrate that they are causing their child to receive a suitable education.
Ultimately the matter ended up before the High Court and Portsmouth successfully manage to defend its position. But what did The Hon. Mr Justice Lane say and how did he clarify the requirement on parents who choose to electively home educate?
Anyone who wants a comprehensive answer to the above question is encouraged to read the judgement, but it is important to be mindful that, when doing so, it relates to how Portsmouth’s policy related to Ms Goodred rather than the application of the policy generally.
In any event, perhaps the judgement provided the following clarification:
a) Parents do need to satisfy a local authority that they are providing suitable education. In respect of what must be provided, the Judge confirmed that there are no legal requirements to teach the National Curriculum, give formal lessons, mark work done by the child, formally assess the child’s progress or set development objectives.
b) The local authority must simply satisfy themselves that the education is suitable to the child’s age aptitude and ability.
c) There is no definition of a ‘suitable’ education in English statute law. A court will reach a view of suitability based on the individual circumstances of each child. The Department of Education’s guidance suggest that the term ‘suitable’ is assessed on the following grounds:
- it should enable a child to participate fully in life in the UK by including sufficient secular education.
- the home education provision does not need to follow specific examples such as the National Curriculum, or the requirement in academy funding agreements for a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum, nor the independent school standards prescribed by the Secretary of State. Conversely, however, if the home education does consist of one or more of those, then that would constitute strong evidence that it was ‘suitable’.
- local authorities should interpret ‘suitable’ in the light of their general duties, however, there is no requirement on parents to actively promote the Fundamental British Values in the same way as there is for schools.
- a local authority may specify requirements as to effectiveness in such matters as literacy and numeracy, in deciding whether education is suitable, whilst accepting that these must be applied in relation to the individual child’s ability and aptitudes.
- home education may legitimately cater specifically for particular aptitudes which a child has, even if that means reducing other content; it is not simply a matter of academic learning but should also involve socialisation.
- any assessment of suitability should take into account the environment in which home education is being provided.
d) The local authority can request that the parent meet with them or provide copies of the child’s work. The parent is not obliged to do either of those things but must provide sufficient information to enable the local authority to be satisfied that the education provision is suitable.
e) A local authority must not be unreasonable when the seeking to assess whether the education under consideration is suitable.
f) A local authority must always explain any concerns it has so parents can respond in a meaningful way
g) Home educated children are not expected to work to school based standards.
Perhaps the above can be summarised by saying that elective home education is a big step which imposes the duty on the parent that their child must receive a suitable education. That said, when deciding whether this standard has been met, a local authority must not behave unreasonably.