What to do with home education?

July 28th, 2010 by Clive Sheldon QC

The serious case review into Khyra Ishaq’s death has called into question the role of the Education Otherwise team at Birmingham City Council. If it had been more interventionist, it is suggested that the child’s death may not have occurred. Although the level of abuse in this case is mercifully quite rare, the case has raised much broader questions about home education: when should this be permitted? to what extent should it be regulated? 

At present, there is a basic statutory framework for the delivery of home education, but no detailed regulatory regime. 

Parents are under a duty to ensure that children of compulsory school age ‘receive efficient full-time education suitable (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise’ (section 7 Education Act 1996). Home education is one way in which this can be achieved.

But who is to judge whether the education delivered at home is ‘full-time’, let alone ‘suitable’? This duty would appear to fall on the relevant local authority pursuant to section 19 of the Education Act 1996, which imposes a duty on local authorities to ‘make arrangements for  the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise than at school for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion from school or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them.’  This suggests that if a child is not receiving education at school — because his or her parent has taken the child out of school to educate at home — local authorities have a duty to provide ‘suitable’ education if arrangements for receiving that level of education are not already being made for the child. Local authorities are therefore empowered to step in and check whether the arrangements for home education are appropriate. And if they are not, then local authorities are obliged to put in place arrangements that are appropriate.

What if a parent does not comply? Well, it looks as though local authorities could then seek to prosecute parents, using section 444ZA of the Education Act 1996. This provides that ‘Where, in the case of a child of compulsory school age who is not a registered pupil at any school a local authority has made arrangements under section 19 for the provision of education for him otherwise than at a school or at his home, and (b) notice in writing of the arrangements has been given to the child’s parent subsections (1) to (7) of section 444 [the prosecution provisions where there is non attendance at a school where a child is registered] have effect as if the place at which the education is provided were a school and the child were a registered pupil at that school.’

So, the sledgehammer of prosecution appears to be available where the local authority has itself put in arrangements for home education. But this will only arise in the most extreme cases. When and how does the local authority judge that home education delivered by parents is ‘suitable’? When does it put in its own arrangements? These are all matters that call out for debate and further discussion. See generally https://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jul/27/khyra-ishaq-home-education-safeguards-call.

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