Local Authority Responsibilities
The following guidance applies only to England since Wales has its own guidance on Children Missing Education.
Children Missing Education
Children missing education (CMEs) are children of compulsory school age who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at a school.
This therefore confirms that home educated children are NOT classed as missing education. Children missing education are at significant risk of underachieving, being victims of harm, exploitation or radicalisation, and becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) later in life so it is understandable that the government wish to identify these children.
However, the distinction between CME and home educated children needs to be made. There will be some youngsters that are supposed to be engaged in home education but are not actually receiving an proper or ‘efficient’ education.
Statutory guidance for local authorities on Home Education states
The responsibility for a child’s education rests with his or her parents. An “efficient” and “suitable” education is not defined in the Education Act 1996 but “efficient” has been broadly described in case law1 as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”, and a “suitable” education is one that “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so”.
3.14 It is important to recognise that there are many, equally valid, approaches to educational provision. Local authorities should, therefore, consider a wide range of information from home educating parents, in a range of formats. The information may be in the form of specific examples of learning e.g. pictures/paintings/models, diaries of educational activity, projects, assessments, samples of work, books, educational visits etc.
3.15 In their consideration of parents’ provision of education at home, local authorities may reasonably expect the provision to include the following characteristics: consistent involvement of parents or other significant carers – it is expected that parents or significant carers would play a substantial role, although not necessarily constantly or actively involved in providing education recognition of the child’s needs, attitudes and aspirations opportunities for the child to be stimulated by their learning experiences access to resources/materials required to provide home education for the child – such as paper and pens, books and libraries, arts and crafts materials, physical activity, ICT and the opportunity for appropriate interaction with other children and other adults.
Guidance for Local Authorities (LAs)
According to statutory guidance for local authorities on CMEs – ‘Effective information sharing between parents, schools and local authorities is critical to ensuring that all children of compulsory school age are safe and receiving suitable education’.
Local authorities have a statutory duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, to make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education. The duty applies in relation to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school roll, and who are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than being at school (for example, at home, privately, or in alternative provision).
The guidance issued makes it clear that the duty does not apply to children who are being educated at home.
From 1st September 2016 one of the changes included in guidance for local authorities is that schools must make reasonable enquiries to establish the whereabouts of the child jointly with the local authority, before removing the pupil’s name from the register if the deletion is under regulation 8(1), sub-paragraphs (f)(iii) and (h)(iii).
Statutory guidance also states that the local authority should consult the parents of the child when establishing whether the child is receiving suitable education. Those children identified as not receiving suitable education should be returned to full time education either at a school or in alternative provision. Prompt action and early intervention are crucial to discharging this duty effectively and in ensuring that children are safe and receiving suitable education.
However, returning a home educated child to school is not straight forward and requires a School Attendance Order to be legally issued. Local authorities are encouraged to work with families considered as not providing suitable home education to help them improve their provision.
The following is taken from Elective Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities.
2.7 Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis. However, under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education. This section states that: “If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.” Section 437(2) of the Act provides that the period shall not be less than 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served. 2.8 Prior to serving a notice under section 437(1), local authorities are encouraged to address the situation informally. The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under section 437(1) and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so.
Section 437(3) of the Education Act 1996 refers to the serving of school attendance orders: “If – (a) a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and (b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school, the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a “school attendance order”), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.” 2.10 A school attendance order should be served after all reasonable steps have been taken to try to resolve the situation. At any stage following the issue of the Order, parents may present evidence to the local authority that they are now providing an appropriate education and apply to have the Order revoked. If the local authority refuses to revoke the Order, parents can choose to refer the matter to the Secretary of State. If the local authority prosecutes the parents for not complying with the Order, then it will be for a court to decide whether or not the education being provided is suitable and efficient. The court can revoke the Order if it is satisfied that the parent is fulfilling his or her duty. It can also revoke the Order where it imposes an education supervision order. Detailed information about school attendance orders is contained in Ensuring Regular School Attendance paragraphs 6 to 16.4 2.11 Where the authority imposes a time limit, every effort should be made to make sure that both the parents and the named senior officer with responsibility for elective home education in the local authority are available throughout this period. In particular the Department recommends that the time limit does not expire during or near to school holidays when there may be no appropriate point of contact for parents within the local authority.
Local authorities also have a duty under section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
Section 175(1) does not extend local authorities’ functions. It does not, for example, give local authorities powers to enter the homes of, or otherwise see, children for the purposes of monitoring the provision of elective home education.
Section 11 of the 2004 Act sets out the arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, this section does not place any additional duties or responsibilities on local authorities over and above section 175(1) of the Education Act 2002. Statutory Guidance on Making Arrangements to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 has been updated and published in April 2007. 2.15 As outlined above, local authorities have general duties to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (section 175 Education Act 2002 in relation to their functions as a local authority and for other functions in sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004). These powers allow local authorities to insist on seeing children in order to enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern (sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989).
However, such powers do not bestow on local authorities the ability to see and question children subject to elective home education in order to establish whether they are receiving a suitable education.
Section 53 of the 2004 Act sets out the duty on local authorities to, where reasonably practicable, take into account the child’s wishes and feelings with regard to the provision of services. Section 53 does not extend local authorities’ functions. It does not, for example, place an obligation on local authorities to ascertain the child’s wishes about elective home education as it is not a service provided by the local authority.
Local authorities should acknowledge that learning takes place in a wide variety of environments and not only in the home. However, if it appears that a suitable education is not being provided, the local authority should seek to gather any relevant information that will assist them in reaching a properly informed judgement. This should include seeking from the parents any further information that they wish to provide which explains how they are providing a suitable education. Parents should be given the opportunity to address any specific concerns that the authority has. The child should also be given the opportunity, but not required, to attend any meeting that may be arranged or invited to express his or her views in some other way. Parents are under no duty to respond to such requests for information or a meeting, but it would be sensible for them to do so. 3.5 If it appears to a local authority that a child is not receiving a suitable education it may wish to contact the parents to discuss their ongoing home education provision. Contact should normally be made in writing to the parents to request further information. A written report should be made after such contact and copied to the parents stating whether the authority has any concerns about the education provision and specifying what these are, to give the child’s parents an opportunity to address them. Where concerns about the suitability of the education being provided for the child have been identified, more frequent contact may be required while those concerns are being addressed. Where concerns merit frequent contact, the authority should discuss them with the child’s parents, with a view to helping them provide a suitable education that meets the best interests of the child. 3.6 Some parents may welcome the opportunity to discuss the provision that they are making for the child’s education during a home visit, but parents are not legally required to give the local authority access to their home. They may choose to meet a local authority representative at a mutually convenient and neutral location instead, with or without the child being present, or choose not to meet at all. Where a parent elects not to allow access to their home or their child, this does not of itself constitute a ground for concern about the education provision being made. Where local authorities are not able to visit homes, they should, in the vast majority of cases, be able to discuss and evaluate the parents’ educational provision by alternative means. If they choose not to meet, parents may be asked to provide evidence that they are providing a suitable education. If a local authority asks parents for information, they are under no duty to comply although it would be sensible for them to do so. Parents might prefer, for example, to write a report, provide samples of work, have their educational provision endorsed by a third party (such as an independent home tutor) or provide evidence in some other appropriate form.
Local authorities should bear in mind that, in the early stages, parents’ plans may not be detailed, and they may not yet be in a position to demonstrate all the characteristics of an “efficient and suitable” educational provision. In such cases, a reasonable timescale should be agreed for the parents to develop their provision.
3.16 If a local authority considers that a suitable education is not being provided, then a full written report of the findings should be made and copied to the parents promptly, specifying the grounds for concern and any reasons for concluding that provision is unsuitable. If the authority is not satisfied that a suitable education is being provided, and the parents, having been given a reasonable opportunity to address the identified concerns and report back to the authority have not done so, the authority should consider sending a formal notice to the parents under section 437 (see paragraph 2.7) before moving on, if needed, to the issuing of a school attendance order (section 437(1)). See paragraphs 2.9 – 2.11.
Statutory Guidance on Children at Risk
2009 Statutory Guidance on Children at Risk of Not Receiving Suitable Education (England) says:
“73. When raising awareness with partner agencies it is useful to remind them that parents may lawfully educate their children at home. Where a local authority is satisfied that a parent is providing their child with a suitable full-time education, the child is not the target of this duty. However, the local authority does have the power to issue a school attendance order if it appears that the parent is not providing a suitable education. Education of children at home by their parents is not in itself a cause for concern about the child’s welfare.”
p.22 Where a local authority becomes aware of a home educated child, the details may be passed to Children Missing Education so that the blank data field for “place of education” can be filled. The details might also be passed to the local authority Elective Home Education team. You are quite likely to get a follow-up letter/phone call from the authority saying that it has come to their attention that you are home educating and asking you to supply information on your educational provision. The authority might want you to fill in a form/ answer questions and/or meet with the authority’s home education consultant. Whilst you do not have to meet them, or to supply any of that information, case law has proven that it is reasonable for a LA to request information on home education. Therefore, it might be prudent to acknowledge any communication from your LA and to provide them with information in a form of your choosing.
Please see separate guidance about School Attendance Orders.