To receive a report from the Head of Democratic Services which presents information relevant to part two (session one) of the Scrutiny Board’s ongoing Inquiry into Exclusions, Elective Home Education and Off-rolling.
The Head of Democratic Services submitted a report that presented information relevant to part two (session one) of the Scrutiny Board’s ongoing Inquiry into Exclusions, Elective Home Education and Off-rolling.
The following were in attendance:
- Councillor Fiona Venner, Executive Member for Adult and Children’s Social Care and Health Partnerships
- Julie Longworth, Deputy Director of Children and Families
- Tim Pouncey, Chief Officer Resources and Strategy
- Dave Clark, Head of Service, Learning Improvement
- Val Waite, Head of Service, Learning Inclusion
- Barbara Temple, Elective Home Education Lead
The Head of Service for Learning Inclusion introduced the report and provided an initial general overview of attendance across local schools as well as a more detailed overview of the data and trends relating to elective home education (EHE) and the duties of the local authority in terms of safeguarding and monitoring young people who are home educated. Members were advised that notification of intentions to EHE has increased significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a particular increase in whole families choosing to home educate and citing anxieties associated with COVID-19 as their primary reasoning for doing so.
Members discussed a number of matters, including:
· Proportion of school age population that are EHE. In response to a query, Members were advised that the proportion of school age population currently home educated is approximately 0.5%.
· Reasoning for EHE. Members were advised that parents do not have to provide a reason on the initial letter of notification. Where this is provided, there is often more than one reason for the decision but only one can be recorded. Caseworkers are also focused on updating this information after they have spoken to parents.
· Professional guidance. Members queried whether parents have the right to professional guidance, and were advised that the local authority provide general advice and guidance, which some families choose to engage in. However, there are no current duties set out in legislation for local authorities to provide specialised advice and guidance. In addition, it was noted that while access to services provided through school clusters are not available to families who home educate, they can still access a range of services, such as Mindmate, with information on this provided on the Leeds Offer.
· Examination and qualifications. In response to a query, it was confirmed that there is no duty for young people to take any formal examinations whilst home educated, and any examinations taken are at the expense of the family. It was noted that, in 2018, the local authority submitted concerns about the overall legislation for EHE as part of the national DfE consultation. Members requested that the response to this consultation be provided to the Board, if available. Members were also advised that the local authority do not receive the data for examinations taken by home educated children as parents make individual arrangements for this that are not shared with the EHE team. Members expressed concern about the local authorities’ ability to monitor young people in their choices post-16 and identify how many are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET), and were advised that all post-16 young people are contacted to provide signposting information about their next steps by the EHE team and by the Pathways Team.
· Socio-economic factors. In response to a query, it was noted that while the Council does not specifically gather socio-economic data relating to EHE families, it is able to identify those that are eligible for free school meals, which is currently 26%.
· Increase in BAME children home educated. Members queried the reasoning for the recent increase in BAME families choosing to home educate and were advised that the impact of Covid to multigenerational families was often being cited as a main concern for those families from BAME communities. Officers highlighted that the Equality and Diversity Board will be looking at disproportionality within education for children and young people from BAME backgrounds and will be exploring the increase in EHE in further detail.
· Gypsy and traveller communities. In response to a query, Members were advised that the number of gypsy and traveller families choosing EHE has remained unchanged throughout the COVID-19 period. The Executive Member advised Members that the directorate is working with Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE) who have highlighted that EHE is not a cultural choice, and that many families report the racism and discrimination as the primary reason for removing their children from school settings.
· Returning to school settings. Members queried whether it is possible to track each cohort to understand why some families choose to return to formal school-based education and others do not and were advised that data for returns by year group will be submitted for the Board’s consideration as part of its inquiry work. However, it was noted that, on average, children remain in EHE for one to two years.
· Children who have never been to school. It was confirmed that children who have never been to school may not be registered as home educated under current legislation as there is no obligation to inform the local authority and therefore are not included within the EHE list collected by the local authority. Members were advised that new proposals from the DfE include requirement for all children to be registered with a local authority.
· Home visits for EHE settings. Members were advised that if the Council does have any significant concerns due to lack of communication with a family, then safeguarding checks are undertaken at the home. If no response, social care are notified and a police welfare visit may be arranged. However, it was noted that local authorities do not have powers to physically enter a EHE setting unless there are safeguarding concerns.
· Off-rolling. In response to a query, Members were advised that any situations potentially involving off-rolling could be explored at the point when families notify the local authority of their intention to home educate. However, if families choose not to give a reason then this can be hard to identify.
· Suitability of education plans. Members were advised that all families are requested to submit an education plan in some form, and it is assessed by a teacher to identify whether the plan is suitable for the age, aptitude and special educational needs, if any, of an individual child. It was noted that local authorities have no powers to assess the plan based on a child’s attainment.
In his closing comments, the Chair raised a number of further requests for information, including a breakdown of EHE figures by Ward; data around annual visits and the general feedback from these visits; and how the Leeds position compares with other core cities and also nationally, although it was acknowledged that this may prove difficult in the absence of any national data collection requirement. In view of this, the Chair suggested that the Board may wish to schedule an additional inquiry session to consider the implications of EHE in more detail, which would be explored after the meeting.
a) That the contents of the report, along with Members comments, be noted.
b) That the information requested during discussions be provided to the Board, with the potential option of holding an additional inquiry session to consider the implications of EHE in more detail.