12 February 2024

The question of elective home education for a child who has special educational needs is an interesting one. Is taking their child out of school a choice parents freely make? What support is available if this is what they decide to do? 

The Department for Education is currently updating the guidance it provides on elective home education (EHE), which is the term used when parents choose to educate their child at home. 

There are two separate pieces of guidance, one for local authorities and one for parents. Proposed amendments to both sets of guidance were published for consultation, and IPSEA responded with comments on how children with SEND may be affected. 

A positive choice? 

One of the main things we want decision-makers to understand is that, while elective home education is framed in the Government’s guidance as a thing that parents “choose”, for a growing number of families of children with SEND the move to home education feels not so much like a freely made choice as the absence of a workable alternative.      

The draft guidance for parents says that “EHE should always be a positive choice”. We know from our advice services that parents/carers are sometimes encouraged to home educate their child by the school or local authority when this is not what they want or what they think their child needs. We hear that parents/carers are routinely not told of their right to request extra support at school, and may be pressured into removing their child from school against their will. Parents/carers may also feel pressured into home education to avoid prosecution for their child’s non-attendance. 

In our response to the consultation, we suggested that the guidance for parents should state clearly from the start that children have the right to special educational provision that meets their needs and should include a link to the SEND Code of Practice. We have also said it should be emphasised to local authorities that the “choice” to home educate may not be a freely made one for parents/carers of children with special educational needs that have not been adequately met in a school setting. 

Difference between elective home education and education otherwise than at school 

One of the things the new guidance tries to do, helpfully, is explain more clearly the difference between elective home education and education otherwise than at school (EOTAS). 

When a child is electively home educated, the parent provides or arranges the education themselves. Under an EOTAS arrangement, special educational provision is arranged by a local authority somewhere other than in a school, college or early years setting and this is set out in the child’s EHC plan. (Elective home education is also different to education arranged by a local authority because a child is ill or has been excluded from school.) We think it would be helpful for parents/carers if the guidance included case studies that clearly illustrated the difference. 

Consistency of guidance for local authorities and parents 

The Department for Education rightly wants to make sure that the guidance it is providing for parents is consistent with the guidance it’s giving to local authorities. We have asked DfE to amend the guidance for parents to make clear that parents who wish to home educate can ask their local authority for support to meet their child’s special educational needs, and that the local authority has to act reasonably when considering such a request. This is addressed in the local authority guidance, but parents won’t necessarily read both documents. 

Further, while local authorities are told by DfE that parents of a child with an EHC plan should contact the local authority at an early stage if they are considering EHE, in order to discuss amending their child’s plan in order to support the child to stay in school if that’s what parents would prefer, the draft guidance for parents doesn’t say the same thing. We think it’s vital that parents are made aware that they can request an early annual review of their child’s EHC plan if they are thinking about removing their child from school to home educate, and that the local authority should agree to this in these circumstances. 

What parents need to know 

It is very important that parents/carers of a child with an EHC plan are fully aware of the implications of EHE, namely that their local authority no longer has a legal duty to secure the special educational provision in their child’s EHC plan. 

At the same time, parents/carers need to know that local authorities should not cease an EHC plan because the child is home educated. They should know – and the guidance should make clear – that local authorities must still review the EHC plan annually to ensure that provision is appropriate and the child’s needs are met. 

Parents/carers also need to be informed that, if they are home educating a child who has SEND but does not have an EHC plan, they can still make a request at any time for an EHC needs assessment from their local authority. 

We have further information here on home education and ‘education otherwise’.