Home education can provide opportunities for personalised education not possible in a school environment, and can be a lifeline for children who cannot thrive in school. This may be particularly true for children with special educational needs or a Statement. Children with SEN are entitled to an education that is tailored to their needs and to have their parents, who know them best, make decisions about what is best for their education.
If your child has never been registered with a school then there is no requirement to contact your Regional Education Authority, and it is wise to be aware of the implications that a statement can have for your ability to home educate in a way that is flexible and responsive to your child’s needs. If your child is at school and has a Statement then things can be a little more complicated, and it is important to approach the deregistration process with a certain caution, some support and good advice. The new guidance (due to come in to force in September 2020, and a useful indication of the EA’s position even if the coronavirus holds the process up) says:
“Parents may educate their child at home even if he or she has SEN, irrespective of whether the child has a statement of special educational needs or not, and whether the child has attended a special school. The process for deregistration and the duties of the parent are the same as for all children. Parents choosing to home educate their child should engage with the relevant statementing officer within EA.”(section 6.2)
Which seems very clear and straightforward… however our experience suggests that in practice there will continue to be pitfalls for families home educating children with SEN. The legal position on SEN and home education is riddled with grey areas and uncertainty, and this can create headaches for families in dealing with the EA.
SEN law places duties on the Education Authority rather than on parents to maintain the provision detailed in a Statement. This should not undermine the principle that parents hold the duty to provide an education under Article 45 of the Education Order, and therefore the power to make decisions. However, Education Welfare Officers can sometimes slip into treating the home educating parent as simply another provider under their authority, like a school. We believe that the parent is the final authority on their child’s education unless they fail in their duties, and so must be allowed to judge what is best for their child.
In this tension between the parents’ duty to provide a suitable education and the Authority’s duty to maintain the statement lies a great deal of potential for worry and stress for parents and their children. Ideally the Authority would provide a service, which the family would access as required, or decline if not, making their choice based on the best interests of their child. Sadly in some cases the Authority who may have failed to provide a suitable education for a child in school then turns proactive when dictating the terms of home education.
The statementing process once begun is not easily halted, and there is no provision for the parent to opt out, all we can advise is that parents make contact with SENAC (www.senac.co.uk), keep good records of all interactions, keep calm and “professional”, and do not hesitate to seek professional legal advice where necessary.