One Parent's Story
"My home educated child has special educational needs (SEN). She has an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), a Personal Budget (PB) and Direct Payments (DPs). We now receive £3,500 per term, for 12 hours of support at home by tutors of our choice, plus 8 hours per week of pre-approved extracurricular funding in areas of my child's special interest.
All tutors and people involved with the child must have DBS checks. All spending has to be recorded with invoices for the annual review. Since having this support in place we have seen a significant improvement in my child's mental state and academic progress. I am sharing my story to show Local Authorities (LAs) how a Personal Budget for home education can help children, when school is not the best option for the child.
In September 2014 my then 8 year old was deregistered from school. There was already had a diagnosis of autism and a history of school refusal and anxiety, but my child didn't have a statement of special needs. I applied for an EHCP after we started home educating. The new SEN system had just become law. At the outset, my intention was that my child would have the option of a specialist school or flexi school but I was aware of the reality that school might not be possible and we might need to carry on with home education.
Right from the start in my discussions with the local authority (LA) I wanted reassurance that nothing would be enforced on us, and if we preferred to carry on with home education we could. The LA was supportive of this. The LA agreed to carry out EHCP assessments of my child and the reports commissioned by the LA stated that it was unlikely my child could successfully attend any local school, mainstream or special. LA reports also stated that it was highly unlikely that traditional tutors sent in to the home would work.
The process was very inclusive and we felt our opinions were valued and respected. We worked together with the LA to create a plan for our child and together agreed upon goals for the EHCP. We asked for a Personal Budget and Direct Payments to meet these goals. The LA agreed we were good candidates for the Personal Budget, and that the activities that were already working for the child would become part of the EHCP.
The entire EHCP process - from the initial assessment right through to receiving the Direct Payment funding - took a year. The staff were apologetic and supportive about the delays, which were mainly due to staff turnover and not having a step by step process for the Personal Budget.
The Personal Budget has had a huge positive impact. My child is meeting the goals set out in the ECHP, because of the tutors and activities that have been put in place. This is something that many children could benefit from. It would help if there were a clear procedure for applying for a PB, and specific criteria to me approved. For example a process more like the DLA (Disability Living Allowance) application could make things more straightforward and fair.
Most of the families who I know that are home educating children with special educational needs (SEN) have no support or funding. There is a common feeling among these families that asking for funding is like climbing Mount Everest, long and arduous with many associated risks along the way.
There is also a fear that asking for a Personal Budget is opening themselves up to being judged about their choices or even their abilities to parent the child, and their right to choose what they feel is best for their child could be taken away from them.
The first hurdle when I applied as a home educating parent was that i was seen as "elective home education" (EHE), but there is a distinct difference between elective and SEN home education. Elective home educating families have decided to home educate for personal, religious or lifestyle reasons, while a family with an SEN child may HE because nothing else worked, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to help their child succeed academically and emotionally.
Families of SEN kids who are home educating have not taken the decision to home educate lightly. For starters one parent has to give up their career, the family income is halved, and the strain of being a parent/teacher is not an easy task. Families like ours are home educating because the school system was not working for the child. For us it took many years of trying to make school work, before finally accepting that it was detrimental to force something that was never going to work, and was in fact destroying our child's mental health.
The current school system does not work for every child. The Personal Budget for education is a good way for the educational needs to be met in the more complex cases. Many to prefer to stay "under the radar" for fear of things going downhill for the child if they ask, of their wishes not being respected. This was not the case for us and I hope that many families and LAs will see that this can be a successful option for their child."