Interpretation of Legal Framework
Non-statutory guidance on home education has been in place since 2007. The current guidance was introduced in 2019 and the Department for Education is considering making some changes. The introduction to the new draft guidance says “This guidance represents the Department’s interpretation of how the current legal framework affects the provision of home education. The guidance is not intended to provide legal advice. It does not create new powers or duties”
The new guidance is not ready to be used. It is still at the draft stage. The consultation closed 18.1.24. The current guidance remains in force until such time as a final new version is published. The current guidance can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/elective-home-education
The current legal framework is the 1996 Education Act which sets out the elements of a suitable education when a child is educated otherwise than at school. Where parents take responsibility for their child’s education themselves – rather than sending them to school – this is commonly known as elective home education although the phrase does not appear in law.
There is no need for the Department to “interpret” suitable education since the law is already abundantly clear and specific; education is to be suitable to the child’s age, ability, aptitude and any special educational needs.
The consultation document accompanying the new draft guidance confirms that “A suitable education is one that is suitable to a child’s age, ability, aptitude and SEN” but goes on to say “we have made several edits to the guidance to aid in the understanding of suitable education and how to ensure its provision.”
The key issue is therefore to decide whether the edits help and I would argue that they do NOT. The problems start right at the beginning where the draft guidance says “suitable education” will be used as shorthand to include all element of section 7 of the Education Act 1996: suitable, efficient, and full-time”
Clearly, shorthand does NOT aid understanding because by shortening it to “suitable education” the Department then feels the need to EXPAND and SUGGEST and RECOMMEND, all of which makes the new draft guidance much longer and more contentious and unclear than it need be, needing more and more unpacking such as the introduction of Case Studies.
The unhelpful shorthand phrase “suitable education” appears 36 times in the draft guidance, often with wordy thoughts on how it might be interpreted. The word suitability crops up 27 times in the new draft guidance, in relation to“assessing suitability” or concerns as to suitability.