New legal duty for local authorities to offer support

Registration of children not in school has been the policy intention dating back to April 2019.  The Government has also talked about imposing a duty on local authorities to provide support to home educating families and again this was confirmed in the consultation response of February 2022 [ ] specifically in the annex to the consultation response which can be found here  Measures to place the support duty on a legal footing have  now been included in the Schools Bill under the sub-heading Support.  

The relevant clause in the Bill as originally published says “the support to be provided is whatever the local authority think fit having regard to the parent’s request … [and] may for example include— advice about education of the child,  information about sources of assistance for the education of the child,  provision of facilities, services or assistance (including financial assistance), and  access to non-educational services or benefits.”  

It can therefore be seen that this is not about parents submitting a request for a specific form of support which the local authority has a duty to fulfil, instead it is about the authority deciding what is appropriate (and affordable).  

Earlier in the year the Government published a breakdown of responses to the 2019 consultation [ via this page ] which asked questions about support as well as registration.  The three most popular forms of support amongst consultations respondents were:  

  •  advice (70%) 
  • assistance with exam fees (68%) 
  • support for home education groups (52%)  

With regard to exams, respondents identified the problem of gaining access to a suitable centre, which varies geographically; and also cost, which can be very significant especially if there are subjects which have a practical element. Consultees suggested it would be highly valued among home educating families if local authorities could assist in supporting schools to host external 

candidates, setting up exam centres or provide funding.  The majority of consultees across all sub-groups suggested that local authority exam centres would be an effective way to enhance access to public examinations.  

Consultation respondents also identified the following as desirable:  

  • special educational needs and disability support [SEND] 
  • effective access to assessments and services where children have SEND 
  • access to vaccinations, hearing and sight tests, mental health support 
  • access to local informal home education support groups and networks 
  • access to local events and subsidised leisure facilities  

No New Funding For Support  

It should be noted that no new funding has been allocated for local authorities to provide support and that there may be a considerable delay before any decisions are made. The Impact Assessment [ ] accompanying the Schools Bill makes it clear that funding for registration has already been worked out but that money for support will  have to wait.   

 “Since there will likely be a more significant impact and new burden placed on local authorities to keep and maintain a register of children not in school, funding will be provided to local authorities for the creation and maintenance of their CNIS registers totalling 11.4m in 23-24 and £7.6m in 24-25 onwards.  This funding does not factor in the (fourth) duty for local authorities to provide support to home educators.  [our emphasis] The intention is to consult on the support duty as part of the consultation on the statutory guidance that will follow. This will help identify costs and feed into a future new burdens assessment.”   

The Government Minister for Education in the House of Lords said at the end of June 2022 “We are still in the process of determining what the minimum expectation on local authorities should be in terms of their new support duty. To ensure that it is as effective as possible, it is right that we undertake the necessary consideration and assessment of need, including how this can be achieved and the costs involved. We will engage closely with stakeholders on this prior to the statutory guidance being issued and we have also committed to undertake a new burdens assessment to identify the level of funding that may be required to support local authorities so that they can discharge their duty effectively and well”.  

HEAS is aware that many home educators while expressing scepticism and mistrust of local authority support in general have nevertheless consistently stated that financial support for exams and somewhere to sit exams would be most helpful. In this context it may be useful to know that the minister responsible for education in the House of Lords has specifically stated  “There will not be a legal requirement for local authorities to provide specific funding to home-educated pupils for examination fees as part of the support duty, but it would be one way they could choose to discharge the duty.“