Teachers voice fears over surge in home-schooled children

Posted: 24th April 2024

School leaders have sounded a warning over the number of children being home schooled saying many are not getting a proper education.

London headteachers are doing “everything they can” to prevent children who are persistently absent from being taken out of school permanently to be home educated, they said.

It comes as the number of children being home schooled in England in the last academic year reached more than 126,000 – an increase of almost 10,000 on the previous year, according to government figures.

Schools are not required to provide any support to parents who opt for elective home education and support from the local authority is discretionary,

There are fears that parents who are “absolutely fed up with the system” and whose children are regularly skipping school are registering them as home-educated instead.

Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, which runs 54 schools in London and Essex: “We liaise with the safeguarding authorities and are very reluctant to allow a child to go off role.

“It is a parent’s right to home school, and home schooling has gone up since the pandemic, but we will do everything we can to try and stop that happening.

“We will make multiple efforts to try and accommodate a child because in the end I would say the vast majority of people who since the pandemic become home schooled are not getting the quality of education they would have got had they been in school.”

Asha Vaghella, a lead youth worker for the Oasis charity, who works with children who are persistently absent in Enfield, said: “Doing this job where we are fighting so hard to keep children in school, I really struggle to understand the way you can just take your child out of school.

“You write a letter to your local authority, you take your child out of school and then happy days – get on with it.”

She added: “These parents didn’t finish school, these parents don’t have the facilities and resources or finances to provide that education at home so how can that be allowed to happen?”

She added: “It’s hard enough to get a child to concentrate in school, but imagine being at home when you have so many distractions.”

Reverend Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis multi-academy trust which runs 53 schools, said: “There is no register in our country of children who are home schooled so we have no idea what’s happening to those children.”

He added: “Of course some children who are home schooled are being really responsibly home schooled, and some children aren’t being schooled at all.

He added: “You get parents who say the school can’t cope [with my child] so I am thinking of home schooling.

“So the statistics might show the level of persistent absence [at a school] has shrunk slightly, but once a parent has declared they are home schooling their child they are taken out of the equation.”

Mental health is being increasingly cited by parents as the main reason for taking their children out of school, according to official figures.

Philosophical” or “lifestyle” reasons accounted for 24 per cent, while 40 per cent were recorded as unknown, other or no reason. One per cent of parents cited religion as their primary reason for home schooling, while 3 per cent cited bullying.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We have long called for the establishment of a register of children who are not in school, and it is disappointing that the government has so far failed to make good its promises to bring this forward.

“School leaders are worried about possible safeguarding risks to children who are not in school and who could become lost outside the system.

“An effective register will also provide the information local authorities need to better plan services for home educated children and their families, as they will be clear about the numbers involved.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “While some parents make a conscious and informed decision to homeschool their children, we are concerned that a number of factors are causing parents to withdraw their children from school when this may not be in the best interests of the child. These include unmet special educational needs, mental health issues, and the linked issue of school refusal. The difficulty is that school, local authority and health service budgets are under severe strain and there often isn’t the level of support, particularly early support, needed to address these problems.”

Department for Education spokesperson said:”We are committed to ensuring that all children, especially the most vulnerable in our society, are safe and have access to an excellent education. “

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