Concern over sharp rise in number of children home-schooled

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The children’s commissioner has called for better regulation of home education in England.

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Anne Longfield has warned that thousands of children are 'off the grid...no-one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe'

Officially, almost 60,000 children were being home educated in England at any one time in 2018, but with no legal register the report suggests there may have in fact been up to 80,000.

The number of children known by councils to be home educated was 27 per cent higher in 2018 than in 2017.

In a new report, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, has called for stronger measures to tackle ‘off-rolling’ of children who may threaten schools’ exam results and league table positions, as the number of children being home educated has been found to have doubled in the last five years.

The report notes that although many parents make a ‘positive philosophical choice’ to home educate their children, tens of thousands of children are receiving no school education at all.

Many of these children are ‘off-grid’, or invisible to local authorities, as there is currently no legal requirement to register children who are educated at home.

The children’s commissioner has called for a compulsory home education register, more support for families who home educate, greater oversight of home-educated children and decisive action against unregistered schools.

The report was accompanied by a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids, which aired yesterday (Monday 4 February).

Other findings include:

  • 93 per cent of councils said they are not aware of all the children in their area who are home educated.
  • This number has risen by 20 per cent in each of the last five years – doubling since 2013/14.
  • In 28 per cent of cases in which local authorities offer to visit a home-educating family, the family refuses.
  • 22 per cent of children withdrawn from school to be home-educated in 2017/18 had special educational needs.
  • 9 out of 10 local authorities said they were worried about ‘off-rolling’.
  • 92 per cent of councils do not feel they have enough powers to assure the safety of home-educated children.

Later this year, the children’s commissioner’s office will publish data from all councils in England identifying which schools have high numbers of children being withdrawn into home education, which may suggest practices of off-rolling.

Ms Longfield said, ‘Our investigations have revealed thousands of children are “off the grid” because they are being home-schooled. The numbers are rocketing and no-one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe. Many are being off-rolled. It also seems that a relatively small number of schools may be responsible for this sharp rise in children leaving school for “home education” in this way.

‘Many parents who make a philosophical decision to home educate provide their children with a high-quality education. But there are many other families who have ended up home educating for other reasons, and are struggling to cope. Many of these children are very vulnerable, have special educational needs, or are unable to cope with a “one size fits all” school system. Schools should be for all children, including those with complex needs and those who struggle academically.

‘We need to know who these children are, where they are, whether they are safe and if they are getting the education they need to succeed in life. There is a clear case for the Government to introduce a compulsory register for all home-educated children, without delay.’

Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, added, ‘Councils fully support the rights of parents to educate their children in the best way that they see fit, and the vast majority of parents who home educate their children do a fantastic job, and work well with their local council to make sure that a good education is being provided.

‘But for the minority of children where this is not the case, councils have long called for the powers and appropriate funding to enter homes or other premises to check a child’s schooling, and make sure they aren’t being taught in unsuitable or dangerous environments.

‘Placing a legal duty on parents to register home-schooled children with their local authority would also help councils to monitor how children are being educated and prevent them from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'There are thousands of parents across the country who are doing an excellent job of educating their children at home. We know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be or, very rarely, are being put at risk.

'That’s why we recently ran a call for evidence on home education asking for views on issues such as registration, monitoring provision and support for home educators. We have also consulted on revised guidance that will help local authorities and parents better understand safeguarding laws applicable to home education. We are considering the responses and will respond to both the call for evidence and consultation in due course.'

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