Parents pushed into home-schooling, report says

5 Feb 19

Parents are being increasingly pressured into home-schooling leaving councils unable to ensure children are adequately educated, the Children’s Commissioner for England has said.

The number of children known by councils in England to be home-educated has doubled since 2013-14 – from 19,585 to 41,808 in 2017-18, according to a survey of 106 councils.

The survey used in the Children’s Commissioner report was carried out in autumn last year by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and done in association with a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, which aired last night.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, 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 are safe.”

On March 29 last year the Schools Adjudicator reported councils recorded 52,770 children across all 152 local authorities as being home-schooled.  The ADCS survey suggested there could be up to 80,000 children being home-schooled at some point during the school year.

It also found 92% of the local authorities felt they did not have the powers to ensure children were getting a decent education.

Some parents make “a philosophical decision” to home educate their children, the report said, but added that “there are many other families out there who have ended up home educating for other reasons, and are struggling to cope”.

“There needs to be a cultural shift away from pressurised, hot-housing schools, to help stem the tide of children entering home education when it is not in the family’s true interests or wishes.”

The report highlighted the issue of ‘off-rolling’ where pressure is put on parents to remove children from school who don’t ‘fit in’.

Twenty-two per cent of the children removed from school to be home-educated in 2017-18 had Special Educational Needs, the ADCS survey found. Nine out of 10 local authorities said they were worried about the ‘off-rolling’ of pupils.

‘Off-rolled’ children do not show up on school records and “disappear from the roll”, Longfield explained.

In England, the school not the parents must notify the local authority if a child is withdrawn for home-schooling, but if a child has never attended school or moves area a council might never know about them.  

Local authorities must ensure children are provided with a decent education but are not under an obligation to monitor home-schooled children.

The report calls for it to be compulsory for parents to register their home-school children with their local authority.

“There is a clear case for the government to introduce a compulsory register for all home-educated children, without delay,” Longfield said.

Since 2016, Ofsted has identified 439 illegal or unregistered schools that operate outside of the statutory frameworks designed to keep children safe, the report noted.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: “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 form the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Where children are being home-educated, we know that in the vast majority of cases parents are doing an excellent job.

“We also know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be, which is why last year we ran a call for evidence on proposals to introduce a register, as well as monitoring of provision and support for home educators.”

The Public Accounts Committee recently suggested that academy schools are not sufficiently transparent or accountable to parents.

Rachel Willcox has looked at the transparency and sustainability of academy schools’ finances for PF

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