Children’s commissioner to publish home education figures for every school

children's commissioner Anne Longfield

The children’s commissioner will publish figures for every school in England showing how many of their pupils withdraw to be home educated amid huge rises in some parts of the country.

New data from 11 local areas shows a 48 per cent rise in the number of children disappearing from schools to be educated at home between 2015/16 and 2017/18.

Among those council areas, academies saw children move into home education at a higher rate – but local authority schools were catching up.

The research, published in a report out today from the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield (pictured), shows that many pupils who are home educated are off-rolled, with the analysis suggesting a “small number” of schools could be responsible.

It comes after a survey of local authorities, published in November, showed the number of home educated pupils rose by 27 per cent from 2017 to 2018, and council children services chiefs warning many more are likely to be “hidden from sight”.

Longfield is now calling for a compulsory register of “off the grid” children, stronger measures to tackle off-rolling, more support for families who home educate and decisive action against unregistered schools.

Later this year, the children’s commissioner’s office will also collect data from all councils in England and publish it, school by school, identifying which have high numbers of children being withdrawn into home education.

“Our investigations have revealed thousands of children are ‘off the grid’ because they are being home schooled,” Longfield said.

“The numbers are rocketing and no-one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe. Many are being off-rolled.

“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.”

Today’s report shows there were almost 60,000 children in England being home educated at any one time in 2018, although the precise figure remains unknown because parents do not have to register home-educated children.

According to data from 11 councils, academies had 2.8 elective home education referrals per 1,000 children last year, compared to 2.4 for LA-run schools.

However, between 2015-2016 to 2017-18, the number of children moving from academies rose by 43 per cent, compared to 58 per cent in council schools (across nine councils that had the data for all years).

In Hackney the number of home educated pupils rose by 94 per cent between 2015/16 and 2017/18, and in Newham it was 176 per cent.

Between 2016/17 and 2017/18, Hackney’s academies saw an increase in children moving into home education of 238 per cent.

The report accompanies a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary “Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids”, presented by Longfield, which will air tonight (Monday).

The children’s commissioner’s office said research undertaken by Dispatches suggests 22 per cent of the children withdrawn from school to be home-educated in 2017/18 had special educational needs.

Meanwhile, 92 per cent of councils “do not feel they have enough powers to assure the safety of home-educated children”.

When local authorities offer to visit a home educating family, in 28 per cent of cases the family refuses, according to today’s report.

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

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 monitoring of provision and support for home educators. We will respond to that in due course.”

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  1. Amie Smith

    It’s going to be an interesting watch but what would be even more interesting and revealing is to release all the data on children that haven’t been off rolled and are on roll at these academy and schools but do not attend due to mental health, SEN and safeguarding neglect.
    I have 3 children all out of school desperate for a new school but the LA are idle in helping.
    Another 10 children at the same school are also in the same position and the school capacity is 110. That’s almost 10% out of school due to safeguarding negligence. And the Local authority want to turn a blind eye!

  2. fran morgan

    There is nothing wrong with a home ed register per se, but the proposals in this report for enforced home visits, starting 3 days from de-registration (then 4-6 weeks later, then once a term) will require significant funding which would be better spent sorting out the reasons why so many families feel they have no choice but to home educate in the first place – decimated SEN teams, delays in the EHCP process, a broken CAMHS system, increased testing and the focus on academic results. What will it do to a child already traumatised by an inflexible education system and lack of support if they are then subjected to enforced home visits or even pushed back into the situation that caused the problems in the first place by a School Attendance Order?

  3. Anne Brown

    Students are being off-rolled, pre-emptively excluded (discouraged from applying to schools or schools find reasons why they can’t meet needs) or illegally excluded, but the problem can be solved by increasing the monitoring of parents? Wouldn’t it make more sense to stop the schools off-rolling and make SEN funding specific to the child/young person rather than a notional figure that no one can find in the budget and evidence to the Select Committee round table on SEN makes clear that certain chains view as an easy way to plug shortfalls elsewhere?

    The Children’s Commissioner’s conclusions read like a wish list. LA’s will not be able to provide details of alternative schools within 3 days of a young person or child being withdrawn because they have no power to make an academy take them and the off-rolled ones are the ones, to put it bluntly, that no one wants.

    As an involuntary home educator this feels like yet another kick in the teeth. (I refuse to call myself elective because the choice was to leave them in a placement where they were being bullied and not receiving the provision specified in their SSEN, go to tribunal for out of area residential provision in schools whose reputation repelled me and that have since been closed down for safeguarding reasons or do it myself)

    So here’s an alternative suggestion. If a placement fails, then parents can claim the balance of the funding the school have received to pay for OFQUAL registered online learning or OFSTED registered tutors and then claim future annual funding at the same level via ESFA who give the education providers the money the school would have got. The LA’s get reports and see them regularly as a condition of going this route so they’re happy, the child/young person is educated and safeguarded, and the school lose the funding rather than keeping it and losing the child/young person that they see as a costly disruptive nuisance.

    This would be EOTAS not EHE so only those who actively want to home educate would be doing it and the numbers would drop.

  4. …and who will ‘check’ the education of our children? Trained Teachers? Teachers who were trained IN the National Curriculum to TEACH the National Curriculum???? Or LA employees who have NEVER been teachers but who ALL gained their GCSEs INSIDE the National Curriculum and went on to Uni after 12 years of SPOONFED National Curriculum???

    HE is NOT about the National Curriculum!! Send a HE expert or a MONTESSORI expert or even better a CHILD DEVELOPMENT expert to my door and I’ll happily sign on the dotted line.

    WHO exactly are assessing us because it sure as hell can’t be ANYONE whose only experience of education is SCHOOL!!

  5. Alice Gurr

    Many home educators have chosen to do so for a variety of reasons, but many more are doing so reluctantly because the education system has failed to provide a school environment where their children will happily thrive. The Children’s Commissioner should focus her attention on making schools work for most children, not on harassing home educators, most of whom are doing a far better job of educating and RAISING their children than the state can. If LAs understood home education and celebrated the variety of home educating methods, instead of trying to test every home educating family against some failing government model, home educators would be able to work with them.

  6. J. drinkall

    If a child has been removed from a school they are not unknown nor are they ‘off the grid’ these children still live in communities use activities and use the same child related services as kids at school do.
    If you know they exist they aren’t hidden.

    And one would assume if people are stopping using a service in droves then the first point of call should be checking out what’s going wrong with the service.
    From someone whose not a home educator

  7. Phil Mitchell

    Firstly, all children who have been in school are already known to the relevant LA as schools have to inform the LA when a child deregistwrs, including the reason. The LA can then follow up by contacting the family, confirming the deregistration was voluntary and offering support or signposting to the local home education community. This can all be done now and does not require registration or monitoring of home educators. If the family did not wish to home educate, the LA is already duty bound to find that child an alternative. The problem is the LAs are not doing what they should be doing. Many families are being left to struggle because of a combination of insufficient funding (in schools and in the LA), poorly trained LA staff who do not fully understand about home education and have no resources or ability to actually support new home educators. This is a real problem and needs addressing.
    Secondly, the point that all of this misses is that it is the parents responsibility to educate their children and not the States. Most parents opt in to the school system, but when that system fails their child, they need to have an alternative and that is home education. The parent knows their child best and works with the child to discover the ways that will enable the child to learn and develop – just as they do for all other aspects of a childs life.
    So why is it OK for the State to interfere with this aspect of parental responsibility for a small group of families who have chosen to put the well being and education of their children first? No family would accept a Food Officer checking every month that the contents of your fridge and cupboards were suitable for your children! Parents are assumed to be feeding and caring for their children appropriately unless there is evidence otherwise.
    This is currently the law for home education and for families who electively home educate it works. It also works well for many who have been initially pushed into home education as the school system could not cope with their child, but once out of school and in the safety and love of the family, the child has rediscovered themselves and their desire to learn.
    Monitoring these families by people who have little clue about the myriad of ways children learn within home education would be extremely damaging, as would forcing these families to school at home. This is effectivley the state taking responsibility for education, by dictating what education should be for all children. Yet we know from the school system, it is not working.
    So I suggest to the Childrens Commissioner that she returns to the schools and prevents them from off rolling, ensures that there is sufficient variety of pedagogy and methodology of teaching within all schools to enable more children to fit into the system, to push for full funding for all SEN children and especially those who fall in the gaps – children suffering but schools refusing to accept they need assessing and help. Then change the system so it looks at the whole child and all their talents and skills, not just the results of exams that largely test rote learning and not understanding. Let kids be kids for longer by delaying formal education and enabling a play-based learning until at least age 6. These changes will reduce the numbers being forced into home education and will also help reduce the mental stresses children face within the school system.
    Registration and monitoring of elective home educators will force a bad system onto families that are doing the best for their children, it will spread a small amount of money even further making it less likely that those who really need help and support will actually get it and it creates a sense of fear and mistrust between home educators and LAs as the former fear being judged by the latter due to the LAs poor knowledge and experience of home education. Further, it is in effect treating home educators as criminals who need to be checked on just in case they are doing something wrong.
    Finally, if the main concern is abuse, then this can happen in all homes and research has shown that Social Services action is twice as likely in families of schooled and pre-school children than it is in home educating families, even though HE families are twice as likely to be reported (thanks to the media bias). So, based on this, perhaps all families should be monitored for abuse!

  8. So, the Children’s Commissioner DOES know which children are taken out of school. They don’t disappear into the thin air, aren’t “invisible” after all. The LAs do have the powers now, they don’t need any new ones, make them operate within their current remit.

    Also, I don’t understand what does “off-the-grid” means. We are home educating and very much on the grid – we use the local library once a fortnight and have between 15-20 book on loan at any time, we use local museums weekly, local parks daily, sport facilities almost daily. What is this “off-the-grid”? We are not in a hut in a forest akin unabomber cut off from civilization.

    CC is alienating a lot of home educators with her demagoguery. The school system and social provisions is failing and instead of looking for solutions and allies she is turning around and blaming the parents, some of them elected to home educate from day one as the best option for our children.

  9. May Ling Thomas

    Children who are deregistered from school are entirely known to the schools they have left and therefore the Local Authority. Therefore it seems to me that school by school data of how many children are leaving to be home educated seems completely irrelevant when it comes to your hyperbole of ‘invisible’ children. It can only really be used to prove how schools are not focused on the welfare of the children and how they are deliberately discriminating against children who are not neurotypical for financial, performance measuring or other reasons. I am confounded by your illogical logic and your lack of critical analysis – how did you get this job?! You seem to be missing the elephant in the room that, if you really cared about the welfare of children, would be fixing the broken school system that forces schools to prioritise money and measuring over the welfare – and education – they are tasked to provide on behalf of parents who rely on them.

    I also find the use of the phrase ‘off the grid’ very suggestive and disingenuous, as if those on the grid are somehow more cared for, which, given the evidence you are seeking to provide, is apparently not the case.

    “Meanwhile, 92 per cent of councils “do not feel they have enough powers to assure the safety of home-educated children”.”
    This is absurd; what have feelings got to do with it?! Ah, perhaps it’s because you don’t have any evidence that home educated children are actually more at risk than those at school. That’s why the government called the consultation, to try and find evidence, because they have none. Why would you make a proposal with no evidence to back it up? In my humble opinion that’s a shocking way for a government to function and deeply dishonest not to mention a waste of taxpayers money.

    A “clear case” for a register?
    A clear case that the children’s commissioner and those working with her to pursue this agenda are not doing it to improve the lives of our children.

  10. Schools are getting selfish and only care about themselves. Its a shame that teachers are not there to teach, but to climb the career ladder and earn extra money. They are pressurised by the government to show results only. Thats why they are stressed and not seeing pupils as human beings that have the right to be educated in a developed country. They don’t realise that this the future generation and do they want this country to turn into a third world country where there is hardly any educated people because the government doesn’t provide free education. Its sad . Its no wonder other countries are overtaking us because they value education for all . Even for the retired they have courses. These poor kids are then blamed for having problems later in life due to schools off rolling them.. they are left with nothing or very poor education leading to mental health problems and poverty.

  11. Children withdrawn from school to be home educated don’t ‘disappear’, the school informs the local authority and passes the child’s details on. Only children who never enrol in any school to begin with are unregistered, and there is no evidence to suggest a rise in that group, all the data is about school withdrawals.
    Where children are off-rolled, they should be entitled to compensation and re-enrolment, at that school or another school of their choice. Further, where schools cannot meet a child’s needs but the family do not wish to home educate, Local Authorities should fulfil their statutory duties to provide suitable alternative provision. Currently, very few do, and this is the main issue which needs addressing. School is not suitable for all children, but for those children there needs to be a credible offer of alternatives from the council, and home education only ever undertaken electively.

  12. Rather than looking at home education the government should be looking at the education system.

    Part of the pressures of off rolling stem from schools trying to teach their ridiculous targets which have been set by the government. They are so prioritise attendance and test results over the health and needs of children and that has ruined what used to be a fantastic education system.

    If the government don’t want to see a rise in home education then they need to be providing a suitable education system so people have a real choice in how their children are educated.

  13. Schooling is not the only or necessarily the best way to educate and form children to be hardworking, thoughtful and good citizens.
    The school system fails a shockingly large number of our children. The psychological damage of bullying and other abuses that children suffer is surely not acceptable.
    I know many families who educate their children from the home and who are bringing up well ajdusted adults who are set to make a positive mark on society.
    The problem lies with the archaic system of schools.

  14. Fee Berry

    I home educated my three children. Initially I was tricked into having an inspection from the local authority because they told me the lie that it was compulsory – in fact the inspector told me she thought the local authority could “vary” the education act locally! It was the last positive experience of my entire 13 years of unschooling my children, as the inspectors were not interested in what we were doing, theories of home education, or actual activities. They used a school-based tick box check list to inspect our provision. As Summerhill said about their own inspection, it’s like checking an English exam with the answers from a Maths test – totally inappropriate.

    One of the reasons that parents home educate is because they are rejecting schooling, rejecting this one-size-fits-all approach which assumes that children will be innumerate and illiterate if they don’t cram enough facts into them at an early enough age. Any parent knows that children learn to talk, walk, potty train and wean themselves at their own pace, and no amount of cajoling them to do it earlier will work. In fact in the case of potty training, trying to do it too early can completely mess it up. I think the same if true of reading, writing and arithmetic – do it too early, approach it in the wrong way and you may handicap a child for life by teaching them they’re stupid or that they just can’t do it.

    When I first withdrew my sons to home educate, I was very afraid that I might not teach them the right stuff. My breakthrough came when I realised that trying to teach them something I wasn’t completely confident in was disaster, but facilitating and learning alongside them was amazing. I don’t think I would have passed any subsequent inspection on the local education authority’s criteria, but I can’t have done too bad a job as my elder son has just collected his masters degree with distinction.

    We need some evidence based approach to the whole picture of education, because although some pupils succeed, a large number fail at the system we have now, which according to NASA works to kill creativity and innovation in pupils. People have been persuaded by the education industry that their way of cramming things into children is the only way to be. It isn’t true – autonomous home educators and unschoolers are proving that every day. Perhaps before starting to interfere in the process and force home educators to be like school, the authorities should look at what proper self-motivated home educators are achieving with alternative routes. If schools are excluding pupils by convincing parents to withdraw them and reluctantly home educate, that isn’t the same as a parent motivated to home educate their children as a better way. Maybe there should be some action to prevent schools offrolling – but I don’t think the solution is to impose restrictions on every home educator.

  15. Carole T

    There are a lot of good comments about the reasons why parents/carers home educate. Either from the desire to home educate or their child has been bullied/ excluded’poorly educated and there is no alternative. Comments are naturally from mostly personal experiences, but there are a number of hidden children at risk.
    Some children thrive outside the school system with plenty of extra learning opportunities but others can become feral and do not achieve what they could.
    Some children are merely kept at home or in abusive or single purpose communities and they would very much benefit from a “not in school” register to check on their health and welfare from birth. A national/international child at risk register could cover these infants and children up to the age of 16, and to include refugee children.