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Investigation: Minister intervenes as home education soars

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The government has intervened to urge parents not to take the decision to remove their children from school “lightly” after councils across England reported soaring increases in elective home education (EHE) registrations.

Elective home education is when a child is permanently removed from a school’s roll to be educated at home. It is different from home-schooling, and means parents or carers take sole responsibility for their child’s education, including any associated costs.

Only a small proportion of the nation’s children are home-educated, but registrations have rocketed this term, with some of the country’s largest local authorities reporting increases of more than 200 per cent.

People aren’t stupid. They look at year groups being sent home,  whilst at the same time [the government is] saying it’s completely safe

Baroness Berridge, the minister for the school system, this week urged parents considering home education to talk to schools.

“Home education is never a decision that should be entered into lightly. Now, more than ever, it is absolutely vital that any decision to home-educate is made with the child’s best interests at the forefront of everyone’s minds.”

Lincolnshire county council logged 387 EHE registrations in September and October this year, up from 124 in the same period last year, a rise of 212 per cent.

However, a spokesperson said a part of this difference “appears to be driven by people applying later than usual this year”, as the numbers for March to August were “less than half that of last year”.

In Kent, there were 588 new EHE registrations in September this year, up 180 per cent from 210 in the same month last year.

In one case, 56 pupils did not return to one school – Hartsdown Academy in Thanet – at the beginning of September.

Matthew Tate, the school’s head, said the rise was “absolutely due to Covid”, but that after meeting with parents, the school had managed to get all but two of the pupils back.

“When people understand the commitment that they’re taking on … and the costs of it, the costs of exams and those kinds of things, we quite often can get them to rethink.”

Tate also accused ministers of “dishonesty” over the safety of schools.

“People aren’t stupid. They look at year groups being sent home, schools part-closing, all those kinds of things, whilst at the same time [the government is] saying it’s completely safe and it’s not spreading in schools.”

Craig Chapman, Kent County Council’s interim head of fair access, said some parents had chosen to educate their children at home “as a temporary measure because they have concerns relating to Covid-19 and are not yet ready to return their child/children to school”.

In Essex, the number of children being electively home-educated rose 1,588 at the end of September last year to 1,903 at the same point this year.

A spokesperson said that while there had been a “gradual rise” in the number of pupils being electively home-educated in recent years, the increase this September was “greater than usual”.

“We cannot state that the additional increase is due to coronavirus, but we acknowledge that, for some families, this may have been one of the considerations that led them to de-register their child.”

Derbyshire also reported a 90 per cent rise in registrations this term compared with last year – from 78 to 148, while in Hertfordshire registrations rose by 76 per cent and in Hampshire 51 per cent.

In Leeds, the city council received 78 elective home education registrations in the first three weeks of September, up from 32 in the same period last year.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, the city’s executive member for learning, skills and employment, said the council had tried to be “as communicative as possible” with parents, but said some had been “spooked” by mixed messages from government.

Now, more than ever, it is absolutely vital that any decision to home-educate is made with the child’s best interests at the forefront of everyone’s minds

“The level of uncertainty will be contributing to the problem, because it does filter through, and the end result is parents choosing to take their children out of schools,” he said.

We approached the 20 councils with the highest number of schools, and found others that had published data on the problem recently.

The findings come after an Ofsted pilot study of 130 schools revealed that one third had “unusually high numbers” of pupils being taken off-roll.

In an interview with The Guardian, Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, warned that misinformation on social media was a contributing factor.

Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at the ASCL leadership union, said the increases were “of great concern”.

“We would urge parents against removing their children from school unless they are fully confident that they are able to deliver the depth and breadth of learning that their children require.”



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20 Comments

  1. David Hough

    From the home educators’ perspective, what we are seeing is a mix. Yes, there are people who are removing their children from school because their options are sending the child in when they don’t consider it safe (many say a vulnerable person is part of their household), getting fined, or educating at home, and they consider that they have no alternative but to remove their children from school.

    On the other side, there are a significant number who have discovered that since schools closed earlier in the year, their children are much happier, less stressed and doing much better academically than they were at school and wish to continue with that.

    The school system may eventually get back those in the first category, but should take a long, hard look at itself if they want to encourage any of the second group back. As for the last statement in your article, it is clear that many people in the education sector have little understanding of the potential of home education and how it works in practice.

  2. Lisa Campbell

    Allow parents to request remote learning or blended learning for their children instead of threatening them with fines or court action for keeping their children and families safe. There is no social distancing within classrooms and other parents are sending in their children with all sorts of coughs and sneezes. Without proper test and trace it is not safe within schools

  3. Marianne Clarke

    Parents are between a rock and a hard place. The policy is that parents will be fined if children don’t go back to school. There are millions of medically vulnerable families who are being threatened with fines if they don’t send their children back. They are left with two options; deregister or send their children back and risk the death of a family member. I chose to deregister.
    The government has Oak National Academy in place. They should have allowed medically vulnerable families to learn from home, taught by medically vulnerable teachers. Many home educating families are using tutors on Skype or zoom for lessons in small groups. It can be done. This would have meant smaller class sizes for the kids and teachers physically attending school.

  4. What do I think…

    Dear Lincolnshire – in England a parent does not have to apply to home educate unless their child is in a special school.

    Dear Matthew Tate, Kent – why did you call a meeting before doing your lawful duty and deregistering the pupils? How exactly did you change the parents’ minds? Were you entirely truthful or did you spin the usual lies about it costing a huge amount, needing a degree and a teaching qualification and having to follow the NC? Kudos for acknowledging that schools aren’t safe though.

    Dear Leeds – received? It sounds as if you are demanding that parents do something that isn’t legally required of them.

    What the last few months have emphasised in support groups is that most Local Authorities lie. Not ‘bend the truth’ but outright lie. They lie to parents, and schools, about the obligations legislation places
    a. on the parents
    b. on the LA
    c. on the school

    LAs love to claim that
    – parents must ‘apply’ to home ed
    – that their request and provision must be assessed before permission is granted
    – that schools must not deregister the pupil until given permission by the LA
    – that parents must follow the national curriculum
    – that parents must allow the LA into their homes
    – that parents have to have a timetable, a school room, a formal curriculum
    – that parents must involve a qualified teacher to verify their claims
    – that people with 5 GCSEs (seriously, this can be verified by checking the job adverts) are qualified to judge the provision parents are making
    – etc ad nauseam….

    Very seldom do the schools or LAs direct parents to either the Education Act, the Elective Home Education Guide for Local Authorities (EHEGLA) or the Pupil Registration Regulations. They can’t afford to, for the very obvious reason that doing so would empower parents to insist that the LAs act lawfully.

    All in all a poor show. And then websites like this just repeat what the LAs say without challenging them. ‍♀️

  5. Well MPs shouldn’t of taken the threat to children’s and families health so lightly and allowed schools to open like this. Schools are not safe and very little has been done to make them safe. You have allowed for no temporary hybrid learning. You have given parents no other choices but to be fined or deregister. Honestly you have lost the trust of a lot of parents. My child is only an infant but I am already planning on homeschooling her now because I have zero faith in the school systems now they have clearly shown they care very little about children’s welfare, mental health, physical health, or education. Children are being treated like Commodities and used a political pawns and it’s utterly disgusting. No wonder parents are opting to homeschool now!

  6. Samantha Maguire

    This article is so poorly written, with typographical and factual errors. The term is “elective home education” not “time education” as stated. It is not necessarily different to home schooling, as stated, as home education can involve a schooling approach, child led autonomous approach, tutors, and all manner of tools for learning outside of a school setting. Please please get your facts right about this subject. Too many are misinformed and too many are sharing misinformation. Too few parents know their children’s rights and too few are able to support their children when suffering under the school system due to misinformation and ignorance of their rights and duties. Thank you

  7. Linda Screen

    98 children deregistered in Pembrokeshire from March to September alone – we are waiting to see if the insane ‘all in’ policy continues after half term in Wales and will be joining them if it does

  8. Schools are the epicentre of infections. All the hand-washing and table-cleaning are only waste of time if there are no compulsory (elective is not good enough) face mask in common areas AND in class, worn by teachers AND pupils. Crowded places are to be avoided. High contact places are to be avoided. Enclosed places are to be avoided. This has been the very clear message by WHO and the scientific community for MONTHS. How is this not applicable to schools?! Any parent who is really looking at the information available is well aware of the very high risk posed by schools. And how children *might* not get extremely ill (still debatable) but definitely pass it on to family members. Add to that the unreasonable fining of concerned parents and you are still wondering why the increased in de registration?

  9. Dr Richard House

    Notice the panicking mainstream… – Ofsted’s Spielman blames the explosion of home-schooling on ‘misinformation on social media’’; a union leader is “greatly concerned”; and a school head claims that the explosion in home schooling is “absolutely due to Covid”. Notice also the common factor – viz. that they all have vested interested in the status quo that is institutionalised mainstream schooling. Nowhere in the report do we see the more plausible explanation for this dramatic trend – that is, that through lockdown, perhaps for the first time many parents and families have had the opportunity directly to compare home-based learning versus institutional schooling, and their respective impact on family life and their children’s learning experience and well-being; and they’ve thus been woken up to the joys and freedoms of the former, and the many costs of the latter. Just read Anna Dusseau’s new book on home schooling (Hawthorn Press, 2020) to read chapter-and-verse on home schooling and its many family-friendly advantages. Of course many families will not be in any position to consider a home-schooling option; but for those families who do have this flexibility and possibility, the longer the pandemic continues, the more families are going to discover the many benefits that home schooling can confer. And as this process unfolds, just watch the moves of a panicking establishment (politicians, Ofsted, etc.), wedded to an Audit Culture factory-farming schooling system, doing all they can to discourage parents and families from choosing this liberating option.

    • Well said. I completely agree. I haven’t deregistered my daughter because of covid. The school environment was not suitable for my child, and she was horrendously bullied by a member of staff because she had panic attacks. She’d been asking for a long time to be home educated and over lockdown proved she was willing and able to work hard and her anxiety decreased. She now scores top marks in English and maths with online tutors. That’s all the proof that I need to know that we have made the right decision.

    • Michelle Bini

      I love Dr. Richard House’ comment. As a parent who opted to home educate two sons from 2008, I have seen the benefits of a home based education first hand. I got to spend time with my children, we learnt together and we tailored the education to suit the child, mostly facilitating their interests rather than the inculcation that takes place in schools.

      Contrary to popular belief you dont have to be a teacher, have a degree or, indeed, any specific skill set for your children to successfully learn. An interest and belief in your children’s abilities gives them a strong foundation to thrive. “Broad and balanced curriculum” can be left in the classroom where a teacher has 30 + pupils and cannot possibly specialise, unlike the parent of a child or children choosing to take personal responsibility for their educational development.

      As the founder of a Nottingham(shire) Home Education Facebook group with around 2,000 members, (and growing) we have seen an increase over the last year or so, not only due to lockdown, but also, it seems, due to an increase in Academies. Schools that are run like a business seem not to want the children who cannot attain “C” grades or above. Children who are neuro-diverse; dyslexic, Autistic, ADHD are increasingly being off-rolled, or through various types of bullying, forced into home education.

      Home education, as it stands, is fit for purpose. It provides a place, not only for parents who want to take personal responsibility for their children’s education for philosophical reasons, but also a place for those children who do not fit in to the one-type-fits-all school system.

      Education takes many forms and whilst the government may not like the idea of free-thinking young people, capable of independent research and learning, they should not pretend their concerns are for children receiving a potentially poor quality home based education when thousands of children still leave school every year unable to read or write.

  10. Debra Hankin

    I am a qualified teacher and We have home educated our children for 12 years. It is so sad that the education of schooled children is being disrupted so much, it didn’t have to be this way. I am glad we home educate. One of our daughters is year 10 and her education hasn’t been disrupted at all- she will be sitting 5 GCSEs in 2021 and another 5 in 2022

  11. Kelly grace kirk

    Were were shielding and believe me if it wasn’t law the children would be home to protect the teachers and us there parents we havent socialised at all and all the parents seem to have no regard for anyone else so it will be the ones that have stayed in will get it through no fault of their own because other people are selfish id rather have my life and lose my social life for a year id least I would be alive and so would my family and no times are so uncertain anxiety worse than when the virus started

    • Sadly, this virus does not comply with any science known to man. Nor do the media claims agree with the Death Notices in the newspapers, the National Statistics, nor historical figures. The adults who are not complying are those who are free thinkers, people who understand science – and there are now far more people like that. I really do feel sorry for those who are living in fear – it should not be so.

  12. Lee Daniel

    After weeks of requests for virtual learning from my children’s School. today I have received the final warning for Fine and court, if my children are not back to school by next week. therefore I have not left with no option except to deregister them.

  13. I agree that homeschooling offers much for children to a certain degree. There is far too much outside interference in children’s education now ‘which has proved to be highly detrimental to their future and subsequently the future of the country. But while a child can have far more confidence in themselves, be able to think and research on their own – they do have the setback of not being able to socialise and compare notes with children of their own age. Far more useful, would be a group of parents of same-age children working together – this would also give the parents breathing space to ensure lessons are continuously interesting.

  14. We didn’t want to home educate our child but as her mental health was left in tatters in a mainstream primary where they refused to accommodate her autism and sensory differences we were left with no choice but to withdraw her (she had threatened to kill herself on 3 occasions, she was 9, school said she was manipulating us, the MH professionals disagreed). When you have “zero tolerance” in schools, where obstacle after obstacle is put in place to stop struggling kids even getting into school in the morning, where children who are neurodiverse or traumatised are blamed and punished and blamed and punished in an education system that has lost its way so thoroughly in the mists of corporate values rather than human and humane values, what else are you to do? Our LA put “elective home education” on our daughter’s EHCP. Elective? Electing to have an alive child rather than a dead one. Disgusted. God help the poor children, because absolutely no one else is.