Home education

Rate of pupils leaving for home education doubles

Poorer areas see some of the biggest rises, as more parents withdraw children because of unmet needs

Poorer areas see some of the biggest rises, as more parents withdraw children because of unmet needs

The extent of the London school exodus has been exposed in a new data analysis

The rate at which children left the classroom for home education doubled last year, with big increases in some of the country’s most deprived areas, a Schools Week investigation suggests.

And while home education was previously seen primarily as a lifestyle choice, parents are now increasingly withdrawing their children because they feel the school system has failed them.

Analysis of freedom of information data from around two thirds of councils suggests around 140,000 pupils nationally were home educated at some point in 2022-23, a rise of 12 per cent on the 125,000 the year before.

The pupil population grew by just 0.8 per cent over the same period.

The 12 per cent increase is double the 6 per cent rise from 2020-21 to 2021-22. The number of children now in home education is 80 per cent higher than in pre-pandemic 2018-19.

Heather Sandy, who chairs the education policy committee of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said councils were “now seeing more children who are less engaged with an education system which does not meet the needs of all learners”.

“This is evidenced by the rising number of school exclusions, persistent absenteeism and a year-on-year increase in the number of children being home educated”.

Poorer areas see larger rises

Of the 15 council areas that saw the largest increase in home education, six are ranked in the highest quintile for child poverty. Nine have above-average rates of free school meals eligibility.

They include Hartlepool, where 37 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals, and numbers in home education doubled last year to 189.

A spokesperson said the council was “very concerned”. They worked with parents who indicated their wish to home educate and encouraged a “two-week reflection period” before removal.

In Knowsley, four in 10 pupils is eligible for free school meals. The number of home educated pupils jumped 54 per cent from 154 in 2021-22, to 237 in 2022-23.

A spokesperson said the pandemic “brought greater awareness of home schooling as an option, and an increase in online support for parents making this choice”.  But some parents were choosing home education “where there child has persistent absence from school”.

The council runs home education “pilots”, which allow schools, improvement teams and parents to “work together to discuss EHE in more detail before a final decision is made”.

‘Unmet need’ becomes key driver

The charity Education Otherwise said its recent survey of 473 new home-educating parents revealed that almost 54 per cent cited “some form of unmet need”.

Thirty-seven per cent said school wasn’t meeting their child’s mental health need, while 13 per cent pointed to unmet SEND needs.

Other reasons given included “general dissatisfaction with the school system” (24 per cent), home education being better than school (13 per cent) and the curriculum being neither “suitable nor relevant” (9 per cent).

Wendy Charles-Warner, from the charity, said “lifestyle choice was once the primary driver for home education”.

“Now, overall, we have seen a very significant increase in parents coming to home education who do not want to make that choice but who feel that the school system is failing their child.”

Government data shows older pupils are far more likely to be excluded. A third of children educated at home on census day in October 2022 were in years 10 or 11. Just 3 per cent were in year 1.

Asked for the primary reason for withdrawal, 16 per cent cited philosophical or preferential reasons, 9 per cent cited mental health and 6 per cent reported general “dissatisfaction with the school”.

‘Lack of understanding’

Katie Cox’s autistic daughter started secondary school last September, after being unable to attend primary for two years due to anxiety that developed as she entered key stage 2.

“We had a feeling this was going to be a hurdle to overcome, but unfortunately after a few days she was not coping very well at all.”

She said her daughter was not given flexibility over her uniform, which she needed because of sensory processing issues, and attempts to create a part-time timetable broke down.

Cox said the school showed a “lack of understanding” of her daughter’s needs, and that she felt “forced” to withdraw her, adding that her daughter was now “thriving”.

“It has not been an easy ride,” she said, adding that parents who home educate needed more support, for example with online tutoring.

Professor Becky Allen, chief analyst at Teacher Tapp, told Schools Week England is in a “relatively unusual situation” in being “pretty liberal” in its approach to home education, she said.

‘Could be need to protect most vulnerable’

“I can see down the track, we will have to make some tough decisions. And some of them will feel pretty illiberal. I think that’s the thing that the home education groups quite rightly worry about. But we do illiberal things in society because we’re trying to protect the most vulnerable children.

“And it will become a pressing concern if we just see very large numbers of children from backgrounds where the family don’t have the resources to support independent education sitting at home all day.”

Dr Becky Allen

In Torbay, numbers in home education have almost doubled in five years. Most of that increase came last year, when the figure increased from 440 to 725, a rise of 65 per cent.

The council said its “particular concern is the significant increase in elected home education numbers in years 3,7 and 9”.

The year 3 cohort “appears to be seeing the impact from Covid and fewer opportunities to attend early years settings due to lockdown restrictions. Parents say that their child is struggling with school routines and practices”.

Calderdale’s numbers increased by 38 per cent.

Julie Jenkins, its director of children’s services, said reasons were “complex and varied”, but the council’s “primary interest lies in the suitability of parents’ education provision and not their reason for doing so”.

But it is not just poorer areas that have seen large rises. The London boroughs of Kingston and Richmond, both of which have far-below-average rates of free school meals eligibility, reported increases of 60 and 50 per cent respectively last year.

“Parents also seem to be far more aware of the option to EHE than they were prior to 2019 and we are seeing a slight increase in parents commissioning tutoring with online providers,” a spokesperson for Kingston said.

Ministers back MP’s not-in-school register

Sandy warned home education figures were “simply estimates” as councils do not have powers to compel parents to tell them is they are educating their children at home.

The government this week pledged to “work with” Conservative MP Flick Drummond who is trying to introduce legislation for a register of children not in school, after years of delays.

Boris Johnson’s government pledged to introduce such a register in 2022 as part of its landmark schools bill.

Geoff Barton
Geoff Barton

The DfE said it awaited the second reading of Drummond’s draft law on March 15 “and look forward to working with her as she takes this through” the commons.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said he was “concerned by the rapid increase” in home education.

He said a “major factor is likely the rising prevalence of anxiety and poor mental health among young people and the difficulty in accessing specialist mental health support, for which there are often lengthy waiting lists”.

“It’s completely unacceptable that the repeated failure to introduce this register means we still don’t have a precise understanding of exactly how many children are not in school and assurance that they are all receiving appropriate oversight and support.”

Allen added that England was “entering this world where different kinds of patchworks of education are possible, but the vast majority is still going to school” – raising questions about whether activities outside of school need to be regulated.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We support the right of parents to educate their children at home but all children should receive a suitable education regardless of where they are educated.”

Ombudsman complaints reveal home education woes

Complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman also reveal reports from parents that they felt forced to home educate their children.

Last September, the ombudsman upheld a complaint from a parent against Lancashire County Council.

It found the authority at fault for not concluding education, health and care plan annual reviews, not providing alternative provision and not securing a suitable school place for the child quickly enough.

The ombudsman found the child had been registered as home educated since 2019, “although Mr X said that he felt he did not have a choice but to home educate”.  The council “agreed to remedy the injustice its actions have caused to Mr X and S”.

Another complaint against Lancashire was upheld in October 2023. The ombudsman found there was fault in how the council “failed to arrange all the provision in Y’s education health and care plan and failed to review the education it did provide for over four months”.

A parent had sent the council a plan for their child’s home education. There was “no evidence” the council responded the plan at the time, prompting a complaint that the council had not provided equipment needed for an art course.

“This caused avoidable distress and uncertainty to Ms X and Y. The Council agreed to apologise, pay a financial remedy and review how it arranges and monitors home education.”

Backlog of EHCP reviews

Last November, the ombudsman upheld a complain against Derbyshire County Council.

It heard how a parent had asked the council for an EHCP for their child as he was “struggling with attending and engaging in school”.

“She said the school told her she could be fined due to his failure to attend school, and arranged for a safe and well check of X. So, she decided to deregister X from school and home educate him.”

It found the council at fault for “failing to adhere to the statutory timescales, how it communicated with Mrs D, and its failure to provide X with alternative provision for a six-month period”.

The council “agreed to apologise to Mrs D and make payment to acknowledge the injustice this caused them”.

In December, a complaint against Leicestershire council was upheld. It related to a request for a home-educated child to attend school. The council refused to accommodate the child until he had an up-to-date EHCP, which it had failed to review for several years.

The ombudsman found that as of July 31 2022, “there were 35 delayed annual reviews for children registered as electively home educated”.

The council “accepts it failed to review Mr C’s plan between 2016-2021. We found the Council also delayed completing a review it started in 2022 and that its communications with Mrs Z were unsatisfactory”, the ombudsman said.

The council “agreed to apologise and make a payment to Mrs Z and Mr C. The Council is already working on improving its special educational needs services and because of this we have not asked it to make further service improvements”.

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Freddie Whittaker

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  1. Dr Becky Allen clearly hasn’t got a clue what home education or, indeed, any education involves. The idea of “sitting at home all day doing education” is absurd. Home educators go on educational trips to museums, galleries and workshops. We engage our children through both traditional academic methods and by going out in the field to inspire them. When so called “experts” demonstrate such a limited, narrow view of education is it any wonder parents are veering away from the school system?

  2. People have stopped consenting the their children being subjected to a failing system, that is the reason this law exists, it is a democratic valve that prevents poor state provision, unfit curricula, and authoritarian political agendas reaching the daily lives of THEIR children.

    “… support independent education sitting at home all day.” This shows the level of ignorance within the mainstream schooling system that parents are either compelled to, need to, or want to replicate a school at home approach. As a former state school teacher I can testify to the harm that mindset has caused so many children, it sickens me.

    Stop calling EHE young people pupils, that term is defined in law as someone registered at a ‘school’, which is also clearly defined in law by HOURS and other criteria. Try actually reading the laws instead of policies, look at the source material.

    Stop sensationalising an increase in numbers as ‘doubled’, an increase of… is the most accurate and non sensational. 1 to 2 is doubled, the following year it’s 3, then 4 for a sustained increase. Sequences anyone?

    ADCS personnel have never home educated, and never made any effort to understand anything other than schooling. They have always conflated education and welfare, chasing perfectly adequate parents whilst allowing their most vulnerable children (in school or otherwise) to flounder, and sadly drown, whilst over worked or poorly trained social workers fail in the welfare department.

    Illiberal is another word for controlling, authoritarian, and in some cases totalitarian. Protecting a few through stripping everyone of their consent is anti democratic, dangerous at a level of everyone’s parenting, and dillusional. The harm caused to all (well researched) by these measures is not a balance for adding to the already burgeoning system of the harm they are duty bound to deal with.

    If LA’s actually had any real concern for the education of these purportedly struggling parents, they would take one simple measure and ensure that all LA run schools allow EHE young people to sit as private candidates where the school has capacity, at cost. So about £80 per subject, the parent pays locally instead of the £200+ per subject, plus travel and often accommodation in another county EHE parents have to pay. Do this and EHE parents will take all those who have a claim of concerns more seriously. But as ever, that us not the intention, to help.

    It is not the intention to include, to assist, to share any tax payers (EHE parents do pay that too) assets, or to share for a few hours to sit at an end of compulsory education exam in facilities we all paid for. You simply believe the state should have primacy over parents in all aspects. It is not a right to home educate, education is a parental duty, not the statesvunless a parent consents to what the state is offering.

  3. Surely this conversation cannot be divorced from the epidemic of underfunding which is making our schools unsafe for children. We expect children to cope with 5 or 7 years of high school in schools where the majority of staff might last half that before moving on for their welfare or, in the case of far too many new teachers, leaving the profession. Why are we surprised that the pressures and stresses impacting the adults in the school environment should not equally impact the children in a space which is an interacting, interdependent community?

  4. Perhaps to be expected from a publication called Schools Week, but the underlying assumption here is that home education is difficult and liable to failure (especially if undertaken by poor people!) In fact, existing research from the USA indicates that home educated children outperform their school peers, including those from lower income and lower education families. Especially in the era of the internet, it is very easy to acquire high quality and high density information from home, to work at the child’s pace and follow their interests – all of which combine to make home education much more efficient than school.

    In terms of the framing, it is frustrating to see home education to meet a child’s needs being presented in a negative light. A decade or so ago, when “lifestyle choice” was more common than unmet need, home educating parents were presented as frivolously choosing to remove their children from school without considering the child’s needs or interests. The same types – teacher union reps and council officials – used the opposite argument to reach the same conclusion, namely that home education should be monitored and curtailed.

    The current legal arrangement is very reasonable, protects children better than proposed alternatives, and allows for resources to be used efficiently: parents are responsible for their child’s education, and may delegate to schools or arrange the education directly. If there is cause for concern on educational or safeguarding grounds, local authorities have the power to investigate, and intervene if problems are found. If parents wish to cease home educating, the local authority must arrange for a school place to be found or provide tutors if no places are available. No surprise, then, that home educators resist attempts to change the status quo to one which restricts their options and wastes money investigating families who are doing fine.

  5. Home educating former teacher

    It’s completely bizarre that the response of experts quoted in this piece to the problem of increasing numbers of families feeling schools cannot meet their children’s needs is to suggest changes to the monitoring of home education instead of changes to the school system, or more funding for SEND or improvements to CAMHS.
    Many of these parents will have spent years trying to get mental health support, sitting on lengthy waiting lists for help for their child, battling an adversarial system for SEND provision, struggling daily to support their distressed children into school. In that context a 2-week cooling off period seems insulting. These decisions are not made overnight on a whim and many would far rather their child was able to go to school than take on the immense commitment, not to mention expense of home educating.
    If there is a genuine concern that families with fewer resources will end up with children ‘sitting at home all day’ (a pretty insulting assumption to be honest) then surely the solution is to either resource the families, or address the reasons why the parents felt the child’s school was not meeting their needs. A register for the sole aim of identifying home educating families will not achieve this if the only response LAs really have is to issue school attendance orders to get children back into schools that weren’t working for them in the first place. If the register were to be accompanied by serious offers of LA support – access to tutoring, access to alternative learning, GCSE exam fees paid for and a statutory duty to provide exam centres, for example, then more home educators might be open to it. Without that, we do risk taking a very “illiberal” approach to many families whose crime seems to be that they are more interested in their children’s education and wellbeing than the state apparently is.

  6. Amanda Godwin

    Parental rights mean it is the parents choice if they enroll in the free state education system. If parents choose not to they have to fund their child’s education. Why do they need to explain themselves to a 3rd party. Customers don’t have to explain why they aren’t using a service in any other scenario. (Hi it’s BT, why haven’t you signed up to our broadband, we need your details on our voluntary register. What company are you using for broadband? Virgin. We don’t believe you are with Virgin. We want to get a compulsory register to make sure you are getting broadband. This is to make sure your family can communicate with the outside world because broadband is the ONLY way to communicate. Plus by signing up we can support you with ads through the post and phone calls so it’s in your best interests.’

    Local Authorities have no duty to provide any support and they don’t.

    Articles dressing up the register as a gift of help are misinforming the rest of the population. Even those known by the LA (that’s every child that came out of school) have to ring round exam centres to find ones with the odd space available for an external candidate. Parents pay for every GCSE exam themselves at approx £150 -£200 each. The centres (including schools) can’t often honour access arrangements so SEN children have to go without extra time etc or not sit the exam. The government tried to help that by saying support SEN or don’t take external candidates. That lost home educators a lot of centres where they were unable to accommodate SEN. Home education relays on good will and understand by exam centres. LA could help but don’t want to.

    All that anyone in power or the LA seems to want to do is force children back into a school that was making the child so unhappy they weren’t learning. They weren’t thriving. The schools weren’t listening. The kids weren’t even coping which led to the parents stepping up.

    A parent that went to those lengths to safeguard their child is not the problem!

    As it is once a local authority has your contact information they are only suppose to enquire what you are doing. But now they don’t trust parents are being honest with no grounds for this distrust. The Home Ed link worker is often not a teacher or educated in home education, some have failed to even read the government guidelines on home education. They shouldn’t, but often do inflict their personal view of how they feel education should be executed. This might be school at home. They confuse their role are they safe guarding or checking on the education of the child.

    What is deemed as a suitable education, and a full time education to one is not the same for another. Vague statements need to be clearly defined it you legislate against it with cavities for SEN. But of course this won’t happen because this would open the gates to claims for school children who have been failed by the free state education system.

    Today’s free state education seems purely interested in attendance rates. SEN children brought in to sign first register. Placed in a “learning support” classroom where learning isn’t anything beyond reading a book or online class in silence. By lunchtime the disruptive students have been banished to learning support meaning the SEN students unable to cope with the disruption have to go home on a flexible timetable just as soon as they have signed the second register. This is NOT education this is an admin exercise.

    The most alarming thing to our community should be the large numbers of teachers that home educate their children because the system isn’t good enough for their children. They seem what it does so they home educate.

    Often home educators are thought of as a parents and children sat at the kitchen table, but home education is more of a remote learning. You meet up with the home education community attend sports sessions and tutors. It’s your responsibility to remain present at all times for safeguarding. Your responsibility like it is when you attend after school groups to request to view a DBS if you plan to leave.

    But lastly let’s address the register. You already have all of your ex-school children and their reasons on a list. No changes/improvements have been implemented because there is no money in schools to stop more from leaving. Your just watching them walk out the door each with the same reasons. You would like the names and reasons for those children that never attended school. Your offering nothing, but paperwork to complete and threats to put children back in school. So you have to make this a compulsory register, which is costing lots of money they you could have given to schools to solve the problems causing children to leave. The law abiding will comply with your compulsory register, but you are seeking the non law abiding, the child abusers. Child abuse is a crime why would a child abuser care if they get a SAO (school attendance order) for not registering their child when their crime of child abuse is far more serious. You are failing to put into place any form of checks on the data in your compulsory register so you are simply getting a document of law abiding parents to harass. It’s a mystery why home educated parents wouldn’t be keen on this idea. Isn’t it?!

    But what about school children, are they safe? They are in school, they can’t live with child abusers the teachers would know. But the newspaper tragedies say otherwise.

    Maybe instead you should listen to the lord that suggested the computer databases linked up would be a better source or a register than asking individuals to get in touch. Generate a register of children from immigration births, deaths register. Giving a list of all children 0-18. Cross reference with the schools registers and link to the police database to find those families living with known criminals. Share this information with social services. Get rid of the home ed team and put their budget in the social services team. Through the compulsory register money at the schools and then give both social services, the NHS mental health team and schools the funding they actually need. Stop micro managing schools so real teachers can return and teach, instead of these management teams you have put in charge to collect data and reduce costs.

    Shake the education system up!

  7. Home education is hugely varied – some is great and involves lots of trips and broad experiences. Some children have ended up in ‘home education’ because of schools’ failure to provide for them, but do not go on trips or do interesting activities because their parents are at work all day. Some of these parents didn’t want to remove their children from school, and some do leave them on the school roll, though they don’t attend; the parents really want the school to provide some teaching or at the very least send work home that their child can do so as not to lose out entirely, but schools may not have the willingness or capacity to do this.

    An example: a child who did fine in primary school, but has severe anxiety around attending a much larger secondary unless it is possible to work in a separate quiet space, has had a maximum of 1-2 hours a week of education over the past 1.5 years. A little has been provided online, some involves attending a small group session for one hour in a school day, and no work has been sent home to be done independently. Half way through year 8 they have already been told that they won’t be able to do any GCSEs except possibly maths and English because there is no teaching available for other subjects and they are already too far behind. This is not technically home education but school education. The school is being funded to provide it but does not do so. The parents are pressing for more but are unable to provide education themselves. Who cares about these children and how would any register help them?

  8. Here in Exeter and Devon the main driver for removing children from school is the punitive behaviour policies in Trust schools where adherence to these policies is more important than the children in their care. Examples of this include removal from class for minor uniform and personal equipment failures such as having one’s tie on incorrectly, shirt out, wrong socks or wrong shoes, not having a particular item in one’s pencil case, or being one minute late for class, or asking to use the lavatory in class time or even not finishing a task without asking why that might be. There is no leeway for any child. It’s just ‘behaviour point – off to the punishment room for you!’
    In some schools this could even mean isolation in a cupboard. Education comes way down the priority for these schools, well behind implementing these draconian policies. Some children spend more time in punishment rooms than in class. These children are missing huge chunks of their education. They have become disaffected and disinterested. Who could blame them?
    Trusts now have the monopoly of schools in Exeter and Devon so choice of any alternative is non existent. The only option for parents is home schooling especially for children who have become so anxious about doing anything wrong even if they never do and also for those children who aren’t being taught in class on a regular basis.
    Let’s stop blaming the pandemic, let’s look at the real reasons why thousands of children are being removed from Trust schools. This is now a national disgrace, not just here in Devon but across the country where these untried and unregulated government funded policies are punishing children daily just for being children.

    • I am in total agreement with your assessment that particularly in rural schools where travelling to an alternative secondary school is not a choice, EHE becomes the only solution. The knock on effect will be seen in these areas in the next few years as mental health issues along with anti-social behaviour and unemployment will increase. This unfortunate side effect of punitive behaviour approaches has already been documented in the Charter schools of Chicago. School need to educate all those in their community and not follow a path that leads to academic or social cleansing for the sake of a P8 score.

  9. If there’s reason why parents have decided to homeschool their children, why would it help to create a register and start monitoring how they operate outside the school system? It seems that instead of investing effort to rectify the school system they will rather demonstrate that parents are failing with home education so to force them back to school system. IMO this contradicts human rights in a democratic country.