Home education

Support services: ‘Rebuild it all around schools’

Variation in support for home educated children shows Labour's uphill battle to rebuild services around schools

Variation in support for home educated children shows Labour's uphill battle to rebuild services around schools

Cash-strapped councils’ spending on support for home-educated pupils has soared by 73 per cent in six years, but some local authorities have no dedicated staff dealing with the issue at all.

The findings are a further sign of the uphill battle faced by the new government to rebuild support services around schools after years of austerity.

Council home education teams monitor children’s progress and advise on issues like exam entries and curriculum resources.

Freedom of Information Act data suggests council spending on home education support ballooned to £20.5 million last year, up from £11.8 billion in 2018-19.

Some councils employ large teams, but others have no dedicated staff.

And while the amount that councils spent on support rose 73 per cent between 2018 and 2024, the number of staff dedicated to home education increased by just 45 per cent.

The rate at which children left the classroom for home education doubled last year, driven in part by parents who believe that schools and the services around them are not meeting their children’s needs.

Many of Labour’s wider policies relating to children will be centred around schools, with new nurseries in spare primary classrooms, breakfast clubs and even supervised toothbrushing.

Its approach has been dubbed “SureStart 2.0”, named after the Tony Blair-era policy which saw children’s centres set up to support families of young children.

Parents ‘need that support’

But new ministers face having to rebuild capacity in council teams, too.

Wendy Charles-Warner, who leads the Education Otherwise charity, said parents were “very often at their wits’ end. They need that support.”

Council officers “do miracles on practically negligible budgets, cajoling outside agencies, twisting the arms of suppliers, begging, pleading and desperately trying to get resources. But that should not be how it works.”

Ed Dorrell, partner at Public First, said Labour would need to look at schools and external services together.

Ed Dorrell

“We need to essentially rebuild the whole set-up, the whole system of support for young people and families around schools.”

Earlier this year, a child safeguarding practice review panel found that children in home education had died or were abused because “the protective factor that school can offer was missing from their lives”.

Just ‘one or two part-time staff’

The review found that council home education teams “can lack necessary capacity and safeguarding knowledge”.

Some teams had just “one or two part-time staff”. A lack of funding was “a significant issue”.

In Derbyshire, the number of staff providing home education support has almost doubled from 10 in 2018 to 19 today. But the council now spends around 30 per cent less.

Of 53 councils that supplied full figures, 10 had one or fewer full-time home education staff last year. Some councils had none.

Portsmouth said it would “welcome additional ring-fenced funding to support this area of our work”.

The London Borough of Haringey’s spending on support rocketed from £41,216 in 2018 to £196,632 last year, reflecting an increase in home education after the pandemic.

Brent’s spending rose to £55,800 in 2018-19 but has since fallen to around £30,000.

Gwen Grahl, Brent’s cabinet member for schools, said “resources need to be stretched to cover this increase”.

Labour has taken an interest in school models which provide wraparound support and childcare for their communities, including at Oasis Community Learning.

Steve Chalke, the organisation’s founder, said “we have to get away from regarding the child as an individual.

“We say, ‘this child is missing from school’. Actually, we have to link school to families and community, and get [them] working together… that is the only way of solving these issues.”

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