Councils in England have identified a “rapid surge” in the number of parents choosing to take their children out of school to teach them at home, with a 34% jump in pupils being electively home educated on last year’s figures.
The number of families choosing to home educate has been increasing in recent years, but the pandemic appears to have accelerated the trend, with health fears related to Covid the most common reason given by parents, followed by concerns about their child’s anxiety or mental health problems.
A survey by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ACDS) estimated that the cumulative number of children and young people being electively home educated (EHE) across 152 local authorities at some point during the 2020-21 academic year was 115,542 – a 34% increase on 2019-20 totals.
The ADCS said numbers had fluctuated over the year with significant “churn” as high numbers of children and young people both returned to school and were removed from school amid the pandemic uncertainty.
The report warned however that many of the EHE notifications received since September 2021 had been for families with multiple layers of vulnerability where elective home education “does not seem the most appropriate route for the children concerned”.
This year’s total marks the biggest year on year increase since the survey began six years ago and according to the ADCS almost half (49.8%) of the 2020-21 EHE cohort made the shift during the 2020-21 academic year.
In the five years before the pandemic, the EHE population was growing by about 20% each year. This year the largest reported EHE cohort in a single local authority was 3,121, the mean average across all 126 authorities that took part in the survey was 534 and key stage 3 – for pupils aged 11-14 – was selected most often as having the highest number of EHE children.
Gail Tolley, the chair of the ADCS educational achievement policy committee, said local authorities had a duty to ensure that children being educated at home were safe and receiving a good education, but they currently lacked the necessary powers to do so.
“We are therefore calling on government to establish a mandatory register of all electively home educated children with a fully funded duty on the local authority to visit the child, at a minimum annually, to assess the suitability of the education provided. We can only support children’s education and safeguard the children who are known to us.”
The ADCS is awaiting the outcome of a Department for Education (DfE) consultation in 2019 that proposed new duties on local authorities including a national register of all EHE children and young people and a duty for local authorities to support parents who educated their child at home.
A DfE spokesperson said the government remained committed to introducing a register and added: “We support parents who want to educate their children at home. However, 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 parents’ minds.”
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of National Association of Head Teachers, echoed calls for an official register of home educated children and said: “The government must find out the reasons behind so many more families choosing home education. The concern is that many appear to have chosen home education because they have lost faith in the government’s approach to school safety during the pandemic.”
Anntoinette Bramble, the chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, added: “Disruption to school education due to the pandemic has accelerated already rising numbers of parents and carers choosing to home education their children. The government should bring forward its plans to introduce a register for all home educators to ensure that adequate safeguarding measures are in place.”
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