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Schools Week reports:

“The number of home educated pupils rose by 27 per cent this year, with many more likely to be “hidden from sight”, council children’s services chiefs have warned.

A survey of local authorities shows about 57,800 pupils were home-schooled in 2018, up from 45,500 last year and 37,500 in 2016.”

The research was undertaken by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Debbie Barnes, from the Association, says that while they “absolutely recognise that parents have the right to educate their children at home” they are concerned that the arrangement may be open to abuse. Firstly, that schools could be promoting the option as a way to exclude difficult children. Secondly, that parents might be using the arrangement to avoid attendance fines.

In one respect the trend might appear disappointing. There are an array of reasons for parents choosing to undertake home education for their children. But there have always been some that have resorted to it because the schools available in their area were poor. School standards at state schools have improved significantly since 2010. Yet home education has gone up. Incidentally, so has the number of pupils at independent schools – paying fees being the other escape route for losers in the postcode lottery. There are now a record 529,164 pupils at independent schools – it 2010 it was slightly lower at 511,886.

Perhaps while the number of failing schools has fallen, the willingness of parents to tolerate deficient standards has fallen even further. In any event, these escape route should be made easier to travel, rather than being blocked off. The answer to the objection that only the rich can afford school fees, should be to make it easier for others to do so. In this regard the efforts of James Tooley are to be applauded.

In the case of home-schooling, there will scepticism as to whether the push to increase bureaucratic burdens is really justified on child protection grounds. An alternative motive could be ideological – the control freakery of the education establishment.

When the Labour Government proposed greater interference, the Conservatives objected. Michael Gove, then the Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“I deeply regret the way statistics have been used to suggest somehow that children are intrinsically at greater risk if they are being home educated; I believe I am right in saying that not a single home-educated child has had to be taken into care as a result of a child protection plan, yet there are those who have sedulously spread the myth that somehow children are at greater risk through being home educated.”

I’m sure it is true that some children stop going to school because they are miserable due to being victims of bullying. Rather than exclude the bully, it is sometimes the victim that a school takes action against – this was an issue addressed by John Bald. Of course in such cases the school should manage better. But unless and until it does, the option of homeschooling would come naturally to any loving parent.

Or for that matter supposing your child was the bully, or being generally disruptive. Supposing he was not learning anything – and stopping others in his class learning. If the school (quite properly) excluded him, might not home education be better than some “Alternative Provision unit”? This is not the same as saying that parents should be pressured into becoming home educators. Still less is it to suggest that home education will always be right – whether for a bully, a victim of bullying, or anyone else.

Oxford Home Schooling, who provide courses for home educators, says:

“If your child is happy in school and you are happy that they are achieving their potential, then there is probably no reason to consider home education. Unfortunately, many children are bored or frustrated in school, and some struggle to understand what they are taught when the pace of teaching has to be determined by the needs of a large group. No group of 30 or more children is going to learn in the same way at the same rate, and a teacher’s job is a difficult one that leaves little time for individual pupil attention.

“It can also be the case that some sensitive children may have been badly hurt by teasing or made to feel incompetent in some way. In such cases, Oxford Home Schooling can provide a practical alternative to the classroom.”

What about the lack of socialisation? That could be a problem. Although one parent says her daughter make friends at the local riding stables. It must be completely a matter for each individual family – so prescriptive state officialdom should be held back.

What if the parents don’t have university degrees? A definite plus, according to Home Education UK:

“Research shows that children of parents without higher qualifications do at least as well as those whose parents have them.”

There is evidence from the United States that home educated pupils do much better, on average, in their test scores.

The law states that while education is compulsory for children, school is not. Parents that are home educating are required to provide a “suitable” education and the presumption is that they will do so. The state intervenes if there is a report that a child is not being educated – or if there is suspicion that home education is being used as a cover for radicalisation.

Home educators certainly show exceptional commitment. But far from being fanatics, they are taking a practical approach to the circumstances they find themselves in. The upshot is that they are taking up the challenge to educate their children. Often they are doing so reluctantly, where the “system” has let them down, in one way or another. Having already failed, the state should not compound its offence by making life harder for them.

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