Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids

Home Education has been in the media a lot lately due to the discussion of a potential new bill to more closely monitor children not at school being suggested. The reasons given for this are to ensure that children are provided with an appropriate education and are safe. Who could argue with that right?

The Rise in Home Education

There has been a surge in home education in recent years and there is a concern that actually this isn’t due to people having no other option. Research by the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield shows the number of children who are known by councils to be home educated was 27% higher in 2018 than in 2017, and has risen by 20% in each of the last five years – doubling since 2013-14. That 60,000 children, many of whom are vulnerable or have special educational needs, many who have not made an informed choice but feel that school cannot cater for their children.

Research from Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary reveals that one in five children withdrawn from school has special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and that 88% of councils are worried about off-rolling (this is where schools move difficult-to-teach pupils off the school register to boost performance data). Local authorities warned in November that vital support for children with SEND was facing a potential funding gap of more than half-a-billion pounds – more than double the gap they faced the previous year. There is fear that without additional help that parents are also struggling to meet their children’s needs.

Ms Longfield feels that the best course of action is to introduce a compulsory register for all home-educated children without delay; and for local councils to be awarded powers and funding to enter homes and other premises to make sure that environments are not unsuitable or dangerous. Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board Association feels that this would help children disappear from services that are designed to keep them safe.

This information presents two issues – a list of children to make sure that they are all receiving the education they should do, and a safety-issue. Let’s be honest when they are talking in terms of safety we are not talking about whether the roof is about to fall in (as is the state of many under-funded schools!) but whether the child is at risk of abuse.

Are Home-Educated Children receiving an appropriate Education?

All children are entitled to an education that is suitable for them – but schools are not providing this. It has already been stated that there is a financial strain on education – would enforcing this new register and measures not further impact this? Who exactly would benefit and how? Who decides what an appropriate education is – and how is this proved?

For example we have taken a much more relaxed approach to learning and the benefits have been astounding (our youngest has made 2 years of progress in 11 months). The things I felt have been important (such as independent living skills and confidence) may not have been deemed so in school. We have been focusing on our emotions and healthy ways to express and deal with them. I do see the flip-side of adults who were never taught to read and write who struggle now though. But those who do not wish to provide an appropriate education aren’t likely to reveal that is what they are doing.formula for motion

The thing is though there is no evidence to suggest that there’s a high majority of children not receiving an appropriate education. That if there are grounds for concern regarding education then there are steps which councils can take – including getting children into schools. Also what about the children not receiving an appropriate education WITHIN SCHOOL. The school my children were at had several OFSTED reports stating that they were not meeting my children’s needs. The older of the two is very bright and spent most of his time going over the same material, helping others and just listening to adults shout! Surely the money would be better spent on schools such as this ensuring that the majority of children are experiencing adequate education.

Plus children who are off-rolled are already known and councils have a responsibility to determine that an appropriate education is being provided. How would this bill enforce children who are not known to be registered?

Do Home Educate Children need Safe-Guarding?

The safe-guarding argument for me has to be the most ridiculous one in regards this new bill. Education has nothing to do with safe-guarding – and that these children still see many people who can spot the signs – such as doctors, dentists and so on.

Home-Educated children are not invisible – or off the grid as has been described. Just because children are home-educated this does not mean that they just stay at home. In fact my children are more visible than if they were at school (in terms of coming into contact with adults who may identify them being at risk). Not only are they seen by more people, but they are also seen with me – so people can tell throughout the day what my interaction is like with my children – rather than just a drop off at the playground. I also leave my children with other adults who could not only identify if there were a safe-guarding issue but also allows my children to express any issues they have that they feel they cannot speak to me.

There is actually no evidence to suggest that home-educated children are more at risk – and actually of all cases of abused children they were all known to the authorities. Many have even been at school and still missed. In fact the case of Christopher Spry is often cited but actually in his book Child C he tells of how when the education inspection was due to the abuse was high and he and his siblings had to stay up all night to produce work to show!George Dowty Drive

Teachers have large classes are over-worked and over-stretched – are they really in a better position to pick up any safe-guarding issues? And what can they actually do about them when they pick them up? What about all the cases of adults abusing children within schools – and children abusing children?

Damaging Effects of this Home Education Bill and Alternative Solutions

So apart from the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that a register and monitoring is required and a costly drain on resources we haven’t even touched on the damage that this could cause to the home education community.

For example what effect would someone monitoring education have on the parents and the children? Some children of which have become so anxious that they struggle to be around people. Would a better approach be to put more money into schools instead? Should we have more variety in educational approaches? Ones that fit all different kinds of parents and children’s learning styles. I am sure more home educators would opt to send their children to school if there was the removal of things such as SATs and other assessments constantly monitoring and comparing children; where children can progress at their own pace and learn skills relevant to their needs.
boy with knife cutting a stick at home education forest school

Did you know that a child in school allocated an EHCP has funding attached – but if a parent takes them from school they lose that financial support. Parents would more likely to attend meetings proving how they meet their SEN child’s needs if it resulted in a financial help to support them. This seems the obvious answer if it is children we are interested in – or is it more to do with the fact that schools are actually businesses, who care on making money rather than the welfare of our children.

Conclusions on a Home-Educated Children Bill

Schools are no longer up to date with our society and the needs of our children with a high rate of parents de-registering their children. Home-education means that children are more likely to receive a tailored education more appropriate to their needs. If they have previously been in school then they are known to councils who have an obligation to ensure that they are receiving an appropriate education. There is no evidence to suggest that children are at risk for being home-educated or safer for being in school. That compulsory visits are likely to put a strain on families. That putting the money back into education would be a better use of resources which are already very over-stretched.


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