Home education numbers rise by 75

Covid: Home-education numbers rise by 75%

In north-west England numbers were 92% up on the previous two-year average, figures from 153 councils show.

Some parents and councils – including in former hotspot Bolton – say the increase is down to “Covid anxiety”.The Department for Education says it supports home-educating parents and plans to launch a registration system.

‘I felt he was starting to regress’

Coronavirus lockdowns meant that school buildings were closed to most pupils from the end of March to September last year.

But increasing numbers of parents have switched to home-educating their children, removing them from the school register and notifying the local council.

More than 40,000 pupils were formally taken out of school in the UK between September 2020 and April 2021, compared with an average of 23,000 over the previous two years.

As of January 2021, there were 8.9 million pupils attending school in England, including state and independent schools.

In June, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was “absolutely committed” to a register of home-educated children, and said its introduction was “imminent”.

Parents told the BBC that health fears and worries that their children’s learning would suffer had led them to home-educating.

Novena-Chanel officially took her son, Imari, out of school in November last year. Mother to a new baby, she was worried Imari wasn’t thriving in class.

“He was starting to regress. They were doing phonics and he can read already,” she said. “The school said they couldn’t give him higher-level work.”

Imari is now thriving academically, she says, and she has no concerns about him being cut off from other children.

“With a long-term home-school plan, the concern is usually the social element. But these home-educated children have to learn to be among other people – they meet teenagers in the community, and can talk to anyone.”

In Surrey, Victoria also removed her child from school for health concerns – yet she describes herself as a “reluctant” home-schooler.

“We feel we’ve been forced into this situation because of the pandemic,” she says. “I think what made us extra cautious was his asthma – he had a couple of hospital stays from the common cough.”Victoria says her son, Edward, didn’t play with another child between February 2020 and June 2021 due to the family’s concerns over catching the virus.

She says the amount of educational material now available online means home-educating hasn’t been too difficult, but that her “heart isn’t in it” for the longer term.The risks of Covid-19 for children attending school are “very much lower than for adults,” says Russell Viner, professor in adolescent health at University College London.

“Children can bring infection back into the family home – and parents who are clinically extremely vulnerable may be understandably nervous about this risk, although it would be exceptionally rare for this to require children not to attend school.

“There can be reasons that parents choose not to send their children to school. However, the science doesn’t support a role for Covid-19 in this decision.”

Their stories are far from unique. There was a 75.6% rise in home education between September 2020 and April 2021, compared with the averages for the same school terms over the previous two school years.

Every nation and region of the UK saw at least a 50% rise, based on the councils that responded.

For some, the rate was much higher.

In Oldham – where the number of home-educated children has doubled since 2019 – the council suggested the rise was “due to Covid anxiety”.

Victoria, in Peterborough, has been educating 11-year-old daughter Isabella at home for four years.

She urges other parents to think carefully before going down the home-education route, even though it ended up a “much better fit” for her family.

Isabella has ADHD and Asperger syndrome, and was labelled “naughty” at school for not understanding social situations, her mum says. She also developed phobias which Victoria says the school wasn’t willing or able to accommodate.

“It’s not easy. You’re talking about being with your child 24/7. Other than groups she goes to and the tutoring she has, the rest of it is down to the parent – it’s up to you to organise all that and to pay for it. You have to know what you’re taking on.”

The Department for Education says it introduced “robust protective measures” in schools, including regular Covid testing and keeping pupils in bubbles.

It said: “Although many parents provide a good standard of education, home education is never a decision that should be entered into lightly. 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.

“We remain committed to a registration system for children not in school and will provide further details in due course.”


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