Thousands of children each year are taken out of school to be educated at home with little contact with local authorities. Now the Government is calling for more intervention from councils. Kat Keogh looks at the issues.
The idea of home education has been put under the spotlight since the death of Khyra Ishaq, who died five months after she was removed from school to be educated at home.
Campaigners have said the case led people to be suspicious of home schooling and have called on local authorities to improve their relationships with home educating families.
A recent survey of councils by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) found that nearly 10 per cent of children who are not in the school system are not receiving an acceptable education.
In the West Midlands, the number of home educated children who do not receive a full-time or “suitable” education rises to 23 per cent in Wolverhampton, compared to 14 per cent in Warwickshire and nine per cent in Dudley.
A Wolverhampton City Council spokesman said it assessed whether the 131 home educated children in the city receive a “suitable” education through evidence of the child’s learning and progress, such as written work they’re doing, diaries of activities and books they are using. The spokesman said: “The criteria for what is a suitable education is very broad. Home education doesn’t have to be the same as in a school, but we have a duty to ensure that home education is appropriate to the child’s needs, especially if they have special needs.”
Birmingham City Council did not take part in the voluntary survey, but said it knew of 420 children or young people who are home educated in Birmingham.
Under current guidelines, parents who home educate are not required to teach their children full-time and local authorities do not have to monitor how many hours their child receives. Now the Government is looking at granting powers to ensure councils do more to regulate the thousands of children who are taken out of schools and educated by their parents.
Even the number of children being home educated is disputed. Official figures put it at 11,600, while education groups believe it is more than double.
In the Government’s Children, Schools and Families Bill, currently going through Parliament, it recommends handing local authorities powers to regulate and monitor home education through registration and a right to regularly check on a child’s progress.
The statistics, and the recommendations that accompany them, have been dismissed by Julie Bunker, Midlands representative of home education support charity Education Otherwise.
Ms Bunker, who turned to home education after taking her three children out of school nine years ago, said the DCSF “did not hold sway” with the real numbers of children who are taught at home.
“I simply do not believe them,” she said. “This is a case of the Government publishing the figures to try and justify their position. The figures are magnified. They are including children in these figures who have not been seen or assessed.” Ms Bunker said the case of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq who was taken out of school by her mother five months before she died from starvation in May 2008, had led people to be “suspicious” of home education.
She said: “Home education was nothing to do with the case, it was a social services failure. If authorities have a concern for the welfare of a child, then they do have powers to see them.”