The children’s commissioner for England is calling for greater supervision for children being home-educated after their numbers have doubled in the past five years, driven by pupils being “off-rolled” or informally excluded by schools.
Anne Longfield wants the estimated 60,000 home-schooled children in England to be registered with local authorities as well as stronger measures to stop schools illegally pushing pupils off their books, often by persuading parents to home-school them.
In a report to be published on Monday, Longfield says thousands of children are effectively “off the grid” and ignored by being permanently out of school. The report highlights the cluster of schools – about 10% of those in England – connected to the increase.
“The numbers are rocketing and no one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe. Many are being off-rolled. It also seems that a relatively small number of schools may be responsible for this sharp rise in children leaving school for ‘home education’ in this way,” Longfield said.
“We need to know who these children are, where they are, whether they are safe and if they are getting the education they need to succeed in life. There is a clear case for the government to introduce a compulsory register for all home-educated children, without delay.”
According to data gathered by the children’s commissioner’s office, 58,000 children were being home-educated last year – double the number recorded in 2013. But the precise figure is unknown because parents do not have to register home-educated children, meaning up to 80,000 children may have been home schooled.
Longfield’s figures are similar to the estimate of 52,000 home-schooled children in 2017-18, in the annual report of the Office of the SchoolsAdjudicator. Shan Scott, the chief schools adjudicator, said councils reported parents being “coerced” by schools into home-educating their children, often before sitting GCSE exams.
In a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on Monday night, Longfield is shown visiting families in which children are being home-schooled, with the programme detailing the wide variety of circumstances under which it occurs.
“Many parents who make a philosophical decision to home-educate provide their children with a high-quality education. But there are many other families who have ended up home-educating for other reasons, and are struggling to cope,” Longfield said.
“Many of these children are very vulnerable, have special educational needs, or are unable to cope with a ‘one size fits all’ school system. Schools should be for all children, including those with complex needs and those who struggle academically.”
Nearly all the local authorities surveyed said they did not have enough powers to ensure the safety of home-schooled children, and a large majority said they did not know the exact numbers in their area.
The report suggests “off-rolling” – excluding a pupil without going through formal proceedings, often for academic reasons – has played a significant part.
Data from 11 local areas shows a 48% rise in the number of children withdrawn from schools into home education between 2015-16 and 2017-18. In some areas, the number was much higher: Northamptonshire reported a 350% increase in children and young people registered as home-schooled in the last five years.
An increase in formal exclusions may also be contributing: Department for Education figures show there were more than 40 permanent exclusions a day in 2016-17, a total of 7,700, compared with just over 35 a day the previous year.
Longfield’s call for greater oversight was backed by the Local Government Association, saying it was needed for the minority of cases where children were being taught in dangerous or unsuitable conditions.
“Placing a legal duty on parents to register home-schooled children with their local authority would also help councils to monitor how children are being educated and prevent them from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe,” said Anntoinette Bramble, the chair of the LGA’s children and young people board.
The DfE said it was preparing to respond to proposals for a register of home schooled children, after holding a consultation last year.