Cambridgeshire County Council is backing a proposal for a compulsory registration system for children whose parents decide to educate them at home and not enrol in school.
It follows an “increasing trend” of parents pulling their children out of school and home educating because of dissatisfaction with schools in Cambridgeshire, a council committee heard.
Parents are legally responsible for ensuring that their children receive an education, but school is not compulsory and parents can choose to provide education at home.
There is currently no mandatory register for parents to notify local authorities that they are choosing elective home education for their children.
The county council’s children and young people voted on Tuesday (January 19) to recommend to the government that such a register be established.
The recorded number of children being educated at home in Cambridgeshire doubled in the six years up to 2019 – well before the impact of the pandemic, which could increase numbers further.
‘Really serious issues’
A council report said parents who decide to home educate are not a homogenous group and there is a wide range of reasons given for home educating.
In a report that referred to both national and local increases in home education, the council said there is an “increasing trend in parents removing their child from a school roll to elective home education due to dissatisfaction with schools, and a feeling that to home educate is the only option left”.
The figures include children being educated at home and who are not enrolled in school – children learning from home during the pandemic are not classed as cases of elective home education if they are still enrolled in school.
There were 678 recorded active cases of parents choosing to home educate their children in Cambridgeshire in 2013/14, which rose to 1,381 in 2019/20.
The actual numbers are not known as there is no obligation for parents to inform the local authority if they wish to home educate. The council report – said the figures “clearly” demonstrate an increase in elective home education numbers, and said there are “many reasons for this”.
Those include “dissatisfaction with school”, but also potentially “increased local offers to the community has also elicited engagement” with the council, prompting families to register, the report said.
According to the county council report, of the recorded active cases of home education in the 2019/20 academic year in Cambridgeshire, 253 of those who responded said the reason was “dissatisfaction with school environment”; 180 said the decision was for lifestyle, cultural or philosophical reasons; 153 said it was for emotional and behavioural difficulties; 151 said it was related to bullying.
Liberal Democrat Lucy Nethsingha said she thought a register was necessary but told the committee “I wish it wasn’t”.
She said looking at the reasons behind the recorded increase in home education raises some “really serious issues”.
‘Falling off the radar’
The committee needs to “look at what it is that is contributing to that increasing number of parents who are keeping their children out of school because they feel that the school system is not serving those children,” she said.
“I’m very concerned about this,” she said, adding financial pressures on the county’s education budget for high needs pupils is “likely to make this even worse”.
The chair of the committee, Conservative councillor Simon Bywater, said the report had been requested by councillors to examine home education in the county and said it is a subject that “all local authorities” are looking at.
He told the committee: “It is about understanding the concerns about people that I would describe as probably falling off the radar or not being on our radar really, and it’s certainly not to lock horns with the people who are home educating. I think there are some really good practices going on here.
“This is purely about potentially those individual children that will slip under the radar and I think it’s important that we have got a responsibility to keep some sort of contact with or some idea who they are”.
Councillor Simone Taylor, of the St Neots Independent Group, said feedback provided by parents who home educate to a national inquiry on the matter shows evidence of concern. She said some parents argue “their time and energy is best employed serving their children’s educational needs and not the local bureaucracy,” while others are not against the register but worry what other requirements will be attached.
“Bad press by people who don’t understand it” was also a concern, she said, as was “the perception that people have with homeschooling, especially by the media”. She said such comments are “worth thinking about” to achieve a “fine balance”. “We don’t want to make people that are doing this uneasy,” she said.
A compulsory registration system will ensure that all home-educated children have access to guidance and support, the council report said, and will leave the local authority “better placed to track and identify issues, relating to the wellbeing and safeguarding of children and young people, who we are currently potentially unknown to services”.
The report said that while parents have an obligation to ensure their children receive an education, home education is not required to include the national curriculum, have premises “equipped to any particular standard,” provide “any specific qualifications,” give “formal lessons,” or “formally assess progress”.
In September last year, the parliamentary education select committee launched an inquiry into home education and whether or not children are receiving a high-quality education.
It is not within the council’s power to establish a compulsory elective home education register, but the committee voted unanimously to support the proposal and communicate it to the government.