The BBC has reported a large increase in homeschooling over the past few years, with 48,000 children being home-educated in 2016-17 compared to approximately 34,000 in 2014-15.
Two of the main reasons given by parents are mental health issues and avoiding exclusion. At School-Home Support, we have particularly noticed the second reason when it comes to persistent absence as parents fear both exclusion and legal consequences. For some parents faced with meetings at the school, fines, and letters from the council, an easy solution is to complete a simple self-assessment and request to homeschool their children. Other issues we have come across include gang involvement, where parents fear for the safety of their children being out in the local area, and parents being reluctant to send children to the local PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) if the school will no longer accept them due to behavioural issues.
The above issues can be complex for schools to tackle, but we are failing these children if we allow them all to be homeschooled. Parents are often not equipped to educate these children effectively. One of our SHS Practitioners recently worked on a case where a child’s parent applied to home educate their child while working full-time – how could they be expected to educate their child sufficiently? There can be consequences in regards to their social development – how are they mixing with their peers? – as well as more serious concerns regarding safeguarding. Especially in families with emerging concerns and risks, it is vital that non-family members can continue to monitor children and ensure there are no issues. Keeping children at home can isolate them.
In some cases, of course, homeschooling is the best thing for a child. If a child has extreme anxiety then homeschooling could be carried out alongside providing mental health support, at least temporarily, in order to ensure they are still accessing education while unable to attend school. However, the responsibility for parents should be taken seriously. A good way to supplement homeschooling can be to employ an external tutor, particularly one where they can meet with a child in a public space (such as a library) and and carry out planned and structured lessons. It is also important to consider ways children can spend time with their peers, such as enrolling them in local evening and weekend group activities.
We know that the majority of parents have their children’s best interests at heart, but it is important to ensure they are adequately informed, supported, and monitored when it comes to homeschooling. We call for a more structured, rigorous assessment of the ability and capacity of parents and carers to deliver adequate teaching to their children.