By Rod Webb

Home-schooling is on the rise. In East Sussex, the council is currently aware of 948 pupils who are ‘electively home educated’ (as opposed to excluded) while in England as a whole the Children’s Commissioner puts the figure at somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000. It is thought the number is growing by around 20-30% year on year.

The reason numbers are hard to find is because there’s no requirement for parents to identify their children as home-schooled if their child has never attended a school. The reasons given for this choice are as varied as the number of families involved, but include an ideological opposition to school for religious or other reasons; feelings that the school is not providing for a pupil’s Special Education needs; concerns about bullying; feeling that the school is not supporting gifted children; or not getting the right choice
of school. However, for some it is neglect, and there is also a worrying rise in the numbers of illegal schools, and schools ‘off-rolling’ difficult pupils.

Should it be regulated?

For these reasons, the government is currently proposing to require registration. Damien Hinds, Secretary of State for Education said this is not to crack down on home education but to protect “children who are not getting an education at all or being educated in illegal schools where they are vulnerable to dangerous influences”. But he also said: “The truth is we just don’t know.” However, home educator, Edward Hardy, writing in the Guardian, warned that the community would fight the plans every step of the way. “The register will not protect children from parents who are intent on harming their children. Instead, it will amount to a further step down the path of unwarranted intrusion into family life by the state.”

Hastings-based Ben Bruges, a Further Education teacher for a number of decades, said that home-educated students often attend re-take GCSE or A Level classes: “Many arrive with a fresh and open attitude towards learning and quickly get over any social problems with other students. However, for some, home schooling is simple neglect, with needs not met, like dyslexia, or with poor literacy or numeracy.”

Support services

An indication of the rise in Hastings is the increase in support services. ‘Enjoycation’, a not-for-profit organisation set-up in January 2018 to support local home-educating families, started with six children. In January 2019 they were providing services for 90 children (see HIP 25/1/19: Enjoycation Is One!)

Mima Bone, home-educating for a year and a half, talks about a “flourishing home education scene” in Hastings. She says that although there can be issues of isolation, home-educating parents can not only support each other but can make use of services like Enjoycation to fill in some of the gaps. 

She acknowledges that educating your own child is a big step: “The decision hits you when your child is two and you have to think about nursery provision.” But she said it was a relief when she realised she could “take control” herself.

She is concerned that many people still don’t realise that home-schooling is an option. She attended an event publicising home schooling on Hastings Pier over Easter last year: “It was interesting because the pier is a public place and it led to a lot of conversations,” she said. 

Costs and benefits

Mima was keen to point out that home-schoolers come from many different backgrounds, and it is not confined to the privileged middle classes. However, she did acknowledge that the cost of home-schooling can be an issue. “Government schooling provides free childcare,” she says. “The trade-off is that the government gets to control and train the young.” She prefers the Scandinavian model where children learn in a more unstructured way up to seven years old – a model that appears to have better results. She says: “It’s all about physical and emotional confidence.”

Accessing support services for the home-schooled is an additional cost. Not-for-profit organisations like Enjoycation charge £5 to £10 per hour depending on the service provided. Parents can also access national support from organisations such as Fledge (https://fledge.education/) or Home Education UK (www.home-education.org.uk)


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