Family & Education

Home education a 'huge undertaking for parents' - Ofsted

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Home education for many families is not a preferred choice but a last resort amid a breakdown in relationships with schools, Ofsted inspectors have warned.

Research by Ofsted found special needs, problems with a child's behaviour or wellbeing were the most common reasons.

England's schools watchdog says parents need better advice about the cost and responsibilities of home educating and should be made aware of alternatives.

The research was based on seven local authorities in the East Midlands.

'It's so scary'

As part of the research, the watchdog spoke to 16 local authority (LA) representatives for home education, 36 senior leaders in secondary schools, 23 parents and seven children.

"It's scary. It's so scary... knowing that you've got to do it. When you've got no choice because your kids are mentally suffering and you're going down a road you don't want to," one parent said.

"There's no help, not even paper," said another.

"There must be some kind of help because the minute you go down home education, you're on your own and that is hard," a third said.

Parents said they often felt left to cope alone.

"It's very easy to misunderstand and think, 'Well, there's a council there, there'll be a budget there to help us with these sorts of things and there'll be support services,'" one parent said.

"We were told someone from the LA would be in touch - but nobody did. We could have been doing anything, shopping every day, no-one would know," said another.

'Taken out of school in a day'

The Ofsted report says its research found parents "commonly viewed home education as the only option for them", especially when there had been a breakdown in the relationship between schools and parents,

And it warns the length of time for a child to be moved to home education can be very short.

"The period between a parent finding out about the possibility of home education and their child leaving school can be as little as one day," inspectors said.

Schools and councils are "rarely" told about a child moving to home education before they are taken out of class, Ofsted says, with some schools finding out it is a parent's intention only when a letter arrives.

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The inspectors also raise concerns the views of the children themselves are not being fully heard.

"There need to be better mechanisms for considering children's views during decisions to home educate, particularly when a child expresses a view not to be home educated when a parent is considering home education," the report says.

It concludes home education "is a huge undertaking" for families.

Home education on the rise

The number of children in England educated at home is increasing, figures from the Association of Directors of Children's Services indicate.

In autumn last year, there were an estimated 58,000 children known to be educated at home, an increase of 27% on the previous year.

The largest number of children being home educated are in Key Stage 3, where pupils are typically aged between 11 and 14, while the greatest increase has been at Key Stage 4, where pupils are aged 14 to 16.

Despite a government consultation earlier this year, which included the right to more support for parents, no plans to legislate on home education in England were included in the Queen's speech.

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman said: "Home education is a legitimate parental choice and can be a positive decision when parents are well equipped to provide a good education.

"However, children should not be moved to home education simply to resolve difficulties in school.

"Schools, local authorities and parents need to work together before such a decision is made, to make sure that home education is genuinely in the interests of children and not just the best thing for schools or parents.

"It's vital that parents are fully informed about the alternatives and that they understand all the implications and costs of home educating their child."

Association of School and College Leaders director of policy Julie McCulloch said the report was "obviously concerning".

"School leaders work tirelessly with young people and their parents to ensure they receive a high quality education and to support children who are having difficulties at school.

"However, cuts both to school budgets and to wider support services make it increasingly difficult for schools to provide the high-level support that some children need, which can lead to frustration and friction between schools and families."