A compulsory home-schooling register must be created, the Children’s Commissioner for England has warned, amid suggestions that thousands of young people could be falling “off the grid”.
There has been a near 50 per cent rise in the number of children withdrawn from school to be home educated, analysis finds, including steep and sudden increases across parts of Yorkshire.
Amid fears that many may be “invisible” to local authorities, commissioner Anne Longfield has called for a compulsory home-schooling register, stronger measures to tackle so-called ‘off-rolling’ where children are encouraged to leave settings, and greater oversight of practice.
“Our investigations have revealed thousands of children are ‘off the grid’ because they are being home schooled,” said Ms Longfield, from Yorkshire, who will present a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on the findings tonight. “The numbers are rocketing and no-one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe.”
Over 90 per cent of local authorities said they were “not aware” of all the children in their area being home educated, the report finds, with a quarter of families having refused home visits.
“Many are being off-rolled,” warned Ms Longfield. “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.”
The number of children home-schooled in England has doubled in the past five years, while new data for 11 authority areas, including four in Yorkshire, shows a 48 per cent increase in two years.
These findings at a local level present even more stark comparisons, with numbers nearly doubling in one year in Doncaster and seeing a spike in Wakefield amidst a rise of 56 per cent.
The analysis suggests one in five of those withdrawn from school have special needs.
Ms Longfield, who has pledged to publish school-by-school data later this year, says more support is needed for families who home educate, alongside decisive action against unregistered schools.
“Many parents who make a philosophical decision to home educate provide their children with a high quality education,” said Ms Longfield. “But there are many other families who have ended up home educating for other reasons, and are struggling to cope. 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.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Unofficial exclusions are illegal regardless of whether they are done with the agreement of parents or carers and regardless of the age of the pupil.
“Where children are being home educated, we know that in the vast majority of cases parents are doing an excellent job.
“We also know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be, which is why last year we ran a call for evidence on proposals to introduce a register, as well monitoring of provision and support for home educators. We will respond to that in due course.”