Wakefield home-schooling cases more than double in five years with anxiety main reason given

The number of parents choosing to home educate their children across the Wakefield district is rising sharply, figures show.

Wakefield Council has seen the number of elective home education (EFE) cases more than double during the past five years.

A meeting heard the figures are in line with a national trend for more parents to home-school youngsters since the pandemic.

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Department of Education data for autumn 2023 estimates there were 92,000 EFE cases nationally.

Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.
Wakefield One, Wakefield Council's headquarters building.

The figure for autumn 2022 was 80,900.

In Wakefield, the local authority dealt with 588 EFE referrals in the 2022/23 academic year.

The number of cases during the current 2023/24 period had already reached 789 by the end of February.

Of those cases, the most common reason (76 cases) given for a new EFE referral was “anxiety”.

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Other listed reasons include “moving school/school dispute” (41 cases), “behaviour” (10 cases) and “bullying” (12 cases).

The number of Wakefield children being educated at home in the 2019/2020 year was 317.

Since the pandemic there has been a major rise in the number of children being removed from school to be home educated.

The figures indicate that the home-schooling experienced by parents during lockdowns prompted many to opt out of the school system permanently.

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Education officers told the council’s children and young people scrutiny committee how the authority is now dedicating more resources to supporting youngsters being educated at home.

Committee members also agreed to set up a working group to discover more about the rising trend.

Claire Hammerson, the council’s education welfare service manager, said the number of staff supporting parents and children has increased.

Parents can choose to provide their child’s education outside of the school system under the Education Act 1996.

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They are then wholly responsible for the approach, structure, content and cost of all education provision to ensure they provide a “suitable and efficient” education.

However, there is no legal definition of “suitable” education no official definition of how many hours per day a full-time education takes.

Local authorities have a duty to enquire about a child’s education at least once a year if they are of compulsory school age.

Ms Hammerson: “We do far more than that. The government is also looking at setting up a national database to capture all those people who have been home educated.

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“There has been a voluntary input of data from local authorities. That will now become statutory from September 2024.”

The officer said the authority now works more closely with educational psychologists to get a better understanding of anxiety cases.

She said: “In some cases it may be the parents own anxiety. We need to be clear about what we mean by anxiety.”

Ms Hammerson said the number of referrals involving children with special educational needs had remained stable over the five-year period.

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Committee members called for more detailed analysis of local authority home-schooling figures.

Voluntary and community sector representative Chris Bingham said : “Home-schooling should be a last option and not something that should be taken lightly.

“I think we need more data because this is becoming a huge issue.”

Committee chair Richard Forster said: “The idea of setting up a working group is a good idea. I think we need to be digging deeper and taking a closer look.”

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Councillor Josie Pritchard told the meeting: “My concern is that schools really aren’t on board.

“There are lots of parents who have children who are going through emotionally-based school avoidance and anxiety.

“For a lot of them it is just sheer frustration.

“They are taking them out of school because they can’t cope with it every morning.

“That impacts on the children because they are not then socialising with their peers and they become more and more isolated.

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“If you scratch the surface, some schools are not doing what they say they are doing.

“We do know that certain schools don’t want certain children in because it is going to lower their ratings when it comes to GCSE time.

“We know the schools in the area that do that.

“My concern is that the pressure some of the schools put on the parents is immense.”

Committee member Andy Tagger: “There is such a variety of reasons why parents think this is a good idea.

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“However, I think we need some sort of way to identify the extent to which a young person progresses as a result of being home educated.

“There must be some way of doing it because, when a parent comes to consider this as an option, they need to know what the implications of it could be.”

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