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Home education system under discussion

Schools should be challenged by Ofsted if too many pupils are leaving the classroom to be home educated to avoid sanctions, says Staffordshire’s education leader.

An enquiry found a noticeable increase in the number of parents choosing home education for their child to avoid the risk of prosecution for persistent absenteeism, with anecdotal evidence that some schools were encouraging parents into making that decision.

It also said more parents were home educating because their child had emotional or behavioural difficulties in school, or because a pupil was close to exclusion.

Philip White, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Learning and Skills, said:

Schools are increasingly autonomous organisations, with head teachers and governors responsible for decision-making, with the local authority’s role one of support and scrutiny.

We have been aware of concerns locally and nationally that parents of some pupils were being encouraged by schools to move their children to home education without a considered debate of the pros and cons.

Ofsted already has the authority to focus part of an inspection on the numbers of children leaving to be home schooled – and to examine the reasons why – and I would urge inspectors to look closely at any school where there is an unusual number of withdrawals.”

Another issue raised by the all-party report from county councillors was the debate surrounding the need for a national registration scheme for those who are home educating.

A Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Lord Soley is currently before Parliament and it proposes giving local authorities such as Staffordshire County Council more powers to monitor and intervene where appropriate.

Philip White, who will be discussing the all-party report at a meeting of the council’s Safe and Strong Scrutiny committee, added:

The vast majority of parents who home educate their children are caring, conscientious and motivated, but there are instances, particularly where a child has never been in school, that they become ‘invisible’ to the authorities and, in some circumstances, that raises concerns about the education they are receiving.”

The latest figures show that in Staffordshire there are 794 children who are home educated, out of more than 110,000 pupils in the county.