On the 4th February, the Children’s Commissioner took part in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme. The documentary was aired alongside the publication of the Children’s Commissioner’s own report into home education. As we recognise in this report, many parents make a positive, philosophical decision to home educate and do so very successfully. However, as the report also makes clear, there are a rapidly growing number of families out there who are ending up home-educating for other reasons, including a school system which isn’t able to meet their children’s needs. Some of those families feel they have no choice. Many of them are struggling to cope.
Our report is focused on these families. It includes a number of sensible recommendations to address what are very clear problems with our current education system. Among other recommendations, a register of children being home educated was picked up in the documentary. We believe a register would not be a big burden for families and would allow councils to better support those families who need additional help.
In the report, we also emphasise that it is problematic to have a single phrase, ‘home education’, encompassing a wide range of different approaches to children’s education, from those who genuinely choose to home educate their children and do so very well, to those who do so as a last resort because of their children’s unmet needs and the small minority who seek to keep their children out of the sight of the authorities.
To understand more about the problem of off-rolling (where parents are encouraged or pushed to take their children out of school), our report included a data collection to a sample of 11 local authorities. This sought to understand where there are large numbers of children disappearing from school, to test claims that some schools are using the threat of permanent exclusions to put pressure on parents to remove their children. This data collection will be extended to all councils later this year. The findings will feed into ongoing work we are doing to shine a light on the complex issues facing children with SEND, and a system where children and families are not always given the choice of inclusive education.
The Children’s Commissioner exists to champion the rights and interests of all children and to seek out hidden issues affecting the most vulnerable. We believe all children have the right to a good education – wherever it is delivered. We will always endeavour to highlight when the system does not allow children the educational opportunities and support that is theirs by right.