Number of pupils being home educated “a challenge”, says North Yorkshire education boss

Classroom file pic.

An education boss charged with overseeing the running of about 400 schools has rejected suggestions that the rapidly rising number of home educated children is linked to increasing pressures facing schools.

A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive heard the number of pupils choosing to be Electively Home Educated (EHE) continued to be “a challenge” just days after it emerged the authority was considering again asking the government to allow it to “top slice” mainstream schools’ budgets.

The council is considering the move to cover the spiralling costs of educating high needs pupils, despite mainstream school headteachers warning the move would create significant issues on budgets that are already stretched.

A report to the executive stated there has been a 12.3 per cent increase in the number of EHE pupils, from 487 to 547 over the last 12 months. Last December the council stated the number of children being home-schooled in North Yorkshire has increased by more than 800 per cent over the previous five years.

A survey of EHE parents and carers in the county at the time found they choose to educate children at home often because of stress or anxiety at school, caused by bullying or peer pressure.

As the council’s leading members were considering the authority’s progress on its ambition to give children the ‘best possible start in life’ Councillor Annabel Wilkinson said the authority’s children and young people’s scrutiny committee had also examined the causes of the rise.

She said the increase was happening despite Ofsted cracking down on ‘off rolling’ – where children and parents are encouraged by school leaders to leave so that schools can maximise their results.

She said: “Is this perhaps an indicator of the performance of our schools and the stress that they are under at the moment?”

Children and young people’s service director for the council, Stuart Carlton, said the rise was “not unique to North Yorkshire”. Indeed, the number of home educated children nationally jumped from 19,000 to 52,000 between 2014 and 2018.

Mr Carlton added: “Certainly Ofsted has cottoned on to off rolling, which is illegal, and schools will be held to account if they are found wanting in that area.

“One of the things that seems to have changed with EHE is how well known it is. It is a very low threshold to show and prove you can electively home educate. I don’t think it’s particularly about our schools being under pressure.”

To withdraw a child from school, parents need only put their request into writing and give it to their child’s headteacher. They do not have to state how they intend to make provision or what the home education will consist of.

In addition, there is no prescribed curriculum for home education and no set academic level that children must attain. There is no specified number of hours that they must be taught, no accountability and no safeguarding.

Mr Carlton said: “Our call to central government is to re-legislate in this area. It is something they need to consider. Times have changed so much in the last 20 years that they really need to have a long hard look at it.”