Parents 'choosing to home-school children to avoid absence fines'
A council's education boss has urged Ofsted to challenge schools if too many pupils are leaving to avoid sanctions and be home educated.
It comes after an enquiry in Staffordshire earlier this year found a noticeable increase in the number of parents choosing home education for their child to avoid the risk of prosecution for being absent often.
Anecdotal evidence suggested that some schools were encouraging parents to make that decision.
It also found parents in the county were home educating because their child had emotional or behavioural difficulties in school, or because a pupil was close to exclusion.
Councillor Philip White, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for learning and skills, said: “Schools are increasingly autonomous organisations, with headteachers and governors responsible for decision-making, with the local authority’s role one of support and scrutiny.
“We have been aware of concerns 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.”
The Joint Review by the prosperous Staffordshire and Safe and Strong Communities Select Committees revealed in June that the amount of parents choosing home education to avoid the risk of prosecution has increased by 27.4 per cent over the past five years.
This was the biggest factor in the rise of home education in Staffordshire.
There has also been a rise in the number home educating resulting from near exclusion – a 1.2 per cent increase and from emotional or behavioural difficulties 1.6 per cent.
Another issue raised by the all-party report from county councillors was the debate surrounding the need for a national registration scheme.
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.
Councillor White 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.