Councils report rise in number of home-educated children with complex needs


Increasing numbers of young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or those known to children’s services are not attending mainstream school and being educated at home, a report has found.

Around 78,800 children and young people were home educated at some point during the 2018/19 academic year. Image: Adobe Stock
Around 78,800 children and young people were home educated at some point during the 2018/19 academic year. Image: Adobe Stock

Figures released by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) shows a “significant shift” in the home education community.

They indicate a “surge” of new referrals combined with “an increase in cases with social care, SEND and multi-agency involvement”.

The findings were drawn from the ADCS’s elective home education (EHE) survey sent out to all 152 councils in England.

The survey also revealed year-on-year increases in the number of all children being electively home educated.

Responses were received from 132 councils, the highest response the survey has attracted in four years, showing an estimated 78,800 children and young people were home educated at some point during the 2018/19 academic year.

Of this cohort, 38 councils said between six per cent and 10 per cent had an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

In the case of one council, more than 25 per cent of its elective home education population had an EHC plan.

“Reasons for such an increase are varied but may range from the recent curriculum reforms and expectations of schools or students, to parents or carers seeing EHE as a solution to prosecution or as a temporary solution to not receiving their desired school place,” the report states.

Of 116 councils that responded to questioning about the size of their EHE cohort known to children’s services - both historically and at present - it was reported an average of 13 per cent fell into this category, an increase of two per cent from 2018.

However, the report highlights a lack of historic data among some councils meaning the numbers could be higher.

Ninety councils said an average of 18 per cent of their EHC cohort were known to wider children’s services, representing nearly a third of the known cohort that had some contact with a local authority service.

“The surge [in the number of EHE families] notably involves cases which are increasing in complexity and, consequently, require more robust monitoring, support and multi-agency involvement.

“Therefore, this has led to greater collaboration between EHE and children missing education [officers], as well as liaising with social care and health when children may not have been seen by a professional and there is a safeguarding concern.

“What is becoming clearly apparent is the increase in students who are leaving school to be home educated who present with significant undiagnosed additional needs,” the report concludes.

Further findings show an overall increase of around 20 per cent in the known EHE cohort since 2013.

The ADCS said among the top reasons given by parents or carers for choosing to home educate were lifestyle choice, health and emotional reasons and general dissatisfaction with their child’s school.

Gail Tolley, chair of the ADCS’s educational achievement policy committee, said there were concerns that decisions to home educate children could have resulted from a breakdown in the relationship with a school or as a “cover” by parents to send their children to illegal schools.

“Our survey shows that the numbers of children being educated at home continues to increase year on year - this is only the children that we know about, the actual number is likely to be higher.

“It is simply not good enough that we have no way of knowing whether all children and young people being educated at home are safe, receiving a suitable education and that their health and social development needs are being met.

“At the most basic level we need to know how many children and young people are being home educated in this country.

“We still await the outcome of the Department for Education’s consultation on this topic. Local authorities want to engage with and support parents who opt to educate their child at home but any new duty to do so must be fully funded by central government,” she said.

 

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