Schooled out

Claire Hawthorn quizzes the parents who home educate

In 2009, Ed Balls, then secretary of state for children, schools and families, requested a review of home education in England. The resulting Badman report listed a number of recommendations, but in the following year a new government came to power and the report has been gathering dust ever since.

One of Balls’ concerns may have been the paucity of data about home educated children in England. The Badman report states that only 20,000 home-educated children are known to local authorities, but that the fugure could actually be “in excess of 80,000”. This is because when it comes to elective home education (or EHE), there are very few rules.

Jeff Lough, home education officer for Newcastle City Council, says that the bottom line for home schooled children is that they must be provided with a “suitable, broad and balanced education. But if you’re going to home-educate a child you don’t have to have a timetable, you don’t have to do it 9 to 3, you don’t have to have qualifications.”

In fact, Lough tells me, if a parent elects to withdraw a child from school with the intention of home-educating him or her, they must inform the school which, in turn, informs the local authority. If a parent chooses to home-educate from the start however, they are not required to register their child and they are not required to inform, well, anyone.

Brandon and Ryan Bailey, who are home-schooled

Brandon and Ryan Bailey, who are home-schooled

Because of this dearth of regulations, some concerns have been raised by those worried that children could simply slip through the system unnoticed. Yet there can be many good reasons why parents elect to home-educate their children. British figure skater Brandon Bailey and his brother Ryan are two such home-educated children. Having relocated to Gateshead from Coventry at the age of eight and struggling to make new friends, Brandon and his brother Ryan discovered ice skating and became enamoured with the sport.

Mother Linda Walker says both boys were naturals from the start. But it was when the boys began competing and were invited to “morning patch” (5am training) that things began to get more tricky. When Linda learned from Brandon’s teacher that he hadn’t been progressing at school she decided she could do a better job, and also enable both boys to continue with their skating. “Within two weeks of taking them out
of school, their confidence grew and they were like different people altogether.”

The subjects which Brandon and Ryan are taught include maths, English, IT and Italian. They also plan to begin learning sign language. “Eventually the boys want to go to college,” says Linda. However she warns that electing to home-educate isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. “You notice it financially, as it means having to have one parent at home every day.”

Success stories such as Brandon and Ryan’s are common, says Jeff Lough. “When parents can really get into it, they can see some really good results.” Lough voluntarily keeps data for OFSTED and to “make
sure that people know these children exist”. He usually conducts two support visits per year as a minimum to check on the progress of the roughly 70 children in
his area of jurisdiction and to o er support to their parents, but he says that “quite often parents don’t need it. They’re really doing a great job.”

Lough says the reasons for choosing EHE are varied and diverse. “It could be because of a religious approach or ethical belief. Some people think that learning on a one-to-one basis is good, or some parents feel that their child’s personality makes them maybe a bit unsuitable for large schools at specific times in their life. Sometimes it’s because of a specific crisis, such
as bullying for example. Other times it’s because they didn’t get into a school of their choice and they’re not prepared to, say, travel across the city so they home- educate temporarily until a place becomes available.”

Rosemary New decided to withdraw her son, Michael, from school more than 14 years ago. Michael was ne at school, but he wasn’t thriving, Rosemary says. Worse, he had started self-harming. “He had a specific learning difficulty that was unrecognised and undermined his confidence.”

The day she told Michael he was coming out of school, Rosemary says she saw a physical change in him. Now 25, Michael has had only one mild episode of self harming since.

“Michael experienced a very negative social experience at school. I had to work hard as people don’t come knocking at your door saying ‘please can we be friends’, so I had to be proactive.” She found activities and clubs such as scouts and her local church to ensure that Michael had a social outlet. Rosemary also opted to home educate her daughter. “If I had my time again I wouldn’t even consider school. Sometimes I think I’ve let them down, but then I think of what they’ve learnt at home.”

Jeff Lough is in favour of reforms that would ensure no child would go un-noticed. Currently
the local authority has the right to issue a school attendance order if it believes a child is not receiving
a suitable education. But for some professionals, more preventative measures are needed. Earlier this year, a judge in Ipswich ruled that a child with disabilities who was being home-schooled and had suffered neglect and abuse should be removed from his parents. EHE parents have lobbied heavily against any changes to the regulations, but Lough is hopeful that parents and professionals will contribute to a dialogue and agreement that ensures the interests and needs of all home-school children are met.


Read the full version in The Northern Correspondent #6