Rise in home schooling post-Covid as 'anxious' pupils fail to return to UK classrooms

Nearly one in five students persistently absent last year, official figures say

Students arrive at Outwood Academy in Doncaster, UK. Last year, more than 115,000 children were home educated, a third higher than the pre-pandemic level. PA
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A dramatic increase in home schooling has take place in Britain since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a report found

Last year, more than 115,000 children were home educated, a third higher than the pre-pandemic level.

The 2021/2022 academic year saw 81,000 pupils receive a home education, the equivalent of 80 average-sized secondary schools.

The findings have been blamed on parents pulling their children out of school due to the lockdown, with many not returning to the classroom.

The research was revealed in the Out of Sight and Out of Mind report by the Centre for Social Justice.

Authors of the study carried out in-depth interviews with local authorities about families withdrawing their children from school.

The report found that many children are “anxious” about a classroom return and that low-income families were more likely to opt for home education.

Many parents opted for home education because they felt that had no other option or were being coerced into removing their child from school, the report said.

“In some areas, the total number of children in home education more than doubled,” the centre found. “At present, half of all children taught at home were found to have begun their retreat from the classroom during lockdowns.”

One local authority told the centre they had recorded between 800 and 900 home-educated pupils before the pandemic, a figure which had since risen to between 1,300 and 1,400.

Another council reported how its numbers had “close to trebled” over the same period.

The report also noted that persistent absence can permanently harm a child’s life chances.

Nearly two million of the UK's nine million students are failing to attend school regularly, according to Department for Education statistics released earlier this year.

This includes 1.67 million children classified by the as “persistently absent” during the autumn term of 2021.

Much of this was driven by illness, the reason for the absence of 14 per cent of all pupils who missed 10 per cent of school or more.

Alice Wilcock, the centre’s head of education, warned that there was a “crisis” in school attendance.

“While some may be receiving a good education at home, neither the government or local authorities have much idea of who these are or what is happening to them,” she said.

“Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that some are being deliberately off-rolled by schools to fend for themselves.” Off-rolling is when a school removes a child from the school roll.

The centre says the current home education system is not enabling all parents to “make a fair and free choice”.

Those children who are off-rolled by the end of Year 11 are statistically far more likely to be disadvantaged.

Many children who are currently being home educated had previously been excluded from school or had disengaged entirely from mainstream education before moving off-roll.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We know the importance of a consistent education for children’s life chances which is why we have put in place a range of measures to help drive up attendance levels.

“These include strengthened guidance for schools and councils, new data dashboards, advisers working with local authorities and a mentoring pilot for persistently absent pupils, all with the aim of boosting attendance levels in schools.”

Updated: November 16, 2022, 1:28 PM