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21 home educating parents told to return children to school because education was insufficient

PUBLISHED: 10:31 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:00 08 February 2018

A child learning at school. (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A child learning at school. (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

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Twenty-one sets of home-educating parents across Norfolk and Suffolk have been ordered to send their children back to school because they were not learning enough, figures reveal.

A child walking with their parent. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire A child walking with their parent. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Freedom of Information request data shows that, since 2013/14, at least 21 families – eight in Suffolk and 13 in Norfolk – have been handed orders to send their children back to school.

And dozens of notices, 159 across both counties, have been issued by Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, requiring parents to prove their education is sufficient.

The figures come as the number of parents choosing to remove their children from school and teach them at home soars. Today, some 1,450 children in Norfolk are recorded as home educated.

Prevalence varies across the region, with certain schools recording particularly high numbers of parents removing children so they can learn at home.

Mildenhall College Academy in Suffolk. Picture: Academy Transformation Trust Mildenhall College Academy in Suffolk. Picture: Academy Transformation Trust

MORE: Number of children being home educated in Norfolk rises by 20pc in one year

Norfolk County Council has previously said the “vast majority” of home educators are “absolutely dedicated” to their child’s learning, but said they would intervene if “there is not a suitable education in place”.

A spokesman said: “The council strives to support parents, offering advice and guidance if education is initially deemed unsuitable. If however, following a short time to make adjustments, the education being provided is still regarded as unsuitable, the council will intervene.”

In Norfolk, the council said the rising number of notices issued reflected the increase in home educators – the amount of families doing so has risen by 20pc in the last year.

While no children were ordered to return to school, and just five families sent warnings, in 2015/16, last year 16 parents were sent an initial warning, 12 a second warning and, of those, 10 children had to reregister.

In Suffolk – where, from September to mid-January, 924 children had been registered as home educated – 13 parents have been issued notices to satisfy the council so far this year, and three have been sent back to school. Last year, 26 notices were issued in total.

Diane and Kieran Jermany. Picture: Sonya Duncan Diane and Kieran Jermany. Picture: Sonya Duncan

MORE: Home education soars in Norfolk amid dissatisfaction with traditional schooling

It is parents’ responsibility to ensure children are educated – whether at home or at school. If they choose to home educate they must tell their school, who then refer the family onto the council.

The team then try to check if children are receiving a suitable education, including through visits – and can intervene if not.

More to the figures

According to the council’s figures, Mildenhall College Academy saw 29 children removed from school by parents planning to home educate in the last two years.

The data showed that 17 were removed last year and 12 were the year before. But the school said the figures were lower than recorded, coming in at 13 in 2016/17 and 11 in 2015/16.

They said it represented less than 1pc of a total school population of 1,124.

A spokesperson for the Academy Transformation Trust, which runs the school, also said that, over the two years, seven of those children were members of the local traveller community.

“Despite encouragement and support from the academy for these children to complete their education in a mainstream setting, some families from this community choose to remove their children from school when they become older,” they said.

The spokesperson said the academy worked “extremely closely” with the council.

‘We had a timetable - it was quite structured’

For teacher Diane Jermany, home educating became a necessity.

Her son Keiran, 16, suffers with medical problems which often sees him have hospital stays and weeks of recovery.

She said the family, from Wicklewood, had mixed experiences of fitting school around his difficulties, but that, ultimately, home education gave them the flexibility they needed.

“There were times he’d be at home, but would be well enough to do some work and he wasn’t able to do that,” she said.

But she said she and Keiran, who is now studying for GCSEs and does a few hours a week at City College Norwich, kept to a strict timetable.

“We had a timetable of English, maths, science and geography, for example, and it was quite structured,” she said. “The work he did was in line with what they did at school, so if he ever returned he could settle back in.”

She said, with clubs on many nights of the week, Keiran also had plenty of opportunity to socialise with others.

A ‘complex issue’

Certain Norfolk high schools recorded particularly high numbers of parents opting to home educate.

At City Academy Norwich, 14 parents deregistered and said their child would be home educated last year, while 10 did so the previous year. Thetford Academy saw 15 parents do so in 2015/16, a number which fell to 10 last year. Great Yarmouth High School, now Charter Academy, also saw 13 children taken out for home education last year.

The figures do not offer insight into why – parents can choose to home educate because of philosophic preference, medical or learning needs or attendance issues among many other reasons. Certain communities will also have a stronger support network for home educators.

James Goffin, a spokesperson for the Inspiration Trust, which runs Thetford Academy, said home education was a “very complex issue”.

“We broadly support parental choice and so long as the local authority is happy that parents are able to provide high standards of support and tuition, small scale education can be a positive approach for some children,” he said.

“Parents must consider though that teaching is a highly skilled profession, and it is extremely challenging to ensure that children get the broad high quality curriculum, sports, cultural, and social experiences that schools provide every day.”

Analysis

As always, there’s plenty behind these figures that we just don’t know.

There are a multitude of reasons parents would choose to home educate, and there are areas with strong home educating communities.

But a topic which has caused concern around the country is informal exclusions. In short, anything other than a legal, recorded exclusion.

I would stress that I’m not suggesting it’s a tactic employed by our schools.

But it can include encouraging parents to home educate – keeping exclusion figures low and, possibly, league table results high.

Parents around the country have reported incidents of feeling pressured into home education.

At the end of the day, what matters is that children receive a proper education.

Whether that’s at home with family, or in the classroom, is a decision for the family.

But it must be made with the children at heart.

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