Schools blamed as education at home shows dramatic increase

The number of parents home schooling their children has increased by at least 800 per cent within five years in some parts of Britain, as growing evidence emerges that some schools have encouraged it as a way of improving league table ratings for truancy and educational performance

The highest increase in Britain has been recorded in Lancashire, where 567 children are now home schooled compared with 61 five years ago.

Leicestershire's increase is 420 per cent and Cardiff's 221 per cent, though Education Otherwise – an organisation which offers advice to parents wanting to educate their children at home – claims the numbers may be three times higher than those disclosed by local authorities, because some children never start school in the first place and are not on local authority records.

Chris Meldrum, head teacher of the City of Preston School in Lancashire told Channel 4 News this week that he believed home schooling had been encouraged in some places because of the benefit to the institution's performance.

"I'm assuming that [headteachers] are saying 'I've got targets to meet [so]... why don't we look at this [homeschooling] loophole and sign them off," he said.

A total of 30 children were "signed off" in 12 months at his school, which is currently in special measures, though Mr Meldrum has discouraged the practice since his arrival.

B ut some parents do not need encouragement. Stewart and Rebecca Eyres, a university lecturer and librarian from Kirkham, near Preston, felt that school would "institutionalise" their daughters Jane, eight, and Amy, six, and not provide the personalised learning that is one of the Government's aspirations.

The Eyres' homeschooling system is not highly structured. It may typically begin with Mr Eyres deliberately leaving a newspaper around and hoping his daughters will be drawn to an image or headline that might form the basis of a discussion. As a mathematics graduate he can help Jane with the subject while reading sessions develop from the books the children are interested in. The girls have music and French lessons with local tutors and other children.

"We look at what our friends' children are doing in school and benchmark as we go along," said Mr Eyres.

"We could see the girls getting on acceptably at school but we felt our eldest would not cope with the strictures it presented and our other daughter would go along with everything and become a bit of a couch potato in class. It's a confidence thing. Working in the education system has given my wife and I the confidence to do this."

Anecdotal evidence suggests other parents are keeping their children at home because their offspring have special educational needs while others object to the testing which they feel dominates school.

Others choose the route because of bullying and some simply find it the best way to avoid prosecution for truanting. The point at which children are due to step up to secondary school often triggers a decision to remove a child.

Some local authorities have dedicated home school liaison officers but LEAs can only intervene if there is evidence that a child's education is inadequate.

Education welfare officers are concerned that there is no identifiable standard or benchmarking for the hundreds of children who do not attend school. Critics of the practice also suggest that it affects children's ability to socialise. But Mr Eyres insists that theory is flawed.

"I simply don't rate the social side of school and in my experience that was not what school was about," he said. "The girls have many firm friends outside school, made at dancing and Rainbows (the Guiding organisation for under-sevens) and continue to make more."

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