Rising number of parents decide they can do a better job than the education system

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Monday 28 January 2002 01:00

Up to 140,000 pupils are being taught at home as growing numbers of parents remove their children from school because of concerns over increased testing and bullying.

Education charities say dozens of families are contacting them every week because they no longer want their children in the classroom.

Both the Home Education Advisory Service and Education Otherwise, the leading charities in the field, report the number of parents approaching them is rising.

Another group, Home Education UK, has put the number of children shunning school as high as 140,000, which would amount to 1.5 per cent of the school population.

Helen Donaldson, a member of the Midland group of Education Otherwise who is teaching her 10-year-old daughter at home, said: "In my case, it was because I was bullied at school. I don't trust teachers to do the right thing by my child."

She has seen a growing number of families approaching her group. "At first, it seemed to be just a middle-class thing, but the trend has been for more lower-income families to realise they have a legal right to educate their children at home if they've had problems with the school system," she said.

Some parents opt to keep their child at home for the entire length of their compulsory schooling. Others may only do it for a limited time – particularly, recently, for the period of primary schooling.

Parents point out that most other European countries start formal school at the age of six or seven rather than at five or even earlier, as in Britain.

The Government says it recognises the right of parents to educate their children at home and refuses to voice any concern over reports that the numbers are rising.

Ministers are, though, anxious to stress the benefits of a school education. Stephen Timms, the minister for Schools, said: "It is vital that all children get a good education during their compulsory school years. We have raised standards in schools and think therefore that opportunities for learning in a school environment have improved.''

There are concerns over the long-term educational and social effect of withdrawing children from school. Ged Balner, an education psychologist with the London borough of Bromley, said: "Some children find it difficult to fit into a class of 30, so some parents do seek to educate their children at home. Certainly at primary level it is practical and the progress of a child could be accelerated by learning that way. However, you have to weigh that against the lack of social interaction with other children.

''At secondary level, it becomes more complicated. Some educated parents could certainly cope with the primary school curriculum, but when it comes to more specialised linguistic tuition and what is required in the laboratories in science lessons even teachers would find it difficult to deliver the whole curriculum [at home]."

Other education experts said the advent of online teaching materials led more parents to contemplate teaching their children at home. However, one said: "It might make it easier to impart information, but knowledge comes from interaction with other people.''

According to the Home Education Advisory Service, a growing number of families are turning to home education. "Every week dozens of parents inquire about education at home instead of school," it said. "Many parents turn to home education as a last resort when there are problems at school which cannot be resolved."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "Parents should bear in mind that at school children are taught by trained professionals and that it is important children learn how to interact with others."

A local education authority must be satisfied that a proposed home learner would receive a suitable education and would probably seek to visit the family home or look at samples of work produced by the child.

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