Some Lancashire families will carry on homeschooling their children after lockdown ends, charity expects

A charity that provides advice to parents and carers about home education is predicting that the current lockdown will lead to more Lancashire families opting to teach their children at home permanently.

Thursday, 28th January 2021, 12:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th January 2021, 12:17 pm

Lancashire County Council figures show that there had already been a 54 percent increase in long-term homeschooling in the county well before Covid-19 struck, with the number of children being taught in their own households rising from 922 in 2015 to 1,422 by June 2019.

The charity Education Otherwise says that a Freedom of Information request revealed that the figure had risen to 1,540 as of October last year.

The organisation says that, nationally, it is currently seeing the most significant growth in the five-year-old age group, as a result of parents of children who were due to have started school during the pandemic deciding instead to educate them at home – and indicating that they will continue to do so even once the pandemic is over.

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The charity’s secretary, Wendy Charles-Warner, believes that some parents might be making the decision over current safety fears – and that many of these children will eventually enter the traditional classroom.

However, she says others will instead choose a way of learning that they may not otherwise have considered – in spite of the well-worn narrative that homeschooling is a demand rather than a delight.

“School at home is not home education – and a lot of the stress being felt during lockdown is because parents are trying to deal with having to log in at a set time and do X amount of work. It’s being treated like a classroom in the household – and often parents can’t cope with that and adjust their lives, especially if they have more than one child.

“Some parents think it’s been hell on earth, but others have rethought [the rigid structure of the day] and just want to make sure their child learns. Then they see their child is happier and thriving – and they love the fact that they have these long conversations with them and go for walks and discuss the things they see around them.

“For some children, school is best, but for some, state school would destroy them. As their child approaches the age of five, every parent receives a letter asking them which school they want to register their child for – our society has taught parents that this is the right thing to do and we don’t tell them there is another choice,” Ms. Charles-Warner added.

However, at a recent meeting of Lancashire County Council’s education scrutiny committee, former County Hall leader Jennifer Mein said the rising rate of home education had long been a “huge worry” to her.

“I’ve been trying to get something done about it for a lot of years – but there are too many lobbyists [in favour of it]. It is frightening that the numbers have increased by over 50 percent,” County Cllr Mein said.

She called for the county to lobby the government for further “rights and responsibilities” regarding home education.

Currently, local authorities have an obligation to identify any child not receiving a suitable education, but there is no legal duty for them to monitor a family’s homeschooling efforts – and they do not have the power to carry out home visits without the agreement of individual families.

A 2019 report entitled “Skipping School” – by the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield – recommended that council officers should be empowered to visit home educated children once a term to assess both their learning and welfare. It also suggested the creation of a home school register.

Lancashire County Council’s director of education Sarah Callaghan stressed that home education “in itself is not a risk”. However, she told committee members that a working group was considering whether risk assessments should be carried out in cases where homeschooled children have “factors of vulnerability”, such as being known to child protection.

In a statement issued after the meeting, she added: “We have a duty to ensure oversight of the wellbeing of all children in Lancashire as part of our safeguarding responsibilities and have a very good relationship with families in Lancashire who choose elective home education.

“There is no inherent risk to children being electively home educated – however, in those small number of cases where we are aware that families are already receiving some support because, for example, their child has an Education, Health and Care Plan, or is being supported by social care services, we will take into account that they are being electively home educated as part of those assessments to ensure we’re providing the right level of support for them overall,” Ms Callaghan said.

Education Otherwise described the authority’s attitude to homeschooling as one of the best in the country and added that home educating families had been known to move into the area as a result of its reputation.