Ministers want to identify those at risk of missing out on education, especially if they are of compulsory school age
More children than ever are being home-schooled in England, according to new figures, prompting ministers to launch an investigation into how many are missing out on education.
The Department for Education said it wanted local authorities and schools to identify children who may be at risk of missing out on education, especially those of compulsory school age who were not registered at a school and may not be receiving a suitable education.
Figures published by the DfE for the first time suggested that 86,000 children in England were home schooled on one day this year, while 116,300 were in elective home education for a period over the 2021-22 school year.
Both figures are steep increases on estimates by councils before the Covid pandemic. A previous survey by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) estimated that 55,000 children were home-schooled on one day in 2018-19, which suggested a rise of 50% compared with the DfE’s 2023 figure.
Local authorities said there was a compelling case for a national home school register, and urged the government to revive plans that had been included in the now-abandoned schools bill.
Heather Sandy, the chair of the ADCS education policy committee, said: “The number of children who are known to be electively home-educated has been increasing significantly, year on year, even before the pandemic struck.
“We need more than just an estimate of how many children are being educated in this way to keep them safe and to ensure they receive the education they deserve.”
Sandy added that while parents had a right to educate their children at home, councils lacked the powers to ensure that children were safe and taught effectively.
“While a register in and of itself will not keep children safe, it will help to establish exactly how many children are being educated other than at school and to identify which children are vulnerable to harm,” Sandy said.
The DfE also published official attendance figures for autumn 2022, confirming that school absences remained higher than before the pandemic. Between September and December last year, 24% of pupils were persistently absent – meaning that they missed at least 10% of sessions, the equivalent of seven school days.
The majority of absences were because of illness, with a sharp spike in December due to seasonal infections as well as the continued spread of Covid. More than 12% of pupils were classed as persistently missing due to illness alone.
In-depth research into unauthorised persistent absence, where no reason for absence was given, found that the proportion of pupils affected has been rising for more than a decade. In 2006-7, 1.4% of pupils were persistently absent for no reason, rising to 2.2% in 2018-19 before the pandemic, and more steeply to 3.8% of pupils in 2021-22.
The research published by the DfE recommended that schools use multiple risk factors to identify pupils in need of support, such as disadvantage, previously having been suspended, or attending alternative provision.