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Home Education row

Image: Devon County Council, Christine Channon

The number of students home educated in Devon has tripled in 6 years

A report to Devon County Council’s children’s scrutiny committee showed that in the last six years, the number of students home educated in the county has tripled, and the number who have special educational needs have doubled.

Cllr Christine Channon, the Conservative member for Exmouth & Budleigh Salterton Coastal, said that she was extremely concerned about the numbers of home elective educated students and that it was far too soft to just say my child doesn’t want to go to school so I’ll keep them at home.

Interrupting her, Cllr Emma Brennan, Labour councillor for Heavitree & Whipton Barton, pointed out some parents have no choice as they are having to drag their children ‘kicking and screaming’ to school and they don’t want to do that, but Cllr Channon replied and said: “There must be something wrong with the parenting then.”

Outlining her concerns, Cllr Channon said: “Various people are going for home elective education and I ask why they are doing it, and the most common cause is that they want to take their children in and out of school when it suits them. If they aren’t getting the agreed absences that they want then taking them out, which is absolutely appalling.”

She said that teachers and teaching assistants are trained to a high standard, and questioned how many parents able to deliver that kind of education to their children and said she was concerned over a lack of monitoring for home-elective education.

She added: “That is why I get on a bandwagon about this as I really do think we need to know who they are, what credentials they have, what expectations they have of educating the child at the end of it. It is far too soft to say my child doesn’t want to go to school or it is not easy to get them there, as there are children who live way out in the countryside on farms and make a tremendous effort get to school as they think it is the right thing to. The fact is I think it is important to take into account that lots of children for this education isn’t suitable.”

But Cllr Brennan was outraged by her comments and pointed out some parents have ‘no choice’ but to home educate as they don’t want to drag them ‘kicking and screaming’ into school.

She said: “School refusal doesn’t just mean the kid says ‘I don’t want to go to school today’ and the parent says: ‘OK, I won’t take you’. That is not what we’re talking about.

“We’re talking about children that have got conditions, high anxiety and autism or other things where the parents desperately want to take them to school.

“We are not talking about younger kids who don’t want to go to school but those aged 9-10 or older whose anxiety is such that they cannot get into the car and are standing outside the school and they just can’t go in.

“It is nothing to do with the quality of the parenting but they are just trying to do as much as they can but they just can’t as they are screaming and crying and it means they can’t go. If you that was your child, your heartstrings would be tugging every single day for weeks or months until you finally make the decision because the school isn’t flexible.”

Earlier in the debate, Cllr Brennan had said that not all parents electing to educate their children at home were doing it as a genuine choice but because they feel they have to do it as they cannot keep the child in school as they not being supported.

She said: “Some parents know there is something that means that they need to keep their child off school and at home and some parents find it such a challenge to get them there in the morning is really difficult and the child is under stress, so we need to work with them to provide support to that so they don’t get home educated by default.”

She suggested that ideas like flexi-schooling or children being educated part-time, or providing somewhere for a child to temporarily leave the classroom if they feel under pressure may be ideas that could help more children stay in school.

Figures provided to the meeting showed that the number of registered Elective Home Educated children has risen from 560 in 2011/12 to 1,588 in 2017/18, and that the numbers with a SEN statement has risen from 36 to 72 in the same period.

Committee member Christina Mabin asked whether the county council knew of the reason why children were being home educated and if it was because of a lack of adequate provision for SEN students in school.

Dawn Stabb, Head of Education and Learning, said that the council monitors all the reasons given for elective education and that in 42 cases, the provision for SEN need was the reason, but it is unknown is those 42 were those with an SEN statement or not. She added that if the council know someone was taken out of school as the provision was not adequate, they will follow up with the school, and added: “We try to ensure that parents don’t feel they need to leave school because of pressures or risk of exclusion”.

Cllr James McInnes, cabinet member for children’s services and school added that unless there is a clear child safeguarding issue, everyone is perfectly entitled to home educate their child and there is nothing the county can do about it.

The meeting also heard that the number of fixed term exclusions against pupils with special educational needs has also fallen significantly in the last year, although exclusions for pupils without SEN had risen from 1,354 in 2015/16 to 1,851 to 2017/18.

The most common reason for fixed term exclusions against pupils with SEN Support is persistent disruptive behaviour, the report said, with the second most common reason is verbal abuse / threatening behaviour against an adult. Persistent disruptive behaviour has seen a slight fall in the last year whilst verbal abuse / threatening behaviour against an adult has risen.

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