Covid: Home education numbers rise by 75%
In north-west England numbers were 92% up on the previous two-year average, figures from 153 councils show.
Some parents and councils – including in former hotspot Bolton – say the increase is down to “Covid anxiety”.
The Department for Education says it supports home-educating parents and plans to launch a registration system.
Coronavirus lockdowns meant that school buildings were closed to most pupils from the end of March to September last year.
But increasing numbers of parents have switched to home-educating their children, removing them from the school register and notifying the local council.
More than 40,000 pupils were formally taken out of school in the UK between September 2020 and April 2021, compared with an average of 23,000 over the previous two years.
As of January 2021, there were 8.9 million pupils attending school in England, including state and independent schools.
In June, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was “absolutely committed” to a register of home-educated children, and said its introduction was “imminent”.
Parents told the BBC that health fears and worries that their children’s learning would suffer had led them to home-educating.
There was a 75.6% rise in home education between September 2020 and April 2021, compared with the averages for the same school terms over the previous two school years.
Every nation and region of the UK saw at least a 50% rise, based on the councils that responded.
For some, the rate was much higher.
In Oldham – where the number of home-educated children has doubled since 2019 – the council suggested the rise was “due to Covid anxiety”.
Bolton Council said its 61% rise was “mainly due to family concerns relating to Covid, particularly as Bolton had the highest rate of infection in the country for some time”.
The figures are based on Freedom of Information responses from 153 of the 205 county councils and unitary authorities in Great Britain, and all of Northern Ireland, which submitted results as a whole.
They do not account for children taken off the register after the end of April 2021, or who have since returned to the classroom.
The “Covid effect” meant home-education charity Education Otherwise was inundated with support requests in September 2020, membership secretary Wendy Charles-Warner says.
She describes home-educating as “different but equal” to school.
“If they would thrive and reach their potential at school, [then] that’s right for your child. A fear-driven choice because of Covid, that’s not the best choice”.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Many appear to have chosen home education because they have lost faith in the government’s approach to school safety during the pandemic.
“A combination of rising case numbers in schools, and the government’s decision to relax a number of the safety measures could mean that we see this trend continue unless the government does far more to reassure these parents.”
The Department for Education says it introduced “robust protective measures” in schools, including regular Covid testing and keeping pupils in bubbles.
It said: “Although many parents provide a good standard of education, home education is never a decision that should be entered into lightly. Now more than ever, it is absolutely vital that any decision to home-educate is made with the child’s best interests at the forefront of parents’ minds.
“We remain committed to a registration system for children not in school and will provide further details in due course.”