The number of pupils being home-schooled in Scotland has risen by over 50 per cent in five years, with the founder of a home education forum saying that the rise is largely being driven by schools' inability to properly support children with additional needs.
Tes Scotland used freedom of information legislation to uncover how many children were being home schooled this year, as compared with 2013-14.
At the time of writing, 29 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities had responded, with 25 able to provide figures for both years.
The figures for those 25 councils show that in 2013-14 some 665 pupils were home-schooled, compared with 1,009 this year – a rise of 52 per cent.
Overall, the pupil population has risen by 2 per cent over the same period from 673,502 in 2013 to 688,959 last year, the most recent year for which figures are available.
In half a dozen councils the figures show that home-schooling numbers have at least doubled over the period; in two cases they have increased five- fold.
The largest rise in home-schooling was in East Ayrshire, where the number has increased from six pupils in 2013-14 to 30 today.
In Aberdeenshire, meanwhile, 15 pupils were home-schooled in 2013-14 but the number has risen to 74.
Why do parents opt for home-schooling?
Alison Preuss, the founder of Scottish Home Education Forums – an information portal and networking community for home educators – said that schools were now so poorly resourced, data-driven and "outcome-based" that many parents were voting with their feet.
A survey conducted earlier this year by the forum found that, previously, big factors persuading families to choose home education would have included a philosophical objection to school or fears about bullying; now, the most common driver is additional needs not being met in school.
Ms Preuss said: “The rise in home education is largely being driven by the lack of appropriate school provision for children with ASNs (additional support needs), disabilities and chronic illnesses. Many are being excluded, often informally, on a daily basis and some have been violently restrained and/or placed in isolation in schools to the point of serious distress and physical injury.
“Schools are simply not adequately resourced to deal with challenging behaviour or other barriers to learning, and waiting times for referral to Camhs (child and adolescent mental health services) and other specialist services are interminable as we all know. Even where parents obtain diagnoses privately, there are no resources to implement professional recommendations.
“To quote the late John Taylor Gatto, 'If life has meaning, it is that we write our own stories', and many parents are voting with their feet and rejecting state diktat in favour of autonomous home educationm which eschews testing and monitoring and is nothing like the outcome-based, data-driven CfE (Curriculum for Excellence) that is turning our children into lab rats.”
Recently, three charities published a survey that found a third of parents of autistic pupils in Scotland said their child had been unlawfully excluded from school in the past two years. At the launch of the research, one parent talked about being forced into home-schooling her son by her local authority.
However, a spokesman for Moray Council, where the number of children being home-schooled rose from 28 in 2013-14 to 51 this year, branded Preuss’ claims “emotional”.
He said that in Moray only one parent gave additional support needs as the reason for home-schooling, and that the standard of education available in the authority’s schools was not the main driver for parents opting to home educate. In 10 instances, the parents were discontented with the school – however, the issues they raised were not related to the curriculum but “transport problems, behavioural and social issues”, he said.
He added: “This tiny percentage of children being home-schooled in Moray is hardly a basis for these emotional claims that parents are rejecting CfE or that the system is producing ‘lab rats’ of our children.”
East Ayrshire Council's head of education, Linda McAulay-Griffiths, said that the authority worked with the small number of parents who opted to home-school, to ensure that the education provided was suitable and that any additional support needs were taken into account.
She added: “East Ayrshire Council has 30 children currently receiving an education from home, from a total school roll of approximately 16,000 pupils and that represents less that than 0.2 per cent of our pupil population."
In five councils, the number of pupils being home-schooled fell – the biggest drop from 41 to 24 was in the Scottish Borders. In one council, Western Isles, there was no change in the figures.
Across the 29 local authorities, 1,208 children were being home-schooled this year, which amounts to 0.17 per cent of the pupil population.
Some 21 authorities were able to provide a breakdown of the children being home-schooled who were of primary and secondary age. This showed that slightly more children were being home-schooled at the primary stage: 435 compared with 404.