Parents desert the state and narrow
FORMAL, old-fashioned teaching, enforced study of a "narrow" national curriculum, large classes and bullying are driving more parents to look for alternatives to conventional schools according to a pressure group.
Human Scale Education claims families are increasingly turning to small parent-run schools, home education or co-operative learning centres.
Fiona Carnie, a spokeswoman for the organisation, estimates that it will receive about 1,000 calls this year - a 25 per cent increase on last year. She said: "In our experience people are taking their children out of mainstream schools in increasing numbers. A major factor is the narrowness and academic emphasis of the national curriculum, especially with younger children.
"There is a lack of space for the arts, drama and music, which many parents find worrying. They are also concerned about the current test-based approach and feel education should be a broader experience.
"Parents whose children are having difficulties feel they are not having their needs met or getting enough individual attention."
She said that while her group offered information on alternatives to mainstream schooling, it also worked within schools. It has recently put pound;20,000 into four projects including a mentoring scheme and a project to increase pupils' involvement with their school.
She said: "Mainstream schools are the places where most children wil go so we recognise it is important to work with them and try to make them a better environment for children to learn in."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Growth in the numbers of children being educated at home is evidence of how parents are increasingly dissatisfied with things like class sizes and the national curriculum.
"A broad curriculum and smaller class sizes are exactly the things that those who have the cash buy for their children at independent schools. It is a cry from parents who do not believe that what is on offer for their children is acceptable."
But, he said, NAHT members felt schools had major benefits including developing social skills and having teachers with expertise in the more demanding secondary curriculum.
The Department for Education and Employment estimates that around 25,000 children are educated outside the school system.
The department keeps no figures for comparison with previous years.
But Human Scale Education says there is a dramatic under-estimation of the numbers of home-educated children because many parents prefer not to inform the authorities for fear of interference.
It cites recent research which suggested the numbers of home-educated children in the UK could be as high as 150,000.
Human Scale Education is holding an event, called Alternatives in Education, on September 30 at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, WC1. For more information call (01275) 332516.