A "tiny" number of schools are responsible for most “off-rolling” of pupils into home education, according to new analysis by England’s children’s commissioner.
Nine in 10 councils who spoke to Anne Longfield for a new Channel 4 documentary said they are worried about children disappearing from school rolls.
Using data from 11 areas with high exclusion rates, her office found the number of children withdrawn from school rose almost 50 per cent between 2015-16 and 2017-18.
And within the 1,400 schools they cover, the analysis found just a quarter were responsible for around 80 per cent of the elective home education referrals.
Ms Longfield said: “One exhausted mother described her daughter’s secondary school to me as being like the Hunger Games.
"She, like thousands of other parents, had eventually removed her miserable child from school – just one more effectively excluded through no fault of their own from an unforgiving school system which appears to have lost the kindness, the skill or the patience to keep them. When did school become like this?”
In Hackney, London, the number of children moving into home education doubled over the three years looked at, and among its academies they more than tripled, rising by 238 per cent.
“Alarmingly,” the report said, the trend has been increasing among primary schools, where the rate of withdrawals rose almost a third between 2015-16 and 2017-18.
“The data shows that a very few schools are responsible for the majority of those moved into home education,” said the analysis, which is published today.
“Roughly nine out of 10 schools only saw 0-2 referrals into home education a year, but for a tiny minority of schools it can be more than 15 a year.”
The number of home-schooled children known to councils jumped 27 per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year, to nearly 60,000.
However, the report warned this could actually be as high as 80,000 as many children are “off-grid” and invisible to local authorities.
The Dispatches documentary, which airs tonight, found 93 per cent of councils were not aware of all the children in their area who are home educated.
It also exposes how over a fifth of children withdrawn from school to be home educated last year had special educational needs (SEN).
Ms Longfield is calling for a compulsory home education register, greater oversight of children taught at home and tougher action against off-rolling.
“Our investigations have revealed thousands of children are ‘off the grid’ because they are being home schooled,” she said.
“The numbers are rocketing and no one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe. Many are being off-rolled. It also seems that a relatively small number of schools may be responsible for this sharp rise in children leaving school for ‘home education’ in this way.
“We need to know who these children are, where they are, whether they are safe and if they are getting the education they need to succeed in life. There is a clear case for the government to introduce a compulsory register for all home-educated children, without delay.”
For more on the realities of home education and what parents think about the prospect of registration read this feature in the current edition of Tes magazine.