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  1. ITV Report

Meet the home educated children who won't be heading back to school this September

Tina Veeranna, Hannah Canavan, Simon Webb and Jax Blunt all have or did home educate their children. Credit: Tina Veeranna/Hannah Cananvan/Simon Webb/Jax Blunt

As the majority of children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland head (largely begrudgingly) back to school after the summer holidays, there are some that won't.

In fact, an increasing number will stay at home.

Home education across the UK has risen 40% in the last three years.

Government figures found almost 53,000 children in England were home educated in the academic year of 2017/18, along with just over 1,000 were in Wales and around 340 in Northern Ireland.

And the numbers are rising by around a quarter each year.

Parents choose home education (the term they prefer over "home schooling" since it is the school system they object to) for a number of reasons.

But the one that comes up most frequently is that school entails a "lot of tests and exams" and lessons are too geared towards passing them.

"I don't want my children to have to jump through these hoops," Jax Blunt told ITV News.

Jax Blunt's children Simon, Alison, Romy, and Calvin, have all been educated at home, or they still are. Credit: Jax Blunt

The mother of four educates her nine and seven year olds at the family home.

She did the same with her elder children, who are now 16 and 19 and both studying music performance at college.

Ms Blunt says the test-driven school education results in children "learning things they don't need" to.

It's a concern echoed by fellow mum Hannah Canavan, who blogs about her experience - and the benefits - of teaching her three young daughters.

She believes her children have "excellent" mental health because they do not attend school and face less exams as a result.

Hannah Canavan teaches her daughters Esmae, Eira, and Elfie at home. Credit: Hannah Canavan

"There is a tidal wave of mental health issues in schools and this correlates to the rise of testing in schools," she told ITV News.

"Even teachers think there is too much testing."

For Ms Canavan, home education is not a "Plan B or an 'other' option" and she wishes home schooling was "offered as a valid option if parents feel that their children don't or wouldn't fit into school".

She said this negativity can lead to the belief that home educated children will "turn out weird", which she totally rejects.

Tina Veeranna said she too has faced "a negative reaction from society" for home educating her five-year-old son and spends "a lot of time telling friends and family that I'm doing the right thing".

She opted not to send Jacob to school after he found nursery "traumatic".

"I'm not against school, I just think home education is better for my son," she told ITV News.

"Jacob was very attached to me and would cry for the whole three hours he was at nursery, so I researched the alternatives and thought, 'Why not?'"

Tina Veeranna teaches Jacob at home as she doesn't feel school is right for him currently. Credit: Tina Veeranna

She said it has allowed Jacob to become "very confident and independent and I feel privileged that I'm able to do so" as their daily outings turn into adventures in learning.

"Each morning we do an outdoors activity - we'll go to the park or meet with other home education people, or go to a science museum, then in the afternoon we'll learn letters and numbers," she explained.

"During a shopping trip we'll learn letters or numbers, or if we're in the car we'll learn about the engine."

Ms Veeranna, 42, said she is confident school is not right for Jacob at his current stage of life, but will consider it an option when he comes of secondary school age.

Simon Webb kept educating his daughter, Simone, at home until she was 16 and firmly believes he kept up the highest standards.

"Home education provides an education at least as good as the best independent school if parents devote their lives to it," he told ITV News.

Simone Webb got 100% in her IGCSE, her father, Simon, said. Credit: Simon Webb

"It's really hard work, but pleasurable," he recalled, adding that during Simone's primary education in particular "we had no normal day".

"We would visit castles, museums and forests, as well as covering the basics such as mathematics and literacy, but during her secondary education there was more of a syllabus to follow as she was taking exams.

"There was lots of practical work involved in some of the subjects, such as chemistry, so often our kitchen resembled a lab!"

Simon Webb turned his kitchen into a chemistry lab during home lessons.

Mr Webb said his tailored lessons enabled his daughter to get 100% in her IGCSEs (international GCSEs which do not entail coursework), which she began taking from 13.

"Anything less than 100% was failure," he said.

Simone went on to study PPE at the University of Oxford and is now completing a PhD at UCL.

What does a full week of home education look like?

With daughters aged eight, six and four, Ms Canavan finds their days need more structure.

Here she explains a typical week for Esmae, Eira, and Elfie.

"Monday is a free day. We do a lot of reading aloud, maths worksheets, art, caring for our rabbit, guinea pigs, and tortoise, cooking, gardening, movies and playing, park visits and play dates.

There is no curriculum for home educated children. Credit: PA

"On Tuesdays, the two older girls have art, maths and English classes at a homeschool group. Eira has Beavers in the evening.

"Wednesday sees the older girls go to a Montessori-style group for STEM education (science, technology, engineering and maths) and Elfie goes swimming. We have a play date in the late afternoon.

"On Thursdays, I work and the girls go out with my mum. They often go to the farm or soft play centre, or to a garden centre, or to play crazy golf, or visit the the beach, and then do cooking or sugarcraft, art or bike-riding with her at her house.

Home educating parents say they use many different opportunities to teach. Credit: PA

"On Fridays, we have another free day - usually we’ll have an all-day play date. Then Esmae has Cubs in the evening.

"Saturdays and Sundays are family time. We usually do something sporty together, like bowls, crazy golf, football or swimming, as well as running errands, watching films and other weekend stuff. The girls also go to Sunday school."

What are the difficulties of home educating?

Mr Webb warned home education is not an easy option and said children who are taught at home need a clear sense of direction.

"A lot of people have ideological ideals of home education - unschooling, autonomous education and child-led education [where the child leads the direction of study]," he said.

Mr Webb said it can come at a cost - and, he believes, often a lack of qualifications - if parents see it as a short cut or hope their child can benefit from special status.

"Parents think by not sending their children to school they are helping them, but often they are short-changing them," he said.

"There is a myth in the home education world that children can get into college or university without grades, that there is some special dispensation, but this is not the case."

Instead, Mr Webb warns if a parent is to home educate their child, they "must gear their whole life around it, it dictates every aspect of your life".

Yet in doing so, he acknowledges the hardships it can throw up.

Home educating Simone meant that Mr Webb could only work part-time, reducing the family's potential income.

Museum entry and travel costs are not subsidised for home educators.

This too is a hardship for Ms Veeranna, a single-parent, who as well as teaching her son Jacob at home, cares for her disabled mother and so cannot work.

"It's a financial struggle and it's all down to me, and I worry if I'm doing the right thing," she said.

But it's not just everyday bills that home educating parents need to pay.

Additional costs like "paying for travel and museum tickets, can be around £50 a week," Veeranna said.

All the parents ITV News spoke to were keen to stress though their children were receiving or had received high-standards of education.

The Campaign for Real Education - a non-profit organisation which aims to raise the standards of state education - argues that "a nation we should be proud of home educators.

"They are, mostly, a beacon of light in a murky educational landscape."

But what measures are in place to protect children?

While education in state schools is closely monitored, the education of children at home is not.

Safeguarding checks are in place in schools. Credit: PA

While the law states children have a legal and moral right to a "full-time and age appropriate" education, the definition of this is not laid out with details of time structures or even what constitutes "age appropriate".

The responsibility of a child's education is legally down to the parent(s).

But under section 436A of the Education Act 1996, local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to identify children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education, whether in or out of school.

Monitoring the education of children taught at home is "a very hot topic," said Mr Webb as he outlined what he sees as the flaws in the system.

"Some parents send in reports, while others allow the local authority to send somebody round to visit," he explained.

"The problem is that an hour's visit once a year is not really sufficient to establish anything and if a report is sent, there is no guarantee that the information it contains is accurate."

But he added: "Some parents simply refuse to give any information and there is very little that can be done about it."

There are no formal powers for the provision of home education to be monitored. Credit: PA

He said the "only option" the local authority then has is to issue a School Attendance Order, which makes it a legal requirement the child attends school, otherwise, the parents can be taken to court.

"If the parents do not obey this, then the authority can prosecute them, which means that the parents can then try and persuade the magistrates that they are providing an education," he said.

Mr Webb alleged the high price of pursuing parents through the courts deters Local Authorities.

"This is why there is talk of changing the law, because the truth is that many home educated children are not being educated and everybody knows it!" he alleged.

In April, the Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation on proposals for a register of all children who are not being educated in school.

The DfE is consulting on whether to introduce a register of home educated children. Credit: PA

A spokesperson told ITV News: "We know there are thousands of dedicated parents across the country who are doing an excellent job of educating their children at home.

“We want all children to receive a high quality and suitable education ‎that provides them with the knowledge and skills to succeed – whether they are educated in a school, at home or in an alternative provision."

The DfE spokesperson said the register would "transform a local council’s capacity to identify and intervene where the standard of a child’s education isn’t good enough or, in the rare instances, where they are at risk of harm".

They added: "It will also help the authorities spot young people who may be receiving a solely religious education, attending an unregistered school or not receiving an education at all."

Whether a register comes into force or not, it would not change the way in which the parents who spoke to ITV News home educate.

Those who have spent, and continue to spend, years of their lives teaching their children all agree it is a huge investment of time and energy.

But for them, the cost is ultimately worth it.