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Number of home educating parents in Norfolk trebles over a decade

PUBLISHED: 07:24 03 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:45 03 March 2017

Hajira Ben Moussa, left, with husband Khaled and son Chedhli. Picture: Hajira Ben Moussa

Hajira Ben Moussa, left, with husband Khaled and son Chedhli. Picture: Hajira Ben Moussa

Archant

Dissatisfaction with traditional schooling has seen the number of parents in Norfolk shunning the classroom for the flexibility of home educating treble over a decade.

The number of home educated children in Norfolk has trebled in the last 10 years. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire The number of home educated children in Norfolk has trebled in the last 10 years. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

In the last academic year, there were 1,201 children registered as home educated in the county – up from just 378 in 2006/07 –and another 510 in Suffolk.

Though the figures, revealed under a Freedom of Information Request, are just a fraction of the 227,450 pupils recorded in schools across both counties last January, they are likely to be an underestimate – only children withdrawn from school must register, meaning those who never enrolled may not be reflected.

It feeds into a national growth in home education, put down to a shift in philosophy, dissatisfaction in schools and religious beliefs.

The squeeze on school places – meaning less children attend their preferred school – and tightening of funds for special educational needs are thought to have further driven up numbers.

And while critics say – with no classmates or requirement to follow the national curriculum, sit exams or follow a set school day – it can disadvantage children academically and socially, the hundreds of families in the region opting to do so disagree.

Hajira Ben Moussa and husband Khaled decided to educate son Chedhli at their Norwich home when he was young – but, after a wobble in confidence, enrolled him at school when he turned five.

“We tried, but as a family it just didn’t work for us –the structure and pressure wasn’t for us and it confirmed what I’d already thought,” she said.

Chedhli, now nine, has been home educated since, with the family’s “child-led” approach including traditional subjects, library trips, sports, science groups and professional tutors.

“It takes a huge amount of confidence in your abilities and a massive amount of money and dedication,” she said, “but we are in a school system where, in my view, we now teach children to pass an exam.

“For me, it should instead be about teaching your children to learn.”

Last year, the family travelled across Europe, something she said gave Chedhli “a much broader education” than he would have received in the classroom.

Losing out on interaction with classmates is often a common criticism, but Mrs Ben Moussa said she believed home educated children were, in many cases, actually more sociable.

“At school, children are with a group of 30 others of the same age for most of the school year,” she said. “My son gets to make friends with groups of home educated children of all different ages.”

A national home education support group based in Swaffham said many of the calls to its helpline related to “dissatisfaction in schools”.

A call-handler at Education Otherwise said: “It’s a mix between that and parents thinking they would like to provide something better for their children. We have seen a rise in calls, mainly from parents who have just started home educating or are considering doing so.”

Dr Beverley Nightingale, programmer leader for early childhood studies at the University of Suffolk, said a “perceived rise” in pressure and anxiety children may face at schools and more parents not getting their first choice in school had given rise to the growing figure.

“Many parents are concerned that the individualisation of their child is not catered for in classrooms of 30-plus pupils, where the pressure on teachers and teaching staff is to get pupils moving to a set pace,” she said.

“With the growing number of support groups around the country, home-schooled children also get the opportunity to socialise and mix with like-minded others.”

Parents have a legal duty to ensure their child has an “efficient”, full-time education - though this does not have to be through school and “efficient” is not defined.

To support parents, Norfolk County Council runs run a Services to Home Educators team to liaise with families.

Case study

In December, when the hustle and bustle of busy classrooms left 13-year-old Jonas Jermey struggling to keep up, his family decided home education was the best move.

Since then, his Fakenham family, mother Lyn, 47, father Marc, 49, and sister Denise, have managed timetabled lessons of English, maths, science, French, art, music and sports, and yesterday enjoyed their first outing with fellow home educators.

Mrs Jermey said: “The school system, the noise and having so many people around him were exacerbating his problems and we didn’t feel he was getting the support he needed.

“Jonas used to suffer from night terrors, but since we took him out he hasn’t had a single one. The difference it has made has been amazing.”

They say the flexibility – there are no fixed school hours, days or terms – has improved Jonas’ learning.

• What do you think of home educating? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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