IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Islington parents pull their children out of classrooms

Rise in home-schooling amid concern at failure to meet pupils’ needs

28 June, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Home-schooling: Michelle Clarke with son Thomas

A RISING number of parents are deciding to home-educate their children due to fears that Islington’s cash-strapped schools are unable to meet pupils’ needs, the Tribune can reveal.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number of pupils removed from the mainstream education system in the borough and schooled at home has increased by 65 per cent in the past seven years.

Michelle Clarke, who lives in Old Street, felt she was forced to keep her son Thomas, then aged six, at home after he was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She believed the school could not cope with his needs.

“My boy was entitled to a school place and that wasn’t being met,” she said.

“His behaviour with the school really broke down. They couldn’t control him and they didn’t know what to do. I had no choice but to say I cannot send him to school, and I had no support for that.”

In the 2012-13 school term, 145 children were home-schooled in the borough. This rose to 224 this year, according to figures released by the council.

Ms Clarke, 40, has helped set up ADHD Islington support group.

She found an alternative primary for her son after nearly a year of home-schooling, but then came up against difficulties again trying to find a scondary school for him. Thomas, now 12, attends a specialist school.

“Secondary schools have little-to-zero structure in place for helping our kids. Whether this is due to funding or ignorance, it needs desperate attention,” she said.

“You’re sending these children into a classroom where the teachers are not equipped to deal with them. You have got a lack of training, combined with one person in the school you have designated for SEN [special educational needs]. It’s the bit in between a specialist school and mainstream school that is missing. That is the gap that maybe home-schooling is filling more these days.”

A report into “off-rolling” by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, found that there had been a sharp increase in home-schooling in neighbouring borough Hackney.

Ms Longfield said that many parents choose to home educate on “social and philosophical” grounds.

But she criticised schools that “put pressure on parents” to remove children who don’t “fit in.”

“This practice, known as off-rolling, can amount to informal, illegal exclusion,” she added.

Tara George, another Is­lington parent, home-educated her autistic daughter after “bullying that left her emotionally scarred”.

Speaking of the special needs coordinator at the school, Ms George said: “She was truly one of the nicest, most conscientious people you would ever meet, but useless to us – as she was so overworked that her only focus was on my daughter’s medical condition of epilepsy rather than autism.”

Tony Buttifint, secretary of Islington branch of the National Education Union, said: “We would be greatly concerned if decisions to home-educate were being driven by parental concerns about cuts in education funding that have taken place, in particular the funding and provision for SEN pupils in our schools.”

A council spokesman said: “Parents should never feel pressured to home-educate children and we monitor this carefully. We always meet parents considering home education to offer help and advice, including support to help resolve any issues.

“If any parent has concerns about their child’s situation, we ask them to please contact us.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The government’s ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities is no different to any other child – we want them to enjoy school and achieve to their full potential.”

• At the parents’ request we have not named the schools that children attended. Tara George is a pseudonym used to protect the mother’s identity at her request.

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