Former minister fears school places crisis in Northamptonshire is forcing children into home education

Double the number of schoolchildren are being educated at home in the county compared to four years ago.
Double the number of schoolchildren are being educated at home in the county compared to four years ago.

A former minister has aired serious concerns about the lack of school places in Northamptonshire after a damning report stated how homeschooling had doubled in the county over the past four years.

Ofsted's updated inspection of Northamptonshire County Council's children's services released yesterday morning has once again found the under-fire department to be 'inadequate'.

Sally Keeble says the rising number of children being homeschooled is concerning.

Sally Keeble says the rising number of children being homeschooled is concerning.

Among the findings, the watchdog probe found too many vulnerable children in need of care were without an allocated social worker while others were living in 'unsafe' accommodation.

But the report again reiterates concerns that the number of children being educated at home - rather than at school - in the county has doubled in just four years.

While there is a growing number of people doing so by choice.

Parliamentary candidate for Northampton North, Sally Keeble, said this was a worrying finding.

She said: “This is not just a positive choice to home school, it’s also because some people can’t get school places for their children.”

The detail comes shortly after a report revealed the extent of the school places crisis facing Northamptonshire.

Northampton is 150 Year 7 places short for this coming September, while some Corby pupils will have to travel nine miles to Oundle to go to a secondary school there.

A previous baby boom, which is now hitting secondary school age, migration to the county, the number of new homes being built, and the authority’s reliance on academy trusts and free schools to provide the additional spaces are all behind the problem - which will impact in just six months.

Former housing minister Mrs Keeble claims that 'anecdotally', she has heard of families who have been forced to homeschool their children as an alternative to facing prosecution.

The Ofsted report released yesterday, however, suggested council officers were 'fulfilling their statutory duties' in terms of keeping tabs on those being taught out of school.

"They are vigilant for signs that a young person may be at risk of physical or mental harm and they pursue legal action where the education or setting for a young person is not of sufficient quality," the watchdog report adds.

But it is not the first time concerns have been aired about the growing number of homeschooled children in the county.

Chairman of the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board Keith Makin told the county’s health and wellbeing forum in April that the number of children now being schooled by their parents was allowing children to become ‘hidden’.

According to the latest figures from local education authority Northamptonshire County Council, there are 965 children being home-schooled. This is up from 734 in March 2017.

130 of these children are already known to social services according to the Northamptonshire County Council’s deputy director of children’s services Sharon Muldoon.