Down from high street store windows come the ‘Back to school’ posters, up on social media go parents’ photographs of young people striding out on the next leg of their learning journey. This week, most of the 8.3 million pupils who attend the country’s state and independent schools are climbing back onto what some see as the treadmill of testing and targets.
For young people being home educated, there is no distinction between where they live and where they learn. Every parent has the right under UK law to educate their child at home – and increasing numbers are making the decision to do so. According to Education Otherwise, which gives advice to parents about home schooling, the actual number of young people being home schooled is closer to 80,000 than the official figure of 20,000.
Uncertainty over the content of the national curriculum, the freedom for Academies and free schools to determine their own curricula and the perception that parental behaviour is under increasing scrutiny by schools are all contributing to the rise in home schooling. Since the law changed a year ago, 64,000 fines have been issued to parents for taking their children out of school in term time.
A survey of local authorities carried out by The Independent last month found that 1,700 parents had not accepted an offer of a school place. The reason? There is a shortage of school places, particularly at primary level. The Local Government Association warned last week that an extra 130,000 school places will be needed by 2017/18 because of a bulge in the birth rate.
Although home-educating parents don’t have to follow the national curriculum, many do want their sons and daughters to study for the academic qualifications that will enable them to go to university and exercise a degree of choice over their future careers. For those families, distance learning is one way to keep young people out of the classroom but keeping up with their peers. The number of NEC students under the age of 16 has been on the rise for the last twenty years. In 1990, around 25% of NEC students were under 25 years of age. In 2014, that figure has risen to almost 45%, following the trend for the growing number of families choosing to home educate increasing each year.
Distance learning doesn’t have to mean sacrificing outstanding exam results. This year, NEC students have once again done well in their GCSEs, IGCSEs and A levels. NEC student 15-year old Anna, who is from Colchester in Essex, took her English Language IGCSE a year earlier than she would have taken it had she been attending school. She achieved an A*.
74.7% of students taking GCSEs and IGCSEs across the subject range NEC offers achieved grades A*-C against GCSE performance in England of 68.6%. While schools across the country consider the impact of the changes to this year’s English exam papers on their overall GCSE performance, 92.3% of NEC students who sat the English IGCSE were awarded a grade C or above and nearly a quarter (23.1%) were awarded the top A* grade.
Home-educated Elliot Stevens from Nottinghamshire studied government and politics, history and law A levels with NEC and took his A2 exams last summer. He achieved top marks: A and A* grades in all three subjects, and is just about to start the second year of a degree in law at Cambridge University’s Robinson College. As Elliot points out, with distance learning as with school, you only get out what you put in: ‘Take it seriously and make a commitment to your ambition. Good planning will help tremendously. I enjoyed learning new things and knowing that I was working towards a goal, which for me was to attend university.’
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