Education focus: Early Years + Home Schooling

This week I had my first 2023 meeting at the Children, Education and Skills sub-committee. The two main agenda items were Early Years and Home Schooling, both fascinating topics. Here’s a summary…

Early Years Ambition.

It’s been proven time and again that, pound for pound, investment in a child’s early years tends to outperform other later-stage interventions, in terms of outcomes. I won’t hide that I’m a massive fan of early support models, for children and also their parents. The peculiar thing is that the government has proven unwilling to provide proper investment in early years. However, I’m pleased to say that this isn’t stopping us doing some great early years work here in North Tyneside. Our Mayor’s “Ambition for Education” is:

“Making North Tyneside an even greater place for children and young people to thrive; where all can access a high-class education with a culture of inclusion and achievement.”

Key to this is an idea sometimes referred to as ‘school readiness’. It’s about narrowing the gap that all too frequently exists between children from disadvantaged vs non-disadvantaged families by the time they arrive at Reception class at primary school. Amongst a wide variety of things going on in the borough to address this gap I noted a few as especially interesting and encouraging:

  • The key driver for change is to improve early language acquisition. A speech and language communication pathway has been developed and launched. It takes an innovative and multiagency approach. North Tyneside was part of an LGA peer review for early speech and language (completed in December 2022). It identified our work as strong and innovative practice. NTC is now working with the North of Tyne Combined Authority to extend the model into Newcastle and Northumberland because it is so effective.
  • The early years language work is also linked to reading attainment. In this area a new ‘Launchpad for Literacy’ initiative is targeting not only schools but also childcare settings plus nursery year and pre-school classes. There are 20 schools plus 16 other settings involved, with a focus on high quality teaching to improve language acquisition and early reading.

Of course none of this is possible without developing the education workforce. That’s why there has been a strong focus on improving the skills of adults who work in Early years, particularly developing their skills around support for SEND. To date 37 SENDCOs have completed a level 3 qualification and a further 13 have signed up for 2022/23.

Home Education

Often unhelpfully referred to as ‘Home Schooling’, because a home can never really be a school, this is an interesting and fast-changing area of education. Due to the pace of change, and the potential implications a sub group have been looking at Home Ed in detail. They brought back their report to us for comment and questions.

Here in North Tyneside, when the sub-committee last reported on home education (Feb 2017), there were 41 children in the borough who were known to be home educated. This is a tiny fraction of over 35,000 children of school age in the borough. Still, less than 5 years later, at the end of the academic year 2021/22, the number had almost quadrupled to 155. We found there are of reasons for this, some straightforward, some complex, some positive, some negative. For example,

Reasons for Home Educating Parents / percentage of total
Health/Emotional Wellbeing43 / 28%
Lifestyle choice33 / 21%

When I asked what is meant by “Lifestyle Choice” the reply was that it can also include religious or ideological reasons for not wanting children in mainstream school. There were a number of quite obviously negative reasons for home schooling too, such as dissatisfaction with the school, bullying and friendship issues, or did not get school preference.

The sub-committee, and the lead officers from the council recognised that this is a sensitive area touching on a parents right to choose vs a child’s right to learn. Legally speaking, education is compulsory but going to school is not. Therefore the task of the council’s team is to engage with all parents providing Home Ed, to meet the children receiving this education, and to ensure a good standard of learning is being experienced. We were pleased to hear that our Elective Home Education officer, Sarah Irving, has recently won an award for her excellent work with local families – well done Sarah 🙂

On the positive side, one potential driver of the change is the advent of online learning. It means that children learning at home can access much higher quality resources than were previously available. However, there is a digital divide and not all kids can access these resources.

Finally, and this is where the rubber hits the road so to speak, it is also apparent that in a minority of cases parents have issues, anxieties or misgivings about school that are unfounded. When this is combined with a parent’s lack of capability or capacity to deliver education at home children’s development can suffer. In these cases the council does have the legal right to serve School Attendance Orders.

Click here for the full public documentation relating to this meeting.

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Photo credit: jcomp on Freepik

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