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Looming fears over 'disaffected' Kent pupils leaving school

Fears have been expressed by Kent education bosses over a potential surge in the number of "disaffected" pupils not returning to school from September.

Around 2,300 youngsters are currently home educated in Kent, but concerns have been raised that thousands more will join this cohort in three months' time while others could be taken out of the education system altogether.

KCC's corporate director for education, Matt Dunkley
KCC's corporate director for education, Matt Dunkley

Kent County Council's (KCC) corporate director for education, Matt Dunkley, said: “There is I suspect going to be looming and very large issue in September of children who do not return to school.”

Alan Brookes, the chairman of Kent Association of Headteachers, said there was a "real danger" that some pupils wouldn't come back. He added that many parents remain "nervous" about sending them to school amid the pandemic.

KCC's main opposition leader Rob Bird (Lib Dem) said that some pupils have become "disaffected" with schooling and urged KCC to use its powers to ensure that children who do not return to school get properly educated at home.

But, he admitted: "It's going to be an enormous challenge".

It is feared children who will not turn up to school in September, who might go off radar. Picture: Thinkstock
It is feared children who will not turn up to school in September, who might go off radar. Picture: Thinkstock

Several families living with disabled children have already spoken to KCC about their "fears" around the September restart.

Mr Dunkley told KCC's scrutiny committee on Tuesday: "More parents might go for elective home education (EHE), having experienced it during lockdown. I suspect we are gearing up for an increase in those numbers."

However, KCC's legal powers to inspect the quality of teaching provided to children at home remains "quite restrictive", the committee was later told.

Written proof must be sent from parents to the local education authority about the curriculum they will teach their children. But, KCC chiefs only perform annual check ups on the progress due to their limited resources.

Around 1,000 children enter and leave Kent's EHE system each year. But, Mr Dunkley said: "If 5,000 extra students don’t turn up to school in September, how we fulfil our statutory duty in that context will be a huge challenge."

Alan Brookes, the chairman of Kent Association of Headteachers
Alan Brookes, the chairman of Kent Association of Headteachers

He added: "We don’t know the size of the problem that is going to hit us, but we are trying to prepare for it.”

In addition, Mr Brookes warned parents who decided to go down the route of home education that the school bears "no responsibility" for them thereafter.

The Sittingbourne school headteacher said: "Parents will be completely on their own. They cannot expect to be given teaching resources from schools."

Contingency plans are being formulated by a small KCC team to deal with the expected rise in homeschooling numbers. However, Mr Dunkley added: “It’s a major concern to us that there will be children who will not turn up to school in September, who might go off radar."

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