In the week that schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will open their doors to welcome students back for the start of a new year, tens of thousands of children will be staying at home. A significant number of those children will be adopted or previously looked after.

The home education community in the UK can perhaps broadly be divided into two categories: those who chose home education for a variety of reasons, and those who have turned to it as a last resort. Single adoptive parent, Sarah, falls into the second category.

Moving across the country to be nearer to her family, Sarah sought advice before choosing a school that, on paper, seemed able to meet her six-year-old son’s needs. However, during Harley’s first term in the school, he received two fixed period exclusions for challenging and unsafe behaviour.

As Christmas approached, Sarah felt frustrated. Harley had exhibited challenging behaviour, especially around transitions, at his previous school, but the Educational Psychologist had suggested several successful strategies. At this new school, these strategies were no longer being followed.

The spring term brought a series of informal exclusions, sometimes beginning as early as 9.20am. Sarah was struggling to get into work, and Harley’s mental health was deteriorating. Sarah recalls, “Harley was screaming in the car, ‘Go home!’, ‘Turn around!’, and ‘I don’t want to go to school!’ As we got closer to the school this turned into threats to hurt me and physical violence, including kicking me and throwing shoes at me. He had panic attacks.”

After a further exclusion that was challenged and overturned by the inclusion service, Sarah formally de-registered Harley from school. “I wanted to help him over the hurdle in his mind rather than just saying, ‘You don’t have to go’, but ... it was extremely apparent that my son needed me at home with him, so that is what we did.”

Sarah’s story is not uncommon. In Adoption UK’s 2017 survey on exclusions, 12% of adoptive parents said that they had home educated their child because the school was not able to meet their needs. Heather was among them. Her son, Kyle, started school just four weeks after joining the family, and had difficulties from the start. It was only when post-adoption support transferred to their own local authority after three years that they began to receive the help they needed.

After attending training courses on attachment parenting, Kyle’s parents began to understand the source of his difficulties and turned to home education as a way to both get Kyle the tailored education he needed, and to prioritise the attachment relationships that were so vital to him.

“When our son was in school, I was extremely worried about his trajectory,” says Heather. “At nine years old he could barely add single digit numbers correctly, and with his challenging behaviour I was worried about what it would be like to parent him through his teens. Now, he has caught up in Maths and joined a creative writing class. His behaviour is very good and he feels valued for his contribution within our family. It is an utter joy to watch our son blossom.”

Sarah has also seen improvements in her son since beginning home education. He has achieved trampolining grades 1-4, improved his social skills and made progress in reading and Maths. He has done so well that the local authority has agreed that home education is best for him and have arranged to provide a personal budget for the next academic year.

However, all of these benefits are not without sacrifice. Sarah had to give up work due to her son’s repeated exclusions, and has used up her savings. Heather also gave up her career and estimates that her family spends £300-£400 per month on tutors, trips and materials for Kyle’s education. Home educating requires a lot of dedication from the parent, with evenings given over to preparing materials, and every day spent with the child.

In England, schools are given £2300 per child, per year to help them meet the needs of adopted and previously looked-after children. When a child cannot manage in school, home educating families get none of that financial help. At Adoption UK, we are calling for funding streams set aside for previously looked-after children in schools to be made available to home educating families, and for local authorities to recognise the benefits that home education can bring to some traumatised children.

Ideally, every child should have the opportunity to attend a school that can effectively meet their needs. Trauma and attachment sensitive schools should be available in every area. While home education is a very positive path for some families, it should always be a choice and not a last resort.

Sarah is not sure what the future holds for her family, but she is proud of the progress Harley has made. “Now he feels safe to learn, he has achieved so much in such a short space of time. I don’t know where we will be in a year’s time. Maybe he’ll want to return to school, and maybe not. All I know is that we will make the decision based on what is right for our family.”

If you are considering home education for your family, download our free introductory guide from Adoption UK’s website: