THE number of children being homeschooled in Hampshire has more than doubled in the past four years, according to new figures.

A new report published by Hampshire County Council shows there were 1,355 children in elective home education (EHE) as of the 2020/21 academic year.

This is a 112 per cent increase from 2017/18, when 639 children were being homeschooled.

However, some of these children have returned to school this academic year.

In the report, the county council’s director of children’s services, Jonathan Willcocks, said the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a rise in home schooling.

He said: "Whilst the number of children electively home educated continues to rise there is also a considerable turnover of children being electively home educated with many choosing to return to school after a limited period.

"The highest ever number of children and young people were recorded as being EHE in Hampshire during the academic year 2020/21, mainly linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The number of children and young people becoming EHE has increased significantly in Hampshire and across England with large rises during the 2020/21 academic year and a correlation in additional numbers linked to returns to compulsory school attendance during the Covid-19 pandemic."

The county council registers all known young people receiving home education on a database.

Although parents do not have to stick to the national curriculum, they do have to show that educational needs are still being met.

This was made clear in the judicial review of Goddard v Portsmouth City Council last year, after Portsmouth Home Educators claimed homeschooled children were being forced back into schools.

The city council said it was ensuring "suitable education" was taking place, with the High Court siding with the council and dismissing the challenge.

Cllr Roz Chadd, the county council’s executive lead member for children’s services, said: "In Hampshire we have seen an increase in notifications from parents intending to EHE. This is in line with most other local authority areas and is mostly linked to Covid-19.

"I recognise that EHE is equal in law to children attending school, and also that many parents provide excellent educational provision for their children.

"When a parent withdraws their child from the school to teach them at home, the school must both report this to their local authority and remove the child from the school’s roll.

"By electively home educating parents take full responsibility for educating their child or children.

"We would welcome further changes to the law and guidance around EHE, particularly for children who may be receiving a limited and unsuitable education."

Cllr Chadd added that parents who have never sent their child to school are not obliged to inform their local authority – but many do so to get support from the council.

Hannah Titley, founder and CEO of the Home Schooling Association (HSA) said: "The figures resonate with our own experience – this year, we experienced a 50 per cent increase in enquiries from families choosing to home school.

"Many started home schooling to avoid disruption to their child’s education during the pandemic and have decided to continue.

"For some children, this year has been an opportunity to take a step back from constant testing at school and has enabled them to flourish.

"Parents have reported that their children are less anxious, have more time to pursue hobbies like art, yoga, and cycling, and have become more intellectually curious. "One-to-one learning has created a safe space for their children to ask questions and think laterally."

The children and young people select committee will meet on Friday to discuss the report further.