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428 Northern Ireland children educated at home but minister admits true total may be higher

Peter Weir

More than 400 children in Northern Ireland are home-schooled, the Education Minister has revealed.

Peter Weir said the actual number may be higher as parents are only required to notify the Education Authority (EA) under certain circumstances.

The latest figure indicates that home-schooling appears to be gaining popularity in Northern Ireland.

In 2013-14, a total of 249 children were registered for home education, according to statistics obtained by the BBC.

By 2017-18, this figure had risen to 337, according to the EA.

As of last month the number - revealed in an Assembly question posed by DUP Assembly member, Thomas Buchanan - had reached 428.

Mr Weir said the actual number may be higher, as parents are only required to notify the Education Authority if their child has previously attended school or has a statement of special educational needs. The EA also does not record the data by constituency.

Parents here legally have a right to educate their children at home.

They must also ensure their child receives a full-time education from the age of four to 16.

However, there is no obligation for home-schooled children to follow the Northern Ireland curriculum or enter for national tests.

Parents or guardians also do not need to be a qualified teacher, according to the EA website.

Education authorities across Northern retain the right to conduct annual home visits to give advice on a child's progression.

If it appears that a child is not receiving a suitable education, the EA might serve a school attendance order. It can also provide guidance to parents.

Outlining his answer, Mr Weir said there are options for parents on how children are educated.

"Parents may choose what they consider to be the most appropriate educational setting for their child and that can include being home-schooled," the Education Minister said.

The Education Authority has previously said that it has to develop standardised guidelines in collaboration with home education partners since, currently, there are none.

Academic research conducted by a PhD candidate at Queen's University, Belfast has indicated why some parents choose to home school. Christine Bower said it was appealing to parents because of lifestyle choices, religious reasons or lack of support for the special needs of children, the BBC reported.

Belfast Telegraph