The number of parents applying to homeschool their children has reached a record high, driven partly by fears over Covid-19 in the classroom.
Applications from families to educate their children at home have increased more than threefold last year, up from 617 in 2019 to 1,929 in 2020.
Higher than average applications have continued into 2021 with numbers for the first quarter of this year up by more than 135 per cent over the same period last year.
Home education is provided for in the Constitution and regulated by Tusla, the child and family agency, which oversees a registration system.
Parents who wish to educate their child at home must be assessed by Tusla. However, once a parent notifies the agency and receives an acknowledgement, they can commence the homeschooling provision.
The surge in applications has resulted in a backlog of more than 1,000 applications.
Tusla says the recent increase is linked to a number of factors including concerns about Covid-19 and the fact that some families had a positive experience of homeschooling during school closures.
Catherine Monaghan of Home Education Network, a voluntary support group, said there had been a huge increase in its membership since the first lockdown in March 2020.
“There are many parents who are worried about their children’s health or because there is someone else in the family who is vulnerable,” she said.
“Then, there are those for whom it was on the radar but they hadn’t taken the leap. When they were forced into it, they found it was fine and their children enjoyed it. They found their children were happier and less stressed.”
Ms Monaghan said the benefits of home education include the freedom to allow children follow their own interests or a set curriculum, along with learning about the world while surrounded by their family.
“You can tailor your children’s education to what your child is interested in; you don’t have to follow what 30 other children in a classroom are doing,” she said.
While some assume that homeschooling can be isolating and may affect children’s social skills, Ms Monaghan said this is not the case.
In many ways, she said, they have a more “normal” life and mix with people of different ages. “They are going to the shops, visiting the library, meeting other people ... school is the only time in your life which you spend with 30 other children the same age as you; that’s not normal life.”
While applications for homeschooling have soared in recent months, the numbers screened and registered have increased at a slower rate due to a backlog of applications.
Latest Tusla figures show the total number of children on the home education register increased from just over 1,500 in early 2020 to 1,786 in June of 2021.
Separately, Department of Education guidelines for schools will continue to state that only children with “very high risk” medical conditions will be entitled to receive remote tuition. About 700 children availed of this last year.
No such provision is available to children who live with very high-risk family members.