Government proposals 'fall short' on helping home-schooled children


The government has been accused by councils of watering down plans to improve oversight of the growing number of school-aged children who are educated at home in England, leaving some of them at risk of a second-rate education or worse.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, says government proposals to introduce a compulsory register for home-schooled children are welcome but do not go far enough to protect children and ensure they get a high-quality education.

In combination with the register, the LGA wants councils to be given additional powers that would enable them to enter a family home or other premises to check on a child’s schooling. Without those powers – and more funding to enact them – the LGA says concerns will persist for a minority of children who could be at risk of neglect or poor future prospects.

“We know that most children get a good education at home and fully support parents’ rights to home-educate their children,” said Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board.

“But there is a minority of cases where home-schooled children are not receiving a suitable education or being educated in a safe environment. Those children have got to be our priority.

“It is good the government is introducing a register but this risks failing to protect children unless it goes further. It needs to toughen up its plans and give councils the powers and appropriate funding to enter homes or other premises to speak to children and check their schooling.”

Damian Hinds announced in April that parents would be required to register home-educated children with their local authority under government proposals intended to prevent young people from disappearing off the radar.

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An estimated 60,000 children in England are thought to be educated at home – a figure that is rising by about a quarter each year. The register will for the first time enable authorities to see where children are if they are not in school and intervene more effectively if required.

Announcing the plans, the education secretary said: “As a government, we have a duty to protect our young people and do our utmost to make sure they are prepared for life in modern Britain.

“That’s why this register of children not in school is so important: not to crack down on those dedicated parents doing an admirable job of educating their children in their own homes, but to prevent vulnerable young people from vanishing under the radar.”

Home educators criticised the proposals at the time, saying a council register would be a further step down the path of unwarranted intrusion into family life by the state. They also resisted giving councils additional powers to intervene.

Ministers have become increasingly concerned about growing numbers of pupils who are being “off-rolled” by schools, in particular families who are encouraged to take their children out of school and “elect” home education in order to avoid exclusion or fines.

The schools watchdog, Ofsted, has also flagged up concerns about more than 500 illegal or unregistered schools. In some cases, children who are said to be home-schooled will in fact be attending illegal schools.

In its original consultation, the Department for Education included the possibility of giving additional powers to councils, but the proposal was dropped. The LGA has urged the DfE to reconsider and give councils the authority to investigate further.

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A DfE spokesperson said final proposals would be published next year. “We have a duty to protect our young people and that’s why our plans for a register of children not in school is so important.

“If there is a concern over the standard of home education a child is receiving local authorities already have substantial powers including being able to request that parents show the education at home is of a good quality.”

If a council is not satisfied it can serve a school attendance order, enforceable in court.



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