The government will create a register of children who are not in school following longstanding safeguarding concerns around home education.
The Department for Education today pledged to place duties on councils to maintain a register, on parents to provide information on children not in education to authorities and on providers of certain unregulated educational settings to respond to enquiries from councils on children who may be covered by the register. Councils would also be able to share data with specified agencies, for example, in relation to safeguarding concerns, and would also be under a duty to support home educators on request from the family.
The decision, following a consultation carried out in 2019, comes amid evidence of increasing numbers of children being educated at home. An estimated 115,542 children and young people were known to be electively home educated at some point during the 2020-21 academic year, a 34% increase on 2019-20, found the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’s annual elective home education survey published last November.
The most common reason for parents and carers having their children educated at home was health concerns related to Covid-19. Following the release of the research, ADCS repeated its longstanding call for there to be a mandatory register of children electively educated at home. This should be backed by a fully-funded duty on councils to visit the child at least annually, to assess the suitability of learning being provided. The ADCS said the measure was also necessary for safeguarding purposes.
The DfE’s decision to introduce a register came despite most respondents opposing it, with the opposition generally coming from the home educating parents and family members who made up the majority of respondents. However, most councils and charities backed the measure and, among supporters, the biggest reason for supporting a register was to address safeguarding concerns.
“The majority of [supportive] consultees suggested that under the current arrangements, a child not attending school is unknown and invisible to LAs and therefore potentially at risk of harm. A register would provide key information to ensure children do not ‘slip through the net’ in terms of their right to be kept safe from harm,” said the DfE in its summary of consultation responses.
The DfE said that the unregulated settings that would be required to respond to requests for data from councils would be those that were, in effect, illegal schools, providing education to the same children for a significant portion of the school day and without their parents’ supervision.
It said it would legislate to introduce the changes “at the earliest opportunity”, however they would be subject to it securing the necessary resources to fund councils to carry out their new duties.
Government ‘should go further’
The ADCS welcomed the decision to create a register, but said the government needed to go further.
“Whilst a register in and of itself will not keep children safe, it will help to establish exactly how many children are being educated other than at school and assist with the identification of children who are vulnerable to harm,” said Gail Tolley, chair of the ADCS’s educational achievement policy committee.
“We urge the government to go further and provide local authorities with the powers to see both the child and their place of learning,” she added. “Without this we cannot know that all home educated children are receiving a suitable education in a safe and appropriate learning environment.”
Tolley also stressed that the government must fully fund local authorities to implement their new duties.