On 21 July 2021, Lord Soley (Labour) is due to ask the Government “what plans they have to create a register of all home educated children”.
Number of home educated children
There is no formal record of the number of children receiving an elective home education. Registration of home educated children is voluntary, and numbers are an estimate.
In its November 2020 survey of elective home education, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) used survey data from local authorities to estimate that on 1 October 2020, 75,668 children and young people were being home educated across all 151 local authorities in England. This is an increase of 38% compared to estimates for 1 October 2019.
The ADCS states that this increase is at least partially due to children remaining at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To mitigate for this, local authorities were also asked to provide the number of formal requests for elective home education that had been made since 1 September 2020. Using these figures, ADCS estimates that 19,510 formal requests for elective home education were made (rather than parents keeping their children at home temporarily due to the pandemic), representing 25% of those being home educated on 1 October 2020.
- ideological or philosophical views regarding benefits of the wider school system;
- religious or cultural belief;
- special educational needs; or
- a child being unwilling or unable to cope in a school environment.
Councils have also cited parental concerns around Covid-19 as a reason for an increase in removals. The ADCS reports that many families intend to re-enrol their child or children back into school once their concerns over the virus are alleviated. Overall primary school applications in 2021 fell by around 5% compared to 2020 levels. Other reasons for this drop cited by local authorities include a large number of late applications, and a “reduction in migrations” due to Covid travel restrictions.
Despite this, the ADCS states that trends prior to the pandemic showed a regular yearly increase (dating back five years) of home educated children. This has led to concerns over educational quality, oversight and safeguarding provided by local authorities.
Right to home education
In England, education is compulsory, but going to school is not. Parents have the right to educate their child at home. While the local authority may make visits to check that a child is safe and receiving a suitable education, schools must accept a parent’s will to take their child out of the school environment and educate the child at home.
There are no specific requirements for the content of home education. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable:
a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.
There is no legal requirement for parents home schooling their children to follow the national curriculum, enter their child for public examinations, or follow the dates of the school year. Government guidance to local authorities states that:
Approaches such as autonomous and self-directed learning, undertaken with a very flexible stance as to when education is taking place, should be judged by outcomes, not on the basis that a different way of educating children must be wrong.
However, with increasing numbers of children being home educated, concern has been raised around monitoring the quality and suitability of education received, as well as safeguarding issues when a child is taken out of sight of the local authority.
Duties of the local authority
Local authorities have the same safeguarding responsibilities for children educated at home as for other children; these are provided in the Children Act 1989. Local authorities have the power to remove a child from an elective home education setting if they believe the child is “suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm”. The Department for Education recommends that each local authority publish a written policy on elective home education. Authorities should also offer guidance to all known home-educating families in their area about their rights and obligations regarding elective home education.
In England there is currently no legal duty for parents to inform the local authority that a child is being home educated. Despite this, section 436A of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on local authorities to identify children who are of compulsory school age but are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education outside of school. The Department for Education acknowledges that maintaining oversight of the identification of children receiving an elective home education is a major undertaking for local authorities. The department states that authorities may want to introduce a voluntary registration scheme. This may, it states, “help authorities discharge the responsibilities which they have under sections 436A and 437 [section 437 concerns school attendance orders] of the 1996 Act”. Many, but not all, local authorities do maintain a voluntary register.
Even in areas with a voluntary register, identifying children receiving a home education remains one of the most significant issues for local authorities in maintaining adequate oversight and safeguarding. This has led to calls for a mandatory register of all children receiving an elective home education.
Compulsory home school register
There have been discussions about the possible introduction of a compulsory register of home educated children in recent years. A 2017 private member’s bill, proposed by Lord Soley, would have introduced new provisions to the Education Act 1996. These would have included:
- a parent of a child receiving elective home education having to register the child as such with their local authority;
- local authorities having to assess annually each child receiving elective home education in their area, including home visits; and
- a parent of a child receiving elective home education having to provide information relevant to the assessment to their local authority when requested.
The bill passed all its stages in the Lords but failed to receive a second reading in the Commons. During Lords second reading, Lord Soley said that he wanted to strike a balance between “the rights of parents to have the education for their child that they choose, and the rights of the child”. Lord Soley said:
One thing that has troubled me for some time is that there is no registration of children out of school in this country—for either children who are not registered for a school in the first place or those who are taken out of school and disappear. […] This is becoming a much bigger problem than it used to be. The issue is not whether some parents can do it well; it is about how we help those who cannot do it well and protect the rights of the child.
The bill’s provision for a compulsory register of home educated children received broad support in the Lords, although some peers raised objections on libertarian and anti-state intervention grounds.
In 2018 the Government launched a call for evidence on compulsory home education registers, among other related topics. A final report, including guidance to local authorities, was published in April 2019. In the report, the Government states that although it respects the right to home education and recognises there are many parents who perform the task well, the rise in numbers of home educated children in recent years is a cause for concern. The Government says there is evidence of some parents turning to a variety of unregulated settings such as part-time alternative provision or unregistered independent schools. These settings may pose safeguarding concerns, and increase the risk of exposure to extremism, radicalisation, corporal punishment or sexual exploitation. In its conclusions, the Government states that they will consult further on legislation introducing a compulsory register.
The Government ran a further consultation about establishing a local authority registration system for children who do not attend state-funded or registered independent schools from April–June 2019. In answer to a recent written question, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System Baroness Berridge stated that:
[the Government] remain committed to a registration system for children who are not in school. Further details on a proposed registration system will be in the government response to the Children Not in School consultation, which we intend to publish in due course.
- House of Commons Library, Home Education in England, 24 July 2019
- Kalwant Bhopal and Martin Myers, Home Schooling and Home Education: Race, Class and Inequality, 2018
Cover image by ArthurHidden on Freepik.