Clive Soley on the reasons underpinning his Bill to ensure proper checks on all children who are home schooled
In recent years there has been a steady and significant increase in elective home education, with some 45,500 children in England and Wales registered as ‘home educated’ with local authorities. Such registrations are either reported to the council by schools, who have a legal duty to inform the council when a child is taken off roll, or parents who choose to say whether or not the child has never attended a school.
As there is no requirement for parents to register a child who has never attended school, we can only make an informed guess at the actual total number. The best estimates suggest it is around 60,000 – a quarter higher than currently registered. In one county (Hampshire), they have 1422 electively home educated children – a figure that has tripled over the last five years.
Limited research exists on the quality of education being received. Perhaps more worryingly however, there is little knowledge of whether any children are at risk.
The majority of parents who choose to home educate are doing so in an informed and responsible way, with minimum help. It is not however, the whole story. Parents have important rights that must be protected when making decisions about their child’s education. But children also have rights, which must be carefully balanced with those of their parents.
Many parents who take their child out for home education do find it difficult to deliver the quality of education necessary. Children in this situation are often returned to school, having been absent for significant periods. With the right help, these parents could make home education a success and avoid the disruption for both school and child alike.
Some children start being home schooled when a parent feels that they are being failed in some way in the class room or by the education authority. This is particularly true for children with special educational needs. More must be done to give such children additional support.
Then there is a very worrying but, hopefully, small group of children who are at risk either of failing to get anything resembling adequate education or in some extreme cases, radicalisation or of sexual or physical abuse.
With increased awareness of child abuse, it seems likely that a few children are taken out of school by a parent who seeks to hide signs of abuse – along with those cases where they have been seriously ill-treated after being removed. We cannot ignore the dangers. Equally, we need to be much more vigilant about the threat of radicalisation.
The first essential step is to put a duty on local education authorities to create a register of all children out of school. My Private Member’s Bill, which gets its Lords Second Reading on Friday, will put a duty on councils to visit the family and child. This duty should not be seen as negative, as the idea is to offer help where it is needed. Nor is it meant as a prescriptive instruction to home educating parents but rather a way of ensuring the child is receiving an education, safe and not being ill-treated or radicalised.
Should the Bill proceed through Parliament, I will of course take advice from the relevant experts, along with parents and children themselves – all with a view to ensuring we get the right balance on this important area of educational policy.
Lord Clive Soley is a Labour Peer
Published 24th November 2017