The Department for Education’s plans to create a compulsory register for home-educated children risk failing to protect children unless councils are given the power to enter homes, councils have said.
The Local Government Association issued the warning as the DfE rejected councils' pleas to have greater oversight over home-schooled children, following a consultation over proposals for a register.
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The LGA said it welcomed the register – which the DfE announced in April – but is calling on the government to give councils the funding and powers to enter homes and premises where a child is being home-schooled and speak to them.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services estimates there are 57,873 home-educated children across 152 local authorities in England.
In some instances, children who are said to be home-schooled are actually attending illegal schools. Ofsted estimates there are at least 6,000 children being educated in such settings, which evade inspections that ensure the safety and quality of education for children.
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “The LGA has long called for a register of children not in school, as this will help councils make sure children are getting a good education and prevent them from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.
“We know that most children get a good education at home and fully support parents' rights to home-educate their children. 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.
“Councils are keen to support families to make sure children get the best possible education, wherever they receive this. However, with children’s services facing a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025, it is vital that any additional responsibilities for councils are properly funded.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “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. We have published revised guidance, setting out the action councils can take if they have concerns about a child’s education.
“The consultation was wide ranging and we will publish our proposed next steps later this year.”