New powers are needed to allow councils to intervene in illegal schools and protect vulnerable pupils, according to the man ministers have appointed to rethink local authorities’ role in education.
Alan Wood is not due to start his Department for Education review into the future of local government in education until the new year.
But in an exclusive interview with TES, he revealed that he was already of the opinion that radical changes were needed to safeguard pupils outside mainstream schools who could be learning in unsafe and unhygienic environments.
Mr Wood said the issue of illegal schools – as well as unregistered schools – was one that was “growing and will not go away unless it’s dealt with”.
And he warned that there was “clearly room for bringing in new arrangements” to allow councils to find out what was happening to children being taught outside school.
“I certainly don’t think we can continue on without clear guidance as to how local authorities can ascertain what’s happening to children,” Mr Wood told TES. “If someone can say, ‘I am home-educating this child’, they are under no obligation to tell you any more than that or to comply with any of the questions of work or where the education takes place. There is no requirement for people to give you that information.”
Mr Wood’s call for change comes in the same week that Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said it was “bizarre” local authorities had “absolutely no powers” to find out what was happening to children not in school.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said that academisation meant more children fell through the cracks into illegal schools. “How can local authorities take responsibility for all children if they can’t get the numbers excluded from academies?” she said.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for councils to be handed powers to enter people’s homes if they decide to home educate their children.
In September, Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said that children listed as home-schooled were at risk of attending illegal schools. “With limited powers to check on the work a child is doing, however, councils are unable to find out whether this is the case,” he said.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Unregistered schools are illegal and unsafe. We have given Ofsted additional resources to root them out and take action through the courts.
“Where children are being put at risk or not receiving a suitable education, local authorities and police have clear powers to intervene.”
This is an edited version of an article from the 11 November edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here