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Home education review sparks battle over lack of regulation

Rights to inspect children and assess lessons sought by social workers concerned about safety and standards

Social workers are calling on local authorities to increase the monitoring of home-educated children as a government review into the safety and welfare of the controversial practice gets underway.

The National Association of Social Workers in Education (NASWE) has warned that the current lack of scrutiny denies many children an effective education and often leads to them suffering harm.

NASWE says that parents should be required to notify their local authority if they home educate and inspectors should have access to the child and their place of education.

The right of parents to educate children should be taken away by the courts if the education being provided is not suitable, NASWE said.

Estimates of the number of children taught at home vary. Home education campaigners claim the figure is between 20,000 and 50,000 and has risen by 17 per cent a year.

Parents have to tell a local authority when they remove a child from school, but not that they are home educating, and local authorities can only insist on seeing children when there are welfare concerns.

News of the review has angered home educationalists, as they say there is no evidence children taught away from school are regularly involved in child abuse, neglect, forced marriage or exploitation, as alleged by Baroness Delyth Morgan, junior minister for children, young people and families.

NASWE wants to use education supervision orders, which remove the right of the parent to educate in the manner of their choosing and can be brought into play if parents do not comply with a school attendance order, which is made if the local authority wants to improve their standard of home teaching.

NASWE president Andy Winton said the "majority" of home educators worked hard, but that his members were becoming "increasingly concerned" over the lack of regulation and monitoring.

He said this has "in a small but significant number of cases, led to children not just being denied their right to effective education, but to have suffered significant harm".

"The legislation only makes it possible to consider the education on offer and this goes against all other aspects of their work with children.

"Elective home education is not in itself a safeguarding issue, but it removes the opportunity for what is a very efficient method for monitoring and surveillance through attendance at school. Consequently, the issue has become conflated with safeguarding concerns which may exist regardless of the method by which a child receives education."

Bernard Trafford, headteacher of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, and outgoing chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, home-educated his two children with his wife until they went to secondary school.

He believes further regulations are not needed: "If local authorities are not doing their job properly, that's not the fault of parents, and there's certainly no need for anything like more use of magistrates' court orders," he said.

Annette Taberner, who serves on the policy group for support organisation Education Otherwise, said home educators are "sick" of being a "target" for criticism.

Review who's who

Graham Badman, former head of children's services at Kent County Council, who has a background in child welfare work, is heading the review. He has accepted invitations to visit families who home educate, but Ed Balls has so far declined to do so.

Mr Badman is due to meet staff from the National Children's Bureau, Stephen Heppell from NotSchool, Paula Rothermel, independent expert witness on home education in court cases, Arthur Ivatts, a writer on Gypsy Roma Traveller education, Ofsted, the NSPCC, Mick Walters from QCA and June Statham, professor of education and family support at the Thomas Coram Research Institute.

The review will investigate whether home educating parents are receiving the support and advice they want, and what evidence there is to support claims that home education could be used as a "cover" for child abuse.

It will report in May 2009.

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