Two local authorities are urging the Scottish Executive to force parents who choose to educate their children at home to be placed under the same evaluation regime as HM Inspectorate of Education applies to schools.
Highland and East Ayrshire outline the case for a set of indicators on How Good is Our Home Education? in response to the executive's review of guidance on home schooling, published in 2004. The idea has been rejected by home education campaigners.
A report by Donnie MacDonald, head of education in Highland, to the authority's education, culture and sport committee, accepts that increasing numbers of parents are choosing to teach their children at home. It says nearly 100 pupils are home educated, but there may be others not known to the authority.
The current guidance sets out the legal position and the rights and responsibilities of parents and local authorities. However, Highland and East Ayrshire believe they are not clear or watertight enough. "Authority responsibilities are contradictory as there are no accompanying rights,"
says Highland's report. "Guidance needs to be more specific about whether the parent, or the authority, has overall responsibility for the educational programme."
Highland also suggests a framework should be set up. "Children educated at school have their provision monitored by HMIE, using indicators from How Good is Our School? (We) suggest a similar set of self-evaluation tools for How Good is our Home Education?, which may be useful for home educators,"
says the report.
"Where families are exercising their right to provide a written update on an annual basis, there may be no sight of the child. The guidance gives the local authority no right of access to the child. It is difficult to gather information if there is no right of access to the home or the child."
The response from East Ayrshire, where 24 children from 18 families are home educated, states that HMIE indicators "would provide a structure to facilitate real discussion" between parents and education authorities, and act as "a starting point for a partnership."
Alison Preuss of the Schoolhouse Home Education Association said it was against a similar inspection regime to schools. "Home education is not like schooling and we shouldn't be subject to the same rigours," she said.
"Parents delegate responsibility to schools, so there have to be checks, but we would welcome resources home educators would want to make use of. We wouldn't welcome regulation for regulation's sake."
According to Scottish Exec-utive figures, there are 877 children receiving education at home or in hospital because of illness, 213 away from school because of extraordinary circumstances, 580 who have opted out of the state system and another 126 who have never been in the state education system.
But home education supporters suggest the figures under-estimate the position.