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Children's Commissioner calls for compulsory home education register

The Children’s Commissioner for England has called for a compulsory home education register and strong measures to tackle ‘off-rolling’.

In a report, Skipping school: invisible children, Anne Longfield also said there should be more support for families who home educate, a greater oversight of home schooled children and decisive action against unregistered schools.

Some of the findings in the report, which is accompanied by a Channel 4 Dispatches programme presented by the Commissioner, include:

  • In 2018 there were almost 60,000 children in England being home educated at any one time, although the precise figure remained unknown because parents did not have to register home-educated children. “There could be as many as 80,000 children educated at home at some point in the year.”
  • Some children were completely out of sight of the authorities and ‘off the grid’ – with research by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)/Dispatches showing 93% of councils say they are not aware of all the children in their area who are home educated. When local authorities offer to visit a home educating family, in 28% of cases the family refuses.
  • The number of children who are known by councils to be home educated was 27% higher in 2018 than in 2017. It has risen by 20% in each of the last five years – doubling since 2013/14.
  • Research undertaken by Dispatches suggests 22% of the children withdrawn from school to be home-educated in 2017/18 had Special Educational Needs and that 9 out of 10 local authorities said they were worried about the ‘off-rolling’ of pupils. 92% of councils did not feel they had enough powers to assure the safety of home-educated children.
  • Across the local authorities studied by the Children’s Commissioner, from 2015/16 to 2017/18 there was a 32% increase in the number of primary school children moving from school to home education, alongside a 71% increase in secondary schools.
  • A very small number of schools were responsible for the majority of moves into home education. Nine out of ten schools saw no more than two referrals into home education a year, but for a minority of schools it can be more than 15 a year.
  • The analysis by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office of 11 local areas showed a 48% rise in the number of children withdrawn from schools into home education between 2015/16 and 2017/18. In Hackney it was 94% and in Newham 176%. Between 2016/17 and 2017/18, Hackney’s academies saw an increase in children moving into home education of 238%.

The Children’s Commissioner’s Office will later this year collect data from all councils in England and publish it, school by school, identifying which schools have high numbers of children being withdrawn into home education which may suggest practices of off-rolling.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Our investigations have revealed thousands of children are ‘off the grid’ because they are being home schooled. The numbers are rocketing and no-one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe. Many are being off-rolled. It also seems that a relatively small number of schools may be responsible for this sharp rise in children leaving school for ‘home education’ in this way.

“Many parents who make a philosophical decision to home educate provide their children with a high quality education. But there are many other families who have ended up home educating for other reasons, and are struggling to cope. Many of these children are very vulnerable, have Special Educational Needs, or are unable to cope with a ‘one size fits all’ school system. Schools should be for all children, including those with complex needs and those who struggle academically.”

The Commissioner added: “We need to know who these children are, where they are, whether they are safe and if they are getting the education they need to succeed in life. There is a clear case for the Government to introduce a compulsory register for all home-educated children, without delay.”

Gail Tolley, Chair of the ADCS Educational Achievement Policy Committee, said: “Every child has the right to a suitable standard of education and missing out on this harms their development and their life chances. We absolutely recognise that parents have the right to educate their children at home. Where they do, we want it to be a positive experience which equips children with the skills to thrive and realise their ambitions.

“Concerns arise when the learning experience does not meet children’s needs, when home education is used as a means to illegally exclude children with special educational or behavioural needs or when parents use home education as a cover to send their children to illegal schools, for example."

Tolley argued that there was “a clear need for strengthened legislation in this area – it is not good enough that we have no way of knowing whether an increasing number of children are receiving a suitable education at home or not or whether they are safe”.

She added that “bold, decisive action” was needed from the Department for Education “that deals with the causes not just the symptoms of these issues if we are to prevent children falling through the gaps in the education system”.

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