Government to open register for home-educated youngsters

18 Apr

Education Secretary Damian Hinds is planning to create a register for home-educated children of compulsory school age.   He said that this was to “identify and intervene” where the standards of home education were either not good enough or non-existent or if they were receiving solely a religious education.

Nearly 60,000 children in England were being home educated at any one time in 2018.  However, the precise figure remains unknown because parents do not currently have to register home-educated children.  New data produced by Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, on 4 February 2019 showed that many pupils who were being home-educated were off-rolled.

She hinted that this was happening in a “small number” of schools and academies.  The 11 councils that were scrutinised showed that there was a 48% rise in the number of children disappearing from schools/academies to be educated at home between 2015/16 and 2017/18.  A few schools and academies “off-rolled” pupils who were disruptive, threatening them with exclusions because they could spoil their institutions’ positions in the test and examination league tables.  More children were moving out of academies than schools to be home-educated, but schools were catching up.

Longfield is now calling for a compulsory register of “off the grid” children, stronger measures to tackle off-rolling, more support for families who home-educate and decisive action against unregistered schools.

Later this year, the children’s commissioner’s office will also collect data from all councils in England and publish it, school/academy-by-school/academy, identifying which have high numbers of children being withdrawn into home-education.

A survey of local authorities in late 2018 showed that the number of home-educated pupils rose by 27% in the academic year 2017/18.  Council chiefs warned that many more were possibly “hidden from sight”.

When the legislation comes onto the statute books, parents will have to register their home-educated children.   Councils will be empowered to use existing school attendance orders to force parents to enrol their children in mainstream education if they deem that the education is unsuitable.  Other sanctions will be considered.

The Education Act 1944 (known as the Butler Act), states that parents have the responsibility of educating their children “at school or otherwise”. “Home-education” is “otherwise” by another name.  This provision has been incorporated into Section 7 of the Education Act 1996.   The current position is that parents are not obliged to register their home-education which is not inspected or monitored.

Many parents (out of concern for their children and/or because of their convictions) educate their children at home. Some of these children have special educational needs; others have had negative experiences at schools/academies such as bullying.

Mr Hinds has tried to reassure the great British public that plans for a register were not being advanced to crack down on “dedicated parents doing an admirable job” in their homes to educate their children but rather to safeguard those children who were not receiving their education desserts.

However, many parents/carers educate their children at home for suspect reasons. For instance, such outfits have been known as unofficial “schools”, i.e. unregistered ones – mainly of a religious persuasion.  Children are subjected to corporal punishment, something that was banned in state schools in 1987, private schools in 1999 in England and Wales, in Scotland in 2000 and in Northern Ireland in 2003.

The government is consulting on proposals where local authorities will pay for some teaching resources and contribute towards GCSEs and other examination fees.  Anne Longfield welcomed the plans.  She said: “For some families, education at home will be a positive choice but many more children are falling out of school and their parents struggle on their own.  It is vitally important that we know that all children are safe and that they are receiving the education they deserve to help them succeed in life.”

Home education, per se, is not necessarily “a bad thing”.  At some points in their lives, outstanding public figures – Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Florence Nightingale, Joseph Priestly and John Stuart Mill – were educated at home.    But there is evidence that children, who are in the care and control of their parents, could well be neglected and their parents in breach of their responsibilities.  Intervention is necessary to safeguard them from that neglect or sometimes, indoctrination.

While parents may wish to home-educate their children, some may not necessarily have enough know-how about what is “good education” and in their children’s best interests.  Quality-checks are necessary, in the way in which Ofsted checks on the quality of education in the nation’s schools and academies.  If schools and academies are not permitted to teach creationism, neither should parents who home-educate their children.  Children have the right to receive reliable information rather than be subjected to dogma.

In a democratic nation, parents have the right to freedom, but so also do their children.  The freedom to receive the best from generations past must be available – not just to parents but also their children.  For parents, freedom must not be tantamount to licence.

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