Call for beefed-up powers to ensure wellbeing of home-schooled children in Northumberland

The Government’s plans for a register of home-schooled children leaves them at risk ‘of neglect or poor future prospects’ unless councils are given beefed-up powers, it has been claimed.

By Ben O'Connell
Sunday, 21 July, 2019, 11:45

This week, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities in England and Wales, said that the Department for Education (DfE) has rejected councils’ pleas to have greater oversight over home-educated children.

It follows the close of a consultation on ‘children not in school’, which the department says was wide-ranging, with proposed next steps to be published later this year.

Elective home education (EHE) has been causing concerns among councillors in Northumberland, where 261 children are currently known to be taught at home, an increase from 219 in July last year.

In 2018-19, just 53 out of the 136 families in the county new to EHE chose to have a home visit by an education welfare officer, although the requirement to submit an annual report ‘is responded to well’.

The LGA is urging the DfE to rethink its proposals and grant councils the funding and powers to be able to enter homes or premises where a child is being home-schooled and speak to them.

“We know that most children get a good education at home and fully support parents’ rights to home-educate their children,” said Coun Anntoinette Bramble, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board.

“But there is a minority of cases where home-schooled children are not receiving a suitable education or being educated in a safe environment. Those children have got to be our priority.

“It is good the Government is introducing a register, but this risks failing to protect children unless it goes further.

“It needs to toughen up its plans and give councils the powers and appropriate funding to enter homes or other premises to speak to children and check their schooling.”

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A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We have a duty to protect our young people and that’s why our plans for a register of children not in school is so important.

“If there is a concern over the standard of home education a child is receiving, local authorities already have substantial powers including being able to request that parents show the education at home is of a good quality.

“We have published revised guidance, setting out the action councils can take if they have concerns about a child’s education.

“The consultation was wide-ranging and we will publish our proposed next steps later this year.”

The latest report on this issue to Northumberland County Council’s family and children’s services committee earlier this month confirmed that the authority had responded to the consultation and is ‘now awaiting feedback and proposed action’.

It shared its views on matters such as the requirement for all EHE parents to self-identify to the local authority, whether the council should still fund some services such as public examinations, how the quality of education might be assessed, what consequences there should be for schools who pressure parents to off-roll, and what consequences there should be for parents who do not provide a suitable education for their children at home.

At that meeting, Stephen Payne, one of the committee’s teaching union representatives, asked if councils and directors of education should put pressure on the Government to give Ofsted powers to inspect education wherever it takes place.

Director of education Dean Jackson responded that he thought Ofsted would love to be able to do so.