Welcome for legislation on home education

Northumberland's director of education, Andy Johnson.
Northumberland's director of education, Andy Johnson.

Councillors and officers are pleased that legislation is in the pipeline to allow closer monitoring of those children educated at home.

As we reported last week, there are concerns around the growing number of electively home-educated (EHE) pupils in Northumberland.

The county figure peaked in July 2017 at 203, according to a new council report, with 163 pupils currently being educated at home.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s family and children’s services scrutiny committee, the report author, Jane Walker, revealed that the figure had risen since the report was published, with 10 new EHE pupils in January.

“The issue we have at the moment is, because of the law as it stands, the local authority is not able to monitor closely those children who are electively home-educated,” she said, which leads to two main concerns – safeguarding and quality of education.

“There is concern about the numbers particularly in Years 10 and 11, but there are things being done in terms of legislation.”

This is because education is compulsory in England, but school is not. For EHE children, the responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents.

The county council asks parents of EHE pupils to provide annual reports; last year, just five were received from the 203 EHE children.

But members were relieved to hear that there is a Bill which started its journey through Parliament last June to make provision for local authorities to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education.

Asked if the council could do any more in preparation for this change in the law, Jane said: “I think the infrastructure is already in place because we already aspire to monitor it more closely. It might need more resource though.”

Andy Johnson, the council’s director of education, added: “We welcome this new act – the current system has significant risks, but it remains unclear if the Government will provide any more resources for this new responsibility for councils.

“Jane’s team could be asked to do 173 home visits and that’s going to be a considerable burden on the local authority.”

Reflecting on the issue in general, Coun Deidre Campbell said: “The numbers are quite shocking.

“I know there are specific reasons, but I don’t understand why any parent would not want their children to be in school because of all the advantages that has.”

No figures were provided, but councillors were told that it is quite common for parents who remove their children from school to home-educate them later seek to re-enrol them in school.