In a report issued by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, she estimated that, at any one time during 2018, around 60,000 children were being educated at home. Her figures, collected from 11 Local Authorities across England, showed an increase of 48% of pupils being withdrawn from school. This figure was far higher in some Local Authorities, with the London Borough of Hackney, for example, seeing an increase of 238% of children being home schooled, from the year before. Ms Longfield identified that a small number of schools were responsible for a high number of pupils being withdrawn from mainstream education to be educated at home and has vowed to collect information from Local Authorities across the country to identify those schools where children are being withdrawn in larger numbers. She also raised concerns about the “off-rolling” of vulnerable pupils (a practice whereby the school involved ‘encourages’ the parents to remove the pupil from the school, even if there is no viable alternative) and the provision made for pupils with Special Educational Needs.
Whilst no conclusion was drawn as to the quality of education being received by these children, which would inevitably vary from family to family, Ms Longfield proffered that “no one knows how they are doing academically…”
But should Ms Longfield really be surprised by these findings? Last year the Department for Education mooted the prospect of a compulsory register for home-educated children across England following a “call for evidence” from ministers that children are getting a good quality education at home. Lord Agnew said that children should have “suitable and safe education.” He is, of course, quite right. However, this does not mean “cookie-cutter” education. So what are parents and carers currently required to do in law?
- 1. A parent must ensure that a child receives a full time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and including any special educational needs that child may have.
- 2. If a child is already attending school the parent must notify the School in writing pursuant to Regulation 8 (1) (d) of the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006 (the 2006 Regulations) that they wish for the child to be removed from the school’s roll. The School must then notify the Local Authority (Reg 12 (3) of the 2006 Regulations).
- 3. Once the child is removed from roll, the Local Authority no longer has a duty to provide education and the responsibility and financial burden for the provision of education falls to the parent (unless it is SEN provision under an EHCP – the responsibility here remains with the Local Authority).
- 4. No agreement is needed between the parent and school or Local Authority, to remove the child from roll unless the child attends a Special School, when prior agreement is needed.
- 5. Provided that the child receives a full-time suitable education, the parent does not have to educate the child in accordance with the National Curriculum.
- 6. A Local Authority does not have a statutory obligation for regular visits and can only require proof of educational provision if they serve notice under Section 437 (1) of the Education Act 1996 requiring a parent to demonstrate suitable education is being provided.
- 7. If the parent fails to demonstrate suitable education is being provided, the Local Authority can serve the parent with a School Attendance Order setting out the school which the child is expected to attend. This is a last resort and will usually only occur where other reasonable measures have been attempted and failed.
It would seem to me a sensible suggestion that a central register of children being home-schooled is maintained predominantly because, whilst the majority of home-schooled children receive a good education, it is a risk that the most vulnerable children in our society will fall between the gaps, may not be safe at home, with limited contact with professionals, and may not receive the education to which they are entitled. However, such measures must not be draconian in nature or infringe a parent’s right to choose their child’s educational path and it will be interesting to see how the government legislates in future in order to strike this delicate balance.