Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has reiterated his support for the introduction of a home education register.
Speaking at a Parliamentary hearing this morning (Wednesday), Zahawi said he was “absolutely committed” to the creation of a register of elective home-educated (EHE) children, which would be maintained by local authorities.
The measure was a key proposal in the Children Not in School consultation paper published in April 2019 alongside a planned duty on parents to register their child as being home schooled and for councils to provide additional support for EHE children.
The government has yet to publish its response to the consultation, which was criticised by members of the Education Select Committee who were questioning Zahawi.
Caroline Johnson, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, said: “I am unsure why it is taking so long? This is a safeguarding issue…we know that some people are not doing a good job [home educating] and children can disappear into places that are not good.”
Zahawi told MPs that the government would set out its plans for registers by the end of the year.
He said: “I’ve seen excellent examples of home education, and we need to remember that there are people doing this brilliant work. We are absolutely committed to the register and will set out further details…in our response to the Children Not in School consultation which we intend to publish by the end of the year.
“It was right to consult properly… and I promise you we are focused on delivering them at pace.”
The need for a register was highlighted by Nicola Richards, Conservative MP for West Bromwich East, who described EHE guidance by her own local authority, Sandwell Council, as “floppy”.
Richards said the guidance states that when a child drops out of school a head teacher should notify the council of this, but that parents “do not need to take any action” if a child has never been to school, instead asking “if you could let us know”.
“That is fairly floppy and non-committal,” Richards added.
After being pressed by committee chair Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, about the need to better monitor the quality of education home-schooled children receive, Zahawi said that while he was “open minded” over future measures the creation of the register would be the main priority.
“We published revised, much-strengthened guidance in 2019 for local authority oversight of EHE and the steps they can take when not satisfied with arrangements. Guidance reiterates what good practice looks like. I’m always open minded about what more needs to happen – but the first step is the register. Without the register we can’t begin to think through how we look at issues like persistent absenteeism.”
Halfon said it should be possible to introduce an annual assessment and local registers at the same time.
Figures published last year by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services showed there had been a 38 per cent rise in the number of children home schooled during the pandemic.