The move will interest Prospect members working in education, particularly education welfare officers, who are employed by local councils to ensure every child receives a suitable, full-time education either through school attendance or home schooling.
The changes will make clearer to councils the powers available to them and will inform parents about their rights and responsibilities. “It will be an opportunity for all stakeholders to put forward their views,” said Lord Agnew.
The private members’ Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill, put forward by Lord Clive Soley, passed a second reading in the House of Lords in November and, if eventually passed by the Lords, will go to the House of Commons for consideration.
It will “make provision for local authorities to monitor the educational, physical and emotional development of children receiving elective home education” in England and Wales.
This will require parents to register home-schooled children with local authorities, which will be responsible for assessing each child annually by visiting the child’s home, interviewing the child, seeing the child’s work or interviewing the child’s parents.
Not much is known about how many children are being home educated – though the number is thought to be growing – or the quality of the education they’re receiving because registration is voluntary.
According to Schools Week reports, the number of home-registered pupils almost doubled between 2011-12 and 2016-17, from 15,135 to 29,805. The highest increase has occurred since 2015-16, when the number stood at 21,740.
But the real figure could be much higher, as just over half – 86 out of 152 – of the local authorities that were contacted responded to the freedom of information requests used to compile the data.
There are many reasons for parents opting to home educate their children – it could be for ethical or cultural reasons, the children may have special educational needs, be the target of bullying at school, or it could be due to risk of exclusion or poor attendance records.
Steve Thomas, Prospect national secretary, said: “While most children are safe at home, even if they’re not receiving as full an education as they would at school, we have concerns that some children are vulnerable and currently local authorities and home education co-ordinators have no right to see these children or the work that they do.
“Most parents work positively in partnership with support agencies, but our members tell us that some can be resistant to visits and while there are statutory obligations the rights of the local authority are few. Local authorities also have differing assessments, which can make the work frustrating and difficult on a day-to-day basis. Any recommendations should be based on the best evidence available and put the child’s needs first.
“Prospect’s members working in education and children’s services will continue to provide the professional support and co-ordination that is welcomed by most educators and parents.
“However the bill needs to ensure that guidance has some teeth to support situations where co-operation is proving difficult or where a child is not receiving an education suitable to their age and aptitude. In addition, if passed local authorities must have the cadre of professional support to deliver the improvements.”