The government has announced proposals for a register of all children not being educated in school.
Ofsted said it had had concerns for a long time about the increasing numbers of school-age children not attending a registered school, "many of whom may not be receiving a high quality education or being kept safe".
"We are especially concerned about children ‘off-rolled’ from schools, and those in illegal schools. The new register will make it easier to detect and tackle these serious problems," added Ofsted's Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman.
The government is consulting on proposals which will provide a clear picture of where children are if they are not in school. It is estimated that almost 60,000 children are educated at home, a figure that is thought to be rising by around a quarter every year.
The register will increase local council’s capacity to identify and intervene where the standard of a child’s education isn’t good enough or where they are at risk of harm. It will also help the authorities spot young people who may be receiving a solely religious education, attending an unregistered school or not receiving an education at all.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "The term ‘home education’ has now acquired a much broader meaning than it used to. It is now a catch-all phrase, used to refer to all children not in a registered school. So whilst this does include those actually getting a really good education at home, it also includes children who are not getting an education at all, or being educated in illegal schools where they are vulnerable to dangerous influences – the truth is, we just don’t know.
"As a government, we have a duty to protect our young people and do our utmost to make sure they are prepared for life in modern Britain. That’s why this register of children not in school is so important – not to crack down on those dedicated parents doing an admirable job of educating their children in their own homes, but to prevent vulnerable young people from vanishing under the radar," he added.
It will be parents’ responsibility to register their child if they are not being taught in a state-funded or registered independent school.
The government is also consulting on proposals to support parents who are successfully home-schooling children and which would require local authorities to provide support such as teaching resources or financial contributions to exam fees - at parents’ request.
The government is also publishing guidance for local authorities and for parents that clarifies their powers and responsibilities under current law, setting out the action councils can take if they have concerns a child is not receiving a suitable education. This includes school attendance orders – a legal power that already exists, compelling parents to send their child to a registered school.
The guidance sets out information for parents such as considerations they should make when deciding whether home education is the right choice for them and their child.
The consultation will be open for 12 weeks until Monday 24 June.
Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said: "The number of children who are not being educated in school has rocketed over recent years. For some families, educating at home will be a positive choice but many more children are falling out of school and their parents struggling on their own.
"It is vitally important that we know that all children are safe and that they are receiving the education they deserve to help them to succeed in life. The introduction of a register for children not in school is very welcome and something I been calling for. I am pleased these proposals also include support for families," she added.
Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, said: “The LGA has long-called for a register of children not in school and we look forward to seeing these proposals implemented as a matter of urgency. A register will help councils to monitor how children are being educated and prevent them from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.
“Councils fully support the rights of parents to educate their children in the best way that they see fit, and the vast majority of parents who home educate their children do a fantastic job, and work well with their local council to make sure that a good education is being provided.
“For the minority of children where this is not the case, councils need to be able to check a child’s schooling, to make sure they are being taught a suitable and appropriate education in a safe environment.
“This is why the government needs to go further and change the law to give councils the powers and appropriate funding to enter homes or other premises to check a child’s schooling.
“Councils are keen to support families to make sure children get the best possible education, wherever they receive this. However, with children’s services facing a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025, it is vital that any additional responsibilities for councils are properly funded," she concluded.
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