This time last year, the Department for Education issued a call for evidence on elective home education in England – education being a devolved matter. The consultation document addressed two main areas: the possible registration of children who are being educated at home, and the possibility of local authorities monitoring educational provision for children in their areas in elective home education. The DfE estimates that about 60,000 children are currently being home-schooled in England.
The possibility of compulsory registration was particularly controversial; however, the Government appears to have concluded that a register should be introduced nevertheless. In a new consultation, Children not in school: proposed legislation, the DfE seeks views online on its proposals to require local authorities to maintain registers of children who do not attend mainstream schools and to place associated duties on parents and on the proprietors of certain educational settings. It is also consulting on proposed legislation to place a duty on local authorities to support parents who choose to educate children at home and who seek support from their local authority in doing so.
Under the DfE’s proposals, it would be the parents’ responsibility to register their children if they were not attending a state school or registered private school. The consultation document explains that
“The inclusion of a child on the register would not form in any way some kind of licence to educate a child outside the school system; that right already exists under s.7 of the Education Act 1996, and it would be left intact under the proposed registration regime. The register would mainly function as a list of children about whose education the authority must satisfy itself as to suitability in terms of s.7, or consider a school attendance order. The register would not change LAs’ powers regarding assuring themselves of suitability of education or its safeguarding duties. These powers remain unchanged. The register would serve only to assist LAs in the discharging of these responsibilities” [2.5].
The consultation also notes that home-schooling is sometimes a misnomer:
“Many children who are deemed to be educated at home attend other settings for part of the week. Other children are not in any real sense educated at home at all but attend other settings for part or all of the week – sometimes more than one such setting. Some of these settings are quite legitimate – for example, companies which provide tuition in specific subjects to children who are educated at home for the rest of the week – but they are often unregulated, and in a few cases may be operating illegally” [4.1].
Though they are not mentioned specifically, the suspicion is that one target of the proposal is unregistered, informal religious schools.
The BBC reports Education Secretary Damian Hinds as saying that the Government had a duty to make sure children were safe and receiving a good education. The term “home education” included children getting a good education at home, but it also included “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.” The purpose of a register was 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.”
Some parents choose to home-school – legitimately – out of religious conviction; and Article 2 of Protocol No 1 ECHR (Right to education) states that
“No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”
There is further information on the right to education under the Convention in the ECtHR’s Guide to A2P1.