Councils should maintain voluntary registers of children in home education and develop “information sharing agreements” with GPs and police to help identify those at risk of harm, according to draft new guidance from the government.
Local authorities should also check that children are suitably “literate in English and numerate” in investigating whether families are providing a “suitable” education at home.
The Department for Education is consulting on changes to its non-statutory guidance for councils and parents on elective home education.
Officials pointed to “developments” since guidance was last updated in 2019, including the “growing number of parents who are electing to home educate their children”.
A Schools Week investigation earlier this year revealed how the number of children in home education has soared by 60 per cent since before Covid.
The DfE said changes to the guidance aimed to “promote a more positive relationship between local authorities and home educators”.
The guidance is non-statutory, and does not change the legal duty on parents to provide a suitable education, nor the duty on councils to check they are doing so and take action if they are not.
‘Voluntary’ registers and data-sharing with police
Although parents have no legal duty to tell councils their child is home-educated, informing town halls helps avoid children being mistakenly labelled as “missing education” – which is a distinct term for those not receiving a suitable education.
The DfE “therefore recommends local authorities maintain voluntary registers of children who are not in school, including those electively home educated and missing education”.
Previous guidance only suggested councils “may choose” to operate voluntary registration schemes.
It comes after plans for a formal, statutory register of those not in school were kicked into the long grass after the schools bill was shelved last year. The government has said it remains committed to introducing one when it has a legislative “opportunity”.
Councils should also collaborate with “appropriate partners” including the police, GPs, and UK Visas and Immigration services to “develop data and information sharing agreements”, the draft guidance also states.
Relevant information “could include instances where there is reason to believe that a vulnerable child or one at risk of harm may be home educated, or where unsuitable education could amount to educational neglect and therefore harm”.
Doctors and hospitals should be encouraged to “notify a local authority where there is reason to think that a vulnerable child or one at risk of harm may be home educated”.
However, this “does not mean such professionals should share information on every home-educated child they come across, as EHE is not itself a risk”.
‘Suitable’ education includes literacy and numeracy
The DfE is also proposing to update the guidance to state that a suitably educated child “should be literate in English and numerate appropriate to the child’s age, ability and aptitude and any SEN they may have”.
Parents “should be able to provide information to the LA so they can establish the child’s levels of literacy and numeracy and whether they are appropriate to the child’s age, ability aptitude and SEN”, the draft guidance states.
The draft guidance also notes that many home educating families “do follow a clear academic structure and regular timetable”.
But it “should not be assumed that a different approach, such as autonomous and self-directed learning which does not resemble conventional schooling and its patterns, is unsatisfactory or constitutes unsuitable”.
‘Check if home ed is due to school pressure’
A guidance update is also proposed to add information about off-rolling – the practice of removing a pupil from a school roll without a formal exclusion when doing so is in the best interest of the school not the pupil.
Local authorities “may wish to check in stances where electively home educated children have received multiple suspensions from their previous school(s), that their parents’ decision to home educate is not due to pressures or persuasion from the school”.
The draft guidance also clarifies that the DfE “does not consider the provision of solely religious education as meeting the relevant components to be considered a ‘suitable education’.”