The government plans to launch a compulsory register for all children not education in school to help identify youngsters in illegal settings who are “vulnerable to dangerous influences”.
The proposal will also help authorities intervene where youngsters receive a solely religious education, or do not receive any education at all. The register will also cover pupils who are home educated.
Under the government’s plans, which will be open for consultation from today until June 24, it will be the responsibility of a parent to register their child if they are not taught in a state-funded school or registered independent school.
Any potential sanctions for parents who do not register their child have yet to be decided, and will be informed by the consultation.
The number of home educated pupils has risen sharply in the past few years. A report from the children’s commissioner in February found there were almost 60,000 home educated children at any one time in England last year, although the precise figure is unknown because they do not currently have to be registered.
Damian Hinds, education secretary, said that as well as children who receive a good education at home, the term “home education” 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.”
The plans are likely to prove contentious with home educators who have previously spoken out against plans to enforce more regulation on home education.
But Hinds added: “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.”
The DfE is also proposing a new legal duty requiring local authorities to provide support such as teaching resources or helping to pay for exam fees at the request of parents.
Amanda Spielman, head of Ofsted, said the register will “make it easier to detect and tackle” serious issues including off-rolling and illegal schools.
The government will also publish guidance for local authorities today that clarifies their powers and responsibilities under the current law when they have concerns a child is not receiving a suitable education. That includes the use of school attendance orders – a legal power that already exists, compelling parents to send their child to a registered school.
For parents, the guidance will set out considerations they should make when deciding whether home education is the right choice for them and their child.
But Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “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.”
Later this year the children’s commissioner’s office is due to collect data from all councils in England and publish it school by school to identify which have the highest numbers of pupils being withdrawn in to home education.