Parents could be prosecuted or fined for failing to register home-schooled children

Parents who fail to register their children as home-educated could face prosecution or a fine under new proposals set out by the government.

In a consultation on a new compulsory register of all home-schooled pupils, published today, the Department for Education revealed it plans to use existing school attendance orders to enforce the new requirements.

Such orders are currently used by local councils if it appears parents are not providing a suitable education. They give parents 15 days to provide evidence of they have registered their child at a specific school or that home education is being delivered. Those who don’t comply can be prosecuted or fined.

The government wants to extend these powers to cover parents who fail to register under the new laws.

The proposal is likely to prove controversial among home-educating parents, who vehemently oppose compulsory registration of their children, and are likely to view any enforcement of it as heavy-handed.

In the consultation document, the DfE says it considered other proposals submitted to its call for evidence last year, such as specific financial penalties or a new notice regime to run parallel to the school attendance orders system, but settled on the view that “the most effective and relevant sanction for non-compliance would be that this would automatically trigger the school attendance order process”.

“The government agrees with the latter view, because it does not want to introduce parallel notice systems, or financial penalties. Neither does it want to introduce a new criminal offence for parents.”

Today’s consultation, which provides more detail on plans announced by the government earlier today, also proposes a duty on some schools attended by pupils on the home education register to respond to enquiries from councils about the education they provide.

The duty would apply to “proprietors of certain education settings”, but does not specify the criteria for identifying them.

“The government believes that it would be made more effective if a duty was created on the proprietors of settings which are not those specified types of school but are providing education to children during normal school hours, to respond to enquiries from local authorities about children who may be in scope of the register,” the document states.

This element of the new laws stems from concerns about pupils who are deemed to be educated at home but “are not in any real sense educated at home at all but attend other settings for part or all of the week”. Although some of these settings are “quite legitimate”, they are “often unregulated and in a few cases may be operating illegally”.

The government is worried that without such a duty on schools, councils won’t always be able to consider the education provided in such settings when deciding whether a suitable education is being provided.

However, the proposals ” would not amount to a scheme for regulating these settings”, and could even be delayed to come into effect at a later date, the government said.

“It should be noted here that it would be possible to include this proposal in the legislation package but provide for it to not come into force until a later date, through a commencement order and the making of the relevant regulations. Reasons for delaying this element could include wider changes to the regulation of settings which are not schools.”