We must regulate home schooling, demands top MP after numbers soar
Homeschooling must be regulated as a matter of urgency, the former education minister says, after the pandemic kept record numbers of pupils out of the classroom. Sir Gavin Williamson warned that some youngsters were still being denied an education and called for a register of children taught at home so councils can check up on them.
The MP, who served as Education Secretary from 2019 to 2021, said: “There are an amazing number of parents who do wonderful home-schooling to an incredibly high quality, but there are also instances where the child is hardly getting any education at all.”
Ministers had promised to create a register as part of a new Schools Bill announced in May last year, but Education Secretary Gillian Keegan revealed in December that the legislation had been scrapped.
Lack of regulation means there are no official figures for the number of home-educated children but the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has estimated that 81,000 children were taught at home in 2021, up from 37,500 in 2016. There are fears some of these children are simply absent, with parents claiming they are home-schooled to avoid attention from the authorities.
Sir Gavin, MP for South Staffordshire, told the Sunday Express: “In Staffordshire, there has been a steady and consistent increase in the number of children that are home-schooled leading up to the pandemic and then post pandemic you have seen another jump in that.
He said while there are a lot of very legitimate reasons that people want to home-school, “there have been probably a small minority of people who have seen it as a way of avoiding being hassled by schools or their children being chased up to attend schools, by effectively using the opt-out of home education. They’ve then been able to have a loophole.”
The Government still plans new laws to introduce a register of home-schooled children. Sir Gavin said: “It’s disappointing it won’t be in legislation as previously suggested. There is an urgency to make sure it is dealt with because across all authority areas, there seems to be a common acknowledgement there is this spike.”
The Department for Education says it remains committed to introducing statutory local authority registers for children, not in school.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: “We are determined to press ahead with the provisions in the Schools Bill relating to the introduction of a compulsory register. In the meantime, the guidance to local authorities is clear: under current legislation, they have a duty to ensure that all children living in their local authority area are receiving a suitable full-time education.”
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