Safeguarding alert for thousands of home-educated children

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There are safeguarding concerns this week for more than 10,000 potentially vulnerable children and young people who are being electively home-educated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A survey of local authorities suggests that more than 75,000 students are being electively home-educated this term, a dramatic increase on 2019 levels.

A quarter of this number – about 19,500 – have become electively home-educated since September 1, with the most common reason cited by parents or carers being health concerns related to Covid-19.

And 14 per cent of those being home-educated – more than 10,000 – are children known to social care or wider children’s services.

This fact has sparked safeguarding concerns given that there is no mandatory register of home-educated children. As such, local authorities have no surefire way of keeping track or checking up on the welfare or education of these children.

The research has been published by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and involved survey responses from 133 of England’s 151 local authorities.

The estimated figure of 75,668 electively home-educated children as of October 1 is a 38 per cent increase on 2019 levels. And these are the children known to local authorities – it is feared others may have slipped through the net.

The report states: “The biggest concern among responding local authorities was the welfare of those children and young people whom they had not been in contact with, either because the parent or carer refused contact or because the local authority lacked the capacity due to the significant increase in the number of electively home-educated children and young people. However, local authorities have prioritised contacting those who are known to children’s social care or where the school has raised concerns.”

While the pandemic has undoubtedly had a role to play in the rising figures, the ADCS report warns that the number of children being electively home-educated has been rising year-on-year anyway.

It is now calling for a statutory register of home-educated children so that local authorities can keep track, support parents and carry out safeguarding checks.

The report states: “Without powers to see both the child and their place of learning, we cannot know that these children are safe from harm or exploitation. Local authorities can only safeguard children who are known to them and without a mandatory register, there is no way of knowing the full extent of this cohort.”

In 2019, the Department for Education carried out a consultation over proposals for a register to be maintained by local authorities of children not attending mainstream schools. It proposed duties on home-educating parents to register their children, but also a legal right to local authority support (DfE, 2019).

However, 16 months on and the DfE is still to publish the outcomes of the consultation and its planned next steps.

Gail Tolley, chair of the ADCS Educational Achievement Policy Committee, said: “Local authorities have a duty to ensure that these children are safe and receiving a good education, yet with the significant increase in the number of electively home-educated children and young people since September, our capacity to maintain contact with all of them is severely stretched.

“Many parents or carers have felt the need to remove their child from school due to health concerns over the pandemic and we want to be able to support these families to make sure they are making an informed decision and are equipped to offer a good and broad education to their children.

“However, without a statutory register it is impossible to know of every child or young person who is being electively home-educated. Schools play an important role in safeguarding as they provide a direct line of sight to the child. If a child is taken out of school, it is vital we know that they are in a safe environment and that their needs are being met.”

The survey figures are also broken down by age with key stage 2 (18,416) and key stage 3 (19,686) having the most home-educated children, following by key stage 4 (17,688) and key stage 1 (6,620).

There was also a positive note sounded by local authorities, who reported that some parents or carers have said that the positive experience of educating their children during the first national lockdown was a contributory factor to their decision to home-educate.


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