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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 17:39 GMT
Not missing but learning at home
Many of the 10,000 children said to be "missing" from England's education system might be learning at home, it is claimed.
In Scotland, home educators are preparing for a march on Parliament on Thursday in protest at a proposed tightening of the rules by the executive.
A helpline has had many more calls than usual, with families fearful of what the changes might involve.
Not so sinister
On Tuesday the chief inspector of England's schools, Mike Tomlinson, said when he published his annual report that there were many young people of school age whose whereabouts were no longer known to education authorities.
He suggested they might be working in the black economy.
"I suspect that many of them are legitimate home educators," said Susan Godsland, who taught her dyslexic son at home for six years.
"Large numbers of home educators, quite legally, have no contact with their local education authority."
She said no-one knew how many there were - the estimate, based on the number belonging to various support groups, would be several thousand.
"The most common reason for children to be educated at home is bullying," she said.
She said some local education authorities tried to dictate to parents the form and content of their home educating.
As a result, they could "disappear" - most easily by moving to another area and not registering with the education authorities.
Also, she said more people were educating their children at home for philosophical reasons, so the children never went to school in the first place and remained outside the system.
Scots law differs from the law south of the border in that withdrawing a child from a state school requires the consent of the local authority - in England and Wales parents need only notify the school that they are doing so.
A report by the Scottish Consumer Council accused authorities of harassment and intimidation.
Now, home educators there are alarmed by draft guidance from the Scottish executive - put on its website on Christmas Eve - which they say amounts to a "bullies' charter".
The Freedom in Scottish Education group, which has organised Thursday's march in Edinburgh, says the guidance presupposes that home education is inferior to school education, and that parents cannot be trusted with raising their children.
The guidance says authorities have to satisfy themselves that all children within their area are receiving a suitable education - but might find it difficult to do so if children are not known to them because they have never attended a school or have moved into the area from elsewhere.
It suggests they should look at birth registers, health visitor records, nursery enrolments and household surveys and census information.
Irene McGugan MSP said the guidance sought to condone unlawful breaches of data protection and human rights legislation.
The section of the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act under which the guidance was issued had been intended to protect home-educating families.
Instead the guidance contained "unfounded and insulting inferences that home educated children are in need of extraordinary measures of care and protection".
Student Hannah White, 15, told BBC News Online she was going on the march because home schooling "saved me and many others".
"It is a human right to be educated any way we wish. I have had a much better education being at home than I had at any school private or comprehensive."
She added: "As long as people are happy and are being educated it shouldn't matter if we are at school or not."
The executive says its most recent survey showed that about 350 children were known to be receiving home education as a result of parental choice - although it was recognised that there might be many more. Of these, 88 had never attended school.
It says the new guidance is intended to promote "effective partnerships" between home educating families and education authorities, "based on a shared understanding of what is expected from each of the parties involved".
The 20-year-old singer left school at the age of nine and was taught at home by her parents as she went on TV and began her recording career.
But she told a newspaper she had been thinking of exploring higher education options after the release later this month of her first film - in which she plays a student who goes on a trip across America with her friends.
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