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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 11:25 GMT
Home education child abuse fears
By Gary Eason
BBC News Online education editor

child writing
There are no certain statistics on the numbers educated at home
Some parents claim they are educating their children at home to hide the fact they are abusing them, welfare officers say.

The Association for Education Welfare Management has asked the Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, for the power to check up on home educators.

It says the forthcoming Children's Bill is a good opportunity to change the current practice.

Home educators regard the move as offensive and unnecessary.


In a letter to Mrs Hodge, the association's general secretary, Jenny Price, said it welcomes the recognition - in the Children's Green Paper - of home education as a situation where children may be at risk.

She said her members "would also want to stress that it would not be our intention to prevent this aspect of parental choice."

But they had concerns based on a number of areas, including:

  • the ability of parents to remove their children from school "on a whim"
  • the lack of mandatory registration for pupils educated at home
  • the ease with which schools can remove pupils from their registration roll - 10 days after being notified by parents
"We recognise that this is a sensitive area in that many young people do well from a properly co-ordinated parental home education system," the letter added.

"However, we believe that the forthcoming Children Bill, together with the new education service arrangements for safeguarding children, offer a most useful opportunity to develop and implement effective practice in this area."

There is no statutory responsibility for local education authorities (LEAs) to make enquiries about children being educated by their parents outside school unless it appears they are not receiving a suitable education.

Speaking to BBC News Online, Mrs Price recalled an incident where a convicted sex offender was sitting at the back of a magistrates court as truancy cases were dealt with, saying to parents as they left: "You don't have to send your kids to school, you can get away from the LEA, just tell them you are educating them at home."

"Let's not mince words: there are paedophiles who know how to make contact with children and parents," Mrs Price said.

She recognised that her association's views would prove highly contentious within the home education community - which for all anyone knows numbers tens of thousands of families.

But she said there were a number of people who were not doing it for the right reasons.

"Home educating people have to recognise that we have those concerns, and if they could persuade people to be co-operative, I would like to think LEAs would be sensitive and sympathetic."


The problem is, many who do educate their children at home are doing so because they have no faith in schools or the LEA to do the job properly as they see it.

By law parents are responsible for their children's education, "either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."
They can be educated at home provided they get "an efficient full-time education" suitable to their age, ability, aptitude and any special needs.
Far from being sympathetic, LEA officers often just do not understand the principles, according to Belinda Harris Reid, spokesperson for the biggest UK organisation representing home educators, Education Otherwise.

"They start looking at you as if you are absolutely bonkers," she said.

She was "appalled" that people might think the majority of home educators were child abusers.

There was no need for LEAs to regulate home education, she said.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The implication is that there's something wrong."

If concerns needed raising that could be done by the children themselves - perhaps through charities such as Kidscape or Childline.

"It's incredibly undermining to do it right across the board.

"I know people who feel very strongly about their children being 'put into the system', as it were."


She said: "We are very lucky that we live in a democracy where people can decide where they want to educate their children."

In its own response to the Children's Green Paper, Education Otherwise said: "Where LEAs exercise poor practice towards home educators, issue poor, inaccurate and intimidating documentation, or seek to equate home education with school at home, it is likely that some families will seek to avoid contact."

And it said: "Currently many professionals who come into contact with children are unaware that home education is equal in statute with school education and that home educated children are at no greater risk of educational failure, social exclusion, neglect or abuse than those who go to school."

The Department for Education and Skills said: "While there are no plans to specifically regulate home education, we made clear in the Queen's Speech that the Children's Bill - the most far reaching reform of children's services for 30 years - would seek to improve services designed to protect children.

"We will be publishing the Bill in the near future."

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