Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 15:56 UK

Home educators' worry at register

It is not known how many children in England are home educated

People who educate their children at home rather than sending them to school say they against having to register annually with local authorities.

Home education lobby groups told a committee of MPs that a register would lead to interference by officials.

But the Association of Directors of Children's Services told the committee of MPs that a register was necessary to ensure children's safety.

There is currently no way of measuring how many children are educated at home.

A review of home education in England which was published in June suggests home educating families in England should have to register annually and demonstrate they are providing a suitable education.

The review recommended children are sent back to school if parents do not meet certain standards.


On Wednesday, the Children, Schools and Families Committee met to gather evidence on home education.

Committee Chairman Barry Sheerman said: "It seems strange that we do not know how many home educated children there are and where they are."

If you're confident about the quality of what's being done, what's the objection to registration?
David Chaytor, MP

Mr Sheerman said the issue of children who "disappear" was a very real and important matter and a register of home educated children could help in tackling this problem.

But Jane Lowe from the Home Education Advisory Service told the committee such a register would do nothing to address this problem.

"If any parent is suitably evil or deranged that they want to abduct and abuse a child then they're not going to take any notice of the minor offence of not registering themselves with the local authorities to home educate," she said.

David Chaytor, Labour MP for Bury North, told the home education representatives at the hearing that he could not understand their reluctance to accept a register of home educated children.

"If you're confident about the quality of what's being done, what's the objection to registration?"

Ms Lowe said: "The problem is the local authorities don't leave people alone - they interfere with what's being done."

She said if parents had made a decision to withdraw a child from school, it often took them a while to sort out the kind of provision that local authority officers might expect to see.

Why object?

But Mr Chaytor continued to ask why home educators would resist signing a register and offering some evidence of providing an adequate education.

"Why are you so reluctant to demonstrate the quality of what you do? You are happy to assert it, but not demonstrate it...

"I genuinely do not understand what is the basis of the objection - over several years how can you justify locking the door against the world outside?

Carole Rutherford, co-founder of Autism in Mind, said parents of children with special needs, who had taken their child out of school, often had a negative experience of the local authority officials.

"How can they come and tell that parent this is what you should be doing if they have previously failed that child?

"If the relationship has broken down, where do you start to rebuild that?"

Fiona Nicholson, chair of Education Otherwise, said parents were often reluctant to make themselves known to the local authority.

"We need to look at why that is," she told MPs.

Zena Hodgson from the Home Education Centre in Somerset also raised concerns about home educators having to stick to a rigid plan of education, when they preferred to "respond in an autonomous way" to their child's needs and interests.

"They might fear that the local authority would say 'that was your plan and you've not stuck to it.'"

Calls for a register

Peter Traves from the Association of Directors of Children's Services told the select committee that a register of home educators was essential for children's safety.

"We do need to know where children are and we do need the power to require people to let us know," Mr Traves said.

"If something happens to a child... we are held directly to account.

"We have seen recently what happens recently to directors of children' services when things go seriously wrong - it is not only sacking, it is public humiliation and it is a very serious matter.

"I'm held to account for children's welfare, and I think not to know there are children living and being educated in my area is actually unreasonable if I'm being held to that account."

Sir Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children's Bureau, said a register needed to be a "proportionate response to the problem".

"The registration system should only be a light tool, not overly elaborate," he said.

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