August 2019

After concluding a consultation on home education earlier this year, the government has launched a further consultation which proposes legislation to require local authorities (“LAs”) to keep a register of children out of school.

Broadly, IPSEA welcomes the government’s proposals.

Children with SEND are more likely to be excluded and it is likely that they are over-represented among children who are home educated (as figures are not currently kept, it is impossible to know). In IPSEA’s view, the prevalence of children with SEND being home educated is linked to:

  1. schools’ difficulties in supporting children with SEND, whether because of weaknesses in the SEN Support system, lack of funding and support from the LA or an unwillingness to do so, and
  2. the fact that there is no scrutiny or sanctions in place for those schools which encourage parents to withdraw their children from school.

Schools need to be better equipped and resourced to support pupils who have SEND, but additionally, we need a better understanding of which children are out of school in order to address these problems.

IPSEA’s view is that the proposed register is a necessary step to get a better measure of the number of children being unlawfully excluded from the education system. We welcome the fact that the proposals do not include any requirement for LAs to consent to a parent’s choice to home educate. The proposal is a duty on parents to inform the LA of their choice to home educate, and provide limited information regarding their child, which in IPSEA’s view imposes a minimal burden on those parents who are electively home educating, whilst addressing the concerns we highlighted in our response to the consultation on home education.

We hope the information obtained through the proposed register could be used to focus both scrutiny and support in geographical areas where there are significant numbers of children out of school.

IPSEA made the following key points in its response to the consultation on children not in school:

  • We agree with the proposed obligation on LAs to maintain a register of children not registered at a school. These arrangements must strike a balance between the right of parents to home educate, and the importance of recognising that many parents of children with SEND are forced to withdraw their children from school out of desperation, when LAs and schools are not fulfilling their legal obligations.
  • LAs have a duty to provide suitable education for children who are out of school due to illness, exclusion or another reason. We know from our casework that LAs regularly fail to deliver on this obligation even where they are nominally doing so. For example, they may offer only online education, regardless of whether this is suitable for the individual child concerned. Where there is face-to-face tuition, this is often only part-time, for one hour per day or even less. Children receiving education under these sorts of arrangements must be included in the register – otherwise, they will be misrepresented as receiving an education equivalent to their peers who are in school. The inclusion of these children would enable the government to obtain a more accurate picture of the number of children out of school and would identify LAs where there are a concerning number of children out of school.
  • The data kept by LAs should include whether the child has SEND and/or an EHC plan, in order to identify geographical areas where the number of children with SEND out of school is cause for concern.
  • We recommend seeking information from parents as to why their child is out of school. This would help expose the practice of children being forced out of school in order to improve the school’s attendance record or grades. It would also mean that parents who do not wish to register because they are home educating under duress are not pressured into ‘agreeing’ that they are providing suitable alternative education, and are therefore not entitled to support from the LA. There should be an option for parents to state that they believe their LA should be providing support outside of school.
  • We are concerned that some of the proposed arrangements may lead to a perception that providing support for home educated children at non-school settings carries a regulatory burden that is too onerous. This could therefore lead to a reduction in perfectly legitimate providers, such as leisure or community centres, running sessions for home educated children. We do not, therefore, agree that non-school settings should be under any duties relating to the proposed register.

IPSEA’s full response is available here.