Council appeals for register of home-schooled children

Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills
Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills

West Sussex County Council has called for a register of home-schooled children to be created.

A County Hall meeting on Friday (July 20) was told that 1,007 children across the county were known to be taught at home – but the figure could be higher as parents are not currently required to register their child’s educational whereabouts.

Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills, told the meeting the figure had more than doubled in four years, with an increase of 110 per cent since June 2014.

The council recently responded to a call for information from the Department for Education.

The call was part of a consultation centred around the registration of children being educated at home, the monitoring of home education provision, and the support available for home-educating families.

In 2013/14, the council knew of 468 children who were taught at home, 237 boys and 278 girls.

The figure rose to 564 in 2014/15 (286 boys/278 girls), 620 in 2015/16 (326 boys/294 girls), 800 in 2016/17 (402 boys/398 girls) and 964 by May 8 of this year (469 boys/495 girls).

Given this data, that means that since May 8 the parents of another 33 youngsters have opted for home-schooling.

A council spokesman said that 27 of the 1,007 children had an Education Health and Care Plan, meaning they have special educational, health or social care needs.

Mr Burrett told the meeting that officers did try to visit home-schooling families once a year but had no legal right to ask to see the children involved.

He added: “This is something that would change if we have a national scheme.”

He also said the council had no way of knowing how many unregistered schools were operating in the area.

Sue Mullins (Lab, Northgate & West Green) asked if the ongoing issue of inadequate school funding could be one of the reasons more parents were opting to teach their children at home.

Mr Burrett felt that was unlikely, adding: “There’s no individual reason for the growth in home education numbers that we’re aware of. People make decisions for wide, often complex, reasons.”

Mrs Mullins said: “If we don’t know about them, we don’t know where they are. If we don’t know what sort of education they are receiving – if any – it’s detrimental to their futures.

“There are problems there that need addressing.”

Mr Burrett agreed, stating: “If parents were required to register if they home educate their children, and if we actually had a right to monitor that, to actually see the children in person when our officers go round to visit, and to have a discussion with them about their experiences with home education, we would be able to monitor it much more carefully than we are now.

“It would solve a lot of the problems.”

He added: “I’m sure we won’t be the only authority that’s saying that to the government, so hopefully they will look to bring in a scheme. But only time can tell on that.”