Petition Do not require parents to register home educated children with local authorities

Remove the clauses relating to 'Children not in school' from Part 3 of the Schools Bill, and do not pursue compulsory registration of all home-schooled children. We see no evidence that this would be beneficial, and we believe the proposals place a discriminatory burden on supportive parents.

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This proposal would allow a local authority to obtain any information it considers appropriate about the family or child, but without specific or sufficient safeguards in place around the use and protection of that data. Home educating parents would be subject to penalties and answerable to unaccountable individuals under no clear standards, with less time to satisfy their demands than a failing school under Ofsted. None of this is reasonable.

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Government responded

This response was given on 8 August 2022

The registers will help local authorities support home educating families; identify children not receiving a suitable education, children missing education, and children otherwise at risk of harm.

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Many parents who educate their children at home provide a high-quality education and do so in the best interests of their child. We support parents’ right to home educate when this is the case.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services estimated in their 2021 Elective Home Education survey that there were 115,542 children who were electively home educated at some point during the 2020-21 academic year – an increase of 34 per cent on the previous year. However, responses to the government’s 2019 Consultation on Children Not in School (CNIS) suggested that not all children educated at home are being educated suitably.

Therefore, the CNIS system of registration outlined in the Schools Bill is not just necessary to aid LAs to undertake their existing responsibilities to safeguard children and ensure they are receiving a suitable education; but also to help them to discharge their new duty in the Bill to support home educating families.

The new registration system is not intended to undermine parents’ existing rights to home educate in the way that they choose, nor will providing information for the registers be overly burdensome for parents. LAs may only require parents of eligible children to provide them with the information prescribed in legislation - the child’s name, date of birth and home address, the name and address of each parent (where known), and the means through which they are being educated, for example whether the child is being educated at home or in other out-of-school education settings, and the proportion of their education received there.

The legislation will allow LAs to record any other information in their registers they consider appropriate and have collected through other channels, but they cannot make families provide any additional information they consider appropriate.

We take data protection seriously. All LAs will be required to process the personal data they collect and store on their registers in accordance with UK-GDPR. Further safeguards are built into the Bill, including requiring that no individual-level data be published or made accessible to the public. The Secretary of State will also make regulations prescribing specific categories of persons with whom LAs may share information from their registers, when they consider it appropriate to do so for the purpose of promoting the education of or safeguarding children, such as the NHS, other LAs, etc.

LAs will need to follow clear standards set out in legislation and have regard to statutory guidance. If a parent believes that a LA has not acted as per law and guidance, there are several complaints processes through which it can be held accountable.

For example, parents can contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. If the complaint is upheld, that may result in recommendations to the LA on their procedures. The Education Act 1996 also gives the SoS powers to intervene when a LA exercises their functions unreasonably or fails to comply with their duties under that Act, which will include the new registration provisions.

Parents can also ask their LA to revoke a school attendance order (SAO), and if the LA refuses, the parent can appeal to the Secretary of State to give a direction.

Finally, if the complaint relates to data sharing or processing, the parent can report the LA to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

As part of the Bill’s implementation, we will update our guidance for parents to clearly outline the various complaints routes. Also, to help promote positive relationships between LAs and the home educating community, we will develop new statutory guidance for LAs collaboratively, prior to public consultation, with a new implementation forum of LAs, home educators and safeguarding partners– to ensure the system works for everyone. We are also continuing to consider what more we can do to strengthen independent oversight of LAs, such as by exploring alternative routes of complaint.

The Government does not intend to criminalise parents who fail to provide information for their home-educated child to be registered with the LA, nor does the Bill provide for that. Rather, the consequence of failing to provide certain information is simply to start the SAO process, so that LAs may check that the child is receiving a suitable education.

As is the legal position now, the process can only lead to a SAO if parents fail to provide evidence that their child is receiving a suitable education. If a parent receives and breaches a SAO, only then may they be found guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or imprisonment at the discretion of the magistrates’ court; and this will only occur if they cannot prove that the child is being suitable educated.

It is also important that we ensure the SAO process is as efficient as possible to help minimise the amount of time children could be spending in unsuitable education; the changes being introduced to the process in the Bill seek to achieve this.

Department for Education

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