The number of children who are taught at home in Derbyshire has almost doubled in three years – but the actual figure is unknown, with many kids not registered at all.
Elective home schooling is on the rise, with the number of children being taught from home increasing from 495 in July 2015 to 808 as of July this year.
However, Derbyshire County Council says that this is “likely to be higher” because there is no legal requirement for parents or carers to notify the authority if they have chosen not to register their child or children with a school.
On top of this, there will be children not known to the council who are being educated at home in Derbyshire – for instance if a family moves into the county and were already home-schooling their child or children.
There is currently a new piece of legislation moving through Parliament which would make it a requirement that parents inform their local authority if they are choosing to home-school their child.
The Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill – as it would be called if approved – would also give local authorities the power to carry out an annual home visit; it could also interview the child; see the child’s work; and interview the parent each year.
It is thought that the rise in children being home schooled is partly explained by parents choosing to look after children with special educational or mental health needs themselves.
Another reason may be parents avoiding the permanent school exclusion of their child. Some believe that schools “off-roll” pupils which are on the verge of permanent exclusion and advise parents to home-school them instead – however the frequency of this occurring has not been substantiated, a recent report by the county council revealed.
The county council helps to assess the standard of education being received by children who are home-schooled, as well as keeping a keen eye out for potential safeguarding issues.
A spokesman said that the services required for each household differ drastically. These cost the authority a total of £205,000 last year.
A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “The council respects the right of parents and carers to educate their child or children at home if that is their choice.
“While there is no obligation for a parent or carer to register a child with a school or to inform the council that they are being educated at home if they have never been registered at school, all councils have a legal duty under the Education Act to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education.
“Therefore, it is important that we know which children are being educated at home and that they are receiving an education which is appropriate for their age, ability, aptitude and any special educational need. If this is not the case, we can make enquiries as to why this is and what can be done to ensure that this is addressed.
“We also have a duty to promote the welfare and safeguarding of all children, whether in school or not, and to make enquiries to identify children who are missing from education, either because they are not registered with a school or their parents and carers have not notified us that they are being educated at home.
“We are monitoring the progress of a Private Member’s Bill currently going through Parliament. If that does become law, it could give local authorities additional responsibilities in respect of children who are not being educated in school.”
By law, all children of compulsory school age must receive a suitable full-time education.
For most parents, this means registering their child at a school – though some choose to make other arrangements to provide a suitable, full-time education.
Once your child is registered at a school, you are legally responsible for making sure they go regularly.
If your child does not go to school, you could get fined or be prosecuted in court.
The Education Authority is responsible for investigating if they believe a child is not getting educated at home or at school.
A council can make an “informal inquiry” to check a child is getting a suitable education at home.
It can serve a school attendance order if they think a child needs to be taught at school.
The parent would then have 15 days to provide evidence that they have registered their child with the school listed in the order or that they are giving them home education.
This can lead to a fine of £60, which rises to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days.
If the fine is not paid after 28 days the parent may be prosecuted for their child’s absence from school/lack of home schooling.
This could include a £2,500 fine, a community order or a jail sentence of up to three months.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service