Local Councils are calling for greater powers to enter the homes of home-schooled children so that they can monitor their education.
The authorities also want to compel parents to register their home-schooled children, as home-schooling increases in popularity.
Although councils currently have the power to enter premises if they have specific concerns about a child’s safety, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, wants to see those powers extended further, to all premises where home schooling is taking place.
They claim that home schooling is being used as a front for illegal faith schools, The Guardian has reported.
According to figures obtained by the BBC there has been a 65 percent increase in the number of home schooled children over the last six years, bringing the total up to nearly 37,000 children in a population of 9.5 million school-aged children.
Some parents opt to home school because special educational needs are not being met, while others pull their children out of schools in response to bullying. Yet others prefer a faith-based approach. Any parent has a right to withdraw their child from mainstream education without giving a reason.
Colin Diamond, the executive director for education in Birmingham is among those calling for elective home education (EHE), otherwise known as home schooling, to be more rigorously regulated.
“We feel that any EHE learning situation potentially puts a child in a very vulnerable position,” he said.
“We recognise that parents elect to educate their children at home for a very wide range of reasons, and in many cases they do a great job. But because the child is isolated, they are not visible to their peer group and professionals don’t keep an eye on them, we would like more powers to be able to make sure every child who is EHE is safe, well and learning well.”
Around 900 children are currently registered as EHE in Birmingham, a city of 1.1 million people. “Those numbers have been growing in the last couple of years. We are very interested in finding out the deeper reasons why,” said Diamond.
Trevor Holden, chief executive of Luton borough council, echoed his concerns. “In an ideal world we would look for a change in regulations which require parents to register their children with the local authority, and an urgent review of the powers available to close unregistered or inappropriate schools, should they be discovered,” he said.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable for any child of compulsory school age not to be receiving a suitable education. We recognise parents may choose to home school their children and many do a good job, but it must be of a suitable quality. That’s why we have taken steps to ensure the system is as robust as it can be when it comes to protecting young people, while at the same time safeguarding the rights of parents to determine how and where to educate their children.
“We are also clear that unregistered schools are illegal and unsafe and we are cracking down on them. We have announced an escalation of Ofsted investigations into unregistered schools, with additional inspectors dedicated to rooting them out, a new tougher approach to prosecuting them and a call to local authorities to help identify any settings of concern.”