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MP calls for register of home-schooled children in new Bill amid safety concerns

Child safety concerns have sparked calls in Parliament for a register of home-schooled children to be established.

Conservative MP Flick Drummond will seek to table a new Bill aimed at placing a legal duty on local authorities to maintain a register of children who are not in school.

The MP for Meon Valley, who will suggest the idea in the Commons on Tuesday, said there could be up to 81,000 children in England who are being home schooled, but “no one knows how they are being educated”.

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Tory MP Flick Drummond (David Woolfall/UK Parliament/PA)

Ms Drummond told the PA news agency: “Now, many of those, of course, will be well-educated because their parents are doing a brilliant job.

“But there are an awful lot of children that aren’t. And the local authorities at the moment have no right to actually go in and see how they are being educated, which is extraordinary.”

Ms Drummond said the proposals to create a new legal duty for parents to supply information to a council-maintained register were once part of the now-scrapped Schools Bill, adding: “So, I know the Department for Education is happy with it.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told MPs on the Education Select Committee in December that the Schools Bill would have not progressed in the third session of Parliament but added that ministers remained committed to its objectives.

She said the Government would continue to prioritise certain elements of the Bill, including the proposed register for children who are not in school.

On Tuesday, Ms Drummond will say to the Commons: “Currently, we hold no comprehensive data about how many children are not on a school roll, where they are and what quality of education they are receiving, if any.

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Education Secretary Gillian Keegan (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“This was echoed in a recent report by the Education Select Committee, which concluded that the status quo does not allow the ‘government to say with confidence that a suitable education is being provided to every child in the country’.

“This is not acceptable. A quality education holds the key to a brighter future for every child, as well as playing a core role in ensuring our nation’s society and economy thrives.”

She will stress that “no one, neither the Government, nor local authorities, nor schools, can honestly answer the question ‘how many children are missing from school”, adding: “Therefore, how can we know that every child is safe and suitably educated?”

Summing up the proposals of her Children Not In School (Register) Bill, Ms Drummond will say: “This is what my Bill today is about. Ensuring that every child is visible, safe, suitably educated and receiving the support they need to thrive.”

On the concerns some parents might have about “being registered”, the Tory MP is expected to say: “Not every parent has voluntarily taken up the home education mantle, fully aware of the responsibility it brings. Not every child is safe at home.

“We are not seeking to disrupt those families who are successfully home educating.”

Ms Drummond will present her Bill via the 10-minute rule motion procedure, which will allow her 10 minutes to outline her proposals. The Bill is unlikely to make further progress in its current form due to a lack of parliamentary time to debate Bills tabled by backbench MPs.

Commenting on the proposals, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “Currently there is no legal obligation for a parent to provide any notification to a school about the withdrawal of a child to be home educated, and no way to check the quality of education that child is receiving.

“This is a clear safeguarding concern and could lead to a child at risk being missed, with neither school nor local authority knowing for certain what has happened to them. Without an officially maintained register, there remains the risk of children becoming lost outside the system.

“It is frustrating that the more helpful elements of the white paper such as the introduction of a register of children not in school seem to have been abandoned along with it. We would like to see a plan from the Government as to how they intend to take these measures forward.”