An “unacceptable level of opaqueness has clouded elective home education” for too long, the chairman of an influential Commons committee has said.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who heads up the Commons Education Committee, has branded it “frankly astonishing” that the Government is only able to make a “best guess” over the standard of education children who learn at home were receiving.
And his committee has called for a national register to be established and more data to be collected to ensure all children out of school get a suitable education.
A report from the group of MPs released on Tuesday detailed how the Association of Directors of Children’s Services projected that, as of October 2020, more than 75,000 children were being educated at home, an increase of 38% from the previous year.
And it was expected that the coronavirus pandemic had increased the number of families choosing to pursue home education.
But the Department for Education has previously admitted there is “considerable evidence” that homeschooled children are not receiving a good enough education.
And the report said the Government does not collect national figures for how many children are electively home-educated, while parents do not have to register the fact with councils.
Harlow MP Mr Halfon said: “It is frankly astonishing that we are only able to make a best guess at the number of children being educated at home, particularly when the Department for Education itself concedes that there is considerable evidence that many young people are missing out on the teaching and support that they are entitled to.
“Some parents are providing their children with a high-quality educational experience, but those against greater oversight must realise that it does not follow that all home-educated children are in the same boat.”
He added: “This fog has acted as a roadblock to saying with any confidence at all that every child in the country is getting access to a suitable education and the skills they need to succeed.”
The committee’s report said some families faced being forced into homeschooling due to a lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) and the practice of off-rolling.
And it said there must be assessment of progress in numeracy and literacy to ensure those who are homeschooled are getting the same opportunities as their school-educated peers.
Mr Halfon said: “Getting a grip on the number of young people not being taught in school with a national register for children outside of school must just be the first step in shaking up the status quo.
“Local authorities must also keep a much closer eye on how home-educated children are progressing to ensure they have equality with their peers from school when it comes to moving on in education, training and work.
“Financial and practical support should be given to ensure home-educated children can take exams.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said his organisation had been calling for an official register of home-educated children “for some time”.
He added: “Without an officially maintained register, there remains the risk of children becoming lost in the system.
“The Government must find out the reasons behind so many more families choosing home education recently.
“There is the concern that many appear to have chosen it because they have lost faith in the Government’s approach to school safety during the pandemic.
“The Government urgently needs to reassure all parents so that this trend does not continue next term.”