Anger over government plans for register of home-educated children
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Parents who home-educate have raised fears over government plans for a national register for children not in school.
The concerns come as MPs in the Commons Education Committee said in its Strengthening Home Education report that more data must be collected to ensure all children out of school get a suitable education.
It added the government does not collect national figures for how many children are electively home-educated and parents do not have to register the fact with councils.
In May this year, Norfolk County Council (NCC) said there had been a 33pc increase of children registered for home-education and between November 2019 and November 2020 the numbers being home schooled in Norfolk rose from 1,439 to 1,925.
Mandy Betts, 42, from Taverham, who home-educates her nine-year-old and six-year-old sons, said a register would create resentment within the home-schooling community because of it could have connotations of a list related to child abuse.
She said: "The thought of a register angers me. Every child is registered at birth. We get a letter when our children are three or four asking parents to sign up for school. It is an absolute waste of time and money requesting people join a register when local authorities should tighten up their own regulations. It should be about closing the loop when the letter is sent out offering a school place."
She said sometimes there are reminder letters but they are not always followed up and authorities may not be aware children are being home-schooled.
Mrs Betts and her husband decided to home school their oldest, who is waiting for an autism diagnosis, after looking round schools before he was due to start. They continued with their younger son.
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"We didn't feel any school could support him. The biggest thing we get out of home-education is we can tailor it to their interests. My oldest son cannot operate in a group inside and my youngest is similar. Being out and interacting with things helps their learning," she added.
The therapist, who fits in work at evenings and weekends, said her children and other home-educated children are well-socialised through networks who meet up at outdoor sessions, which had to stop due to Covid restrictions.
She believed if more schools were more focused on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support, more people would keep their children in.
Mrs Betts, who had to prove she could provide sufficient education, is visited once a year by the council or sends in a report.
She said: "Legally, every parent is responsible for their children's education."
The health worker said there had a been an increase in people within Norfolk taking their children out of schools at the start of the lockdown because of fears that children, some of whom had health conditions or lived with people with health conditions, catching Covid.
There is also a wave of parents taking out their children out because they do not want them getting the vaccine.
Another home schooling parent from Norwich said: "Any child who has previously been in school, or even playgroup, is already registered automatically with the local council and linked up with the local home education support department, and those are the children the government seem most worried about. Parents who choose not to even enrol their children, do so because they wish to follow an entirely different philosophy.
"Forcing these parents to comply with government set monitoring is potentially very harmful for our society as a whole, and will not work for children with special needs, or gifted children."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We support parents who want to home-educate. It is absolutely vital that any decision to home-educate is made with the child’s best interests at the forefront of parents’ minds.
“We remain committed to a registration system for children not in school, which will help local authorities undertake their existing duties and help safeguard all children."
NCC was approached for comment.
Schools working with home-educators
Teachers want to work with parents who want to home-educate, according to a school leader.
Scott Lyons, Norfolk joint division secretary National Education Union (NEU), which represents 6,000 teachers, said a lot of primary schools in the county worked tirelessly to offer blended learning in which children attend school part of the time as well as learning at home.
Mr Lyons, a teacher himself, said: "We have got to respect parents' wishes if they feel they school setting is not the best place."
He said educators were also happy to support parents who home-educated but he believed schools were the best place to support people's mental health and safeguarding as well as nurture social skills.
Mr Lyons added: "It makes sense to have a register where schools are aware of every child in the catchment who are not in school so they don't fall through the net."
The teacher said Norfolk was well placed to offer specialist school provision for SEND children and all schools were working on emergency procedures for future Covid outbreaks.
No need to keep children off school, expert claims
An infectious disease expert has said said there is no sense in keeping children off school because coronavirus will not go away.
Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said: "Whether you have kids at school or not, they are going to catch Covid. This is a virus that will be with us forever. There will be no advantage for keeping children at home in September."
He predicted the cases would rise this autumn in all age groups but the virus was becoming more like the common cold and the vaccine roll out would reduce hospitalisation and death from Covid-19.
Prof Hunter admitted there was still a "huge amount of misunderstanding of infectious diseases" and the experts' different views in the media was confusing.
The expert added: "Children are not going to given the vaccine. At the moment there is no intention to vaccinate children between 11 and 18. There are exceptions to that, which are children who would suffer with a severe health condition."
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that children at increased risk of serious Covid-19 disease are offered the Pfizer vaccine.
It has said the jab should be offered to children aged 12 to 15 with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities and young people aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person.
But the JCVI is not currently advising routine vaccination of children outside of these groups, based on the current evidence.
Prof Hunter labelled the anti-vax lobby as "profoundly criminally-misguided".