Home education rules will have to change after Khyra Ishaq case, says Gove
Rosemary Bennett Social Affairs Correspondent
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said yesterday that changes would be made to the home education system if it was found that it left some children at greater risk of abuse or neglect.
He promised to examine evidence presented by Birmingham City Council, which said that the lax regulatory regime left its staff powerless to intervene when Khyra Ishaq’s mother removed her from school.
Council chiefs are writing to Mr Gove asking him to reconsider the need for some sort of registration system. England has one of the most liberal approaches to home education in the developed world. Although education is compulsory, school is not and parents have the right to teach their children at home. Most European countries require registration.
Speaking after the reivew was published, Mr Gove said that most parents who chose home education did “a very good job, some of them picking up the pieces where children have had problems at school”. But he added that he was aware that local authorities felt they had no powers to act if they feared children were not being properly taught or that home education was simply an excuse to keep them away from school.
“We note the views of the BSCB [Birmingham safeguarding children board] about the law as it applies to home educated children and we are aware of the very strong views held by local authorities and by home educating parents on this matter,” he said in a statement.
“Clearly lessons need to be learnt by the tragic events in this case, and I will consider the letter I expect to receive from Birmingham shortly, to see what changes need to be made to the existing arrangements.”
Labour tried to change the law before the election so that home educators had to register with their local authority. The move was fiercely resisted by home-educating parents who said that it was the thin end of the wedge that would result in annual Ofsted inspections and red tape.
Mr Gove agreed, saying that it stigmatised home educators. However, his statement yesterday suggests that he might think again.
Last summer a government report into home education by Graham Badman, a former head teacher and director of children’s services, suggested that there may be a need for vigilance. Proportionately, twice as many home-educated children are known to social services as schoolage children within the mainstream education system, the report said.
“It is a cause of concern that, although approximately 20,000 home educated children are known to local authorities, estimates vary as to the real number, which could be in excess of 80,000.” The report concluded: “I am not persuaded that under the current regulatory regime there is a correct balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child.”