Concern over rise in homeschooling in Barnet
A jump in the number of children being homeschooled has led councillors to raise concerns over their learning and safety.
The number of families choosing to teach their children at home in Barnet more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic, from around 204 in July last year to 435 in January, according to a Barnet Council report.
Presented to the children, education and safeguarding committee this week, the report reveals the council is updating its policy on home education to build better relationships with home educators and protect the interests of children.
The legal responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents, meaning they can choose to teach their children at home.
At the same time, local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
But the council report says elective home education may make it possible for parents to prevent the independent oversight of children who are being harmed and neglected.
Councils can intervene if they have reason to believe a child is not in receipt of a suitable and efficient education and enquire about their welfare where there are grounds for concern.
The report reveals several national safeguarding reviews have highlighted the increased risk of abuse and neglect to some children who are electively home educated.
It adds that while most parents are “committed homeschoolers”, there is also “a minority of parents who homeschool with nefarious intent to conceal abuse and neglect”.
Ian Harrison, Barnet’s education and skills director, told the meeting the council’s new policy followed the guidance from the Department for Education very closely.
He added that the council had tried to tighten up reporting requirements by schools when a child leaves and improve information sharing between schools and elective home educators.
But Labour councillor Nagus Narenthira said her major concern was that a parent did not have to register with the council when their child was home educated.
She said that if a child never attended school, the system “would not know the child, so if there are any safeguarding issues, if there is any danger to the child, we would not know”.
Cllr Narenthira also warned over a lack of data regarding the outcomes for children who are home educated, meaning the council “can’t assess that the education has taken place properly”.
Labour councillors tabled a motion calling on the committee to write to the government to ask that parents who decide to educate their children at home register their intent to do so with councils.
Their motion also called on the government for more clarity over what is considered a suitable education for those taught at home.
The motion gained the unanimous support of the committee, which also voted to approve the council’s draft elective home education policy. The policy will go out to consultation with stakeholders during June and July.
Meanwhile, at the same committee meeting, councillors approved a new strategy for boosting technical education in Barnet by creating a dedicated sixth-form provision.
The council’s post-16 education and skills strategy proposes creating “dedicated technical and vocational sixth-form provision attached to one or more existing sixth forms”.
Director of education and skills, Ian Harrison, told councillors the headteacher of The Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS) in New Barnet said his school was already looking to establish post-16 technical and vocational sixth-form provision.
“We think that would be a major benefit,” Ian told the committee. “It is so hard for religious schools to develop technical and vocational education.”
He added: “We have said to JCoSS that subject to this committee’s decision, we would like to explore ways of helping them to find sites for this separate provision.”
Schools in Barnet have been rated among the best in the country in recent years, with more than 96% of pupils at schools that were graded good or better at their last Ofsted inspection.
But according to the education and skills strategy, there is a lack of vocational provision in the borough’s schools.
While Barnet ranked seventh in average point scores for A-level entry in 2020, it was 110th in the equivalent scores for technical levels.
Improving this strand of learning will be a key priority for the council over the coming year after a recent government white paper placed a greater emphasis on the importance of technical education.
As well as dedicated sixth-form provision, the council’s strategy aims to minimise the number of youngsters who are not in education, employment or training.
It also focuses on boosting the opportunities for disadvantaged young people – including care leavers and those with special educational needs and disabilities – to progress to suitable education, training and employment.
The strategy and the plan to develop dedicated technical and vocational provision were unanimously approved by the committee.