The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) has called on the Government to establish a mandatory register of all electively home educated children with a fully funded duty on the local authority to visit the child, at a minimum annually, to assess the suitability of the education provided.
The call follows the publication of the organisation's annual survey of councils on the number of electively home educated children. It also comes after the High Court last week dismissed a legal challenge to the way in which Portsmouth City Council discharges its duties under the Education Act 1996 in respect of home-educated children.
In total, the ADCS surveyed 83% of all local authorities in England and found that the number of children being home educated had risen by 7%, as more parents chose to keep their children out of school with concerns about Covid-19.
The survey responses showed that councils remain "very concerned" about the lack of powers available to them to ensure that all elective home education children are safeguarded and receiving a suitable education, the report added.
According to the Association, local authorities have consistently highlighted the fact that they cannot be certain of the true size of the home educated cohort, given there is no statutory register of these children.
ADCS said it is awaiting the outcome of the Department for Education's 2019 consultation, Children not in school, which proposed duties on councils to maintain a register of electively home educated children and to provide support to parents who educate their children at home.
The Association stated that the government "must fully fund these duties", especially in light of the "dramatic increase in the size of the EHE cohort".
ADCS's analysis suggests that on school census day 81,196 children and young people were known to be electively home educated, marking a 7% increase from the same school census day in 2020.
Its analysis also indicated that, during the 2020/21 academic year, an estimated 115,542 children and young people were known to be electively home educated at any point during the academic year, a 34% increase from the 2019/20 academic year.
The most common reason cited by parents or carers for electing to home educate their child was health concerns related directly to Covid-19, followed by anxiety and mental health concerns.
Gail Tolley, Chair of the ADCS Education Achievement Policy Committee, said: "Local authorities have a duty to ensure that children being educated at home are safe and receiving a good education, yet we do not have a role in assurance of this nor is there adequate guidance on what a suitable education looks like."
She added: "ADCS is concerned that without powers to see both the child and their place of learning, we cannot know that these children are receiving a suitable education in a safe and appropriate learning environment. We are therefore calling on government to establish a mandatory register of all electively home educated children with a fully funded duty on the local authority to visit the child, at a minimum annually, to assess the suitability of the education provided. We can only support children's education and safeguard the children who are known to us.
Tolley continued: "We still await the outcome of the Department for Education's consultation in 2019 that proposed new duties on local authorities including a national register of all EHE children and young people and a duty for local authorities to support parents who educate their child at home. If implemented, this must be fully funded to reflect the increasing size of this cohort so that we have the means to provide the oversight these children and young people deserve."
In the recent High Court case the claimant mother argued that Portsmouth City Council was imposing on her and others in a similar position, the burden of proving that her children were receiving a suitable education at home, when the statutory scheme does not (at that point) impose such a burden; and that the defendant was fettering its discretion by refusing, as a matter of principle, to accept information provided by the claimant as demonstrating that her children were receiving a suitable education. However, the claim was rejected by Mr Justice Lane.