Don't abandon the Children Not in School Register

Written by: Ava Berry | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We cannot let the scrapping of the Schools Bill be the end of plans to create a Children Not in School Register, says Ava Berry

Home educated children are some of the most invisible and under-researched cohorts in the UK (Danechi & Long, 2022).

This is largely down to the fact that legislation does not currently require parents to notify their local authority if they choose to home educate, which means no-one knows exactly how many children are being home educated at any given time (Danechi & Long, 2022).

The government doesn’t routinely collect any data on the long-term outcomes of children who are home educated. We don’t know how many home educated children and young people go to university or experience mental health difficulties, or how they feel about their home education experience. All because of a lack of research or consultation (Education Select Committee, 2021).

As someone who was home educated myself, I followed the progress of last year’s Schools Bill very closely and felt optimistic about the new duties it proposed to place on local authorities and parents through the Children Not in School Register.

The register would have placed a legal duty on parents to inform their local authority that they were home educating their child, and a duty on the local authority to maintain the register. However, the education secretary Gillian Keegan has said the Bill will not now progress in its current form, although at the same time she has said she is “committed to the objectives” behind the Bill. We await further clarification as to what this will mean in practice (and policy) and, specifically, what this will mean for the proposed Children Not in School Register.

While it is important the law continues to allow parents to educate their children at home, for a significant range of good reasons, more needs to be done to bring the voices of home educated children and young people into the centre of the conversation.

From my own experience, I am aware that some home educated young people can have difficulties with accessing exams, due to the costs of tutors and taking GCSEs privately. And the college system, which is usually the only other option, is in many ways not designed with the educational needs of home educated young people in mind, neither is it flexible enough to enrol young people under 16-years-old.

The Schools Bill would have been a huge leap forward in terms of supporting families who home educate, along with children and young people not in school for other reasons, and ensuring local authorities hold data on children and young people being educated at home or children missing education.

The Bill included a duty to provide support, including financial, to home-educating families, and the data collected as part of the register would help enable local authorities to respond to local need. This would have had a lasting positive impact on access to educational resources and opportunities for home educated children and young people.

Hopefully there will be other avenues to improve the evidence-base and support offered to home educating families. We would like to see the creation of a register which includes an opportunity for the voice of the child to be heard. It should record and reflect the diverse range of feelings that these children have about their education and whether they would like to have any additional support, including for any SEN or disability they might have.

The Department for Education should also commission research which tracks the experiences and outcomes of children who are home educated, as this would provide much needed insight for developing policy measures for home education, grounded in children and young people’s lived experience.

This was a key recommendation of the Education Select Committee report cited above, Strengthening home education (2021): “We recommend that the DfE urgently commissions and publishes longitudinal research on the life chances and social outcomes of EHE (elective home education) children in England, working in partnership with the full range of EHE communities and measuring ‘hard’ outcomes such as literacy and numeracy as well as ‘soft’ outcomes. These ‘soft’ outcomes could include less quantifiable factors such as mental wellbeing.”

Home education must continue as a right for children and their parents to choose as they see fit, but this shouldn’t deter the government from getting better at understanding the different experiences and outcomes of these young people, and it should not prevent local services from stepping in to offer support where needed.

  • Ava Berry is policy and research officer at the National Children’s Bureau. Visit

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