Experts fear thousands of “invisible” children have not returned to school and could be missing out on education or are at risk.
No official records are kept of the number of children who are educated at home but estimates based on research by local authorities show an extra 20,000 children had fallen off the school register when schools reopened last autumn — a 38 per cent rise on the previous year.
The true figure is likely to be higher because schools were closed again after Christmas. Dr Carol Homden, chief executive of Coram, the UK’s oldest children’s charity, said: “It is the basic tenet of our society that we should have clarity on where school-age people are.”
More families are home schooling as a last resort due to lack of support for special educational or mental health needs, and because of Covid.
MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, and Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner, inset, joined calls for a register.
Ms Longfield said: “A register will not solve everything but it at least starts to get to the first base of local areas knowing how many are being educated out of school and who they are.”
Mr Halfon said: “There should be a requirement to make sure those who are dropping off are listed.”
There is no formal list but a survey by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services suggests that 75,668 children were being home educated on October 1, 2020.
Its report said: “Without powers to see both the child and their place of learning, we cannot know that they are safe from harm or exploitation.”
Parents must inform the school if they remove their child and the information passed to the local authority. But there are fears that local authorities are overwhelmed and children could be missed.
Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said: “The register... would be a way of detecting problems if vulnerable children fall off the radar.”
The Department for Education launched a consultation on proposals for a register of home-schooled children which closed in 2019, but results have not yet been published. A spokesman said: “We remain committed to a registration system for children not in school.”