Tighter regulation of out-of-school education ditched despite concern

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The government has abandoned plans to tighten controls on out-of-school education despite concerns over the safeguarding of children in unregistered settings.

The Department for Education launched a consultation in November 2015 on introducing an inspection regime and creating new powers to impose sanctions where failings were identified.

However, yesterday DfE said it had decided not to pursue the proposed model instead focusing on targetting settings which are exposing children to harm “without causing undue burdens on the sector as a whole”.

It added that new regulations should also consider the “diversity” of the sector and build on existing legal powers.

Of the 3,082 respondents to the consultation, 55% were from faith groups and 20% were parents. When asked whether settings should be required to register with councils, 73% said ‘no’.

The report said of those who opposed registration “many” argued that this would be equivalent to “state regulation of religion”.

When asked whether settings required to register should be eligible for investigation and intervention, 54% of respondents said ‘no’.

A total 75% of respondents said Ofsted should not be allowed to investigate concerns reported about settings.

The government’s counter extremism strategy in 2015 committed to introducing a new system to improve intervention in out-of-school settings which cause concern.

In her review of community cohesion in 2016, Dame Louise Casey said it was “extremely concerning” that some children are taken out of mainstream education without sufficient checks on their safety and wellbeing.

She said all children outside mainstream schools should have to be registered with councils and their duties to know where children are being educated increased.

In response to Dame Louise’s findings, the government’s integrated communities strategy, published last month, said existing capacity to tackle concerns in out-of-school settings would be boosted by promoting multi-agency working.

Yesterday’s report said £3m would be invested in “selected areas for this work”, supporting some councils to test new ways of working.

The report added an evidence base would be developed for a national approach and address gaps in existing powers through legislation “when opportunity allows”.

A consultation will also be launched on a voluntary code of practice.

Responding to the announcement vice chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board Roy Perry (Con) said the “vast majority” of parents who home school their children “do a fantastic job”.

But he added: “For the minority of children where this is not the case, councils need the powers and appropriate funding to enter homes or other premises to check a child’s schooling, and make sure they aren’t being taught in unsuitable or dangerous environments.

“Placing a legal duty on parents to register home-schooled children with their local authority would also help councils to monitor how children are being educated and prevent them from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.”

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