Cabinet member for children's services says council has "no power" to stop rise in homeschooling in Northamptonshire in wake of damning child cruelty case review

The number of home-schooled children in Northamptonshire has risen by nearly 45 per cent in three years - councillor Fiona Baker says her council is "powerless" to stop it.

By Alastair Ulke
Thursday, 30th January 2020, 6:00 am
Cabinet member for children's services says her council as of yet has "no power" to stop the rise in home schooling.
Cabinet member for children's services says her council as of yet has "no power" to stop the rise in home schooling.

The cabinet member of children's services says her council "has no power" to stop the sharp rise in home-schooling in Northamptonshire until central government steps in.

Experts are calling for a national review into home-schooling in the wake of a serious case review published yesterday (January 29) into the "extreme cruelty" dealt out on a home-schooled child in Northampton.

The case centred on how a stepfather was able to remove his child from school and hide him from professional services for more than a year, during which time the boy was subjected to "extreme" child abuse.

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The abuse was heard during the stepfather and his wife's trial last year, which heard how they locked the boy in a dark, filthy room where he had no choice but to defecate on the floor.

Northamptonshire County Council was scolded in the report, which found the authority's children services missed chance after chance to realise what was happening and help the boy.

Meanwhile, the number of home-schooled children in Northamptonshire has risen 734 in March 2017 to 1054 - a jump of some 43 per cent.

The ballooning numbers were criticised by the chairman of the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board Keith Makin in April last year, and said home-schooling allowed children to become "hidden".

However, cabinet member for children's services Fiona Baker says her council "has no power" to stop the rise until central government takes action.

She told the Chronicle & Echo: "It may look like we can do something - but we cannot. We have no legal powers whatsoever.

"Parents can talk to their school and decide to home educate whoever they please and that's all they need to do.

"There is a compulsory visit by social services but the parent doesn't have to let them in at all.

"We have 1,054 children in home-schooling in the county and we know most of them won't be given a good education... I am very concerned that the number has risen and indeed am concerned about the whole issue. I do not think it's right and very few people have the ability to home-school a child."

"All we can do is lobby Government to make a change."

In the case, the stepfather's decision to 'homeschool' the boy allowed him to effectively hide him professionals for 14 months. The education reportedly persisted in trying to get the homeschool application forms signed but there are no statutory requirements for this to be done.

The report published yesterday was critical of social services and NHS staff who missed chances to see what was happening and help the boy.

In particular, it pointed to how no action was taken when the boy stopped big taken to health appointments, and in fact was not seen by any professional for over a year.

It noted how the stepfather was able to manipulate social services and professionals by appearing concerned and plausible at meetings.

The report reads: “Whilst it is currently a parent’s right to elect to home educate their child, the sanctions for not complying with the local authority requirement to visit the child’s home, interview the child, see the child’s work and provide information concerning the programme of work produced by the child, are limited.”

Councillor Baker said: "We are deeply sorry for any poor decision making and mistakes which may have contributed to this awful case of abuse. Children’s Services in Northamptonshire are on an improvement journey and although much progress has been made there is still a lot to do."

It comes after two scathing serious case reviews were published last year into how the county council failed to stop two Northamptonshire toddlers being murdered at the hands of their abusive, drug-dealing fathers.