Serious safeguarding fears as numbers of homeschooled children in Northamptonshire rises sharply

Keith Makin says the lack of regulation of homeschooling can mean some children are 'hidden'.
Keith Makin says the lack of regulation of homeschooling can mean some children are 'hidden'.

The man charged with overseeing the safeguarding of children in the Northamptonshire says he has ‘strong concerns’ about the rapid rise in the number of county children being home-schooled.

Chairman of the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board Keith Makin told the county’s health and wellbeing forum yesterday(Apr 11) the number of children now being schooled by their parents has increased dramatically in the past three years and is allowing children to become ‘hidden’.

According to the latest figures from local education authority Northamptonshire County Council, there are 965 children being home-schooled. This is up from 734 in March 2017.

130 of these children are already known to social services according to the Northamptonshire County Council’s deputy director of children’s services Sharon Muldoon.

The government is looking at bringing in new regulation for home-schooling which is likely to make it compulsory for parents to register their child and also make it a legal duty for local authorities to provide resources for home-schooled children.

Mr Makin, who yesterday also admitted that the county’s safeguarding partnership had not been effective enough in recent times, said the situation in the county was worrying.

He said: “We have strong concerned by the home elective situation, it has doubled in a three-year period. It is a terrific number, just under 1,000 now. There’s a lot who are being electively educated because their parents have chosen to and they construct a programme of education.

“There are other cohorts for whom we have real safeguarding concerns. They are hidden within the system. It is not statutory to oversee them.

“Some changes are now going through Parliament. Although we are not confident as to the timescales and it is still quite a light statutory touch.”

He said the Northamptonshire safeguarding board would now focus on the issue.

Sharon Muldoon said the council’s children’s services had looked at the matter this week and that 13.5 per cent of the home-schooled number were known to social services.

Home-schooling has risen sharply across the country in recent years. Parents have cited school standards, bullying and mental health concerns among reasons to home educate and the head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman has also expressed concern about schools putting pressure on parents to educate their children at home to prevent exclusion.

The standard of education in the county has come into focus in recent weeks. Only two thirds of the 42 secondary schools in the county are good enough according to watchdog Ofsted, although standards are better at a primary level. The county council adopted a motion raised by Labour county councillor Julie Brookfield to ask the regional schools commissioner to get involved whenever a school falls into the ‘requires improvement’ category.

It has also come to light in recent weeks that the county is facing a secondary school places shortage and has had to add extra capacity into six of Northampton’s secondary schools and is having to bus some Corby children to nearby Oundle for a school place.