Learning important lessons about child registration

By Trevor Holden | 16 February 2016

This week Luton Borough Council has launched its campaign to urge private education provisions in the town to ensure that they are registered with the Department of Education – titled ‘When is a school a school’?

The recent ‘no notice’ inspection of two unregistered education facilities in Luton has brought the issue to the fore locally. As well as neither facility being registered as a school, there were some children present who have never appeared on a register.

In theory, the system is simple in that schools are either independent and fall direct to the Department for Education (DfE) to oversee (if they are registered), or they are a local authority school, overseen by the local council. The vexed question is when is a school a school? This is a matter for the Department for Education officials to decide, often based on advice from Ofsted as the inspecting body.

On 19 February we will be hosting a meeting with representatives from the DfE, Ofsted (including Sir Michael Wilshaw) and head teachers to discuss how we work collaboratively to look at improving the current regulations and practices both locally and nationally and thereby ensure all children are safe and receiving of a suitable education.

In his letter to the secretary of state for education dated 14 July 2015, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools says that the current system requires urgent review, and that this should take account of the increased awareness of the risks that some young people face such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child sexual exploitation and falling prey to radicalisation.

At the same time, Luton is preparing to respond to the Government’s consultation titled ‘improving information in identifying children missing from education’. This consultation is aimed at ensuring education provisions are properly registered and, more importantly, that children of school age are safe and receiving a suitable education. I urge colleagues in the sector to look at the proposals and participate in the ongoing consultation, which closes on 7 March.

The consultation states that the cost of a change in reporting processes to schools is established as £6.8m annually [Consultation p10] for schools in England but no figure is provided for costs to local authorities.

The present regulations on registering as a school, or for home schooling, are not prescriptive around registering children with the local authority. This means there is no comprehensive list of children of education age in a place. The result is a ‘Rumsfeld’ situation, in that there are ‘known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns’.

We have children who are on the council’s register and attend a school (local authority or private), or are home educated - these are the ‘known knowns’. We then have those that have been on a register but have been removed for a variety of reasons such as moving school or moving house but have not moved to a new register. These are the ‘known unknowns’ (referred to in the jargon as ‘those missing from education’). Finally, there are the ‘unknown unknowns’, namely those children who have never appeared on a register in a place.

Under current regulations, all three scenarios are legal. There is no obligation for parents or providers of education facilities to register children with the local authority at present.

However, current regulations are not comprehensive. There is no complete list of children in a place, or where they are educated and, realistically, it is hard to see how this might be achieved in the short term. Ofsted was aware of both the provisions in Luton, but the council was not. This lack of clarity is a serious issue, which raises concerns about the potential wellbeing of the children.

Because of this, we are encouraging those who run an independent facility to contact the Department for Education to seek clarity on their requirement to register, and also to take part in the consultation.

There can be no doubt that the safeguarding and proper education of children is of paramount importance and that the complexity and look of effective regulation needs to be addressed.

This requires clarity of responsibility and collaborative working between parents, educational establishments (registered or not) and the government agencies, be that local authorities, Ofsted or Department for Education.

We therefore encourage you to look at the consultation and join in this critical debate.

Trevor Holden is chief executive of Luton BC

The current consultation, can be found at: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/identifying-children-who-are-missing-education

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