Helping home-schooled kids

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Scottish Borders Council is to lobby for more powers to guarantee the educational wellbeing of children who are schooled at home.

The council’s executive agreed on Tuesday that leader David Parker should write to the Scottish Government expressing concern about the latter’s current guidance on home schooling and to seek an amendment to existing legislation to ensure these youngsters “receive a satisfactory education appropriate to their age and aptitude”.

The executive thus endorsed the findings of SBC’s watchdog scrutiny committee which held an evidence-based review of the issue in August.

Councillors heard there were 42 children from 32 families who are currently home educating – just 0.28% of the school age population in the region.

Of these youngsters, around half lived outwith towns and villages and most had been removed from mainstream schooling during their primary years.

The main reason for withdrawal had been because of “anxiety and/or stress”.

In her evidence to the scrutiny committee, Donna Manson, SBC’s service director for children and young people, said there was also an unknown number of children who had never entered the education system and were thus “invisible” to the council.

“It’s important we find ways in which to engage with these families,” she said.

A report to this week’s meeting acknowledged scrutiny’s frustration that there was no evidence available to discover if these children were, indeed, being educated at home.

Councillors bemoaned the lack of legislative authority given to Scottish councils to monitor home schooling and the fact that parents could refuse to provide information on the grounds of data protection.

The watchdog also believed there was a mismatch between the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, which allows councils to make attendance orders if parents withdraw their children from mainstream education without council consent, and more recent Scottish Government guidance.

That guidance stipulates that such consent is not required if a child has never attended a public school, is between primary and secondary education at different schools, or has been withdrawn from an independent school.

Mr Parker will stress that SBC has no method of exercising its legislative powers to support home schooled children and ask for the Act to be amended accordingly.

The suggested amendment will require parents whose children have never attended a Borders school and are being home schooled to “provide evidence” that their offspring are receiving a satisfactory education.