Gove to ‘consider’ changes to home education laws

The Education Secretary has pledged to “consider” changing the rules governing home schooling following a controversial report into the death of a severely abused seven-year-old girl.

Earlier this week officials from Birmingham’s child protection board released a report which blamed a breakdown of “assessments” and “communication” for adding to the failure to prevent Khyra Ishaq’s death

But the report also talked of what it called “safeguarding inconsistencies” in the law on home schooling.

Changes

In response Michael Gove released a statement saying: “We respect the right of parents to educate their children at home and most do a very good job, some of them picking up the pieces where children have had problems at school.”

But Mr Gove added: “Clearly lessons need to be learned by the tragic events in this case, and I will consider the letter I expect to receive from Birmingham shortly, to see what changes need to be made to the existing arrangements and reply in due course.”

While the report mentioned the law on home education as one area to be examined, it concluded that “had there been better assessments and effective interagency communication over a period of time it [Khyra’s death] could have been prevented.”

The Education Secretary opposed a previous attempt to clampdown on home educators warning that it would stigmatise them.

Khyra Ishaq was withdrawn from school in December 2007, and her mother told local officials that she was going to educate her at home.

Warnings

But despite warnings from Khyra’s former deputy head teacher, care workers missed numerous opportunities to end the abuse, and in May 2008 the seven-year-old starved to death weighing just 2st 9lb.

The 180 page report, published by Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board, claims that officials weren’t able to get access to the child because she was schooled at home.

But Fiona Nicholson, from the home education charity Education Otherwise, has warned that blaming home education is a “red herring designed to distract attention from Birmingham’s lamentable child protection record.”

Alive

Referring to home education the report claimed: “There are no mechanisms to ensure that a satisfactory education continues to be received, or that young people’s welfare is appropriately safeguarded, except with the express co-operation and participation of parents and carers.

“This situation is particularly advantageous for parents who may wish to conceal abuse.”

But in passing sentence on Khyra’s mother and stepfather earlier this year Judge Eleanor King said that the youngster would still be alive if care workers had simply performed a more adequate initial assessment.

Missed

Judge King said: “On the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability, had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, Khyra would not have died”.

The report, written by John Radford from the NSPCC, catalogues a list of opportunities missed by professional agencies.

The report made 18 recommendations for specific action, and identified a further 53 areas for improvement.

Earlier this year the Labour Government dropped plans to force home educating families to register their children with the local authorities.

The controversial plans would also have subjected home schooled children to annual visits from local authority officials.

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