Children who are not in school will be listed on a new register in an attempt to stop pupils “falling through the cracks”, the Government has said.
Local authorities will be responsible for logging where each child is being educated and ensuring support is offered to home-schooling families, the Department for Education (DfE) said.
The move comes after the coronavirus pandemic contributed to a rise in the number of children not being educated at school, with the DfE stating the register will be launched at “the earliest available legislative opportunity”.
As part of the Government’s “levelling up” education plans, the department has also pledged to rebuild hundreds of schools across the country.
The DfE has also issued updated guidance for headteachers on managing pupils’ behaviour, including through the use of exclusions and advising heads to decide whether mobile phones should be in classrooms, considering pupils’ needs.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said there are “areas across the country where high standards are not being met”.
“Education is at the heart of this Government’s plans to level up, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed no matter where they grow up or what their background,” he said.
“While the majority of children already learn in a calm and well-maintained classroom, and learn some at home with dedicated parents, there are areas across the country where high standards are not being met.
“As Education Secretary, it is my priority to make sure every child gets the start in life they deserve, which is why I’m announcing clearer guidance to help every school boost behavior and new legislation to create the first local authority register for children not at school.”
Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “The register of children not in school is vital in making sure that we are able to keep children safe and engaged wherever they are learning.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), welcomed the introduction of a register for children not in schools, but criticized the new guidance on behavior as “unhelpful”.
He said: “We need to remember that in the vast majority of schools there are no major issues when it comes to behaviour, and that schools already have strong systems in place for supporting good behaviour.
“The Government’s current obsession with being seen to ‘talk tough’ on behavior is frankly unhelpful.
“Instead, what the Government should be focusing on is making sure that vital support services are available to support schools and pupils when they need it.
“It is important to find out if there is an underlying cause for an individual child’s behaviour, whether it be mental wellbeing, undiagnosed SEND, or problems at home.”
Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) general secretary Geoff Barton also welcomed the introduction of a register, describing it as “long overdue” but called for more detail on the behavior guidance to “understand what the Government is trying to achieve”.
Mr Barton added: “School and college leaders will be astonished that the Government thinks it knows best how to create calm, orderly, safe and supportive environments for children and young people to thrive in, as this is what they and their staff work incredibly hard every single day to achieve.
“Leaders and teachers know their pupils and students better than anyone else and are best placed to handle the behavioral challenges that inevitably come their way.”
Councilor Anntoinette Bramble, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, described the register as “vital” to ensure children are not being taught in “unsuitable or dangerous environments”.
Sarah Hannafin, senior policy adviser for the NAHT, welcomed the Government’s stance on mobiles in the classroom but added that headteachers who choose to ban them risk “driving phone use ‘underground’”.
She said: “Outright banning mobile phones can cause more problems than it solves, driving phone use ‘underground’ and making problems less visible and obvious for schools to tackle.
“Ultimately, schools work to prepare young people for the outside world, giving them the awareness and strategies to responsibly monitor their own screen use and the ability to identify and deal with any negative impacts or problematic content they encounter.
“So we’re pleased to see the Education Secretary stating that individual schools are best placed to make their own rules when it comes to mobile phones in schools, according to what works best for their own communities.”
The School Rebuilding Program announced in 2020, which aims to improve education facilities over the next 10 years, has also opened applications for the selection of up to 300 more programmes.
So far, £2 billion has been invested in 100 rebuilds, according to the DfE.
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