CORNWALL Council has admitted that it has no way of knowing just how many children in Cornwall are not attending school.

And the council has revealed that a number of children who are removed from school are also known to social services.

The authority currently has records that show that 1,160 children are currently in Elective Home Education (EHE).

This number has increased in the past few years – in 2014 there were just 411 EHE children in Cornwall, which is 0.62% of the school population.

In 2018 there were 1,173, which is 1.71%, and this year to date the figure is 1,160, which is 1.68%.

But parents have no legal duty to inform the council if they are teaching their children at home and so the true number is unknown because many may never have started school, as opposed to being removed, which would at least mean there are records of them.

Sharon Hindley, head of education access and sufficiency, told councillors on Thursday that they had no way of finding out just how many children are not in school.

The revelation comes after the Government recently announced that it was consulting on plans which would force parents to have to register with their local authority if they chose to home school their children.

Sharon was making the comments during an all member briefing at County Hall on EHE.

She explained that children who had never been in the education system in Cornwall – whether that was due to never going to school in the first place or moving into the county – would not be known to the council.

In a response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service we found that in 2017/18 400 school-age children were removed from school in Cornwall.

So far this year 305 children in Cornwall have been taken out of school – although Sharon told the briefing that this number will rise as the council usually sees an increase in the number of children leaving school in Years 10 and 11 towards the end of term.

Those year groups account for the largest number of children being taken out of school by their parents. In 2017/18 they made up 103 of those removed from school. So far this year 104 children in the last two year groups have left school.

Under FoI we also asked how many of those children removed from school in Cornwall were known to social services – in 2017/18 106 children who became EHE had a social care referral, assessment or plan.

So far this year 71 of the children who have been taken out of school have been on social services’ radar.

In addition Cornwall Council revealed that in the current academic year six children who have been subject to a child protection plan have been taken out of school. A child protection plan is drawn up by the local authority in association with other agencies when there are concerns that a child may be at risk or be unsafe.

With children only being known to the local authority if they have been enrolled in school, there is also a known issue around children being taken out of school who then move out of their local authority area and then, effectively, “disappear” because they are never registered in school in their new area.

Cornwall Council revealed in response to the FoI request that in 2017/18 there were 48 children who were taken out of school who then moved out of Cornwall. In this school year there have been 22.

One particular reason for parents who have removed their children from school is when their children have special educational needs which they don’t believe are being met. In Cornwall last year 14 children with SEN were taken out of school and this year there have been 11.

Cornwall Council has a duty to ensure that children are receiving suitable education when they are EHE – although they do not have any powers to enforce a parent to allow them to see their children or access their home.

We asked how many children had been seen by EHE officers from the council – in 2017/18 they visited 568 children and this year to date 356 children.

At the all member briefing Cornwall councillor Barbara Ellenbroek asked a question about the role of safeguarding with EHE.

She said: “There is an issue around safeguarding that concerns me. Some people are choosing home education because of safeguarding issues.”

Sharon Hindley said: “When children are taken out to be home educated schools have to inform the local authority. One of the things they have to complete is a safeguarding form to make us aware of any safeguarding issues.”

She said that if there were any issues then the service would carry out a check with the Multi Agency Referral Unit (MARU).

She added: “If there was any concern there would be a very quick response to that.”

Councillors were also told that if there were continuing concerns they would use a multi-agency response and use a School Attendance Order which would require the parents to get the child onto a school roll and into school.

Cllr David Harris asked Sharond Hindley if she knew how many children would be classed as “unknown”. She replied: “No, I’m afraid I don’t.”

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Ellenbroek said she had no particular reason to ask about safeguarding, other than she wanted to know the answer.

She said: “There is a concern that there may be some parents who keep their children out of school because there are safeguarding issues. I still feel it is a concern. That is not to say that all children who are homeschooled are at risk, far from it, it is probably a very small minority.”

She said she had spoken to local police and was surprised to hear that “a huge amount of the work that police do is around safeguarding children”.

“When you add into that concerns about county lines, concerns about knife crime – how many of these youngsters are hidden from view?”

She added: “The other thing they didn’t really say is that the numbers of children they give as being homeschooled are the numbers who have previously been in school. They haven’t any idea about children who have never been in school. That is a real concern.”