QUESTIONS about whether more children’s health might be at risk as a result of home education growing after the pandemic have been raised.

At its meeting on Thursday, January 14, Oxfordshire County Council’s performance scrutiny committee discussed what the authority’s staff had learned from a report into an unnamed child, Child K, who was seriously underweight and had to be taken to hospital in 2016.

The problems faced by Child K included constipation and mental health issues leading to conclusion 'that without medical intervention there was a significant risk' to their life.

The report added their problems had been missed by health and care professionals because they had been home educated, a report by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board found.

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The report published at the end of last year laid out how health and care professionals in Oxfordshire had changed how they worked with home educated children to make sure any health issues were picked up sooner.

But the council scrutiny committee discussed whether the current pandemic may lead to similar issues in future as a result of more home education.

Committee member Nick Carter asked what the ‘way forward’ might be for helping parents to home educate their children after the pandemic.

He said: “I assume one of the legacies of the Covid pandemic is there will be a great number of children being home educated as a result of this crisis.”

At the end of 2020, a survey by the Association of Directors of Children's Services of 151 local councils suggested the number of home-schooled children in England rose 38 per cent over the year.

At the moment, during the third lockdown in England, all children are being taught at home unless they are vulnerable or their parents are keyworkers.

In response to Mr Carter’s question, deputy director of children’s services Lara Patel said there was a ‘twofold’ increase why parents might choose to continue teaching their children from home after the pandemic ends.

Ms Patel said: “Some parents have enjoyed home educating their children and want to continue to do it.

“But a proportion are because they are scared to send them to school. We may see the numbers drop when in a year or so or when people feel confident the pandemic has subsided, when their children feel safe enough.”

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In UK law, parents have a right to choose to educate their children from home if they wish to, and Ms Patel said the Department for Education had a ‘challenge’ of allowing this, while also making sure no children fell through the social safety net as a result.

She said: “I think what they are doing is balancing parental rights and civil liberties to educated children at home with a minority for when it is problematic, and it is trying to devise a system that is proportionate to be able to do that is one of the challenges the DFE have.”

When the council’s cabinet met yesterday (January 19), the member for education and cultural services Lorraine Lindsey-Gale, said the authority’s position was that it would like children to be educated in school in the long term.

She said: “We always come from the point of view a child’s place should be in school.

“We are working with the families, but we are trying to encourage them to make sure their children come back to school when they are allowed.”