Non-judgemental engagement with families is providing better support for home educated children in Pembrokeshire as numbers continue to rise.

Elective home education and the right parents have to take their children out of school is sometimes a contentious issue, as new councillors on the schools and learning overview and scrutiny committee highlighted this week.

Both Mel Phillips and Sam Skyrme-Blackhall questioned the validity of home education, safety concerns, and the level of learning and qualifications achieved by children learning at home at a meeting on June 30.

The committee were updated by principal education welfare officer Cara Huggins, who said there are currently 358 children registered as EHE, an increase from 270 at the same time last year.

“I don’t really agree with home learning, some parents don’t have any knowledge at all, what gives them the right to think they can home school their children, how do we know they are doing a good job?” asked Cllr Phillips.

The aim of the EHE team was to “bring families in the tent” rather than taking a judgmental approach, a method praised by committee member Tom Moses, adding “it’s a valid lifestyle choice and we have to respect that” and it was not the committee’s job to “judge people that do things in a different way.”

Committee member Alison Kavanagh added “in light of some of the comments today” that the EHE team should be “commended for the engagement model.”

Mrs Kavanagh said there was a “transition” underway from a 19th century to 21st century model of education and considering the many challenges faced by schools – and those attending – it’s “disingenuous” to say school is the ultimate model and best for everyone.”

The Welsh Government had not changed its position on legislation providing powers to “investigate actively” if parents are complying with their duties under the act but a move towards registration being required was welcomed, Ms Huggins added.

The council cannot force a parent to register or allow visits currently but a new programme of workshops, resources, engagement events and the work of a dedicated advisory teacher, taking over from the temporary funding of an EHE advisor role, has been improving experiences, the committee heard.

“Our concerns will always be the children we don’t know about. We would always like to see a move towards having children registered so that we can support them, them appropriate advice and really hear the voice of the child,” said Ms Huggins.

The committee were reminded that the act requires that education to the “age, aptitude and ability” of the child is provided and evidence is requested by officers to support this.

If this is not satisfactory, court processes can be used to compel that the child is returned to school.