The law allows parents to educate their children at home. It is right that it does so, as parents are their child's primary educator. But that should not mean that there are no checks to ensure that this is not a cover for permanent truancy or the sort of horrific abuse reported in Birmingham yesterday. There is far too much centralisation and regulation in the current Children, Schools and Families Bill that Ed Balls has brought into parliament. But one area of the Bill - which is being opposed by the Tories in the face of a rowdy opposition from home schoolers - is long overdue. The Bill requires local authorities to keep a register of all children of school age who are being educated at home. Without such a register, how can we expect social workers to follow up the sort of concerns initially expressed by Khyra's headteacher? (Equally, it should be said the failure of social workers to deal with heads' initial concerns highlights the problems with the bureaucracy around safeguarding - schools should have their own social worker on staff able to investigate abuse rather than having to rely on the so-called multi-agency response system)
Yet Michael Gove has declared the plans for a register "deeply sinister" and has promised to block them, as have the Liberal Democrats. Of course, parents should have the right to educate their children at home so long as that is what they are doing, and many home educators do a great job. But equally we have an obligation to the children to be sure this is not used by a minority as a cover for the sort of abuse shown to Khyra Ishaq. After all, twice as many children on the child protection register are 'home educated' as those educated at school. Children's interests must come first. And the three political parties should quickly agree a light touch registration arrangement that ensures that they do. To do so is only 'totalitarian' if one believes that the interests of the child are always outweighed by the beliefs of the parent - even if they should contribute to their child's death.