The idea has been floated on one of the home education forums that there are large numbers of Jewish and Muslim children who might be neither registered pupils at schools or electively home educated. This is an interesting notion. The starting point for this was something which Paula Rothermel wrote in 2000. She said, 'in 1997/98 there were 9,144,000 children aged 5-16 in the population, but only 8,583,400 registered in schools Where were the other 560,600?' Now straight away, most of us will see a problem with this idea that there might be half a million children milling about who are not going to school. This would be a little over 5% of all children. In other words, if you lived near a large comprehensive with a thousand pupils, you could expect to see around fifty children in the area who did not attend school. Unless they are kept locked up indoors, it is something of a mystery just where all these children are on weekdays. Does anybody see scores of children out and about every day who are not at school?
One solution put forward is that these are children of orthodox Jews and religious Muslims who do not send them to school. I suppose that this could conceivably account for some children. I lived for some years in Stamford Hill, the main orthodox area in London and still work round there. About twenty thousand orthodox Jews live in Stamford Hill and many of their children attend private schools, some of which are not registered as schools. Not all of them, of course. There are two or three excellent schools which the orthodox children go to. I don't suppose for a moment we could be talking more than a thousand or so children who are not attending proper schools. Most Jewish kids who are not from the orthodox community go to the same schools as everybody else of course. There is also a large community in Manchester, in areas like Crumsall, but there are far fewer orthodox than in Stamford Hill. I can't see more than a few hundred missing children being in Manchester. I can't really buy the idea that there might be hundreds of thousands of such children.
Then there are Muslim children. There are without doubt Muslim children who are not attending school for various reasons, but I could not say how many. A lot of Muslim children attend Madrassas at weekends and some evenings. These are rather like Sunday Schools. The kids learn about Islam, how to read Arabic and things like that. They are not a substitute for school: the children attending them are usually going to school as well. I don't doubt for a moment that there are Muslim children not registered at schools or being home educated, but I would be surprised to hear that the numbers are very high.
More to the point are the number of children whose parents have no right to be in the country at all. I certainly know quite a few of them and it is very tricky to know what to do about them. Their parents are anxious not to draw attention to themselves and enrolling a child at school involves paperwork which some of these types do not have. One solution is for a relative who does have a right to be here to pretend that the child is theirs and that their birth was registered abroad. This is not uncommon and most of the children only seem to spend a few weeks or months without a school place until something of this sort can be arranged.
In short, I cannot really believe that half a million children are on the streets on weekdays without anybody noticing. We would be even more likely to notice if it were half a million orthodox Jewish or Asian kids!