After the Department for Education announced a trial for a register of all home-schooled children, Frank Young argues this is one small step towards a register of every child in the country, something we should absolutely seek to avoid.

It was only a matter of time before someone deep inside the Department for Education decided that we needed a register of children. This invention was widely reported last week as the Department for Education announced it would trial a new register for home schooled children. At the same time as press releases were dropping into inboxes the Children's Commissioner went even further calling for all children to have a unique identification number. The era of every new baby being given an identification number is almost upon us.

These proposals have their root in a growing concern over the number of children being home schooled and not registered with a local state school. School absence has gone up dramatically following mass school closure and social workers moving behind computer screens. There is widespread concern over children missing from the education system, some groups claim 100,000 children are regularly absent from the classroom, although these figures rely heavily on long periods of lockdown. It is impossible to know the long term damage caused by missing chunks of education and we are right to be concerned that this might be the longest form of COVID we collectively experience. Robert Halfon, chairman of the education committee, calls them "ghost children" and has repeatedly pressed ministers to do more to tackle the fallout from successive lockdowns.

It appears for local officials and children's quangos the solution isn't to spend more time working with families that are destitute or dangerous but to create a new register of children. This is a classic approach of the quango state, replicating the bottom trawling techniques of mass fishing, cast a net over everything and you catch the fish you want and much else besides.

Some parents will be bad and there are dysfunctional families in every area. This isn't an argument for a register catching anyone who decides that the local state school is not for them. There will also be a huge number of parents who take one look at the local state education offer and think they can do a better job without it.

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It is politically naïve to think a register is the end of the matter. What starts as a register of a small number of children 'falling through the cracks' will soon turn into every child getting a number, already a stated ambition of our Children's Commissioner. Bizarrely, in the same media reports trumpeting a new trial, it appears that switched-on police forces have already identified the children the Department for Education is keen to capture on a Whitehall computer.

Once the state knows where your children are it won't be long before officialdom knocks on your door. Children's groups are already pressing ministers to introduce an annual 'check- up' on families not sending their children to local state schools.

There will be apprehension at these proposals, particularly from faith groups who are already nervous that their teaching might fall outside a set of approved lessons based on a few acceptable. This is a lack of trust, built up over many skirmishes with officialdom, over what should and should not be taught in schools.

Databases are less than perfect as anyone who has ever put one together will know. It's the imperfections that matter and the very families who want to avoid being on a register that will end up overlooked. Try as we might there is seldom a perfect solution.

Previous governments have attempted to create vast databases of children. Tony Blair actually legislated to create a system called Contact Point which eventually held details of over 11 million children. This £200 million database was widely criticised at the time for being disproportionate, long before lobby groups began calling for every child to be given an ID number. Contact Point was scrapped by the Coalition government with the then Minister for Children saying the "idea of a single national IT database for all children has gone for good.

One of the lessons of successive lockdowns was discovering local charities, with little or no funding from the state and certainly no clipboard of official questions, were able to find children in need of help far better than the lanyard wearing classes. It is here the solution should be sought. There are a number of charities that work successfully, outside of state structures, to reach children no longer going to school and the secret of their success is always to be seen as the opposite of the state. The trawler fishing techniques of the quango state are seldom the answer. Data is always attractive to officialdom, it's what they see, but we need Parliament to ask searching and very serious questions about proposals for a register of children and to protect those who have little official voice.

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