The introduction of a duty on councils to maintain a register is one of a number of proposals put forward by ministers to improve the monitoring of home education arrangements and support for families.
Local registers would apply to children who are not receiving their principal education in mainstream schools, mainly state-funded or registered independent schools.
Other measures in a consultation document on children not in school published by the Department for Education today include:
- A duty on parents to inform their local authority when their child is not attending a mainstream school.
- A duty on settings attended by the children on the register to respond to attendance enquiries from local authorities.
- A duty on local authorities to provide support to home educating families if it is requested.
The measures are in response to growing concerns from across the children's sector about the rise in the number of children being home schooled and the difficulties faced by children's services in monitoring the quality of education they receive and to identify and address any safeguarding issues.
Concerns have also been raised about the practice of schools "off-rolling" pupils to circumvent the exclusion process and avoid damage to performance statistics.
Analysis undertaken for a 2018 government consultation on elective home education - the findings for which have also just been published - estimated that there are 57,600 children in England being home schooled. However, the department states that this is likely to be an underestimation.
The government accepts that additional resources will be needed to deliver the plans and sets out in the consultation paper how it will access this.
However, the proposals stop short of boosting councils' powers for monitoring the suitability of home-education arrangements, nor any legislation to define what constitutes "suitable education".
- Inspecting 'off-rolling'
- Home schooling survey reveals rising concerns over 'off-rolling'
- The factors driving the increase in children educated at home
The approach has been cautiously welcomed by the sector.
The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), which has said it will respond to the DfE's consultation in due course, has calculated that nearly 80,000 children were educated at home at some point across the 2017/18 academic year.
Rachel Dickinson, ADCS president, said: "For too long we have had no way of assuring ourselves of whether a growing number of children are receiving a suitable education or that they are safe."
Dickinson continued: "Whilst a register in and of itself will not keep children safe, it will help to establish exactly how many children are being educated other than at school and assist with the identification of children who are vulnerable to harm.
"We look forward to reading the new guidance, which hopefully includes a clearer articulation of what a suitable education looks like as well as more detail on this proposal.
"This is a positive step in the right direction but it is crucial that any new responsibilities for local authorities are fully funded if these plans are to have the desired impact."
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: "The LGA has long-called for a register of children not in school and we look forward to seeing these proposals implemented as a matter of urgency. A register will help councils to monitor how children are being educated and prevent them from disappearing from the oversight of services designed to keep them safe.
"Councils fully support the rights of parents to educate their children in the best way that they see fit, and the vast majority of parents who home educate their children do a fantastic job, and work well with their local council to make sure that a good education is being provided.
"For the minority of children where this is not the case, councils need to be able to check a child's schooling, to make sure they are being taught a suitable and appropriate education in a safe environment.
"This is why the government needs to go further and change the law to give councils the powers and appropriate funding to enter homes or other premises to check a child's schooling."
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "A register that identifies how children are being educated and under what circumstances could help ensure the safety of children and young people and prevent pupils dropping through the system through illegal off-rolling from school registers.
"The most effective way for any register to work for the most vulnerable pupils would be for local authorities to manage and lead on the list but only if they are properly funded and resourced to do so."
Bousted urged the DfE to develop an accountability system that "does not penalise schools" that work with children with complex needs.
In February, a report by the children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield called for a register to be created "without delay", after she found levels of home education had doubled in five years.
Longfield's report Skipping School: Invisible Children - How Children Disappear from England's Schools, found high numbers with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were among the tens of thousands of pupils being "electively home educated", and their parents struggling to cope with delivering their education.
The consultation closes on 24 June.