They know “exactly where every bovine is in the country, they don’t know where every child is,” said a committee chairman in calling for greater legislation governing elective home education.

The number of elective home educated (EHE) has increased in Pembrokeshire over the last year, particularly in response to the pandemic, and a number of councillors have raised concerns about the education these children receive and the level of safe guarding they receive.

A revised strategy for home education guidance was shelved by Welsh Government in November, with the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, launching a review into its actions after it said it could not complete the work before the next election due to Covid-19.

Pembrokeshire schools and learning communities overview and scrutiny committee agreed that it would write to Mrs Holland, with added support from the cabinet member for education Cllr Guy Woodham, to express their view that greater powers to oversee home education was needed.

Chairman Cllr John Davies said by not providing greater statutory powers the Welsh Government had “failed dismally” and although most children are well cared for “from time to time it can go horribly wrong.”

He referred to the Dylan Seabridge case 10 years ago where the local authority were not aware that he was not in the school system and there was still no legislation that “compels parents that they have to inform the local education authority that they are home educating and there are children lost to the system.”

Principal education welfare officer Cara Huggins told the committee there were 216 children being home educated in 2019 and 264 by December 2020, with 102 of those pupils being deregistered in the autumn term.

There was a strong feeling that a “strengthening” of legislation was needed to help education welfare officers to question more closely those educating their children and challenge the level of education being provided, said Ms Huggins.

“I do respect those parents but also need to ensure the proper safeguarding and proper education of those children,” she added.

Deputy chief education officer James White said that currently he was “fairly comfortable we can stay on top of our responsibilities in terms of this agenda” with existing education welfare officers supporting the work.

However, he said once the pandemic eases, if the high numbers remain or increase again, consideration of greater capacity will be required.

Cllr Mike Stoddart added there were “issues of the citizen and the state” that should be considered and the committee should “tread carefully.”

Council leader Cllr David Simpson will also be asked to sign the letter.