HOME-educated children and their parents yesterday presented a 16,000-signature petition to civil servants in Darlington protesting over plans to change the rules on home schooling.

The families also held a protest picnic near the Department for Education buildings in the town, one of several events up and down the country.

The Darlington protest was the main event along with a protest at Westminster. Protesters in Darlington handed in a petition to Stephen Bishop, the civil servant behind the plans.

The home educators are unhappy with new draft guidance which they say is ‘illegal’ and threatening their children’s safety.

While the DfE strenuously denies it, home educators say they were excluded from fact finding meetings before the draft plans were published.

They say the new rules allow local authorities to impose their own local views of what constitutes a ‘suitable’ education – and can even take children into care if they refuse to hand over their workbooks.

Mike Wood, whose Facebook group opposed to the new guidance attracted 5000 members in its first 24 hours, said this would create a ‘postcode lottery’ and left parents responsible for education while unable to decide the content or format.

And home education expert Wendy Charles Warner, who travelled to Darlington to take part in the protest, said the government had 'unfounded' concerns about home educated children being either radicalised or abused. But she said she had done her own research and found no evidence anywhere or either.

She said she was concerned that the DfE was 'empowering' councils to impose their own versions of home education on parents and penalise them with draconian measures if they were not followed, when many councils were not currently following the law around home education themselves.

Other experts say that home educators are being 'vilified' and that the new guidance is full of problems, as well as blurring the lines between education and welfare.

Elza Steveley, from Stockton, who home educates daughter Rona, 13 and her son Scott, ten, said it made sense not to confine them to traditional school terms as her husband works oversees and it enables them to visit him.

She said: "It has afforded us more free time to travel and see my family who are abroad.

"I didn't take them out of school because they were unhappy, but when I took them out they changed back into being these happy, gorgeous kids because I took all the pressure off them."

Protesters said they feared changes would see local authorities pushing a 'school at home' approach that would undermine the personalised nature of home education.

The Department for Education was contacted for a comment. Receiving the petition, Mr Bishop said as a civil servant he was unable to comment.