A Conservative government would legislate for a register of children not in school to bring down the number of pupils who are persistently absent.

The party’s manifesto said it wanted to ensure that all children – including those who are home schooled – receive a “high-quality education”.

Council bosses and education unions have been calling for a register, but many home educators oppose this as they fear it could lead to greater interference.

The Conservative manifesto, published on Tuesday, acknowledged that fewer children have been attending school due to the legacy of Covid-19.

It said: “We will continue to work with schools and local authorities to improve school attendance, including through more mental health support, building on our plan that is working – there were 440,000 fewer children persistently absent last year compared to the year before.

“And to ensure all children are getting a high-quality education, including those who are home schooled, we will legislate to create a register of children not in school.”

More than a fifth (21.2%) of pupils in England were “persistently absent” in the 2022/23 school year, which means they missed 10% or more school sessions.

This is nearly double the rate in 2018/19 (10.9%), according to the latest Department for Education (DfE) data.

An investigation by the PA news agency found that dozens of councils in England have seen a sharp rise in the number of children being removed from school to be home educated since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of children in elective home education (EHE) more than doubled in some councils in the last five years, the figures showed.

Proposals to legislate for a new national register of children not in school were once part of the Government’s Schools Bill, which was scrapped in 2022.

Earlier this year, the Labour Party said it would introduce a national register of children who are not in school if the party wins power at the General Election.

In March, then-Tory MP Flick Drummond’s Children Not in School Bill – which calls on local authorities to maintain a register of children who are not full-time pupils at a school – received an unopposed second reading in the Commons.

Wendy Charles-Warner, chair of home education charity Education Otherwise, said: “International research demonstrates that registers make no difference to children’s outcomes and, when viewed as punitive by home educating parents, they result in fewer families engaging with local authorities.

“Home education is not the problem, lack of in school support for children with special needs and mental health issues is.

“Government should be directing its resources to making schools safe and suitable places for all children whose parents elect for school, not wasting time and money on a pointless and unwarranted register.”

The Conservatives’ manifesto also committed to delivering new legislation “which will make clear, beyond all doubt, that parents have a right to see what their child is being taught in school”.

It added that schools must share all materials especially on “sensitive matters” like relationships and sex education.

The pledge comes after draft statutory guidance for England, published by the Government last month, said sex education should be taught no earlier than Year 5, when pupils are aged nine, and that what is described as the “contested topic of gender identity” should not be taught at all.

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “They have once again insinuated that schools are sharing inappropriate materials in sex education and over gender identity.

“We have not seen evidence to support this claim and it seems to us to be largely political posturing.”

He added: “Sadly, it is a manifesto which misses the mark of the priorities which are uppermost in the minds of school and college leaders and smacks of being completely out of touch with reality.”

In February, the DfE published non-statutory guidance which instructed headteachers on how to ban the use of phones, not only during lessons, but during break and lunch periods as well.

In its manifesto, the Conservative Party has said it will put its guidance on banning phones “on a statutory footing” so all schools have to operate a ban.

The party has also pledged to “pass legislation” to ensure schools follow its draft guidance on how to support pupils questioning their gender.

The manifesto said the Conservatives will also ban protests outside schools “to stop mobs from intimidating teachers and children”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “The Conservative manifesto is disappointing – filled with pledges to carry on with a status quo that is pushing schools to breaking point.”

But he added: “We are, however, pleased to see a growing cross-party consensus on the need for a register of home-schooled children.

“We have long raised concerns that with the growing number of families deciding to educate their children at home, the system of safeguarding needs to be improved.

“All children and young people, wherever they are educated, deserve to be kept safe.”