Almost one-fifth of local education authorities in England have reported concerns about a rise in the number of pupils being removed from schools to be home-educated, with several of them specifically referring to concerns about off-rolling.
Their fears have been laid bare in a document obtained by Tes that outlines local authority responses to a consultation carried out by admissions watchdog OSA (Office of the Schools Adjudicator).
A total of 120 out of the 152 education authorities in England responded to the consultation, of which 30 provided no comment. However, a total of 29 expressed concerns about home education, with separate authorities describing parents as being “coerced,” “nudged” and “persuaded” into it.
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This has been defined by Ofsted as “off-rolling” where “parents are encouraged to remove their child from the school roll when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil”.
Home education and off rolling
A total of 27 councils reported an increase or “significant increase” in home education, while 20 reported the difficulty parents faced in returning their child to school once they encountered problems with home education.
One local authority specifically mentioned "off-rolling" while another referred to "backdoor exclusion", while some referred to pro-forma letters being used to off-roll pupils, including one handed to illiterate parents.
And Tes has spoken to a parent who has described the moment she was off-rolled against her wishes.
Former schools adjudicator Alan Parker said the pressures for schools to “off-roll” pupils were increasing, including for reasons such as performance targets and squeezed resources.
He said: “Where as in the past there’d be a small number of under-principled, wide-boy heads who did it, now there is a much larger number of heads driven to it against their better wishes.”
The OSA document, obtained by Tes through a freedom of information request, includes comments from Hertfordshire Council which said it was “very concerned” that parents were being “encouraged/persuaded” by schools to opt for home education.
It added: “It is clear that many of these parents have little idea of what EHE (elective home education) actually entails but, by the time their child is at home, it is too late because they will have been removed from the school roll once the school has been informed in writing of the intention to undertake EHE."
Staffordshire County Council said some parents had been “coerced” by schools, adding: “Once these parents realise the implications and requirement to home educate, they find difficulty in securing a school place as, depending on the reasons for EHE, their children are then classed as ‘hard to place’ and fall under the remit of the Fair Access Protocol.”
Northamptonshire County Council said: “We are concerned that there will be an impact [from the rise in home education] on vulnerable groups of young people. There is anecdotal evidence that youth offending service and Police are also involved with some of these young people.”
Hertfordshire County Council recommended the introduction of a mandatory “cooling off” period of 15 days “to allow uninformed or pressurised parents to change their minds” on decisions to home-educate.
Luton Borough Council said it had “challenged practice” where there was a concern that a pupil had been encouraged to opt for home education to avoid permanent exclusion, and said: “The legal framework is too weak and does not support robust monitoring of EHE.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “No parent should be forced to home-educate their child. Informal or unofficial exclusions are unlawful and we have written to schools to remind them of the rules on exclusions.
“We have committed to work with Ofsted to define and tackle the practice of ‘off-rolling’, whereby children are removed from school rolls without formal exclusion, in ways that are in the interests of the school rather than the pupil. We believe this practice is relatively rare, but we are clear that it is unacceptable.”