Huge rise in home education sparks ‘off-rolling’ accusations

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock
You report: 'Between 2015/16 and 2017/18, the number of children moving to home education increased ...

Posted by: ,

A children's commissioner report sets out strong evidence of off-rolling practices, with stories of schools putting pressure on ‘harassed parents’ to home-educate challenging students or those with SEN. Pete Henshaw takes a look

A huge increase in the number of children “disappearing from schools” to be educated at home is likely to be the result of “off-rolling”.

A report from the Children’s Commissioner for England reveals stories of schools that have pro forma letters declaring a decision to home-educate and parents who have signed up to home education without realising it.

The report shows that the number of children registered as home-educated has risen by at least 20 per cent in each of the past five years – and has doubled since 2013/14.

In 2018, it is estimated that almost 60,000 children in England were being home-schooled at any one time – a 27 per cent rise on 2017. For 2018, the total figure of home-educated children could be as high as 80,000, the report suggests.

The report – entitled Skipping school: Invisible children – also reveals that secondary school students are much more likely to be withdrawn from school. From 2015/16 to 2017/18 there was a 32 per cent increase in the number of primary children moving to home education, compared to a 71 per cent increase in secondary schools.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, suspects that many of the children being moved to home education are being off-rolled by schools.

Ofsted defines off-rolling as: “The practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent 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.”

The data in the report suggests that a small number of schools are off-rolling the majority of students, with one in 10 accounting for half of the pupil movement: “The data shows that very few schools are responsible for the majority of moves into home education. Roughly nine out of 10 schools only saw zero to two referrals into home education a year, but for a tiny minority of schools it can be more than 15 a year.”

An analysis using data from 11 local authority areas, also published in the report, reveals a 48 per cent rise in the number of children withdrawn from schools into home education between 2015/16 and 2017/18.

In one example, the report quotes data from Hackney and Newham in east London. Between 2015/16 and 2017/18, the number of children moving to home education increased by 94 per cent in Hackney and 176 per cent in Newham.

The report adds: “Hackney academies saw an increase in children moving into home education of 238 per cent between 2016/17 and 2017/18; Newham academies saw a 112 per cent increase. Among local authority-run schools in the two boroughs, the increases over the same period were 21 per cent (Hackney) and 66 per cent (Newham).”

In her foreword to the report, Ms Longfield says that while some parents take the philosophical choice to educate their children at home or feel they have no choice because of issues such as bullying, many “home-educated” students have been off-rolled, with, in some instances, “harassed parents” signing up to this without understanding the implications.

She writes: “It is sometimes schools themselves that put pressure on parents to remove children who don’t ‘fit in’. This practice, known as off-rolling, can amount to informal, illegal exclusion. This is becoming more common, even in some local authority-managed schools. It is unacceptable that some schools are washing their hands of children – particularly the most vulnerable.”

Schools can only exclude children on discipline grounds, not for other reasons such as low attainment or SEN. The report raises concerns that many parents feel obliged to accept home education to avoid threats of formal exclusion, not realising that they are giving up important safeguards by doing so.

The report adds: “The children’s commissioner has heard of schools, anecdotally, where pro forma letters declaring a decision to home-educate are kept at reception, ready for parents to sign when things at school get tough. She has met distraught parents who have signed up to home-educating their child without even realising that was what they were doing.”

The report warns that many home-educated children are “invisible to local authorities” and not receiving any kind of education. One in five children withdrawn from school have SEN. There is no record of these children kept in schools and parents do not have to register home-educated children.

Ms Longfield has pledged to publish a second report later this year “identifying which schools have high numbers of children being withdrawn into home education which may suggest practices of off-rolling”.

Ms Longfield, who tackled this issue in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on Monday evening (February 4), wants the government to create a compulsory register of “off the grid” children in order to get a better handle on the issue. She is also calling for stronger measures to tackle off-rolling and a greater oversight of home education.

Research conducted by Dispatches and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services found that 93 per cent of councils admit that they are not aware of all the children in their area who are home-educated. Furthermore, 28 per cent of families refuse permission for local authorities to conduct home visits.

Ms Longfield said: “Our investigations have revealed thousands of children are off the grid because they are being home-schooled. The numbers are rocketing and no-one knows how they are doing academically or even if they’re safe.

Many are being off-rolled. It also seems that a relatively small number of schools may be responsible for this sharp rise in children leaving school for ‘home education’ in this way.

“Many of these children are very vulnerable, have SEN, or are unable to cope with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ school system. Schools should be for all children, including those with complex needs and those who struggle academically.

“We need to know who these children are, where they are, whether they are safe and if they are getting the education they need to succeed in life. There is a clear case for the government to introduce a compulsory register.”

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.

Why is there NO support for parents who do you go to when you have evidence of a school off rolling and useing Alternitive provision as way of getting rid..that ofsted said was inadequate recently, harassing and making a parent feel it’s the only choice.
Telling the pupil their not academically good as other peers,and putting them into isolation until parent agrees to go to a meeting at the provision. Failing to safe guard a child too. I’m absolutely disgusted.. my son was put into a A/p for pupils with challenging behaviour but not the sort of pupils I want my son around..
Sen needs disregarded and now left with no education...feeling like a failure and stupid....he also feels they taken everything from him..... where’s the justice!!

Posted By: ,
You report: 'Between 2015/16 and 2017/18, the number of children moving to home education increased by 94 per cent in Hackney and 176 per cent in Newham'.

What the commissioner looked at was the number of removals from the school roll, not the number of home educated children in these authority areas. Sadly, Hackney declined to respond to my freedom of information request in 2015, but Newham did respond.

in 2015 there were reported to be 206 home educated children in Newham. Last week there were reported to be 241 home educated children in Newham. Perhaps the commissioner could explain how that constitues a rise of 176%? I make that a modest rise of 17% in approaching four years.

Of course, this modest rise did not happen in all of the local authorities included in the 'extensive' research undertaken (in 11 local authority areas), just as it did not happen in all of those in my annual research in 152 local authorities.

Shame on the Commissioner and shame on Desatches for airing the programme without checking the facts with those of us who genuinely monitor the data. It was offered to them.

Posted By: ,
I think to call a report which is based on only 11 out of 152 local authorities data 'strong evidence' is a tad rich.

Not only that, but the data is inaccurate in several places and of the 4 of those local authoritioes for which I have accurate data, two have seen a sharp fall in numbers of home educating parents, not a rise. I expect the remaining 7 this week.

Bad schools offroll children, good schools support children. Either way, it is not the fault of home educating families, so for the commissioner to call for mandatory home visits for home educating families, on a termnly basis, in a majnner akin to dealing with children on a child protection plan, is outrageous.

You deal with off rolling by dealing withthe schools that do it. You do not punish those you describe as victims of the practice.

Posted By: ,

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
About Us

Headteacher Update is the only magazine delivered directly to every primary school headteacher in the UK. It is published six times a year, at the beginning of each term and half-term, to keep headteachers up-to-date with everything going on in primary education.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.