Amanda Spielman’s “greatest concern”

What’s been said?

Published on 31 October 2018, a letter from Amanda Spielman to the Public Accounts Committee sets out what Ofsted considers to be major risks to the quality of education and school effectiveness. Articles based on this letter are popping up elsewhere, as in the Tes and Shropshire Star, giving it a wide audience.

This letter is worth reading in its entirety as Ms Spielman raises concerns such as off-rolling, the focus on testing and narrowing of the curriculum, illegal unregistered schools, and funding – concerns shared by parents across the country and with which few would disagree. However, it is under the heading “Unregistered Provision” that we find home education, once more, connected with the issue of unregistered schools.

“While Ofsted accepts that home education is a legitimate choice for parents, and is often done well, too often, the concept of home education is being warped. We have a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that parents are home-educating their children under duress, to prevent exclusion. Often, these parents do not have the capacity to provide a good standard of education. In other cases, parents use home education as a guise to allow them to use illegal schools or to evade the scrutiny of public services.”

Ms Spielman says “The lack of information about where these children end up is perhaps my greatest concern as Chief Inspector”, a statement to which many home educators will react strongly, particularly since the letter raises concerns about the current education system which are not being properly addressed, and are precisely the reason why so many, in recent years, are opting to home educate.

She expresses concerns about children “disappearing” from the formal system and into unregistered, unregulated provision.

However, besides this worrying notion of addressing the symptom rather than the cause, there are holes in her arguments:

  1. Children being removed from the formal system seldom “disappear”. Schools from which children have been deregistered hold details which they are required to pass on to Local Authorities.
  2. There are legal frameworks to define what constitutes a “school”, and laws under which unregistered schools can be investigated and prosecuted. As this article indicates, Ofsted do have the support of the government to act against such schools and are in a position to lobby for stricter controls and greater powers should they need them.
  3. A registration process for home educated children run by local authorities would not necessarily bring a solution to the problem of illegal schools, or the risk of abuse. The very few parents who are determined to abuse children would not register with a local authority.

Why does it matter?

When Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, after recognising the failings of the education system, then states that “the lack of information” about children being removed from schools is perhaps her “greatest concern”, one has to wonder why she would choose to make a statement like that when it is those very failings that are causing parents to make the decision to home educate. It is important to take officials like these to task for not demanding greater accountability from schools where it is evident that children are being failed at an almost epidemic rate. This is a problem of the government’s own making, and they need to get their own house in order. The vast majority of parents never set out planning to home educate, and their wish would most probably have been for little Johnny or Jane to have a happy and successful school experience. While illegal school settings may be less than ideal, there needs to be some acknowledgement that for many, the legal school setting is not providing an ideal experience either, and is responsible in some cases for long-term damage to the mental and emotional health of children.

What can I do?

You may wish to write to the Secretary of State for Education, Damien Hinds (we recommend doing this through your MP), to ask for measures to be put in place to improve the way education is delivered in schools – the need for which even Amanda Spielman recognises in her letter. Parents in the UK have the right to expect that their children receive an education that will prepare them adequately for adulthood, in an environment that is safe and encouraging. Demanding greater accountability from the Department for Education is a proactive way to push for improvement. You could also write to Amanda Spielman, raising some of the points made here, or submit comments on any articles based on her letter to highlight Ms Spielman’s misguided solution of addressing the symptom rather than the cause.