Edward Timpson on Off-rolling and Home Education

What’s been said?

Edward Timpson, whose report on school exclusions was published in May, appeared before the Education Committee on 2 July. As in recent accountability hearings with Anne Longfield and Damian Hinds, home education featured in the questions.

In his review Timpson made thirty recommendations to ensure exclusions are used appropriately and that the Government commits to new school accountability. Just two of these (27 and 28) mention HE and these can be found on p15 in the PDF of the full text. The first is concerned with off-rolling, and recommends amongst other things that the DfE reviews, “a ‘right to return’ period where children could return from home education to their previous school.” The second concerns a requirement that social workers are informed, “when a Child in Need is moved out of their school,” including into HE. (These are discussed in full on p101 to 103.)

It is unsurprising therefore that HE was not a major topic, only accounting for three questions and five minutes out the ninety-five minute hearing. It was initially raised by Emma Hardy (Lab, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) who, as we have commented previously, has a strong concern for “the children no school wants.” Affirming her support of his proposal of a right to return for pupils who have been withdrawn to be HE, Hardy invited Timpson to explain how he thought such a scheme might work (Q2504).

Stating that this had come out of his discussions with parents and teachers, Timpson explained, “It has also been played out more widely around the issue of home education and the concern that there are more children being moved into home education not necessarily always for the right reasons.” Acknowledging that parents who have been coerced into HE often don’t have lifestyles which make it feasible, for instance both parents being out at work, he wants them to have the space to reflect and to say that they had realised it wasn’t “going to work, and we would like our child to go back to school.”

Timpson recognised that further thought needs to be given to whether the child should return to the school they had left or to an alternative, and even if the readmission should be gradual rather than immediate. Repeating his desire to provide breathing space for parents and children, he said he hoped such a scheme would also “elevate it so that there is more transparency around what is happening.” He clarified that his proposal was not intended to provide the parents of a child who had been excluded with the right to demand that they be readmitted.

You can watch Timpson respond to Hardy’s question, and the two follow-up ones from the Chair Robert Halfon on ParliamentTV.

Why does it matter?

As we have noted on several occasions, politicians now consider a catalogue of different issues to be conflated with HE, of which off-rolling is just one. Knowing what hard work genuinely elective home education is, surely no HE parent would want to see ill-prepared parents and their children being put under additional stress by being forced into deregistering a child. If, as seems increasingly likely, schools are off-loading difficult and or low-achieving children, then the state needs to put its own house in order.

Ofsted is very clear that off-rolling by schools to improve their results is illegal, but as Timpson said in response to Hardy, he had seen and heard credible evidence in the course of the review that schools were doing exactly that. He stated that in some instances this was being done “with letters setting that out,” and understood that the Committee were aware of this. If off-rolling is already outlawed, and there is hard evidence of it taking place, then why hasn’t something been done to penalise those schools which are practising it?

Yes, off-rolling must be stopped, but it has to be asked why the existing law cannot be used effectively. One wonders in what way a register of children not in school would plug the legal loopholes being exploited by schools?

What can I do?

It is very easy to focus only on the responsibility of the truly elective HE community, and to overlook the situation of those families which have chosen to accept the state’s offer to provide an education for their children. If the government makes such a commitment, then it has a responsibility to stand by them no matter how difficult some children are. Whilst you may not think it is wise to hand over the training of one’s child to the state’s machinery, the majority of parents don’t know that there is an alternative and therefore are ill-equipped to reclaim their responsibilities.

So when you find yourself in conversation about EHE with others, especially your MP or local politicians, take the opportunity not only to stress how important it is that your responsibilities as a parent are respected by the government, but also to make the point that they need to find an effective way of preventing schools from discarding children who are too difficult for them. If they can’t enforce existing laws, it is difficult to see how a register of children not in school will make any difference.