Ofsted Annual Report 2018-19

Home education features in the context of off-rolling and unregistered schools

What’s been said?

21 January saw the publication of Ofsted’s Annual Report for the academic year 2018-19. The opening letter to the Secretary of State for Education explains that Ofsted is required to present an Annual Report to Parliament. Copies are placed in the libraries of both Houses.

These reports are broad in scope. They feature findings from recent Ofsted research, as well as “inspection evidence from more than 26,700 inspections [2018-19] of, and visits to, schools, colleges and providers of social care, early years and further education and skills”.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman explained that the customary pre-Christmas publication date had been delayed slightly due to the General Election.

Several references to home education occur in the report. In the context of unregistered schools (page 24), we find:

“We welcome the DfE’s announcement of a proposed register of children not in school. The DfE hopes that this will make it easier to recognise unregistered education settings. This in turn will help identify and tackle the misuse of home education to conceal children attending unregistered schools.” [Emphasis added]

In similar vein, under the isolated heading of “Elective home education” (§226, page 83):

“In some cases, parents who claim to be home-educating their children are in fact sending them to unregistered schools. In over a quarter of suspected unregistered schools we have inspected, our inspectors were told that some or all of the children present were home-educated.”

The longer section subtitled Off-rolling (§157-170, pages 66-68) cites amongst other references, “coercion by [school] leaders to leave, sometimes nominally to home education” as one possible reason for pupils leaving the school roll.

Footnotes also refer readers to an October 2019 Ofsted research document “Home education: a choice or a last resort?”. A Byte addressed this at the time of publication pointing out that, as in this case, it portrayed HE “largely as a dubious, last ditch solution implicitly in need of greater regulation.” We also noted that Ofsted having “no remit to inspect home education” did not mean that “they have no agenda regarding HE.”

Why does it matter?

Spielman’s written commentary (page 7) opens with a summary of Ofsted’s remit: “Ofsted is a force for improvement across education and social care. Our core job is to inspect, regulate and report objectively and without fear or favour.”

Ofsted does not legislate or direct policy in either education or social care, but two phrases from later paragraphs demonstrate that she is well aware of the body’s importance as an opinion-former: “…much of our impact comes from influence,” she writes, and “Some of our soft power lies in the research we publish to advance thinking and to report back on the actions and attitudes of the sectors we oversee.” [Emphasis added]

Spielman’s speech is also worthy of consideration, as she defines the core principle behind Ofsted’s greatly-expanded remit – “working firmly and unapologetically in the interests of children.”

After reviewing Education, SEND, Early Years and Further Education & Skills, a large proportion of her speech is devoted to Social Care. This demonstrates how wide Ofsted’s brief has now become and how, in the mind of the Chief Inspector, the “interests of children” justify comments on knife crime, protests about RSE, and other perceived social ills.

Given the infrequent reference to parents or the parameters of parental responsibility, it’s not hard to see how Spielman arrives at the conclusions she does. She promotes the value of “strong, independent scrutiny” in the belief that this is of benefit to “our education system and social care sector.” Multi-lateral surveillance therefore becomes, in her thinking, both necessary and desirable for the greater good:

“We need to reflect that our education and social care systems are increasingly interconnected, and co-operation is vital… Councils, police, health, justice and social services need to break down the silos… And Ofsted needs to play its part to incentivise this co-operation.”

A recent Byte showed how views expressed by those other high profile advocates of the “interests of children” – Children’s Commissioners – have the potential to shape thinking further down the line, as it were. County councillors in Essex are apparently placing implicit trust in Anne Longfield’s pronouncements without checking out their veracity, or thinking through the implications of increasing state encroachment into the sphere of parental responsibility.

What can I do?

Be aware that at this particular time in our society, the credibility, dedication and competence of the vast majority of parents have been systematically questioned and undermined by a combination of hostile media reporting and the hubris of that relatively new kid on the block, “the children’s professional”.

One has to remember that the playing field is not level, and views expressed by opinion-formers such as Spielman or Longfield are likely to be one-sided at the very least.

Ofsted was established in 1992 as the “Office for Standards in Education,” but its remit was expanded in 2007 to include “children’s services work relating to social care and the courts.” Skim through this article to understand more about its increased sphere of influence.

Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Revisit the Climate of Suspicion and Rise of the Safeguarding Industry articles in the HE Byte library. Despite burgeoning bureaucracy and jargon, remain confident in your own intuitive judgement as the parent of your child.

Do your best to challenge the negative stereotype of HE commonly found in the media, and if the need arises to question overreach by state representatives, check your facts, be courteous but firm.