Ofsted Continues to Lobby against HE Parents

What’s been said?

A press release “Home education: a choice or last resort?” on 15 Oct announced the publication of new research by Ofsted entitled, ‘Exploring moving to home education in secondary schools’. The executive summary can be found here and the full report here.

Unsurprisingly this triggered a flurry of media reports (e.g. BBC, Tes, ITV News, Guardian) bringing home education back into the headlines.

The study was carried out across seven local authorities in the East Midlands “specifically to look at how and why children move from secondary school to home education.” The Annex summarises the number of participants and the methods used to obtain the information.

The introduction explains the remit of “this small, exploratory study,” noting that it “pays particular attention to children moving to home education as a means to resolve issues at school.” [Emphasis added] The aim, it appears, is to support the interests of children where moving to home education was not the preferred option.

The motivating factors cited for this research are: the rapid increase in the number of children being educated at home; more children with additional needs now being educated at home; research into HE being limited; and Ofsted’s long-standing concerns about off-rolling.

The main findings are summarised at the start of the document under the following headings, then detailed in 117 numbered paragraphs in the main body of the report:

  • Children with complex needs moved to home education
  • No clear steps for parents, LAs and schools to work together when parents are considering home-education
  • Relationship breakdowns between schools, parents and children
  • Moving to home education to resolve pressures at school
  • Some parents and children left unprepared for moving to home education

Note that all cases in the study involved children experiencing difficulties in school, or breakdowns in the relationship between schools and parents.

Why does it matter?

It cannot be disputed that some parents could be better prepared for their children moving into home education. This changing landscape is something we commented on April this year. Whilst the claim “special educational needs, medical, behavioural or other well-being needs were the main reasons behind such a move for parents and their children,” was true for the few families interviewed, they were far too small a sample to say this is overwhelmingly the case.

The deceptive twist in Ofsted’s presentation of the issues is to emphasise their concern for the welfare of these children whilst portraying home education largely as a dubious, last ditch solution implicitly in need of greater regulation. They have thereby taken the spotlight right off the failings within the school system which have contributed to many of the issues in their report.

Ofsted acknowledge they have “no remit to inspect home education.” However, this does not mean they have no agenda regarding HE. Can one deduce anything about this from this piece of research? Look again at the tone of the press release – it is a clear indicator of points authors wish journalists to highlight.

The Recommendations section of the report is also illuminating in this regard. Look at the way ammunition is provided and the seed of an idea sown in their recommendations for policy-makers:

  • The DfE should consider the findings of this report, should it want to change any legislation relevant to home education.
  • The DfE should consider the extent to which current legislation and guidance considers children’s views during decisions to home-educate. [Emphasis added in both points]

This clear example of direct lobbying indicates that speaking directly with children, rather than with parents, is considered by Ofsted to be a more effective means of advancing the agenda of ensuring that all children attend state monitored schools! (Notice how the focus always seems to be on hearing the views of HE children about their educational preferences – the schooled population never being individually asked for theirs – but we know of old that the playing field is not level.)

A section of the report (§34-48) covers this area, with §47 asserting that “children’s views do not legally have to be considered in decisions about education, such as whether they are educated at school or home. LAs and schools do not have the powers to take on board children’s views about moving to home education”

  • 63 is of particular concern: “One school expressed a view that children should have an impartial advocate to advocate for the child in the process.”

Note too inaccuracies in §45 and 60 – that important rider “if it appears” is missing from the expression of the duty of LAs.

The limitations of this research are acknowledged, but significant. The sample is small (seven children and a total of thirty-one parents) and the research was based on (unverifiable) self-report methods. Ofsted faced difficulties in accessing participants, with LAs identifying schools and parents for them to speak to. Hence parents unwilling to engage with LAs do not feature. The same old “need to know” arguments raised by LAs will be recognised here: “We cannot know for certain what the range of views and experiences might be because nationally we do not have an accurate picture of how many children are educated at home or why.”

Though clearly told that Ofsted’s research was “unrelated to recent government consultations about a register for [HE] children,” apparently both parents and schools “were sometimes cautious about taking part.” Parents voiced concerns about the introduction of a register, or the involvement of the LA, or the research possibly leading to Ofsted’s future regulation of HE.

Given the acknowledged limitations, it must be asked why Ofsted publicised this piece of research so widely – unless to give their recommendations maximum exposure.

What can I do?

Read the source documents for yourself. You will be better equipped to handle questions from those who have read the press reports.

Consider Ofsted’s comments in the Context and Way Forward sections. It cannot be denied that those being plunged into HE with little warning are in need of support, but note how “the views and fears of home-educating parents” are perceived as an obstacle to the “changes to legislation” which Ofsted consider necessary “to improve the lives of children moving to home education.”

Keep in mind that essentially this report highlights – again – that the growth in HE is driven by lack of understanding, provision or funding for SEND issues, off-rolling or breakdown of relationship between parents and school. Ofsted’s solution of keeping children in school is clearly pointless if these issues are not addressed.

Ofsted’s report however spins it to make it sound as if home educating parents are the problem, when actually DfE and school failures are at the heart of the issue and are driving the exodus. As long as these lobbyists ignore the glaringly obvious, no amount of regulating will improve outcomes for children.