OSA Annual Report Speaks of Rising EHE Numbers

Whilst home education receives minimal attention in the text, it features prominently in parliament and in the press

What’s been said?

A joint press release on 24 February from the Department for Education [DfE] and the Office of the Schools Adjudicator [OSA] announced the publication of the OSA Annual Report for September 2018 to August 2019.

The purpose of these reports, presented to the DfE by the Chief Schools Adjudicator for England, is “to record the progress made by admission authorities in England in complying fully with the School Admissions Code, and achieving fair access to schools for all children.”

EHE is mentioned in only two paragraphs (94-95) on page 35 of a forty page document, though Dave Speck’s 24 February Tes article on the Report implies by the amount of column space he has allocated to HE, that it was amongst its most prominent findings.

Paragraph 94 deals with the numbers of home educated children, based on figures provided by each of the one hundred and fifty-two English Local Authorities. This year’s total for all LAs “was 60,544, compared to 52,770 as at 29 March 2018, being an increase of 7,774 or 12.8 per cent.” It is also noted that because there is no requirement on parents to register their children as EHE, this number will be “fewer than the actual total.”

Paragraph 95 addresses concerns about the high turnover of children in HE, which “appears to relate to the reasons for choosing elective home education.” It notes that some children are home educated for a limited period only, sometimes when nearing the end of compulsory school age. It also reiterates concerns expressed in last year’s report by many local authorities that “some parents may opt to educate their child at home but not actually be able to provide education which fully meets the child’s needs.”

Why does it matter?

Our Byte on last year’s Report noted an “increasing official interest in HE as well as an increased uptake” and cited seven reasons for choosing HE supplied to LAs by parents. Significantly, all were school-related in some way.

The first HE-related paragraph of this year’s Report is factual. The second is more subjective, speculating that the high turnover of children being EHE has some connection with the reasons for choosing HE in the first place. It also reinforces the commonly held view amongst LAs that the home education provided by some parents is likely to be sub-standard.

It’s not just what the OSA Report itself says about HE though. It’s the reporting on the OSA Report which also influences the general perception of HE. We touched on this in a Byte about media coverage of last year’s report, highlighting the way information can be cast in a variety of lights depending on the spin put on it by journalists.

Dave Speck’s Tes article demonstrates this clearly. Off-rolling was addressed in last year’s Report – Speck’s current article includes a link to his own comments on this at the time. However, though reference to off-rolling in this year’s Report is conspicuous by its complete absence, his headline “Off-rolling: Home education up 13%, warns watchdog” implies a misleading connection between the two this time round, besides highlighting rising HE numbers. His by-line too intimates that suspicions about the viability of HE are not groundless: “Schools adjudicator warns that councils have same fears as last year about some parents’ ability to educate.”

In parliament too, reference to data published in the OSA Report was made by Kate Osamor (Edmonton, Lab/Co-op) in a Westminster Hall Debate on the Schools Admissions Process on 27 February.

Osamor, who opened the debate, referred in her speech to a newly published Sutton Trust report assessing inequalities in the schools admission process. She went on to associate a lack of sufficient good school places for children with the thirteen per cent rise in “the number of children being home-schooled in England,” citing the OSA figures. She then asked the Minister what steps the Department was taking to address the problem of there being “simply not enough high-quality school places available for parents to choose from.”

The Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb, was at pains to show that the number of school places had risen and was sufficient. He too cited the findings in the OSA Report to say that the admissions system was for the most part “work[ing] effectively,” but Osamor still returned to her concerns about rising numbers in HE, seemingly believing that it was purely the lack of school places which was driving this.

Gibb’s response is worthy of consideration. Unlike Osamor, he sees several factors leading to increased uptake of HE, but he does share her concern about the numbers.

We are also concerned about the increase in the number of children in elective home education. That is why we issued a call for evidence on home education and we are looking at it carefully. We have consulted on the proposal to create a register of children not in school. A range of factors have led to the increase, but in my judgement, it is not due to a shortage of high-quality school places in our school system.” [Emphasis added]

What can I do?

Don’t automatically believe everything you read in the press. Always go back and check the original source to get the full context, and consider the possible agenda of the author.

The official line seemingly remains the same – concern about the increasing numbers of children in EHE. So the HE community has to do its level best to alleviate these concerns by re-educating parliamentarians, the media and the general public that HE is a valid educational alternative with positive outcomes – albeit one which has been tarnished by unhelpful and unjustified negative imaging.