What’s been said?
Three days after Ed Timpson’s appearance before the Education Committee at which the connection between off-rolling and HE featured, the Tes carried a series of three articles by Dave Speck on the same theme. Speck has written informed pieces on EHE in the past, including one on last December’s Annual Report by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator [OSA] which also raised concerns about off-rolling.
The depth of research behind his recent trilogy demonstrates that this is a matter about which Speck is concerned and has made a substantial effort to find actual facts behind the increasing rumour of malpractice. This includes a Freedom of Information Request to the OSA for background information on a consultation which they carried out with schools – probably in preparing last year’s report.
In his lead article, Off-rolling: Rising home education fears in 1 in 5 LAs, Speck lists comments made by a number of LAs, expressing their concerns that off-rolling is occurring in their area and has resulted in a significant increase in HE numbers. Speck comments, “a total of 29 expressed concerns about home education, with separate authorities describing parents as being ‘coerced,’ ‘nudged’ and ‘persuaded’ into it.” These twenty-nine represent one fifth of the total number of LAs in England, and a quarter of the one hundred and twenty which responded to the consultation. Named in this article are Staffordshire, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire and Luton, but others feature in the accompanying pieces. Speck concludes with a comment from a DfE spokesperson, which stresses the illegality of such practice – before adding that they believe it is relatively rare.
The subsequent two articles provide glimpses of the human side of parenting an off-rolled child. “Illiterate parent was asked to sign off-rolling letter“, follows up “Somerset County Council’s concerns about a school asking a parent, who couldn’t read, to sign a letter saying that they had chosen to take their [sic] out of school to educate them at home.” Speck also provides a sample of a pro forma Elective Home Education form “from a company that runs education services for the [Devon] county council.”
His final piece “Head off-rolled autistic child with ‘sympathetic smile’” reports on the consequences for one family which was given this form to complete by the headteacher of a mainstream primary school in Devon. “The mother told Tes that the child’s anxiety was rising and that school ‘made her wish she hadn’t been born’,” reports Speck. This mother added that she “deliberately crossed out the word ‘elective’ to make it clear this wasn’t their choice.” Explaining that as a family they felt they had nowhere to turn for help, the mother went on to say, “The head called the school system a ‘one-size-fits-all sausage factory’ and said that learning is for life, indicating her thought that home education would be best.” Whilst deploring the context in which this comment was made, most genuine EHE parents will probably sympathise with the head’s analysis of the system.
Why does it matter?
Speck’s journalism not only exposes facts behind the ongoing rumours of “off-rolling”, but also highlights the human costs of a practice which reveals that it is impossible for professionals to have the same level of care for children that the majority of parents naturally have, no matter how genuinely well-meaning many teachers are. Whilst many home educators are aware of these issues, Speck has done excellent work in bringing them to the attention of a wider audience.
In recent years a variety of issues have been brought into the political debate over HE, often with little evidence to clarify what exactly is going on. These articles bring some of the illusive evidence into the open. Take for example the form being used by schools in Devon. Speck quotes Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, who told him, “‘the game is given away’ by the fact that one of the boxes on the letter which a parent can tick as a reason for electing to home-educate is ‘near exclusion’.” Her comment suggests that the LA is complicit in this illegal practice, and it is not solely a matter arising from a small number of rogue schools.
In Speck’s second article there is a link to the Babcock LDP – Elective Home Education information and guidance page. On its About page Babcock LDP describes itself as “a partnership with Devon County Council”; though unnamed there, the lead partner appears to be the Babcock International Group. Several documents are available from the EHE page, including the spotlighted School Exit Interview Form for EHE (Jan 2019) and interestingly, another referred to as “2017-18 EHE data”. The information on p2-3 of the latter provides an insight into what has been happening in Devon, though it is too extensive to discuss in full. Following on from on Bousted’s comment about that one particular option, the data confirms that eighteen children (out of one thousand five hundred and eighty-eight in total) are listed as being withdrawn because they were “Near Exclusion” and sixty-eight due to “Attendance/Prosecution”. One is left to wonder what action the LA has taken as a result of collecting this data.
What can I do?
Read Speck’s three articles and share them with others, especially those who think schools are safe spaces for children. They illustrate that off-rolling is a problem arising not from EHE, but from a schools system which finds it impossible to have the best interests of each individual child as its priority.
If you have the energy and time, download the documents available on the Babcock LDP EHE page and consider how you might refer to them when in contact with your MP and local councillors, especially if you live in Devon. Politicians need to understand that the real welfare of children should be their priority, rather than the heartless mantra of state safeguarding.